In my first year as a head coach at Rhode Island College I made a mistake. I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, or I wouldn’t have done it. But looking back at that season I realized I didn’t take the right approach in building my first team.
I was too concerned with what my players thought of me, with not rocking the boat too much, with feeling comfortable. I was focused on the day-to-day, taking a short term vision. I wanted practice to be good, wanted the guys to enjoy it, wanted everyone to go home feeling good about themselves each day. I wanted to have a good relationship with all of the players. Without realizing it, I was more concerned with making sure the players liked me and liked what we were doing, rather than establishing a culture.
Everything we do at the University of Maine has to be with one thing in mind: establishing our culture. We’ve talked as a staff about “thinking culture” in everything we do. What does this mean? We may have to do less in the weight room this fall, but we want to make sure we are doing it right. We might not get as many shots up during our individual workouts, but we are going to make sure our footwork is correct. We have to establish high standards and a way of going about our business to reach those standards, and if we get less done in the short term than we have to live with that. How we are going to do things is much more important than what we are actually doing.
At Rhode Island College I took over a very good team – one, when looking back, I think was the best team in the league. I liked the guys, I think they liked me, and I thought we were doing things at the right level. But we were very inconsistent when we started playing games, and in the middle of January we were 8-7, losing to teams that never should have beaten us. I had to recognize that the effort I was accepting out of our guys wasn’t good enough. How did it happen? I was overlooking some of the simple details with regards to effort, consistency and efficiency, to try and move forward and keep the ship steady. I was accepting “good enough” as a way to avoid rocking the boat.
The challenge is you have a vision of how you want things to look, and you know it’s going to take a lot of work. So when you start planning practices, you want to get through a lot of basketball stuff in a short period of time, to get to your goal quicker. We need to work on our zone attack, we have to get our press in, we need to get a lot of shots up, etc… If you slow down and hammer the small details, you are limiting the reps you will get with regards to the basketball stuff. That’s not comfortable, because you look at the big picture and see how much improvement you want to make.
But I’m a firm believer now in thinking about your culture in everything you do. You may not get as many shots up or do as many different stations in the weight room. And your guys who are solid and reliable might be forced to slow down to wait for the guys who don’t get it yet. But when you are establishing your program, nothing is more important than your culture. It’s a trap that is easy to fall into, and something we are working hard to avoid at the University of Maine.