After my experience at Rhode Island College, I’ve always said that the best training ground for a head coach is at a Division 3 state school. At a D3 school with limited resources, you learn to be low-maintenance. You simply don’t have any other choice. You don’t ask for stuff, you make do with what you’ve got. You don’t worry about the stuff that doesn’t matter. You do the best you can to keep things positive for your players.
Another value of coaching at the D3 level is that you learn to coach without control. Not only do you lack control over a lot of the things around you, you lack control over your players. With the lack of scholarships, most D3 players are paying their own money to go to school. You aren’t giving them anything, so the players aren’t attached to you and your program to get school paid for.
Players at the D3 level also have the ability to transfer wherever they want, whenever they want. They don’t need a release, and they don’t need to sit out. You can play for Rhode Island College in December and suit up for Keene State, in the same league, in January. There aren’t transfer restrictions at the D3 level the way their are at other levels.
Most coaches love having control – probably too much. They want to control the climate, control who comes in and out of the gym, and control the way their players act. Coaching at a Division 3 school, you realize you don’t have that much control. And that is a good thing.
You have to make sure your kids have a positive experience. You have to make sure the environment is fun, that you treat the kids with respect. You can’t just lose it on them for no reason and tell them later you are just driving them to get better. The kids don’t have to put up with negative behavior that doesn’t make sense to them.
You can certainly be demanding of them and hold them accountable. You can be tough on them. It’s not like you have to go easy on them to make sure they like you. That’s not what I’m saying. But you understand that you don’t really have control over them. If they are on scholarship, they’ll put up with bad behavior because they are getting everything for free – it’s a pretty good deal. A D3 player is more likely to look at you like “Why am I letting this guy yell at me every day.”
Coaching without total control over the individual is very valuable. It forces you to coach with empathy, and to think about the environment you are creating every day. At the Division 3 level, without scholarships or transfer restrictions, you coach with a lot less control. And it makes you a better coach.