I bet George Lucas never thought he would be helping give a college basketball coach advice on how to build a team when Star Wars first hit theaters on May 25, 1977.
Just a few months earlier Al McGuire guided the Marquette University Basketball team to an eight point win over North Carolina. I played at Marquette and was honored enough to have many conversations with the great Coach McGuire. Yep, that’s it. There is the connection. Kevin Bacon, you have nothing on The Stay at Home Coach and my connection to George Lucas!
Soon after Star Wars: The Force Awakens was first promoted I began to watch the first three Star Wars movies with my children. Not the first three but the GOOD “first three.” I refuse to ever gaze upon Jar Jar Binks again. I wanted to get caught up to speed with Skywalker, Vader and Chewbacca knowledge so I could truly appreciate the new installment released in December of 2015.
Christmas arrived at light speed which meant light sabers were requested by my two oldest children from Santa. After Santa’s gifts were unwrapped I heard my 5-year old daughter scream – the result of a toy saber slash from my 7-year old son.
I realized I needed to control my young Padawans (Jedi in training). That’s right … I know what a Padawan is, mostly because the Star Wars Level 1 book details characters and is a popular choice of my 3-year-old before bed.
A light bulb went off … wait … a Light “Saber” Bulb:I was Obi-Wan Kenobi and it was my duty to train my young Padawans to use the FORCE for good and not evil.
My brain started doing what my brain does … and before I knew it, I realized that the Jedi were helping me become a better coach.
As a coach, you tend to call other coaches for advice, insight, or just to vent about your team. A while back, one coach in particular was struggling with “growing pains” of their young team which included a lot of losing.
In thinking about young teams my mind kept coming back to the success I had while coaching and building my team at Green Bay. Our staff put together one of the best teams in the history of the school.
How did we do that? What was the magic? Were we more talented? Did we out coach everyone?
Our talent was arguably better. And I think we did a good job coaching the team, but there were several coaches in the league that were very good. However, I think we capitalized on our talent and in the final analysis I think that player consistency was key to the success of our championship team and program. It was the most important thing. We became champions over time, not overnight.
Whether it be my children and their young classmates and teammates or a professional team with a bunch of rookies, the key coaching principle is the same – consistency. It’s nearly impossible to put a winning team together in an instant. You don’t wake up on third base and think you hit a triple. It takes time and proper planning.
Teams and players seem to want quick success more than ever before. Too often today we see parents and players run to another team, blame the coach, blame the other kids, or start up an entirely new team.
The great Jedi Master, Obi-Wan doesn’t believe in this mindset. Obi-Wan builds dynasties, not one-hit wonders like Right Said Fred did with “I’m Too Sexy.”
Obi-Wan believed in consistency in his coaching of young Padawans. He believed in finding the right talent and learning where they fit. He believed in knowing their weaknesses and in keeping the “dark side” out where he could.
At the end of the 2015-16 NCAA basketball season there were more than 700 student athletes that transferred by June. I am not here to debate why these people are transferring. Heck, I transferred. I’d like to think my reason was pretty solid being that my dad was the head coach and was fired. I am sure a lot of people who transfer think their reasons are justified as well.
The transfer number is simply crazy. Consistency is a rarity. Having consistency does not just mean having the same players. At Green Bay we had several transfers. But in the end we kept the players who mattered. Sounds harsh, but it is true. Players are going to leave, but you have to fight to keep the ones that truly are special. Special doesn’t mean the best player. It does mean the player that fits a role on your team. You must build a team of players who know their role, accept their role, and want to become a star in that role.
Allowing your team to grow and develop over time into your vision as a coach is not immediate, but it is rewarding. Having a consistent message and work ethic is vital. It enhances itself when you have player consistency from year to year.
It goes hand in hand with parenting. I know that I have three stars on my team. Having the ability to have a constant message to my three kids is so important. I cannot be inconsistent in my teachings to them. I remind my 3-year old every hour to “go potty.” She has gotten better at it over time although not quite mastered it yet. The last thing I need or want is to lose her to transfer and have to start potty training all over again!
Brian Barone played basketball at Texas A&M University and Marquette University and holds a master’s degree in communications. He now coaches men’s basketball at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.