The number one thing that you have to think about is your talent level—the players. I’ve had a lot of success, but I think the major ingredient to having a championship team is to get them to play in his team. I think that’s the number one thing. Whether it’d be in the professional ranks, where you have to pick your player through the draft, or you get them through trade, or whatever way you might get them, you have to scout those players before you get them. First, make sure that they have ability to play well; two, they have the skill level to go along with their athletic ability, and three, hopefully, they have good attitudes. They’re coachable, in other words.
COACHING IS WORK
Coaching is actual practice and actual games. Every coach has a system, whether it’s a good system or a bad system, most coaches have a system, whether it’s offense or defense. Most coaches know what they have to do offensively with their team; they know what they have to do defensively. That’s based on the talent level that they have. Most coaches form their system based on the ability of the players that they have. That’s best way to get it done.
Next, you also have to sell the system to the players. In other words, you have to get them to execute what you’ve already planned. They have to be able to execute on the floor what you have already figured out in your mind would work on the court. So that’s half the battle right there. Let’s say you have twelve players on a team, you’ll need to have all twelve players on the same page as much as possible for you to be successful. If you have three, or four, or five who are not on the same page then it’s not really going to work.
Communication is important. Coaches should never feel that he’s so above and high that he can’t come to the level of his players and communicate. A lot of times when you’re trying to accomplish things, it’s not as simple as saying, “Okay, run as fast as you can… jump as high as you can.” Sometimes it comes down to explaining why you need to run as fast as you can or why you need to jump as high as you can. The players seem to understand a little bit better when you do it that way than if you just give instructions.
WHAT IF YOU DON’T HAVE THE BEST PLAYERS?
All coaches must be very flexible and they must have the ability to work with what they have, because you cannot always choose your team. You may inherit players; say if you take over a job in the pro ranks, you would inherit a team that you probably would not recruit. But when you first take over that team, your responsibility is to mold whatever you have. You can’t expect to come in and change everything that’s there right away. It’s the same thing for college basketball. For instance if you look at the Ateneo team now, I actually recruited every single player on the team at this moment. During my first three years I didn’t. Last year there were still two players, Chris Tiu and Yuri Escueta, which I did not recruit. I think it’s the responsibility of the coach to be flexible enough to take that talent and mold that talent because that’s basically his job.
FOLLOW THE LEADER
First thing that Chris Tiu really contributed in his time with Ateneo was he was a very good person. He wasn’t actually a natural leader, but he learned to be a leader. He had all the characteristics—but in his senior year he was put in the position where he had to take it upon himself to become team leader. I don’t always have to be the one that polices the players. I can ask Chris so it’s not always one voice that they hear. So it makes my job a lot easier if your star player and leader of the team is also a hard-worker and has a good attitude.
DO GOOD PLAYERS MAKE GOOD COACHES?
I don’t think so. They normally say the average players make the better coaches because they have a lot more time to sit on the bench and see what’s really going on or how the coaches handle the team, while the best players are always on the court. Some of the best coaches have never played before in their lives. Some were just mediocre players; some were great players. It depends on the coach actually. Coaching is all about leadership. Coaching is about managing. Coaches are just like teachers. We basically have to teach and convince our students that this is the best way to do things so they can pass tests. In our case, passing a test is winning a basketball game.
CASE STUDY: CRISPA AND THE CELTICS
Number one is the talent. The Celtics was a very talented team. They had the best players in the league—same thing with Crispa. You had Abet Guidaben, Philip Cezar, Bogs Adornado, Bernie Fabiosa and Atoy Co. Two, was obviously the coaches. Good coaching isn’t always X’s and O’s. It’s not always how good the coach is at putting plays on the board or setting up defense, it also has a lot to do with motivation. Being able to will players to win, giving them the reason to go out and win championships, giving them a goal, setting a goal that they can strive to reach so that they can reach and become the best team in the league.
In the pro level, sometimes it comes down to money, sometimes it comes down to bonuses, how much the guys are earning, how much did they make if they win a championship, how well the management treats its players. So that’s also another form of motivation, but it’s a little bit different from what the coach uses to motivate his players.
When I was a player, I used to like to eat the same thing everyday, like spaghetti. But as a coach I don’t really have any. The only ritual I may have is if I lose a couple of times with this shirt that I’ve worn for the game, I probably won’t wear it anymore. I’d stop wearing it at least to games. I’m not really into rituals. I’m into hard work, and being able to out-work my opponent, scouting, training my team well, getting them into play every game and then motivating them to win.
Originally published in UNO July 2009 issue.
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