Here Are the Keys

An outstretched hand holding a key with the Mercedes-Benz logo on it with an out of focus car in the background.

There has been much discussion on the role of the coach these days. What style, old school or new? Disciplinarian or a player’s coach? By the “gut” or by the numbers? A recent Alan Stein Jr. post (he is an ​excellent​ follow) that I had read focused in on the time when Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr passed his whiteboard to one of his players during a timeout. Andre Iguodala (whom I had the privilege to once coach in a HS All-Star game) immediately began drawing up a diagram on it. The point made was that this was a player-led​ ​ team and those type of teams would ​always​ “outperform” a coach-led type. Some people agreed wholeheartedly in the comments section while others pointed the term “​always​” and felt this was untrue. One even brought Nick Saban and Bill Belichick into the conversation, maintaining their strong leadership model was obviously working. This got me thinking about my style and back to an earlier time.

Those who have read me a bit before (in my blogs or my book) know that I love coaches and I look closely at their styles. I truly find that I can align many of my thoughts with both Coach Saban and Belichick (though I am a mere pauper in comparison). Their tough-minded models fit in very nicely with my first “pillar” (Toughness) found in my book, ​The Turnaround Coach.​ The Steve Kerr-example, however, dovetailed nicely with my “empowerment” theme seen in my blog ​(The Cowboys)​ and at the end of my book. Is it possible to have it both ways? I think
“Yes” and I will go back in time to illustrate it.

It was early in my career. I was in my first head varsity coaching position and I was still relatively young. We had a good team, but we found ourselves struggling a bit early and this continued on into the Christmas tournament. Unfortunately we lost a tough game that we had in our hands, partially due to the players lack of knowledge of scouting report and lack of time/situation focus (much like a football player of the team with the lead running out of bounds when every fan knows he has to stay in to keep the clock running in the last minute). I felt the players on our basketball team needed to become more knowledgeable about everything about the game and not to be solely reliant on the coaches for every move and decision. Coaches shouldn’t be choreographing every single move, making the players into robotic puppets who would be ½ second late on making plays. I wanted players who could react to situations and be able to make timely decisions…much like young adults being ready to handle life on their own because of their upbringing. They needed to “own” it!

Instead of giving them a clipboard at a timeout, I gave them the ​whole​ next game. This responsibility fell to my seniors. They scouted, went over matchups in pregame walkthrough, made lineups, and made calls. I was on the bench only to monitor (a risky choice for a 31-year old coach…imagine that ​today​ ). We lost, but the season ​turned ​that day. We swept the rest of the conference schedule (8 games…we were 1-1 at the start) and won the conference in a hotly contested double-overtime game in the opponent’s gym. As Senior Mike Reynolds put it after the thrilling victory “I wasn’t leaving the locker room if we lost. I wasn’t going home”. He was invested and so were the others. The players learned that this was ​their ​ team and had taken more ownership and accountability of it.

Earlier that season, I once threw my car keys to my PG and he jokingly asked if he could take it for a drive​ ​(a convertible, no less). I said “no” because he hadn’t ​earned​ that trust yet. Near the end of the season, I once again threw him my keys. This time I said that he had earned the chance to drive, only it was not going to be my car, it would be the “team” instead (still a very valuable commodity in my eyes). The seniors had become more serious students and focused players…more responsible. They had earned the trust of their coach and teammates, and, in turn, “​drove​” our squad to victory on that night and onto a conference championship!

Scott Olson

Scott Olson

Scott Olson is a Hall of Fame HS basketball coach, speaker, sports consultant, and author. In over 30 years of coaching, he has truly impacted both individuals and teams, improving their performance levels and mindsets. Scott is known for "turning, programs around" quickly, as he has helped take 8 different varsity teams of varying demographics to impressive results, all within the first two years.