Junior Varsity Coaches Manage Delicate Balance

Why do coaches coach?  Ask this question and many will reply they have a passion for the sport they teach.  Through this love they want to give back to the game which has enriched their lives so much.  Couple that with a desire to work with young people in an area they are naturally passionate about.  Many feel they are gifted in leadership and want to use the athletic arena as a crucible for teaching life’s lessons.

In addition, many coach because coaching fuels their competitive fire which few other professions satisfy.  Take basketball, for instance.  What other avenues in life are there where you could be in the midst of a packed gym calling the shots?  You have spent hours upon hours preparing for this one moment.  You feel the highest of highs and the lowest of lows together.  Coaches by nature are therefore competitive.

The junior varsity coach in the overall high school program’s scheme faces a delicate balance of sorts compared to the head varsity coach.  Competitive, sure, but a successful J.V. coach realizes the overall objective with his or her team goes far beyond wins and losses.  A good J.V. coach tempers their own desire to win in order to aid in the big picture of the entire program..

I had the good fortune of serving as a freshmen and J.V. coach for a number of seasons.  My current philosophy has been forged, not just from my experiences coaching, but also by watching and observing countless teams over the past eight years.  In reflecting back I realize I did a number of things well while wishing I might have done some things differently.  Some of my ideas may cut against the grain of conventional thought in today’s current interscholastic athletics culture.  I sat with a MaineHall of Fame high school basketball coach just last week who reminded me “there are a thousand different ways to coach this game and all of them are right”.  In the words of my favorite college basketball analyst Jay Bilas,”we can disagree without being disagreeable”.

The primary objective for a junior varsity coach is player development and doing so within the confines of the varsity system.  A coach’s success at this level is truly defined later on with how their players compete at the varsity level.  This may mean doing things in games, tough things, the players may not be currently able to do successfully.  A team’s personnel may dictate a zone defense might be the best strategy if winning is the ultimate objective.  The prudent J.V. coach will still play man as it develops better defensive skills for later on.  Any team below the varsity level should be playing man to man defense at least 95% of the game.

J.V. games over the years have featured an endless parade of subs coming to the scorers table.  Most programs make it a practice to get everyone at least a few minutes of playing time in each game.  Some teams use a platoon system in which there will be five new bodies checking in every four minutes.  Since player development is the main objective at the J.V. level the prevalent rationale is to play everyone since court time is needed in order to properly develop.

While player development is at the root of a strong J.V. program, equally important is the culture being established within the entire program.  Keep in mind, players are generally practicing twice as much as they are playing,therefore the bulk of development should occur in practice.  Lost in this everyone plays philosophy has been a culture of competitiveness.  Some will suggest winning isn’t important at this level.  Say that to those on the floor playing.  As long as the score is being kept, the players are going to play to win.  It should and does matter to them.  Not the prime objective, mind you, but the value of winning shouldn’t merely be dismissed either.

To strike a balance, a junior VARSITY season should be progressive in the sense it is handled more like a varsity team by season’s end.  Give everyone at chance to get game time for the first half of the season.  During the second half of the season, playing time shouldn’t be guaranteed but earned based on ability and effort.  Coaches still should look to get that extra player in when opportunity allows.  Substitutions should be handled more on the game situation more so than it’s time to make changes.

Let’s face it, basketball is not an equal opportunity sport.  At the varsity level, most teams will play seven, eight players tops.  Equally important in the process is to find out which kids will still continue to work and get better even if they are not getting playing time.

I believe one of the reasons we have so many parent-coach conflicts at the varsity level is because players have been strung along and strung along throughout their entire basketball playing existences.  Players and parents then are faced with the stark reality when they get to varsity the fairy tale is over.  You actually have to be better than someone to get on the floor.  This isn’t intramurals anymore.  Many cannot handle this reality as it’s the first time they’ve ever had to deal with it. Many complain about a culture of entitlement, yet aren’t many in leadership positions fostering this?  The everyone plays philosophy is great at the youth and middle school levels.  At the high school level we are doing our programs more harm than good when we enact such policies.

A salute goes out to all you who dedicate yourselves by helping in the growth of our young people.  As in most things in life, a balanced approach is key in achieving the end results we desire.

Bob Beatham

About Bob Beatham

Bob, a lifelong Bangor resident, has just completed his 21st season as the Public Address Announcer at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor. Bob is also the public address voice for John Bapst Crusader football. He also currently serves as the scorekeeper for John Bapst basketball. Bob is an avid follower of Maine high school athletics, particularly football and basketball. The University of Maine at Farmington graduate is the service coordinator at Aging Excellence, which provides in-home care for seniors..