High school basketball coaches don’t have any room to breathe when it comes to game conditions. They share their workplace with spectators. Their instructions to players, or complaints to referees running past them, can often be heard by the fans.
They operate in a fishbowl, and they know it. Many of them are tall men who cannot fade into the scenery. Nor do they care to. Managing the basketball game, keeping their players focused instead of distracted, and thinking one step ahead is all part of a coach’s job as the game flows in front of them, stopped only for timeouts and the officials’ whistles.
Several area coaches agreed to be interviewed about the process of coaching a game amid all the natural distractions and chaos that the sport provides.
ALEX BUTLER, East Providence:
“I may look like I’m under control. I’m sure the officials might see it differently. As a coach, I’ve gotten better at remaining calm as I’ve grown older. I was a lot more emotional when I first started coaching. I was more vocal. Now I try to catch myself. I have to be calm for my team. They see you jumping around like a maniac and that’s what they are going to do.
“As a former player who turned to coaching, I don’t think my competitiveness has changed. You want to win just as much as when you played the game. As a coach, I am always trying to think ahead, to find ways of changing the tempo of the game if that’s what we need. I am looking at matchups on the floor, thinking of ways to match up my players better. You try to put everything in a compartment and then pull out the things you have in your game plan when they are needed. That’s what coaching is all about: being able to think ahead and anticipate things that are going to happen in a game.
“I never like to pull kids after they make a mistake. If they make a mistake, at some point we are going to talk about it. It’s a different story if we discuss something during a timeout and then they go out on the floor and don’t execute the play we designed. My biggest thing with the guys is that you have to move on from the last mistake, either by making a defensive stop or using extra effort to make a play.
“There are a lot of times during a game when the kids are going to get upset,” Butler admitted. “It’s up to the coaching staff to calm them down and get them focused on what we need to do to win the game.”
KYLE IVEY-JONES, Woonsocket High:
“I don’t hold this year’s team to the standards of teams we had in the past. Each team is different in high school ball. You lose players for different reasons. During the season, you coach them so that they become more knowledgeable about what we are trying to do. Some of the kids catch on faster than others.
“I’m 6-foot-7 and I know some kids might be a little afraid of me when we start practicing in the preseason,” added Ivey-Jones, a former University of Rhode Island starting forward in the early 1990s. “Kids that have been in the program know me well enough to know that anything I say to them is not personal. I don’t want anyone to be scared of me. The new kids, they might think their coach is mad at them. But they learn it’s not personal.
“My guys know there is no favoritism in me. I can’t favor anyone because I am trying to teach them all the same thing. You take different approaches, sometimes, because certain kids are a little more sensitive than others.
“I can tolerate mistakes but I can’t tolerate players making the same mistakes over and over again,” the coach added. “Some kids respond to verbal instruction during a game while other kids need a visual instruction and we can only do those in practice. I teach them all the same thing in practice. That’s how you build a program. You find guys who buy into what we are teaching and build around them.”
MIKE KAYATA, Tolman High:
“I coached girls’ basketball at Shea for four years before coming to Tolman, where I’ve been coaching the boys for the past 10 years. What’s the difference between coaching girls and boys? I found that girls are more team players, they have more camaraderie and are more into the success of the team. The girls usually are more interested in learning the fundamentals of the game.
“The boys think they know everything,” Kayata said with a laugh. “They are more about the individual aspects of the game. You have to do more drills in practice to get them to commit to teamwork. This year, my team has a pretty good basketball IQ. That means we don’t have to spend a lot of time in practice going over the basics, like passing the ball, or running layup drills. We can do so much more in practice, working on things we want to use against our next opponent.
“We practice situational basketball,” Kayata said. “I might tell our first team that we have seven minutes left in the game and we have an eight-point lead. Then we have them go against the second team with that situation in mind. Or we will work on end-of-game situations, which are obviously very important. I am trying to alert my guys to three things: The clock, the score and the situation. We want them to play smart at the end of games.
“I try not to get as emotional as I did when I first started coaching,” Kayata added. “I try to understand what to do in certain situations. Like with bad calls. When you start arguing with the refs, you’re really arguing for the next call. I used to be a lot louder on the sidelines. I’m more focused on trying to put my players in the right role for each game. Some guys are just rebounders. When I see them standing at the 3-point line, then they’re not doing their job and I have to tell them to get back under the basket.
“I’m lucky because I have John Scanlon to lean on. He is the best athletic director a basketball coach could have because he coached the sport, too. I go to John a lot for advice.”
JOHN SCANLON, Tolman High athletic director:
“I coached the boys at Shea High for 10 years,” Scanlon recalled. “I thought I was relatively calm on the sidelines but my wife would probably tell you something different. I think Mike (Kayata) has adjusted very well over the years. He used to coach with a lot of raw emotion. Now I think he thinks things through very well.
“You take a coach like Alex Butler, he is a lot quieter than Mike. But Alex will work the officials, too. All coaches do. That’s just part of the game. It’s a tough sport to coach for a long time and I give a lot of credit to the guys who keep at it.”
GEORGE CODERRE, Woonsocket High girls’ coach:
“I’ve coached boys a lot. You can be more forceful, more vocal with them. Boys generally have a little thicker skin than the girls. I really enjoyed coaching the boys. With girls, I try to coach the same way. I am trying to teach the game of basketball, whether it’s to boys or girls. The girls are generally going to try to do exactly what we are teaching them, to a T. That’s the biggest difference. The boys are a bit more individual in the way they approach your coaching.
“John Wooden used to say if you wanted to see a good fundamental basketball game, go see a girls’ game,” Coderre added. “There’s definitely a difference in the way boys and girls play the game. If I’m coaching a boys’ game, there are things that certain players on the opposing team can do with their athleticism that can ruin your game plan. With the girls, it is more about executing your game plan.”
TAMMY DRAPE, Tolman High girls’ coach:
“The tricky part of coaching is dealing with 15 different personalities. Each student-athlete is different. It is a process, getting to know how to deal with each and every girl. I think by around Christmas time, we really start to see which kids have the heart and the desire to win.
“If I show I am frustrated or angry on the sidelines, it can definitely carry over to the players. What I try to do is get my message across to the girls in a positive way, even if the message itself is negative.
“We try to set different goals while preparing for our next opponent,” Drape added. “Mostly, we try to focus on defensive goals, or rebounds. With defense, we will set a goal of containing the other team’s top scorer. If that girl is averaging 20 points per game, we want to limit her to 15 or less.
“I definitely see boys as more individual in the way they approach the game,” Drape concluded. “But the bottom line is we are just teaching the sport of basketball to the kids. It doesn’t matter whether we are coaching boys or girls. It’s just basketball.”