Two-time NBA champion LeBron James’ life changed for the better when he started playing football for coach Bruce Kelker in the fourth grade. It’s coaches like Kelker who largely go unnamed in the success stories crucial in shaping today’s sports stars from the ground up.
David Baskin, head coach of the Southern Maryland Cardinals in the Premier Youth Basketball League, shared what he learned from Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo and others at the Pentagon Sports Leadership Forum.
“Being likeable is important. All of them were personable, and seemed like a player could talk to them about home, life, school and beyond. They were coaches, moms, and dads all rolled into one.”
It’s important kids have multiple trustworthy outlets as they mature. Baskin has his players’ best interest in mind and makes sure that’s evident.
Deiron Driggers, an assistant coach for the Cardinals, says he coaches to help change lives outside of sports and that he wants to prepare his players for the choices life will bring.
“You have to teach discipline. Discipline prepares them for the real world. I had people try to prepare me for the real world. I didn’t listen, but you have to keep instilling that in these kids.”
Young people are very fragile and have to be taught discipline. Sometimes parents' messages get old, and coaches can be an outside voice that reinforces the parents' message.
Reinforcement can also come during play. Kevin Respress, an assistant coach for the Cardinals, feels that even when kids mess up it’s imperative to let them know their mistake can be fixed.
“If a player messes up, I get on them. But as soon as I get on them I pump them right back up because I need them to go back out there and make a play for us.”
Encouragement even in mishaps teaches kids not to quit and that they can right their wrong.
Trevon Barnes, an assistant coach for the Cardinals, also believes encouragement in tumultuous times is crucial.
“It’s about fighting, pushing yourself and being a man. We know kids are going to get tired, but it’s about pushing through and pushing that limit.”
Male or female, there is always another level to be reached when you think you’ve reached your peak. Barnes is using basketball to make sure his players understand that and apply perseverance on and off the court.
Even though LeBron James had the support of his mother, Coach Kelker was the first form of stability in his life and he understood it was important to be a positive role model. It was his selfless efforts that allowed James to begin his transition into adulthood.
David Baskin, Deiron Driggers, Kevin Respress, Trevon Barnes and all other youth coaches are the Bruce Kelkers of today. They have opportunities during their players' adolescence to instill life lessons and values that they can take with them forever.