That’s Bad Coaching

“That’s on me.”

“I got that one wrong.”

“That’s bad coaching.”

It’s taken a while to get used to saying these things in front of our team. Afterall, as the head coach I’m supposed to be the one with all the answers. Sometimes I get it right. More times than I’d like to admit, I guess wrong.

However, I’ve taken to heart these words from former Duke head coach Mike Kryzewski:

“When a leader makes a mistake, and doesn’t admit it, he is seen as arrogant and untrustworthy.” 

That’s not exactly the way I hope to be described by my players. Failing to acknowledge when we get it wrong only alienates us from those we lead, and is a missed opportunity to reinforce our credibility even when we don’t get it right. Consider this…

There was a moment early in our last regional quarterfinal when I thought our best defender failed to drop down into her rebounding area leading to our opponent grabbing an offensive rebound and drawing a foul. This happened right in front of our bench, and perhaps being a little too amped up in this elimination game, I was hot.

During the free throw I pulled her over and animatedly accosted her for not doing her job. She tried to defend herself, claiming there was another player in her coverage area by the 3-point line, but I wasn’t having it. I was standing right there. I was certain of what I saw.

Our interaction only lasted about 10 seconds, and admittedly, it was out of character for me to be as demonstrative as I was, but when you’re right, you’re right. 

Except in this case, I was wrong. 

Imagine my surprise when I went back through the film and discovered that there was indeed a player standing in her coverage area, and she made the right decision not to crash the boards. There I was gesturing like an idiot, making it clear to everyone this player didn’t do her job, only to discover I was clearly mistaken.

The next day I sent Courtney this text:

We joked about it before our next practice, and in admitting I was wrong, I made an important deposit in our relationship and modeled the kind of accountability we want from all of our players. 

While that mistake was obvious, sometimes I even admit to poor decisions the team isn’t even aware of.

In another game last season, nursing a one-point lead with under 10 seconds to play I drew up an illegal alignment to get the ball inbounds (we started our entire team out of bounds on the baseline, which is legal only after a made basket). I was unaware of the rule, as were the officials, but that didn’t stop me from sharing what I learned about the play with our team the following day in film. 

My point was that I made a mistake that could have cost us the game, and just as we would learn from a player’s error in a late game situation, we would learn from mine as well. 

That vulnerability is something people in our program have come to appreciate over the years, and it has helped to contribute to the growth mindset we have tried to foster for all.

When we make a mistake, we own it, we learn from it, and we move on… coaches and players alike.

Food for thought.

Nate Sanderson

[email protected]

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