Coaching Nuggets from Jeff Depelteau

I did a fireside chat with Jeff Depelteau last week. Coach Depelteau had many great nuggets to help coaches grow. Here are five.

Helping Assistant Coaches

Early in his career, the varsity coach asked Coach Depelteau to run a drill without any forewarning. In the short term, this pop quiz maneuver is not good for anyone. Lack of planning usually translates to less than optimal results. In the long term, the assistant coach benefits and so does the team. This example was vivid enough that Coach Depelteau remembers it years later and applies it himself.

Assistants need an active role in practice and games. The head coach needs to help provide it. After the assistants run a drill, the head coach needs to debrief with them. How could it go better? What would you do different? The same conversations can be applied in the decisions and tactics the head coach uses.

Mistakes Coach Depelteau Made

With the amount of information available it is increasingly easy to copy other famous coaches. Coach Depelteau cited Tom Izzo as one of those coaches among others. The quicker that coaches find their own voice, the quicker they will find success and players will buy in.

Speaking of the voice, Coach Depelteau told us that in the beginning of his career he needed to talk. Initially coaches feel compelled to prove themselves. They think it is necessary to have an answer for everything and show off their knowledge. The problem is that players care much less than we think about the coach’s ego. They are consumed in their own worlds. They want to play basketball not listen to someone talk about playing basketball. Coach Depelteau wishes he could go back and talk in tweets much more than monologues.

I agree. Three seasons ago before a state tournament game I reread the entire three page scouting report to the team before we took the floor. This came after the other two coaches added their own words of wisdom. We entered the floor three minutes late for the warm up. There is no way the players retained more than ten percent of what was said.

Listening and Learning

If you’re the smartest person in the room, leave the room. Coach Depelteau told us that he has a small network of coaches that he consistently leans on for feedback. Some of them are from rival programs. Skeptics of this network might assume that coaches will intentionally withhold information. Coach Depelteau told us that when he went to see a Clemson football practice, assistants of a future opponent were also in attendance. Dabo Swiney insists that teams can steal the ideas, but is confident that their execution and culture will win out anyway.

Coach Depelteau listed four mentors and numerous other coaches that have impacted his philosophy and coaching. He told us to read Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke. He cited Mike Procopio’s wisdom to try to transform the 11th best player into the 8th best player. My favorite part about his philosophy is how averse he was to the word no. He worked at Snow Valley basketball camp and got to coach a few future NBA players when they were teenagers. Coach Depelteau was constantly seeking opportunities to be the dumbest person in the room.

Parent Communication

For most high school coaches, parents are the ones that are directly or indirectly keeping them employed. As Coach Depelteau has grown more experienced, he finds that being blunt with parents is to your advantage. That being said, have stats to support whatever you are saying. Generalizations are too easy to refute. Especially from people that cannot possibly be objective about the subject (their child) in question.

Three Questions to Ask in an Interview

If you are being interviewed for a job, ask the head of school if they have been to a game. Their answer will speak volumes on how supported that you will be.

Ask about the history of the program. If the program has a history of winning (it might not be recent) it offers the precedent that it can be done. Be humble as a coach. In some sense you need to be confident that you can turn it around, but be humble. Others before you have tried. What have they tried and why or why was it not successful?

Ask whoever is in charge of the interview what their philosophy is. If it is aligned to your philosophy, good. If it does not align to your philosophy, also good. It probably means you either need to adjust or seek a different job.


Coach Depelteau has a wealth of knowledge and a refreshing perspective. He welcomes questions or ideas and can be reached by email jdepelteau[at] 

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