I follow Fontbonne basketball coach Clare Murphy on Twitter. She is a model coach on how to use social media with positivity and a little humor. Coach Murphy knows that teams that blend together off the court play better together on the court. I spoke with Coach Murphy about some of her ideas in team-building. Here are three ways that she promotes team culture.
Senior Books & Ducks
Every senior in the Fontbonne program receives a book as part of senior night. Coach Murphy stole the idea from her mother. When family members celebrated major life events, her mother gave a photo album. The album contained photos from childhood and other significant memories. People were always touched and surprised, so Coach Murphy adapted for the basketball team.
As part of the project, she asks senior parents for baby photos and any other funny pictures. Current team members also contribute photographs to the project. Each player and coach then writes a small letter in the album on the back of one of the pictures.
The ducks is another senior tradition. The team’s mascot is a duck, so each senior receives a stuffed animal duck with a miniature version of their uniform on the duck. Coach Murphy orders the ducks online. She said the ducks are rarely the same from year to year by nature of how they are purchased. Then someone will sow together a uniform with the player’s jersey and last name. When alumni come back, they all admit the duck is still around.
These traditions are not as sexy as X’s and O’s or even a practice plan. They are much more sticky and important though. When players come back years later, and still remember a note from a teammate or a coach the impact is far greater than a win or a loss.
Another idea that I am going to steal from Coach Murphy is the “Secret Sister.” One player on varsity and one on JV get partnered together. It is somewhat similar to Coach Kristen McDonnell’s Thunder Buddies. Coach McDonnell’s idea pertained to shooting contests and practice structure. Coach Murphy’s idea pertains more to off the court. The cliché idea is for the JV and varsity player to exchange food with each other, but they do other things. They might simply get a quote or a picture to try to inspire each other. I love this idea. Think about the way that varsity players and JV players will watch the game differently if they have more of a horse in the race.
Coach Murphy also provided some sound advice on relationship building. When group of players that deals with many emotions during the season are swing players. These players are typically young and inconsistent performers. Many states allow for players to shuttle back and forth from JV and varsity all season long. In Massachusetts, a rule recently got amended that is going to allow for increased flexibility in playing kids at both levels.
Telling a swing player that they made varsity at the beginning of the season gives these players high hopes. When the season unfolds and they are struggling to adapt to higher competition, it can be tough. Sometimes coaches are fearful to ask a player to play on JV. After all, they are still young and some players might be driven away from future teams because they feel the coach does not like them. Coach Murphy’s philosophy on issues like these is usually very open-minded. She recognizes that many of the players communication skills are not at the level they will eventually reach. Players can say yes or no to her, and she assures them that the decision is confidential.
Consider Social Ramifications
One additional consideration for swing players. If you invite multiple team members who fit this description to play at a lower level together, the plan is more likely to be received receptively. Coaches are used to bringing players up and down. It’s a routine part of the season. It is far from a routine for a player. Changing their team affiliation is often interpreted as a change in identity. Sharing this change with multiple people and obviously communicating that you still believe in their abilities goes a long way toward making the shift in teammates easier.