Courtney Banghart: Head Coach at Princeton

Courtney Banghart

Head Coach at Princeton University

The 2015 Naismith National Coach of the Year helped guide the Princeton Tigers to a program-best 31-1 record last season, including an undefeated regular season. Throughout her time at Princeton she has lead the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament five out of the past six years and has captured five Ivy League titles. Including her time as a player at Dartmouth College, where she earned her degree in neuroscience, she has made nine trips total to the NCAA Tournament. Upon graduation Coach Banghart worked at Episcopal High School in Virginia as the girls’ athletic director as well as the girls’ basketball and tennis coach. She then continued to get her master’s degree in leadership development while serving as an assistant at her alma mater, Dartmouth College. Coach Banghart’s accomplishments as a leader reach far beyond the sport however, as she was named one of Fortune Magazine’s 50 Greatest Leaders in 2015. 

“The Most Important Thing of the Season is the First Meeting”

When we began our conversation with Coach Banghart we were curious as to how she managed to set the tone for such a successful 2015 season. She indicated that the first team meeting holds great weight because that is where standards are reiterated and goals are set. Everyone is coming back from a long summer break and this is the first opportunity to gather back on the same page. Coach Banghart explained to us her viewpoint that teams are “highly conditional families” and that each individual is brought together by the team’s collective goals. Although the team composition changes year to year, the standards never change because they are not results driven. The internal expectations of the team may differ because of personnel, but the standards remain constant.

The second part of the team meeting is where the girls share their individual goals. It is important for the players to be able to speak about their goals and for the coaches to hear them. In practice is where Coach Banghart teaches toward the team goal everyday. At Princeton the coaching staff places a high value on independent relationships with the players and tend to hold the players accountable to their respective goals through those relationships, not just through formal meetings to check in. The coaches, however, are mainly concerned with the personal growth and development of each player.

Leadership from the Top Down

With a master’s degree in leadership development, it’s no surprise that Coach Banghart has put a great deal of energy into leadership within her program. Through her studies and research on coaches such as Geno Auriemma, Kay Yow, and Anson Dorrance, she learned that the most critical component to being an effective leader is to be authentic to who you are. Determine what leadership style is most authentic to who you are and then be the best leader you can be. Clearly communicate what is important to you. Highlight your strengths, work on your weaknesses, and she advises that you can always hire around your weaknesses to help fill the gaps.

“There is not one leadership style that is most effective, the style is totally irrelevant. Be the best leader that you can be.”

When it comes to her staff and her program, Coach Banghart stated that people will respond to the tone that you set. When communicating with her assistants, she doesn’t tend to have the formal meetings to discuss all issues, rather she focuses on constant, authentic, communication. For example, if a coach isn’t bringing enough energy in practice she’ll simply tell him or her that she needs more from them tomorrow. At the beginning of each season they participate in an extensive staff performance appraisal. It’s in part a self evaluation of the core values of the program and also a responsibilities evaluation, looking at individual innovation and performance.

She stays true to the relational types of communication over the formalities. With her players, it is important that the Head Coach and the best player must be on the same page, everyday. “The team will play to the personalities of your leaders.” She places a lot of stock in her seniors to carry the weight of leadership.

When it comes to getting players to buy in, Coach Banghart isn’t concerned. Her players see how dedicated she is to them and give that back in return. She’s going to play the individuals that are going to help her win. If they can defend and communicate, they can help the team win. Instead of focusing on buy in to help players develop, she is more concerned with helping them do the things that will allow them to play more.

“I haven’t taught it right if they haven’t learned it.”

If you’ve ever watched the Tigers play, you’ll notice how detail oriented they are. The guards are disciplined and look for post entries on the catch; the posts are diligent about their footwork when trying to get an inside seal. When the Tigers practice, they spend at least fifteen to thirty minutes on skill work. She doesn’t rush her way to the scrimmaging. “The better your players are, the better your five on five is going to be.” That skill work also allows her that one on one time to help develop the players and build those relationships. When it comes to those post entries she enforces her belief that the pass should be away from the defense and arrive on time. How the pass gets there is not the main focus. If the players are not picking up on the skills or direction she is teaching, “it’s never a lack of effort.” As stated earlier, the players see how dedicated she is and how much she is giving to them, that they typically give that same effort back to the program.

“Everything we do is about learning how to play together.”

Coach Banghart refers to the Ivy League as a great place for coaches to learn how to coach. In general, getting better truly matters to these players and teaching can be “growth centered, not dictated.” For example, her first team was 7-23 and she did not view that as a disappointment. For that group of players, 7-23 is what they earned, individually and collectively. But they were committed to the long term process of getting better, which contributed to the meteoric rise over the years. When we asked about the nuances of coaching in the Ivy League, she stated that there are more similarities than differences from the other conferences.

Tips from Coach Banghart

  1. Point inward. Develop yourself as a leader and thinker. Be thoughtful about what you learn and what skills your team needs to get better at.
  2. If you want to grow, put the time in. Find areas you want to know more about and put the time in to learning about it. For example, study the bench decorum of other head coaches. Analyze what you like and don’t like.
  3. You always hear about how challenging it is to have balance in your life as a head coach, but in every job you have there is going to be that same struggle. People get worked up about the sacrifices but there is such a great opportunity to impact lives. For all that there is to gain, it is truly priceless.

Follow Coach Courtney Banghart on Twitter! @CoachBanghart

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