Head Coach at Connecticut College
Coach Brian Wilson may not have played collegiate basketball, but he has always been surrounded by veterans of the game. During his undergraduate studies at the University of Virginia he served as a practice player under Debbie Ryan’s tutelage. He then worked the Division III William’s College camp which led them to create a position for him to stay with the school as the “Men’s and Women’s Basketball Coaching Intern.” It provided him with the unique experience of seeing the perspectives of both programs simultaneously. He then continued his studies at Western Kentucky for his master’s degree as a graduate assistant. Looking for work at the Final Four, he was introduced to the head coach at Holy Cross, where he in turn served as an assistant coach, eventually elevating to recruiting coordinator and associate head coach. Coach Wilson’s personal goal had always been to return to the Division III NESCAC and his goal became a reality when he was named the Head Coach at Connecticut College at the age of 31.
Leading by Example is the Easy Way Out
Coach Wilson has a strong stance on “leading by example” and it is counter to what most other coaches preach. To him, leading by example is “you taking care of you, and you doing your thing.” A big component of leadership is influencing others to reach a standard. If your leader simply leads by example and is the first in the gym, last to leave, is working her tail off, but the team has a poor practice, that leader has not done her job. Leading by example is what is expected. The next steps are bringing others along, being vocal, and enforcing the team’s standards.
To do that, Wilson asserts, takes a big risk on the leader’s part to stand on an island and make the potentially unpopular comments. However, if the leader is always standing on an island to do the right thing, there may be a larger issue within the rest of the personnel. When a leader misses an opportunity to lead, it is important to point those out and use them as teaching moments. Coach Wilson is also a big proponent of handling minor issues in the moment. It is important to recognize that in the heat of a game or practice, players need to say what they have to say. The tone isn’t always what it should be, but players need to be mature enough to hear it for the content. He reassures to his players “you are not a bad person or a bad player, but that specific behavior is hurting our team. It’s not a personal attack.”
Being a captain is more than just a title on the Connecticut College Women’s Basketball Team. When Coach Wilson appoints a captain, he makes sure that player knows what he expects of them as the captain. He provides a written description of what the captain’s responsibilities looks like and defines it. Current captains meet weekly with the coaching staff to touch base and stay on the same page. When young players show an interest and aptitude for leadership, he might even assign a book to go through together and discuss different leadership topics. He makes sure to give young players a chance to lead and tries to help them early on so that they’re ready to take that leadership step when they’re ready.
Taking Over A Program As A Head Coach
When it comes those first few weeks as the head coach of a new program, it’s important to balance building a successful team while building a culture. Looking back on his first season Coach Wilson highlights the importance of getting the players you inherit to buy in. Stepping in as the head coach with a longer perspective on the program than most of the players can present its own unique challenges. Eager to get out on the practice court new coaches can be quick to spend a lot of time on the X’s and O’s, crafting perfect drills, and things alike. However, what you run, Coach Wilson highlighted, does not matter much in that moment. Getting to know the players and building those relationships is what will help change the program.
As he enters his seventh season as the head coach at Connecticut College, he can proudly say that he intentionally spends time with his players getting to know them better and developing those relationships. Whether it’s at the campus coffee shop between classes or getting to practice early as the players shoot around, he enjoys the relational part of coaching and makes sure to let the players know that he cares about them as people first. He genuinely wants to know what drives them, what they’re struggling with, and finds ways to connect. By doing this, he hopes to build trust with his players. Players need to believe that you care about them as young women and that you care about important aspects of their lives such as successes in the classroom and career preparation. Coach Wilson suggests that when you allow them to go to important study sessions or allow them to leave practice early for a class, those things build trust.
“Trust comes with time and being intentional…ask questions and listen. Listening is a skill. Listen to your players and really hear them out.”
Providing Opportunities Through Division I
Coach Wilson has had the opportunity to work at both the Division I and Division III levels. At Division I, his experiences allowed him to see the tremendous opportunity basketball provided players to get their degree. In some cases, basketball scholarships were the sole reason players were able to have that chance. Watching those kids go through the process and graduate with a degree that they might not have had otherwise was fulfilling and important to Coach Wilson. Part of what he loved at that level was being able to have an positive impact on the trajectory of young women’s lives by providing them with a college scholarship.
At Connecticut College, Coach Wilson does not actively try to sell the school. He does not want to convince a player to attend the school, but rather tries to find the ones who are the right fit. They need to be great people and be able to play the game well. The staff looks for how players handle adversity, what she’s doing on the bench, how she reacts to the coach, etc. They try to find the answers to questions such as “What is the recruit’s level of commitment like? Are they passionate about the sport? Are they a good teammate?” He wants to be around an enthusiastic group of people who love playing, want to get better, and are coachable. At Division III, they aren’t getting paid to play, so it is critical to find players that are driven by something other than a scholarship that will keep them coming back.
- Be a lifelong learner. Really think on the information you take in and find ways to apply it to your situations. A lot of what you learn and write down won’t be applicable to your program at that moment, but it might be in two years down the road. Don’t ever think you have it all figured out.
- Understand how important the relational aspect of coaching is. It might even be the most important. No matter how much you know about a topic, you have to be able to connect with the people you are working with and trying to coach. To connect with them, you need to spend time with them.