Grace Rehnquist: Head Coach at Northfield Mount Hermon Prep School
A former Division III player at Williams College, Coach Grace Rehnquist spent two years at Connecticut College as the first assistant before landing her first head coaching position. Now at the helm of Northfield Mount Hermon’s (NMH) Girls’ Basketball program, Rehnquist has managed to lead the program to their first “New England 8 Schools” Conference Tournament Championship. She offers insight as a young coach who some might say chose an atypical path into coaching.
Upon graduation, Rehnquist looked at her options and knew she’d gain a great deal of experience as the Connecticut College first assistant, where she could have her hand in everything from scouts to recruiting. She had heard the cautioning words of her peers, advising that it may be harder to get out of Division III because the network is smaller, but she knew in her gut it was the right decision. After two years in college coaching, NMH offered her an experience that would be professionally diversifying and allow her more ownership. A prep school with a reputation for academic and athletic success, it was an opportunity she could not turn down.
The option to run her own program at the age of 24 was an enticing one to Rehnquist. NMH as a whole provided her with plenty of support to grow the program and she also works within admissions. With that position, she gets to see her players through from the beginning of the process to the day they decide to attend. “I tour and interview a majority of students I bring on campus…” Grace stated, “When you’re choosing to leave home after high school you want to feel like you’re taken care of and I’m invested in those kids.” Because she’s at a prep school, she can only communicate with athletes who have an interest in prep school. Rehnquist goes through the AAU and college coaching channels to find out who those players are. Although she is currently out of the college coaching realm, many of her responsibilities are similar to that of a college coach.
First Head Coaching Job, Now What?
When Rehnquist stepped foot on the NMH gymnasium floor, she was wary of her own expectations. Having been a part of two successful and high academic colleges, she worried she would take those expectations and demand too much from her players. Rehnquist approached her program without too much structure, trying to feel out what her players would need from her. Instead of rules, she created standards for her program.
“We want to build a program of highest character, intelligence, and skill, in that order.”
When she looks at the girls she is bringing in, she spends a great deal of time looking at who they are as people, questioning whether or not they would be coachable to her style, and if they can reach the standards she sets on and off the court. NMH aspires to send kids to great schools and have them be successful in the classroom. By creating a program and culture of people that meet those standards, the girls are able to learn from each other and help each other grow.
Standards On The Court
When it comes to practice and game time, Rehnquist demands a three-pronged investment from her players. She wants them to be mentally, physically, and emotionally engaged in everything that they do. A young coach in the field, she’s aware that her expectations and demands will change over time, but to her, everything begins with this foundation.
Transparency plays a major role in who Rehnquist is as a coach. She made it a point to let each player know that she will be treating them uniquely throughout their time at NMH. Each season she will be reevaluating what each player and what the team needs as a whole. She explains, “I am learning along with you.” In her first season there were games that upon reflection, she did not coach as well as she would have liked. When this happened, she took ownership of it. She’ll occasionally watch film on herself, noting her energy level and tendencies, citing how it affected her players.
Her program at NMH has pregame, game, and postgame meetings. In the postgame meetings this past season, she made sure to give her emotional stance on the game. One difference between high school and college players she noticed, was that the high school athletes sometimes needed to see more of how invested she was. Some of them were used to having coaches that were only coaching because it was something they were “assigned.” These talks vary in scope and tone. Some days it’s her explaining how happy she was with their performance, other days she’s disappointed, and sometimes she’ll let the captains speak. When the next day rolls around at practice, if a comment is made about the previous game, they’ll address it, breathe it out, and then move on.
“People in general can have a short attention span, so don’t make them think back to games in the past. It’s more prudent to look at the day ahead.”
The Importance of Skill Work
Many college coaches have brought up grievances with the lack of fundamentals among high school basketball players. Coach Rehnquist is well aware of this and aims to be a part of the solution. To her, if you can’t pass, shoot, and dribble, your offense does not matter. Every single practice plan includes at least 200 shots. The drills she chooses incorporate more than one skill and work towards total development. All guards have a post move, keeping them versatile. In the off season they get workout packets that are wide-sweeping. Well aware that many of her players will be continuing on into different roles on their respective college teams, she doesn’t want to put them in a box or a system that will keep them from developing.
If you run a “system,” it can be difficult to recruit to it. Additionally, if a system takes two years to fully implement, that’s two years that could be more focused on fundamentals. With college coaching experience she knows that college coaches don’t care if you lost by 60 or won a championship. Rather, they care if you can play and contribute.
“I get more gratification in my players developing from November to March than from our record. Just by doing the little things to develop, the record will happen on its own.”
Biggest Challenge: Exhaustion
One might pick x’s and o’s, recruiting, or game time decision making as the biggest challenge of being a head coach. In Rehnquist’s case, the sheer exhaustion of games was the most challenging. “It’s not the same as being an AAU coach and coaching four games a day; when you practice every day and then have to release control to the kids, it’s mentally tiresome.” For Rehnquist, it was a different type of tired. She developed coping mechanisms to deal with this. Instead of sitting in her apartment and getting anxious reflecting on games in her head, she began going on a walk and listening to a podcast. In turn, she found herself developing more beneficial ideas for the team when she was more relaxed.
Words of Advice:
- Coach in any way you can. If you want to get into coaching, find out how you can physically coach, no matter what. Find a youth team, AAU program, or any level to work with or volunteer with. Many college players “want” to coach, but have never physically done it.
- Find a path that’s right for you and be honest about it. It’s an emotional decision. You have to ask, “Where am I going to be my best self?” This refers to level, location, department. Pick a place where you can grow and develop.
- Keep learning. Even as a head coach, learn from other people. Go to college and AAU practices, and learn from your own players.
- Do other things outside of basketball. By having other obligations and hobbies, it makes you miss and look forward to being back on the court.
Feel free to contact Coach Grace Rehnquist via email at firstname.lastname@example.org