Assistant Coach at Texas A&M
Often referred to as one of the biggest students of the game and top minds in collegiate basketball, Bob Starkey is now in his fifth season with the women’s basketball program at Texas A&M. He is also the mastermind behind the popular blog Hoop Thoughts. Coach Starkey’s career began at the high school level and includes stints of time on both the men’s and women’s sides of the collegiate game. His accolades include 20 NCAA Tournament appearances, eight Elite Eights, six trips to the Final Four, and development of both NBA and WNBA players.
Just Starting Out?
For newcomers to the coaching world, Coach Starkey has the following pieces of advice:
- Especially in this day and age, seek out multiple mentors! Have five to seven people in your circle of influence that you trust and can go to, who will be honest with you, and keep you centered. Some of these people need to be outside of coaching.
- Coach Starkey has never applied for a job in coaching. All of the job changes he has made he has been recruited for, including when he began as a high school coach. He had no intentions of eventually moving to the college game but focused on being the best he could be and the opportunities came to him.
- Go out and seek knowledge from other coaches. Don’t pretend like you know it all. For example, after Don Meyer would finish speaking at a clinic he’d go into the bleachers and listen to every other speaker. “It’s a journey, you can never know enough.”
- Have a system of organization. Whether it’s filing cabinets with hard copies or electronic systems such as Evernote, learn to categorize in a way that allows you to easily find your resources when you need to.
- Be cautious of “labels” of who you are as a coach. Some people want to teach but not recruit. Others want to only be a recruiter. Reality is that both components are vital to your team’s success and your success as a coach.
- Stay process-oriented rather than result-oriented. It’s interesting to see that the same coaches going to and learning from clinics are often the same coaches that are winning! Don’t stop learning when you get positive results.
- It’s not all x’s and o’s. Relationships with your program, administrators, fans, other coaches, the media, etc. all have to be a major part of it as well.
Growing The Game
If you know of Coach Starkey, there is a good chance that you have utilized his blog for coaches: Hoop Thoughts (hoopthoughts.blogspot.com). Hoop Thoughts is a blog aimed at helping other coaches develop. As a student of the game, he provides his site to share resources and ideas with any coach that is interested.
As fellow bloggers, we were curious to learn what motivated Coach Starkey to begin his Hoop Thoughts. His time spent working for coaches who respected the concept of sharing for the good of the game, such as the late Don Meyer and Dale Brown, gave him a devoted passion to improve the game though sharing. He developed as a coach by taking advantage of free clinics, open practices, and speaking with others who wanted to learn through collaboration and sharing. At this point in his career, he’ll contact coaches specifically for what they do well and what he thinks will apply well to his team, such as zone defense, how to organize practice, motion offenses, etc.
His passion for being a student of the game was sparked by his desire and love of reading. At his house he has a library filled with books that have red marker scratches and scribbles all over them including cataloged thoughts in the front cover for quick referencing. Something he learned from Don Meyer is that you can’t use all of the good ideas that you find, but you can keep them organized for quick referencing when it is time to apply them to your program. For book suggestions from Coach Starkey see our list below as well as his Hoop Thoughts site.
Practice: From Organization to Evaluation
In order to foster a culture of buy-in, Coach Starkey understands the importance of player input in creating team goals. He has been a part of programs that let players pick their biggest goal for the season. We were very impressed with an example he shared with us about a goal that one of his final four teams decided upon. Their goal was simple yet inspiring: They wanted to be the best practice team in America. The coaches then had them further develop this plan in respect to the specifics: how are we going to measure that? What does a great practice team do? Each practice they’d evaluate whether or not they had met their goal and focused on continue improvement throughout the season.
Coach Starkey highlighted that each coach has his or her own philosophy on how to structure practice and how to teach the game. However, he was quick to point out one element that is constant in successful programs: organization.
“Players are the first to know when coaches aren’t ready for a practice.”
Practice needs to be prepared to get the most out of it. He has even been on staffs where the practice preparation among the coaches has taken longer than the practice itself. One thing he learned from the legendary John Wooden is to always end practice on a positive. For example, you might have ten minutes on the clock for a scrimmage and with three minutes left you see one of your players make an incredible play that leads to a boost in moral. In this case, forget the three minutes and end on a positive!
Although practice may be over for the players, a habit that sets Coach Starkey apart from his peers is his commitment to reviewing practice film everyday. He always makes it a point to re-watch practice so that he can more evenly evaluate the practice and spot the details that he and the staff may have missed.
Communication: Speaking like Twitter vs. Speaking like Facebook
John Wooden had a rule where he tried his best to never lecture his players or spend too much time making a point; brevity and conciseness were valued during his teaching. In Coach Starkey’s experiences he’s seen coaches who will stop practice and talk for extended periods of time and others who are quick and concise. Coach Starkey shared with us the example that Rick Pitino has the “8-second” rule where coaches in his program only have eight seconds to make a coaching correction. Coach Bob Knight is also someone he referred to in being able to correct and teach something with as few words as possible. Overall, you don’t want players to harp on the last mistake. To manage this, he use Don Meyer’s famous acronym “N.B.A.” or “Next Best Action.” Neither the score, time on the clock, or even the last play, should steal your concentration from a total focused effort for the next possession.
“Some coaches are like Twitter and can get it across in 140 characters or less. Others are like Facebook and need two or three paragraphs.”
When we asked Coach Starkey if players have changed during his time as a coach, he pointed out that parents are the ones who have changed. Kids today are raised differently than they were 20 years ago, just as society as a whole has changed. From working with people like Dale Brown he has learned, “x’s and o’s are nice and all, but you win through relationships.” Because of this, he makes a consistent effort to develop every relationship. “Every kid has a different ‘why.'” As a coach, explaining the “why” behind the actions you are asking your players to perform is crucially important. Just as important is understanding why your players play the game.
In terms of his coaching style, he feels that with a foundation of trust, coaches can still be demanding of players and “get after them” when needed. His philosophy behind this is five years from now when some of these players are competing overseas or in the WNBA, or working for a demanding boss, you don’t want that to be the first time they are exposed to toughness. He then alluded to Jon Gordon’s spin on the phrase “Tough Love” that he likes to refer to as “Love Tough.” In Gordon’s article about the subject he explains that love must come first in order for the toughness to be respected.
In our interview Coach Starkey referenced a variety of books that he has enjoyed learning from. These include just about anything from Jon Gordon as well as the ones below:
- Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
- Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life by Eric Greitens
- The Carolina Way by Dean Smith
- Talent is Never Enough by John Maxwell
Follow Coach Starkey’s Twitter: @CoachBobStarkey
Subscribe to his blog at: http://hoopthoughts.blogspot.com