Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Weekend Grind for a Coach with Sam Waniewski

The following is a guest blog with an emerging American Graduate Assistant Coach, Sam Waniewski.
Sam enters his first year at Concordia University in 2010-11 after a short stint on Coach James Giacomazzi’s staff at Consumnes River College in Sacramento, California. Waniewski will be in charge of scouting, video editing and recruiting for the Bulldog men’s basketball program.
Waniewski began his coaching career at Division II Chico State University, Chico, California where he worked under head coaches Puck Smith and Greg Clink as a student assistant. Waniewski’s duties included coaching the red-shirt team, on-court coaching, and day to day operations within the basketball program. Chico State doubled their win total during Waniewski’s time on the staff.
Waniewski also has experience working high profile individual camps at UCLA under Ben Howland, Stanford University under Johnny Dawkins and Slypark under Steve Williams. He also coached the Chico Blazin Heat program. Waniewski graduated from Woodland Christian High School in Woodland, California in 2005. He currently holds the single game three point record with 9. Sam graduated from Chico State in 2009 with a degree in Kinesiology. He currently resides in Seward, Nebraska.

Originally, I was going to talk more about the past and then get to what was going on presently. However, I have decided to slightly change this. Today I felt was a good day to talk about, so I didn’t want to be obligated to talk about past irrelevant events and forget what today was about. Other days when I don’t have a very eventful, significant day, then I reserve my right to go back, talk about the past and talk about different aspects. Stay flexible with me here!

It’s 12:30 a.m. right now. About 30 minutes ago I finally got home. Certainly this isn’t the norm in the profession, but by no means is it something uncommon. I am tired right now, both mentally and physically. However it has been a very productive and educational day. When I talk about educational, I’m not exactly talking about reading English books, writing papers, and listening to course instructors. For me, basketball is what I’m learning about and educating myself about. Basketball and coaching aspects is what I’m seeing, being around, and learning from experiences. It’s kind of like my assistant and head coach are my course instructors, and the basketball court is my classroom. However as I’m starting to realize, my “classroom” goes beyond just the court. Just as a student needs to learn in more ways than just being in a classroom (they must do projects, go on field trips, interview people, etc.), the same is true with an aspiring basketball coach. Being on the road in a car for many hours while recruiting and scouting is such a critical part of it. Everyone wishes they could just stay on their home court and have success, but true success is in the preparation that’s done away from the court in many instances. That is what I had to do today.
“BUZZZZ, BUZZZZZ, BUZZZZ”, my alarm clock goes off at 7:45 in the morning. I usually keep my phone on vibrate because a louder alarm clock sound sometimes rattles me a bit and makes me angry to have to wake up so abruptly. A nice, consistent vibrating sound can slowly and usually happily wake me up. I got up, showered, and put some peanut butter on a piece of bread that I folded up to take with me for breakfast. If it wasn’t for occasionally getting sick from having low blood sugar, then I probably would skip breakfast most of the time. We had practice at 8:30, and I made sure to be there a half an hour early. I had to make sure the court was set up, with all of the baskets down, lights on, and the ball rack out.
One time, we had a 6 am practice when I was at Chico State. I showed up at 5:50, figuring I was there before practice, I would be okay. I’d have enough time to get the balls out before the clock hit 6. The problem was that the players got there even earlier. The guys got there earlier to get dressed, stretch, and shoot around prior to practice. As I got there, I noticed the balls were already out, and the hoops were down. “COOL!” I thought, less work for me. I couldn’t have been more wrong with that mentality. As the guys started coming in, my head coach came up to me and had a stern talk with me. “You really want to be a head coach!?” He asked rhetorically. “Why do I have to be the one to get the balls out!? Why do I have to be the one to set up the court?” His point was apparent. He was the head coach, he had paid his dues. It was my job, and I had failed to show up early enough to get it done. It forced him to do it. Such a thing may seem like a small thing, but I realized exactly what my coach was trying to tell me. It was a matter of being disciplined, sacrificing yourself and your time to make your coaches life easier, representing a willingness to do whatever it took, and showing respect to your head coach by NOT making him have to do your job. From that day on, I made sure to have the court ready well ahead of time, especially when we had an early a.m. practice. I would take this same approach with me when I got the graduate assistant position.

So we practiced for a few hours. It was a pretty good practice. For some reason I usually feel like guys work pretty hard and have good practices on Saturdays. I have certain responsibilities during every practice. I have a practice schedule with me that I look over to know when we are going to do different things. It’s my job to be in front of the ball rack, so that as we switch from drill to drill, the players can just throw the ball to me or I can throw balls to them depending on what we are doing. While we aren’t in a transition phase, I am on the court helping coach. On rare occasions, if I really notice something that the players are doing wrong, I will stop what is happening and instruct or coach the players about a certain aspect. However, I try to not do this much because obviously the Head coach and main assistant are doing this frequently, and we want to still allow the players to get into a flow without having them stop every second to hear a different coach instruct. What I focus on is coaching and teaching while the players are sitting out of the drill and that is what my coach prefers me to do. As players are doing the drill, I take mental notes about what certain guys are doing wrong, so that when they come out, I can have a talk with them one on one. Players will often lose balls that go into the bleachers or just anywhere on the outside of the court during drills or when we go live 5 on 5. I have a ball with me at ALL times during practice so that incase they lose it, I can just throw them a new ball, and we are able to save time. Many possessions are gained everyday at practice just by having a spare ball ready to throw to the players. Throughout an entire year, the more possessions and repetitions we are able to gain, the more beneficial it will be. We also have a JV squad. Sometimes we will break off into 3 baskets, groups of 5, to work on plays, and I will be in charge of them. When they start playing games, I will be the head coach of them during that time, which I am extremely excited about. I really try to focus on them during drills, especially because they need more help than everyone else. I frequently will grab the team as a whole when they are sitting out and talk to them about what they can do better and motivate them to compete harder than the varsity guys. By getting more out of the JV guys, not only will they get better, but it will also make the varsity team better! Only positives will come out of it! As practice ended the assistant coach spoke to me – “I got good news and bad news. The bad news is you’re going to have to miss the Giants game tonight. The good news is you get to go with me to go scout a game three hours away.” Not exactly the great news I was looking for, but I told him “I’d miss a Giants game any day to go scouting”, and I meant that.

When I got back from practice, I took a brief nap, and then I went to get a haircut. We have our first preseason game tomorrow, and I knew I needed to look sharp to start the season. Plus, a coach should try to look sharp at all times anyways. At 3:30, I went to the laundry room. I had to make sure to switch all of the players’ laundry bags to the dryer. This is another aspect of the job that isn’t fun, but yet it’s necessary. And it’s certainly something the head coach shouldn’t have to be doing. I then went to the assistant’s house in order to head out on our scouting trip. We drove 3 hours to go watch an alumni game of the team that we’d be playing second game in our season. It was officially the longest I’d ever gone to scout an opponent. (Obviously, I had never scouted for a college team before. My AAU scouting consisted of looking on a different court in the same gym for the team we’d be matched up against next). Despite the drive being long, it was very good to be able to talk with my assistant coach. We talked about lots of basketball. It was an opportunity for me to pick his brain apart, and also talk about different aspects or strategies I felt strong about and believed in. We also talked about our futures, and he gave me some very helpful advice about mine.
As we got to the gym, and sat down, I became very excited. I was officially scouting an opponent for a COLLEGE team! My input could potentially influence the outcome of a college game. It was an exciting feeling, and I loved being able to sit down and analyze the game. We were fortunate that the coach called out a lot more plays and sets than we were expecting, especially for an alumni game. We were also fortunate that the old, lazy alumni didn’t decide to just stay in a 2-3 zone the entire game and we saw lots of sets against a man to man defense. We were very pleased with the scouting report we got, and we even left with about 8 minutes left in the game to get an early start home. I was so excited that we were able to find the San Francisco- Philadelphia Phillies game on the radio for the ride home! It certainly made the ride a lot better. I was able to finish my night with “GIANTS are going to the world SERIES!” Coming from California, and being a Giants fan, it was a nice thing to hear. The overall trip really gave me a feel for what college coaching was about. Driving for 6 hours overall to scout a team for 30 minutes was stuff that a lot of people don’t really think about when it comes to coaching. However, I knew it would help our team and any advantage I could give our players, I would be doing!

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