The Value of Mentoring and the Coach Developer

Posted on Mar 26 2022

Coach Development is Player Development and the role of coaching mentors and coach developers has never been more important as we look to support and develop our coaches. Australian Under 19 Women’s coach David Herbert shares his experience and thoughts in this valuable article.

Across the recent Under 19 National Performance Camp our coaching staff had the opportunity to mentored by one of Australia’s master coaches Bill Tomlinson.  Bill’s background is extensive in the sport of Basketball as a former NBL and WNBL Head Coach as well as coaching in China for the past ten years.

The word mentoring in coaching is often met with apprehension, questions arise –

  • Do I really want to be critiqued by another colleague?
  • What would they know, I have coached for 30 years?
  • I am the master of my own philosophy so why do I need this?

Many a coach would be filled with the apprehensive questions above and to be honest, a younger version of myself, would have felt quite insecure about the scenario of someone constantly evaluating my every movement as a coach.  An older version of a once, think I know it all coach, now embraces the chance to improve, develop and grow as a coach.

It is with pleasure I write about the awesome opportunity given to me and the many findings and insights, discovered during my recent Under 19 Gems camp at the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence.

Firstly, Peter called to discuss the concept I said, ‘fantastic’ I viewed this as a chance learn and grow from one of Australia’s master coaches, Bill Tomlinson.  One thing I have learned as a coach, and I stand by is the following statement.

“Once you realise you don’t know everything as a coach you will inevitably become a good coach. Seek knowledge, share knowledge and help grow and develop the game.”

Some of the areas and takes from our mentoring experience at the camp – 

The eyes of the world upon you – 

As we commenced the Under 19 Gems Camp, the word mentor begins to stick in the front of one’s mind.

  • What will Bill think?
  • Are we teaching the right things?
  • Is the content good enough?
  • Do we drill and build up each area or do we show the whole picture and then break down each part and build the outcome we are chasing?
  • What way should we deliver this camp?
  • What will he say and more importantly what if we fail?

Questions and doubts soon disappeared as the urgency to deliver session one took hold.  Obvious planning had been completed as best we could, given the recent COVID landscape and world of Basketball where in my experience every entity within Victoria made bold decisions to fit every conceivable camp, tournament, training, and game into the first three months of the year.

My best advice to any coach under the pressure to step up and perform, just be you! Forget about being someone else and work as hard as possible to deliver what you believe is necessary to build your team. Forget the eyes upon you and be yourself.  If you don’t and you try to be someone you are not, coaches, assistant coaches, players and even mentors will see straight through you.


I was always told coming through the coaching ranks you are not tough enough, you need to tougher, you need to raise your voice, intimidate, and work the referees and manipulate games and to get after players more.  30 years ago, this was correct!!  Coaching has most definitely changed, and I personally think for the better.

  • Be yourself…
  • Be demanding but fair…
  • Use knowledge to inspire…
  • Facilitate teamwork…
  • Teach toughness and demand effort…
  • Raise your voice when necessary but never have your players play or train in fear of you
  • When your players understand the level of effort without you as the coach having to drive it, success will shortly follow

Engaging and motivating your assistant coaches

Many coaches in Australia don’t even have an assistant coach in junior basketball ranks unless it is at state, national or international levels?  So this may be irrelevant to some…  But here are some strategies when you are trying to create the best possible experience for your athlete’s.

The ability to engage and motivate assistant coaches has never been a massive strength of mine and it was great to have the opportunity to listen to Bill Tomlinson and have the chance to sit with undoubtably two of Australia greatest coach educators in Patrick Hunt and Peter Lonergan.

The main takeaways from these discussions are as follows:

  1. 8 sets of eyes on one area

After a reasonable first session I awaited the outcome of my first lot of feedback from Bill.  The first thing Bill discussed was my use of assistant coaches.  The comment made was terrific and struck home straight away.  Any drill we conducted the entire coaching staff (4) focused on the same thing.  If it was a drill focusing on defensive rotations what we all encouraged and coached was the defensive rotations.  What happened to the rest of what was happening on the floor? We had the 8 sets of eyes between us all focusing on the same thing.  What about the Offence, the passing, the receivers, and aspects of the offence we had forgotten about?

  1. Define Roles for your coaches

To fix the 8 sets of eyes all focusing on the one thing, Bill discussed defining roles for coaches, so that each coach had one or two focus points on each drill and for the session.  As a coaching staff we were all given this feedback and I am pleased to say it really helped us grow as a staff and I have no doubt it helped our players.  Every coach had a focus and drove players to meet the standards they had placed on their focus point.  The motivation level of all coaches changed, and we made a difference to all players on court and set new standards.

  1. Develop a Rebound King

One of the roles Bill Tomlinson suggested was a to develop a rebound king amongst our staff.  This is something that Bill had learnt in his time working with Brian Goorjian. This person become responsible for focusing on block outs.

This focus point included the following:

  • All players blocking out on the rise of the shot, tagging, making contact, stepping back and blocking out to secure a team rebound.
  • Providing incentives to the offensive team to chase Offensive boards.If they were successful, they would receive an extra possession, to reset and have the opportunity to score again.  This created a real focus on rebounding and the result players competed hard to gain possession on every shot.

  1. Where possible coach on the run and avoid lengthy coach interventions

Every coach wants their session to flow and function well.  One area of feedback I was given was to avoid allowing each coach to provide feedback during a coach intervention.  A coach intervention being a stop in the session to correct and area and to teach.  As a Head Coach I am guilty of asking all assistant coaches for feedback while the intervention is taking place.  This is more around wanting to make each coach feel they are making an impact on the group.

The result we end up with numerous teaching points, lengthy discussions and at times confused players.  Avoid this where possible.  Peter Lonergan mentioned the “Carolina Rule” – only one coach to talk during a coach intervention.  That way the focus is on the coach that has stopped the drill and the point that is being made.  As a coach you always want to put your stamp on it and jump in over the top.  Make this feedback succinct and if your assistant coaches have a point, they wish to make trust them and allow the players to trust them to make it!!

Have a focus on minimal coach interventions to avoid stop after stop during a session.  ‘Coach on the Run’ meaning if you see something wait for a chance to discuss it with the player or players while the drill is still running.  Take that player aside quickly and talk or show them exactly what you want and get them back in the drill again.

  1. What’s next mentality

The cycle of Basketball:

The game works in four cycles Offence to Defensive Transition to Defense to Defensive Transition that makes up our wonderful game.  Bill reminded me of this when we were teaching Offensive transition.  We were doing a terrific job of making our player run the perfect 5 v 0 offensive transition but what we were forgetting was the transition of this from Offense to Defensive Transition.

The importance of ‘What’s Next?’ is a crucial one.  We need to develop habits based around what is next in the game of Basketball.  In this case what happens when a shot goes up!  We were simply finishing running our secondary break, scoring, patting ourselves on the back and the next group would follow.  What we were doing was missing a chance to instill a valuable teaching area – Defensive Transition.

‘I am a traditional coach when looking at defensive transition, 3 players to the glass to form a rebound triangle and the closest player of those players smother the rebound and the other 2 players sprint back.  To have a long rebounder, at times the shooter or your point guard swoop along the foul line for a possible rebound and to pick up and dog the ball, pinning it to the sideline and a safety who will sprint to the foul line at the other end of the court.’

So, taking this into consideration while running our offensive transition every time we rose to shoot the ball, we had to sprint to fill the rebound triangle, long rebound and safety.  Defensive transition is never a perfect art but as coaches we need to provide our teams this focus, and this was a major point Bill made to me.  So, remember when running Offence 5 V 0 rehearse ‘What’s next’ teach habits and drive this important area of the game.  It will most definitely help your team when you move into scrimmage games against the defense.

  1. ‘Learn to fit in before you stand out’

I personally love this comment, and this is something I have lived by forever…  I was fortunate enough to listen to Mike Krzyzewski deliver a speech to a new intake of athletes at Duke University.   This comment has stuck with me for over 20 years as a coach and I thought I would share what it I believe it means.

When coaching a new team or even as an assistant, learn to fit in before you stand out.  Don’t make it all about you but the entire group of coaches and players.  Complete an initial session free from ego where it is focused heavily on making the athlete feel comfortable, teach the style you desire and drive the standards you wish to achieve as a group.

You see it so often a coach comes in angry, possible bad day at work and the group is lost in the first moments of training.  As I mentioned earlier coaching has changed teach, inspire, demand, motivate and at times show empathy.

As a Head Coach you have earnt the right to stand out, to run the session you wanLeatn t but also remember the season or campaign you are running is a long one and you want the trust of your players and coaching staff.

  1. Whole – Part – Whole

Teach whole first – show players what you want to achieve as a team 5 v 0 or 5 v 5 and put it in game context and then break it down and build it up again…

This was an interesting discussion we had at the camp.  This came from Peter Lonergan

Do we teach the whole play, offence or defence first put it in game context and then teach the finer points using break down drills and build it back up to playing again… Whole, part, whole, model!  Or is it best to teach the intricate parts of the game first before building to team concepts and game play.  This was an area we received feedback, so we gave it a go.  As a coach, I often drill too much as I know, the end result, I am looking for and will drive players to achieve this.  For example: Coaching ½ court defence, start coaching close outs, chest bumps, containment footwork, jumping to the ball and building this to defensive rotations.

So, I decided to give it a go I ran a basic clinic and showed introduced detail in a 5 v 5 situation on our ½ court defence.  I included defensive rotations if a player was beaten and explained exactly what we were looking for as a team including the end point of blocking out to secure possession.  We then moved to drilling the detail.  This proved the best session of the camp and whether it was the introduction of teaching whole back to part back to then whole again is up for debate.  But it certainly worked…

In summary:

  • Be open to feedback, be open to ideas, find a coach that is willing to sit and watch your training session and ask them for feedback or better still video yourself and review your own coaching craft.
  • Take the best of every coach you have the chance to work with and create the best version of yourself
  • Work at your identity as a coach, be you first and foremost.
  • Define roles for your coaching staff, don’t all focus on the same thing, have eyes and teaching across every aspect of training.
  • Have the Rebound King as one of your roles, focus heavily on rebounding as that will inevitably result in more possession of the Basketball.
  • Remember the Carolina Rule and focus on one coach talking so you do not overload your athletes.
  • Develop a ‘What’s Next’ mentality to training so that transition between the 4 cycles of Basketball can be easily achieved.
  • As Mike Krzyzewski once said – ‘Learn to fit in before you stand out’
  • Teach using the ‘Whole – Part – Whole’ method
  • Love what you do teaching the game of basketball is something to love and enjoy

Thanks to Coach David Herbert for sharing his reflections from camp and to Coach Bill Tomlinson for his work in mentoring at the camp.

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