Reflections from a Varsity Basketball Season

After I wrote this blog, I realized that it was missing some “realness” to it. It was too tidy of a little package wrapped with a bow. I wanted to come back to it and add the parts that I left out. After all, each season is different and has its own story.

People ask me all the time what it’s like for a woman to coach varsity boy’s basketball. Sometimes it’s relevant but most of the time it’s not.  With that said, I have added some of the real struggles that come with it, so my reflections of the season are more true to me and my perspective. If you really want to know what it’s like to be coached by a woman (or even coached by your Mom), you would have to ask my players or ask my son. If you get a real answer, let me know…..

As the final buzzer echoed through the Cambridge Rindge & Latin school gym, signaling the end of our high school varsity basketball season, I now find myself sitting in my home office, reflecting on the journey we’ve just completed. Coaching high school boys’ basketball isn’t just about the wins and losses—it’s about the development, the teamwork, and the lessons learned both on and off the court. Those lessons come in a lot of different ways and sometimes they will surprise you, but mostly they come when the stress level is high and we are asking boys to push outside of their comfort zones; which in turn pushes us out of our comfortable coaching seats.

This season was no exception. It was filled with highs and lows, triumphs and setbacks, but through it all, there were invaluable lessons that I, as a coach, had the privilege of learning alongside my players. Sometimes being the only female in a gym full of boys and men can be lonely but that feeling is fleeting; we have work to do and a job to get done. That’s the truth. I don’t know how else to say it.

First and foremost, I continue to learn the importance of resilience in a basketball season. It’s a very long three months. Basketball, like life, is unpredictable and imperfect. Oh, it is so imperfect, and basketball (like many sports) can be so mean sometimes.  Of course, this season there were moments when it seemed like the odds were stacked against us like when we were down 2 to 15 against King Phillip in the first quarter and had to crawl back to win.

Another example is when illness spread through most of our team, and we had to play several games with an incomplete roster.  Watching a senior captain throw-up in a garbage can at halftime of a game and another player cramping so much that we had to feed him potato chips in a timeout was difficult. As a mom, I wanted to hug them and make them feel better but as a coach I wanted to know if they could still play.  I grapple with that sometimes and want to make sure that I am always putting the athlete first.

But time and time again, our team showed incredible resilience. These boys refused to back down, pushing through adversity with unwavering determination. As their coach, I realize that resilience isn’t just a trait displayed on the court—it’s a mindset that extends far beyond the game, preparing all student-athletes for the challenges that they’ll undoubtedly face in the years to come. I also realize that these players are teaching me about sticking to our plan as well. If I’m going to coach it, I need to live it.

Former Celtics coach and current Celtics President of Operations, Brad Stevens said, “There are no shortcuts to building a great team.”

Another lesson that resonated deeply with me this season was the significance of teamwork and a strong team culture that everyone can buy into. Basketball is a team sport, and success is rarely achieved by individual efforts alone. Throughout the season, I witnessed the power of collaboration as my players worked together, selflessly supporting one another, and trusting in their teammates’ abilities. This was a major theme for us this year and it proved to be the most valuable trait that we had as a team heading into playoffs. We were underdogs in an opponent’s gym that was noisy and packed full of mostly their fans. Our mindset going in was to stick together no matter what; whether it was executing one of our offensive sets or switching our defenses on the fly, we played together to the very end.

As a coach, fostering a sense of unity among players became one of my top priorities, knowing that a strong team bond is the foundation for success both on and off the court. Our team culture was critical to our teams’ success and our three captains were bought in and made sure that others did the same. If I was going to push these messages, I also had to have hard and honest conversations with the boys – especially the ones that didn’t get as much playing time. That is by far the worst part of this job. I genuinely want everyone to taste glory, find their greatness and feel like they are an important part of the team. So when a player doesn’t get to play in a game, how do I explain that? The only thing I can think of is to Stay the Course and don’t deviate from the culture that we set at the beginning of the season.

As basketball legend, Michael Jordan once said, “Great things in sports are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”

This season taught me the importance of adaptability. This is a huge one for me.  As they say, the best laid plans….. In basketball, as in life, things don’t always go according to plan. Strategies that worked one game may fall short in the next, requiring us to adapt and adjust our approach on the fly. As a coach, I learned to embrace change and encourage my players to do the same, knowing that the ability to adapt is a valuable skill that will serve them well in any endeavor they pursue. I know, after almost 30 years of coaching, that writing a beautiful play on a white board in a one minute timeout, with tired players in a noisy gym and the game on the line, will rarely be executed properly. Yes, rarely. So… you create something that has a lot of options and then pray. Yes, I believe in the basketball Gods – although they have let me down from time to time.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, this season reminded me of the profound impact that sports can have on student-athlete’s lives. Beyond the X’s and O’s, basketball provides a platform for personal growth, instilling invaluable qualities such as discipline, perseverance, and sportsmanship. As a coach, I had the privilege of witnessing my players grow not only as athletes but as individuals, developing the skills and character traits that will shape their futures long after the final buzzer sounds. I have heard things on a bus full of high school boys leaving a game that have had a profound impact on my life. I mean it. I learn as much as they do in any given season.

In the end, while our season has come to a close and it wasn’t exactly the ending we were all hoping for, the lessons learned will endure. As I look ahead to the future, I am filled with gratitude for the opportunity to coach such a remarkable group of young men. They made me laugh, they made me frustrated, they made me curse (sometimes) but mostly they made me incredibly proud.  And as we collect the uniforms and prepare for the team banquet, I am reminded that the true measure of success lies not in wins and losses, but in the growth and development of those we have the privilege to coach.

linda smiling<br />

Written by Linda Martindale

You may also like…

How Ignoring Athletes Limits Team Potential

How Ignoring Athletes Limits Team Potential

The consequences of a coach ignoring an athlete extend far beyond the playing field or court. From undermining self-esteem to jeopardizing mental health, the silent harm inflicted by such behavior is profound and far-reaching. As coaches, it’s imperative to recognize the power of clear communication and the impact it has on the athletes.

read more