Union University head women's basketball coach, Mark Campbell, served as head coach of the 2019 USA Women's U16 National Team that posted a 6-0 record and captured the gold medal at the FIBA Americas U16 Championship. In recognition of his leadership in 2019, Campbell was named as a co-recipient of the 2019 USA Basketball Developmental Coach of the Year award.
At Union, Campbell has compiled an overall record of 639-99 (.867 winning percentage) through the 2019-20 season, which is first on the all-time Union coaching wins list. In the summer of 2019, Campbell was elected to the NAIA Hall of Fame as a coach. He has guided Union to first place finishes in the NAIA in 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2010, including a National Christian College Athletic Association national title in 2014.
USA Basketball spoke to Campbell to gain some insight and perspective on coaching.
During this time, what type of coaching duties are you doing daily?
I think the biggest thing that we are doing is recruiting and trying to figure out how we go about it in this landscape where we don't have visits and we are not going to be able to see people face to face. That's pretty much three to four hours every day through mostly FaceTime for me. I am not a big FaceTime person, but over this time period, it has become something that I have really enjoyed, because it is more relational.
I am super relational, so it does me good to be able see people's responses and reactions. We are doing end of the year meetings with all of our players that way, so I am able to talk with each of my players for 30 minutes and recap what their year was like, the hard times they had and the good and how I can help them get better for next year.
What is the most challenging aspect of coaching for you?
By far, expectations and details. Effort mentally and details are probably the most difficult things, especially for people who come into the program the first couple of years. Once they understand detail and they understand why, I don't think I'm difficult to play for. I work at a Christian school, so faith is a really important thing here, and it is very important to me. So, them knowing I love them, I think has gotten a little bit more challenging with this group of young people. I think they just want to be accepted and cared for really well, so sometimes when they are confronted and exposed on the basketball court with expectations, sometimes they tend to hide from relationships. It's figuring out how to make it a safe place, so that you can be a great teacher and they can listen and understand that it is not about their heart, it is about the knowledge they have. You are just trying to give them knowledge, so that they can be the very best that they possibly can be.
I think the biggest thing is, some of us take for granted being in households where we were loved unconditionally growing up and cared for, and we assume everybody else has the same default setting within them. I would say that most don't. It is amazing what happens if you can trust people, and that trust comes from really caring and loving people. Loving is not an awesome feeling all of the time. Loving is really caring about every area of somebody's life.
What are the most important things you consider in terms of developing relationships with your athletes?
I think communication, having a vision for their gift and how it can be used is really important. We all can look back and see people who have spoken a blessing in our life, and has said a sentence like "I think you are gifted," or, "You can be used here," and we will remember that our entire lives. We also remember the things that people say if we are not. One of the things I just said was to communicate how they can be used. The other thing is to attack weakness, not in the purpose of pointing it out as much as to have them realize how it can hurt them and hurt others. Trying to teach them what that looks like on a team, hoping that it would carry over to relationships once they leave to the workplace and the home, in a marriage, those types of things. That is the basis, because most people haven't been communicated what they are gifted at or have been told how they can be used and how their gift really brings the group to a higher place.
Next is pursuing them no matter if they are having a good day in sport or bad, loving them as people first and not what they can do for me as a player. Over a period of time I think you are able to see what motivations are from coaches, and I would like them for them to look back and say, "It doesn't matter if I played good or played bad, or if I responded to him positively or negatively, he pursued caring about me." I think those two things are really important.
It is such an opportunity. There is not a better opportunity in the world than being the coach, because in basketball you have six or seven months to develop some sort of consistency. I have four children. They will be in the house for 18 years, and so that is a long time. We can have a bad day, and my kids can realize what the big picture looks like. Well, in sports, my lifetime with my team is seven months, and that seven months it is almost like everything is expediated. Our weaknesses are expediated, and by being in competition our strengths are brought out. My kids have 18 years to learn what my players have seven months for. We have to figure out how to take advantage of it within that team atmosphere. Family is a big part of what we have in our locker room, so family is a big thing and it takes really soft hearts to be a part of a family. It is really important for us in recruiting to recruit young ladies that have soft hearts towards others.
What made you pursue a career in coaching?
I just loved basketball growing up, and my coaches were a big part of my life outside of my family and my church. They played the biggest role in my life. I had family
, and had some pastors and I also had some friends, but most of my friends were through the sport. I loved thinking about when I played for a coach named Don Meyers, and I loved thinking about strategy and thinking about putting a team together and having people's gift make each other better. I just like thinking about that stuff. I think I knew I wanted to coach when I was in ninth grade, about 15 years old. It is why I made the decision about where I went to college. Then I kept notebooks all through college with coaches quotes, and I read coaching books, probably 40 coaching books in my last two years of college. I just knew what I wanted to do, and I felt like God had been really clear about what I was supposed to do.