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2013 USA Women's U16 National Team

Sue Phillips: 'Make Teaching Your Priority And Let The Kids Know You Care'

  • Date:
    Oct 20, 2014

For someone who is so dedicated to teaching, Sue Phillips still puts a high regard on learning. Why else would she have spent what little free time she had this summer writing school papers?

Phillips, who is entering her 22nd season as head basketball coach at Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, California, led the USA Basketball Women’s U17 Team to gold at the 2014 FIBA World Championship in the Czech Republic in July. At the same time, she was earning her Master’s degree in performance psychology.

“I was doing all this while I was teaching full-time, coaching high school and doing USA Basketball,” said Phillips, who has compiled a striking 601-115 record at Archbishop Mitty and collected five state championships. “There were times I was holed up in my hotel room finishing up a paper.”

Phillips said she made it her mission to go back to school this past offseason, specifically to study performance psychology and use it to improve even more as a coach.

“I wanted to take a closer look at how I’m communicating with the kids, different ways of being creative in my motivational tactics, and really try to get them to a place where they are maximizing their potential,” she said. “As coaches, we need to grow and evolve not just in x’s and o’s, but how we manage our players and really try to get the best out of our team.”

Phillips first won gold with USA Basketball in 2013 with the U16 team at the FIBA Americas Championship in Cancun, Mexico, but she called the 2014 FIBA World Championship “more than I could ever dream of.”

While her team dominated through much of the tournament, it faced a red-hot Spain team in the finals. Despite not having faced such a tough test up until that point, Phillips’ team responded and squeaked out a 77-75 victory to claim gold.

“We did a great job of answering, but it really was a competitive basketball game with two teams competing at a very high level, and we were very fortunate to have been on the winning end,” said Phillips.

“There wasn’t any level of concern from our staff because we knew they were playing their tails off, playing their hearts out, and they were playing an unselfish brand of basketball. So there was no concern on our end. We just needed to continue to compete. Spain was a formidable opponent.”

Playing unselfish basketball is critical at any level, but it might be hardest to teach when you’ve got an elite team of all-stars. As Phillips pointed out, the USA Basketball U17 Team was loaded with talented players who are all used to taking 20-25 shots a game.

“In the context of our team, we have several All-Americans, and we’re better if we share the basketball and we don’t become as predictable. So in the rare instances when we felt it became a little too much one-on-one play, we would have a conversation, and the kids were very receptive and made the necessary adjustments.”

Whether it’s USA Basketball, Archbishop Mitty or AAU teams she’s involved with, Phillips’ philosophy is to reward unselfish players – not only with praise but also with extra playing time.

While Phillips believes it is important for coaches to evolve and be mindful of the fact that kids are different today because the world they live in has changed, she is quick to espouse two critical pieces of coaching advice that remain constant:

“A couple of things stick out to me, particularly for coaches who are new to this,” she said.

“It’s not what you know, it’s about how you package it. You can be the best coach out there but if you can’t relay that information and have your kids make the corrective measure that you want them to do, then it’s kind of a moot point. So being able to have the knowledge and then the ability to teach it so that your kids can retain it and execute it is truly an art. … You’re a teacher first. You can never know enough, but don’t be overwhelmed about knowing enough because really it’s about being a teacher.”

And the second point:

“The kids gotta know you care. There are good days and bad days. At times your intensity can get the best of you, or the competition doesn’t always bring out the best in people. But at the end of the day, the kids gotta know you care about them and you want them to be successful.

“Follow those two things – make teaching your priority and let the kids know you care about them – you can have a great time and really have a positive impact on the kids you coach.” 

Have a question for Coach Phillips? Go to Facebook or Twitter now to submit your questions and Coach Phillips will answer them in a feature that will run on Friday. Be sure to use #AskCoachSue.

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