Pete Van Mullem Relishes Opportunities to Give Back to Youth Basketball
Bozeman, Montana, is many things: Big Sky country, home to wildlife and close to world-class skiing.
It’s also where Pete Van Mullem grew up in the 1980s. It’s where he managed to fall in love with sports, despite a lack of local connections and pro teams, and it’s where he developed a reverence for coaches and how they can help shape lives.
Van Mullem made it all the way to fifth grade before his first significant foray into any sport. His parents signed him up for a summer basketball camp at Montana State University. He was smitten.
“From then on, that’s all I wanted to do,” said Van Mullem, now 43. “It wasn’t for a college scholarship. I just loved to play and wanted to focus on an activity.”
Van Mullem played basketball through high school, achieving his one major goal when it came to sports of making the varsity team. He moved on to college knowing that somehow he wanted to keep a connection to basketball and sports. He found that connection in coaching basketball, eventually rising through the ranks to a college assistant position.
These days, Van Mullem is a professor at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, where he teaches a variety of topics, each having direct and indirect connections to his love of the coaching profession. He teaches classes focused on leadership, organization management, marketing and the business side of sports.
Van Mullem also works with USA Basketball as a guest speaker at Coach Academy events around the country, and he serves as the lead coordinator for one of USA Basketball’s Open Court sites in Lewiston. Coach Academy events are opportunities for coaches from all walks of life to get educated from some of the best in the business with USA Basketball. The Open Court program makes court time available for kids at local facilities and allows kids to earn participation points for prizes.
Van Mullem says he relates well with the Open Court program because it turns the game over to kids while the adults are there simply to ensure a safe environment. He described how it reminds him of how his parents handled his participation in activities as a kid.
“My parents essentially gave me a gift,” he said. “They turned the game over to me. So they gave me this great gift as a young person. They said, ‘OK, this is your game. This is your activity. This is all your successes. This is all your failures.’ I don’t know that they did that as purposefully, but as I reflect back, that’s essentially what they did. And in that process, I got to experience all the great joys of that game and more importantly I think coaches became more important to me, because I wasn’t trying to please my parents.”
That respect for coaches and the profession of coaching has held true through the years, and now Van Mullem gives back by talking to groups of coaches and at USA Basketball Coach Academy events about his philosophies of, “learn, relate and reflect.”
* How do you keep learning?
* How do you relate to your athletes?
* How do you reflect as a coach and implement your own values into your team?
Van Mullem is a father of three, and he and his wife have adopted the same approach of turning over the games or activities to their two daughters and son in much the same way Van Mullem’s parents did. One of his daughters is highly focused on academic pursuits but also swims and runs. Another daughter plays soccer and basketball, and his son creates all kinds of projects with Legos.
“I feel like I’m an example a little bit of the positive experiences of sport because of good people and good coaches,” he said. “That has kind of led me to see, ‘How can we help provide that opportunity for young people today?’”