Coaches Corner: Heather Stewart
Heather Stewart is in her 21st season as a basketball coach, and she has coached at the high school and collegiate level. She currently is the girls basketball coach at Christopher High School in Gilroy, California, and she was an assistant women’s basketball coach at Gavilan College from 2014-2018. Additionally, she served as a USA Basketball Youth & Sport Development regional coordinator in 2019, was a featured speaker at the 2019 USA Basketball Women in the Game Bay Area conference and 2018 USA Basketball Southern California Coach Academy and was a lead coach for the 2019 USA Basketball Gold Camps in Los Angeles and New York.
USA Basketball spoke with Stewart to gain some insight and perspective on coaching.
During this time, what type of coaching duties are you doing daily?
There are not too many players that play year-round within my program. Therefore, the couple of players who do are working out online with their club teams. As for my program, the biggest thing is checking in and communicating with the team. Remembering to continue to grow the relationships right now is important. As we finish school and get into summer workouts, we will be creating and sending out remote training schedules if we are unable to train together.
What do you wish you knew about coaching when you first started out?
When I first started coaching, I wish I had a greater knowledge of how to manage a practice schedule. Having the ability to manage the time spent on skill development, offensive/defensive schematics and team bonding is extremely important. Additionally though, knowing how your practices change for pre, regular and post season play was something I did not understand as a new coach and have learned to develop over time. I also wish I had incorporated the clock in practices earlier to help keep the sense of urgency and competition up.
What is the most rewarding aspect of coaching for you?
The most rewarding parts of coaching happen both on and off the court. On the court, watching players begin to grow their abilities, basketball knowledge and learn how to work together within the team to achieve their goals is one of the most rewarding experiences as a coach. My favorite part as I have matured in coaching, however, is watching my athletes grow into their adult lives, create career paths and begin and grow their families. Having built and maintained relationships with my athletes has allowed me to be a small part of their journey well beyond the court. As a friend and fellow coach, Kevin Sutton likes to say, ‘These are our living trophies.’ These living, beautiful trophies are far more valuable to me than all of the ones sitting on a shelf or hanging in rafters.
Are there general principles you rely on in terms of how to deal with parents and guardians?
Communication, communication, communication. When it comes to parents, it's important to communicate your expectations of the program, coaches, each player and the role of parents. Perhaps most importantly, communicate the importance of boundaries. The incorporation of a 24-hour rule has been extremely helpful throughout the years. When parents, players or coaches are upset about anything (playing time, decision making, substitutions, etc.) and want to discuss it, they must respect a cooling off period of 24 hours. If you're still upset about it after you have slept on it, then a meeting will be called to talk it out. I've found that taking away the emotional reaction moments has been instrumental in managing consistently strong and cohesive program.