Coaches Corner: Brian Robinson
Brian Robinson is the head women’s basketball coach at Bishop McGuinness High School in North Carolina and a two-time gold medal winning USA Basketball assistant coach.
Robinson helped USA teams to perfect records at the 2013 FIBA Americas U16 Championship and the 2014 FIBA U17 World Cup.
At Bishop McGuinness, Robinson led his teams to a state-record nine-straight North Carolina High School Athletic Association 1A state championships (2006 to 2014), and he has been named the 2010 Associated Press State Coach of the Year, the Greensboro News & Record Coach of the Year in 2006, 2008 and 2012 and the Northwest 1A Conference Coach of the Year in 2006, 2009, 2014 and 2020.
USA Basketball spoke with Robinson to gain his insight and perspective on coaching.
What things do you try to accomplish in the pre-season?
We've always had the philosophy that we want to establish a culture first, making sure that the younger athletes that are coming in and the freshmen are feeling comfortable in the program and feel welcome in the program. It can be a little intimidating, going into high school to start with, and then being part of a basketball program. And so, we really encourage our seniors and our juniors to take some leadership and ownership of the program and be able to help the freshmen along. We think that's a big part of our culture, just making sure that they're feeling welcome. At the same time, we don't want to lose sight of our goals. We want to define goals that we have and have a clear idea of what we want to try to accomplish during the season, not just as a team, but individually as well, because we all want to get better. We all want to improve, coaches included. When we clearly define our goals, we feel like we have a better shot at reaching them, whatever goals we set.
What is the most challenging aspect of coaching for you?
Trying to develop trust. Especially in the social media age, there is a lot of comparing to other kids and a lot of comparing to other programs, and that can disrupt our culture. Basically, you're trying to keep blinders on the kids, as best as possible, to not listen to outside influences. They have a lot of people in their ears. A lot of people want to give them advice. Some of them do have their best interests at heart, some of them, unfortunately, don't. We want to make sure that they totally trust what we're trying to do for them, and that they understand that we do have their best interests at heart. If we can keep the distractions down to a minimum, and that's probably the biggest challenge of them all, we feel like we have a shot at doing some really good things each season.
What are the most important things you consider in terms of developing relationships with your athletes?
The two things to build a relationship, I think, are trust and consistency. The players have to trust you. They have to believe that you have their best interests at heart, not just on the court, but off the court. They have to know you care about them as a person. And I think once you've got their trust, they pretty much will give their all for you. On top of that trust, you have to be consistent in everything you do, not just as a coach, but as a person. Kids can see right through a person when you're trying to be something you're not. I have found consistency plays a very important role in our program. I’ve been a coach for 24 years, and when the kids see that I’m the same way now as I was before, that really helps out a whole lot, because now the kids come in with expectations. They know how it’s going to be and that really helps the relationship.
The relationships last much longer than the basketball. The basketball just brings us together, but once the basketball is done, you hopefully have that person in your life for the rest of your life. And we as coaches have to understand that. We're dealing with kids, and they're playing as our players right now, but they're also people. They will be adults in the future, who hopefully will do wonderful things in their lives, and hopefully, you had a hand in helping that happen.
We always have individual meetings before the season. And we make sure that they're doing well on and off the court. We see them every day on the court, but off the court, you never know what's going on with kids. You just want to be able to let them know that if they need something academically or socially, hopefully, we can have someone on our staff to maybe help them fill that void.
Are there general principles you rely on in terms of how to deal with parents and guardians?
We have a set of rules that we lay out. We make them clear, and we have them on paper, but we also have parent meetings to make sure they are very clear about how things are going to operate.
One of the big rules is, if there is concern, or there is an issue, it is not handled right after a game. There's no communication, there's no texting, email or phone calls right after a game, because emotions run high, and you'll say things, from either side, that you really don't mean. So, if there's a concern, they can send a one or two line email the following day.
And if they ask for a face-to-face meeting, we usually have a third party in there, whether it's assistant coach or administrator. No matter how small or large the situation may seem to be, we always have a third party in there. And then we have laid down the ground rules ahead of time, which are basically, you can't talk about someone else's kids if they're not present, we ask that the student be in there with us, so they can either go against or go with whatever is being said and we can get their side of the story, and then we don't allow for any personal attacks. No personal attacks includes social media, or anything, because once you cross that line, you can’t help anybody, not the coach, the player, the parent, anyone.
It's been very effective for us. I know the parents have concerns, but they respect the boundaries that we put up, and they understand that we have the kids best interests at heart. Whether they agree with playing time, or whatever, they trust the program enough to let it work out.