Coaches Corner: Steve Gomez
The head women’s basketball coach at Lubbock Christian University in Texas, Steve Gomez has helped lead two USA Basketball teams to gold medals.
In 2018, he served as an assistant coach for the USA women’s team that won a gold medal with a 7-0 record at the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup in Belarus. And in 2017, he helped the USA to a gold medal as an assistant coach at the 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Argentina. Additionally, he served as a court coach at trials for the 2016 USA Women’s U17 World Cup Team.
Entering in 2020-21 his 18th season as the head coach at Lubbock Christian, Gomez has compiled an outstanding 425-125 record for a .773 winning percentage.
In 2019-20, Gomez led Lubbock Christian to a 28-3 record, a Lone Star Conference tournament championship and an NCAA Division II No. 1 South Central ranking before the NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball National Tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2018-19, Gomez and Lubbock Christian captured a 32-5 record and the program’s second NCAA Division II National Championship with a double-overtime win in the final. Gomez’s first national title came in 2016, which was the first year the program was eligible for NCAA Division II postseason play.
USA Basketball spoke with Gomez to gain his insight and perspective on coaching.
What things do you try to accomplish in the preseason?
Every year, the most important thing for us is building relationships. With every new team, we may lose a few players or graduate a few seniors, and it is a totally new dynamic. And so, just getting that team-first mentality amongst a new group of players, in the big picture, is the most important thing for us. Obviously, we do a lot of strength and conditioning stuff. And my main priority on the court, through all the drills, whatever we're doing, is quick decision making – getting them to handle all the chaos of the game. We want to challenge them mentally right away. We try to do things at a high pace and create some mental chaos and put pressure on them to see how they handle it. For the first few weeks of the season, we are just trying to get them to concentrate at a very high level, so they learn to listen quick and react quick. This year, we're going play different than we did last year, so we are trying to really set a tone for what's going to be our main emphasis of play. If we're going to play faster, we need to learn to practice faster.
But really, preseason for us, early on, I want to form a team and get those roles and those interactions really positive. They learn how to deal with each other on the court and not have on the court be different than off the court. We want it all to be seamless bonding.
Over the summer, we met with our five seniors a number of times to address their leadership and what they need to know about their teammates and how they can serve them.
We'll do some team gatherings at my house. But even coming in, our players have been together in the summer. So, there are already some seedlings of relationships that are starting to grow. For us, it's a matter of, how much do you really know about your teammate? We've been really fortunate that our kids love to be together. They like to go everywhere together. It's not even coach-driven. There were times, years ago, where I had to instigate weekly team time, and we had a certain time set aside. But after a few years, some of our players came to me and said, ‘You know, coach, you don't really have to do that for us. We can take care of that.’ So, that is nice. After that point, it has been team-driven as opposed to creating opportunities for them.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your coaching career?
In the big scheme of things, basketball is not that big of a deal. Understanding that you're not going to be defined by your stats, and I'm not going to be defined by my record. What do we want to be remembered for? It is relationships. What I'm doing for people around me. As a younger coach, I was just so intense about every loss and every detail. Those are vital. I mean, we want to do great. But, we've got to keep things in some sort of frame of reference to where the game doesn't define us. That's one of the most important things I've learned. Another one is that I'm not in control. As coaches, we have an innate drive in us is to try to direct and organize and micromanage everything that is going to happen. Over the years, I’ve realized you really can't control things. I can control my attitude with my teaching, but I've got to have people I can trust and players and coaches that I trust to get things done. That's been a huge freeing lesson over the years. I do the best I can, but I don’t have control over the outcome. It doesn't all depend on me. I can't make anybody do anything. Whether a kid's got to make a good play and make a shot – I can't control that. And so, we're letting go some of that and having some humor about it and ourselves.
What is the most challenging aspect of coaching for you?
I would say the most challenging, maybe the most enjoyable and challenging, is meshing the personalities of a team. Finding or attempting to find a way to get all those kids bought into the same thing. We talk about getting them to embrace their role on the team. We don't want kids to accept a role, we want them to love it, embrace it and not just put up with it. That's not easy, at any level and especially in college. Getting someone to say, ‘My role is to practice hard and cheer my head off during games, because I'm not going to play much,’ is hard. Getting them to where they understand and they enjoy doing that, as opposed to be grudgingly accepting it, is challenging. So for me, being sensitive enough to their spirit and their egos to not beat them down and find a way to make them valuable. It's that dynamic to me that’s a challenge. And, it's fun. It’s a strategic part. I think one thing we've been fortunate with here is people have told us over and over that they love to come to our games, because they love to watch our bench. They really enjoy how involved they are. When we hear those things, that makes you think the team is buying into something bigger than themselves. It takes constant messaging, constant exampling.
Is there one overall defensive principle you think is most important?
Our defense is really keyed on an old Greek phrase – know thyself and know thy opponents. We defend situationally more than we do individually. If a kid can’t shoot, we're not guarding them. If they can't drive right, we're going to make them go right. So, it's really knowing who you're playing against, and then don't let them do what they do best. That's really our defensive principle.
Things we're working on right now, in terms of defense, are basic things like transition defense and making our opponents play against our set defense. And then communication, which would cover every bit of what I've already talked about. We have to communicate, because we have to have five people working together. Our defense is based on our unit, more than individuals. So, we may have slow kid, and we have to cover for that and do our job together. We have to communicate. That will cover up a lot of trouble. Everybody has to be bought in and locked in as a group.