Coaches Corner: Matt King
Matt King is the chief operating officer at Position Sports and the executive director of the Arizona Basketball Coaches Association. He volunteered at several USA Basketball junior national team training camps and was a USA Basketball Youth & Sport Development ambassador in 2019.
King spent three years as the boys basketball varsity head coach at Clovis High School (Clovis, N.M.) and four seasons in that same position at Sandra Day O’Connor High School (Phoenix, Ariz.), as well as four years coaching with the CCV Stars Youth Sports program.
USA Basketball spoke with King to get his insight and perspective on coaching.
What are the things that you're trying to accomplish in the first month of the season?
I think the first thing is, you're trying to build a culture and establish what that what the identity of your team is going to be. Another one of the things that a lot of people don't think about is teaching kids how to practice. I always felt like, at the beginning of every season, we had to remind kids, ‘This is how we're going to operate. This is how we're going to practice, and this is the standard that these practices have to be at. And we have to have that standard on a day-to-day basis.’ Establishing those norms is important, as is establishing what the culture and identity of your team is going to be. And then at the beginning of every season, you want to place a huge emphasis on being fundamentally sound. Those are things that are basketball non-negotiables. Whether it's taking care of the basketball, or we're going to take good shots, we're going to guard the basketball, we're going to rebound. Those four things we always wanted to establish before we start practicing. And no matter what happens, we're going to do these four things.
Is there an overarching principle or emphasis that is consistent through all of the teams that you've coached?
Absolutely. I think the overarching things were, ‘We're going to work hard every single day. We're going to be consistent. We're going to play for each other. We're going to play for something bigger than ourselves. And we're going to be smart.’ And then no matter what your team needs to do to be successful strategically, those things should be consistent. They should be consistent every season.
Can you touch on how you might get a player to work hard? Or how you might emphasize smarts in the game?
Yeah, so that's a skill. I mean, just like dribbling, passing and shooting. So much of what we undervalue in skill development is teaching kids how to make decisions. And when we talk about basketball IQ, it's not the ability to make a spectacular play. It's the ability to make simple plays over and over and over again, and to execute skills in simple ways that are effective and efficient. That could be anything from teaching kids the rules of penetration, with the players dribbling into the paint. For example, so they know that if a ball goes baseline, then I'm going to drift to the corner, so that I give my guy an opportunity to find me. Then they are understanding spacing, understanding how to make passes with both hands, and when those passes need to be made. Or, who are you reading on a pick and roll coverage? And understanding why and how to read those guys. Those are the things that create basketball IQ. One of the things that we really try to try to emphasize with coaches is if you run a drills and skills practice, it might make sense at first for those to be soft skills, so a kid can become proficient in the technical aspect of the skill. But if you don't move from that place of just technical proficiency to the place of actually putting that in a live situation where a decision has to be made, then the kid doesn't actually have the skill. I think that's where you start to see like, does this kid not only know how to do this, but can he do this in a live situation with pressure and make a great decision? If you can do those things, you know, ‘Hey, I've got, I've got a kid that has proficiency with that skill.’
In your experience, what has been the most challenging aspect of coaching?
By far, communicating with teenagers. The longer I was in coaching, the more I felt that the teenager today is very different than when I was a teenager. It is important to be emotionally intelligent and to communicate with teenagers in ways that really help you connect with them, inspire, influence and teach them. That's a skill, and it's challenging, especially if you're coaching at a public high school, where you're going to get a variety of kids that are coming in with a variety of different reasons why they want to play on the high school team. And so, great coaches are master teachers, and they're master communicators. I think the greatest challenge in coaching by far is the ability to get better at both of those things – becoming a great teacher and becoming a great communicator.
What resources do you look to for guidance in becoming a great teacher and communicator?
There are a lot of resources available. There are other coaches. But one of the things that's been helpful to me is to be able to learn from people outside of basketball, whether it's CEOs in business, or it’s leaders from other avenues and spheres. A lot of times you can learn the most about the best ways to communicate from great leaders, and oftentimes, great leaders are not always coaches. There's a great quote that great leaders are great readers. Trying to be curious as to how people are leading others in a variety of different industries has kind of opened my mind to maybe some new approaches that maybe aren't as accessible in the coaching industry.
What were some general ideas that you used in terms of dealing with parents and guardians?
I think the world has changed dramatically. It used to be that the coach did not have to work alongside the parents, because the natural default was that parents were going to support the coach no matter what. That is not always the case right now. And so, it's very, very important that coaches work with parents, they communicate with parents and they have honest conversations with parents. What I found is that parents might not always like your perspective, but they always appreciate hearing your perspective when it's communicated to them directly. Oftentimes, coaches are willing to do that in a reactive manner, after something has happened. One of the things I would encourage coaches to do in this day and age is to have proactive conversations with parents. Because, ultimately, at the end of the day, a parent just wants to know the kid is being taken care of. Being able to communicate a vision for that kid, how they fit into your program and what are the things needed for them to be able to reach their goals is a necessary part of coaching right now.