Coaches Corner: Kelly Carruthers
Kelly Carruthers completed her second USA Basketball coaching assignment as an assistant coach for the 2019 USA Basketball Women’s U16 National Team, which she helped lead to a 6-0 record and gold medal. She previously served as a court coach for the 2015 USA Women’s U16 trials.
Carruthers is a seven-time District 4-6A Coach of the Year and is in her 10th season (2011-12 to present) as head coach for James Bowie High School in Texas. Through the 2019-20 season, she had compiled a 251-71 overall record (.779) at Bowie.
USA Basketball spoke with Carruthers to get her insight and perspective on coaching.
How has COVID-19 impacted your season and how you are dealing with your athletes?
This season is a prime example of adversity at its finest. It's been crazy. It's definitely impacted our season, because we didn't get the postseason and the preseason time with our student-athletes that we typically do. Those times are when the girls typically bonded. We would do a lot of team building activities, and they got to learn about each other, as well as our coaches and our coaching staff. That was a huge component of our program that we missed out on this year. We missed out on community service activities, attending college practices and games, and just some fun activities outside of basketball that we typically do.
Personally, I had a really difficult time with COVID. My players were struggling and missing that interaction, the personal touches, the high fives, things of that nature, especially since they weren't in school. One of the things that I did was driving around to each of my players’s houses, just to see them face-to-face and lay eyes on them, so I could look into their eyes and make sure they were okay, of course from at least six feet apart. I stayed in my car, and I did that a couple times in the spring and summer. I delivered their Letterman’s jackets to them, just to put a smile on their faces. That kind of helped us to get through those difficult times. We would also do Zoom calls as a team.
Now, we're coming to the end of our season, and we've only had one varsity player test positive. We have two regular season games left. We’ve done a really good job of keeping JV and varsity separate. My athletes really took precautionary measures by wearing their masks. They are on the bench sanitizing every time they come off the court. We have to do temperature checks before they come into the building, and we have to sanitize all of our equipment every day before and after usage. So, all those things played an important part. This is something that they've never been through, or that anybody had been through for that matter, so it took some getting used to.
I hope your senior player who tested positive is recovering?
Yeah, she did recover, and she has been back with us. That was over Christmas break. Kids are resilient, and she bounced back with ease.
Are there general principles you rely on in terms of how to deal with parents and guardians?
Of course, this year is different. Typically, we have a parent meeting at the beginning of our year, and we cover our handbook, our parent responsibilities and our athletes’ responsibilities, and then we also share with them what our coaches’ responsibilities are, because I want everybody to make sure they know what their role is, and how this can all come together and how we can work together. It's like a well-oiled machine.
Typically, I have a counselor come in to speak to my parents about testing, ACT and SAT requirements and NCAA Eligibility Center information. So, I give all my parents that information. I'll have an actual official come to speak to my parents, so they can go over rules and changes, and answer questions from parents. That's a really a fun time, because they actually get to tell them the rules. Parents yelling in the stands often really don't know the rules. So, it's a time for them to bond with officials as well as become knowledgeable about the rules. That has really cut down on parents yelling at officials during games. I started doing that a couple years ago.
I've had former players and our booster club come in and talk to them about the history of our program and where we are trying to go as far tournaments, fundraising opportunities and concerns parents may have throughout the season.
Since I started doing this about eight years ago, I haven't had any parent meetings. We ask that the athletes to bring any concerns to the actual coach they have a concern with prior to having a parent meeting. We have an open-door policy for the athletes, and we try to encourage them to have those difficult conversations. That is a principle that will prepare them to communicate effectively with their teachers regarding their grades, their professors in college and into life with their bosses. Once we have that meeting, typically the issue is resolved, and the parent meeting isn't warranted. That has really helped both the athletes as well as the parents.
So, then this year, did you have a Zoom meeting with parents?
Yeah, we did. That was a change that we made. We had a Zoom meeting, and I really didn't like it. I've been on Zooms all day, every day, but it's just so impersonal. I love to be in a room with the parents, so they can see me. Questions really weren't asked. They kind of just listened. I didn't get to share a video by John O'Sullivan called ‘Changing the Game and Youth Sports.’ It talks about encouraging your kid rather than yelling at your kid and saying, ‘I love watching you play.’
That has helped me to be a better parent for my child, who plays volleyball. I really don't know anything about volleyball, but I love supporting her and I love cheering her on. So, after she plays, I'll say, ‘I love watching you play,’ rather than saying, ‘Oh, you should have done this, and this and this.’
We try to show the parents how kids feel and why they're quitting when they get to their junior or senior year, because of the pressure and things that they feel. So, we want to make sure our kids are having fun. That's what we try to remind the parents of.
At the end of the season, I typically have another meeting. That will be another Zoom meeting this year, and it just talks about what’s coming up, our future fundraisers that we're trying to do, and our spring league, if we get to have one this year, and then what the future holds for this program. I try to do one parent meeting at the beginning and one at the end.
Is there an over-arching principle or emphasis you try and instill within all of your teams?
If you were to ask my kids the two things I don't do, they would say in unison she does not do being late. I stress the importance of being on time in all aspects of their lives, not just in basketball.
The other principle I would point to is discipline, because a lot of the little but important things fall under discipline. My kids all have to dress alike. They cannot have their hair an outlandish color. If they want to do a blue, since our colors are blue and orange, then everybody has to do blue. We're a team, and so we're going look the same. No one stands out in practice or in games. Practice jerseys are always tucked in, and we have structured practices. The practice plans are typed out. I meet with my coaches, and we talk about our plan for the day and what we're trying to accomplish. It's broken down all the way to the two minutes for water breaks.
My managers have to pay attention and they know how much time is put on the clock for particular drills. I don't have to say anything to them. I've actually had a manager recruited from a college coach that was at my practice, just because of how they're on it and how valuable they are to our program.
We definitely focus on more than just the game. I have so many players that come back, and I talk to them on a day-to-day basis. My former players, they come back and pour into my current kids, and they share with them their stories and what they went through. Now, my former players now will say that I've gotten soft over my 19 years, but my current kids do not believe that. We try to instill in them everything to prepare them for life, so they can be successful after leaving us.
What do you wish you knew about coaching when you first started out?
I was 24 years old when I started coaching, and I thought I had a good grasp of what I was about to embark on, and I didn't. I wish I knew that this game of basketball is about more than just basketball. I say that, because my kids would come in, and they would have issues, and they would be going through things at home, and I would tell them, ‘You have to leave your issues at the door.’ That's not possible for a 13-year-old kid. I started at the junior high for four years. And so, I started to learn my kids’ backgrounds and meet their parents or realize that their parents weren't coming home and they were raising themselves and their siblings. At first, I just didn't realize what these kids have to go through, because I hadn’t. I wasn't raised that way. I thought everybody was raised like I was. I knew relationships with my student-athletes would be important, but I didn't realize that they would forever be a part of my life and change my life.
Those kids that I had my first year, they're in their 30s now and some are high school and college coaches. I just talked to one this morning. It's amazing the stories they have and what they are experiencing themselves. So, not only have I learned how to be a better coach, but a better person. I’ve learned to watch my kids and sometimes realize, okay, something's wrong today.
I never act shocked when my kids tell me something, because I've seen so much in my years. I think that's helped a lot as far as my kids being open enough to talk to me and confide in me a little bit.
I wish I would have known then what I know now, but I guess I had to experience some life in order to get to where I am today.