6 Basketball Tips For School Leadership

I am not a basketball coach, and I don’t pretend to be one on TV either.
Over the years, however, I have watched a lot of games, and sometimes I’ll still shoot baskets with my kids until my legs give out, and they’re asking me if they should call EMSA.

This summer my two older daughters participated in summer league basketball. My parental duty was to taxi them to practices or games and watch a lot of messy basketball.

One afternoon, I kept seeing one my daughters repeating the same mistakes when playing offense. So I jotted down some pointers I shared with her that evening over burritos.

Later, I began to think through how these basketball tips also apply to our own performance as school leaders. So I re-wrote them as a way to self reflect and to share. Here they are:

1. Get open so you are available for something to happen.

“Getting open” means keeping in mind that everyone has an integral part to play. Strong teams do not work with players who are happy bystanders.

As a school leader, have you decided where you want to “move the ball” in your area of responsibility in the coming months?

Just like in basketball, if you do not stay committed to taking personal action in making something happen, you are simply wasting space.

2. Talk to your teammates so they know where you are.

Communication is the key for any strong team.

Over the summer, one of my school team members suggested we pull together more often as a leadership team during the school year to compare notes. That suggestion has me rethinking how to make this happen every morning.

In school, sometimes you communicate through orientation for students, professional development, updates to parents, leadership meetings, or faculty meetings.

At other times, you connect informally through talks while supervising or during lunch.

Whatever way you communicate, you cannot survive on your own island of work. You need your team, and they need you. So talk regularly about what each of you needs to accomplish. And then work together toward that end.

3. When a teammate is trapped, run to his/her help.

Even the most talented basketball player can get trapped if her defenders double-team her.

In schools, none of us are superheroes. Each of us faces tasks or situations that may be bigger than we are. During those times, we need one another’s support.

Seasoned teachers must support new ones. School leaders must provide resources and support for all their team members.

This doesn’t mean doing each other’s jobs. It means providing the needed assistance, resources, or moral support during tough times.

4. Anticipate chasing a pass or run to it.

If you are familiar with the game of basketball, you know a good pass doesn’t just happen. Rarely do players have very long to launch clean, unobstructed passes to one another.

In schools, you will rarely find the luxury of providing learning without conflict, challenges, distractions, or frustrations.

If you are committed to school-wide success, then you anticipate these challenges and plan ahead.

For example, when a team member is working on a task that you know requires assistance, run to their help. Don’t wait to be asked.

Just this past week, my assistant principals and I sat down to list over twenty important tasks that still need to completed for a successful day one of school.

Good team work is more than just a 1 + 1 = 2 equation. Good teams provide exponential results, so 1 + 1 may equal 5 in terms of results.

5. Block out and position yourself for rebounds.

I love Harry Wong’s training for teachers where he reminds educators that “you are the expert.” No matter what obstacles you face, your training, background, education, and experience have made you capable of winning in the classroom.

The same applies school-wide.

Lean into your strengths so that you will stay effective during challenging times.

6. Control the ball till you can either drive it or make a good pass.

In basketball, your strategy cannot be, “How can I get rid of this ball?” It should be, “What can I make happen with this ball?”

Good execution requires taking responsibility for the outcome. And so does effective instruction and leadership.

Strong educators teach with both sides of their brain at once. Or sometimes I say, you teach with both hands at once. In other words, you instruct based on the content you know (on the one hand), and you manage behavior so that students can reach understand and learn (with the other hand).

This two-sided approach to learning applies in all aspects of school life. You “control the ball” by creating the best environment possible for learning to take place.

There are no magic formulas for success in sports or in school.

In both settings, success happens more often when you practice the basics. Playing offense means strategizing to win, not just surviving till the end of the game.

In the season ahead, remember to play smart, communicate often, provide support, stay pro-active, position yourself wisely, and implement actions strategically.

Now It’s Your Turn
I know I haven’t exhausted the analogies we can learn from watching good teams working together. What are some other basics for school-wide success that you can share with the rest of us?

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker