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Coaching the coaches: Academy readies basketball assistants for top jobs

60 hone leadership skills and enjoy networking during two-day NCAA Basketball Coaches Academy

Much like how their players use the offseason to grow their game, collegiate coaches across the country make the same investment to develop their leadership skills on and off the court after the season ends. The NCAA leadership development unit provided one such opportunity for 60 eager rising stars through the NCAA Basketball Coaches Academy.

Women’s and men’s assistant basketball coaches from all three NCAA divisions came together for two immersive days of personal and professional development May 24-25. The virtual event equipped attending coaches with a vital toolkit to grow as leaders of student-athletes and to achieve their career aspirations as head basketball coaches.

“I enjoyed my experience at the 2021 Basketball Coaches Academy and was grateful I got to participate along with so many other rising coaches,” said Cassie Lastivka, assistant women’s basketball coach at Wilmington (Ohio). “The most valuable aspects of my participation were that I got to continue to grow my knowledge of the game by diving in deeper on what it takes to be a head coach, the values of being your true self in this profession, and how to communicate your vision to the community.”

The two-day curriculum was packed with important topics that ultimately will prepare attendees to not only obtain head coaching positions, but also to thrive once they are leading a program. Specific sessions centered around building a culture of excellence, navigating the search process (interviewing, search firms and more), identifying and living out your “why,” leading and empowering today’s student-athletes, and what to expect in the first full year as a head coach. Participants also analyzed their results from the DISC assessment to better understand how their behavioral style impacts their interactions with student-athletes and colleagues.

Keynote speakers included Cleveland State men’s basketball head coach Dennis Gates, University of North Carolina Wilmington women’s basketball head coach Karen Barefoot, Knight Commission member and Dartmouth interim Director of Athletics Peter Roby, and Capital women’s basketball head coach and interim Director of Athletics Dixie Jeffers. Other presenters and panelists included head coaches, athletics directors, senior athletics administrators and search firm representatives from across the college sports landscape.

“The NCAA Basketball Coaches Academy was an excellent opportunity to network and gain insight into what the process and preparation looks like to become a head coach,” said Yaphett King, a men’s basketball assistant coach at SMU.

A vital piece of leadership development programming is fostering a sense of community among participants and with industry leaders. Coaches Academy attendees were frequently split into breakout rooms to discuss topics and build strong ties with their peers. Participants also engaged with key decision-makers in college athletics in an interactive networking session.

“It is important to build connections and foster community with peers in this coaching industry through programs like the Coaches Academy because you never know who is bringing your name up in a room,” Lastivka said. “We are all in the same profession to make a positive impact on our players through the game of basketball, so building connections allows us to have people to turn to for advice, to talk through situations or simply just to learn from each other’s own experiences and perspectives.”

The 2021 iteration of the program marks the third NCAA Basketball Coaches Academy executed by Leadership Development. Twenty-three of the 64 program alumni currently hold head coaching roles, with 15 coaching men’s basketball and eight coaching women’s basketball. Many others have received promotions or expanded responsibilities after their attendance.

The 2021 Basketball Coaches Academy cohort is now poised to achieve similar success, with its members eager to implement what they learned over the two-day program on campus with their student-athletes. The attendees are now equipped with a leadership toolkit and a powerful network that will strengthen their ability to succeed in their current role while preparing them to fulfill their future aspirations as a coach.