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Posted at 05:13 PM ET, 05/03/2012

Transition Game: Dealing with a coaching change


During the recruiting process, one of the most — if not the most — important people you’ll meet is the college head coach. Certainly in many cases, the name and history of the university and program carries weight, but the name on the jersey you’re wearing won’t nurture you along the way like a coach can.

So what do you do if that coach leaves or is fired? It happens every year — just look at what happened recently with the Virginia Tech men’s basketball program or even the Georgetown women.

After all, college sports are a big-time business. Coaches are looking for opportunities to improve and develop just like players are, to be a big fish in the pond or just go somewhere else with a higher salary. That romantic speech they give you during the recruiting process? Take it with a grain of salt, especially the part about working together the next four years.

My college coach was with me all four years, but I did experience a coaching change in high school. I was shaken up, so I can imagine the experience being a bit more traumatic on the collegiate level (assuming the players and coach get along).

The relationship between a player and coach can be special, similar to that of a child and parent, so the emotions and feelings involved in change should be addressed.

“The person should be given permission to acknowledge all the different feelings: being mad, being jealous, being upset, being worried, whatever it is. What’s going to happen to me?” said Dr. William Licamele, a child psychiatrist who formerly served on the faculty at Georgetown University Medical Center. “Then after that you acknowledge that, figure out okay, how do you move on, what do you do?”

How do you move on? Honestly, you have no choice but to move on or transfer. Fortunately you aren’t alone in the process, you have your teammates. Learning the new system and adjusting to the new coaching staff is comparable to becoming a freshman all over again — except this time, you’re not entirely clueless.

For young children suffering with illness, the concept of turning passive emotions into activity is used in the coping process. Licamele suggests the same thought process should be used here. “We could fall apart or we can say okay, [the coach] left but maybe [the coach] shouldn’t have left,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of stuff left here that could be good and we need to show ourselves and the world. Although that was a big blow, we can move on from here and get everybody trying to be the best they can be.”

The sport you’re playing remains constant and the common goal of winning doesn’t change, even though there are certainly emotions involved in the process. I found that when our coaching change took place, we became tighter as a team.

You have to remain open-minded. It’s unfair to punish the incoming coach and staff for taking advantage of an opportunity, no matter how much you loved the former coach. Your mental standoff will only be a blockade in the process of getting to know the new leadership… and ultimately could land you a spot on the bench.

Whether you decide to go or stay, the chances of your personal gripes deterring the new coach are slim to none. Thanks to NCAA bylaws you’re free to leave — but you’ll likely have to sit out a year — if you can’t wrap your mind around the new coach.

Nothing is set into stone during your recruiting process. The idea is to make you fall in love and want nothing more than to be a part of the program, so of course the coach isn’t going to tell you about other personal opportunities for him or her. You have to think the process through thoroughly, and consider what else you’re getting beyond your spot on the team. But you can find out how many years a coach has left on their contract — it’s business for them, so it should be business to you. 

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Monica McNutt was an All-Met basketball player at Holy Cross Academy who went on to star for the Georgetown women’s team. She will be offering advice to high school athletes who are looking to make the leap to college sports

Got a question for Monica, or an idea she can use for a future post? Leave it here in the comments, or email her at hss@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter at @__MCM__.

Previously:

Taking advantage of social media (April 24, 2012)

Recruiting resources (April 18, 2012)

Managing the expectations of multiple coaches (March 27, 2012)

Coping with the ‘bad’ coach (March 20, 2012)

Dealing with injury (March 13, 2012)

The dual-sport dilemma (Feb. 20, 2012)

Making the most of your college experience (Feb. 14, 2012)

Handling your parents and coaches (Feb. 7, 2012)

Dealing with that special breed of fans: Your parents (Jan. 24, 2012)

Advice for the young star athlete (Jan. 17, 2012)

Offseason is right time to get with the program (Jan. 3, 2012)

Managing to stay close to the game (Dec. 20, 2011)

Leadership, Tebow-style (Dec. 13, 2011)

The importance of attitude (Dec. 6, 2011)

Fine-tuning your “mistake response” (Nov. 22, 2011)

Looking beyond the stat sheet (Nov. 15, 2011)

Battling the “dumb jock” stereotype (Nov. 8, 2011)

Taking advantage of your athletic resume (Nov. 1, 2011)

College recruiting: Finding a program that fits you (Oct. 25, 2011)

Navigating the recruiting process: “Get a clue, control your career” (Oct. 18, 2011)

Secrets to success: Food and rest (Oct. 11, 2011)

Introducing “Transition Game” (Oct. 4, 2011)

 

By Monica McNutt  |  05:13 PM ET, 05/03/2012

 
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