For months this past spring, O’Connellforward Tori Morris wondered who her new basketball coach would be. At one point, Morris and some teammates even cornered O’Connell Athletic Director Joe Wootten to try to extract some information.
“We were so nervous,” said Morris, a senior. “You’d hear tiny tidbits this person could be your coach or this person could be your coach. A lot of coaches get reputations just like players get reputations. We just wanted to know for so long.”
The Knights eventually learned that Northern Virginia AAU veteran Aggie McCormick-Dix would lead them into the season. But when a new coach’s name is revealed, that is only the start of the adjustment process, when inherited players begin to adapt to a new coach and a new coach begins to adapt to the players he or she inherits.
There is a lot of that acclimating going on this girls’ basketball season. Seven teams in the Virginia AAA Northern Region, including four of six teams in the Concorde District, have new coaches, as does O’Connell of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference. There are five new girls’ basketball coaches in Loudoun County.
Riverdale Baptist, the No. 1 team in the area for four years running, has a new coach. So does City Title winnerH.D. Woodson in the District, Independent School League AA favorite Bullis and several Maryland public schools, including touted Bowie in Prince George’s County.
At every stop, a new incoming coach has to implement change while at the same time respecting the culture and relationships that preceded them.
“I think it has to be a blend,” McCormick-Dix said. “The kids that are there are the school. They come with their own history. You can’t just come over and make your stamp right away. If you do that, you take away from their own part of their history. I come in and try to have the two of our personalities mix and we build whatever we build together.”
So Morris and her teammates have continued their frequent trips to Subway and Panera, their version of team dinners. New Chantilly Coach Kurt Sporkmann is allowing his players to choose their warmups, music and spiritwear. He’ll gladly cede those ruffles and flourishes.
“But when it comes to us being on the floor, it’s going to be what I want to do and what I feel is best for the talent of the team and not [necessarily] what they used to do,” said Sporkmann, who was a boys’ assistant at Chantilly for eight years.
The change in power can create friction at times, even when handled delicately.
“In any relationship that’s new or rebuilding, there’s always going to be those growing pains and always that moment where there’s going to be a break and there’s going to be reconnection and mending,” Sporkmann said. “In order to grow and get strong, things have to break.”
There might not be a high school athlete in the Washington area who knows more about coaching changes than Rockville senior guard Kelly McTighe. In 11 varsity seasons, in three sports, she will have played for 10 head coaches, including five in basketball.
McTighe has thought about coaching at some point herself, and she already has ideas on how she might handle her transition.
“Well, I would definitely stay longer than a year,” she said with a laugh. “It’s necessary to be somewhat strict and you have to say, ‘We’re going to do things my way,’ but I think it’s also important to be open to other people’s ideas. Otherwise, you’re probably not going to please the people.”
New Bullis Coach Rod Hairston thought the relationships among his players were not as tight as they should be. If someone is not at practice, he believes he should be able to ask anyone on the team why that person is not there, and they should be able to tell him. The players thought they were responsible only for themselves.
To try to develop a closer unit, Hairston devotes 10 minutes or so of many practices to team-building exercises. Players might have to line up in alphabetical order by middle name or do something else that makes them — and the new coach — communicate.
“It’s to get them to understand,” Hairston said, “that all our fates are intertwined.”
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