The PCA Blog - New England

Celtics' Brad Stevens "Stuff that Matters" for Youth and Middle School Coaches



Boston Celtics Coach Brad Stevens shared “stuff that matters” with more than three hundred coaches during a mid-May “After Timeout” Zoom webinar which also featured PCA’s Erik Johnson and Celtics’ Assistant Coaches Jerome Allen and Kara Lawson.

Coaches in the Celtics Jr NBA program, local YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, and in youth and middle school programs around greater Boston had the opportunity to ask Coach Stevens questions.  Their questions ranged from “what do you think about having young players use a zone defense?” to “how do you keep your players motivated during this pandemic when they don’t know when they can play again?”

Before he answered, Coach Stevens, a longtime member of Positive Coaching Alliance’s National Advisory Board, posed three questions for youth coaches to ask themselves:

1. Why do I coach—what’s my overarching purpose in coaching?
2. What standards do I want to emphasize?
3. How are my players going to benefit from playing this season?

Coach Stevens shared his own answers to the three questions, mixed in with some advice for coaches of youth and middle school athletes drawn from his experience, including coaching 3rd grade basketball and parenting two young athletes with his wife Tracy.  Here’s what we heard:

  1. Brad Stevens coaches because he loves competing and being part of a team. His “why” shapes the way he coaches.  Brad Stevens told coaches that knowing your “why” helps you through tough days and tough losses.
  2. Brad Stevens’ standards for his team include “playing for the name on the front of the jersey.” The Celtic Pride ethos is well-established, and Brad Stevens builds on that.  This year, Coach Stevens is focused on having the Celtics strive for continuous growth and commit to being thankful, accountable, honest, and humble as their success is dependent on one another.  For professional athletes, and increasingly, for youth, middle, and high school coaches, it is important to help athletes “manage the noise.”  Young athletes receive an overwhelming volume of instant feedback, positive and negative, from the stands, from social media and beyond.  Young athletes need to be coached on how to compartmentalize that feedback, set it aside, and focus on what’s important.
  3. Brad Stevens shared three benefits of playing--having fun, becoming great teammates, and challenging yourself to become better. Sports are supposed to be fun.  Brad shared that the #1 metric for a coach should be whether kids had fun and are in a rush to sign up to play again.  Citing his own experience as a parent, Brad encouraged kids and parents to focus on having fun, and getting better, not the level of the team kids are assigned to.  When kids are having fun, they get better.  What really matters, in sports and in life, is being a great teammate. Given the glory society confers on individual achievement, to help kids focus on being a great teammate, Brad passed along some straightforward sports psychology advice: “compete don’t compare.” To become better basketball players, Brad's advice was to encourage kids to challenge themselves.  On offense, “be a ball mover, not a ball-stopper.”  On defense, practice defending from a disadvantage, play against older players or defend in man down situations.

Q&A with coach stevens

Q:  What do you think about having young players use a zone defense? 

A: I wouldn’t play much zone defense at the youth level, I would want kids to stretch and learn to play in different situations to challenge themselves and grow as players.  I would not use a zone defense for winning games, though there are some cases in high school where that might work. 

Q: How do you keep players engaged when they are not playing big minutes?

A:  Being player #10 – 15 can be the hardest position on the team, you need to think about them every day, and have intentional conversations with them every day.  My college experience, going from a lot of minutes as a freshman to a few minutes as a senior, helps me as a coach.  That experience builds character, and those players have to feel that they are adding value to the team.  It’s a process it’s not where you start, it’s where you end up.

Q:  What do you say to a team after a loss?

A:  A big part of coaching is learning how to handle losing, how to move on.  Post-game talks after a win and a loss should not sound too different, it’s important to stay even-keeled after a game and to focus on doing the work in the next practice.

Q:  How do you help a player deal with immensely high expectations?

A:  It’s important to have your players play freely, confidently and not expect perfection.  You’re not going to play perfect, it’s just not going to happen.

Q:  How do you keep your players motivated during this pandemic when they don’t know when they can play again?

A:  This is the time for players who are intrinsically motivated.  They will figure out how to get better during this uncertain, unsettling time.  They will turn this time into an opportunity.  They will find ways to motivate themselves.  I tell my players, there are 30 teams in the NBA, when we go back we will see who is the most intrinsically motivated.