By Jodi Marver
Since being named the head varsity girls basketball coach at Willows Academy, I have been able to witness a lot from the bench. What I have been able to see is a very successful group of ladies both on and off the court. Even though it was my second season as a head varsity coach, I believe these last two years were the most I have ever learned about what a culture really means and the most fun I have ever had on a team. The exact reason why these last two seasons have been so successful for our Willows Academy basketball team was not just because of our culture, but our team culture. Before I talk about the accomplishments we had, it’s important to see the reasons we got there.
Season One: Family First
When I first got to Willows, my athletic director Paul Chanan told me that the basketball program was in need of a boost. The season before I arrived, there were only 8 girls on the whole high school roster and they finished with an 8-17 (2-5 ISL) record. My hope coming in was to help make this team into a family and that is exactly what happened.
Basketball has always been a huge part of my life. Before coaching, I played basketball since I was a toddler and was lucky enough to play at Knox College at the end of my career. Looking back, the number one thing I can remember about my teams that were the most enjoyable and successful were the ones that felt like a family. This was a key component to what really drove our tight knit culture my first year at Willows. As much as I believe success comes from hours of hard work on the court, I also strongly believe it comes in the hours of spending time together.
Team beats talent when talent isn’t a teamJon Gordon
My favorite quote by an author Jon Gordon says, “Team beats talent when talent isn’t a team.” This really embodied where our strengths are here at Willows these past two seasons. During my first season with the girls, I really saw them start to value time together and they knew how important team bonding was. The girls really got to know each other and supported each other in all aspects in their lives. I really pushed this culture idea at first, but soon saw that it became natural for the girls to spend time together. Then, it was amazing to see this translate onto the court. These girls were a family on the court and worked so well together, almost as if they were intertwining everyone’s strengths to become one powerful unit. We knew everyone on the team played an important role and each girl loved the role they had. The girls didn’t care who scored. More so, they went CRAZY anytime someone took a charge defensively! We were a team led by great captains that celebrated each other’s successes and worked towards a team goal. And let me tell you, it was incredibly fun to be a part of!
Season Two: The Comeback Culture
As every coach knows, every year is a different team and every season comes with new challenges. This year, we had a brand new team and new challenges to overcome. The big positive was that our program grew to 25 players. However, at the beginning of the season, we faced hardships with losing games by a large amount and feeling like our culture wasn’t where we wanted it to be. At this point, we had a choice as a team. We could keep on the same path and get the same results for the rest of the season. On the other hand, we could come together as a team, adjust together, and work hard to move forward together. That is exactly what we did.
It’s one thing to create the culture, but another thing to maintain it. We had the privilege this year to work with the Good Athlete Project on what that looked like. As an entire team, we reflected together at the beginning of the season and made goals on how we were going to adjust together. This meant EVERYONE needed to adjust, including myself as the coach. Therefore, as a coach I worked on adjusting our offense and defense to best meet the strengths of my team. The captains worked on communication and leadership. Most importantly, the team worked on coming together and playing as one unit. This process took time and a lot of effort, but it most definitely paid off. It was amazing to see such growth in a short amount of time.
culture can prevail no matter what the circumstances
The girls found everyone’s strength on the team, both on and off the court, and came together to work towards our improvement. During my first season with the girls, everything came together perfectly and we didn’t have many obstacles to overcome. However, this second season really challenged us and we rose to that occasion. These girls really showed that culture can prevail no matter what the circumstances. We learned what it means to have grit and stick together even when times get hard. Without failure, there is no room for growth. This past season, the growth we made together in such a short amount of time was an amazing accomplishment and so enjoyable to see!
Finale: The Results
Now, let me tell you the result of all of this culture. In the 2018-2019 season, the result was that we finished a strong year with a record of 21-8 (5-1 ISL). We finished the season with three all-conference players: Clare Brown, Kailey Mongoven and Molly Murray. The highlight of the season was a 10-game win streak from Nov. 13 to Dec. 7. In the 2019-2020 season, we finished our turn-around season with a record of 14-17 (5-2 ISL conference). We also finished this past season with two all-conference players: Molly Murray and Emi Ciesla. The biggest takeaway from this year was that at the beginning of the season, there were certain games we lost by a large margin. When we played those same teams again later in the season, we beat all of them. In both the last two seasons, we finished second in conference and earned top four finishes in both the Thanksgiving, Christmas and MLK Tournaments we competed in.
All of these results were an outcome of our culture and just wins weren’t our main goal. Our main goal was to build a culture together, then the positive results came because of that. As a coach, I couldn’t be more proud of the girls and this program.