NBC Sports Washington brought together local coaches Ron Rivera (Washington football), Todd Reirden (Capitals), Scott Brooks (Wizards) and Mike Thibault (Mystics) to discuss the intricacies of their craft in a free-wheeling discussion hosted by Julie Donaldson. We present six days highlighting different themes of their conversation - experiences, stories and lessons shared from careers in coaching. To watch the full roundtable, click here.
Leading a team when you can’t be with your team has impacted coaches across all sports.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic changed the way the world goes about their business and left head coaches searching for ways to motivate their players in the months before pro sports in the United States made their long-awaited return.
Enter Zoom, a virtual meeting place most of us had never heard of before. In the days of quarantine and lock downs, it became a norm in our daily work routines. It has also been the main resource for coaches to communicate with their players.
NBC Sports Washington held a head coaches roundtable discussion with Washington football’s Ron Rivera, the Wizards’ Scott Brooks, the Capitals’ Todd Reirden and the Mystics’ Mike Thibault. It offered the perfect opportunity to share different strategies in this new virtual world.
Reirden is the newest to the head coach role, waiting to finish his second season as leader of his team, and he took advantage of the chat by asking his peers for advice.
“Any strategies you guys have used during this pandemic that you've found have really worked out well for you? Whether it's Zoom calls or sending something out?” Reirden asked.
Rivera answered first. He was only in town a few months before the lockdown was put in place and had yet to meet the majority of his players in person. But the way he approached learning about his team kept them on their toes.
“As the head coach I just pop into the different meetings and then what I do is I'll text each guy individually later that day,” Rivera said. “And say, ‘Hey, I thought that was a great question you had.’ or ‘Hey, I really appreciate your answer.’”
Rivera said it’s funny to see the reaction when he catches his guys by surprise. While he’s letting them know to always stay on point, he says the feedback from players has been positive. They appreciate that he’s listening to them and paying attention.
Rivera says it’s also changed an open door policy to an open phone policy: “It's funny because now I get texts constantly from our guys, but you know I've got 90 guys.”
Brooks and Thibault both agreed saying they do many similar things. They’re making sure players get their workouts in with the strength coach while assistant coaches go over ball handling drills.
Thibault said there are also quizzes and trivia, and is stressing how players should approach film sessions.
“We're trying to get our players to be better film watchers and how to learn,” Thibault said. “Not just watch film as a fan, but learn what other people do on the court.”
Brooks is also looking for ways to mix things up.
“We have a few other things we do including a weekly yoga session and the guys love it,” Brooks said.
The Mystics are still waiting to hold the franchise’s first WNBA championship parade - a day where players can put the classroom aside and celebrate. Hard work is what earned them the title, but Thibault believes it’s important to have a little fun as well.
“We've also changed it to some social things too,” Thibault said. “You know, one of our film sessions was just a discussion of ‘The Last Dance’ and what each of the players took from different parts of it and talked about what themes came across.”
The Wizards took a different route with reading to go along with their popular yoga sessions.
“We started a book club and so some of the guys are participating in that,” Brooks said.
All approaches are a way to bond and maintain some form of socialization. For the Mystics, that includes a five o’clock happy hour.
“Everybody could do whatever,” Thibault said. “They could drink at home or if they didn't drink, (get) something else and just let it be a social thing, rather than a basketball thing and let them blow off steam.“
That idea received praise from Brooks.
“We haven't done the happy hour yet, Mike,” Brooks said. “Maybe you can invite me on that one. I wouldn't mind going to that one. Can we keep it going during the season as well?”
Fortunately, there will be sports again. A plan to resume play is in place or the Capitals and Wizards, Training camp, for now, is scheduled to go off on time for the Redskins and with the return to action there are hopes that virtual coaching becomes a thing of the past.
To watch the full Coaches' Roundtable with Coach Brooks, Coach Reirden, Coach Rivera and Coach Thibault, click here.
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