About three weeks ago, a friend of mine, Michael Hernandez, started a new podcast called The Basketball Teacher Podcast.
Mike’s an English teacher and JV girls basketball coach at Metro-Tech High School in the Phoenix Union High School District in Phoenix, Arizona.
He intentionally titled it “basketball teacher” to encompass the idea of teaching the student-athletes both on and off of the court.
“We teach skills that our players should be able to apply long after their playing days are over,” he said.
Mike also sought to fill a void in the basketball podcasting world (always a good reason to do anything — create the content you want to hear, read, watch, etc.) by offering insightful conversations with coaches at the high school and middle school levels currently. What does that grind on the hardwood look like in 2020?
In other words, it’s meant to be a relatable podcast. There might be some regional differences between a coach in New York City or a coach in Akron, but the throughline is that it’s peer-to-peer.
At first, my mindset was, sure, I’ll support the podcast by downloading it, following the Twitter account, and subscribing to the YouTube channel, but it doesn’t seem like something for me. A podcast where coaches talk shop about the hardwood? Seemed like a niche that I wouldn’t be able to plug into.
But on Tuesday, my long work day where I spend upwards of 12 hours at the office, I wanted to switch up my usual Spotify music listening, so I put on the latest (at the time) episode from Mike’s podcast, Episode 7: Turning a Program Around Through Reflection/Trial and Error with Coach Cecilio Gomez.
Gomez is a boys basketball coach in New York City, who endeavored to be the teacher/coach he never had growing up.
And I think that snippet is enough of microcosm of why I ended up listening through that entire episode and then two more on Tuesday: The granular details of sports I might not be into, but I’m all in on the proverbial life lessons manifest through sports and the coaching of it.
That’s what you get with Gomez in that episode. That’s what you get with Carley Whitney in Episode 6, a coach and athletic director of Saint Vincent Saint Mary (the same school Lebron James went to). I particularly found her interview fascinating because she was a trailblazer becoming a woman AD at the age of 25. And her insights into the psychology of how she coaches girls, and perhaps how that’s different than how she would coach boys.
I’ve also always had an interest in pedagogy, and the different strategies teachers use to reach students and help them learn and grow. Listening to Whitney break down some of her own methods from a coaching perspective was interesting. At the end of the day, it’s really about forming a personal connection, and once that’s established with the student or student-athlete, the rest will come.
But I’m also interested not just in pedagogy, but also the meta conversation about how teachers and coaches are navigating the systems they are in, whether that’s Whitney entering into a male-dominated world or Gomez navigating a seemingly intense NYC program, and the lessons each take from it.
The throughline I’ve noticed is something I’ve applied to my own profession of journalism and it’s the same advice I’ve given others thinking about getting into journalism: the need for thick skin. Whether it’s with the student-athletes or with other adults within the system you’re navigating, you need thick skin, or you’re probably not going to make it.
Another lesson is to always be growing, never getting into a rut of how things ought to be done. Always be open to trying new things or hearing a different perspective on an old thing.
Any good conversation ends up wrapping around how we all navigate life, whatever our chosen profession is. In this case, the conversations are about coaching and teaching. And they work to get my mind thinking about those Bigger Questions.
I’ve dipped my toes into some other amateur podcasts before and certainly a great many professional podcasts over the years. At this point, I know what I like to hear and what I won’t listen to again.
Like any other medium, there are good forms of podcasting and bad forms. “But it’s just talking!” That’s true, but there are good, organic and free-flowing conversations that are digestible, and there are other ones that are rigid and constrained. A good podcast host is able to steer a conversation (and being mindful of time constraints to be able to hit certain points) while also giving the conversation room to breathe and develop into other interesting spaces.
In short, I don’t like listening to conversations where it doesn’t feel like an actual back-and-forth engaging conversation. When it seems like you have 10 questions, and you’re trying to get through them without having dialogue (which also means actively listening!), then it’s not enjoyable.
Fortunately! Mike’s already gotten into the groove of how to be the maestro of the conversation, keeping control of it to the extent of having a pre-planned topic in mind, but open to letting it flourish in other directions. Perhaps that comes from a teaching background of having to hit certain spots in a lesson plan while also being open to students’ interjections.
If you are a basketball coach reading this and/or a teacher, then this podcast is a no-brainer for you. You’ll learn a lot about how to grow within the program you’re in. But if you’re like me and you’re neither of those things, but are looking for a new and engaging podcast that’s really about life lessons, then give this one a shot (see what I did there?).
Mike also has a series within the series about teen mental health, which I haven’t gotten the chance to listen to yet, but also sounds like something for non-sports-minded people to sink their earbuds into.
Finally, if you’re like me and get skeptical of investing and committing to a new podcast because it’ll flame out in a couple weeks, fret not. Mike has more than a dozen and a half interviews in the can and lined up for the coming months. The full schedule of topics and interviews is here.