Basketball is Psychology VI
Featuring an interview with Vic Schaefer
It quickly becomes apparent to everyone who’s had the pleasure of being around the Mississippi State Women’s Basketball team— Vic Schaefer has built something special. In only his 7th season as head coach, he’s already won 180 games and taken his team to the national championship game twice. In 2018, he won the Naismith National Coach of the Year, WBCA National Coach of the Year, USBWA National Coach of the Year, College Sports Madness National Coach of the Year, and SEC Coach of the Year. But what makes his program special is not what he’s done, but how he’s done it. There’s an undeniable family-feel that permeates every element of the program. Immediately after every game, home or away, their team goes into the stands to greet fans like they’re old friends. Maybe that’s why they’re able to draw tens of thousands of fans to their games. In all facets, Mississippi State embodies a family intentional about building relationships.
There’s far more than meets the eye to an atmosphere that feels like a family.
Vic Schaefer cares deeply about his players. Ultimately, he wants each of them to reach their full potential, perhaps more than they want it for themselves. You’d be hard pressed to find a more caring coach than Vic Schaefer. He treats them like a father, as if they were his own. His success can likely be attributed to the kind of culture he’s established; family.
Psychologist Dr. Abraham Maslow developed the five-tier human hierarchy of needs. At the very top is where your full potential is reached. But before you reach self-fulfillment, the basic and psychological needs must be met first. If those are not met, there won’t be motivation to strive for one’s full potential. As these needs are met, motivation increases.
Essentially, your brain has your priorities already programmed. If you haven’t eaten in 3 days, you’re probably not motivated to be a great basketball player, you’re just worried about getting food. In the same way, reaching your full potential on the court isn’t a possibility until you have a sense of belonging and significance that motivates you to chase your potential.
Everyone wants to be fed and rested.
Everyone wants to feel safe and secure.
Everyone wants to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves.
Everyone wants to feel like they are loved and they belong.
Everyone wants to believe they are significant and have capabilities of doing great things.
Now think about how a family atmosphere satisfies these innate needs. Families share resources, protect each other, love each other, share close bonds, and encourage each other. Does this sound like your team?
We are wired for family. So when a basketball team is built like a family, players can thrive.
It’s important to understand that healthy families are honest. Healthy families make it okay to tell each other what they need to hear, not just what they want to hear. This comes from a place of wanting what’s best for the other person, rather than just pumping them full of positivity so they’ll like one another better. Families welcome accountability.
Family cultures are ideal for motivation.
Building a family culture is easier said than done, but Vic Schaefer has given valuable insight into how it’s done:
How do you create a family culture?
Throughout the numerous decisions that have to be made in his program, Coach Schaefer utilizes the family experience he and his staff have. “Most of our decisions we make in the office have a parental instinct to it, you know I've got Johnnie Harris, my assistant coach who is a mother and a grandmother. Dionnah Jackson-Durrett, she's a new mother, and Elena is from a very close-knit family. So a lot of our decisions are based with parental instincts involved. We just want what's best for the kids, at the same time, sometimes you hug them with a soft hand, and sometimes you gotta have a little bit of a stern hand, and let them know, hey, this is unacceptable.”
Coach Schaefer makes it a priority to build personal relationships with his players by engaging with them and being involved in their lives outside of basketball. “We try to see our kids as much as possible throughout the day, we don't just see our kids at practice. Our kids have to come sign my door every day, and walking down the hallway they pass our assistant coaches’ offices. If they've got something on their mind, they can step in and visit with a coach if they need to. For me, it allows us just to see them outside of basketball and say how you doin? Sometimes I'm on the phone and they just wait from the door, but atleast we see them outside of basketball. It allows us to develop a relationship in the office, not just, ‘Oh my god I got to go the office’ and it's not a good thing. That's just one of the things, I mean we spend a lot of time off the court together, we eat a lot of dinners together. We’re involved in their academics heavily. Not just our academic support system, but we are as coaches.”
You don’t get to the high-level of play that Mississippi State is at without competing hard against each other in practice. However, Coach Schaefer's players seem to support one another without inner-team rivalries developing. So how do competing against each other and supporting each other coexist? “I think you just got to educate them and let them know, this isn't personal. You know, your teammates gotta make you better, you gotta make your teammates better, I gotta coach you. You know, it's not personal. But when we step on the hardwood between the lines, it's business. We got a job to do. You gotta earn your check, and I gotta earn my check.”
Culture is reflected in how your team functions individually and collectively every day, not just on game day. It’s not easy to keep the whole roster on the same page, and committed to the same values. But that’s what makes them special. On and off the court Coach Schaefer expects the same level of excellence. “We really hold each other to a really high standard, we’re very accountable. We want you on time in class, we want you in the front row in class, we want you meeting your professors that first week in class. There's a way that we do things. We have a saying in our locker, It's not what we do but how we do it that separates us from the rest of the country. There's an accountability piece that I believe you've gotta live by every day.”
If you’re wondering how Vic Schaefer took a team with a losing record and made them national contenders repeatedly, he built the culture and made it a family atmosphere.
Written by Julie Fournier
Founder & CEO of Basketball is Psychology