Jerry Krause can’t get away from basketball.
After 55 years of coaching, the former Eastern Washington head coach is still on the courts running practices. But now, Krause is working to better the experience of youth basketball players in hopes that he can strengthen the foundation of college and professional basketball.
Krause, who is also a former assistant coach and former Director of Basketball Operations for Gonzaga men’s basketball, was recently selected to help write a 2018 curriculum for the National Association of Basketball Coaches for youth basketball. At the center of the curriculum is a pilot program that Krause has helped develop in several cities across the country, including Spokane.
Krause currently runs a series of clinics and practices for basketball players who attend St. Aloysius Gonzaga Catholic School. The program is called “Be Like Coach,” which was modeled after the teachings of longtime college coach John Wooden, who became a mentor to Krause years ago.
“John Wooden says, ‘Success is doing your best to become your best,’ basically. It was all in terms of you becoming your best,” Krause said. “We think there’s some of that effect of what we’re doing here.”
The program is rooted in the idea of kids learning to hone their own skills on the court, rather than focusing on the team’s overall records.
“We don’t focus on winning at all. We don’t even bring up the word, and our kids, our teams do quite well,” Krause said.
In studies conducted before and during the program, Krause said it was apparent that players across the country were dropping out of youth sports at a rapid pace because they were not enjoying the overall experience.
“They’re not only not having fun, but the coaches are terrible, and that’s not to be unexpected because we’re talking about voluntary coaches,” Krause said. “They might know how to be a mother or a father or some other skill, but they may not know anything about teaching and coaching.”
Krause believes the root of the problem with youth sports is the inexperienced coaches. “Be Like Coach” addresses these problems and focuses on teaching the coaches how to coach while also teaching kids the game.
During practice, each team has its own coach who leads the drills on their designated half court inside The Warehouse Athletic Facility. Throughout practice, Krause blows his whistle from the center court where he demonstrates new movements and game scenarios not only for the players, but also for the coaches. Krause blows his whistle again and teams go off and practice the movements under the supervision of their coach.
As the weeks go on, Krause gives coaches more and more leeway with their teams, but their practices are still designed by Krause.
The style of practices vary between age groups. Children in second grade or younger focus only on harboring skills and don’t compete. Third and fourth graders get a feel for competition at the end of practices, but the games are half court, 3-on-3 matchups. The teams don’t keep track of the score and players get equal time on the court.
It’s not until kids reach fifth grade that they are put into a 5-on-5 game. By the time they are at the fifth- through eighth-grade level, Krause said the players should have a decent understanding of movements and skills to play out full-court games in the Spokane Catholic League.
Along the way, Krause teaches the coaches how to lead a developing team. He conducts clinics before the start of the season that teaches Wooden’s “Be Like Coach” ideals to Gonzaga University students who are looking to coach in Krause’s program.
Coaches and players aren’t the only ones getting a course in “Be Like Coach.” Before Krause begins his league practices, which start at the beginning of January, he conducts a class for the parents. He gives parents the rundown of how practices will work and the idea behind them, which includes not having any parents on the sidelines during practice.
“We found that parents are one of the biggest obstacles for their kids,” Krause said. “They all love their kids, but we found that they have just enough knowledge of athletics to be dangerous.”
The entire program is designed to instill fun and educate coaches on how to coach. Krause said that system can be disrupted if parents decided to coach from their seats and criticize their children immediately after the game.
“Kids say the worst time is with their parents after the ball game,” Krause said. “We say the best thing you can do as a parent, come here and be a very good role model as a spectator.”
Krause’s program is in its seventh year with St. Al’s. Even after seven years, Krause said the program is still in the experimental phase, which is why it’s only been available to St. Al’s students. Krause said he hopes once the new curriculum gets to the public this summer, that more youth basketball programs will adopt the “Be Like Coach” ideals.
The curriculum should be ready to be distributed to youth coaches across the country by June. St. Al’s athletic director Pete Hanson, who works alongside Krause at the youth basketball practices, said he expects Krause’s successes from the program will spread quickly throughout the country as more youth coaches adopt the new curriculum.
“He’s respected around the nation and around the world as a clinician,” Hanson said. “He knows people and he can actually make changes.”
Krause hopes his new set of guidelines will at least inspire coaches to rethink how they’re working a practice and team of young athletes who just want to have fun learning the game.
It extends beyond just “laughing fun,” a phrase Krause often uses to describe his program. He hopes the curriculum will draw more attention to how important it is to support youth athletics and to create a solid foundation for future college and professional sports.
“Ten years from now it may be a more barren landscape for youth sports. If you don’t start from the ground up with youth sports, eventually you won’t have parents to be good spectators who want their kids involved in youth sports. The whole thing will dry up. That will happen to all of our professional sports,” Krause said. “That is the foundation, and sometimes they don’t care about youth sports. But they should give more than lip service to youth sports, and not just for the elite kid.”
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