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Will of a Champion- Donnie Quinn
March 28, 2012Hoover High School
Donnie Quinn has guided the Hoover High School Girl’s Basketball team to two state championships, two state runner-ups, and an ESPN Fab 50 top ten finish in five years. For his career he has led his teams to four state championships and two national top ten finishes
March 28th, 2012
To have a consistent team that is going to win state championships, players must have a level of passion for the team that goes beyond self-interest.
Head Girls Basketball Coach
Hoover High School
2012 ESPN Fab 50 #8 and Maxpreps #12
Alabama 6A State Champions 2012 2010
Alabama 6A State Runners-up 2011 2009
West Monroe High School
USA Today #4 2004
Louisiana 5A State Champions 2004
Archbishop Shaw High School
Louisiana 5A Boys State Champions 1989
Coach Quinn: Over the years, we have developed a tradition that hasn’t required us to put our mission in writing. The girls know the mission from being around the tradition. I like to start the fall of their freshman year. The girls learn our style of servant leadership. Ideally, we lift three days a week and shoot once a week, leaving a day for team building. This time may include sharing of personal thoughts, devotionals, team work, sacrifice and discussion of leadership or things of that nature. I like to use Christ as the example for leadership. Chapter 2 of Philippians points out that though he was God, he still became a servant. We draw comparisons with leadership styles such as a cattle prodder versus a shepherd. A cattle prodder leads from behind and drives the cattle. The shepherd leads from the front and guides the sheep. The earlier in the girls’ career we start discussing those things the more the girls look forward to being a leader. They understand leadership is a responsibility they will earn later in their careers. They have to wait. With leadership comes responsibility. I once had a girl who laughed when I asked if she was ready to lead her team. I put someone else in charge. Next year, I think I will try something new and have players apply to be captain. I want them to think even more about what it means to be a leader. I want them to think about the experiences and skills they have developed that enable them to be our leader. As a coach, you typically have an idea of who your leader(s) will be, but I want them to think about it.
A personal mission for me is to impact young people’s lives. I spent a number of years working with different coaches at the high school and college level to learn how to win. Like many young coaches I focused a lot on wins and losses. But after a while you start to think about what you really want your legacy to be. Wins and losses take a back seat to watching young people develop positive habits and make good decisions. We love to see our former athlete’s with a zest for life because they’ve experienced success – a successful life made possible by a strong foundation developed, at least partially, through our program. But for coaches it is a long road to get to this point – where you appreciate laying a foundation for a successful life for every player that extends beyond wins and losses. My greater hope is to have a positive impact on their lives, both spiritually and morally.
WillofaChampion: What do you expect of your leaders?
Coach Quinn: Being a team captain is not an easy position. The leader serves as a partner to the coaching staff as well as a teammate. They must draw a distinction between team and coach, and if they ever have to choose between the two, it better be with the coach. I’ve had captains inform teammates that if anyone breaks a rule she will come to me without hesitation. The captain’s allegiance is to the coach. One captain called me at midnight to tell me when a player was out late with her boyfriend. I got in my car and found her, tapped on the window, and took her home. She said to me, “Let me guess, (Captain) called you.” I told her, “Absolutely!” That is what she said she would do and she should do! But in the thirty three years I’ve been coaching there have not been many leaders like that captain. (This particular captain led her team to a state championship) Teams with leaders like that win many games. They tell you during a game who to pull out because of poor work ethic or concentration. When we had a time-out, she would get on her knees and tell the girls what they needed to do better and she was right. When you don’t have that outspoken leadership, you have a team that is quiet, where no one wants to push the button or be responsible. Consequently, you struggle to keep a solid team effort. As the coach, I shouldn’t be the leader of the team. We need one of the girls to step up. I will lead, but that isn’t what’s best for the team.
WillofaChampion: Some leaders seem “born that way,” others seem to develop it. Do you work to develop leadership skills in your players?
Coach Quinn: Not with a systematic program or plan. We take advantage of the moment. For example if most of the players aren’t working hard, I may pick the one player the team most admires and challenge her asking if she realizes her team isn’t playing hard. Standing face to face with this player, she may respond, “yes, sir.” But I continue. If she knows they’re not working hard, why isn’t she doing something about it? She isn’t living up to her obligations. I may put her on the line and run her. Inevitably, her teammates will join her. That situation is more about teaching younger players to follow and protect their captain. If the captain is under pressure from me, the others don’t fall off as much because they care about her. I talk to my captains a lot. They share in decisions of what to wear, what music to listen to, where to eat, etc. I take many things out of my hands and give it to them. When I have an issue or concern I will have the captains meet with the team. They may ask me what to say, but I tell them that they know the problem; they can hear the conversations in the locker-room and deal with it. They can tell me what happened later if they need to. I like giving them an opportunity to handle issues themselves. I don’t have to be in the loop. But if the captain tries and they don’t respond, then I will get in the loop. They know it is a privilege and responsibility to be the captain. Coaching is trial and error, you have to try and sometimes you get lucky. Coaches have instincts they don’t even know they have. A good coach, or leader, can feel or just know when to respond a certain way to guide the team.
WillofaChampion: What do you do to cultivate a team first attitude amongst your girls?
Coach Quinn: We strive to make everything we do true to the belief “the team is bigger than any player.” One tool I use to cultivate a team first attitude is sarcasm. When someone takes a bad shot I might stop everything and ask the rest of them “If she thinks she can score over three people when someone else is wide open; what does that tell you?” (Of course, I am not looking at the one that shot the ball. But you know what she is thinking.) I continue, “Either she is really good, or you’re really bad”. So I am light-hearted and fun with it, but the point is made. Another way we focus on the team concept is with our plays. We work a lot on what we call “Wrap-around” passing. Most teams’ backside defense isn’t great, no matter how good they are. It is easy to catch the ball, draw the defense to yourself at the post, and then wrap-it around the baseline side to that player right behind you. You can get a lot of baskets with that type play. Our girls think we’re being sneaky. It is a lot more fun to pass when you think you’re sneaky or you’re tricking the defender. I use strategies I learned from football. I tell the girls we’re doing football plays and they know we can trick the other team so they work at them.
WillofaChampion: How do you instill mental and physical discipline in your athletes?
Coach Quinn: Physical discipline impacts the mental toughness. Once you get tired, your mental capacity diminishes greatly. You must have the physical endurance to get beyond physical debility. I will challenge the team by asking them who is going to quit first. Nobody wants to be that person. Someone has to crack first. I will challenge them with comments like “show me who will crack so when we’re in the fourth quarter I’ll know who not to play”. Comments like that push the girls. We refer to lack of mental toughness as “eggshells.” We ask the girls if they’re waiting to crack and just spill their emotions all over the place. Girls can be very tough they just don’t always know it. The girls don’t know if I am really mad or if I’m just trying to crack them with those comments. Throughout the course of the season I may get onto a girl to see if she will mope. I ask her what she’d do if I’m only testing her. What if you’ll never get to where you can handle it? They don’t want me to see them crack. It is like a war of wills. They get thick skinned and deal with it. One of the challenges I have is preparing our girls for the college level. Most of our girls are going to play division one basketball. So I tell them that I am preparing them for that level of competition and for coaches whose lives and jobs depend on winning. They don’t coach for fun. They HAVE to win. A lot of my coaching style isn’t because I am mad but it is part of the process. If I don’t prepare our girls for it they won’t survive. Their parents are counting on it.
WillofaChampion: How do you invest in the children that may join your program in the future?
Coach Quinn: That is the biggest gap that most coaches allow to happen in their program. Involving young kids is very important if you want to build your program. Those young kids see you and they want to play for you. Every school system has kids that will someday be in your program. In West Monroe, we had summer camps and started opening the gyms on Saturday afternoons for kids to come and play. We saw the number of kids playing ball increase significantly over three years. The city of Hoover has a great program. A lot of the churches have Upward Basketball, the city has a league, and there are traveling teams. If you’re a coach that is planning to stay somewhere for any length of time you’d be a fool not to develop a youth program.
WillofaChampion: Anything we haven’t discussed that you believe is critical to developing a state championship caliber program?
Coach Quinn: The kids must have an allegiance to the school. Hoover is a transient city. The kids that move in during high school don’t necessarily have any love for Hoover until they get involved in the program. Developing that love for Hoover basketball and taking ownership is critical. For schools with a solid tradition similar to ours, they have these system kids that have been working toward the opportunity to play for their school for years. Those types of teams are just hard to beat. To have a consistent team that is going to win state championships, players must have a level of passion for the team that goes beyond self-interest. Our challenge is to develop the kind of program that makes that happen. How do we bring those kids in and get them to be passionate about the school and playing basketball for Hoover as opposed to just playing basketball? I don’t profess to have all the answers for that question. I just know it is important.
Coach Quinn attended high school in New Orleans at a school with 4000 boys, where he played football and was on the wrestling team. He transferred during his junior year to a private Christian school after becoming a Christian. After college he started coaching football. The basketball coach needed help. He got involved and enjoyed it. The smaller number of players made it easier to get close to individuals. Once he chose to focus on basketball, he looked for the best coaches in Louisiana and spent the next six years working for and learning from these coaches. When he was ready, Quinn began accepting head coach positions and coached at the college level as first assistant and defensive coordinator with the University of Louisiana Monroe for 5 years. In 2007, his wife got a job offer in Birmingham, Alabama. While visiting the area, Coach Quinn went to several schools around the area, exploring potential opportunities. During his visit to Hoover High School, the AD told him the girl’s basketball coach had resigned the previous day and they would be looking for a coach. This was proof once again, God has a plan, and we just have to follow it!
Interview: March 2012