Welcome to this special interview, #95 with former Division 1 Women’s Basketball Coach, Jane Albright.
Jane Albright will not remember her career as a series of numbers: scores and win/loss records. She will remember the relationships. Relationships that are the greatest reward of sport. Coach Albright retired this spring after 40 years in coaching, 33 years as a Division 1 head basketball coach. Coaches Pat Summit and John Wooden both mentored and poured themselves into Jane. In turn, she has poured herself into hundreds of players, coaches, and others through the game of basketball.
As her coaching career ends, she continues to pour herself into others. She is involved in ministry, volunteering, and she is spending time catching up with former players and coaches. “Investing in young people is the future of everything,” she said. “It’s always about people. It is always about love. It is always about truth.” Jane’s future will continue to be filled with relationships, mentoring other people.
Coach Albright took some time to share her wisdom with potential college athletes and coaches.
What can or should high school athletes do from their end to get on your radar screen? What are the important steps for an athlete to get noticed by you?
There are lots of ways to get noticed by a staff, but I think the best way is to attend the skills camp at the school you want to notice you. At the camp, work really hard and be that player you want to show them you are.
I have signed excellent players from small schools (50 enrolled in 3 grades) and from huge schools (4,000) so I don’t feel like that matters.
If you choose to make a DVD of you playing, make sure it is NOT all highlights. Anyone can look great like that. Include an entire game as well. Lastly, make sure you are on good terms with your high school coach. It is easy to play/behave for a summer team for a few weeks. Coaches will often ask everyone around a player about attitude.
What are a few of the most common mistakes that prospective-student athletes make in the recruiting process?
- Trying to play at a higher level than your skill set is a mistake. Everyone wants a BCS scholarship. Some players end up there because the coach didn’t get who they were trying to get. These players then sit the bench, and end up transferring. Go to the level where you can compete and thrive.
- Don’t send form letters to coaches. I often got 40 or 50 a day, and sometimes the same letter twice from a recruit. They are just deleted.
For a Division 1 school, how and when are scholarships offered?
All Division 1 sports have different times when they offer. Basketball is getting earlier, sometimes early junior year or even summer of sophomore year. For late bloomers, it isn’t uncommon to be in your senior year. Don’t get discouraged if you are a late bloomer!
How much time do athletes typically have to respond?
The time an athlete has to respond depends on the coach. Some coaches offer 6 or 7 kids the scholarship they have and the first one who commits gets it. I never did this, but others definitely do.
I always felt after the Official visits were over, you didn’t need much more time to think about it, but I have waited a long, long time if I really wanted the player!
What is your advice to recruits about social media? Are some things that would keep you from recruiting a player?
The first thing we did when we started recruiting a player was check out her social media. We eliminated several because of stuff we didn’t want in our program, i.e. alcohol, drugs, abusive language, or just things that fans wouldn’t like.
However, if there were positive posts, it made me like a kid more!
Now I want to turn the interview a bit more personal. It is not often prospective college athletes and their parents have the opportunity to hear the wisdom of a coach who has been so long in the trenches and so successful.
Can you give us examples of how meeting the demands of collegiate athletics has prepared your former players in their lives after college?
There isn’t anything that prepares a young person for life more than college sports. Just think about it. This is the lab of life skills. In college sports you will learn work ethic, responsibilities, and how to be a great team player.
You will learn that sometimes you can work as hard as you know how and still be disappointed. Work hard anyway. You will learn how to deal with things out of your control such as injuries, playing time, and not being the best on a team. There is only one best player on a team, but there can be lots of leaders and culture builders. You will definitely learn how to balance your time and set priorities, how to take care of your body, mind, and soul.
Even little lessons like being on time and showing up for practice before it begins train you for success in your job and life.
Lastly, it is pretty impossible to be a difference maker on a team if you don’t learn how to communicate, not just with words, but with body language.
All of these are life lessons for all of us.
There are 30 plus years of other amazing women who have played for you.
What is the nature of your relationships with your players?
I had the privilege of becoming a friend of coach John Wooden. I met with him once or twice a year the last 15 years or so of his life. During my first meeting with him, I asked him how I would know if I was a great coach. He smiled and simply said, you won’t know for at least 20 years after you coach a player. That really made me think. He didn’t mention the win/loss record, stats, or championships.
20 years is a long time, but I coached long enough to know this is true. Athletes will remember what you taught them and how you made them feel. While they were playing for me, sometimes they didn’t understand the big picture. More times than not, even the most difficult kids who I wasn’t close to get back in touch with me somewhere along the line and thank me, or tell me they now understand.
I have been in several weddings, attended funerals, been on the other end of the phone for joyful calls or hysterical calls. It is all part of it. My job was to be fair, tell the kids the truth, love them well, and give them a skill set for basketball and life. It looks different for every single player, but relationships are the most rewarding part of my work.
How does the relationship change over their lives as they move onto careers and families of their own?
Relationships actually get better and easier with time. I love sharing families, professions, and just everyday life with former players. I often don’t hear from them as regularly when they get older, but special occasions or crisis tend to connect us and many visit me at my home. I am hopeful they know that even if we had a stormy relationship “back then” life is short and we can share things today.
You are one of the most successful NCAA Division 1 coaches of all time in terms of wins, over 500. Looking back at your career, is it the wins you remember or something else?
Over my 500 wins, I remember joys and sorrows, moments not scores, and so many people, not just players – fans, support people, friends who prayed for my teams, families, campers, other coaches, and staff members as well.
Relationships are the crown jewel of coaching!
You had the privilege of being a graduate assistant for Pat Summit from 1981-1983 and maintained a relationship with her over the years. What are a couple of ways Coach Summit influenced your life and career?
Working for her early, being on her staff when we went to the first NCAA final four, opened up some doors for me early in my career that I know I couldn’t have opened myself.
Even as busy as she was, she would call me if my teams were on a losing streak to help me figure out how to get a few more points. She let me know when she was going to sing/dance rocky top on ESPN. She would take my staff to Knoxville and show us all their systems. She did many things to invest in me as a coach and as a friend. She cooked a lot of delicious meals when I stayed with her, fed my dogs happy meals, and gave me advice anytime I needed it (whether I asked for it or not).
Pat was the real deal and I miss her greatly…
Bonus Question: Is there anything important that you would like to share directly with high school athletes or basketball players in particular as they navigate the recruiting process?
- Be honest with coaches, and don’t just try to get attention. Ask them questions. Remember, all of them are sales people and they are great at what they do.
- Show up and watch them from the stands during a game, and don’t tell them you are there. See if they are really who they say they are. Watch the staff, the players, and the fans. That picture is much more truthful than any words.
Here are two links Jane’s retirement announcement if you would like more details of her amazing career.
Next, check out: Best Advice: Get a College Coach to Recruit You.
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