Northwestern's Chris Collins on impacting young lives
By Greg Bach
Chris Collins – who will lead Northwestern into the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history this week – knows the life-defining impact coaches can have on young lives.
He’s experienced it.
After Collins was hired to resurrect the Northwestern basketball program in 2013 guess who he turned to?
His high school basketball coach.
“When I got the job here at Northwestern the first guy I hired to be my assistant was my high school basketball coach, Brian James, who is now my top assistant,” Collins told us from his Evanston office. “So that kind of tells you a little bit about the way I feel about him and the impact that he had on my life and the time we spent together.”
Sure, Collins recalls how James helped him hone his skills on the court, which led to earning the prestigious Mr. Basketball award for the state of Illinois in ’92 and later starring at Duke.
But what resonates just as much from those high school years is what he learned about life.
“He had a big impact on my life,” Collins says. “Not only did he help me learn the game, but also how to act, how to be a good teammate and how to be a good person.”
COLLINS ON COACHING AND CONNECTING
Those are some pretty powerful qualities Collins mentions that all young athletes could benefit from gaining.
And that can only happen when they believe in their coach.
“To get the most out of a young person and to really see them flourish as a teacher or coach the kid has to believe in you, trust in you and trust that you have their best interest at heart,” Collins says. “To me the best way to do that is to build relationships by spending time, by putting your arm around them, and by pushing them when they need to be pushed. Those are things I think the best youth coaches do in order to really get the most out of young people and really help them grow in each and every area.”
That doesn’t mean sacrificing teaching the skills of the sport.
It simply means finding a balance where sport and life skills are woven together during practices, games and those life-molding conversations between coach and player that wield so much influence.
“Ultimately, young kids want to be taught and they want to be coached,” Collins says. “Certainly, times change, generations change and kids have different interests and there are different ways that you have to get to young people today. You have to talk to kids differently. To me the best coaches and the best mentors are the ones that understand all kids are different and you have to figure out what makes each kid tick and how you can get to that kid and really get the best out of him – and the only way you can do that is to build a relationship. Obviously, that’s something even at my level that I try to do. Relationships are key.”
That is certainly evident at Northwestern.
Brian James will be planted next to Collins when the Wildcats tip off against Vanderbilt in the school’s first-ever NCAA tournament game on Thursday in Salt Lake City.
The relationship began when Collins was a teenager at Glenbrook North High School in Illinois.
And it’s as strong as ever a quarter century later.
That’s the power of coaching.
Keep that in mind as you work with your young athletes this season.
Your words and actions can impact a life forever.
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