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Tennessee coach Holly Warlick on helping kids embrace defense

Tennessee coach Holly Warlick on helping kids embrace defense


By Greg Bach

For a lot of young basketball players learning to play defense is about as much fun as eating vegetables and receiving weekend homework assignments.

But it doesn’t have to be that way – as long as you, the volunteer coach, serve it up to your players the right way.

“I think when you present it to young people you present it that it’s rewarding to play great defense, that you can specialize in it and that you can stand out like nobody else,” says Holly Warlick, the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Tennessee. “It’s all about how you present it and how you emphasize it.”

Too often all the accolades, attention and applause go to the player making the shots.

But if your enthusiasm for players taking charges, blocking shots and making steals is on full display, and you’re constantly recognizing good defensive play, the kids will respond.

And you’ll have a unit that craves stopping the opposition from scoring.

“It’s all about what you emphasize as a coach,” Warlick says. “It takes somebody with a lot of passion to play defense. And you need to let your team know that playing good defense can lead you to easy baskets, it can get your teammates fired up, and it can separate a player from the others on the team – that individual can be our best defender.”


Besides teaching the fundamentals of the game your young athletes need to know that you genuinely care about them.

“If the kids know you care that’s half the battle,” Warlick says. “They have to know you care. And when you care that means you put your arm around them, you talk to them about things outside of basketball. You ask them how they are doing and how school is going for them. You have to genuinely show kids that you care.”


At the young age levels you’ve got to hone in on the fundamentals of the game.

And you’ve got to pack those sessions and drills with a lot of fun.

“You have to make it fun or they aren’t going to be interested in doing it,” Warlick says. “At our level our kids love to compete so we try to make practice competitive, but at the younger age levels I think you can work on fundamentals while putting fun into it. You can do something like dribble tag where they’re learning how to handle the ball but they’re also playing and having fun, as well.”


Basketball has been a big – an important – part of Warlick’s life.

She was an All-America player at Tennessee for legendary Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt, she later was a long-time assistant coach on Summitt’s staff, and now she’s in the middle of her fifth season at the helm of the Lady Volunteers.

“Basketball was so powerful for me, especially at a young age, because it teaches you discipline, respect and all those types of things that carry over to off the court,” says Warlick, who was the first player at the University of Tennessee – men or women – to have her jersey retired. “I think coming through the program and being under Pat’s tutelage I saw how basketball parallels with life.”

And her advice for volunteer coaches is to take full advantage of the incredible opportunity to mold and shape young lives and help teach them skills to succeed on the court – and in life.

“You have to put your agendas and your issues to the side and understand these are young kids,” she says. “Give them opportunities to grow and I know this is so cliché but it needs to be fun. I always ask our kids after they leave, ‘Are you happy? Are you self-sufficient?’ I want them to be able to take care of themselves and enjoy what they are doing.”

Holly Warlick Coaching Basketball Defense Fun Enthusiasm

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