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Local

Championship culture

Winning isn’t everything coach tells student athletes

Nate Sanderson, the head coach of the girls basketball team at Lin-Mar High School in Marion, IA, talks to students at NHS about the importance of building culture on high school teams, part of the Coaches and Captains conference, held Wednesday afternoon at the high school.
Nate Sanderson, the head coach of the girls basketball team at Lin-Mar High School in Marion, IA, talks to students at NHS about the importance of building culture on high school teams, part of the Coaches and Captains conference, held Wednesday afternoon at the high school.

Even though he’s enjoyed plenty of success in his career coaching girls high school basketball, Nate Sanderson will be the first person to point out that winning isn’t the most important thing. Rather, Sanderson would argue that building character, and creating culture is a more important legacy, something that lasts long after the ball stops bouncing, he told Newton Community High School students during a presentation on Wednesday. Sanderson’s visit, part of the biannual Coaches and Captains Conference, is part of a program at the high school that focuses on building leadership skills for high school athletes.

“By the end of this presentation I hope that you’re going to look for something bigger than just wins,” Sanderson told students at the high school. “People want to be cared about, they want to go to a place where they belong.”

Sander won’t hesitate to admit that he didn’t have much basketball experience when he got into coaching, after his playing days ended in the eighth-grade. As he’s found success during the different stops he’s made on his coaching journey, he’s discovered that creating the right culture is more important than teaching offense and defense.

In the summer of 2017, Sanderson became the varsity girls basketball coach at Linn-Mar High School in Marion. Prior to that he built one of the top basketball programs in the state at Springville High School. During his tenure at Springville his teams had a record of 112-59 (.665) including a 74-7 run during his last three seasons. Springville won back-to-back state titles in 2016 and 2017 and was state runner-up in 2015.

“When you get the culture right you maximize your talent,” Sanderson said.

Defining culture is important, and Sanderson told students that culture was “the way we do things around here,” asking students about traditions on their own teams. He also had a message for the students, many of whom are seniors or captains on their respective teams.

“It’s who we are, what we stand for, why we exist,” Sanderson said. “Seniors should embody the culture that we want.”

Creating a system with an effective culture doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of student-athletes, and Sanderson reminded coaches that they have an active role to play in creating an environment would allow them to maximize their talent.

“Effective culture must be coached, anything that happens in our experience we can coach it,” Sanderson said.

For students, Sanderson’s message resonated. NHS sophomore Emma Schoh, a cheerleader said it was “inspiring” to hear Sanderson’s message about what athletes can do to make their teams better. Schoh said she wants to work on being there to support her teammates, which she hopes will make the team better and more efficient.

“The experience, his perspective, just to see if from a different perspective,” Schoh said.

Building team unity strengthens relationships between teammates and enhances the team culture, a tool student-athletes can keep in their toolboxes, Sanderson said. For Rachel Berkland, a senior on the school’s track team, the message came in loud and clear. Berkland said she understood the importance of being a senior and being a leader on team, and the conference was an opportunity to refocus ahead of the coming season and to remind herself to set a good example for her teammates.

“The biggest thing that he hit on, it’s not about how you do, it’s about how you do it, and the people you do it with,” Berkland said. “It shows others that you want to be involved, and you want the best for the whole team and not just yourself.”

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or ddolmage@newtondailynews.com

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