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Coaches Corner: Nick Drane

In the first of our Coaches Corner series in the WEABL, we talk with Copleston High School’s Head Coach Nick Drane.

How did you first get into coaching? Did you used to play, if so for whom/at what level?
I got into basketball because I happened to go to a school that had two members of staff working in the National League as coaches and referees, and so there was a great basketball tradition at Holbrook High School. However, the reason I became so hooked was because my two older brothers and I watched Michael Jordan ‘Come Fly With Me’. After that, we played every day, they are both a few years older than me so I had to scrap to get noticed. I played Junior and Senior National League for Colchester before heading out to Canada to play at the University of Winnipeg on a scholarship. Things didn’t work out for me out there and I came back and got into coaching at the age of 19 and never looked back. By the age of 20 coaching was my full time job. I have, with the help of some excellent people in the local area have built the Ipswich programme up over the past 14 years. I’ve worked in basketball ever since, going from county development officer, to community coach, to academy coach and director and now heading up the whole programme.

How was your transition into coaching? What were the biggest difficulties at first? How do you get better?
That was my biggest hurdle and still is to this day. I spent a lot of my own money and time travelling around, meeting coaches, watching people work and becoming good friends with like minded people – this continues to be my biggest obstacle today.

What is your biggest coaching achievement in your career to date?
It’s tough to pinpoint just one. I think developing a programme, in rural Suffolk, with limited facilities, that is now one of the flagship programmes nationally probably out weighs any championship, or promotion or any individual success. To see the conveyor-belt of players, both male and female, that are selected to national teams and recruited to universities, or work their way into our senior teams is a real sense of achievement. I’m also immensely proud of the coaches we have developed through the years – in particular Matt Harber and Adam Davies who are both now key coaches, developing the game, as professionals, at other programmes.

What is the best part of your job?
All of the above. Seeing the progression of the people you work with. I also have to say I work with my best mate (Tom Sadler). We complain about the stress at times but to do what is essentially your hobby, with your best mate is great.

What is the worst part of your job?
I go back to my earlier point – how do you get better? I’ve been in and around the National Teams programme for many years, and had the pleasure of working with some of the very best coaches we have, and learned a great deal. However, I also have a wife, a mortgage and two young children and spending every school holiday, every summer and pretty much every weekend in the off-season away with the National Team, is just too much for me at the moment. But what else can an English coach do, within the English game to get better? If you’re not coaching within the Performance Programme then it’s pretty much down to you to develop yourself. This is something I am willing to do and work hard at, but I would like to see more opportunities for English coaches to develop without having to make such drastic sacrifices.

Who have been the biggest influences on your coaching career and why/what did they teach you?
Garth McLean was my teacher at school and he got me started. Mark Lloyd was my first National League coach and he really inspired me to become a coach. Bernard Ball was the person who told me what I did not want to hear “You’re a good player but if you focus on coaching you will go much further” – good advice that was tough to hear but so true.

From there, I was working in basketball as a professional. The big influences on me from then have been Mark Dunning who tutored me on my Level Three twelve years ago, and continues to provide sound advice whenever needed. Mark also was the person who got me involved with the NT programme back in 2005, where I met Tim Lewis who allowed me to shadow him and Matt Johnson on the u18 Men’s programme. It was meeting Matt Johnson that really changed everything for me, we became good friends and Matt has ever since been a key mentor for me – much of what we have built in Ipswich has been based on the Reading Rockets programme. It was also Matt that introduced me to Simon Fisher, who continues to be a close friend to this day.

I was fortunate to be on the coaching staff with Simon and Karl Brown in 2011 when the u16 boys won promotion to Division A – I have a European Silver Medal hanging in my living room thanks mainly to Simon, who gave me a massive opportunity to be part of a very special team of coaches and players. Karl gave me an opportunity last summer to be part of the u18’s as his assistant – this was an amazing experience, things didn’t go to plan but I am certainly a better coach and person because of it and I am thankful for the chance to have worked at u18 Division A level.

And last but certainly not least, my colleague and close friend Tom Sadler. Tom is just getting started as a coach but as a player and basketball person, there are very few more experienced people in the game here in the UK. I don’t think we do enough here to provide support and opportunities for players that are making the transition into coaching. Tom has a huge amount to offer and yet nobody wants to tap into his experience – how many people do we have working in the game in the UK that have worked out with NBA teams?

What is your coaching philosophy?
I think it depends on the tools you are working with in terms of the X’s and O’s. There is no point in being a run-and-gun style coach if you have a bunch of big, slow players etc.. The one thing I insist on is that we play tough, aggressive defence. The more discipline you play with at that end, the more freedom you can play with on offence. I also pride myself of teaching the fundamentals of the game, even at senior level – this is essential. One thing I make sure every team I coach has is character. I believe you have to make your players enjoy the process of getting better, so they become more accountable for their own development. Make it fun, then they get better, then they win and sometimes teaching players to have a winning attitude is frowned upon, but I think it’s fine. Enjoy the process of getting better both as an individual and as a team everyday and then winning will follow. I see a lot of coaches ‘nagging’ players. This doesn’t work!

What advice would you have for young aspiring players?
Enjoy every step of the process, set goals, knock them down then set new ones. When I see 15-year-olds talking about their career, they are wishing away some of the best years of their lives. Have a plan, but work hard and enjoy the process..