Primesport NABC Next Generation is an interview series with assistant coaches and support staff from across the country, highlighting their career experiences and future goals. Today's feature is Indiana Wesleyan assistant Jeff Clark.
What led you to pursue a career in college basketball coaching?
“While on an Athletes in Action trip to Russia during my college years, I was surround by men whose faith in Christ was more important than their performance on the court. To that point basketball had always been my greatest passion, and I had too often based my identity and self-worth on how successful I was when I played. This led to a lot of frustration. After the trip, I began to see hoops as a means to help others grow and flourish, which led me to pursue coaching at the college level.”
What has been the biggest challenge so far in your career, and what have you learned from it?
“The biggest challenges of my career have been when I have believed that success, money or career advancement would bring fulfillment, and I have placed my own pursuits and reputation above those of the people I am around. In those moments, I have grown dissatisfied, and it has manifested itself in some form of discontentment, jealousy or critical spirit.”
“From these experiences, with the help of great leaders that are around me, I have learned that success comes from a different source than what the current hoops culture often leads me to believe. True success comes from placing greatest priority on the growth of those around me.”
How would you describe your leadership style?
“The greatest leaders I know, such as my boss Greg Tonagel - who I believe may be the greatest leader in college basketball - work hard to empower others to succeed within their own passions and skills. This creates a sense of shared ownership and ultimately greater buy-in for the team under that leader. I have a long way to grow in my leadership journey, but my hope is that I am increasingly becoming this type of leader.”
“My greatest dream in leadership would be that the people I am around and the areas that I am assigned to lead would be operating at the highest level, and that the trajectory of growth of the group would be easier to identify than my own role in leading the growth.”
Aside from knowledge of the game, what skill do you feel is most important for coaches to possess?
“Humility, but maybe not in the passive or private sense that many may think of when they hear that word. Our program attempts to imitate Christ’s humility in Philippians 2, where he took his power and authority and leveraged it publicly, in a self-sacrificial way on the cross, for the sake of others’ benefit.”
“Like many skills, this aggressive form of humility is not easy to develop and it may not come naturally, but any coach who is on the path toward this way of living will surely have a deeper, more penetrating impact on the people they are around.”
What kind of impact – both on the court and off – do you hope to have on your student-athletes?
“Our staff spends a significant amount of time praying for the impact our program will have on the people who are in it. Our greatest hunger is that the experience at IWU would not only influence the players’ current circumstances, but would alter the trajectory of their lives. We desire to produce men who live with an ‘IAm3rd’ attitude where they put God first, others second, and themselves third.”
What career goals do you have for your future, and how do you plan to achieve them?
“Our goal at IWU is to have a program that pursues excellence through a discipleship process in basketball at as high of a level as you will find. Winning two of the past four NAIA national championships has us on the right path, but we believe there is still a lot of ways for us to improve and grow in what we do.”
“My personal goal in coaching is to have a generational impact on the lives of the people in our program and by extension, their families and communities. I used to believe this would happen by racing to a higher level, a better title or a bigger salary. In my mind, this meant I would have a bigger platform. While I would never discount these as negative things for myself or any other coach, my focus has shifted off the title I hold or the salary I make, and I have begun to think much more about the people I am around and the way I approach my work.”
What’s the one piece of advice you would give to somebody considering a career in coaching?
“Billy Graham once said, ‘one coach will influence more people in a year than an average person will in a lifetime.’ I believe that’s true, but it does not mean that all influence is the same. It seems that far too often, we hear stories of coaches who have negative influence on players.”
“This profession does not need more coaches who use their influence to prop themselves up instead of lifting others. I would tell a prospective coach that if his professional goals centered on money or fame, then he should go do something else. But if he truly wanted to invest in the next generation for their growth and benefit, then I can think of no better profession.”