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 UC Davis director of men's basketball operations Jody Steliga.
Why did you decide to become a coach?
“The love of the game and several traits ingrained in me are what led me to coaching. I’m wired with the desire to help others, the passion to teach, the energy to encourage reaching goals, the patience to balance others’ energy levels, and the competitiveness to demand more from myself and others. I didn’t seek it out, it found me, and with nine years of coaching, and now in my third year of basketball operations at UC Davis, I’m grateful for my career in collegiate athletics.”
What leadership trait is most important for coaches to possess?
“Humble confidence. A confident coach must also be humble in recognizing their weaknesses. Confident, yet humble to place a strong support system around them, and follow whenever it’s best. Simply put, a strong coach confidently leads and recognizes when to follow.”
What has been the best moment of your coaching career?
“The best moments continually refresh as I work in the profession of collegiate athletics. Most recently, our point guard T.J. Shorts earned Big West Newcomer and Player of the Year. A 5-9 junior college transfer who didn’t have a single Division I offer led our Aggies to the 2018 Big West Conference title and an NIT birth. Before that was our 2017 NCAA Tournament appearance, as it was the first in school history. And before the NCAA Tournament...you see where I’m going; those best moments continue to refresh.”
What’s one thing that most outsiders don’t know about the coaching profession?
“It is a lifestyle. There is no ‘offseason’ and the idea of a normal holiday doesn’t exist. In many ways coaches are the CEO of their program. There is always more that can be done to build and strengthen the program. Often, it is what you put into it. The best coaches have a temperature on everything within the program. Outsiders often question or try to understand, but without holding the temperature gauge, they will never understand. That unique atmosphere is the beauty of being part of a team.”
In what ways can coaches help student-athletes make the most of their college experience away from basketball?
“It’s vital to create conversation outside of the Xs and Os. Value more than a student-athlete’s plus-minus numbers. Invest in knowing more about their passions, hobbies, dreams, and fears. It will strengthen your connection with them, and heighten your senses to connect them with opportunities or mentors that match. As coaches, it is imperative to add value to the whole student-athlete as they evolve into that crazy world they call adulting.”
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
“The most rewarding part of working with UC Davis men’s basketball is everything the program encompasses. It is a high academic university with Division I athletics, and staff who value high character student-athletes. Respect, truth, selflessness and hard work set the foundation, and we all work together to maintain that mentality. When I first accepted the operations job for UC Davis men’s basketball, I felt guilty about leaving the women’s game as a female mentor. A few months into my position, the conversation of a woman being in their team environment sparked between me and a few players. It was a new concept for them, but they were welcoming. It was eye-opening because I realized I was new type of mentor for the men’s basketball team. Female student-athlete are currently at an advantage because we have men or women coach and mentor us - learning at a young age how to work well with all types of people. My role at UC Davis will help evolve the non-diverse team environment and prepare our student-athletes for their next team in the professional world.”
What’s the one piece of advice you would give an aspiring coach?
“It’s important to establish your ‘why.’ When it all boils down, it’s the why that will drive the ship and sail it in that direction. It doesn’t guarantee wins or the best recruiting class, but it could assure making a difference in the lives of those who are on board.”