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Lessons about Rowdy Kids from a Legendary NCAA Hoops Coach

 —  July 2, 2011 — Leave a comment

Posted by Scott Rubin

I went to Michigan State University for it’s nurturing Christian environment. (Oh wait… not exactly true… but that’s another story!) But one thing that MSU does have is a fantastic basketball program. I have such great respect for their coach Tom Izzo, so when my 2 middle school sons asked if they could attend his basketball camp this summer, I started saving my pennies to see if I could make it happen.

I was a little worried that the Coach I see on TV (in 6 Final Fours!) might be a little disappointing when working with middle schoolers. BOY WAS I WRONG! And by watching the first day of camp, I was reminded of several middle-school-ministry-discipline related lessons.

Set Expectations High from the Start! There were 400 kids at this camp, and as Coach Izzo addressed them, he made it clear that they’d learn basketball, and have fun, but that they MUST follow all instructions very closely. For example, after one of his college stars demonstrated a shot, he told everyone to give ONE clap for him, on the count of 3. He then said “1, 2..” and then waited. Of course, several excited kids clapped early … so he had them do it again. From the first minute of camp, he was clear that there WERE expectations, and that they WOULD be followed!

Be CLEAR about those expectations! The 1st morning of camp, 400 kids sat in the bleachers together, and I thought “how are they going to organize these kids?!” They did a “role call”, and each kid ran down to meet their particular coach. When all the kids were divided up with their coaches, Izzo said “everyone back into the bleachers”. Then, when he counted to three, all 400 kids bolted to their spots, and they were “sorted” in about 50 seconds! Every morning of camp, they repeated it… expectations were clear, and kids followed them!

Still, Be RELATIONAL! This part probably amazed me most. Some people can be clear, and have high expectations, but no one wants to be around them. This famous coach, who deals with NCAA superstars and national media (and nearly LeBron James in Cleveland), called a kid up one day to sing happy birthday to him in front of everyone. He signed every autograph any kid asked for, and gave tips to 12 year olds. He didn’t just make “appearances” around the camp, but he was truly accessible. It was amazing to me.

I’ve got no idea of this coach’s faith background, but I learned ministry lessons from him anyhow! Now… if my sons can each grow a couple feet taller…

Kurt Johnston

Kurt Johnston


Kurt Johnston leads the student ministries team at Saddleback Church in Southern California. His ministry of choice, however, is junior high, where he spends approximately 83.4% of his time.

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