My coaching career has easily been shaped by influential coaches along the way. The first coach of my playing career had me hooked on the game almost immediately. That man just happened to be my Papaw. At a young age, my dad and Papaw built a shop with an indoor basketball court in it. I spent countless hours shooting baskets, either alone or with my brother, but to see my Papaw’s truck drive up was the highlight of my young career. He would get out of his beat-up farm truck and take the time to teach me how to shoot. He also coached my little league basketball team, and the amount of compassion, patience, and love for the game and fundamentals he poured into us will be with me for the remainder of my coaching career.
The next coach that crossed my young path happened by accident or better yet, divine intervention. My mom was a teacher at Electra High School and while I waited for her to finish tutorials after school, I found my way to the sound of basketballs dribbling in the high school gym. I sat at the top of the bleachers and watched Coach Rhonda Swenson lead the Lady Tigers through some difficult practices. Weeks passed and one day after practice she walked over to the bleachers and asked if I would like to be their manager. From there, it was a done deal and I was the Lady Tiger Manager from 2nd – 6th grade. Coach Swenson would put me in drills against VARSITY athletes! I thought I was BIG TIME, especially when she would throw me in a drill and say “go get ‘em Kenni.” She loved when I outplayed them, and she wasn’t shy about letting them know they had been beaten by someone much younger than them. I wanted to make her proud so I did my best to outplay or out-hustle the big girls. I didn’t know it then, but she was teaching me to be competitive beyond my imagination. Being on the sidelines day in and day out with Coach Swenson as a young manager sealed my decision that I wanted to coach. Coach Swenson had an unbelievable love for the game and a high priority for fundamentals that will be with me throughout my coaching career. But most importantly, she turned me into a competitor.
I played my freshman year of high school for Coach Swenson before she had to step aside for health reasons. From there Coach Chris Sumrall took the reins my last two years of high school. As an upperclassman on the team, he taught me how fun the X’s and O’s of basketball could be and taught me strategy. To this day, he and I will meet up, sit together during the state tournaments and talk X’s and O’s. His knowledge and hunger to learn more about the game, even now, will always be with me as a coach.
My final four years as a player I was fortunate enough to play for Rhonda Rompola at SMU in Dallas. This woman taught me about discipline and detail. With Rhonda, you better straighten up and fly right! She had a vision for her program on and off the court, and she wanted you to represent her and the program as a class act. Rhonda and I will visit about the old times, and what I’ve found out is that she knew everything that was going on in her program. She had such a great rapport with everyone and no one ever wanted to disappoint her. One thing I’ll never forget about Rhonda is that she sat with me in an emergency room with a basketball injury until 3am when she could have easily sent a trainer to look out for me. That’s something I will never forget. This woman taught me that accountability is so much easier enforced after you build relationships and rapport with your players.
These coaches have given me key ingredients to become the “perfect coach” – compassion, love, patience, fundamentals, competitiveness, X’s and O’s, strategy, accountability, relationships, rapport, and a reminder to never stop being a student of the game. My goal as a coach is to combine all of my former coaches’ strengths into my program. I can only hope that one day one of my athletes is asked to share a story about an influential coach and they will think back to playing in my program. The cool thing about that is that their success and memories won’t be about me, but they will have EVERYTHING to do with the great coaches from my playing career who molded me.