When a new coach walks into the room to greet his players for the first time, there’s a good chance he is just as nervous as they are.
As the players size up their new leader, he is doing much of the same, trying to establish just what defines this specific group. Talent can surely be measured by many different metrics, but for a new head coach it may be harder to measure the heart behind it. That's where it becomes crucial to look for those intangibles.
“I think some of the biggest obstacles are getting to know the character of your team,” said Billy Dupre, who was recently in that position as he took over the reins at Southwick-Tolland High School in Western Massachusetts. “It doesn’t take long to see the talent, but to get to know the personalities, how kids click, who is new to the sport, who is not.”
It’s a situation familiar to Dupre, who was in this very position four years ago when he got his first head coaching job at nearby Holyoke Catholic.
That prior experience set him up well heading into this new season, with his new team, as the coach knew exactly where the best place to look was in order to find out what type of personalities and leaders he had on his hands.
“I always look at my seniors and upperclassmen as I’m going to push them harder,” Dupre said. “Because they’re the ones who are leading and they’re the ones that are setting the tone for the younger guys. My upperclassmen teach them the right way and how the program got this successful.”
This approach allowed him to take Holyoke Catholic from a one-win team in the year prior to his arrival to an 11-win team that made back-to-back state tournament appearances before the school merged with another this year.
That put Dupre back at square one with his new position, but having that past experience has set him up for immediate successes with Southwick. It also doesn’t hurt that of his 13 players, six are seniors, and that group has long since established themselves on and off the field, allowing newcomers to immediately feel a part of something.
“I’m carrying two freshman and one sophomore this year. They’re instantly now part of the team,” Dupre said. “It’s a family as well as a team. It’s a great way to walk in and be able to see that there’s not those personality clashes. There’s not a back-and-forth or and ego thing. These kids understand that this is for them and that they’re all in it together.”
Not all new coaches will have the luxury that Dupre has been afforded with his upperclassmen, but in determining the character of a group of players early on, one can correct any actions that may ultimately undermine the overall goal of the group.