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Darrin DeNeve coaches 500th game at Carlinville High School

Darrin DeNeve

 

By JACKSON WILSON
Enquirer Democrat Reporter

On Feb. 5, Darrin DeNeve coached in his 832nd varsity basketball game and 500th as the Carlinville High School girls’ basketball coach.

Prior to coming to CHS, DeNeve previously devoted 25 games as a high school boys’ assistant coach in Erie; 108 games as a high school boys’ head coach in Stillman Valley; 149 games as a small college assistant men’s coach at MacMurray College and Beloit College; and 50 games as a small college head men’s coach at MacMurray College.

“It seems like a good time for some reflection,” DeNeve said in an essay he released following his 500th CHS game.

“About a dozen years ago, I wrote this with some thoughts when I coached my 500th total game,” said DeNeve. “When I first started coaching, I was sure it was going to be easy to win basketball games and to be a coach in general. As a sophomore coach at Erie High School in the 1993-94 season, we won our first seven games, including one where we scored seven points in the last 25 seconds and won by a single point. Since then, I have found that winning basketball games is never easy.”

Though he has encountered tons of success, DeNeve remains humble and grateful for every chapter of his story, regardless of what the scoreboard said.

“I’m not the winningest basketball coach out there,” continued DeNeve. “This is my 31st season, and I have been a part of 19 winning seasons and 12 losing seasons. On the plus side, I have coached or helped coach teams who have won conference, county, and regional championships. However, some years, I have been with or led teams who weren’t as fortunate in terms of wins and losses. Just like the people on the introduction of ABC’s Wide World of Sports years ago, I know the thrill of victory, but I’m also pretty familiar with the agony of defeat. As a result, I am probably better off because of it, and I have learned that winning and losing are, as my high school coach Don Thomsen told my teammates and I, short-lived.”

Sports, of course, can be very difficult to cope with in several cases. Thus, DeNeve, at times, has wondered why he chose and continues to coach.

“There are negatives to be found with team sports,” DeNeve said. “Frustrations are not uncommon for players, coaches, parents, and fans. Not all of the frustrations are unwarranted, either. I haven’t always done a good job coaching. I try on a consistent basis to do what is right, but sometimes, I have fallen short of making the best decisions, saying the right thing, or finding a good way to motivate. There are players and teams I could have coached better. It’s also true that I’ve sometimes felt that the efforts I’ve made aren’t appreciated.”

Ultimately, DeNeve’s love for the game helped him overcome this adversity and eliminate regrets.

“I always keep going back to the gym, and I love to hear the balls bouncing and the shoes squeaking the floor as players get ready to practice,” DeNeve said. “I am always looking forward to each season, going to practice each day, and working with my team to help them get better. As a consequence, I have determined that, overall, the positives far outweigh the negatives, and that basketball, like most extra-curricular activities, can be a fantastic educational experience. I am proud to be a part of the coaching profession, and I whole-heartedly believe that I am part of something important.”

In addition to teaching young athletes how to play the game of basketball while supporting a winning attitude and high-quality sportsmanship, DeNeve knows that a lot of valuable life lessons can be learned from the experience. He concluded his letter with the following words of wisdom.

• You need to compete. It is important to do your best. Furthermore, it is important to continue to try to do your best. Resting on your laurels or relying on past performances is simply not good enough. Each practice and each game is a new opportunity to do your best and measure yourself against others. It is an opportunity for self-evaluation. An honest personal evaluation can be the best evaluation you’ll ever get. It is important to know who you are competing against. Over the years, I have called this “finding your peer group.” If you are fighting for playing time, you probably need to have a healthy competition with a teammate. If you are already one of the team’s best players, your peer group might be the other best players in the conference. Finding your peer group and competing within that peer group on a daily basis is critical to your development as a person. This translates well into adulthood as well. Perhaps you will have to compete for a job or for a promotion, and putting your best foot forward on a daily basis will certainly be in your best interest.

• You need to be coachable. None of us know all we need to know. There are people out there who can help us get better. It can be hard to be around people who tell us the truth about the improvements we need to make, but we need to hear it sometimes. Coaches are among the people in this category who will tell you the truth. For that matter, the game will tell you the truth. If you have gotten beat, it can smack you in the face that you weren’t good enough that day. If you then recognize why you got beat, that can help you improve. When you recognize how to improve, and who can help you, then you are on the road to real improvement. There are people who want what is best for us. It is important to recognize these people and to allow them to work with us. This can be difficult, because sometimes these people tell us things that we don’t necessarily want to hear. A little humility and an open mind can go a long way to becoming a better person. This is a trait that completely translates to adult life as well.

• Teamwork is crucial. All of us have to learn to work with other people. Being on a team is a tremendous opportunity to be around people of varying ability, varying backgrounds, and varying attitudes. Finding a way to be productive in a group is a tremendously rewarding experience. Depending on others and having them depend on you is something that you don’t always learn in other school opportunities.

• Leadership is needed. I have learned that, invariably, successful teams have leaders that emerge, and that everyone can lead at least a little bit. A title like “captain” is not necessary to lead, either. Leaders bring out the best in the people around them. Some people lead with encouraging comments, some lead with a burning intensity, and all leaders set a great example. In addition, they all share the feeling that they would like to be a part of something that is bigger than themselves. They know when to speak, when to listen, when to relax, and when to work. I suspect that the most successful organizations in this world are the ones with great leaders.

• Attitude, hard work, and attendance are important, but so is skill. It is pretty common in education and athletics to preach the value of hard work and a great attitude, and deservedly so. Those two things are crucial building blocks of success. The other basic fundamental for success that has become clear to me during the last few years is even simpler: attendance. You have to show up. It sounds simple, but not everyone shares this commitment like they used to. The above being said, I think what gets lost in some conversations nowadays is that skill is crucial as well. A basketball team that hustles and plays hard can absolutely put themselves in a position to win games. However, a team that hustles and plays hard that also commits itself to becoming more skilled and cultivating their natural talents can put themselves in a position to win championships. Finding a craft to perfect can make the difference in one’s career. One can definitely put themselves in a good spot in life by treating people right, putting forth a great effort, and showing up when they are supposed to. However, in order to compete, developing skills and recognizing and cultivating your own natural talents should not be ignored.

• Enthusiasm is necessary. The ability to generate enthusiasm is huge. I used to snicker at volleyball teams for displaying what I would call “synthetic enthusiasm,” where they make a big deal after every point scored. I have since witnessed situations where that sort of synthetic enthusiasm turns into real enthusiasm, and I’m now all for it. Leaders generate enthusiasm, and enthusiasm is contagious. People want to be around other people that bring them up, not drag them down. Enthusiasm can snowball into results. It can be the fuel that makes an entire group greater than the sum of its parts.

• Balance is important. A great basketball team can shoot, pass, defend, handle the ball, and rebound. Each of its players contributes to each of these aspects of the game the best way that they can. A great person needs to have balance as well. Striking a balance between work and play, home and career, etc., is critical to lasting success.

• You need to listen to others. I think this is an area where I have improved (and still have room for improvement). The group that I am currently coaching has taught me a lot in this regard. I will try to explain this in a bit of a roundabout way. Over the years, I have coached 13 years of high school boys’ basketball and college men’s basketball, and now 18 years of high school girls’ basketball. I sometimes get asked the question, “What’s the difference between coaching boys and coaching girls?” I used to say something like, “Not as much as you might think. It’s really just a matter of trying to bring a group together and getting them to be the best that they can be. You decide what your personnel does best, you find the best matchups, and you demand that they play hard.” And then I would go on to say something like this: “The one thing I have noticed with coaching girls is that they’re willing to listen and to try new things to see if they might work. When I coached boys, it felt like I needed to prove that I knew what I was talking about on every single drill. With the girls, it feels like they’re willing to be flexible and to see what works.” While I might still feel this way to some degree, it has occurred to me lately that maybe I’m the one who has changed over the years, and it’s not completely a function of the gender I’m coaching. I’m not near the dictator I used to be, and I’m listening to my players’ opinions more than I used to. Our timeouts and halftime talks are more of a two-way conversation than ever, and I appreciate my current team because of this dynamic. We listen to each other, and I think it’s entirely possible that they’re more willing to listen to me because I’m more willing to listen to them. This surely translates well to everyday life.

• The feeling of satisfaction you get after a job well done is a feeling that lasts. “Fun” is fine, but it doesn’t always satisfy. There is something about accomplishing a goal that is rewarding. Accomplishing a goal with other like-minded people can be even more rewarding. I never dreamed that I would get to the point where I would coach 1000 varsity games. I still have a ways to go, but it certainly appears possible at this point. For one reason or another, people don’t stay in this profession as long as they used to. However long I do coach, however, I hope to continue to find that the positives outweigh the negatives.

“If you are a current or a former player and you’re reading this, I want you to know that I really do like to hear from former players,” DeNeve said in closing. I’m not on Facebook, but I’d love to hear how you’re doing now or ten years from now. Thank you for your efforts.”