“They usually put the team first because they make such close friendships.“
Head Golf Coach
St Thomas Aquinas
Kansas High School Division 5A Girls Golf State Champions
2002 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Kansas High School Division 5A Boys Golf State Champions
2007 2008 2011
Coach Best played basketball and golf for Benedictine University in Kansas. He earned a Masters Degree from the University of Saint Mary. He started teaching and coaching at his high school alma mater but left to become a professional golf instructor. He missed teaching and coaching and decided to return. St Thomas Aquinas
High School had a Theology teaching position and a coaching opportunity. Coach Best applied and took the job in 1997. His initial coaching position was in both basketball and boy’s golf. He took over the girl’s golf
program in 1999.
WillofaChampion: Do you have a purpose or a mission statement for your student-athletes?
Coach Best: Absolutely. We have three goals that I would consider our mission. The first goal is to have fun. There is no reason for them to join the team if they don’t enjoy it. The second are individual goals. Our athletes set goals right down to the individual practices. The third are team goals. We talk about our team goals throughout the season. They write their goals down. If they accomplish their goals we congratulate them and if they don’t we talk about why not. We work to align the individual and team goals. I work to understand their talent and ability while striving to motivate and inspire them to achieve their personal goals.
WillofaChampion: Was St Thomas’s golf program this successful prior to your arrival?
Coach Best: Yes. The girls had won two state championships prior to my arrival. When we took over I inherited five very good seniors. Then we had a girl that eventually played for the University of Kansas. So from 2002 on the program just kept stepping up. The players have passed along the tradition and expectations. The boys are different in that there are a lot more players and therefore a lot more competitors. On top of that, Kansas is one of only four states in which the state championship golf meet is only one day. With four or five good teams it can be a real roll of the dice who will win in just one day. Our boys finished state runners-up two or three times in a row prior to my arrival. We took second again my first year. We ended up placing second five times in a row. So the programs expectations were set. We are fortunate to be in a school that has high expectations in all sports. Our athletes gain confidence just knowing they’re expected to do well. So I tried to not mess up what was here and build on it. Try to find the strength of the players and keep it rolling.
WillofaChampion: So to maintain a winning culture you sought to build upon the foundation that had already been laid?
Coach Best: Exactly. At first you think you don’t want to mess this up because this team has a history of doing well. You know you will get good players. Especially as you have more success, players that are good will come to your school to play for you. You don’t want to let them down. What are their strengths to build upon? You look for kids with good character so you avoid bad apples that can ruin a season. If your leaders have good character then the younger ones will know that tradition and keep it going. I have been accused of being too tough. But you have to make it clear you won’t tolerate infractions. I tell players they can follow the rules and play or do their own thing and not play. In all my years I’ve only had to dismiss two players.
WillofaChampion: Some think of golf as an individual sport. Do you work to intentionally build a team first attitude amongst your golfers?
Coach Best: That is a good question. We lost five seniors from the 2010 team so having that team-first attitude going into this season was a big concern. We start with discussing how to take care of the little things; which then naturally leads to focusing on goals. They develop both personal and team goals. We check their goals weekly to make sure they’re working to get better. This makes the team better. But we have had players that emphasize their personal goals seemingly over team goals. You hope to always have players that are team oriented first, then concerned with their own game second, but that is not always the case. Most players are happy if the team does well even if they do not. They usually put the team first because they make such close friendships.
WillofaChampion: How do you develop physical and mental discipline in your golfers?
Coach Best: We need to improve on the physical part. Golfers don’t traditionally do any strength training though that is changing with the Tiger Woods era. Our players do train on their own. Some have a trainer or go to the gym. We focus on getting rest and eating right. But we don’t do a lot with physical discipline. The mental part is different. I have read numerous books myself. I have a computer file full of things for them to read. Every Friday we go through thirty minutes to an hour of golf psychology. We cover various things all related to the mental game. We discuss mental aspects such as how to think through each shot to how to fight through a bad round.
WillofaChampion: Do you mind sharing some of the books?
Coach Best: Sure, I really like books by Dr. Rotella. Golf is not a game of perfect (Rotella) is a great one.
Some of these books have religious ties to golf.
Golf in the Spirit: and lessons for the journey (Peck),
Wooden on Leadership (John Wooden),
And most recently – Seven Days in Utopia; golf’s sacred journey (Cook)
WillofaChampion: Does discussing God and religious aspects of life give you an edge over public school coaches uncomfortable doing that?
Coach Best: I feel like the answer is yes. The problem is I have never been in the public school system. I have been in the parochial schools all my life. So I don’t know I can address the struggles public school coaches have. But we pray before tournaments. Our girls have developed a community of faith as a team. I do think that is an advantage. We are able to tie all things golf into all things spiritual into all things character. I really believe being able to use faith, and talk about faith throughout coaching is a major key to our success. I feel at its core, the game of golf has a very spiritual feel to it.
WillofaChampion: Do you do anything to intentionally develop leadership skills in your players?
Coach Best: First that I do expect them to step-up and be leaders. We discuss what a leader looks like. I have never done captains. I don’t believe that title means anything without the action. If you’re going to be a captain then become one by leading this team with your actions not a title. I also want kids to grow into a leadership role. A golfer may not take a leadership role if we have already chosen captains. If you’re called to lead, then do it. I am open to taking our team to a camp where we can work on developing leadership skills. We talk about leadership quite a bit every week, but we have not attended a camp of any kind yet.
WillofaChampion: What things are you looking for so that when a player steps up you know he or she is a leader?
Coach Best: Being one of the best communicators on the team, being so sincerely positive it is contagious, vocal in order to help teammates remember important activities or events, constantly looking to help others, and being one of the hardest workers. There are exceptions. For example, what if you have a quieter leader that is
always the first one to practice and the last to leave, works hard, gets great grades, and does everything you ask, they can lead in more than one way. I let them know I appreciate them and they are leaders. Whether they know it or not, the others notice.
WillofaChampion: You mentioned that one of your jobs is to motivate your players. Why do you think it is your job to do that?
Coach Best: My experience with high school kids is that even the most motivated player is going to have a bad day or even week. He or she can be down for any reason. They may need a check-in or a swift kick in the butt or something. I don’t know who else that would come from other than the coach. People may think kids should motivate themselves. That is ideal. But I don’t know if any coach can say that every player on his team is self-motivated. Now on the other hand some kids are just lazy so no matter what I do to motivate him or her it won’t affect them. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. I have many basic motivational quotes such as, “if it is to be, it is up to me.” My high school coach gave us lots of quotes. I would read them and it motivated me. My players have told me they will read them before a tournament. I am a pretty laid back person, but if I was never excited for their success, or winning a tournament I think it would be hypocritical. I believe you have to lead by example. If you want them to be motivated you need to lead by example. Kids are motivated; they won’t work hard if they’re not motivated.
WillofaChampion: What component have we not discussed that is critical to a championship program?
Coach Best: Persevering. Not giving up. You will have issues. Whether it is parents or issues on the team don’t let someone else turn your attitude around. You will have people disagree with you. It is easy to quit. Persevere. If you believe in what you are doing, then keep your convictions and you’ll find that people will start to put their faith in you. Players, parents, and the whole community will begin to believe in your system and philosophy.
Interview: August 2011