Bollant, Allen coaching by the book

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Eastern women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant encourages his team to read. “To be a good leader, you have to be a good reader,” Bollant said.

Tom O'Connor, Sports Reporter

A cacophony of whispers filled the Lantz Arena gym to capacity. 

The reverberations of sneakers shuffling, sideline conversations and players inhaling and then exhaling, carried from one end of the gym to the other, much like a full court pass. 

At least one person, that being Eastern women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant, was unsettled by the silence and let the team know it. 

 “Every day we bring enthusiasm, it is part of what we do,” Bollant said.

His team knew what would come next. 

Each player bent to the ground, arms shoulder length apart, and counted off a series of pushups.

A cautionary slogan has been scrawled across a piece of parchment, one the players firmly plastered on a door to one of the Lantz Arena gym entrances. 

‘No energy vampires allowed,’ the sign reads. 

An energy vampire is an athlete who, for whatever the reason, shows up to practices, games or meetings with a contagious lack of emotion, thus sucking out the vivacity of the entire team. They can be a rather frightening sight for the coaching staff. 

The sign has been placed there for a reason. Players one through 15 are expected to read it.

It was through reading, after all, that the basketball team came to embrace this catchphrase, digesting a book titled ‘The Energy Bus: Ten Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy,’ written by Jon Gordon. 

“To be a good leader, you have to be a good reader,” Bollant said. “I love Jon Gordon’s stuff. I have probably read six or seven of his books. It gives you new insights, new motivations.”

Jon Gordon’s work has permeated through his own musings on teamwork and playing basketball the right way. 

Bollant is hardly the only Eastern coach to have merged the subjects of literature and athletics. Others are doing so in their own, distinct way.

They have all been coaching by the book. 

In Bollant’s case, the players are already applying the words of Gordon to their game.

“So far their energy has been great, their attitude has been great, so they have been applying it pretty well,” said Bollant. “It’s something we are going to get better at. We were okay last year.”

The coaching staff purchased the book for the team, but asked that they answer a list of questions for further discussion. Without exception, all of the players up and down the roster combed through the ten principles and were told to pick one. 

They chose energy. Understanding its magnitude, the players put the sign up as a prompt, realizing how easy it can be to forget.

Those caught ambling down the court will lose track of their defenders, often to the point of no return. Then a five-point lead becomes ten, 15 turns into 20 and so on. Motivated by these teachings, Eastern may hear Gordon whispering in their ears as they contend with two teams next week.

Energy, Bollant expects, will be on hand for Eastern’s first game against Oakland City on Tuesday, and the next, when the Panthers engage in a bout with Butler three days later, which is lined up to be the first road game this season. 

The end game of any energy efficient team is to nettle the competition and sow confusion through the opening of their mouths, as they call out ball screens, modify defensive tactics and communicate switches off the pick and roll. 

As they pack up for the away matchups, an additional item may well be added to every players’ checklist, regardless of whether or not they expect to play. 

It might take an extra minute to get ready. 

Toothbrush?

“Yep.”

Jersey?

“Of course.”

What about the energy needed to take down tomorrow night’s competition?

“How could I leave Eastern without it?”

That is what Bollant hopes they will be saying.

The coaches are reminding their players to bring energy with them on the bus wherever they go. 

All in all, Bollant and his fellow coaches could not, from their perspective, ask for a more lively, resilient faction of players.

“For the most part we have really good kids and they bring good body language and good attitude, but as you get into the season, and especially when they don’t play, you lose a couple games and it can get a little tougher,” Bollant said.

Gordon’s books appear on the book shelves of several coaches, not just Bollant.

Under Julie Allen, who took over the head coaching position last spring, the Eastern women’s volleyball team highlighted many axioms from that same book, as they, too, read Gordon’s 192-page paperback.

 But the 2018 Panthers are picking up a different book off their nightstands. The book they decided on, ‘The Power of a Positive Team,’ another work of Gordon’s, is exactly what the title implies, putting emphasis on how, through the application of tools, teams can put negativity to rest.

“We are always talking about ways to be positive and look in the light of the future and we are making strides because everyone is working hard, but how are you going to keep that mental edge,” Allen said.

Her team has structured a leadership council, consisting of freshman Bailey Chandler, sophomore Laurel Bailey, juniors Lexi May and Katie Sommer, redshirt junior Gina Furlin and senior Taylor Smith. 

If that seems like a mouth full, it’s because Allen wanted it to comprise of a diverse age group, instead of burdening one or two team captains with such responsibilities. 

The whole purpose of this committee of six is to reinforce team culture which, on all accounts, involves the process of earmarking aspects of the book that they feel are most pertinent to the team as a collective unit.

This council, in tandem with their teammates, strive to utilize specific elements of the book as goals for this campaign.

 “It really talks about developing strong roots, so that way, as a tree, you won’t fall over, but you’re really grounded,” Allen said. “So we use that as more of like, ‘make sure you have a strong base and foundations and your fundamentals are really strong, so that way, as you keep growing, you can rely on those.’”

No team has the prescience to anticipate what any given game will entail. The plot twists that pop up throughout the season cannot be predicted. To Allen and Bollant, books enable their players to develop. 

“Whatever their sport is, there is always a way to engage them and help them learn to become better, not only as a student athlete, but as a person,” said Cindy Almon-Miller, who is the Director of Academic Services for the Eastern Athletic department.

“I think that’s what the coaches are trying to do is cultivate that and, ultimately, that is the mission of the university is to send off our students better than when they started with us.”

Tom O’Connor can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]