To most people a 461-36 record, including a 57-game win streak, would be a remarkable demonstration of a basketball coach’s desire to win. To Tom Gonsalves, head girls’ coach at St. Mary’s High School in Stockton, California, and 2016 United States Marine Corps/WBCA National High School Coach of the Year, it is proof that finding the right place and the right motivation makes all the difference.
Influenced by his own experiences as an athlete and by watching his uncles who were also high school coaches, Gonsalves knew early on that coaching at the high school level was something he wanted to do. Also, he knew that the additional time spent with his family would be something he valued more than climbing the coaching ladder.
“I really never looked into coaching college because I did not want to move my family around. My family has always been my top priority. Plus, having the opportunity to coach my three daughters was a great experience which I would not have had if I moved to the next level. All three of my daughters won at least one state championship.”
However, prioritizing his family’s needs does not mean that he lacks the passion and discipline needed to excel at coaching. “I do not think I’ve ever had to motivate myself when it comes to coaching basketball. When you’re passionate about something – it is not work. When I have to motivate myself to coach, that is when it will be time to retire.”
As for his student-athletes, he challenges them too push themselves to find balance with their academic work but also to excel on the court. “We work every day to get to the highest level possible so we have a chance to win a state championship. Our program has gotten to the level where if we do not win a state championship then it really isn’t a successful season. That is all the motivation we need.” When it comes to them playing at the next level he tells his players, “If they can handle the intensity level in which I coach, there is no doubt they can handle any college coach.”
Yet his intensity does not overshadow his desire to connect to his players as people. “I am an old school coach who is constantly trying to improve my relationships with my student-athletes. It is imperative that I develop a good positive relationship with them on and off the court. They must know that I care about them as a person, not just as a player.”
And those relationships do not end at graduation. His alumni are so invested in the program that they regularly come back to practices and games and even play in an alumni game (against the varsity players) to a packed gymnasium.
When asked about his advice for other coaches Gonsalves says, “First of all, I believe it is important to coach your personality and do not try to be someone else. Be passionate and enthusiastic about what you are doing. Make sure your players know you care about them on and off the court. Then make sure you are consistent with your discipline. This will allow you to push your team further than they have ever been pushed before. Make sure your players have fun and do not talk about winning or losing. Just stress that their goal is to maximize their potential. Lastly. I would suggest that they join coaching organizations such as the WBCA.”
Tom Gonsalves won the 2016 United States Marine Corps/WBCA National High School Coach of the Year. An award dedicated to honoring coaches at all levels. To learn more about the award, vist here.