What type of foundation does one have to build to earn 900 victories in just 35 seasons? Andy Zihlman, head women’s basketball coach at Bishop Lynch High School in Dallas, Texas, who earned his 900th win in 2015, says it requires a tradition of hard work, intense focus and a desire to keep learning.
Zihlman’s passionate work ethic is something he instills in each member on the team’s roster, challenging them to push further and work harder than the previous year.
“Each team wants to match or better the previous year’s team,” said Zihlman. “They understand coming into our program what is expected and want to be part of it. I have had great leadership in our seniors. They see college coaches come to our gym for practices and games and see the respect they (coaches) have for this program. Our girls get it!”
Getting it is an understatement as the Lady Friars continue to register impressive and historic high school records, including their 12 championship game winning streak from 1988-2000 and 24 total championship victories under Zihlman. Setting high expectations for his athletes — both individually and as a team — is how they maintain the intense focus that is a cornerstone of his success.
Winning, however, is not the only goal. Zihlman understands a secondary part of his work is supporting his athletes’ dreams of playing at the college level. To help them, he encourages them to spend time in the summer in the weight room and conditioning as well as playing tournaments to gain additional exposure. Off the court, he spends time building relationships with college coaches and other high school coaches.
Additionally, Zihlman pushes his student-athletes to maintain a healthy work-life balance too; though the 17th nationally ranked, all-time winningest head coach admits it is often a struggle for him.
“My wife would tell you I am not home enough,” admitted Zihlman. “I am the AD (athletic director) and our district’s president, so I have many responsibilities with athletic administration. I am also the driver’s education coordinator while teaching the course. She (my wife) put a sign in my office that read, ‘This marriage closed for basketball season.’ ”
But, having the support of his wife, Teena, and family helps Zihlman keep his balance. The head coach has been married for 37 years and has coached his two daughters.
What ultimately drives Zihlman to come back season after season is his love for teaching and coaching the game of women’s basketball — developing his players’ skills and overall knowledge of the game. To do that at the highest level, he understands he must prioritize education and preparation.
“I continue learning from my assistants, other coaches, going to clinics, by watching college practices and games, and from the girls,” said Zihlman. “It is somewhat a new group each year; so, that’s always a challenge, but one I welcome. I have been blessed with not only great players over the years but wonderful young ladies and great parents.”
When asked what advice he would give coaches entering the high school ranks, he said, “Have a passion for basketball and love working with kids. (Coaches) must pay their dues, work up the ladder, and always be willing to listen and learn.”