The Basketball Podcast: EP298 with Greg Tonagel on the Pursuit of Three

RELEASE DATE : 13/12/2023
In this week’s basketball coaching conversation, Indiana Wesleyan head coach Greg Tonagel shares insights on trading the pursuit of me for the pursuit of three.

Greg Tonagel has been the head coach since 2005 and has 500 wins in fewer games, and younger than any coach in college basketball history. Under his leadership, the team has won three NAIA Div. II National Championships in 2014, 2016, and 2018, and has been the No. 1-ranked team in NAIA Division II for four seasons. Greg Tonagel has also coached 25 NAIA Div. II All-Americans and has won 12 Crossroads League Regular Season Championships and 5 Crossroads League Tournament Championships. He has coached two NAIA National Players of the Year, Tonagel has the most wins (420), the highest winning percentage (.795), the most NAIA National Tournament Victories (32), the most National Tournament appearances (13), the most Crossroads League Regular Season Championships (11), and the most Crossroads League Tournament Championships (5) in the program’s history.

He has been named NABC/NAIA Division II National Coach of the Year three times. Tonagel is a graduate of Valparaiso University where he played basketball and earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Secondary Education, and was a director of basketball operations. He also holds a Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning from Valparaiso University and a Doctor of Ministry in Transformational Leadership from Wesley Seminary.

Greg Tonagel

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Greg Tonagel Quotes:

“I think everybody’s looking for their purpose in coaching . . and it took me a little while to really figure out my calling and my purpose in coaching, but I say it like this, ‘I want to raise a generation of men who will trade the pursuit of me for the pursuit of three.’ We’ve got to learn to see the big picture and to help bring that into context through the game of basketball . . And so we call it, I’m Third: God first; others second; self third.”

“When we’re developing our team, when we’re trying to get the most out of our team, what we realize is, when we’re playing for each other, when we’re getting outside of ourselves, when we’re thinking bigger than just me, me, we tend to have greater results and greater opportunities to have success.”

“One of the most challenging aspects of coaching is defining roles for everybody because everybody wants the main role, right?  So, to me, this is an ongoing conversation that takes weeks, months, seasons. Some kids get it right away, some don’t. You often get more of what you reward. One of the things I think we do well in our program is we reward the little things that are often unseen.”

“The ball is in your hands, even if you’re a great player, less than 5% of the game. So, the question then becomes, what are you doing the other 95% when the ball isn’t in your hands? Most kids don’t know because they’ve never been taught and they certainly haven’t developed this identity. That’s a lot of what we fight when guys come to our program, is helping them define winning when the ball is not in their hands.”

“At the end of the day, our style of play is a byproduct of our cultural influence . . We’re not playing it safe. I don’t want my players to play it safe. What we say is greatness favors the fearless.”

“Guys need discipline. But discipline is the alignment of my expectations with their potential. That’s a completely different conversation when I begin to look at discipline that way, saying, ‘Okay, here’s your potential. You can be much better than you were. Here’s my expectations. I’m not lowering them, but together, we’re going to march towards this.’”

“Just because you eliminate bad shots doesn’t mean you produce good shots. So we no longer talk about bad shots, but what we talk about is, are you fearlessly creating for somebody else? So when you catch, are you only thinking about your shot, or if you take a shot, did you take it as if you actually wanted to make the shot?”

“It’s always a couple of weekends leading into the start of practice in the fall . . We say we’re going to have great food and we’re going to have great conversations. And it’s amazing how the dads look forward to this weekend. They get to hear from the players what’s happening in the program. How is my son growing? They make really deep connections with each other . . And they understand the program is far bigger than playing time. So, we haven’t eliminated all parental problems with playing time, but we’ve also made that to be a lesser issue and said, ‘Look, there’s so much more going on here, and if you can help participate in that, you can help move your son forward.’”

“You’ve got to let your players know, we’re going to fail along the way. That’s fine, but I’d rather gauge what does it mean if we’re afraid to fail and we don’t ever try? There are serious consequences if you never go after something. So, giving your guys permission to fail, treating failure completely different, as an opportunity to grow, will create an environment of fearlessness.”

“Our offseason progression to helping players grow is one of my favorite aspects of the offseason because we take each player and we lay before them a vision. Here’s who we think you can become. Here’s your potential, and it’s often a picture and a vision that’s even bigger than themselves. We’ll start with, what’s your hunger? What’s your desire to be great? Because all the great players have an internal desire. I can’t put the desire in you. If you’re not hungry to grow, then you’re not going to move past step one. But then the reality is habits are what keep you in the game.”

“So, to go back to the progression, hunger puts you in the game, habits keep you in the game, and then humility puts others in the game. It’s a way to transfer the success you’ve had and it continues.”

Greg Tonagel Breakdown:

1:00 – Pursuit of Three
6:00 – Role Definition
8:00 – Roadmap
11:00 – Practice Game
14:00 – Needs My Weakness
17:00 – Convey Strength
19:00 – Ideation of Coaching About
20:30 – Climb To The Top
23:00 – Handling Accountability
24:33 – 25:45 – Hoopsalytics Ads
25:45 – Alternatives
28:30 – Father and Son Retreat
33:00 – Fearless
36:30 – Fear of Failure
39:00 – Hunger, Habits, Humility
43:00 – Style, Play, Offense, Defense
45:00 – Devotional Books
46:00 – Conclusion

Greg Tonagel Selected Links from the Podcast:

Greg Tonagel

Scott Drew

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