My name is Jason Nelms, I am the head coach for the Lady Movin Mavs at the Univeristy of Texas @ Arlington (UTA). About 6 years ago I was approached by Doug Garner, he was juggling the idea around of starting a women’s team here at UTA. He was curious if I had any desire to coach. At first, I was hesitant, my goal was to coach a men’s team. As I thought more and more about it, I thought of my late college coach Jim Hayes. I thought about the opportunity he had given me at UTA many years before. The old phrase kept coming to mind, “if you want something done right then do it yourself”.
The greatest lesson I have learned as the coach of the Lady Movin Mavs, comes from Rose Hollermann. It was during our second season and we had recruited Rose. Rose was an unbelievable talent fresh off of a National Jr. Championship and we were a very eager young team. We head into nationals hoping to pull the ultimate upsets, but it wasn’t in the cards for us. Rose came in with a heavy heart as her grandfather’s health was rapidly declining. She toughed it out and decided to play but the toll on her heart was heavy and affected her own health. Before the semi-final she had to be taken for care and was receiving IVs minutes before tip-off. We ended up in a battle with U of I, almost pulling off our biggest upset but we would fall short 1 play. I was heartbroken, but not for losing. We had played a hell of a game and all I could think about was how much Rose wanted it for her grandfather and how if she had chosen any other school that season, she would have had her championship. I told her I was sorry for not preparing the team better to get her that championship. She looked at me and smiled and said, “it’s all about the journey”. She was right. It is all about the journey.
My coaching philosophy is pretty simple. Identify our strengths and perfect them, identify our weaknesses and train so that they become our strengths. We will identify our opponents’ strengths and weaknesses as well and exploit them. We will use every game as a teaching tool. The only true loss is failing to learn.
My approach to coaching is one of reinforcement and trial and error. I am going to let you make your mistakes, to me that is how you gain your experience. I will teach you the right way to do things, but it is as equally important that you understand the wrong way as well. I think it’s important to stop and teach the second something is done wrong, can even be during an actual game. I want to make sure I’m getting you while the play is still fresh in your head, so we can talk about exactly what the player saw and what they should have looked for and how one way can lead to success and the other way failure. Winning isn’t the focus but making sure you are always teaching will lead to greater success in the long run.
There have been some pretty awesome moments as the coach of these great ladies. We have won a national championship, have had a perfect regular season, and even have players making national team rosters, a few coming home with gold medals. But all of those are heavily outweighed by Morgan Wood finishing her undergrad. She was our very 1st recruit and this program wouldn’t be here today without the “Legend”. Morgan came to UTA when there was only an idea of what we could do. She was all alone but trained every day for the team that she would help build. Being able to see her go across the stage and receive her degree is by far the proudest moment I have had the privilege to be a part of.
Not sure I have a theory as a coach but for me personally it is my goal to find that potential in players that others have missed. I think everyone has a talent in them that I can use as a coach and I mean everyone. Not everyone can be a great shooter, the fastest, or the tallest. But they can give you so much more. As an example, Destiny Ortega who currently plays for me is my MVP. She is a class 1.0 who was born with CP. She isn’t the fastest, she’s small and not the best shooter but she brings so much more. She is the player I lean on every day to keep others focused, to always be my voice and the voice of the bench. To see the little details in the game so she can set her teammates up to be successful. She is a model player one who sacrifices herself for her teammates over and over again. So, my advice for any player is don’t worry about what you can’t do and don’t forget about what your strengths are.
My coaching inspirations come from a few sources, some good and some bad. Jim Hayes was the #1 influence. He was my coach while I played at UTA and he taught me many valuable lessons. The one that stands out over any other was his old saying “It’s not who you are playing, it’s that you are playing”. As a player this got old. I would brush it off every time he said it in the huddle as he said it every game for 5 seasons. But after those 5 seasons is when it started to really make more sense. As a young player you just want to hit the court and get it. You are ready to go but as a coach and following in Hayes footsteps it is very clear now. Not everyone gets a chance to play, not everyone can be lucky enough to have a scholarship to attend college, not every person can afford the cost of a sports chair and not everyone is fortunate enough to survive the road that has led to their disability. It is a privilege to play and should be treated as such. My other inspiration would have to be Phil Jackson (even after he bombed in NY). But he was wise and was called the Zen Master for a reason. He taught me that you have to be able to get in your team’s mind. Have to be able to calm them, prepare them, and even piss them off from time to time to focus them. Other coaches have taught me the importance of making sure every player feels needed. A needed player will give you everything they have but if a player feels that they don’t matter they will shut down then as a coach you are losing a valuable asset.
My biggest lesson as a coach to my players is that this is just a game. You have used this game as an avenue to get here to college. Remember it is a game, win or lose. But that getting your education and leaving here with a degree is what it is all about. Do not sacrifice. And by that, I mean get in that classroom, get to the library, get your head in your books, and don’t sacrifice getting your degree for anything. Make sure the people in your circle are the ones who want the best for you. The ones making study plans with you, not the ones telling you to do it later. Basketball is just a game.
My goals are the same every year. Lead UTA in team GPA, graduate our players, get the girls to national team tryouts, my goal is that every year our whole team is there, and of course win a National title. And our long-term goal is to build this program into the best in the world, being able to offer full ride scholarships to every athlete. We have come a very long way in 5 years but have so much left to do.
The legacy I want to leave behind is one of excellence on and off the court. I want UTA to be home of our future Doctors, Nurses, Engineers and Paralympians. A place that our goal is to make it better for the next person, to open up doors that were closed. To keep the legacy that Hayes has instilled in so many of us. “IT’S NOT WHO YOU ARE PLAYING, IT’S THAT YOU ARE PLAYING”. I would like to add that this season will be dedicated to Bridgette Wise. Bridgette had to leave us midseason with serious health issues and we just wanted to say as a team “We miss you Bridge”.