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Building a Winning Mindset: Insights from Young Basketball Coach Alex Geddes

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

Alex Geddes

is a young Scottish basketball coach prodigy, who has been making waves in the European basketball community. Despite coming from a country where basketball is not a popular sport, Geddes has managed to establish himself as a rising star in the Euroleague coaching world. He is currently working with the Euroleague Head Coaches Board and has the opportunity to work with some of the top coaches in the league, including Zeljko Obradovic and Pablo Laso.

In this exclusive interview with Athlete Plus, Geddes talks about his journey into basketball coaching, the challenges he has faced as a young coach in the Euroleague, and his approach to player development. He shares his experiences living and working in different countries, the importance of loving the game to make sacrifices, and how he overcomes obstacles in his career. Geddes also provides insights into his coaching philosophy and how he helps players reach their full potential.

Athlete+: What inspired you to pursue a career in basketball coaching and how did you get started?

Coach Alex: This is always a question that I get asked a lot by colleagues here in Serbia, because coming from Scotland (which with the best will in the world is not a basketball country by any stretch of the imagination) it seems like a crazy journey to have gone on. I was afforded many opportunities to begin to coach with my home club Glasgow City from a young age; there I worked alongside my father who is a well respected and successful junior coach back home. I enjoy puzzles, problem solving and always loved science growing up and coaching for me is a wonderful blend of all of those things. I come from a teaching family, my father is a coach, my mother trained as a teacher and my sister is currently a senior teacher back home so I suppose it’s inevitable that I was going to work in education in some capacity at some stage of my career. Existing has never merely been enough for me, it never was as a player and it certainly isn’t as a coach. Scotland has never had a coach that has won anything within European Basketball at all. Not a single Eurobasket Championship, not a single Youth European Championship, not a single Euroleague Championship. I intend on being the first. Many are of the opinion that you need a trailblazer, someone that has done what you are intending on doing before you in order for you to be inspired. The opposite is true in my case. The lack of anyone having done what I want to do before me is what continually inspires me everyday.

The only parallel in Scottish sporting history that I can draw is that of Alan Wells 100m Olympic Gold medal at Moscow 1980. Who would have thought that the 100m Olympic champion would be found training at Meadowbank Stadium in Edinburgh at any stage of history. There is a reason why sporting achievement seems improbable coming from Scotland, facilities and infrastructure are practically non-existent for elite sport and those pieces of infrastructure that do exist price athletes out of the market. There is little to no systematic public funding for elite sport like there is in other countries such as Serbia. Despite all that and despite all the ‘experts’ saying that it would never happen, Alan Wells became Olympic Champion. What inspires me to pursue basketball coaching at the level I am currently at is to be the first. That pretty strong motivation.

Athlete+: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a young coach in the Euroleague, and how have you overcome them?

Coach Alex: Challenges from my perspective are very rarely basketball related. I come from a non basketball country so in order to pursue my aspirations I need to spend a substantial volume of time away from home. No matter how much you love the game, that is always a tough undertaking. I have been fortunate to meet incredible people wherever I have worked. My first time away from home I was living in Portugal where the club, the players and the people around the club made me feel so welcome and valued. Serbia has been the easiest adaptation I think I have ever made to a new environment. The people are something special in the way that they welcome you, they have a remarkable willingness to share what little they have which I have not yet seen matched by any other country I’ve lived in. Their outlook on life as a collective is also very similar to mine. That being said, nothing can really detract from the fact that you are away from home for long periods of time; you need to decide if that is a sacrifice you are willing to make and for many players and coaches when they begin this examination, they will quickly release that they don’t love the game as much as they thought they did. If you don’t truly love the game you will never make that sacrifice.

Depending on where you are you will face different challenges. I am young which can be a barrier. I am Scottish which again can be a barrier within the basketball world. I don’t have the benefit of a long and illustrious career as a player in Euroleague which can definitely be a barrier. Despite this, 95% of the people who work in the Euroleague coaching community couldn’t care less, as long as you are capable of quality work then they don’t care where that quality comes from. I remember Zeljko Obradovic said during an EHCB Clinic in Antalya that he believes that “there is no such thing as a young or old player, only a smart and not so smart player”. Our own Scottish Football Legend Alex Ferguson was also famous for his ‘If you are good enough you are old enough” mantra. I believe the same applies to coaches and that regardless of your age, gender, nationality or background, if you are truly interested in quality that will shine through. Most of the elite programs in Europe feel the same way.

Athlete+: Can you share your approach to player development and how you help players reach their full potential?

Coach Alex: For me there is a moral and ethical underpinning to everything I do as a coach. Every athlete is born with a certain level of potential; this potential obviously varies from athlete to athlete on the basis of a multitude of factors but it is an unquestionable reality that all human beings are born with potential. Athletes put their full and entire trust in us as coaches to support them and guide them to realizing the maximum reaches of their potential. We have a moral obligation to give that athlete everything that we have as a coach, to constantly improve ourselves so that we can give them the best possible chance of reaching their potential. When we fail to do this we are letting our athletes down and for me that is unforgivable. A lot of elite coaches laugh when we see poorly educated coaches (normally on social media) imparting half truths or complete mistruths to athletes and in the process letting their athlete down. Many coaches find this funny, I don’t. That’s why I am obsessive about improving myself so that I can give everything I can to the athlete. This is something I learned from my father. Much to the annoyance of my mother, the dining room of my family home back home in Glasgow has been de facto converted into a basketball coaching library packed with notes, diagrams, practice plans and books because my father is obsessive about giving everything he can to his athletes. I am fortunate that I have inherited this mentality. On a Basketball Coaching basis my approach to player development is based heavily on the Serbian and Old Yugoslavian methodology with particular emphasis on the work of Professor Sasa Jakovljevic (who, I have had the privilege of having been personally mentored by) and his mentor Professor Milivoje Karalejic. It’s difficult to give such a brief synopsis of what is such a multifactorial and poly-structural process but certain principles do predominate;

  1. If there is not scientific evidence for what you are doing there needs to be a well founded scientific rationale. If neither exists you shouldn’t be doing what you are doing.

  2. Quality of training, Quantity of training and Continuity of training process are the three founding principles of any athlete development system.

  3. Basketball Technique can be said to be effective when the player knows how to choose and perform a certain movement as the best response to the current situation. For this reason, the technique in the training process is always observed alongside the individual tactics.

  4. Basketball players are athletes first and foremost. Without knowledge of auxiliary sciences such as biomechanics, physiology, Strength and Conditioning etc we cannot as coaches bring our athletes to their athletic peak.

Athlete+: How do you balance your role as a coach and an executive, and what skills are necessary to excel in both positions?

Coach Alex: First of all it’s important to say that neither role can be done well without the ability to work exceptionally long, unsociable and irregular hours and make a lot of sacrifices along the way. At the moment balancing both roles means that I am active 7 days a week from 6am until 10pm but for me this isn’t hard work. My grandfather grew up and spent the majority of his life working farms in the central belt of Scotland (the weather is just as bad as what you think it is), pulling ploughs, moving cattle etc from dawn until dusk. That’s hard work! Working in basketball can be tiring but it’s not what I would consider hard work.

Looking at both roles there are many similarities. In both roles you are interacting with people; you are working almost exclusively with human material. In my role as a coach I am managing players, as Operations Manager at the Euroleague Head Coaches Board I am managing coaches. Working with humans means finding methods to impart your message in a way that it will be received and understood, it means seeing things from other people’s perspectives; not necessarily so that you can relent and agree on everything but in order to get through to people on certain topics you need to understand why they think the way they think. How you communicate will obviously vary depending on whether you are working as a coach or a manager but ultimately you are still having to find a way to impart a message in a receptive manner. That is something that is similar in both roles.

In both capacities organization, detailed working and the ability to maintain a schedule are pivotal. If you are not organized you will drown and ultimately won’t be able to get the job done. If you don’t care about detail you’ll get the job done, to the bare minimum standard but nobody should ever aspire to the minimum standard; we should always aspire for excellence. If you aren’t able to maintain a schedule you will drown in your workload and being late is simply not an option. The level I’m working at being late in attendance or in completion of a task is the ultimate disrespect. Nobody cares what your excuses are, if you were sick, if you had a lot of work, if you and your girlfriend had an argument. You just have to find a way to get the job done to a high standard; that’s no different in either role.

Athlete+: What are some of the goals you hope to achieve through your work with Athlete Plus and the Next Level Camp?

Coach Alex: This question brings to mind a conversation I had with Sergio Scariolo (Virtus Bologna and Spanish NT head coach) a few weeks ago. I had asked him a question regarding the Italian Coaching School that has produced so many great European coaches such as Sandro Gamba, Valerio Bianchini, Ettore Messina etc. In response he said “When great coaches who have experienced such success have given so willingly, their time knowledge and experience in order to help me develop as I coach, I feel a moral obligation to pass that knowledge onto the next generation”. This for me sums up nicely in many respects what I most look forward to regarding the Next Level Camp.

There is an old saying that “All language is dead until it finds a willing listener”. It’s my firm belief that this is 100% true, and if we want to continue to drive the game forward we need to constantly share what we know and what we have learned. The openness to always share knowledge, amongst the basketball coaching community, and the knowledge that the best way to learn is to teach is something that in my experience is a uniquely Serbian or Yugoslavian mentality.

On a selfish basis the best way to continue my journey as a coach is to keep teaching and sharing and that’s another reason I’m excited for the Next Level Camp.

I’m only 23 years old but so far basketball has taken me to 22 countries. As a result I have a very pan-global view of the world and believe that we are united in Basketball. That being said and holding that mentality and philosophy close to my heart, wherever I go and whatever I do as a coach, be that in Glasgow, Belgrade, Porto or Paris; I am doing it for “The Good Of Basketball”. This is a motto of the Euroleague Head Coaches Board and it is a philosophy that I truly believe in. My Professor Jakovljevic always says that basketball is a global game, and despite some countries having more success than others nobody can lay claim to ownership of basketball. I share this opinion and hope that any impact that I have with Athlete Plus will be for the good of basketball.

Athlete+: How has your experience in the Euroleague influenced your coaching style and philosophy?

Coach Alex: My experience in the Euroleague coaching community has heavily influenced my style and philosophy as a coach. My philosophy and style can be closely associated with the Serbian and Old Yugoslavian style and philosophy and that is mainly down to the time I have spent working with the EHCB in Belgrade. I have been fortunate enough to follow on a daily basis the work of Zeljko Obradovic observing practice and game preparation of his KK Partizan Euroleague team which has truly been the honor of a lifetime. Zeljko is in my view, the greatest basketball coach ever to live and being around his staff and him every day only reaffirms this belief. Additionally to this I have been afforded the opportunity to follow the daily practice and game schedule of coach Branko Jorovic (one of the top Junior Coaches in Europe) at KK Crvena Zvezda Junior and before Branko, his predecessor Slobodan Klipa a 3 time Junior Euroleague Champion and widely regarded as one of the best Junior coaches in the history of European Basketball. KK Mega Basket (the club that has developed such talent as Nikola Jokic, Nikola Jovic etc) has also opened their doors to me to assist with my education as a coach and I have had the privilege of observing the work of Marko Barac one of the best young senior coaches in Europe and this season, highly successful in ABA Liga. On top of all this I have also been fortunate enough to follow the practices and games of Dragan Vukovic head coach of ZKK Crvena Zvezda and far and away the most successful women’s basketball coach currently coaching within Serbia. It can be said that my coaching style and philosophy in many respects is a blend of what I have been taught by all of the aforementioned coaches.

My style is also heavily influenced by certain US Coaches such as Bobby Knight, Bob Hurley and Pat Summitt who despite never having had the extensive contact I have had with the aforementioned Serbian Coaches, I have studied in detail.

My role as Operations Manager at the Euroleague Head Coaches Board means that I have daily contact with current and past Euroleague Coaches which has been a really special learning experience for me. All of this high level experience has led me to where my style and philosophy sits today however who I am as a coach go’s back to my roots, coaching with my father at my home club Glasgow City BC in my hometown. It can be said that Coaching Philosophy is a reflection of who you are as a person and for me this is particularly true with my manner and style as a coach acting as a direct reflection of the manner in which I was brought up. I was always taught how you do anything is how you do everything, do things right and you do them once, never settle for anything that is better than your absolute best and never dare expect success if you haven’t put the work in. That’s how I was raised and I hope that shines through in the way in which I coach.

In conclusion, Alex Geddes’ story is a true testament to the power of passion and hard work. As a young basketball coach, he has already accomplished so much and continues to inspire others with his dedication to the sport. His journey from playing basketball around Europe to becoming a successful coach showcases the importance of perseverance and staying true to one’s dreams.

Alex’s advice to aspiring coaches to “keep grinding, keep working, and never give up” is a valuable reminder that success doesn’t come easy, but with determination and effort, anything is possible. We wish Alex all the best in his future endeavours and look forward to seeing the impact he will continue to make in the basketball world starting with Athlete Plus Next Level Camp this April.


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