Athlete Needs for Success


Thirty-odd years ago, John Gray penned a book entitled Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. In it, the relationship counselor argued that relationships between the two sexes would always be challenging because, at their core, men and women are so diabolically opposed they might as well be from different planets.

Jose Fernandez, you might think, would be able to relate. He is a husband, the father of five daughters, and for the past 24 years, has served as the head women’s basketball coach at the University of South Florida. If being surrounded by women has taught Fernandez anything, it’s that men and women really aren’t so different; they just need to learn to speak each other’s language. That Fernandez has managed to make it into either the NCAA Tournament or WNIT in all but four years he’s worked at USF would suggest he’s mastered the translation. Even he will admit, however, that he could use some help every now and again.

Th at’s where he’s found Profile and its assessment tools to be so incredibly valuable. Fernandez believes the actual business of coaching - the X’s and O’s and game planning - is no different. To suggest otherwise, in fact, he sees as insulting. “People ask me all the time, ‘Listen, what’s the difference between coaching guys and women?’” he says. “I coach them the same way. They are high-level athletes, so why would I coach my team any differently? I know the game itself can be a little different because it’s played below the rim, but why would I treat them differently? They’re athletes.’’

But as he digs into Profile, reading the assessments of his current and former players and himself, Fernandez sees where he could use some work. He calls himself ‘hard-nosed’ and ‘tough.’ What that translates into is a man who is very direct and fact-based. He is not the type, by nature, to spend a whole lot of time explaining the rationale behind a drill or exploring how to get a player out of a shooting slump. He’s far more tactical: do X, and Y happens.

Not everyone works that way, which Fernandez certainly knew. What he didn’t quite grasp, though, is how people who think differently - the Venus to his Mars, perhaps - might hear and internalize his approach. Fernandez sent Profile assessments to dozens of his former players - some who have achieved high levels of success and are, for example, playing in the WNBA, and others whose careers petered out. They’ve opened his eyes to things he never previously realized - how perhaps he contributed to a player’s success or failure because of his inability to be more flexible in his approach. “Maybe they didn’t respond to hard coaching, right?” he says.

“Maybe they needed more encouragement, more why. I didn’t pay attention to the signs or understand the style they needed, or I just didn’t know they needed that.’’

That sort of self-refl ection, 24 years into a head-coaching career, is rare. Yet Fernandez already sees it creating a pivot in himself. The 2023-24 season has not been easy for USF. The Bulls’ best player tore her ACL in the early part of the season, changing the dynamic and trajectory of everything Fernandez had planned. Ordinarily, he might have put his head down and forged ahead. Fernandez admits that the thing he loves best about his job is the competition and that dealing with pressure gets “the fire in my belly going.’’ But armed with his player assessments, Fernandez realized that steamrolling ahead would not best serve USF.

Instead, he purposefully took a step back, pausing where he otherwise might have pushed. “I’ve tried to be less reactive than I have been,’’ he says. “I’m go-go-go, but I needed to be more patient with this group, and having the assessments allowed me to see that. It’s been really beneficial.’’

Fernandez already is envisioning the benefits down the road, as well. Throughout the course of his career, he’s met regularly with his players during the season, usually every two weeks or so. He fi nds the sessions to be incredibly useful. Fernandez has long been a believer in building trust and creating relationships with his staff and players. Before using Profile, he’d rely on his instincts and guts to get a read on how he thought his athletes were feeling or thinking.

Now, he keeps their assessments handy in the office and reviews them regularly. Having a better feel for his players, Fernandez knows, has already made the lines of communication more open.

The importance of those conversations, he believes, oft en gets overlooked. Turnover in college athletics always has required coaches to look to recruiting the next thing, and preparing for the future oft en means pushing aside the present. It’s never been easy, but the advent of the transfer portal has made it even more complicated. It’s an act-fast world that requires quick decisions and constant attention.

Like many other coaches, Fernandez has found Profile to be incredibly helpful as he tries to navigate fi t with players in the portal and also bolster his ability to get to know a person who often chooses South Florida in a matter of days rather than the traditional years-long courtship in high school recruiting.

But as he considers relationship building and how to use Profile going forward, Fernandez is also excited about how it can cement the relationships he has with players already on his roster. Recruiting these days doesn’t end with a commitment; instead, it is constant as the allure of leaving is stronger than ever, thanks to the portal. Fernandez is already using Profile to ensure his athletes aren’t anxious to leave him. At team dinners, he asks them to talk about their core values and why they have such meaning to them. He has watched as his players light up, sharing something that matters to them with their teammates as well as their coaching staff. “You really have to put your arms around them during the season,’’ Fernandez says. “There’s always a lot of worry about getting that next class, but you also have to take care of the players on your team. You have to be upfront with them and make sure they know how important they are to you. So understanding them helps with that retainment as well.”

At its core, coaching really isn’t that complicated. It’s about communication. Sharing an idea - in this case, a play - and getting others to comprehend and execute it. The same holds if, say, the two sides are coming from two different directions - or planets such as Mars and Venus. It’s just a matter of a little transition. To Jose Fernandez, that’s Profile. “It’s mind-blowing,’’ he says. “The information is all right there. You just have to use it.’’