When he began coaching basketball, Dawson County's Steve Sweat never imagined that he would be coaching a girls' team, much less guiding them to a state championship game.
Sweat started out coaching a boys basketball program, but when he changed schools to work closer to home, the only position available was as an assistant coach to the girls basketball team. So, he took the job and immediately began contemplating how he was going to change his style to coach girls instead of boys, but a close friend and mentor gave him the advice he needed to become one of the region's most successful coaches.
"I don't know but one way to coach," Sweat said, "So whoever comes out on the floor, that's what I do. That's something I learned from coach Warlick. We run the same plays when I'm coaching boys as I do when I'm coaching girls. You adjust to the type of players you've got, but I don't think with the type of game we play, you shouldn't coach them the same."
In his 30th season as a coach, it is clear that Sweat's methods lead to wins, and this season, his Lady Tigers finished as the Class AAA state runners-up with a 27-6 record and 10-4 in the region.
For his efforts, Sweat is The Times Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
As a coach, Sweat sometimes worried about team chemistry, especially on the girls side, but he found something unique in this year's team that helped power them throughout the season.
"I think the team chemistry was a big part of it," Sweat said. "Finding a group of girls that can all get along is a big thing, but this year's team was as good as I've ever had. I think they are the closest to the true definition of team that I've had in all 30 years."
Part of the team's phenomenal chemistry comes from Sweat and his team knowing each other for years and being able to predict what each other will do.
"The six seniors that we had have all been there for all four years," Sweat said. "I saw them play in middle school, and I knew them then, so we got to know each other really well. There's been times where they could say ‘I know coach. I know what you're going to say,' and I think that's a good thing.
"That kind of chemistry gets passed down by those players and that puts everyone on the same page from me all the way down to the freshmen at the very beginning."
Due to the communication and chemistry of this season's team, Sweat said he felt comfortable allowing his players to have more control, something he's never been able to do before.
"I think this year I realized that as a coach, sometimes you've gotta let your players go and do what they're capable of doing," he said. "We had many players on our team this year that could play many positions, but as a coach, sometimes it's hard to let your post players handle the ball or come out of the lane and shoot a 3-pointer, but we had kids that could perform in both spots. So I realized that being able to let go of the reins and let them do that was OK."
Sweat noted that part of the reason he was able to trust his team and their decisions was because he had players that would act as coaches out on the floor to help the team do what it did best: adjust.
"One of our big words this year was adjust," Sweat said. "One of the good things about this team was the chemistry was so good, they could adjust in almost any game. In basketball, you've gotta be able to change quick, so being able to adjust on the run says a lot about our players."
After such a successful season, Sweat will certainly carry over his new mentality to future teams, should they prove they can execute and adjust as needed. His job is just to make changes when needed and ensure that his teams are in the right mind set to win.
"If you train them to do what they're supposed to do, and if I do what I'm supposed to do, they ought to be able to go out and do it," Sweat said. "My job is to make play changes and attitude changes and give motivational speeches and all that stuff. I want to get them in the right frame of mind and right positions on the floor so they can do what they do best."
However, no matter what happens next season, or the season after that, or even 10 years down the road, Sweat said he wouldn't really change anything about this past season because his team was able to win and have fun at the same time.
"I really enjoyed being the coach of this year's team just because of the kind of kids they are on and off the court," Sweat said. "We had some really fun times off the court as a team, like going to eat, practicing different places, and our send-off going to our state games. We went past some of their old schools, and the girls went down and gave kids high fives. I'm just glad they let me ride the bus and go with them."