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Mentoring Young Athletes

PGA Teaching Professional
Tom Gees Coaches Basketball

La Crosse, Wisconsin---- For over 40 years, PGA Teaching Professional, Tom Gees, has taught golfers ranging in age from 7-years, to those well into their 80s. In past years he has successfully transferred his teaching skills over to mentoring high school athletes as an Assistant Coach of Boys Varsity Basketball at Aquinas High School in La Crosse.

You might say it’s an odd combination for a teacher/coach. "Not when you consider that both games are played under (sometimes extreme) pressure," says Gees. “Doesn’t matter what the game, dealing with the pressure is the key to remaining calm, leading to exceptional performance and ultimately becoming a champion.”

Gees has been working with newcomers and veteran athletes his entire career. But working with the young players has always offered him the greatest satisfaction. "My dad started me in golf at age 5," says Gees. "He was the role model for the teaching and mentoring I enjoy providing for others today."

Tom's effectiveness in mentoring young people is evident in the success his golf students and his basketball players enjoy. On the golf side, Gees has taught and mentored 14 Junior golfers who have become LPGA and PGA professionals. In 2008, 2011, and 2013 Tom assisted the Aquinas High School Basketball team as they captured Wisconsin State Basketball Championship titles. Aquinas basketball star, Bronson Koenig, is now playing for the University of Wisconsin.

Gees got his first experience of working with young people in the 1960s while coaching and refereeing basketball at the local YMCA. Later in college, as a Recreation Administration major, Tom did some field work with kids, again at the YMCA.

When his golf profession led him to becoming the Director of Golf at Rancho Las Palmas Resort in Palm Springs, Gees had a very young staff. "My goals included helping each of those youngsters develop their own professional interests in the golf business, especially in honing their people skills," said Gees. "Add to that the hundreds of juniors I taught over the years of working at various country clubs and golf courses. I had lots of opportunity to teach young athletes about golf and help them discover themselves."

An avid fan and student of basketball, Gees came on the scene at Aquinas High School in 2006. One evening Tom stopped by school to pick up his daughters who were into cross country and track. "I ran into an old student of mine, who was the head basketball coach and he allowed me to sit in on his practice sessions," said Gees. "That revived my love for basketball and coaching. Later when head coach Rick Schneider started his basketball program at Aquinas, we became fast friends. I did some scouting, reviewed some game films and began developing a sports psychology approach for the team. That season (2006-2007) we finished runner-up for the state title. The next year I was a full assistant and since then we have won three State Championship honors…I was blessed to be working under the talents of three time ‘Coach of the Year’ recipient, Rick Schneider.

And what kinds of advice does Tom Gees pass on to his athletes---golf and basketball? “I’m a firm believer in 'one at a time'. In other words, take each situation individually at the time it is presented to you. Whether it be in golf---focus on each shot; or in basketball--- playing one possession at a time. Young athletes have a tendency to run too many things together and get ahead of themselves, or they dwell on things that have happened in the past. They really have no influence on what can happen in the future, unless they allow it to happen. We work on that positive imagery for each player….through positive self-talk.”

Gees strongly encourages his student-athletes to develop a great passion for their sport. "You can not play the game without passion. You can’t practice without passion," says Gees. "My job as Assistant Basketball Coach was to stimulate that passion."

Gees prepared himself for this role by scouting future opponents, reviewing game films, and strategizing with the other coaches. "During games, when a player came out and over to the bench, coach Schneider had him sit next to me," said Gees. "I quickly helped the player turn the negative situation around and get them back in the game again ready to perform at an optimum level."

Coach Schneider seemed pleased with his assistant’s contribution: "Our [players] need to be mentally tough [to win titles such as State Championships]…Tom provided that toughness training."