Love of the game: Retired WHS coach Lindner will remember the friendships
Longtime Worthington High School girls basketball coach Eric Lindner won 395 games in a remarkable career
WORTHINGTON -- For 47 years, Worthington High School has had just two head coaches for its hugely successful girls varsity basketball program. The second of the two, Eric Lindner, recently announced his retirement.
First there was Don Kuiper, who won 357 games in a 24-year career that culminated with his entry into the Minnesota Girls Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame. He was followed by Lindner, who has had 20 winning seasons in 23 years while accumulating 395 wins and just 181 losses.
Ironically, there are some important similarities between the way Kuiper and Lindner coached. Both stressed the importance of defense. Both taught a high-energy style of basketball.
Lindner will surely be remembered for his own high energy on the court. In fact, he never considered any other way.
“Because how are you supposed to show passion and expect your players to show passion if you don’t show it?” he asked.
Lindner pushed his girls to nine 20-win seasons and five state tournament appearances. But among his fondest memories, he said, are catching up with his players after they’ve graduated.
“And they say, ‘We didn’t think you knew what you were talking about. Now we get it,” he smiled recently while sitting in his small office next to the gymnasium he coached in.
Retirement is often difficult for a successful coach, but Lindner said now is the right time to step away. The travel time commitment became more problematic in recent years, as the veteran coach contemplated the need to spend more time with his aging parents in Hartford, S.D.
Eric’s wife is Patty. The couple have two children, Cade, 20, and Carter, 26.
Before arriving in Worthington, Lindner coached in Sioux Falls, S.D., for several years. Two of those years were spent coaching ninth-grade boys. For all of his years coaching girls, he learned some important differences between the two sexes.
“I think the thing I like about girls -- girls, it wasn’t hard to convince them to play at a high level at all times. They would rally to the occasion,” he said.
It’s more difficult for boys, he believes, to let go of their ego -- harder, perhaps, for them to relax stubborn beliefs in their own abilities.
Girls, Lindner added, keep things interesting. The mental part of their games were different every day, whereas boys tend to be more consistent in their mental approach to sports.
Over the years, Lindner learned that he needed to be a listener and not just “deal in fear” to motivate players. He trusted that a self-motivated player is much better than one you needed to yell at. In his Trojan girls, he attempted to develop not only a love of basketball, but also a love for the history of WHS basketball.
Judging by his record, he succeeded.
Naturally, the best coaches as well as their players tend to grow in the game, and Lindner says he has noticed changes in the game -- along with changes in the way athletes operate.
“When I originally got involved in it, I would say it was more of a team aspect,” he reflected.
Now, it has become more about individual development. The emphasis has evolved. Players are more specialized.
“The toughest part with coaching is, you have an idea what you think it should be like. And when it gets further and further away from that, it’s time to reassess that a different coach might be better to deal with this new generation,” Lindner said, adding:
“I think the biggest thing is the distractions have increased with the introduction of the cell phone. And the introduction to the social media part. There used to be a way to talk things out face to face. And now it’s all electronic. Today, kids spend a lot of time on the phone,” smiled the coach, “when they could have spent at least some of that time shooting baskets.”
Lindner said he’s very appreciative of his players, the coaches he worked with, and simply the opportunity to have coached.
“I feel truly blessed,” he said.