Program Profile: Maine Renegades

01/31/2019, 3:45pm EST
By ZG Report

Today’s Program Spotlight brings us north to visit a program who is not only based out of Portland, but has players based in their sister city in Tokyo.

Maine Renegades based out of Portland, Maine had a rather unique start back in 2013. Program director Rick Simonds was asked to take a small group of middle school girls (aged 13-15) overseas to Portland’s sister city of Shinegawa, Tokyo and work with athletes of similar skill.

“The trip was a rousing success and, in addition to winning games, we earned the friendship of representatives in both countries. More importantly, I formed a bond with the young ladies on the trip and when they returned I was asked to continue to work with several players. The feeling was that while there were many well- intentioned parents coaching [grassroots basketball] teams, there was a need for a coach with the knowledge and skill necessary to effectively teach individual skills and prepare players to play at the next level. Having coached at the college level for 25 years including Saint Joseph’s College and Davidson College, and professionally for two, I was ready to make the commitment.”

Upon their return, Simonds stuck with it and created the Maine Renegades. Beginning with a small participa tion in the fall of 2013, he led into a game changing spring 2014 by bringing together girls high school teams that were able to compete at the highest level.

“In the fall the Renegades attracted another dozen players to their program which was then divided into two teams to compete in the Dirigo League sponsored by Maine Hoops. The next spring boys were added to make four teams and then it was ten and then twenty over the next two springs.”

The Renegades homebase is mainly in southern Maine, however there are many players traveling hours to play for Simonds. This led to the creation of a few “satellite teams” which helped them to expand into other areas as well as help out the kids dedicated to the program who were driving quite a ways to make practices.

The expansion doesn’t stop there, however. In the recent months, the Renegades have nearly doubled in size by joining forces with Next Level Athletics. These two high quality programs will be fully merged this off season make their debut in the black and red on the spring 2019 circuit.

“This year the biggest change has taken place as the Renegades has merged with Next Level Athletics. Last year between the two programs there were 38 teams sponsored and, in addition to being perhaps the largest such program in Maine, with over three hundred kids, there will be more skill sessions, workout clinics, and other individual improvement opportunities.”

Program Director Rick Simonds

In such large growth in such a short period of time, we had to ask what the biggest obstacle has been. However, Simonds doesn’t really see obstacles when it comes to his kids. The biggest struggle isn’t in the little details, but it boils down to practice times/facilities! As far as levels of improvement, another aspect that can always be worked on, Simonds accredits the minimal points of necessary improvement within the Renegades to the high level coaching.

“The hardest part of being the director of a program of this size is the acquisition of practice locations. I am a stickler in terms of organization and that is essential when using multiple sites. I’m sure that we could improve upon all facets of the game. I feel many young people do not understand how to ‘play’ the game. The art of moving without the ball, reading the defense and understanding time and score are essential components of the game but too often we see players – of all ages – watching as teammates jack up threes or stand as someone puts on a dribbling clinic in a dribble-drive ‘offense’. I give the teams that I coach a 100-question quiz on strategy, rules that impact them, and what to look for in game situations. We need to teach the game better at all levels.”

That being said, in wondering what Simonds felt the Renegades excel in, one could only think this would tie right into what he feels they can improve on: coaching.

“I feel that we have outstanding coaches, many of whom have varsity high school or college coaching experience. We stress improvement, not wins, and I feel the practices are where this occurs. I heartily discourage scrimmaging in practice. While the kids may like that, I believe it is lazy coaching to resort to that and often leads to just repeating player weaknesses. Individual improvement is essential.”

In looking at the strong emphasis on how coaching staff and practices impact the program’s success and growth, Simonds also acknowledges the importance of his coaches truly knowing the players and developing a relationship. Each player’s experience with the program is truly dependent upon their coach and their positive relationship. Without those relationships, the program would not be growing exponentially as it is today.

“I believe what separates us from other programs is the depth of quality coaching. I see other programs where one person will coach 4-5 teams and in a game I will hear “#12, go in for #15.” A coach plays a vital role in the development and enjoyment of the game. It is a special bond and we want every player to have a personal experience. We prefer that every team have its own coach, often times two, and never allow anyone to coach more than two teams at different levels. The biggest factor in our growth and success lies with the individual coaches of each team – NOT with the program director. While I may be the face of the program, it is each player’s coach that makes that boy or girl’s experience both fun and beneficial. I pride myself on being very organized and try to assist the coaches in any way possible but beyond that, it is those coaches that have made the difference.”

Considering the growth that has come in such a quick period of time, we wanted to know where Coach Simonds saw the Renegades a year or two from now. The goal, though, is not for more growth from numbers, but is development from within. Starting from the ground up and improving from the inside to reflect externally.

“The growth of the Maine Renegades has been staggering and surprising. To go from one team to close to 40 in five years is nothing that I could have imagined. My goal was not, and is not, to see how big we can become but rather, how can we most improve the basketball experience of the players in our program. I see us offering more skill sessions, more courses on nutrition, weight training, injury recovery, yoga and strategy. Individual improvement – not team success – is what drives me.”

Looking to the spring 2019 circuit, we can’t wait to see the Renegades all over New England! But what are they looking forward to the most?

“At the highest level we look at those events during the ‘live’ period where many scholarship coaches are in attendance. Our 11th ‘Black’ (top) team went 5-2 last year against some of the region’s best teams. Beyond that, most of or teams look forward to the Zero Gravity Nationals in June. It is something that we work towards and for many it is the culmination of our year. While we have never won a championship at that level, we have had several teams make it to the finals.”

In talking to Rick Simonds, we learned a lot about not only the Maine Renegades program, but about how to be successful on and off the court as a whole. Coaching and player buy in is key in a successful team, nevermind entire program. How coaches interact with players as well as how the players respond is instrumental. Being able to start from the ground up with development enables players to capitalize on their skills and perform at the highest level. Not only that, but it keeps them engaged and coming back year after year (along with other players seeing and wanting to develop at the same rate). From a modest beginning to being a top program in the state of Maine, the Renegades are truly a remarkable program that we are proud to have on our circuit.

We are truly looking forward to having Maine Renegades back on the circuit this spring along the #RoadToZGFinals!

Tag(s): ZG Report