In this episode of the Eagle Perspective podcast, Mike Siciliano sits down with Santa Fe Christian’s head basketball coach and former, long-time athletic director, Chad Bickley. They discuss SFC’s athletics and basketball programs, Bickley’s coaching philosophies, and how team culture helps players deepen their faith.
Episode Show Notes
Mike Siciliano, Upper School Dean of Students, has a long history with Santa Fe Christian in several roles, including alumnus, US history teacher, and football coach. As a student, Siciliano felt he had teachers and coaches who personally invested in him and made a huge difference in his life. Now, he tries every day to continue that legacy for current SFC students, live up to the standard his teachers set for him, and have a lot of fun.
Chad Bickley, head basketball coach and former athletic director, has been part of the SFC team for 14 years. As Athletic Director, Bickley helped establish the “leadership academy” — a three-level program designed to help student-athletes become champions for Christ on and off the field. Before starting his career as a coach, Bickley was a star basketball player in high school and college, earning several national high school records.
00:00:54 – Chad’s basketball career
00:03:17 – SFC’s basketball program and culture
00:06:57 – Chad’s coaching philosophy for cultivating togetherness
00:12:26 – How basketball helps students grow in their relationship with Christ
00:13:51 – What brought Chad to SFC
00:15:53 – How the SFC basketball team overcame adversity during the 2019 season
00:19:55 – Translating work ethic and dedication to your Christian life
00:22:37 – The importance of empowering your team
Mike Siciliano [00:00:03] Welcome back to the Eagle Perspective podcast. I’m Mike Siciliano. Oh, we have another episode of our Athletic Edge. And I am really excited to be joined today by our head basketball coach and long-time former athletic director, Chad Bickley. Chad, welcome to the podcast.
Chad Bickley [00:00:21] Thanks for having me. Excited to be here.
Mike Siciliano [00:00:24] Really excited to be here. We’re going to talk about athletics and philosophy and how you, as one of our longest-tenured coaches, have managed to be so successful with the team both in terms of championships but also in terms of culture and bringing kids to Jesus and deepening their faith. But I know you’re not going to brag about yourself at the start of this. So, I’m going to start with some questions that kind of force you to a little bit. What’s the most points you’ve ever scored in a basketball game?
Chad Bickley [00:00:54] In like an adult league?
Mike Siciliano [00:00:57] No doubt in your high school career prime. What was it? 30-40 points? But what would remind me again?
Chad Bickley [00:01:04] Yes, something like that?
Mike Siciliano [00:01:04] No, I want to know the exact number.
Chad Bickley [00:01:04] You can Google it. Hey, my dad was the coach.
Mike Siciliano [00:01:15] Is it accurate to say there was a game in which you scored 21 three-pointers?
Chad Bickley [00:01:21] That is correct.
Mike Siciliano [00:01:22] And was that a record in the state of California for 25 years?
Chad Bickley [00:01:26] It was a national record at the time.
Mike Siciliano [00:01:28] Well, I’m sorry.
Chad Bickley [00:01:30] Yeah, no, but the funny thing was, I went to a school. My school was a really small Christian school. And we didn’t even know what hit us. But it was pretty cool. The press and ESPN kind of got a hold of it. We didn’t have Twitter and all that stuff back then. So, it took like ten days to get the word across the country. But it was just a crazy night. I’ll say this. I had great teammates, and we were just going out there trying to win, and the ball was going in the hoop.
Mike Siciliano [00:02:01] How many points did you end up with that night?
Chad Bickley [00:02:04] 79.
Mike Siciliano [00:02:05] 79. Google told me it was 89. Did Google lie to me? Or was that a different game?
Chad Bickley [00:02:10] That was a different game.
Mike Siciliano [00:02:14] So, you scored 89 points a different time, but you had less three-pointers in that one. Okay, gotcha, so yeah. That’s impressive. That’s impressive. Did your teammates enjoy playing with you? Or was it like, oh, man, coach’s son, of course, he gets to shoot the ball all the time.
Chad Bickley [00:02:31] No, man, I had awesome teammates. We actually scored a lot of points. We played a style that we play today with our own team. But it was more of a style that, you know, was more fast-paced. So, everybody really scored, to be honest. So, we had a lot of kids and double digits. And we were a great team because you don’t get open shots if you don’t have a great team.
Mike Siciliano [00:03:01] I wish I had one of your teammates here to be like, “Oh, yeah, sure. We all scored. I got two points. My buddy got four points. Chad got 89. Yeah, we all scored.”
Chad Bickley [00:03:07] We had 134 points that game. So, someone else had to of.
Mike Siciliano [00:03:17] Well, thanks for being on. And you’ve done an incredible job obviously, with our athletics program, with our basketball program. Just for the people who might be listening who don’t know, reigning Division One CIF Basketball Championship. You’ve won three out of the last four Division One CIF Championships. That year you didn’t win was because you made the open division with the top eight teams in San Diego. I think you guys were the number four seat that year. Right? Fourth-best in the county?
Chad Bickley [00:03:44] Yeah.
Mike Siciliano [00:03:45] And, and this is schools of all sizes. Like last year, it was Carlsbad in the championship game that you beat. And I think the first one was Lincoln High. And it’s pretty impressive. Right? Let me start with, how on earth do you take a school of 450 students, right, roughly about 200 guys, and compete with schools that have 3000 kids?
Chad Bickley [00:04:08] I think you got to have a vision to do that. You know, when I came to Santa Fe, it was, you know, I grew up in Christian circles. I grew up with a Christian family. My dad was, you know, he’s my hero. But he’s tough. And he’s always taught us like, just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you back down to anything. And he taught us, but you got to know how to do it because that’s when people respect you. And so, you know, when I came in, we had 13 guys for the whole program. And I was like, man, we’re definitely having a JV. There were nights I had, you know, seven guys and six guys and then their injuries. I remember one game, we were down to five guys, and there was a football player sitting on the, on the bleachers, and I’m like, “Hey, you want to play tonight?” And he’s like, “Sure.” So I said, “Okay, go get your stuff. You’ve been cleared and all that.” And those were the early days. And I think you’ll never forget the early days, and you never forget those kids, because those are the kids that set what our program was going to be about. And the vision was coming in was just competing against the best. I mean, we just want to, we want to be a team that when they walk off the floor, it’s like, man, who are those guys. And about five years ago, six years ago, we came to the point where it was like, man, we’ve reached that vision, we need a new vision. And so, we came up with a new vision call that we do now is to win a CIF Championship at the highest level while making God look good. And that is something we pour into our kids because the reason to win a CIF Championships, high level, is because we feel like there are the most eyes looking at us at that point. And then it’s our opportunity to make God look good. And so, our whole program is based off of that. And so how we act, how we interact with each other, interpersonal relationships are just massive. And then we, you know, we have certain expectations, how we behave, what we do, how we talk to each other, how we compete. And about five years ago, it was like, it’s not about me anymore, it’s got to be about them owning it. And when I stepped back, and the kids took it, it went to a whole different level. And the parents bought in, the kids bought in and, you know, do we have problems? Yes, we have problems, we had a lot of things go on last year, but it was our culture that was able to get us through. And for that, to answer your question, you got to have a vision to where you want to go and get people to buy into it.
Mike Siciliano [00:06:57] Vision and I want to follow up because you explained your vision really well. I just love that we want to win championships at the highest level while making God look good. But you also mentioned culture, and you know, that’s a real passion of yours. And you’ve probably done it better than any program on campus. Talk about the philosophy behind your culture. You actually have it pretty well mapped out. Can you share that with our listeners?
Chad Bickley [00:07:23] Yeah. So, you know you got to answer two questions like why do you exist and then how do you behave? What are your actions towards the vision? And then you got to you got to live it out every day, right? I mean, we have a whole handbook. But that’s a declared culture that’s just written down. A real culture is living it out. There are a couple quotes that are big. John Gordon has a quote, “you’re creating culture every moment of every day, by what you think, say, and do.” It doesn’t matter what your culture was like yesterday or last year. What matters is what you are doing to create it today. And so, you can say, you know, guys coming in this year, you know, we can say, “Oh, we won three out of…” Yeah, whatever, that doesn’t matter today, that just doesn’t matter. What matters is learning the lessons of what went good and bad from the past. And another very important part — African proverb that we hold dear — is if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. And the big question is, you know, how do you cultivate togetherness? And, and that’s an easy code, but you got to step back and go, “Okay, so how are we going to get there?” And we have a six-level system that we go over all the time. We evaluate after games, we evaluate practices, we focus on this and how we’re treating each other. And it’s a level system where every day it starts with level one is an attitude. It’s an attitude of gratitude. You know, you’re just thankful. We have a great school, we have a great athletics program, we have the opportunity to be able to go. And some of the ways we foster this is we take mission trips, and we do different things to help say, you know, what, you know, Santa Fe, we live in a bubble a little bit, and we have a lot of things. And that’s not bad, but it’s like, how are we using those things, right? And using those opportunities.
The second level is commitment. Just committing to the team and the coaches and the program. And just having that sense of buy-in. No excuses, no explanations.
Then level three is work ethic. And we believe, you know, Colossians 3:23, whatever you do, work out with all your heart is working for the Lord and not human masters. And so those three, we talk about, like if you have those three, you’re going be a good team. You know, if you take those three on into life, you’re going to be a good employee. You’re going to have a job. You have a great attitude. Every day, you’re committed to your job, your work ethic is enthusiastic, and you’re ready to go. You’re going to be good.
If you want to be great, it goes to the next level, and that’s accountability. And people that want to be coached, there’s a book called The Key to Everything, and it’s just all about the key to everything is, are you teachable? Do you have a teachable spirit? Or is it you know, for me, and I tell people, you know, growing up, I haven’t read many books in my life. But the last six, seven years, I’ve read a ton of books. And it’s because I’ve cultivated this love for learning. And now I’m in this mode of, I want to learn more. And that’s accountability, that’s teachable, and we want our guys to be teachable.
Ultimately, you know, trust, if you don’t have trust in a team, it’s going to break down.
Then it’s all based on what we call level six. And that’s love. And, and we preach this. And if I was to answer the question of like, what’s the one thing you want your guys to leave with from your program, it’s not a championship. It’s just not. It’s love. And so, when they, when they get married one day, or, you know, wherever they are, and they say, “I love you,” they know what that means. That means I’m going to have a great attitude, I’m going to be committed to you, I’m going to work hard for you, I’m going be held accountable to you, and I’m going to be very trustworthy. And for us, it’s like, if they leave with those principles in their life, this program has been a success.
Mike Siciliano [00:11:43] And I think I can say this for you is that they do leave with that pretty ingrained in them. And you do such a good job of weaving that culture into everything you do. And I mean, it, you know, our kids, you know, #levelsix, our kids are using that language, right? In public and with each other, and just seeing them kind of embrace that philosophy. And it gets at another question because there’s even another layer on top of this. And I know that the reason why you do this ultimately is to help kids grow in their relationship with Christ. So how does basketball do that? How do you use this to point kids towards Jesus?
Chad Bickley [00:12:26] We talk about vision. You talk about mission. Mission is, you know, why you do what you do, and, you know, ultimately use the game of basketball to develop men of godly character on and off the court. And so, we take these principles, and they’re ingrained in our culture on a daily basis. But before the season starts, I mean, we do Bible studies that really break these down in a practical way. Like what does attitude look like in the classroom? How’s it look like in your Christian life, how’s it look like on the court, you know, and we spend time doing that. We’ve taken mission trips all over the world. Our most recent one was Uganda. You know, if I just said, you know, what’s the best experience in my life at Santa Fe, was standing on the two basketball courts that our program built in the middle of Uganda, where you have kids playing on it every single day. We were doing a clinic there. It was so surreal. And it’s like, that’s why we do what we do. And so, to me, the wins and the where we are and all that is an outpour of the foundation that we’re trying to build in these kids.
Mike Siciliano [00:13:51] Love that. That’s awesome. Chad, you’ve obviously had an amazing run as a basketball coach as athletic director, a longtime teacher at our school. Let me circle back to the beginning. What brought you to Santa Fe?
Chad Bickley [00:14:05] Out of college, I was up at a small Christian school; I got a head coaching job right out of college. Three years in a buddy of mine asked me to come down to the college level and work in the athletic department and coach. It was an assistant athletic director and head assistant basketball coach at San Diego Christian. I went down there for the basketball, obviously not necessarily the administration part of it, but you had to, you know, have a full-time job. Looking back, God used that to help me in long term. I love the college level. I did not like recruiting.
I’m not a great recruiter when it comes to it. I like to be more, “this is it. This is what we do.” And so, we’re more of a developing. So when Santa Fe opened up, I was like, “Man, that’s a K through 12 opportunity that you could really develop an awesome thing there.” And so that’s what led me to here, you know, we’ve been able to develop a K through 12 program. You see those kids growing up. It’s a lot harder work than recruiting, but you develop deeper relationships with kids because of it, because you’re spending more time with them. And then, they, ultimately, my kids got to go there, and still continue to go there. It’s an amazing place, and you don’t realize what you have until you’ve left it. I’m just blessed that my family has been able to be a part of this place—one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Mike Siciliano [00:15:43] Well, it’s been a blessing for us as well, other than the constant Green Bay Packer comments.
Chad Bickley [00:15:50] That will never stop.
Mike Siciliano [00:15:53] Every Superman has a kryptonite. And that’s yours, I think. But, you know, we talked a little bit about last year. I want to ask you a little more about last year. Because I know, on the surface, last season Division One championship, you know, people might think, man, they just they were rolling the whole time. But I know from watching you and from talking with you during the season, that was not the case. Talk a little bit about the story of the team last year, and what you learned, and what your boys learned.
Chad Bickley [00:16:23] I would say it was the most rewarding, difficult season I’ve ever had. And you can’t compare each championship or team. Because they’re all rewarding, right? But this championship never would have happened if we had never won a championship before. So last year, I mean, it starts off with Trevan out for the year. And it was like what? You know?
Mike Siciliano [00:16:51] Just to loop people in, you know we don’t like using terms like “best player,” but he’s clearly, one of your top two or three players on that team last year.
Chad Bickley [00:17:02] He was one of the top players on the team. He fit a role that just gave us depth. But you know, in our whole culture. It’s not about one person. It’s about next man up. And it’s about all those things. And so, we start facing adversity. We start off very well. And then you know, we’d have an injury here, an injury there, we’d have different interpersonal relationships. Then we address them, and we have battled, and it was draining. But we always went back to level six, we always went back to our vision, we always went back to our culture to handle these situations. And so that was the belief these guys had. And just because you have culture and your wins, there are struggles that go on all the time. But you have a clear identity of who you are, and then that’s where you’re trying to get the kids to go. And we have a thing where it’s like, the number one goal basketball-wise, is that we’re playing our best basketball at the end of the year. That’s it. That’s all we want to do. And so, it takes the pressure off, and then we evaluate every day and every game. Okay, what do we need to get better? Okay, this is what’s going on. And through it all to come out and different guys stepping up. I think Saga had just an unbelievable year, filling that role of Trev. You know, we had a senior-junior group that did such a great job and had a sophomore playing well. So, at the end of the day, they all came together at the end of the year at the right time because that’s what we talked about all year. Like it just doesn’t happen. In the early years of coaching, it’s like, “Oh, I hope we win.” No, you focus on the things of who you are and where you want to go, and you just insist on it every single day. And the kids’ buy-in, you know, and so that was so rewarding on that day, and to build that relationship with those kids was such a cool thing.
Mike Siciliano [00:19:19] Yeah, it was a neat season to watch. And I think sort of, not that you needed a proof of concept for your vision and culture, but watching those guys go through so much adversity and have such a deep buy-in to being level six. The way it worked out at the end was pretty awesome. I’m wondering, do you have any other standout stories? I mean, you’ve already mentioned the mission trip, and we talked a lot about last season. Are there a few things you look back on over the years? Either athletes that have gone on to play or just, you know, kids who’ve had their lives changed that really stand out to you?
Chad Bickley [00:19:55] Yeah, I’ll say this, you know, when we’re going into a CIF run, I get a lot of text messages from former players like “good luck coach, we’re watching. Level six.” And you know, able to bring that to the table has been such a cool thing for me to tell our guys before the game because it’s like, “Listen, it’s not about you guys. It’s about those past guys.” It’s about those guys that started with 13 guys that built this program and, you know, guys like Justin and Grant and that team who started to take us to a different level respect-wise. And then Owen, Charles, Derek, Tyler, that year, those seniors, took us even to a deeper level. And what those guys did was they showed the amount of work that it takes to win a championship. Owen, you know, he would be in the gym at 6 a.m. I’d bring Drew and Paige when they were little coming up to the gym, and it’s like he’s in the gym. “Who’s in the gym? Oh, Owen’s in the gym.” And that group had such a work ethic, you know, they would practice. I know Charles would be working at night and lifting and just dedicating themselves to the vision. And when all that’s said and done, another thing that I tell our guys is like, “Man, you’re living in this situation right now, where you have dedicated yourself to a goal, to a vision. If you do the exact same thing in your Christian life. That’s it, that’s all you need to do. You just need to translate what you’re doing in a different direction. And then you got it, right? And you understand that, and then you’ve translated that into your work. Show up, don’t be late, come in, be committed to it, work hard, be accountable, be teachable to the people that are in your area. You’re just going to get promotions.” And those are the things that happen naturally in this life.
Mike Siciliano [00:22:10] Yeah, one of the things, just for some of our listeners who may not be aware, I mean, you know, the basketball program, and really a lot of our programs, it’s not just kind of show up for practice and basketball. I mean, talk about some of the other things you do to build that culture, to build faith. In particular, I mean, I always knew on Mondays, there’d be some extra food in the quad, most likely, from one of the things you do, so why don’t you talk about that?
Chad Bickley [00:22:37] Yeah, we encourage kids to play multiple sports. However, there are people who, you know, in all sports that they just want to dedicate to one sport. So, we do some off-season stuff, but then they do club stuff. And, but one thing we do, I mean, we have a Bible study, the season leading up to our program, and we break it down. I mean, we break it down all the levels, and we just see how that flows into their everyday life. I’ll tell you what Santa Fe is blessed with a full-time athletic trainer and a full-time athletic strength and conditioning coach. You know, to have those takes a serious load off of my shoulders. That’s not my gift, the conditioning or strength part of it. But to have a guy where you could say, hey, here hand him off. We’ve had Coach Farrell for the last few years, so he’s moved on, and I can honestly say we would not be champions if it wasn’t for him. If he didn’t own his part, we would have fell short because that’s all part of it. And it’s all part of Coach Farrell buying into our vision and buying into our kids. And you know, that’s where you look back as a head coach, and you’re like, I can’t take any credit for this. All I tried to do is set a vision, and then you get people on board. And if that’s what you do, then it’s like man, it’s led into my whole leadership philosophy. Empower people because the more people you empower and get on the same page, the bigger you can be, no question.
Mike Siciliano [00:24:17] I can confirm that neither strength nor conditioning is your strong suit. I’m happy to vouch for you.
Chad Bickley [00:24:24] You’re lucky we’re not in the same room right now. That’s why you said that.
Mike Siciliano [00:24:28] What are you going to do, shoot three-pointers at me? Chad, thanks so much for being here. We are so lucky to have you to pour into our students and to help us raise up athletes that are competitors and believers and really teaching them a process that they can take with them beyond their time here at Santa Fe. So, thanks for joining us and for sharing your story.
Chad Bickley [00:24:56] My pleasure.
Mike Siciliano [00:24:57] All right, looking forward to seeing you for some one-on-ones sometime soon.
Chad Bickley [00:25:00] All right, go Eagles.
Mike Siciliano [00:25:02] Yeah, I don’t think I’ve scored 89 points on you in the entire time that we’ve known each other, and I’ve played basketball against you.
Chad Bickley [00:25:09] You had 89 in golf, though, didn’t you?
Mike Siciliano [00:25:14] Well played. Eighty-nine is a good day for me. All right, good talking with you. All right. Thanks for joining us on the Athletic Edge and the Eagle Perspective podcast. We look forward to talking with you again soon.
Please subscribe to the Santa Fe Christian YouTube channel to get notified about the latest SFC podcasts and school news. For the latest SFC updates related to COVID-19 and 2020-2021 school year, go to SFCS.net and click on the COVID-19 LINK in the upper right corner.