Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Repairing a Broken Relationship: Fixing our game from PeeWees to thePros

    I feel this is one of the most important things I've spoken about, but I feel it is needed and honestly I know I'm not the only Coach that feels this way. Our game is broken. I take that back. The American game is broken. We have to take a hard, long look at how we teach the game of basketball and where our emphasis is. We begin playing games with kids as young as 6 years of age instead of focusing on fundamentals and functional body movements. Players do not work on their skills during the off-season because they'd rather play games in the spring and summer. Youth coaches, any coach from PeeWee to Middle School, would rather sacrifice skill for a W. It is what it is. We value a win while ignoring the fact we are doing our players and the game an injustice by not teaching it the right way.

    It is not just the way we teach the game but the way we treat each other as well. PeeWee Coaches, or "Daddy ball" as it is often referred to, think Junior High Coaches are too restrictive. High School Coaches want Junior High Coaches to teach fundamentals better while also competing at a high level. College Coaches want High School Coaches to be better teachers of the game so players arrive prepared to play. Same can be said about the way Pro Coaches feel about College guys. Then you bring in summer coaches. There is a truly a hate/hate relationship between high school and summer coaches. High School Coaches hate the fact that when Conference and State Tournament time rolls around there is that guy lurking in the corner promising and persuading so he can go win a weekend tournament that no one will know about. The player starts talking about "can't wait for summer ball" and before you know it the season is over. Sound familiar?

   Before I go on I must say I am painting a negative picture about summer coaches and their relationship to get my point across. I have a lot of respect for programs like MoKan,  the Banshees here in and Arkansas and guys like Boo Williams that do it the right way. 
That is another sermon for another day. You don't call every car a Cadillac so why label every summer team/coach as AAU? There are some summer programs doing it right. Some, not all. Just like everything else. Back on topic...

Here are a couple of areas that I feel we must address as Coaches to improve our game.

Youth Level (5 years old - 11 years old)

Teach them  HOW to PLAY not run plays
This is the ground level where most of our mistakes are happening. We are so caught up in winning that we, coaches and parents, miss out on teaching the importance of learning how to play. Players this age group, in every sport, should be learning basic fundamentals and functional body movement to perform this skills versus competition. Is the desire for competition for the player or the parent? Don't think it's important enough to not worry about the score? Think about the time you lost a game because your player couldn't finish a left or right hand layup or traveled because he didn't use the correct footwork. It will matter, eventually.

Coaches and leagues are so caught up about winning games that there is little importance put on skill development. It's put on a back burner, sometimes not even on the stove. It's about scoring, not how to score. I hate watching youth teams and hearing a coach screaming out set plays every time down the floor. What's even worse is the team that presses the entire game to fall back into a zone defense. THAT TEACHES KIDS TO REACT TO A SITUATION, NOT TO DEFEND. Kids aren't being taught to play, they are learning the easiest way to win. Why wouldn't you run a zone & force a 7 year old to throw it from 19 feet? Sickening, not strategic.

Every player in this age group should be able to:

  1.  dribble with both hands
  2.  shoot a layup with both hands 
  3. pivot, forward and reverse, with both feet
  4. understand offensive spacing
  5. understand man to man defense principles
  6. be able to perform the 6 movements of basketball correctly.
    1. Sprint
    2. Backpedal
    3. Defensive Slide
    4. Pivot
    5. Jump
    6. Lunge
Emphasising wins over skills during this time of development often proves to be a fatal mistake. Between the first two levels is where the first "ripple" happens in the basketball relationship. Until now, players have either played for a parent or a non-professional coach. Does having a degree with a Coaching endorsement mean I'm smarter than someone without one? No. It just means I chose to pursue a degree to allow me to coach in every possible setting. The Youth Level coach at times thinks the "School Coach" won't let the players play their game and is too controlling. "When I coached them..." doesnt matter. The fact is they are having to reteach and break a lot of habits that could have been avoided.

Middle School Level (12 years old-15 years old)

Increase Skill, Erase Labels, Add Competition
Does anyone know who the number one rated 12 year old in the country is? First of all if you do, step away from the screen and find a hobby. Secondly, who cares? Is that really important to know? a stud at 12 is usually because he is maturing faster. As adolescences begins, so should the players skill and movements increase. Now is a great time to introduce strength training. First of all, strength training is not weight training. If you can't differentiate between the two you need to hit up my friend Alan. Players need to be able to control their bodies and perform fundamental skills near perfect. 
Unfortunately, by the time a player has hit age 12, they have played in multiple games and are already labeled by position based on height. We've all seen it. The kid that that it an early growth spurt so he's a post player. Never gets taught how to handle the basketball, never learns to defend out on the floor and by the time he reaches high school he is of average height with below average skills and virtually worthless as a HS player. Wonder how his youth coach feels about those wins now?

  1. Every player needs to go through "guard" work at this age, regardless of height. 
  2. Train every player as if they will all be Point Guards
  3. Train every player on proper footwork in the Post.
This is also where team competition can and should be added as well as continued skill work. 3 on 3 is a great teaching tool & introduction to competition because it incorporates spacing on offense and on defense players learn to contain and the first levels of help defense are instilled.

By ages 14 & 15 players are ready to participate in 5 on 5 games. That statement seems a bit odd when you look at our current system. We have kids playing for National Championships in the 2nd grade! If you win a National Championship in the 2nd grade what else is there? Is winning a State Title in High School a letdown? How about a Conference title? We need prepared players, not just players. I'm not saying 5 on 5 before now is bad, the emphasis on winning shouldn't be included until now.

Varsity Level (16 years old - 18 years old)

Preparing for The Next Level, Finding Competitive Satisfaction
    It's a painful truth that basketball discriminates against talent. At some point we all reach a level that we can't play and compete at the highest level available for us anymore. Most players find that out after High School graduation. Some of the greatest memories a player will have come from this level of playing though. This is the glory days. Playing for your school, sometimes the town. Doesn't get much better.
   During the varsity level of development, two things are occurring: Mastery and Separation. Assuming players continue to work on their skills, the lower level player will have reached his level of mastery. A higher level player will begin to separate himself with the possibility of earning the right to play college basketball. Coaches on this level must see the bigger picture. Regardless of size of school or style of play you choose, we must continue to teach skills, especially with players who may have the chance to play on the collegiate level. A 6'4" player may be your post player but would be a guard on the next level. He deserves the right to work towards that goal. All it will do is make him a better player. The player that is separating himself usually does this through his play during the season and with by playing in the spring/summer evaluation periods. Here is where the relationship strains again.
    The relationship between High School/Summer/College Coaches is strained and in dire need of repair. In general, High School coaches dislike the fact some Summer coaches act like they are responsible for the players becoming a college player. Summer coaches feel like they don't get the respect they deserve from High School coaches. (That could be based on the blue tooth, hat backwards and "Do Him" offense. More on that in another post). College coaches MUST have a relationship with both. Sadly, some summer coaches will ask for favors, manipulate players and undermine the High School coach and make the recruiting process difficult. Same can be said about HS coaches that dislike summer ball.
    Before we go on, are all summer coaches bad guys? Absolutely not! But we can all agree that the bad outweigh the good and that is why they have a bad reputation.

At this level, this list is a must for each program:

  1. If you're summer coach says you are being recruited, the college coach will contact your HS coach and your parents. That's how you know you're actually being recruited.
  2. Playing in the summer should not replace skill and strength training, but accompany it.
  3. Limit the amount of games your players play in the summer. Pick one team. Play with them. 
  4. Find a team that best meets the needs of the player.
  5. Summer coaches, don't approach a player directly before or after a game. Evaluate them, then speak to them with a parent or high school coach present.
  6. High School coaches, respect the commitment, financially and time, that the summer coach is making to provide a way for your player to be seen. 
  7. Lastly, Do not bad mouth the other guy to the player.
 Collegiate Level 

What's the problem?
  "If you can't play basketball because of an injury, would you still be happy on that campus?" That is the advice given to a player choosing where to attend college. What advice do you give the player that picks a school, becomes unhappy with his situation and decides to transfer?
   Transfers are happening at an alarming rate among Division one NCAA programs. First let me say that if a player is recruited by a coach who then either takes another job or is fired I'm okay with that player seeking a transfer. The Coaching staff played a major role in that decision. What I don't like to see is a player leave over lack of playing time. One of two things happened. Either the player didn't come in and work hard enough or the coaching staff didn't keep up their end of the promise. I tend to lean towards the second choice when a freshman transfers because if they come in expecting a lot of minutes either the program is in bad shape, they are a high caliber player or someone told them they would play. All could've been avoided with honesty.
    Another issue is the lack of time coaches are allowed to spend with their players outside of the season. There is still a need for skill work at this level. High level skills can be taught while enforcing and sadly correcting flaws in their game. The NCAA has included hours coaches can spend with their team in the summer but it fails drastically in comparison to our International counterparts. There is a reason more foreign born players are being selected over NCAA players. They are more skilled. They don't rely on athleticism to be the separator. Think about Marc Gasol versus DeAndre Jordan. Same position. One can hit a 18 foot jumper. One can't. Skill is the true separator. Gasol returned to Spain after high school. Jordan attended a NCAA school, Texas A&M.

Pro Level 

We're All Watching
    The NBA is a business. A thriving business. Unfortunately for us, the players have become businessmen first & players second. Long gone are the days of Larry Bird bouncing his head off the floor & returning in the same game. Today's player might miss a couple games with a jammed finger. I get that the contracts are bigger & sports medicine is a lot smarter but I know I miss the days of players just playing. Michael Jordan was & is THE ICON when it comes to basketball but even he put his competitive greatness first before he put on his Air Jordans, slammed a Gatorade & later put on his Hanes t-shirt.
    The NBA is entertainment. Offense sales. Why else would the league have defensive rules like it does. I enjoy watching & learning from coaches like Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers, Tom Thibodeau, Mark Jackson, Kevin McHale & Kevin Eastman but I struggle to enjoy the game at times. I know they are the elite players. if it looks like they're coasting at times they probably are. A car & a bicycle can cover the same distance, one just does it a lot easier than the other. Quite frankly, it's become soft. Superstars want to be catered to, not coached. Their body language is awful. THEY WALK BACK ON DEFENSE!!!
     So how do you fix the NBA problem? The league needs to stop worrying about flopping & just call the game. The league should address players complaining after every call instead. You became a superstar because you were blessed with talent & worked to improve your skill. If you achieved superstar status by complaining every time you got bumped then we've all been doing it wrong. 
     Young players are watching. I hope they are watching the work ethic, the skill level, & the athleticism instead of the complaining, the lack of effort in transition defense & the business side of the game. 

The Solution
    Our game is broke, but it's still the greatest game on the planet. All anyone has to do is watch a game in a driveway, see a kid shooting in an empty gym or take a drive through Indiana & you'll realize it's a way of life. We can complain & do nothing or we can all be moved to action. We need coaches on every level dedicated to putting the game first, the player second & the coach last. We need discussions between every level of coaches, (think Coaching U). We must all teach how to play the game, the love of the game & most importantly the respect of the game. High School coaches & summer coaches have to have a peace summit. The game needs it. Pro coaches need to stop raiding the college game for talent so college coaches can develop better pros. 
    The responsibility isn't all on coaches though. It's on the players as well. We all must but priorities in the right order. No shortcuts. Don't worry about looking cool but about playing the RIGHT way. Dont get so caught up in winning games that no one will remember or care about the outcome if that means we neglect skill work. 
    It's an easy fix. The hard part is starting the change. So who's with me?