Saturday, October 20, 2012

First Impressions

(Quick Recap for those just joining the Blog:  Before reading today's post, take a look at the following cartoon video clip for a quick and fun review of System principles!  Glad to have you aboard!  DCP)

In the film classic The Verdict, Paul Newman plays an idealistic but discouraged attorney who is representing a family in a heartwrenching medical malpractice  case.  All the corrupt, intimidating forces of the legal system are arrayed against Newman's clients, and all hope of a just verdict seem lost when he stands before the jury to deliver his closing arguments, asking them to ignore the judge's instructions to disregard a key piece of evidence.

"Today," he reminds the jury, "you are the Law.  Not some book, not some statue.  You are the Law."  Then he he quietly pleads with them for something very simple, but very difficult:  to have the courage to do what they know, in their hearts, is the right thing.   "In my religion," he says, "I am told 'Act as if ye have faith, and faith will be given to you.'  We must ACT with faith in our hearts, for if we don't, we are just... lost."  And he sits down.

We have now concluded our first week of practice and are very pleased with our progress.  This progress was only possible, though, because our head coach, Michelle Roof, had the courage to do what most coaches would never do:  take action to try something new and different, because she had faith that it would benefit her team.  So I asked Michelle to be a guest blogger today and give us her first impressions after a week with the System.  I think you'll like what she has to say!

On October 15th, the BEST day of the year,  we sat in our pre-practice meeting to go over the practice plan for the day.  It was my first official day of “System” basketball and I couldn’t have been more excited.  In the preceding month, we had already met with our players and countless recruits, describing to them our new System and its benefits, including the  energy, excitement,  and team comaraderie it provides.  Our players were nervous, but also excited to dip into the new future of Cardinal women’s hoops!  I was ecstatic, having fallen in love with the System when I was a women’s assistant coach at Grinnell back in 2001.  But only now, in 2012 after years of soul-searching, had I finally found the guts, or the “craziness”, as Doug and Coach A call it, to make the jump. J
In that first practice planning session my initial thought was, “Coach Porter, our time slot is 6:00-8:45...  You left out about 45 minutes of practice!”  When he told me that was all the time we needed on the first day … or every day for that matter … I still asked to add more drills to the mix.  “Coach, what about this?  What about that?  How are we going to get better at the little things, the fundamental aspects that make us sharp?  If we have the time and the players are already expecting to go until 8:45, why don’t we take advantage of the time we have?  We should take advantage of EVERY opportunity to get better, shouldn’t we?”   I admit that, despite Doug’s explanation that we would get more done in an hour and a half than any other team in the county, I was a bit skeptical … but, of course, still excited!
“So, how about conditioning?  There is no running on the practice plan.”  When he explained that practice was all the running we would need, I was again somewhat doubtful.  All I could think about was the high intensity training they did with our strength coach in pre-season, and my fears that they would lose their conditioning level if we didn’t push them to their maximum capacity with sprints after practice.  I heard a lot of “Trust me” ‘s from Coach Porter on that first day, so I did.  And so practice began …
After five practices, I now understand Doug’s points about practice time and conditioning.  Practice is so up-tempo and intense, requiring the players go “all-out” every second of every drill.  I was really surprised at how physically demanding an hour and a half of practice can be, even for our most in-shape and physically gifted athletes.  As the end of the hour and a half approaches, I could see them start to hit a wall.  It became obvious to me that if we extend practice any longer, we couldn't expect them to continue to give maximum effort.  Due to the demands of every drill, and limited transition time between drills, they are tired after 90 minutes.  If we added any more practice time they would no doubt begin to coast … the worst five letter word of all! 
I have also been extremely pleased with the continuous effort and focus of our players.  They always start the year with so much intensity, but this year I can tell they are really enjoying themselves. Who wouldn’t???  We haven’t done any boring, yet physically exhausting defensive-slide drills.  No shell drill.  It has been all offense, all scoring, all transition all the time!  Who wouldn’t love that???
Lastly, I love the freedom my players are enjoying as they put all of the offensive concepts together.  They are truly “playing ball.”  We’ve already seen some pretty nice passing and decision making, and they are making impressive reads and playing on instinct.  It is so refreshing when there are no wrong answers.  It is amazing to see the skills they have when you take away the limitations of a structured, ball-control, patterned offense.  These kids are already starting to get confident and show some creativity.  And they love it!
Don’t get me wrong, it's not all fun and games:  our demands are high, and we are committed to developing the high level of conditioning it takes to play at top speed.  But it is going to pay off big-time.  There are lots of smiles and a great amount of energy in practice, and players are already getting better.  In System basketball, players are asked and required to play at a higher level, and even after just one week we are seeing many of them expand the limits of their game.  Doug has told me all along, and it is one of my main reasons for going to the system, "Players will absolutely reach their full potential as athletes and as skilled basketball players."  I have already seen it happen, players making plays I didn’t give them the freedom to make last year.  They love it and I do too.  Our confidence level seems to grow every day, and they--along with our coaching staff--continue to enjoy the process.   There's no doubt:  after just one week I am hooked!!!

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