In the last few days I've had conversations with a couple of coaches generally related to the topic, "How do you get players to ________ within the System?"
Fill in the blank with your favorite concept or technique, "run the floor," "shoot the bunny hop," "execute the missed shot press," etc.
As we've been installing our defensive system this week with the team, I've been very conscious of this very problem, asking myself every day, "How can we get players to 'fly to the ball' and get the traps quicker, so that our press will disrupt the opponent's attack?
Asking questions like this are essential to your progress. Over the past eight years I've talked personally or had email conversations with literally hundreds of coaches. This has been a wonderful learning experience for me as we've shared ideas, or they've asked probing questions about various aspects of the System. Nothing forces you to think like having to answer a good question!
One general question that's always interested me--the Real Question which is behind all the questions these coaches are asking--is "What does it take to make the System work for my team?" What they are asking for to remedy these problems is some magic drill or coaching technique, and it does help to have good drills in your tool kit. But it's a mistake to assume that drills are the answer. Drills don't teach, and drills don't motivate players. You do.
So, if drills aren't the secret to success, what is? That's what we all really want to know, isn't it? If I told coaches that the key to System success is to have players eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before every game, I'm sure there'd be some takers. (94 FGA + 47 3FGA + 35% ORB + 32 TOs + 25 Shot Differential + 1 PB & J = Win?)
Regrettably, PB & J has no real connection with System success. But what does? Let me illustrate with the following story, which reveals the value of asking the right question.
This Duck walks into a bar, says to the bartender, "Got any grapes?" The bartender is puzzled for a moment, then says to the duck, "No, of course not Duck! This is a bar... we don't serve grapes here."
Five minutes later, same Duck comes back in, flaps up onto a barstool, and says again, "Got any grapes?" Now the bartender is perturbed. "Listen Duck," he says, "I told you once already, we don't serve grapes here! Now get out of here, and if you come in again asking for grapes, I'm going to nail your fins to the floor!"
Half an hour goes by, then here comes the Duck again. He hops onto the barstool, looks the bartender in the eye and says, "Got any nails?"
Bartender is really confused now. "Uh, n-no, we don't have any nails."
"Oh, good!" says the Duck. "Got any grapes?"
The key to System success, in my opinion, is reinforcing correct habits. Like the Duck, players don't necessarily do what you say, they do what you REINFORCE! And some players are frankly not going to pay any attention to vague "suggestions" or threats. If you don't have any nails--if you do not do whatever you have to do to reinforce correct System habits--they won't execute the System. You probably already know all the concepts and skills and attitudes it takes to play System basketball, but do you TEACH AND MOTIVATE those skills?
If you want to know how to get players to go hard to the offensive boards after a 3-point shot, let me tell you: Make them go to the boards after a 3-point shot! Don't wring your hands and complain to your staff, "These players just aren't going to the boards." Instead, figure out a way to get them to do what they must do to successfully execute System principles.
Behavioral psychologists say that in order to reinforce a skill, to make it an ingrained response, you must provide feedback that is specific, immediate, and meaningful.
First, you must familiarize yourself with specific System techniques, concepts, and coaching points... you must know your stuff! And you must provide a steady barrage of feedback so players know exactly what you want them to do.
Second, you must provide this feedback immediately after you see players making a mistake OR (better yet) after seeing players do something correctly ("Catch them doing something right!") The more specific your are ("Good job Sally!" isn't nearly as powerful as "Wow, Sally! Nice job of going to the boards and getting both feet into the paint, with your inside arm up!"), and the more immediate you are (tell Sally right now, not at the next film session!), then the better Sally will execute.
But the third aspect of reinforcement is that it must be meaningful. And this is where it's important to know your players. To some young women I have coached, a meaningful coaching point would be something like, "Hilary, I'm disappointed! You know better than that! Now please go hard to the boards next time. Come on, you can do it."
But to another player, it might have to be, "Angela, I've reminded you four times today to get your feet in the paint for the ORB, now step off the court! In fact, just go upstairs to the jogging track and run 10 laps." Now that would be pretty extreme, but you get the point. Some players you can motivate with merely a disappointed glance (or a simple word of encouragement)... they are sensitive, and little things are meaningful to them! Other players pay no attention whatsoever to "threats" or disappointed looks. They've been threatened by experts their whole lives. But they will respond to consequences (positive and negative) that mean something to them, and that are consistently reinforced.
Two years ago, I suspended a player from practice for three days. That's what it took to get through to her. Twenty minutes after I notified her of this consequence, I had an email from her, saying, "You are right coach... I've not been giving my best effort, and my attitude hasn't been what it should be. But I promise you I will never let it happen again!"
All it takes to motivate a Duck is a meaningful consequence. She has to know that, yes, you DO have some nails.