Thursday, February 14, 2013

Quickly and Correctly...

We are coming down to the end, crunch time, with our last home game on Saturday and then on the road next Tuesday.  Our hope was that we'd have at least one of our missing players back, but she's still on injured reserve, and another player has been out since Monday with the flu.  Michelle and I try to remind ourselves that this is normal, but it just feels unfair.  After starting the school year with 19 players, we had just twelve healthy today.  Who do we see about that?  The Injury Police?

Still, we try to do what coaches do, plan a practice each day to help players get better.  One thing that's been on my mind lately as we have shuffled the lineup is how important the simple ability to move is to the success of a team.  On the Run and Gun chatgroup there's been a recent discussion about this very topic, and I'm convinced it is something that separates good teams from poor ones.  I've also come to believe that, surprisingly, movement can be taught.  Although quickness is basically genetic, mobility can be learned, and following are a few observations on the subject.

Movement is first and foremost about motivation.  Ironically, the thing I have always had a very short fuse with is players who are just "going through the motions," and I complained to Michelle today during workout that one of our units is guilty of this greatest of basketball practice sins.  A player who goes through the motions isn't really even succeeding at that:  she's not in motion, not really.  That's the problem! 

What she is actually doing is telling you with her body language, "I don't have enough heart to do anything but the bare minimum, because it just takes too much effort to do things right, and at full speed."  As an assistant, I don't have the authority to correct such attitudes, but in my head coaching days, this would have earned an immediate trip to the baseline for a few reminder sprints, for the guilty individual or the whole team. 

One year I simply kicked an entire unit off the floor and made them watch from the sidelines for five minutes, because one first-year player on that unit (a transfer) had a deeply ingrained habit of loafing.  (Note:  I don't believe in kicking a team out of practice...  they can't correct the problem if they aren't on the court.) But believe me, her unitmates immediately let her know she needed to step it up. 

The funny thing is that this kid was actually a very good player, a Juco all-American (apparently verifying my contention that there's no correlation between reputation and work ethic.)  Fortunately, this little episode made an impact on her, and after she learned how to play hard she became a great player for us, leading the nation in field goal percentage her senior year (66%). But she had to learn how to move, and how to practice first.

So let me be as clear as I can here.  If you want to coach a team to be the best it can be, watch the video of a game and ask yourself, "Are we really working as hard as we can?"  The answer will almost certainly be no.  Then ask yourself, "How can I motivate each individual to move?"  In my opinion, this is the coaching skill that will set you apart.  Can you teach players how to practice and play at maximum effort, or are they just going through the motions, executing poorly and at half speed??  (Note #2:  You don't necessarily have to yell or punish them to get their attention.  I've seen Coach A severly reprimand a player without every raising his voice above the conversation level. But find something that works for you, some wamotivation method for teaching your players to give maximum effort... that's your job!)

John Wooden once said that the goal of every practice was to learn to "quickly and correctly execute the fundamentals of the game."  "Quickly" refers to movement, intensity, and effort.  "Correctly" implies precision and striving for perfection of each skill. 

We've said it before, but it bears repeating: basketball is not about teaching kids plays.  It's about teaching them how to play, and more importantly, how to practice:  quickly, and correctly... with an emphasis on the "quickly" part. 

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