Games Are Won in Practice
The perception that practicing the basics has to be monotonous is simply not true.
“Under pressure you don’t rise to the occasion; you sink to the level of your training. That’s why we train so hard” - anonymous (Navy Seal). In an age of instant gratification and one in which seeking out any and all personal exposure opportunities it has become hard to convince young players of the importance of patience and deliberate practice. Throughout our extensive work with players as young as 5 years old it is clear that the overwhelming majority of players would rather “just play” than patiently acquire (or for more advanced players, perfect) the necessary fundamentals. The AAU basketball culture that emphasizes maximizing game play and elevating the individual pursuits of players has further infringed on a coaches ability to get players to buy into a practice-first mentality.
The Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) Model recommends a 4:1 practice to game ratio for athletes in the “Learn to Train” stage (8-12 years old). It is safe to say that players younger than 8 years old should almost exclusively be practicing. However, in our experience these ratios are simply not followed (oftentimes not necessarily due to the coaches negligence but other factors such as gym time, scheduling etc). We too often curtail to the cries of “more fun, more gameplay!”. The problem arises when players have not adequately learned the prerequisite skills and fundamentals which inevitably leads to bad habits, rule breaking and frustration. Relying too heavily on gameplay in the development stages may offer that instant gratification of players seemingly enjoying themselves, however, it will do them a grave disservice in the long run.
It may be helpful to give an actual example to illustrate the importance of sufficient and intentional practice. We have had the privilege of working with many teams from several different associations in Ottawa and beyond, and one thing is consistent - if a team is struggling in games then there is a high probability that their practices are ineffective. More specifically, they are not adequately teaching the fundamentals required for the players to improve and grow (this will vary by age and level of play). We have witnessed practices where 11-12 year old players cannot consistently stop their body without travelling or almost falling over. If this basic fundamental movement skill is not acquired, then having success in a game situation with MANY more variables and situations will simply not be possible. These players must improve body control before progressing to more complex skills. From a team culture perspective there is also a standard that must be set in practice. If your team spends more time chatting, standing in long lines and taking water breaks than they do actively working on their game, seeing tangible improvement in games will be very difficult. Disciplines such as: arriving to practice on time, running to the huddle when the coach blows the whistle, making eye contact when a coach or teammate is talking and simply trying your hardest all the time will go a long way in helping your team build habits that will directly translate to on-court success. These should never be overlooked!
Our suggestion for coaches and parents is to show your players/children the original Karate Kid movie. Essentially the main character, Daniel, wants to jump right into fighting before he’s learned the basics of Martial Arts. His trainer must teach him the nuances of Martial Arts among other things (patience, discipline etc.) before he is allowed to fight. The underlying theme of the movie parallels our approach to training young athletes - patience and practice! This idea of practicing and working on the fundamentals before progressing to a competition should be cultivated by more coaches and parents. Skill acquisition occurs at the earliest stages of development so it is crucially important that young players spend ample time working on the basics of the game BEFORE introducing more gameplay. There are many ways to engage young players and make learning the fundamentals “fun” without just allowing them to play 5on5 games. The movie even uses seemingly useless exercises (like the “wax on”,“wax off” of cars and painting fences to build discipline). It is the responsibility of the trainer in the movie or coach in a basketball context to be creative when teaching kids to keep them engaged and learning. The often elusive holy grail for a coach of young players is to have them learning and executing skills and fundamentals when they don’t even know they are doing it. This can be achieved through small-sided games, competitions, games with props, races etc. The perception that practicing the basics has to be monotonous is simply not true. Coaches just need to carefully plan their practices in order to maximize reps and fun at the same time - see our previous blog post for some insight on that topic.
If you have questions about proper training for your team or child then please do not hesitate to contact us. We would be happy to point you in the right direction.
YouTube Won't Make You a Coach
When learning drills or plays from a brief YouTube video there is so much that is missing.
In a world where we seemingly have everything at our fingertips, it can be all too easy to rely on the internet to solve all of our problems. “Just Google it” or “I saw that on YouTube” are regularly uttered in our day-to-day lives. Unfortunately, the internet and its overwhelming abundance of resources/information cannot substitute real life experiences and interactions. Most of us can identify with this - many basketball players are kinesthetic learners and absorb information best from hands-on activities with specific instructions and feedback. As former players, many coaches are the same way. By simply watching a video with minimal instruction built around the focus of the drill, how effective can coaches really be introducing the drill, providing feedback or making adjustments? Furthermore, what do our players gain from merely imitating a drill described to them second hand?
Where are we going with this? While they may provide you with ideas or inspiration, watching YouTube coaching videos won’t make you a coach. There is nothing wrong with accessing many of the great online resources out there for basketball coaches, but there is so much lost when watching YouTube videos to inform yourself as a coach.
Here are some things to consider when you go searching online for that next coaching gem:
More than just learning the drill.
That drill you've finally found online after hours of searching, may look great when demonstrated by a university team and you may even learn it well enough to get your young team to run it at your next practice ... but what are you looking for when they run it? What fundamentals need to be emphasized for it to be run correctly? How can you “load” or “unload” the drill to make it more effective or appropriate for your team? What should be taught BEFORE you actually run the drill? Are the players developing their decision making ability in this drill or is it simply to get repetitions and build base fundamental skills? There is so much more to simply “running” a drill you've seen on the internet.
There is conflicting information on just about everything you find online.
Many new coaches may not be able to decipher between how to teach certain skills or drills when their online search comes up with conflicting information. Sometimes the conflicting information is just minor and does not really impact what is being taught, however, there are other instances when it really does matter. As a coach you must understand the implications of teaching certain fundamentals especially to younger athletes. Players will form habits and as a coach you want to make sure they are forming the best possible habits to give them them the greatest opportunity for success down the road.
The scope and role of a coach is much larger than drills, skills and plays.
How do you engage the 'disinterested' player on your team? How do you manage parent expectations? How do you foster a team-first culture? How do you create accountability within your team? How do you help your players grow into becoming better people off the court through the lessons learned on the court? These are just a few of the many questions that are not easily answered in a well-edited YouTube video clip. We would argue that these types of questions are the most important ones when it comes to developing your own coaching philosophy. If you jump right to YouTube to inform your practice planning before you’ve established your “coaching voice” and philosophy as a coach then you are missing out on the greater role of the coach.
Now that we've identified some potential problems with relying too heavily on YouTube as your source for all things basketball, we will offer some alternative solutions or tips when engaging with online resources. Here is what we would suggest for coaches looking to grow in their knowledge and understanding of the game:
Identify your need.
You must identify the need or goal BEFORE perusing the millions of video clips available. What is the specific area of need or skill development you would like to address? This approach will help you weed out many of the drills or instructional videos that don’t directly apply to meeting the goal you’ve set out for that specific area of instruction. Do not simply go looking for drills to fill an opening in your practice. Being more intentional with your search will help prevent you from getting caught in the abyss of suggested or “up next” videos on the right hand side of the screen, or worse selecting a drill because it looks “cool” yet does not address the specific area you originally set out for.
Not all YouTube channels are created equal.
Similar to doing academic research, one must attempt to distinguish between credible and not-so credible resources. This does not mean the person conducting the video must have won 5 NBA Championships or played 15 years of professional basketball to be credible (oftentimes it's actually quite the opposite). Look beyond the fancy editing and shiny gym to see if they are explaining why a drill is performed and what fundamentals or skills should be emphasized throughout the progression of the drill. YouTube channels that specialize in youth development are a good place to start. Properly executing a drill with 12/13 year olds on your house league team may prove to be quite the challenge if you are extracting your resources from an NCAA Division 1 coach that is assuming many of the basic skills and fundamentals have already been acquired because s/he is dealing with elite level players. A good instructional video (especially for youth basketball) will provide the goals for a given drill/play, put it in a game context, and also explain what the coach should be looking for when it is run.
Do your homework, and maybe seek out a mentor.
Lastly, our advice would be to seek out a coaching mentor, attend an in-person coaching clinic or at least start to write down some of your coaching questions (technical, philosophical or otherwise). The best answers as a coach come from well-thought out questions that will direct your coaching practice. Having a more experienced coach come out and work with you in a practice setting is an invaluable experience that will help you understand how a practice should flow, when specific drills should be woven into a given practice structure, when a drill should be stopped for correction and when it should be allowed to continue despite mistakes, how to properly “load” or “unload” a drill to meet the needs of your specific team, etc.
So next time you feel the urge to run to YouTube to build your coaching repertoire perhaps think about some of the questions we’ve raised in this post. YouTube and other online coaching resources can be of great value if used in moderation and with a discerning approach. Blindly executing drills you learned on the internet will not provide your players with the necessary understanding for the greater purpose of the drill and will result in you running back to the well of endless YouTube drills in order to keep things fresh and fill those gaps in your practices. Understanding and being able to teach the fundamentals in everything you do as a team will help you maximize the return on your investment in terms of learning new things on the internet. Lastly, the technical side of coaching is often over-emphasized and romanticized especially by coaches that love talking about x’s and o’s (please see this short clip for more insight on this). In the end, Theodore Roosevelt said it best, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Establish your overarching coaching philosophy then get down to the technical side of the game.
If you have questions about anything we’ve covered in this post or would like more guidance as to how to best inform your coaching practice, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Thanks for reading!
Preparation: A Coaches' Take
The adage that teams are made during the season and players are made during the off-season holds true.
For this blog post we interviewed Right Way Senior Advisor, Coach Ian Mackinnon, to get his take on cultivating success, preparation before and during a season and ultimately how to best lead as a coach. He provides some unique insight on how he frames his season and how to prepare your team for success starting in the off-season. Since we are currently in the off-season this is timely advice for coaches of all ages and we’re confident you will benefit from Coach Mackinnon’s experience and wisdom. Ian is the coach of the Ashbury College Senior Boys Varsity Basketball Team, an assistant coach with Ottawa Gee Gees Varsity Women’s Basketball Team and has coached in various capacities in the Ottawa area over the last 30 years. More background on Coach Mackinnon can be found here. Please comment or contact us if you would like anything from this blog clarified or elobrated upon.
Thank you Coach Mackinnon for taking the time to answer these important questions for our coaches.
How does it feel to have achieved your goal of winning an OFSAA (Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations) gold medal?
There was obviously a sense of accomplishment, immediately followed by a void, sprinkled with the unknown and “a what next” sensation. Chasing a championship involves a combination of, good fortune, maximum preparation, perseverance and a team with talent and chemistry. This championship could be attributed to more than just the players that participated this year. It was really 4 years in the making, climbing the proverbial mountain; OFSSAA ‘A’ bronze in 2015, ‘AA’ silver in 2016 and ‘AA’ gold in 2017. Many of the players that helped the team achieve in previous years were no longer around but their legacy went a long way towards the competitive culture. The fact that the team had arguably 3 of the top positional players in the province made it tough to accept anything less than gold this year as well. I felt that the players were aware of this but did not let it add any additional pressure. Winning felt great, but it was short lived and was quickly replaced with new goal setting and preparation for the program.
Preparation obviously played a major part in the success of your team this past season. As a coach, what do you do in the off-season and in the weeks leading up to the season to prepare?
The adage that teams are made during the season and players are made during the off-season holds true. The culture at a school like Ashbury College is for student / athletes to be well-rounded in all areas. To get players to buy into a year-round approach to basketball is difficult. I was fortunate to find a group that for the most part wanted to play year-round. It started with our high-level players who were competing internationally and at the highest levels in Canada. Skills sessions throughout the summer and fall for the rest were beneficial along with playing in a local community summer league helped as well.
Does your preparation change based on the expectations you have for the season?
For me preparation does not change based on expectations. The expectations may be different but over-achieving is always a focus. I feel that it is important to focus on the process and not get too caught up in the results. The goal should always be to play your best but find ways to compete when you are not at your best. It is hard not to measure success based on wins and losses but growing as a team and over-achieving can be fulfilling even when the losses out-number the wins. My goals are always to make sure the opposition does not have an advantage based on preparation, if they are better than my team based on talent then so be it.
How do you chunk or frame your season in terms of practice planning and focus? In other words, what things do you focus on in August/September/October versus January/February/March?
Large emphasis on skill development and fundamentals in the fall. Team play and specific team prep becomes an emphasis in season. With high school team’s there are additional variables including Christmas break, exams, 4 day weekends prior to play-offs, ebbs and flows of academics. Pre-season is about getting players in basketball shape as many of the players spend the fall playing football or soccer. I feel that we are often behind with regards to skill development and team concepts relative to schools that have players playing year-round. In order to counter that, the bar is set high for our players to learn in a condensed fashion. I am fortunate to have intelligent players who are expected to pick up on concepts with limited repetitions.
If you could give 3 pieces of advice to a coach heading into the season what would they be?
1. Establish relationships, players need to know that you care.
2. Get your players to believe; in themselves, in each other, in what you are teaching and the goals that you have set.
3. If you think you are doing enough, do more.
Lastly, when you are picking your team what are some things you are looking for to fill out your roster?
Within the Ashbury College context there is not a huge amount of decision-making that goes into this process. I don’t think I have actually had to cut a player in the 17 years I have been here. If I have more than 12 players trying-out once the expectations are spelled out and the time commitment is established, personnel get sorted out. I am then left with the type of players I need. Calibre wise, this can vary from year to year but I know I have players that I can work with and push. In other high school context’s this would vary. How the student is within the school community plays a part in the process. Your role players need to be able to thrive off of something other than playing time. Balance between graduates and underclassmen is important. Ideally you have competition at all positions and players that can push each other. Rosters are often limited and finding 10 – 12 high-calibre players in a high school setting is difficult.