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.