Motivating Your Players

I’ll keep this post short because it links to a post from breakthroughbasketball.com that’s pretty long. But it’s well worth reading. In fact, I printed a copy because it’s also well worth re-reading. It offers specific strategies to keep your players motivated, at practice and at games. The writer offers more than 20 ideas so surely you’ll find a few there that will work for you.

Though the post is written with basketball in mind, many of the strategies can be used for most team sports. Check out the post. I think you’ll want to print it and keep it in your coaching file.

Getting Everybody the Ball

With the NBA playoffs reaching the conference finals stage, it’s clear that the league, more than ever before, is driven by stars. Franchises are trying to acquire two or even three stars around which the entire team is built. The rest of the roster is made up of role players who rarely are called upon to do anything of consequence.

Above all, the league is a business, and it has become a showcase for individual talents, which is fine if that’s how they want to market it. Maybe that’s the most effective way of doing it, I don’t know. My concern is the trickle down, even all the way to youth basketball. Maybe it’s just coincidence, but I’ve heard more than a few coaches lately talking about fashioning their offensive strategy after the pros. None has a star triangle along the lines of the Miami Heat or Boston Celtics, of course, but they seem to be hoping to take a similar approach – have a few players handle the ball most of the time and take most of the shots.

Which means that the majority of players are not getting as much playing time, and even when they’re on the court they’re role is to get the ball to the stars. I don’t know how they’ll be expected to develop their own skills, and I doubt it’s fun to feel that you’re less important to the team while you’re riding the bench or only setting picks.

No matter how talent or skillful they are, all kids should play approximately the same number of minutes at the youth level. As they get older and play in high school, sure, the wheat will separate from the chaff, but highlighting two or three top players at the expense of others at the youth level just isn’t fair. Forget about the NBA trends. That’s a completely different game, with different demands and expectations.

We’re not professional coaches and our goal isn’t to win games as much as to teach kids how to play the game and enjoy themselves while playing it, learning a bit about themselves along the way. Featuring two or three players will only divide your team, making it less fun for everyone. Even the featured players will enjoy it less because they probably will feel more pressure to succeed while carrying more of the scoring load.

When everyone gets the same minutes, everyone gets the same experience, which is what they signed up to do. Let the NBA stars have the nightly TV limelight. Kids are in it to learn and enjoy.

 

Beating the Defense with a Fast First Step

Watching a gifted scorer explode past his or her defender is one of the most exciting aspects of basketball. You think of Jordan or Kobe or one of the other greats facing a defender, feinting a move or two before slashing by for a clear jumper or into the lane for lay-in.

Of course, these players are tremendously gifted and have worked for years to hone their moves. At the youth level, you’re not going to see that level of play or even aspire to it. But your players can learn how to improve that crucial first step, moving more quickly and more decisively.

Here are three very good drills I found on ihoops.com that were developed by strongerteam.com to help players achieve the goal of developing a more explosive first step with the ball. The drills are called Ball Drop, Block to Block and Star Drill. Each requires a partner, so moms and dads might want to give a close read to be sure they can help their player run the drills outside of team practice.

The first two drills only require a couple of tennis balls, while the third one uses cones. They’re easy to understand, meaning that even younger players can begin to do them. All the drills build speed and give the player a good conditioning workout.

A ball-handler who can strike quickly will just as quickly put the defenders back on their heels to give themselves a little more cushion to react. That space allows for barely contested jumpshots and clearer passing lanes. If they then try to cheat up a bit, the player can break past them.

I’m not saying the drills will make your player the next Jordan or Kobe, but they’ll make him or her more dangerous and much tougher to guard.

Rooting Against World Peace

I admit I’m against World Peace and have no desire to give World Peace a chance. And I’m willing to wager that basketball fans in Oklahoma City feel the same way.

With their victory yesterday, the LA Lakers continue into the second round of the NBA playoffs, facing the Oklahoma City Thunder, where the blood isn’t just bad, it’s boiling.

As you’ve no doubt heard – and seen on the replay a few hundred times – Metta World Peace (named Ron Artest in his previous and equally unsportsmanlike incarnation) slammed an elbow into the head of Thunder reserve guard James Harden a few weeks ago, causing a concussion.

Apologists have called the foul “inadvertent,” but the replays clearly show the elbow was as inadvertent as Hitler’s invasion of Poland. The play was over. Artest was thumping his chest after making a gimme basket on a fast break, but we’ve all gotten used to such self-aggrandizing gestures following even the simplest of athletic accomplishments. Nothing to incite trouble.

Harden was moving past Artest (sorry, just can’t call a guy like him by his new name), presumably to take the in-bound pass, when they bumped into each other, as players do many times in every game. Artest then threw the elbow, flooring Harden.

For such a flagrant act, he received a six-game suspension – an absurdly light penalty. I won’t say that the NBA might have been so lenient because they had one eye on TV ratings for the playoffs, which hinge largely upon the Lakers, the league’s one glamour team, being involved, but, well, I guess I just did.

And I don’t want to drone on in some dull “what example does this set for kids watching” screed, but, well, the question in this case is worth asking, especially since the consequences of the action were so minimal. Artest made it back on the court for the final game in the Lakers’ first-round series, helping them survive a scare of elimination.

I’m not so naive as to think Artest spent a single second wondering about the example he sets for kids with his actions. He’s clearly shown in the past he takes no responsibility for his behavior and feels no culpability whatsoever. The league wagged its finger for the cameras and then scooted him back into play as quickly as possible.

No doubt his return to face the Thunder will draw lots of media attention and probably generate higher ratings. For that reason, I won’t watch the game. A meaningless gesture to the network and the league, I know, but at least I won’t have to feel any complicity in voyeuristically tuning in to see what happens.

Once again, it’s up to the parents of young athletes to explain that actions do have consequences and an utter lack of sportsmanship isn’t the least bit cool. It shows disrespect for the game, for your opponent, for your own team and for yourself. Even before this latest episode, we’ve known that Ron Artest is not a good guy. Now we know it even more.

As the NBA playoffs began, I had no rooting interest, except maybe a soft spot for the Indiana Pacers, a nearby franchise that hasn’t enjoyed much success recently. But I’ve got one now. I’ll be rooting against World Peace and, frankly, against the league that put greed before guts and didn’t mete out a punishment to fit the crime.

If Artest’s dirty play can be seen as done in the heat of battle, the NBA can’t hide behind that excuse. They had time to reflect dispassionately and make the right decision. They didn’t. And their lack of responsibility is just as bad as his. Here’s hoping the young fans will learn the right lesson, the ones the adults can’t seem to grasp.

 

Coaching to Create Team Chemistry

This morning I heard an interview on a radio sports talk show, and someone mentioned Phil Jackson, who has won 11 NBA championships as a head coach. Critics have said they could have won as many coaching the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Shaq, but no one believes them – or should. Having great players doesn’t guarantee championships. In fact, they can make a coach’s life even tougher.

The point of the radio conversation was that this year’s Lakers team lacks the chemistry of the championship squads. Whether true or not, it got my thinking about the nature of “team chemistry,” a term sports fans hear often, though defining it in specific terms isn’t easy. It’s usually used when a talented team isn’t winning or when a not-so-talented team isn’t losing.

If we can assume that the phenomenon of chemistry truly exists, a new question arises – does winning create team chemistry or does team chemistry create winning? And then the next question: given the vague nature of the term, how can coaches go about creating it?

A lot of coaches, myself included, tend to say they’re not exactly sure what it is but they know it when they see it. The team intensely shares a common goal, and all members are focused on achieving it. Though some players are more talented than others, everyone contributes and plays selflessly. Your best shooter doesn’t think twice about giving up a shot to pass to a less talented teammate who is cutting to the basket for an easier shot. The team attitude is one of equality, of us-against-the-world, of we’re-all-in-this-together and everyone is giving maximum effort.

When the team wins, they all feel like they played a role and no on feels they were the star. Conversely, when the team loses there’s no finger-pointing or breaking into cliques or placing blame. Instead, it’s a shared experience and everyone remains committed to the team.

So how does a coach create that sense of unity? This article from sportpsychologytoday.com offers a couple of tips on the subject, one mentioning off-the-field activities. If possible, try to arrange a team activity or two during the season (rather than just at the end of it).

A picnic with all the players and their families doesn’t cost much if everyone brings food and drinks to share, and the event let’s the players have fun with each other outside the context of playing a game. The players will feel that much closer when they get back on the field.

It also helps to talk about the importance of team, of determining as a group the goals for the season and reiterating those shared goals throughout your time together. As the coach, you need to set the example. Every player needs to be treated equally, from the top star to the most inept member of the squad. No undermining behavior will be tolerated, and players will treat each other with respect.

Share everything – laughs and tears, highs and lows. The team will begin to take on a character of its own, and you can build on that foundation, always emphasizing the group dynamic.

Now, the level of “chemistry” you ultimately achieve depends, in part, on the kids and their ability to assimilate and demonstrate the message. Sometimes the biggest challenge is breaking through the relationships that exist before the season – ones carried over from school, for example, if the players attend the same one. The pecking order might be too deeply entrenched already to create the sense of equality you want.

Teams also often include players from two grades, creating the challenge of getting the older ones to fully accept equality with the younger ones. On the other hand, if the pre-existing relationships are positive, you already have a head start.

What is your experience with team chemistry? What tips can you offer to us about how to nurture it?

 

Choosing the Right Summer Camp

Tis not the season yet, but summer will be here very soon, and this is the time you need to be thinking about and choosing a basketball camp. You’ll find a lot of online ads from camps, each one proclaiming its glories.

Unfortunately, they all sound pretty much the same. You easily can narrow by geographic area, and the camps vary somewhat in length and price, but as far as features, they tend to look alike.

Many offer a marquee name – athlete or college program – to draw interest, but to find the right camp for your kids you need to look past the star power and figure out if the camp will provide the value you want, based on your goals.

Through Twitter I found this helpful post on ihoops.com about how to choose the right basketball camp, and I recommend you give it a read. The writer raises the key questions you need to answer in making your decision.

Keep Your Head Up

Most coaches have given that advice – keep your head up – to players after a tough loss. You want your players to feel proud of the effort they gave in trying to win, of having competed hard.

But this post isn’t about a motivational strategy. We’re talking about literally keeping your head up when you’re on the court, especially when you’re dribbling. When closely defended, a dribbler often will look down at the ball instead of keeping his or her head up and looking at defenders and teammates.

Why do they look down? They fear they’ll lose control of the ball or even have it taken, and actually watching themselves dribble creates a keener sense of control. It’s an easy habit to develop and a hard one to break. As a coach, you can yell, “Keep your head up” all you want, but in pressure situations players are going to go into that hunched-shoulders stance and watch the ball bounce.

Here’s a perceptive article on the subject from insideyouthsports.org that offers some good advice on how to train your players to keep their eye off the ball and on what’s happening around them. The secret? Well, like a lot of sports skills, the secret is repetitive practice – doing it over and over over.

The writer, Jeffrey Rhoads, also suggests having a player, while dribbling, try to carry on a conversation with someone standing next to him. The player should look the person in the eye, thereby keeping his head up and his eyes off the ball.

It takes practice, which also develops confidence, which will help the player relax when pressured by a defender. The practice also develops a more instinctive feel for the ball. The player won’t feel compelled to look down at it.

As the article suggests, players who handle the ball with their heads up are much better able to see their teammate and execute good passes that can lead to a score. They’re also better able to seize opportunities to score themselves. Players with their heads down, on the other hand, are much more likely to be trapped by the defense and have the ball stolen or be forced into a jump-ball.

Check out the article. Then save that motivational “keep your heads up” speech for another time. If your kids play with their heads up, you might not even need that speech.

 

 

 

 

A Mom Coaches Her Son

Many of us know what it’s like to coach our own kids. All of us know what it’s like watching our kids play. Yes, youth sports is all about the kids having fun and learning some lessons about themselves and about life.

But youth sports are also about a whole lot of emotions flooding a parent’s heart as we watch. We need to do our best to control those emotions and, often, to conceal them, which usually makes them all the more acute.

I’ve poured through countless articles and blog posts and even books on the subject, but today I found one of the best. After I read this smart, moving, beautifully written article at the Huffington Post, I had to share it. I tweeted it too. Janell Burley Hofmann is a youth sports mom who coached her son’s middle-grade basketball team, and she captures all the conflicting and powerful emotions we feel in that role.

She also makes some perceptive observations about the world of youth sports today. Here’s one of my favorites: “I see families pack up each weekend and travel all over the state – the region, even – to watch their children play, all while our fields and neighborhoods and lawns right here ache for a pick-up game, for wild little feet to run across them.”

No doubt you have plenty of stuff to do today, and more suggestions for what to read than you’ll ever have time for, but I promise you that as a sports parent, this one is a unique treat for you. At Coach Hub we tend to focus on coaching advice, drills and the topical issues of youth sports, but sometimes we need a little something special to remind us why we’re involved in the first place, and this article does just that.

Defending the Dribbler

If your defense is able to disrupt the opposing team’s ball handler, you stand a good chance of getting some turnovers. You also lessen their chances of launching a good shot. This short video demonstrates the basics of how to defend the opponent with the ball. Produced by weplaysportstv (which always offers a first-rate, professional production), the video is linked through guidetocoachingbasketball.com.

The host-coach does a good job of simplifying the defensive moves and of explaining the reasons why the players do what they do. It’s not complicated, but his approach to teaching the defensive player’s hand and body positions as well as footwork will make it easy for your kids to understand.

Note that he advises the defender to maintain an arm’s length from the dribbler. He also suggests the defender can move up a little closer on a slower dribbler or move back a half-step on a fast kid who might be able to drive past.

By showing your kids this technique, you’ll help them wreak a bit of havoc on your opponent’s offensive flow. As you know, basketball is a rhythm game, meaning that your defense should focus on breaking up that rhythm. Force your opponent to take bad shots and make bad passes by smothering the ball handler. The turnovers you create can lead to easy points for your team.

A caveat: I would suggest that you tell your kids to be more aggressive than the pair in this video. No doubt the kids are self-conscious in front of the camera, and probably they play with a higher level of urgency when not being filmed for an instructional video. I hope so. But sometimes kids become a little passive on defense, afraid to make a mistake and let their opponent score on them. Let them know they need to be just as aggressive on defense as on offense. An assertive defense attacks the offense, making it very hard to score points.

 

 

 

Setting Screens

One way to free your best shooters to take the shots you’re confident they’ll make is using screens. A screen, in a nutshell, involves an offensive player getting in the way of the opponent guarding a teammate on offense. By interfering with the defender, the player creates a “screen” behind which a teammate can take an unobstructed shot.

In this video, the shooting guard steps in between his teammate and a defender in order to give his teammate an open shot. Screens are a particularly good strategy for teams that have good shooters who aren’t quick enough to create open shots by themselves. With the help of a screen, they can hit their shots.

Check out the video, and if you’re not already using screens, give them a try.