“Peak performance on found somewhere in amongst fun, freedom and focus.” – Dan Abrahams, football pyschologist.

In my last post, I talked about the importance of fun in peak performance. Now I will focus on freedom. Freedom starts with the empowerment of the players to make decisions in the game. Many coaches are uncomfortable with this concept as they tend to be control freaks, or at the very least type A personalities that want the decision, and often to their credit the blame to rest squarely on thier shoulders. While admirable, this is not in the best interest of the team or individual player.

The game of basketball is too fast for the majority of the decisions to come from the bench. If a team looks to the bench for a play call every trip, it will never score in transition or exploit an unbalanced opponent. Transition points win games. In giving your team the freedom to push the ball and look for easy baskets, helps you win the transition game. It also empowers your players with the freedom to attack.

Many times in critical situations I will look to the players as to what defense or offense to run. I extend them that freedom, in return for their investment in the success of their decision. I do not abdicate authority, but share it as partners. Certainly their are times when I will make a decision and expect them to execute it. If the decision fails, I will accept blame for it in front of them. Over time this establish a free relationship between myself and my players. A typical time-out would have the players making a suggestion on the way to the bench, and me offering a counter. The benefit is that my players are now thinking the game, not just playing it.

Freedom must be cultivated in the decision making process of the player as well. In practice, and watching film, I emphasize decision making. When a decision is so poor it eliminates options and results in a bad play, I bring that to the teams attention, particularly with respect to how options were eliminated. If the decision is successful, but easier options were available, I will praise the player’s success and ask if he had other options. This is to elicit the player’s level of awareness. There is no freedom without options. Then we can discuss which option would result in the highest percentage of success.

With this approach the players learn how to think and play, not simply execute plays. Mistakes will occur, and they must be accepted to encourage freedom of play. The education of a player is a process. A player though who is playing with fun and freedom is closer to performing at a peak level.

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