Month: November 2013

Freshman Perspective

I watched our freshman basketball team in their opening game last week.  The team features twelve players that were selected from thirty or so players that tried out, and with the exception of the four freshman on my JV team represent the best our school has to offer.  I am certain the opposing team was chosen in the same way.  The game was brutal to watch.  Neither team scored for over four minutes.  The game finished with both teams scoring in the twenties, and turnovers likely equaled points.  The pace of play ranged intermittently from mechanical to frenetic.  This is not to disparage freshman basketball,  but to place it in a developmental context.

It is the base of the pyramid of high school basketball where fundementals and structure are introduced.  Of the twelve players, some will never play again for the school, while others will improve so dramatically as to be almost unrecognizable from the players they are now.  The difference between the two groups of players will be physical and mental.  Some players will find passion in playing the game and put in the extra hours to improve.

I am reminded of Whip Green from my time at Oviedo. He was a competent freshman player, who rebounded well, but couldn’t score from more than two feet from the basket.   The next season, he extended his range to twenty feet and decided a JV game with a critical three.

My current JV team features four freshmen, who are ahead of their peers in physical development, skill and mental focus.   Truth be told their skill level is ahead of even some of our sophomores.  Their mental focus though is a work in progress and will define their contribution to our season.  Each of the players is bright and put forth a commendable effort, but are playing catch up in the nuances of high school basketball.  I must remind myself not to skip steps in their development and to continue to fuel their passion for the game which is ultimately the key to their progression.

Then their is my son Bryson.  He is a freshman, and along with two freshmen teammates is playing varsity soccer.  I am proud of him, but this is what I expected of him this season.  Over the last four years, he has trained 5-7 days a week and played 50-70 games a year against some of the best age group competition in the country.  Through his commitment he has earned his right to play at the varsity level.  Varsity soccer has provided meaningful challenges on and off the field.  He has had to earn his minutes, often out of position,  and he has had to find his own voice by learning to communicate with his coaches as a young adult, not a kid anymore.  This was probably the aspect of high school soccer he was least prepared for, but may reap the most enduring reward.

Casting Call

I recently posted on the Coach’s role in creating a culture for his team, and the player’s buy in to that culture. Today, I am writing about defending the culture. Each season and at every level decisions are made as to who will be on the team. The most obvious consideration is talent measured by athletic ability and technical skill. The next layer typically leans toward hard work and/or some unique attribute that may be in short supply like shooting, size or ball handling. What may in fact be more determinative of the development and success of the team is the player’s capacity to work with others. Some players, regardless of talent and work ethic, are not suited to function in a team sport.

These players are miscast and destined to bring misery, frustration and disappointment to those they play with. I say miscast as they would likely do better in an individual sport like boxing, tennis or track and field where they would be rewarded for their singular efforts and determination.

Basketball and soccer, the games that are special to me, are team sports and require a mindset that enables the player to blend his talents with others for the greater good. The purpose being to find the fickle balance of assertiveness and deference that facilitates cohesive play. As a defender of team culture, you must be attuned to this distinction and select your team accordingly.

Creating Culture

On my daily trip to McDonalds, my son Bryson asked me which of two local teams was better.  My instinct told me the talent level of both teams was similar and the difference would be coaching,  not X and O’s, but which coach would do a better job of constructing and cultivating a culture conducive to player development and winning basketball games.

Culture begins with the coach.  The coach sets the tone for communication within the group.  Is it honest, open, topical and consistent?  What is rewarded, punished and tolerated?  The players sense this through action as much as words.  Thus the actions must match the words.

Culture is founded upon empowerment and results.  Once the coach introduces the framework of the culture through word and deed, the players must buy in.  The buy in is a two part dynamic of accepting and internally promoting the culture.  It’s an investment that conveys ownership of the team to the players in partnership with the coach.

Investors are attracted to success.  The buy in is unlikely if the players do not recognise self-improvement and enjoy collective success.  It is irresistible if they do.

The Place of Past Success

Change is a constant, and the refusal to accept change as a constant is an impediment to growth and development. This acceptance is not easy because as people, certainty is comforting.  Once we have achieved success in a particular endeavor,  it imprints a blueprint in our mind that defines our thinking.

I felt strongly about this early in my coaching career.  After a successful stint at Trinity Prep, I followed Matt Hixenbaugh to Winter Park.  We felt we had a winning formula.  We talked of dominating the Metro including defending State Champion Edgewater.  We went a modest 17-11 losing to Edgewater….and every other team from the west side of town.

Our formula of loosely structured offense, full court passive pressure retreating to half court zone didn’t transfer.  We had different players and played different opponents.  We needed a new formula.  In time, it developed.  Half court man to man was our best defense and a structured offense with multiple options carried us to a 28-5 season.

A few seasons later a completely different formula developed at Oviedo.  I had long been reluctant to sub players, but happened upon a deep team with ten kids deserving of regular minutes.  I went with two teams that would rotate every four minutes.  The team thrived from an internal competition between the two “teams”.

The place for the past success is not a rigid construction in the mind, but rather a library of resources to implement as needed, and a confidence that you can find the right resource at the right time.