An Addendum on Conditioning: Be Good at What Happens Alot

I am compelled to join in the rant against prolonged conditioning, specifically as it relates to running. I believe in threshold levels of cardiovascular fitness to compete, but this must be put in context. A high school game is 32 minutes long. On a typical team that plays 8-9 guys in a rotation only 3-4 of these players are likely to play more that 24 minutes of the game spread over 1:15. The remaining 4-6 players in the rotation will play 16 minutes or less over the same time. Weighing in deadballs, half-time, time-outs and quarter breaks, high school basketball is not burdensome from a cardiovascular stand point. The excessive amount of conditioning is the result of two things.

One, an old school mentality, of conditioning as a boot camp. This overlooks the fact that most decent high school players, play year round anyway with the season, summer ball and AAU. Many of those that don’t are actively engaged in another sport like baseball or football. The players are not out of shape and in need of dramatic conditioning.

Second, short-sighted rules from high school officials. In Florida, our FHSAA, limits fall activities to “open” gym, and conditioning out of season, and even prohibits “open” gym during the two weeks immediately before the season starts. If a coach wants to have his players working together in the offseason, he must turn to weight training and conditioning by excessive running. This does not help players develop skill, and this is a tragedy. Players need to be able to shoot, dribble and pass, because these are the things that happen alot in a basketball game, not run the mile under a designated time. The prohibition against allowing coaches to work with their players on these skills is without merit or plausible explaination. Further, it creates a cottage industry for “coaches” training players on basketball skills that could be developed by the high school coach for free. This is problematic because it disadvantages kids that cant afford to pursue this coaching, and it puts an economic investment (with expected return) on those that invest in these ancillary services.

None of this is in the interest of developing better basketball players, which is the function and purpose of the basketball coach.

Basketball requires fitness and strength. Weight training is an essential component of player development, but from a fitness perspective, as our previous blog attests to, as much or more can be accomplished with an intense, well-structured skill work out.

The Narrative

We had an organizational meeting in the spring of 2003 for our returning Trinity players. On each desk was a schedule of practices, camps, weighlifting,and games from the first day of summer until the state final February 2004. The team was 19-10 the previous season and won every game they should have, and in doing so failed to win a meaningful game. To play into February of 2004 the team would have to do several things it had never done before.

I would love to tell you that in February 2004 we cut down the nets in Lakeland, poured champagne on each other and took 12 under age kids to Mons Venus for Valentines Day, but we missed three open looks in the final minute and the front end of a 1 and 1 down one with 30 seconds to play lost by 3 in a regional semi to the eventual state champion and cried in the locker room.

Between the calender and the tears, we had the best season in school history 24-5, won a holiday tournament, beat 3 6A teams on the road by 12 or more points and won a district title by 30 points.

That calender was our season narrative. We would follow it and more importantly believe in it. We scouted the team that beat us three times beginning in December before playing them in February because the calender told us we would play them in February. With every success and achievement I mentioned above we continued tracking the calender because our narrative was unfinished. We gave our players the narrative and the breathed life into it.

It’s vital that you give your player’s tangible goals and the means to achieve them. The work of your team cannot be an idle, directionless activity. Without a narrative the ups of a season are not connected to a larger purpose, and the downs do not have the light to pull out of. The narrative is a source of identity and motivation over the course of the season.

The Myth of the Small Player as Point Guard

A couple of years ago, my friend asked me to come to his teams practice and help come up with something to beat a half court trap. I arrived at the practice, and as is my habit, started assessing the players as they warmed up figuring who would start for me, and who would be in the rotation. Practice proceeded for forty-five minutes before we worked against the half court trap. At this point, I was pretty comfortable with the players and who should play where, and was shocked when I asked my friend to put his starters out on the floor. Three good players were joined by two tiny, relatively unathletic “guards”. Players who I would not rate in the top eight of the team were apparently starting and playing extended minutes.

Outside the ear shot of the players, I told my friend that I figured out his problem with the half court trap and it’s easily solved. He was happy, but confused. I said I’ll put in a set I like to use and go over it, THEN I will solved the problem.

I introduced a two guard front with his best player in the high post to relieve pressure. We played for a few minutes with mixed results and then I removed the two tiny kids and replaced them with the other two kids that I felt should be starting. “My” point guard pick was a bigger kid with a thick body, but comfortable handle and skilled passer. Within a few plays the offense was clicking and scoring at will.

I asked my friend if he ever used my player as point guard and he said no, he’s a big. I asked if he thought the kid could handle the ball and pass. He agreed. I asked does he do those functions better than anyone else on your team. Again, he agreed. I think you found your new point guard.

He explained that the other two guards were good kids, smart, knew the plays and he couldnt play them anywhere else because they lacked size. I suggested that if that’s the case maybe they shouldn’t be playing at all.

I think it is a legitimate danger for coaches particularly at the youth to middle school level to appoint smaller kids point guards even where they lack the ability to play the spot. It is more important to remove any notion of size from the position, and find your point guard on who has the functional qualities to play the position instead.

The Five Attributes of a Player

Last Wednesday night my son’s soccer team had a guest coach, Mario, a professionally liscenced coach from Columbia. He spoke very little English, but had the benefit of a translator. Not was not the story of his training. Despite an obvious language barrier, Mario had no trouble getting the players involved and motivated in what was probably the team’s best training session of the year. The sheer force of his enthusiasm flooded the field and filled the players with energy. The session was fast-paced with constant movement and one minute water breaks. There was simply no time for players to linger or lose momentum in what he wanted them to do, and his watchful eye kept each player on edge that his rep was being watched, evaluated and ultimately important. I took three specific things from the training.

First, Mario immediately singled out three players for critique. My son for failing to wear shin guards. He fired three passes to another player, and critiqued his first touch on the ball and failure to lift his head. Finally, he critiqued the keeper’s technique in securing high balls, noting that the keeper had been trained a specifc way to catch the ball, but spontaneously before him, had caught the ball five different ways in five tries. These demonstrations which took 2-3 minutes tops, established his knowledge of the game and established credibility.

Well into the session, Mario asked each player to put his hand in front of his face with three fingers extended horizontally. Each player was then asked to spread the extended fingers. Mario explained that each day, as a player, you are one of the three fingers. You go up and get better, you remain the same or you go down. It is your choice as the player as to which finger you will be.

Finally, Mario spoke of the Five Attributes of the Player: physical, technical, tactical, psychological and theory. Physical is your fitness, speed, strength, size. Technical is your skill with the ball, without the ball, dribbling, passing, shooting and defending. Tactical is your understanding of how the game is played, your role in the larger scheme of your team. Psychological is mental strength, discipline, resilience in the face of adversity. Theory is your historical understanding of the game you play. ( I dazzled the assembled team by correctly answering that the first World Cup was played in 1930 and won by Uruguay). Success as a player is found in understanding these five attributes and cultivating them on a daily basis.

The Origins of the Arrogant Ass Monicker

It must be said that I use time-outs about as frequently as Haley’s Comet passes. So it was not without considerable consternation that I called timeout to avoid a jump ball and subsequent loss of possession late in a game with a one point lead. I duly ran toward the nearest official clearly signaling a time out while the ball remained in my team’s possession and was pissed as all hell, when the fat guy in the striped shirt signaled a jump ball and then awarded me my now useless time-out.

Perhaps lesser men, namely my assistant coach would have accepted the timeout happy to have the opportunity to organized a defense for the subsequent possession, but I am not a lesser man. I verbally refused the time out, instructed my team to remain on the floor ready to play, and stared down the official with rightful indignation. An uncomfortable twenty seconds passed for everyone in the gym, before the official meekly agreed to resume play.

As a parting shot, he reminded me that I had one time out left, and I duly responded with a thank you, and his God -given name “asshole”.

I was t’d, and my team lost the lead on the technical free throws, but in the end we rallied and won against the forces of evil.

As the story was retold, my assistant, also known to this blog, described my behavior as that of an arrogant ass.

I have been somewhat surprised that so many friends and family members have agreed with this assessment, and if I were a lesser man, I might give a crap.