Being The Best We Can Be


This article deals with developing a philosophy for basketball coaches teaching the game and for basketball players in order to better play the game.

To be the best we can be in the game of basketball, we need a balance between fundamentals, defense and discipline--three sides of a triangular approach to teaching and playing this game. One aspect can't be ignored or underplayed and result in success--neither as a coach nor as a player. To be really successful in this game, all three aspects of the triangle are necessary.

Success in anything requires a concept, a plan, a setting of intentions, goal setting, focus and direction, hard work and a willingness to work hard to achieve the dream. Success truly is a dream come true!

Coach John Wooden, in his famous "Pyramid of Success", describes success as being the "peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming".

Coach Phil Jackson, in talking about the success of the Chicago Bulls, stated, "paying attention to basics is the key to success--passing, foot work, (floor) spacing. Other teams had more talent, but we won because our basics were more sound."

To become the complete teaching-coach, or a complete player, no aspect of development can be ignored, lest one's development be 'incomplete'. Defense is half the game. If it's not being taught well, or played well, half the game is missing. If offensive skills and rebounding aren't being taught and played correctly, how can a player expect to play at his/her highest potential? Teaching-coaches have to be able to recognize even the smallest skill weakness and be able to break down that skill for the player to better understand and execute. Everything about successful teaching is about paying attention to the details! It's the little things which are a part of discipline for both the teacher and player.

Discipline is the key to success. Discipline is the base of the structure the coach is trying to build. For players, discipline determines their growth in the game.

Getting it right from the start requires that a player be taught fundamental skills correctly in the first years of playing. A lot of habits have already been set by the time a player is a teenager. If they are incorrect, they can be very difficult to change.

Every player needs and deserves a teaching-coach in the early years. Each skill needs to be broken down into building blocks, where the level of difficulty can be raised as the individual grasps and possesses the skill before moving on.

A basketball coach can make a big mistake thinking that all players are capable of grasping the same lesson at the same pace as every other player. It doesn't happen in the classroom so why assume the playing floor is somehow different? Skill teaching takes time and patience. Parents can be a big help here, reinforcing what the coach does and helping the child practice. Parents need the words to use alongside the skills. They need drills to practice each fundamental skill with and teaching points to be able to reinforce. Parents need to be able to encourage correct skill practice.

One of the big problems in youth programs is that qualified teachers of the game are rare. Often, youth basketball coaches try very hard to do the best they can with limited knowledge. They may have little or no playing or teaching experience. Our most skilled coaches, who could possibly be the most effective teachers, come into the picture later on in a player's career. By then, many incorrect habits have been set and coaches don't have the time, personnel or perhaps the desire to back up and re-teach skills.

Skill building is important for coaches and players. Too many high school players have weak fundamentals that go unchecked. If a player has some weak skills, but is athletic, coaches may let a lot of skill mistakes slide. But, think what strong skill fundamentals could be enabled when combined with athleticism. The most talented players are more easily recognized, while those less talented need to be strong in their skills in order to gain similar recognition. Players who don't recognize their own short-comings only short-change themselves because they aren't being all that they could be. The good teacher-coach will always try to bring the player to his/her highest level. It's not an easy task!

Coaches need discipline to teach the fundamentals. Players need discipline to practice the fundamentals correctly. The premise for teaching in the triangle is that each thing is being taught correctly at an early age, and then using the building block method, these teachings are built upon as a player progresses. The discipline to teach and the discipline to practice correctly are vital to the learning process.

In the book, "Think And Grow Rich", by Napoleon Hill, the author defines insanity as, "doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result".

We have often heard that 'practice makes perfect', but what really happens is that practice makes permanent! So, if a skill is performed thousands of times incorrectly, that player can become very good at doing it incorrectly. The incorrect repetition has permanent-'ized' the skill in muscle memory. Napoleon Hill's definition has probably been met at this point. Correcting the muscle memory of doing the skill incorrectly can sometimes be harder than the original learning of it. This is possibly why many coaches choose to ignore this. Perhaps they just don't know how to undo and re-teach the skill.

The key to everything being discussed here is the word 'teaching'. If a player is to develop completely into their individual potential, coaches must teach every aspect of the game. Players can't do it on their own because they don't know what they don't know. Teaching-coaches have their own pyramids to build along the way too. They need to constantly challenge themselves to increase their knowledge and abilities to understand the youth they work with and to teach them well in basketball and in life skills. So, together, coaches and players build on different, but parallel planes.

It's probably safe to say that every basketball coach and basketball player wants to take their game to a higher level. (Basketball On A Triangle: A Higher Level of Coaching and Playing) Men and women new to coaching usually need help getting started but may not know where to get the help they need. They need to know what to do, how to do it and when to do it. A young player starting out wants to know how to learn the basics quickly but needs to learn correctly. Too often, inexperienced players and coaches want to move too quickly forward, while their knowledge and skill base isn't ready for it.

The individual game must come first. Players just beginning need to know how to dribble, pass, shoot, rebound, move with or without the ball and how to play effective defense. Coaches need to learn the "how to's" for teaching these things and then become the teachers of the game's fundamentals that so often are missing in youth basketball.

The next levels of coaching and playing must incorporate the knowledge and skills learned and used in the previous levels. An effective, and all-encompassing, teaching tool should get the beginner started on the right track. Then just as simply and effectively it will show the more advanced student how to teach or play with more sophisticated position specific skills. Finding information is easy. Finding information that can teach a balanced use of fundamentals, defense and discipline, simply and understandably, may not be so easy. Much of the information being marketed presupposes a level of expertise and experience that may be totally missing for the raw "newbie" player or coach. These individuals need step-by-step guidance at each level of learning. They need confidence. They need to be able to learn and then build in layers, one level building the base for the next one. In essence then, the beginners and the intermediate players and coaches need every detail of teaching and playing they can find.

Until next month, Yours in Sport & Spirit,
Coach Ronn