Coaching a European Club – Week 23

We had two games this week, and only two full practices. In our Monday practice, we prepared for our Wednesday game, as we had played our opponent 10 days earlier. We knew they would trap our point guard and force other guys to make plays. With two of our five post players injured, the post sessions failed to progress, as we did not have defense to work against. We maintained the status quo and worked on basic finishing. Our guard workouts focused on 2v2 starting with a closeout to the ball.

In our Wednesday game, we dominated inside with our post having his best game since his return from a knee injury that kept him out for 8 games. He had 39 points, and we won 89-78. We handled their pressure well, but a couple of our young guys looked like they were sleep-walking on the court. However, one of the other young guys stepped up and played a great fourth quarter, especially defensively with his ball pressure.

On Thursday, we had a short practice due to gym conflicts, and we only had 9 players. In the first drill, our starting point guard came down wrong, and sat out the rest of practice with a minor knee injury, and shortly thereafter, another player re-inured his ankle, leaving us with 7. Despite only having an hour of allotted time, we ended early before we could suffer another injury, having not accomplished anything.

On Friday, we prepared for our Saturday game. Our shooting was terrible, and we lacked energy. We played one 5v5 scrimmage that took forever. For our free-throw practice, I end many of our scrimmages with the winning team having to make two free throws in a row to consolidate the win. To me, this is the best mix of game-like situations, pressure, and shooting when tired. However, when one team misses its first five attempts to make two free throws, the game drags on and on.

In hindsight, I should have been more worried that the team with most of our usual starters lost nearly every drill to the team of primarily reserves, especially because some of those reserves didn’t travel. Our game was only two hours away, so one player drove himself as he lives about halfway between the two cities. That allowed me to bring 8 additional players because tour team van seats 9 people (8 players plus myself). Every away game, I have to cut players from the squad. For a while, it was not a problem, as injuries and other things meant that we only had 8 players. However, with everyone back, we have a roster of 14 again, although two players are injured currently, and another left for vacation.

We walked through their three basic sets and their one out of bounds play. We discussed exactly how to guard the actions. Prior to the game, we went over the actions again. Somehow, we managed to get beat by simple backdoor screens even when we knew they were coming, and the screener’s defender was yelling “Screen” loudly.

It was a miserable game; lack of energy, lack of focus. I was too complacent on the bench. I was confident that we would make a play and be fine. Losing never crossed my mind, even as we dug ourselves a 14-point hole at half time. I knew they could not score at the same pace in the second half, and I knew we could easily score much more than we had. In the first half, I expended both of my timeouts early in the half. I used them to try and settle the team down, as we were making mistakes and getting frustrated with each other, and to get a rest for my top players who do not come out of the game much. That meant that I did not have a timeout to use in the last two minutes of the half as we gave away 6-8 points on stupid plays. In the end, that hurt.

We played better in the second half, but we still pissed away too many opportunities, whether by throwing the ball out of bounds on simple post entry passes because we failed to take an extra dribble to create a better lane, missing lay-ups, or committing needless fouls. In the end, we had the ball with 20 seconds left, down by 3 points, and missed two good looks to tie the game. It never should have come to that, but that’s the way the ball bounces. The first half was the absolute worst half of the season, three days after we had played one of our best halves of the season to end the game against a much better team.

At this point, I feel like I spend as much time as an athletic trainer as I do a basketball coach. Before or after practice, I am showing players on the men’s and women’s teams different exercises to try and heal various lingering injuries or to strengthen their bodies to relieve pain or discomfort. The women’s team is as unlucky as our team, as it has lost two players to broken fingers in less than a week. I have never seen anything like it. My two injured players are out with sprained ligaments on the top of their foot, according to their translation of what their doctor told them. I have never dealt with so many injuries as this season, and just when we are close to full health, another player gets injured.

Despite the injuries, we should have won today. Lack of execution and lack of urgency killed us, and the lack of urgency was probably my fault. After the game, my best player pulled me outside of the locker room. He said that he didn’t have it today, and asked if I noticed. He didn’t have his best game, but he wasn’t the problem. He told me that I need to yell at him more. He said that if I see it, I need to yell at him, as it fires him up. It’s not my style to call out a player in the middle of the game, but maybe it would have helped today.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

Pain, Injury, and Rehabilitation

Originally published in Los Angeles Sports & Fitness, January/February 2014.

Injuries happen. If you play sports long enough, you will hurt something at some point. It is part of the game. I coach basketball, so ankle sprains are the most common injury. What happens when we sprain an ankle? When we land on someone’s foot, we feel pain. However, according to Dr. Adrian Luow, pain is a construct of the brain. When we land on someone’s foot and sprain our ankle, the proprioceptors and nerves in our ankle signal danger, not pain. As Dr. Luow said during his presentation at the Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group (BSMPG) conference in May 2013, pain is a decision by the brain, and it is determined by how you think. The pain that we feel in the ankle is really a perception of threat.  Read more

Coaching a European Club – Week 16

After reading through some of my old blogs, I realized that I had gotten too far away from a skill development emphasis. One reason is the lack of an assistant coach – when I split up posts and guards to do some position-specific skill work, one group is by itself. Generally, this group does not go as hard as if I was watching them, so the skill work is less effective. I stopped the guard/post breakdown for a period of time for this reason, and because there were two weeks when we were missing all of our true post players. This week, I decided that it did not matter; we needed more of an emphasis on skill development.  Read more

Coaching a European Club – Week 15

Nothing demonstrates a seriousness about improving quite like having a starter miss your Monday practice without a call or a text because, according to what I was told later, he overslept (we practice at 8:30 P.M.). Not to be outdone, the same player skipped Friday’s practice and Saturday’s game to take a course in another town. We had to forfeit a 3rd Division game on Sunday because only four players could play – now that several of the u20s are playing a lot of minutes on the 1st Division team, only two of them want to play the 3rd Division games. The others seem to feel that they are better than the 3rd Division, even though our 3rd Division team lost by 20 on Thursday. The 3rd Division games are an opportunity for the role players to expand their roles and take on more responsibility, but they skip a Sunday afternoon game because of homework. The club manager said it was a weak excuse, but one that we have to accept. I just don’t understand. I cannot fathom being 18 years-old and turning down the opportunity to play in games. Read more

Coaching a European Club – Week 12

Another frustrating week. We had one practice canceled due to Bingo having the gym, and never had 10 players at any of the other three practices, meaning I had to play. I had wanted to put in some new things, but with the lack of players, and the changes in the line-up, I only added a new defense. I primarily wanted to teach the defense to the u20s, but we didn’t have any practice time this week either, so I taught it to everyone. Our first division team for the weekend was our u20 team plus 2 players anyway.  Read more

Coaching a European Club – Week 3

Bad week. On Monday, our hardest worker tore his Achilles tendon in the middle of practice. With his loss, our bench is substantially smaller. We have now lost four of the team’s top seven players from last season, and added only two new players plus youth players. The team only played six players consistently last season, so the youth players are basically rookies. The player who was injured also filled a number of gaps, as he could serve as a starting SG or a back-up PG, as he is our second best ball handler. Now, all of our back-up guards are 18 or younger.  Read more

Roger Federer and Athleticism


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Concussions and the Peak by Friday Mentality

I saw a tweet with a link to an article about a concussion victim with short-term memory loss. George Visger says:

“Coaches need to be more cognizant of when kids get their bells rung…They need to know it’s not OK to put them back in the game. They need to look at new helmets and equipment designs that absorb impact. And we need youth coaches who are trained — people who know what they’re doing and not just telling kids to ‘suck it up’ when they’re hurt.”

After my freshman year of college, I worked a summer camp. It was a fun, recreational camp where the coaches played with the campers.

One day, we played a small flag-football tournament. My team played a team with a really good athlete. He was the star pitcher on his Little League All-Star team at the same time. He went to the camp during the day and played in the District All-Star Tournament at night.

Something happened, and he fell and hit his head hard. He was out for a second and had no recollection of what happened. I was 20 and did not know much, but I guessed that he had a concussion (based on the two concussions that I suffered in my youth). After a few minutes, he said he was fine, and he wanted to play again.

I said no. His coach got mad and said he was playing. I said that he wasn’t playing against my team. His coach was furious and said I was cheating. I said that there were more important things than a pick-up flag football tournament at camp. The coach was fighting mad.

My team and I left the field and went for popsicles. My team remarked about the other coach’s fury – they could not believe how adamant he was about the child playing after the injury.

I went to the camp director and told him that I felt that he should call the boys’ parents. He disagreed. He had the camp nurse (not a real nurse or athletic trainer, but someone hired to administer first aid, fill the water bottles and keep track of attendance) look at him. In her infinite wisdom, he was fine.

Luckily, nothing severe happened. By happenstance, when he reached high school three years later, I was the varsity assistant on the high school basketball team that he was trying to make. He remembered me from the incident. While he thought nothing was really wrong with him, he also remarked about the other coach’s insistence on playing him (he made the J.V. team).

When we talk about the Peak by Friday mentality, this is an extreme example. The coach obviously cared more about winning some game than the player’s health and well-being. While I write about the Peak by Friday mentality in relation to sacrificing the player’s development to focus on winning, the extreme and even more dangerous example is the coach who sacrifices a player’s health to go for the win, whether it is pitching a player too many innings in a day or week or playing a player with a likely concussion.

However, the problems magnify when parents condone the mindset. I was coaching in a tournament, and one of my all-time favorite players went for a lay-up and got cracked on the top of her head. She bit through her tongue and blood was gushing everywhere. Her mom took her to bathroom and cleaned up the mess. Several minutes later, after spraying something to numb the pain on her tongue, she returned to the bench and asked in the game (naturally she was our best player and arguably the best player in her age group at the time). The head coach was not going to player her, but she would not leave us alone. I ran to her father and asked. He said to play her, so she played. Of course, we won the game and everyone talked about her toughness. But was it the best decision for her health? It worked out fine and nothing happened, but should she have returned to action?

We expect professional athletes to play through pain and injury. Should we expect the same of an 11-year-old girl or 7th grade boy? Where do we draw the line between admiring toughness and resiliency and putting a player’s health in jeopardy?

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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