Problems with talent identification

More and more, youth basketball moves from an environment of talent development to an environment of talent identification and selection. Many coaches who used to engage in development with young players have left the sport because they invest years into a player and watch the player and his or her parents leave their home program (school/AAU) for another program because of exposure, free shoes, or whatever. Inevitably, the original coach reads about how this new program that coached or trained the player for 1-2 years was responsible for their development. Why spend time and effort developing players for little to no money or recognition when you can poach the already talented player and reap financial benefits and recognition?  Read more

The Coaching Interview

How do we recognize coaching talent? It is a complex question without any definitive answers. There are many factors that contribute to one’s coaching success, and many of the factors are situation dependent. Succeeding with beginners requires different skills than succeeding in the NBA; being talented at one does not ensure that one is talented at the other.  Read more

Coaching Frosh Basketball 2.0 – Tryouts and Talent ID

When I pick teams (or recruit), I want to identify those qualities that are the rarest. When watching players, one can choose to see the things that a player can do (strengths) or the things that the players cannot do (weaknesses). I want to identify the rare strengths and ignore the easiest weaknesses to remedy. Read more

Learning Skills & Small-Sided Games

Here are the slides from my presentation at the Boston University Sports Psychology for Coaches Conference presented by BU’s Institute for Coach Education.

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Skill Development Definitions and Coaching Philosophy

My thinking differs from most coaches on most aspects of coaching, and these differences often get me in trouble. This weekend, I argued the merits of zone defenses and realized that our difference of opinion had nothing to do with zones, but the way in which we view the game and approach skill development.

Most coaches view basketball as two elements: skills and strategy. Skills represent the technical skills that differentiate basketball: shooting, specific passes, footwork, dribbling and more. Strategy, then, is everything else, typically centering on defenses, plays, press breaks, out of bounds plays and more.

To me, there are four skill categories: athletic, psychological, tactical and technical. Skill development is more than an individual workout focused on shooting and ball handling; skill development includes tactical skills such as give-and-gos, pick-and-rolls, handling a trap, and more.

The differences between these two viewpoints define one’s coaching philosophy. A traditional view favors block practice; an environment with technical skill practice, typically in individual drills, followed by strategic practice on the team’s offensive and defensive systems. Players practice  skills such as dribbling and shooting outside their offensive system and use them within the offense. Plays or offensive systems are specific, and players memorize movements: The team runs the Flex, and players learn to use a screen within the context of the Flex, or the team runs the dribble-drive-motion, and players learn to move in relation to dribble penetration within the DDM context.

With my approach, not only do players practice technical skills in skill development sessions, they learn tactical skills generally and incorporate these skills into an offense or the team’s system. Before learning the Flex, for instance, players learn to use a screen generally: To read the defense and the screen to make the appropriate cut. When the defender fights over the screen, the cutter back cuts. Then, players apply these lessons to their coach’s system or plays.

The same occurs defensively. Most teams have a primary defense with specific rules: Force sideline-baseline, 3/4 front the post, help defense on the midline. If their defense does not work or does not fit against their opponent, they switch defenses: They play a secondary defense, such as a 2-3 zone or 3-2 zone.

If players learn general defense first, rather than specific rules, a team can change its base defense to fit an opponent or situation. This season, we played person-to-person defense; against some teams, we denied the wing entry pass, and against others, we played more help defense. When we played a team that relied on dribble penetration, we did not move to a zone; we recognized their strength and adjusted slightly. These adjustments constitute my strategy.

We develop skills, and strategy is the adjustments or game-specific tactics. How do you defend an opponent with a three-point lead and under 10 seconds to play? Do you foul before they shoot a three-pointer? These decisions are the team’s or coach’s strategy, but these strategic decisions are not important until players develop their skills generally. If players do not understand how to defend or how to use a screen or how to read the defense, a coach cannot change or employ different strategies. A coach cannot call a timeout to draw up a new play if the players lack the awareness or understanding to implement the strategy.

A narrow definition of skills (essentially technical skills) leads to one way of coaching and teaching, whereas a broader definition that encompasses four areas of skills leads to a much different approach to coaching.

At the youth level, the broader approach to skill development benefits players because the players learn skills that transfer from season to season, whereas coaches with a narrow definition may employ different strategies that do not transfer from season to season unless a player happens to play for a coach who runs the same system.

  • What Is A Playmaker?

    Who decided that a point guard has to be small? More importantly, what is a point guard? We expect a point guard to be a leader and have a high basketball I.Q. Why don’t we expect or challenge all players to develop this game awareness? Why rely on only one player? Read more →
  • The PBDL Concept

    English soccer academies wait until players are 11 to play full 11v11 soccer; in Italy, youth basketball players participate in skill-oriented clinics at 6-years-old, but start competitive games at 12. In the United States, kids play 5v5 full court games and compete for national championships when they are 8-years-old.

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  • Starting A PBDL

    The PBDL emphasizes learning and development. Presently, players and parents have numerous recreation options - leagues based on fun and equal participation, typically for beginners - and numerous competitive opportunities - teams focused on strategy, game preparation and winning. There are few true development leagues - until now.

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