Maybe it’s the drills

As I refereed a college soccer game last weekend, I heard a coach speaking to his bench:

(Paraphrased from memory) “How many bad passes have we made? How many simple balls have we not controlled? When we do these basic drills and you look at me, this is why.” Read more

Coach Education, Coaching Clinics, and Development

Every so often, a Twitter storm erupts about the need for mandatory coach education. There is a belief that coach education will solve every ill in basketball in the U.S.

U.S. Soccer requires coaching licenses at various levels, including the Development Academy. Their coach education programs are further along than USA Basketball’s, but every complaint about youth basketball coaches can be found in youth soccer, even with licensed coaches.

Last week, I refereed an u14 Development Academy game for one of the better DA programs in the region, if not the country. The “coach” of this program:

  • Refused to listen to the referee and leave the field to be ready to kick off at game time.
  • Complained about previous games when admonished for not being ready at kick off.
  • Continued to ignore the referee as he attempted to give last minute tactical instructions, after the game was supposed to have begun, and when his team did not know the lineup.
  • Refused to stay in his technical area (coaching box).
  • Complained about virtually every call.

Thus far, the description suggests a disorganized coach and maybe a bad attitude, but nothing about his actual coaching acumen. Many good coaches complain about referee decisions, almost every soccer coach ignores the technical area, and rarely are soccer teams ready to play at game time. As a referee, his behaviors were annoying, and unprofessional, but not uncommon.

Can coach education remedy these behaviors? Are his behaviors due to a lack of knowledge? Was he unaware of the kick-off time or the location of his technical area? I doubt it. These behaviors are indicative of his personality, I believe, and coach education certificates or licenses will not change a coach’s personality.

More problematic was his behavior toward his own players. He spent 80 minutes ridiculing and criticizing his own team. He continually used sarcasm to mock his own players. He screamed at his right midfielder, the player closest to the bench, for the entire 27 minutes that he played before substituting for him. Prior to the substitute, he told the player not to kick the ball, just to defend, after the player mis-timed a pass. At half-time, with a 2-0 lead, he whined and complained at his team.

His vastly superior team surrendered three second-half goals, all of which he blamed on me of course.

Coach education is not a panacea for all issues in youth sports. This coach had to obtain a license from U.S. Soccer, yet he embodied every possible negative in youth coaching:

  • He set a poor example for his young players with his dissent toward the referees before, during and after the game.
  • His primary feedback was negative and probably abusive toward some players.
  • He cared only about the outcome (based on his behaviors and feedback).
  • He attempted to control his players at every moment through constant feedback and instruction: playstation coaching.
  • He embarrassed his own players publicly (early substitution and yelling criticisms).
  • He demeaned the opposition (to his players in their pregame and halftime huddles).

How good or influential is a license and the coach education that it represents when these behaviors continue with a licensed coach? What does the license mean? Do we have any standards or ability to evaluate coaches when he has a paid position with a DA club and a coaching license? Are we that desperate for anyone with content knowledge that we are willing to overlook the behaviors and the poor coaching practices?

After the game, I asked about the curriculum’s content to complete the license that he possesses and did not receive much information. It appears that the focus is technical and tactical. A coach education program that does not focus on how to coach will have little impact. Do the tactics matter when the coach is a playstation coach? Does any technical wizardry matter in such a negative learning environment?

I spoke at a USA Basketball coaching clinic last year, and that was my question, from a coach education standpoint. The majority of speakers, as with most basketball clinics, spoke about progression of drills, offensive plays, defensive systems, etc. To my knowledge, coaching and pedagogy received little attention: How and when to give feedback; how to create a good learning environment; how to motivate; how to develop the right mindset in players; the effect of demonstrations; and more. Clinics tend to focus on what to do, and we leave the how and why up for interpretation. We expect adults to behave correctly and with the best interests of their players, but do not address these standards.

The coach in question was particularly disturbing to me because the DA is set up to develop players. How can a player develop in that environment? Rather than attempt to control every action and criticize every mistake, here is Pep Guardiola talking about young players:

There is a huge disconnect between Guardiola’s words and the coach’s actions, but this coach is not an outlier. The previous week, I refereed a local youth tournament. This tournament had specific rules that coaches were to sit on the bench unless they stood to give a brief tactical instruction. At half-time, I asked a coach to sit down. He argued that he was in his technical area. I explained the rules. He said that he was giving tactical instructions. I replied that yelling “That was a terrible pass” or “Stop doing that” at an 11-year-old is not a tactical instruction. He complained further and I told him to feel free to speak to the tournament organizer who was about 20 yards away. Instead, he sat down, stopped yelling at his players, and his team played better in the second half and won.

Somehow, we have an idea that coaching means constantly telling players what to do, and silence means that the coach is not doing anything. We have the idea that a coach standing and pacing is coaching, but one sitting down does not care enough about winning. I hear these comments from parents at high school games, and have seen coaching hiring/firing decisions based on these perceptions of coaching.

Players have been indoctrinated into these behaviors. I had a player who had never played on a basketball team, but was forced to play varsity basketball because the school only had 6 girls come out for the team, tell me that I needed to yell at the team more and that would make the team win. I asked her if she tried her best. She said yes. I asked her if she played hard. She said yes. I asked her what she wanted me to yell about. I asked her if she wanted me to yell at her because opponents were bigger and better and had played basketball for longer. She said, “Yeah, you’re right coach.” Why would I yell at a girl who had the guts to come out for a high school basketball team and who never lost her enthusiasm as her team was blown out repeatedly? Because other players are better than her? Is yelling and ridiculing her somehow going to improve her jump shot?

Unfortunately, that is often the expectations that we have for coaches, and a reason that nobody questions this DA coach. After all, he has a license. He probably was a good player. Of course he is a good coach, that is why a top club hired him.

Now, maybe I caught him on a bad day. Who knows? The larger point is that he is not too different than a vast majority of youth coaches. This, of course, is why people believe that we need more coach education; we ned to educate these coaches. Does it work? He has a license. At least on this day, it did not work. Despite his license, he embodied the worst of youth coaching.

Rather than emphasizing coach education, we should emphasize finding the right type of person to coach children. Once we find the right people, educate, develop, and mentor these people. Our emphasis should be coach development, not coach education. We should focus on the why and how more than the what. The what is easy to find on YouTube; there are drills for everything, plays to beat any type of defense, etc. But, how to instruct? How to demonstrate? How to give feedback? How to respond to a mistake? Why use a specific drill? Why stop the action to speak? This is the knowledge that we tend to leave up to experience to accrue, which is why we have wildly different impressions on the proper way to coach. These questions are far more important than answering whether we should do a three-man weave or run the Flex or a three-out motion offense.

Fake Fundamentals in Japan

My 2017 Reading List

In the tradition of lists from 2014, 2015, and 2016, here is my reading list for 2017.

The Athletic Skills Model: Optimizing Talent Development Through Movement Education – Rene Wormhoudt

I admit that I have waited for this book for nearly 5 years and the authors are preaching to the choir. It is a very good book, but for a model, I would like a few more details. I like the book because it conforms to much of what I believe: early diversification, more focus on motor control, differential learning, and more. It is a good mix of the practical and theoretical.

Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALS, and Maverick Scientists are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work – Steven Kotler

I like Kotler’s The Rise of Superman better, but he does a good job of mixing stories with science. The book recommends everything from meditation to pharmacological aids in the pursuit of creativity and flow.

Now What? The Ongoing Pursuit of Improved Performance – Dan John

As I have written elsewhere, Dan John is my favorite writer in athletic development. Easy Strength is one of the books that I recommend the most. Now What summarizes many of his ideas from past books and provides some clear advice to make change. His wisdom is simple, yet profound.

Shakespeare the Coach – Ricin’s Charlesworth

An interesting look at the issues of coaching through the lens of Shakespeare.

The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation – Thich Nhat Hanh

I just couldn’t get into this book.

Sports Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation: Integrating Medicine and Science for Performance Solutions – David Joyce and Daniel Lewindon

I did not read this book from cover to cover. I have skimmed specific chapters at specific times. It is a valuable resource to which I can refer when a player is injured, and I need some new ideas to assist the player with her rehab.

Comprehensive Strength and Conditioning: Physical Preparation for Sports Performance – Paul Gamble

I read this book to see if it would be a better book for the Introduction to Strength & Conditioning class that I taught. I preferred it to the text that we used. It is a good, easy to use guide for S&C.

Leading: Learning from Life and My Years at Manchester United – Alex Ferguson

I generally am not a fan of coach’s autobiographies, but this starts strong before petering out a the end. The book has great insights into leadership and the management of the team.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups or How to Build the Future – Peter Thiel

An interesting look at business that has some cross over to sports, especially with the emphasis on principles instead of formulas.

Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions – Gerd Gigerenzer

A good explanation of the importance of rules of thumb or heuristics when faced with uncertainty.

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise – K. Anders Ericsson

I know virtually every coach recommends this book, but I found it somewhat disingenuous. I never heard Ericsson question Gladwell’s interpretation of his research until scientists such as Ross Tucker began to debate his research methods and conclusions. I also find it hard to believe that he has never heard of Jean Cote and Cote and colleagues’ research into deliberate play. There may be nuggets of value in the book, but these are the issues that stand out to me.

Confessions of an Imperfect Coach: An Experiment in Team Culture That Changed Everything – Kate Leavell

Leavell is a lacrosse coach, but the book is about coaching and team culture, not lacrosse. The big take away from the book is to read Energy Bus by Jon Gordon. There are some good parts, and some good reminders for coaches who are feeling bad or feeling like they are failing, but overall, the book rambles.

Additionally, I read several books by Simon Rich, finally finished Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon, and thoroughly enjoyed Exit West: A Novel by Mohsin Hamid, which was my favorite book of the year.

Steve Nash on Mike D’Antoni’s Genius

When I presented for Positive Coaching Alliance working with Ray Lokar, he often said that coaches work in the fish bowl; everyone watches the coach from the outside, often without knowledge of the environment, but the coach always is in front of an audience. This pressure from the fish bowl shapes many of the negative behaviors that we see from coaches: I once watched a coach who would yell loud enough for everyone in the audience to hear him, “Player, we practiced that yesterday for 20 minutes. How can you make that mistake?” There was no information; in essence, he was saying, “Look, I did everything that I could at practice and it is your child who is messing up, not me.” I was appalled, but I see this behavior to some degree fairly often.  Read more

Coach development, not coach education or certification

I imagine the following is based directly or indirectly on the writings of Mark O’Sullivan, Mark Upton, Richard Bailey, Stuart Armstrong, and others.

If you spend enough time on social media and basketball blogs, someone will suggest that the United States is falling behind in basketball because of a lack of coach education. Now, there certainly are issues with basketball in the United States, just as there are issues with just about everything, but I am unsure of the narrative that the U.S. is falling behind. Game 3 of the NBA Finals reportedly was the most watched Game 3 on ABC in NBA Finals history, and nearly every important player was developed in the United States (Kyrie Irving is Australian and Tristan Thompson is Canadian, but Irving went to all four years of high school in New Jersey, and Thompson went to three years of high school in the U.S.; LeBron, Curry, Klay, Durant, Draymond, J.R., Love, Igoudala, Livingston, Korver, Shumpert, McGee, McCaw, Clark, etc. are all products of the disastrous U.S. development system; only Zaza Pachulia was not influenced by the U.S. system in his formative years).

Beyond the debatable premise is the idea of coach education as a panacea for whatever perceived ills there are in the United States. Many point to Lithuania or Canada as models of how the U.S. could improve, and there certainly is room to improve. As I wrote in Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development, with the amount of money invested in basketball in the United States, our goal should not be to be better than other countries, but to create the best possible developmental system. However, I am unsure if coach education is the answer.

Some believe that coaches in the United States should have a degree in coaching, as do many coaches in Europe. This is not practical. I have three main problems with this:

  1. The vast majority of coaching jobs in the United States are volunteer or near-volunteer jobs. Does it make any sense for someone to get a Bachelor’s in coaching in order to get hired as a high school coach who has to teach a different subject as his or her primary job to earn the $1500 stipend to coach basketball? Until there are numerous full-time coaching jobs, requiring a degree makes little practical sense.
  2. If we believe that a coaching degree should be a requirement for youth or high school college coaches, professional and college coaches who make far more money should be held to at least the same standards, if not greater standards. To me, it is quite disingenuous for college and professional coaches to complain about the lack of coach education for youth and high school coaches when there is zero coach education requirement for a college or professional coach. College and professional coaches are hired in the same way as youth and high school coaches: Some combination of who you know, previous experience, and playing experience. There are dozens of recent college graduates hired as first-year assistant coaches for next season. They may or may not have majored in kinesiology, physical education, or coaching. They are hired primarily because they played college basketball, and their coaches recommended them to another coach or hired them on their own staffs. How does that in any way qualify them to be a coach? They coach for 10-15 years as an assistant, then get hired as a head coach, and that gives them the authority to complain about coach education for youth coaches? If coach education and coach certification and academic requirements are important for youth and high school coaches who are barely compensated for their time, surely they should be a requirement for those who are making full-time incomes from coaching.
  3. Teaching and coaching are not the same thing. Please do not respond that teachers have to have degrees in their subjects and a teaching credential. I understand. They also are hired as full-time employees to teach. As soon as coaches are hired as full-time coaches with no teaching responsibilities on top of their coaching schedules, I will agree that coaches should have a Bachelor’s in coaching and a coaching credential.

In the United States, we need more coaches, not less. Rather than raise the bar to entry, as many suggest, we should welcome more coaches. Rather than complain about fathers and mothers who donate their time to coach youth teams, we should thank them. Rather than complain that they do not have a certification, we should help them.

We need to encourage new coaches to try coaching, and once we get volunteers in the door, we need to develop these coaches. Rather than putting up barriers of education and certification, we need to recruit new coaches and mentor them. This is coach development.

How do we develop the skills of players? Do we sit them in a classroom, lecture them for a few hours, and send them on their way? No. We work with players day by day; we organize drills to attack weaknesses and build strengths; we provide feedback; we review practice at its conclusion and set goals for future practice. Why don’t we develop the skills of coaching in the same way?

Rather than organize a one-time clinic, most of which covers basketball strategy not coaching, or requiring degrees and certifications, many of which are completed online, we need mentors or master coaches to guide and mentor new coaches.

Practically, this is difficult; however, it is more practical than requiring Bachelor’s degrees for all coaches or forcing volunteers to pay for clinics that may or may not be good.

As an example, imagine a local YMCA or Parks & Recreation league; let’s say there are 5 age groups with 6 teams per age group, or 30 teams. That is 30 coaches. For those 30 coaches, there should be a master coach who acts as a mentor. This master coach should be a paid position. If we can pay teenagers to walk up and down the court and barely blow a whistle for $15/game (x2), we can pay a master coach to mentor coaches. Which benefits the children more? If we can have parent volunteers as our coaches, why not use parent volunteers as referees and use the money to mentor those volunteers who have the most direct impact on the players?

The master coach could attend a few practices per week, visiting each coach at least once every few weeks, to offer advice and feedback. Rather than running a pre-league clinic where a speaker goes through his press break and motion offense, the mentor can offer direct feedback to the coach. Why did you do this drill? What are you hoping to achieve? What about your feedback?

Years ago, there was a name trainer in Los Angeles who paid me to mentor him. He had dozens more private clients than I did, but he wanted to improve, and he felt that I could help him. I attended a workout on a Saturday, and we met on the Monday to talk. We did this a handful of times. Most of my feedback was directed to his feedback. In his case, most of his feedback was general; it was so frequent, it became white noise in the background. Nobody had told him this. He had trained hundreds if not thousands of players of all levels, often had dozens of parents watch him on a weekend, and directed camps around the world, and nobody had given him this feedback. He decided he wanted to improve, and he sought out someone who he felt would give him this feedback.

That is unusual. Few trainers or coaches seek out feedback in this manner. Few leagues, schools, school districts, or organizations provide coaches with this type of feedback. Most coach education focuses on safety (CPR, safe environment, etc) and basketball strategy (run this offense, attack a zone like this). Rarely do we focus on actual coaching: how do we instruct? How do we offer feedback? How do we progress a drill? However, these things matter the most. If you have the best zone offense, but you cannot teach it or provide feedback during or after the players run it, how good will the offense be? We focus on the outcome, not the process because the process is hard.

Coach education has a place or a role, but we should place a higher emphasis on coach development. How can we help coaches to improve? How can we develop coaches?

Many teachers have problems because they get their degree and their certification, enter a classroom, and have no support. The neat and organized powerpoint presentations and theories don’t necessarily work exactly the same way in the real world. Some teachers thrive; some manage; many quit. Would the same scenario play out with mandatory coach education or certification?

Coach development should be an on-going process, not a one-time session or a program with a definitive endpoint and certificate. Leagues, schools, and organizations need to identify the master coaches and use them as resources; use them to develop and mentor the next generation of coaches.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

Luck and landing a college coaching job

Seventeen years after I first was hired as an assistant college basketball coach, I was hired as a part-time head coach at the junior college level. I would like to think that I have earned the opportunity with my work and persistence, but the actual process of landing the job was good fortune and luck. Because many people ask how to get such and such job, here is my story (following my story of how I was hired to coach in Europe). Read more

Airplane reads and the goal of coach development

I listened to a podcast last night with a prominent strength and conditioning coach, hosted by another strength and conditioning coach, and the prominent coach boasted about not reading any books on strength and conditioning. Instead, he reads business books to improve his coaching.This is common, if my Twitter feed is any indication, as coaches now gravitate toward business and self-help books.

Read more

Practice Planning Presentation

Basketball terminology: Different moves by the same name

Read more

Next Page »

  • 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.

    Read more →

  • 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.

    Read more →