Coaching Development and the “Special One”

This weekend, Inter won the Champions League trophy completing the treble for the storied Italian club and its Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho, who nicknamed himself the “Special One.” I have been intrigued by Mourinho for some time, and Adrian Flynn from Basketball Scotland recommended an interview from the January 2005 UEFA Newsletter for Coaches.

For someone with an audacious nickname like the “Special One,” he recognizes the long process of becoming a head coach:

“The first step was to study, the next step was to develop young players and the third step was to work alongside a big coach at a pro level. I repeat, the process was step by step.”

Mourinho attended a sports university where he studied and then moved to Scotland to pursue the FA’s Coaching Courses. He started his coaching with U16s.

To improve basketball coaching, we need to alter our perceptions of what it takes to be a good coach. This week, after the fallout from the Hanley Ramirez incident in Florida, Dime Magazine asked if former professional players make better professional coaches. To me, too many former players feel entitled to coaching positions and do not want to engage in a process similar to Mourinho’s. Scottie Pippen famously said that he only wanted to coach the Chicago Bulls, and he felt that his playing career prepared him to step in as the Head Coach without any coaching experience at any level. He may be right. However, his attitude toward coaching suggests that the profession is easy and requires little work or study. I find that insulting.

If the greatest soccer coach on the planet believes in the process starting with studying the the game, the sports science and the coaching methodology and then moving to coaching young players before moving to the professional level as an assistant, why should we expect anything less of our basketball coaches?

Mourinho talks about the different philosophies that he learned during the FA Coaching Course:

“Your methods made me think about methodology in a different way. The way that you used small-sided games to develop technical, tactical and fitness elements – a global view of coaching.”

Many coaches rely on their playing experience to create their own coaching philosophy, so the ideas and practices of past generations are passed to future generations and many practices go unchallenged. Despite no research to suggest that static stretching before basketball reduces injuries or improves performance, most teams continue to static stretch before practice and games. It is part of the basketball culture that is passed down from generation to generation because coaches accept its validity without asking about its efficacy. Unless a coach pursues outside information, how does he change his philosophy and adopt more up to date training principles?

Small-sided games are a valuable tool for basketball development as well, yet many coaches run laps around the track for fitness or use 5v0 drills to teach offensive concepts. Why not use small-sided games? Why do eight and nine-year-olds play full-court, 5v5 games just like professional players? Why not teach the game step-by-step?

Mourinho clearly gets coaching. He says that he tells youngsters who are trying to follow him:

“Don’t accept what I tell you as pure truth.”

Mourinho learned from some of the best minds in soccer, like his opponent this weekend in Louis Van Gaal as well as Bobby Robson, yet he used these experiences to help formulate his own philosophy. He did not copy their methods or ideas. He asked questions. He adopted and adapted. Too many young coaches copy their mentors blindly without questioning methods and methodology or searching for the most effective way. If it was good enough for them as a player, it is good enough for their players – however, don’t we tell players that good enough is never good enough? That good is the enemy of great? Why should a coach accept good enough when he does not accept good enough from his players?

Mourinho professes a global approach to coaching, rather than divide all aspects of the game into segments.

“My fitness coach, for example, works with me on the tactical systems, advising on time, distance, and space.”

In basketball, the strength & conditioning coach is like a separate entity. I know several college coaches who ignore their strength coaches’ recommendations and there is little to no continuity or integration between fitness training and skill development or tactical training. Basketball players now seem to go to a strength coach/personal trainer for their physical development, a shooting coach/skill instructor for the on-court skill development and their team coach for their tactical development. There is little to no integration. Even at the college level where a head coach oversees all aspects, most coaches do individual workouts where they address skill deficiencies and use practice time for team concepts and strategy. There is little integration between fitness, skill development and tactical development.

Mourinho says:

I want to develop tactical aspects of the game: how to press, when to press, transitions, ball possession, positional play. After that, other things come – the physical and psychological aspects are part of the exercises.

Using small-sided games enables a basketball coach to follow a similar philosophy (the foundation of Blitz Basketball) and use a global approach to team, fitness and skill development.

Mourinho believes that he has a flexible management style, but that he is very demanding in training. He understands that different situations call for different tactics. With youth and high school teams, some timeouts and half-times need a calm and reassuring coach, while other times the coach needs to motivate or light a fire under the players.

Mourinho is indeed special. He understands coaching as a profession and as a passion, not just as a disposable job like Pippen. He appreciates the growth of a coach and the process to become a good (great) coach. Unfortunately, in the United States, we rarely see this same type of process, as most move directly from playing to assisting to head coaching without the first two stages. If we value coaching, and player development, we need to create this process of coach development to raise the standard of coaching at every level.

By Brian McCormick
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development and Director of Coaching for the Playmakers Basketball Development League.

  • 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 →