Coaching the individual: Contrast not compare

Contrast, don’t compare. When I speak to parents, this is one of the lessons that I share. Contrast your son or daughter from a previous moment of time until now to measure improvement and see how he or she is progressing, but do not compare your child to another child. Children develop and learn at different rates. Each child, each player is an individual, and should be treated as an individual. This is one of the most important lessons that I learned as a young coach from the HoopMasters director Jerome Green.

Byron Scott has not learned this lesson. He constantly compares rookie D’Angelo Russell to others:

“[Irving] was just a little bit more mature,” Scott said. “At 19, he was a little bit more businesslike at practice and games. D’Angelo still has a playfulness about him. Sometimes in practice he’s joking around and losing a little bit of focus. But he’s 19. I understand that. Chris Paul was probably like 23 years old by the time he came into the league in his mental capacity. But like I said, each point guard, each guy I have, is different.”

Who cares if Irving or Paul was more mature? How does that help Russell now? Why should that affect a coach’s opinion of a player now? Why should a former player in a different franchise affect a current player’s playing time?

Scott answers the question. They’re different. Therefore, they need to be coached differently. They should have different expectations. The goal is not to turn Russell into Irving or Paul; the goal is to maximize Russell’s talent.

I worked with a player years ago. Before a session, his father, a former NCAA D1 player, told me that he needed to get quicker with the ball because he was not like another, high-ranked player. My player was already 6’3 with long limbs and high hips; the other player was 5’9 with short legs and a thick, muscular physique (picture Stephe Curry next to Isaiah Thomas). I told him that it was stupid to try and be like the other player; they were different. Instead, if he wanted examples to demonstrate his strengths and how to use them, I suggested Curry and Russell Westbrook (when they were in college). Like Westbrook, he was built to be a straight-line, one move type of player, not a shifty, in and out, multiple move jitterbug type. Like Curry, his biggest strength was his three-point shooting, and he could use his shooting to set up everything else. His shooting would make him quicker. Rather than compare himself to another player, and try to be a less successful facsimile of him, he needed to embrace his strengths and develop into the best player that he could be. One did not have to be a jitterbug, multiple move type of player to be an effective point guard. The other player was just one example of one way to play the position, but Curry, Westbrook, and others offer other examples of ways to play point guard with different body types and different strengths. If I had compared the player to the higher-ranked player, and changed our training to try to make them more alike, the player likely would have ended up as a lesser version of the other player rather than maximizing his skills and potential to become one of the best shooters in NCAA basketball.

Players are individuals. They need to be coached differently. Some respond better to yelling; some to pats on the back. Part of coaching is figuring out what each individual needs, and then figuring out how to accommodate all of the individual needs within a team environment. In many ways, that is the biggest challenge with coaching, and it tends to be more difficult at younger ages because there is so much variance. An u12 team could have a 12-year-old who looks and acts like he is 14, and a 12-year-old who looks and acts like he is 10 because of the differences in growth and maturation. One player could be a pure beginner, and another could have played for 5 seasons already. These differences in maturity, growth, and experience create big differences in the way that a coach would need to coach, instruct, motivate, and inspire these players. One cannot have the same expectations, nor treat the players the same. They are different, and a coach needs to appreciate the differences, and make the best effort possible to coach each as an individual within the team setting.

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

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