Coaching behaviors build from general beliefs about human nature

I learned two rules during my childhood that I will never forget: (1) Turn off the lights when you leave the room; and (2) if you’re not early, you’re late. The tweet below captures the second rule and represents a standard belief among many coaches. I think this tweet says a lot more.

Now, being early is a good thing. When players rush in right as practice starts, they may not be prepared or ready to go. Of course, why are they rushing or late? I am rarely bothered by a player arriving late because I assume that the player had to do something important that prevented her from being on time. Players had classes, one had to babysit her little brother and sister and pick them up from school, players had to rely on the athletic trainer being on time at a school that refused to pay for a full-time trainer, and more. I trusted that players wanted to be at practice, and consequently their tardiness was due to something important and/or unavoidable. The only time that tardiness irritated me was morning practices when players did not have classes or anything prior to practice, and tardiness was due to forgetting to set an alarm clock or hitting snooze too many times. However, even then, I never had much to say to the player who had to rely on her grandfather to drive her through traffic because she lived at home and did not have her own car, while the majority of players lived on the corner and rode their bikes 5 minutes to the gym.

I trust players want to be at practice; the attitude expressed in the tweet suggests a belief that players do not want to be there. In an old Harvard Business School article titled, “On managing with Bobby Knight and Coach K”, Sean Silverthorne wrote:

I don’t have a lot of rules or use a lot of punishment because I believe my players want to do their best and are self-motivated. Despite not having this arrive 15-20 minutes early policy, players often arrived 30+ minutes early and stayed after practice until the men’s team or volleyball kicked them off the court. They played shooting games or did their rehab exercises or sat and talked. No rules were needed; just high expectations, and self-motivated players.

How does a coach maintain or strengthen the players’ self-motivation? Autonomy helps. Creating more rules does not give players greater autonomy.

Children Shall Dunk – Or How to Re-imagine Basketball

We should re-imagine basketball.

The current rules are designed to suit men’s top level. Elite players can go coast-to-coast in a flash, palm the ball, throw end-to-end passes, dunk the ball thunderously, hit threes as if they were lay-ups. You know, do all kinds of cool stuff and play in 3D. Read more

Whose game is it anyway?

This weekend, I refereed three under-9 boys soccer games (6v6) in a local tournament. At one point, there was confusion between the tournament rules and normal rules, so I stopped the game briefly to clarify with a tournament director. After roughly 10 minutes, the tournament director returned and changed the rules again. Read more

Should leagues mandate equal playing time for youth basketball?

When I coached junior varsity girls basketball and freshmen boys basketball, I committed to playing every player in every half of every game. Initially, the varsity coach instructed me to play everyone in every game with the JV team, but I continued to play everyone at the next school, even when I felt that the varsity coach disagreed with the egalitarian approach to playing time. To me, these are developmental levels, and playing everyone fits with a developmental model. Read more

Coaching a European Club – Week 17

Trying to incorporate a new player in the middle of the season is difficult, especially with limited court time. Even with a fairly realistic practice plan each day, we failed to get through everything that I hoped to cover in each practice because of time spent reviewing old plays and defensive calls for our new guy. It’s not his fault, but in a week where we were preparing to play the best team in the league, it was not ideal either, especially when he ended up fouling out in less than 8 minutes of action.  Read more

How Important are Rules to Skill Development?

I am working with an after-school program. The children vary day by day and by skill level. We have a couple children who have played in leagues, and many who have never played previously and do not know the rules. Several days per week, the soccer players play basketball, so there is a big mix of size, skill and experience level.

Today, we played 5v5, 6v6, 7v7 and then 4v4 on the side courts. One beginner never plays offense, but is a great and enthusiastic defender. Others cherry pick. Rarely is everyone on one end of the court at the same time.

As I watched them play today – I am not really coaching, but leading an activity – I had a thought: do rules really matter for beginners?

As I watched, players traveled, double-dribbled and fouled. The best players, however, encouraged the weaker players, even when they traveled or double-dribbled. The better players did not take advantage of the slack rules. Instead, players essentially played with rules that allowed them to compete. Good players played by a strict interpretations of the rules; average players played with a loose interpretation; and bad or beginner players played with almost no rules or violations.

From a developmental perspective, is that a bad thing? As I recall, that is how we played on the playground when I was a child. We accommodated the lesser players and allowed them a little more freedom to balance the competitive levels.

In two weeks, I certainly notice improvement from some of the beginners. Players who shied away from the ball last week now ask for the ball and attempt shots. One player asked about the proper shooting technique. Another pivoted out of a trap and made a good pass.

Ironically, the best player played his best game today. I don’t think he has improved his skills, but his attitude toward others has softened and his leadership and passing increased. Also, I play some of the time to give him a small challenge and to keep him from getting bored.

From a player development standpoint, more experienced or better players should not stay in this environment for too long, as they need challenges to continue their development. However, for beginner and recreational players, is it bad to ignore or ease the rules to give beginners an opportunity to learn the game by playing the game without constant interruptions for violations?

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

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