Monday, August 10, 2009

Learning by falling down

The MAYB National event was more than an eye opener for me in regards to player development. It also helped me grow as a coach. In hindsight, I can say that I learned from mistakes that I made during critical times of our elimination game. My lessons follow:

1. Square One- I pride myself on teaching basic fundamentals to my kids. I enjoy seeing my 6'0 rising 8th grader handle two ball drills with ease. I delight in the sight of a perfect fast break that includes no dribbling and resulting in an uncontested layup. Forgive me for feeling myself as I proudly wear the badge of a DEVELOPER! But, I forgot to emphasize some elementary things to the kids who trust me to teach them.

After going undefeated in pool play, we faced a team that was well coached and featured a couple of outstanding players. Long story short, we had a 7 point lead at halftime and I knew this game was ours. I am blessed with a couple of young 5'10 kids that have played the game for an entire year. As I trumpet their ball handling and footwork ability that they have learned from me, I failed to ingrain a SIMPLE skill that is needed to succeed; boxing out aggressively on free throws attempts. Not once, not twice, but three times did my young and gifted players fail to box out on free throw attempts in the last minute of a 1 point game. Now, if this was a one time occurrence, then I could put the blame on my player(s). After all, I did yell for them to box out before the every attempt. But, three times, from two different players, leads me to the fact that I AM THE REASON for the failed assignments. I prepare my practice plans down to every second. I never get to all of the drills and skill development that I have planned. Even though I incorporate rebounding drills, I obviously should have emphasized and put an importance on this very important facet of the game.

2. Put Players in a Position to succeed- I have an immensely talented guard. She is 5'8, athletic, and skilled thanks to a couple of years of hard work and my guidance. I feel I can say that, without being exceedingly cocky since this kid came to me as a 5'6 post player two years ago. Out of 42 teams and approximately 400 players, there was not more than 8-10 players who were better than my girl. I am extremely proud of her! But, she is not a point guard, yet. I play her at the point since my point guard from last year moved on to a more advanced level. My former point guard was born to be such. She is among the best at her age , PERIOD! My new point guard is a naturally slashing scorer that can now handle the ball. She is not a pure point guard; at least not yet. While I run a continuous offense that allows for freedom, I called a timeout while down 1 point with 50 seconds left in the game. I chose to run a set that I took from UTSA. The problem was that I expected my 13 year old girl to be Southland Conference Player of the Year, Monica Gibbs. Predictably, she was not and I realized my mistake immediately. While I teach the dribble pitch often through drills, I failed to incorporate the dribble pitch against aggressive man defense in practice. This lack of preparation led to my very promising girl to travel at a crucial time in the game. MY FAULT!

3. Players make plays- I had what I thought was the perfect game plan. My opponent was lead by two extremely good players. One was a skilled 6'0 post player that thrived in the high post and the other was a very good lefty point guard who was a killer. My plan was to make everyone else beat us. I had my small forward forget sound defensive principles and face guard the Big for the entire game. This worked to a T, since she failed to score a bucket or grab many boards. I also had my players deny the gifted point guard when she did not have the ball and cut the floor in half by forcing her right when she did happen to get it. The plan worked until she decided that enough was enough. She scored 10 points in the last 3 minutes of the game because of my failure to adjust my plans. I should have sent an additional player to trap and force this young guard to give up the ball. Instead, I left my very effective defender on an island by herself, while facing one of the best kids in the tournament. I recently blogged about how ineffective Bruce Bowen would be without solid defensive help behind him. While I teach the shell drill and help side defense as much as most good club coaches, I obviously could do a better job. This crafty point guard did what elite players do; Make plays! While she made plays, I did not adjust my defensive strategy in the clutch to combat her killer instinct.

Oh well, back to the laboratory! While I sulked in the defeat I was reminded of another lesson. Falling down is just an opportunity to get back up. This lesson was reaffirmed by my 13 year old players in the form of singing out of tune and flavored slushies.

After secluding myself in my hotel room for a while, I decided to walk across the street to Sonic and indulge my disappointment with a greasy burger at 10 pm. It just so happened that 6 of my players were roaming the halls and having a blast. Their young minds had already put the crushing defeat behind them. After OK'ing it with their parents, they decided they would walk to Sonic with me and let me treat them to a slushie. How thoughful of them! While sitting with another parent and enjoying my cholesterol fix, a song came on the radio of the Sonic establishment and my players went crazy singing it. While I had to smile at their lack of vocal ability, I listened to the words. It went:

Cause there is always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose

Aint about how fast I get there
Aint about whats waiting on the the other side,
It's the Climb

Who knew that a few girls, singing a corny Miley Cyrus song, could help a basketball coach forget a stingy lost. "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings come all wise sayings." INDEED!!!