Monday, December 7, 2009

I have yet to see a "Man" game this year!

I was so glad when my child became too old for the younger divisions of YMCA basketball. You know the division where they put the little yellow dots on the floor indicating where the children should run to on defense. The yellow dots are placed in a 2-1-2 zone alignment and the kids are obligated to stay in those spots.

Two years ago my child was still in that age group and playing on a undefeated team. They beat everybody badly. I will say that my child had little to do with the success(point production) of that team. She was a robot, just running to the designated spots. I would yell "put your hands up sweetie", while my stomach ached while watching this charade. The major reasons for her teams' success were two girls named Vanessa and Isis. They both were aggressive and bent the rules a little bit. Some would say they cheated. These too aggressive young girls would leave their RESTRICTED areas and go and steal the ball away from hapless dribblers. Isis was especially good at recognizing a good opportunity to ever so slightly leave her robot zone and jump on unproficient ball handlers. The referee would warn her but she got away with enough of these "illegal" actions to earn a few breakaway layups in transition every game. The final score would resemble something like 8-2 or 14-3.

The YMCA does great things by providing a place for our youngsters to get introduced to this great game. I think a major reason for the robot dots are to balance the playing field and instill some structure. However, what about the high school level? Why are we still using the robot dots to restrict players? While the reasoning behind the restriction of players is not the same as in YMCA ball, the environment is still crippling good basketball players. Our high school Isis' are still being held back by restrictive environments. But, I truly understand why.

High school basketball coaches are paid to win games. They inevitably help instill lifelong lessons of leadership, responsibility, perseverance, dedication, etc.; but teachers, counselors,clergy, and parents probably instill those principles better than most coaches. Coaches get paid to put their programs in the position to succeed. They are not supposed to teach at the expense of victory. They are not obligated to prepare kids for the collegiate level by ensuring their systems reflect the demands and expectations of the collegiate level. At least at high school girls level these things seem to be true. However, the prevalence of Zone defenses are hurting us on a state and national stage. Some thoughts follow:

- High School Coaches/Teachers?- While club coaches bare a huge responsibility in teaching Man defense, the fact remains that high school coaches have more time with players than any other coach. Girls basketball players attend athletic periods for at least one hour a day for 180 days of school. Add 3 days of 2 hours after school practices for 5 months for a total of 120 hours. Athletic periods with addition to practice time provides at least 300 hours of TEACHING TIME for high school coaches. A club coach practicing year around twice a week for two hours would still have players approximately 100 less hours than high school coaches. Is this not enough time to teach players how to play man defense?

- Girls do not play unstructured ball- Seldomly will you find a group of girls playing a game of 21 or pick up ball. In these unorganized environments, rarely will you find someone playing a zone. In a good pick up game, you guard your "man" and prevent him/her from scoring. In competitive games where losers sit and wait to play again, guarding your "man" becomes extremely important. If your "man" has his/her way with you and scores at will, you will find yourself increasing ostracized as a defensive liability. The urgency to defend your "man" and not give up buckets does wonders in establishing a mindset to play defense. Pride is instilled and competitiveness is enhanced. The lack of girls in these type of games amplifies the need for "man" defense to be honed elsewhere.

- No Shot Clock- The lack of a shot clock allows for less talented teams to stay in games. In essence, this rewards undedictaed players. Playing zone defense primarily in a state with no shot clock really restricts individual growth. Watching teams run one minute off of the clock while playing catch on the perimeter, while the defense is packed in the paint in zone formation is like watching paint dry. Besides inaction, this penalizes the kid who is elite. She has worked harder than most but her offensive touches are limited due to teams milking the clock and her coach not allowing her to press the action. Like young Isis, she just guards her area and "breaks the rules" if she leaves her dot and messes with her coaches master plan. Never mind that her coaches' master plan and the lack of a shot clock is disadvantageous to her excelling at the next level.

- Boring!!!- Comalander Stadium is hopping with excitement in September. Fans pack the bleachers and school spirit abounds. Fast forward to early December and on the same grounds, Blossom gym is empty. The only attendees are 50 or so parents for both teams and a handful of fans. One of the main reasons for the empty gyms is that all the zone defenses make the game boring and hard to watch. I recently watched a game featuring two of the best teams in San Antonio and the final score was a whopping 31-28!!! A YMCA-like score all over again!!! Less than a point a minute for two of the best teams our city has to offer. Of course both teams zoned the entire game. Cheering the occasional three pointer is fine but the game is still tough to watch. The majority of the scoring comes from three point shots or free throws. The free throws are a result of kids finally having to move their feet on defense and fouling. They are not prepared to stay in front of players on defense so they inevitably foul when put in those situations. The clock stops, then comes more zone and more time to watch the paint dry.

-Preparation- Can our local players play in a Rutgers styled match up zone. When Rutgers played Florida the other night, I found it amusing how the announcers had a challenging time naming the type of defense that Rutgers was in. At times it resembled a 1-3-1 zone but morphed into a 3-2 then into a 2-3 and always ended up at a variation of man. This match up zone exemplifies the need for our local kids to get better preparation at the high school level. Most zones at the competitive level turns into a match-up zone with man principles. Take UTSA's recent loss to University of Houston. The Roadrunners had trouble stopping the high scoring guards of the Cougars so they incorporated an inverted triangle and two. The defense had elements of a zone that eventually matched up into a man while two defenders constantly chased and denied the primary scorers. These advanced scouting reports and defensive assignments/strategies can not be executed with players who have only been taught to play in zone defenses in local high schools.

I had one coach argue that San Antonio schools can not play man and compete with other schools in the state because of athleticism, or lack there of. I argue the opposite. If San Antonio kids were taught to play "man" at a young age, they would be more prepared to compete with the other schools in the state. It is not like we are defeating these schools in the state tournament anyway. I am not advocating not utilizing a zone every now and then but to make it your primary defense at such an critical learning period is contrary to teaching. In fact, it is coaching or managing with the resources that have been given. That is fine at the Major League Baseball level but shouldn't coaches still teach?

Traveling throughout the country this summer I found it interesting to see some of the best man defense being played in areas like rural Indiana, Oklahoma and Kansas. These areas are not commonly associated with great athleticism. However, they are known for having great coaching/teaching. I thought I was done with the days of dots and robots. How foolish of me!