The Role of Joy in Attracting Top Talent

July 5th, 2016

by Paul Cortes
Assistant Varsity Boys Coach, International High School
Youth Basketball Coach, San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department
AAU Coach, Bay City Basketball

People have come up with numerous narratives for why Kevin Durant, in one of the biggest free agent announcements in NBA history, chose to join the Golden State Warriors. I’m not going to pretend to know any better than anyone else what Kevin Durant’s motivations are. However, a recent press conference introducing former Golden State assistant Luke Walton as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers offers a glimpse into what makes Golden State so special—the environment that Steve Kerr has helmed as head coach. Walton said: Read the rest of this entry »

Can sports be fun and serious simultaneously?

February 25th, 2016

Fun and play are contentious topics in sports, as serious coaches, especially at younger age groups, believe that fun and seriousness are diametrically opposed. When forced to choose between two opposite, traditional coaches choose seriousness because sports are supposed to be serious, competitive endeavors. What? Sports are games. They are play. Why can’t fun and play be part of the sports experience, especially with young players? Read the rest of this entry »

Fun Games, Obesity, and Burnout

December 2nd, 2013

Originally published by Los Angeles Sports & Fitness, September 2013.

Every day, my twitter feed is littered with articles about childhood obesity, and the need for children to eat better and exercise more. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. In 2011, only 29% percent of high school students had participated in the recommended 60 minutes per day of physical activity on each of the 7 days before the survey (CDC, 2011). Meanwhile, I am bombarded with articles about burnout and the need for recovery. Are the two related? How can we – at the same time – have a nation plagued by obesity from a lack of physical activity and a nation plagued by burnout and overtraining in youth athletes? Read the rest of this entry »

Teaching a complex game to novice basketball players

September 10th, 2013

This afternoon, I conducted a basketball clinic for children who had never played basketball. I knew that it would be a challenge when the boys and girls ran around throwing and kicking balls into the handball/futsal goals prior to the start. The children wore F.C. Barcelona jerseys and handball shoes. This was different than doing previous clinics with beginners in India where the children were happy for any activity. These were children with choices, and they had made their choice not to play basketball. Read the rest of this entry »

The Shoot-Around or Walk-Through

August 17th, 2012

Most teams at the high-school level and above have a walk-through or a shoot-around the day of a game or the day before. These are designed to rehearse the plan for the game, go over the opponent one more time, and build confidence in one’s shooting by watching the ball go through the net with some easy, uncontested shooting drills.  Read the rest of this entry »

Players and Parents Differing Views on Competition

July 22nd, 2010

When I speak to groups of coaches, I bring them back to the playground. Most problems with youth sports do not start with the players; they start with the parents and parent-coaches. Players want equal teams, not stacked teams. When I was in junior high school, we had four pretty good players. When we picked teams, two were always on one team and two were on the other. Who wanted a stacked team? Where is the fun?

When writing about LeBron’s decision, Bill Simmons echoed the same refrain about the playground:

As for me, I figured out why the LeBron/Wade alliance bothers everyone beyond the irrefutable “Jordan would have wanted to beat Wade, not play with him” argument. In pickup basketball, there’s an unwritten rule to keep teams relatively equal to maximize the competitiveness of the games. That’s the law. If two players are noticeably better than everyone else, they don’t play together, nor would they want to play together…Joining forces and destroying everyone else would ruin the whole point of having the game…When LeBron and Wade effectively said, “Instead of trying to whup each other, let’s just crush everyone else” and “If these teams end up being uneven, we’re not switching up,” everyone who ever played basketball had the same reaction: “I hate guys like that.”

One big problem with youth sports is the stacked teams. Who benefits? Do the players benefit from beating up on other teams? It is not the players asking to stack their team; instead, it is usually the parents and/or coaches scheming to find ways to stack their son’s team so he wins. What’s the point? Is winning an u10 league championship that important?

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

Is Basketball Practice Work or Fun?

June 9th, 2010

When I talk to youth and high school basketball coaches, many seem to make practice intentionally not fun. To most, fun and work are opposites, and practice must be work to prepare for games and develop players’ skills.

In Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind, he quotes British management scholar David Collinson about the work climate at Ford Motor Company in the 1930’s and 40’s:

“In 1940 John Gallo was sacked because he was ‘caught in the act of smiling,’ after having committed an earlier breach of ‘laughing with the other fellows,’ and ‘slowing down the line maybe half a minute.’ This tight managerial discipline reflected the overall philosophy of Henry Ford, who stated that ‘When we are at work we out to be at work. When we are at play we out to be at play. There is no use trying to mix the two.'”

Pink continues and uses Southwest Airlines mission statement which says:

“People rarely succeed at anything unless they are having fun doing it.”

Do you approach practice like Ford Motor Company, separating play and work or do you believe in SWA’s approach where people accomplish more when they are having fun? Should you basketball practices be fun? Do coaches and leagues eliminate play too early in players’ development? Is it possible to have fun and develop good players and teams?

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

Why Can’t Sports Be Fun and Competitive?

May 6th, 2010

We completed our volleyball season yesterday, finishing 6-4 in league play (the school finished without a J.V. team last season, as so many players had quit from a winless team). Today, we will have one final practice to collect jerseys, play and have fun.

The A.D. joked with another coach on campus about our post-season practice. The coached asked, and I said that it was going to be a fun practice, basically King of the Court for an hour.

The coach made a remark about fun at practice, saying something to the effect of “Why are you making practice fun? I try not to make practice fun.”

I do not understand this attitude. There is likely a reason that the school finished without a J.V. team last season – it was not fun. This season, when we were losing games during the pre-season schedule, we were adding players. We went from 8 players on the day that we split varsity and junior varsity to 12 players at season’s end. Therefore, one cannot blame all the quitting on the losing.

We were more competitive than last season, and the players had more fun. Isn’t that the goal of sports and coaching? I am far from the most technical volleyball coach, but the majority of the players on the team improved, including the three players who had never played before. We did not do a lot of hard drills. We spent the majority of practice playing in different game situations. I would describe our practices as easy. However, we were a couple breaks away from winning the league championship (we were an inch away from an ace on game point in a game that would have created a three-way tie for the championship with us holding the tie-breaker).

I do not understand the mentality of intentionally making high school sports not fun. If I was a more technical volleyball coach, my team would have been more prepared and I would have done a greater variety of drills and a little more specific teaching, rather than trying to teach based on my instincts from when I play.

In basketball, I am a far more technical and knowledgeable coach, and I keep the practices fun at the high school level. We won the league championship this season AND every girl really enjoyed the season. Winning and fun are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to enjoy practice, work hard and improve at the same time.

It makes no sense to take the fun out of playing a sport on purpose.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

Do Youth Sports Leagues Provide Enough Play?

April 7th, 2010


In the rush to athletic achievement, myelin, 10,000 hours and deliberate practice have become the new buzzwords. However, what about play?

In Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, Stuart Brown M.D. defines the six properties of Play as:

  1. Apparent Purposelessness: done for its own sake
  2. Inherent Attraction: it’s fun
  3. Freedom from Time: we lose a sense of time
  4. Diminished Consciousness of Self: we are fully in the moment
  5. Improvisational Potential: open to new things
  6. Continuation Desire: the pleasure of experience drives a desire to continue

Think about your own play. When I go to a park to play pick-up basketball, my play has no purpose – I am not training to be an NBA player or playing for money. I play because it is fun and I like the challenge of playing against younger guys. When I play, time is defined by the score (first to 11) or the number of players waiting to play next (determines how many games we’re likely to play). There is no schedule. When I play, I forget about taxes or work or other obligations and am absorbed in the activity. I try new things rather than playing a certain style of play or running a certain offense. I play until I am too tired to continue, until there are no more players left or until it ceases to be fun.

Do youth players feel the same at basketball practice and during games? When players reach a certain age, they play basketball for more than these six reasons. At this point, they train to be a basketball player, whether to make a basketball team, win a high school championship, earn a scholarship or whatever. They participate because playing is fun, but they also desire more from the experience, including an opportunity to continue their competitive career, which requires training, practice and effort. This is when the buzzwords like deliberate practice and myelin become important.

However, I fear that we continue to move players from a playful experience to a training experience at younger and younger ages and ignore the play aspects of basketball. Does a 10-year-old need a reason to play basketball other than (1) it’s in-season; (2) my friends play; and/or (3) it’s fun?

When a parent tells a child that it is time to go to practice, does the player ask if he has to go? If so, does that communicate that something is wrong? This does not automatically mean that the coach is doing something wrong. The parent may have placed the child on a competitive team when the child was not ready emotionally or psychologically. The child may play for fun, but he plays on a competitive, goal-oriented team – he is on the wrong team. Now, if it is a local under-9 recreation league, than the parents, coaches and administrators probably need to evaluate the purpose of the league.

Before a child makes the commitment to train to be a player, he has to enjoy the experience. He has to play. When we push children out of play too early, many do not enjoy the activity, and most lack the passion to train long and hard enough to become an elite player anyway. Therefore, why push so hard, so early?

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

The Fun and Games of Youth Sports

December 2nd, 2009

Last month, I wrote a post titled, “Should Youth Basketball Practices Be Fun?” On another site, a high school coach criticized the idea of fun, suggesting that fun was nice, but he wanted his players to improve and excel, and the two were mutually exclusive: one can either have fun or one can excel.

This seems to be the general consensus. Competitive coaches look at fun as a bad word, and often appear to go out of their way to make the game not fun.

Anson Dorrance, the Head Women’s Soccer Coach at the University of North Carolina and winner of 18 NCAA Championships and 94% of his games, does not view fun as a bad word.

“Our underlying theme has always got to be that there are a billion people in China who don’t even know we’re playing soccer today, so let’s relax and enjoy ourselves because this isn’t the end of the world.”

Is his program less successful because he is not ultra-serious?

Former assistant coach Bill Steffen says, “When people ask me, ‘What do you remember most about working at UNC?’ The first word that comes to my mind isn’t winning or training or tradition, it is fun.”

Why do coaches think that always being a hard-ass is the best way to inspire players to perform their best? Why can’t the game be fun?

Last week, I attended a college game with a couple coaches who I helped when I coached during college. We talked about the first time we went to an AAU National Championship Tournament and the rules that the coaches imposed on the players, especially no swimming. Coaches and parents were concerned about conserving energy for the next day’s game. The girls were 10-years-old.

The second time that the coach went to Nationals, he eased up on the rules. He also finished second in the nation. Why not allow players to swim after a game? The girls wanted to socialize and have fun. Isn’t that why parents sign up their kids for sports in the first place?

Adds [UNC athletic department physician Bill] Prentice: “I’ve been around athletics all my life, and I have never seen any other situation like this. I used to sit there and think, “How [in the world] do these guys get away with this?’ Then one day you realize that maybe everybody else is doing it wrong. A lot of the other coaches have forgotten that it’s supposed to be fun. Maybe Anson and Dino have figured out that one of the keys to being successful is to treat the sport the way it was intended to be played. It is just a … game.”