Coaching a European Club – Week 1

I arrived in Europe on Tuesday, and we practiced on Wednesday. I have three teams, essentially, but we practice as two teams. I am coaching a men’s team in the first division and a second men’s team that plays in a local division (rather than a national, domestic league). The third team is an u20 team, but all of the u18 and u20 players play for one of the other two teams, so they get enough practice through those practices. I also coach, along with the women’s coach, the basketball college, which is an option for high-school players who wish to train, since there is no high-school team. Most of the u18 and u20 players train with the basketball college too.

As an example, in three days, I have had my u18s and u20s at as many as five practices between my two teams and the school workouts. In the end, however, U.S. teenagers will play as many (or more) games in their high school season as my guys will, even though our season won’t end until April. When I write about systems and player development vs. Peak by Friday (Balyi), that’s essentially my point: our games are spread out – for the most part once per week – and the u18s and u20s will get as many as 8 practices for every game.

Since we have 6 weeks for our pre-season before our first game, and I was told to expect most of the players to be out of shape, most of the focus in week 1 was to get out and run. I focused on shooting and transition drills, and losers ran more than normal to increase conditioning. However, practices were not too hard, as there was no sense increasing the intensity too drastically (from zero) and ending up with injuries.

I don’t plan to do any off the court conditioning. We’ll see if that plan sticks. I do plan to get the guys in the weight room, though that will be more of a challenge than I had anticipated. We have access to a very nice fitness studio, but it is filled with worthless machines that I would never use, and the free weight section is a very small room. There is not enough space to have an entire team in the weight room at once, not to mention the lack of bars and weights that would leave the majority of the players watching anyway. We are going to have to figure out something, however, especially for the younger guys, as our u20s needs to get stronger to play at the men’s level.

The basketball college was my favorite part of the week, as it is the more committed young players. The workout is co-ed. This week, we split posts and guards, and I had the guards. I like watching young players improve, and the group worked hard. The skill level varied tremendously, as there are national-team players, men’s team starters, and others with less experience, but they worked.

I did find out something about one of the top young players. I have noticed in the past, in almost every situation from beginners in India to semi-competitive players in Canada to elite AAU players in Chicago, that players tend to go after players of similar ability or in their social circles. When I play tag games like the one below, for instance, the best players chase after the best players, and the least skilled go after the least skilled. The only exception, which I noticed in Canada when I worked a week-long camp and got to know the players better, was one players went after their friends, regardless of ability. In the workout this week, the best player repeatedly went after one of the least skilled girls. This is one of the first times that I have seen this, and it makes me think. Is this because he is competitive and wants to win so he does not want to waste time? Is it because he is uncompetitive? Is he scared of looking bad? Does he have a fixed mindset? Is this an anomaly in a silly tag game or a sign of something that persists throughout his game?

These are the types of things that I look for when doing warm-up type games. Sure, I want to see how we move and how we handle the ball, but more importantly, I want to get an idea of the mindset, character, and competitiveness of the players. How do they react when they fail? Do they try to hide? Do they ask for help? Do they stop? Do they try harder? These simple exercises and throw-away drills, as some call them, can help a coach understand the personality of a player, if he or she watches carefully.

By Brian McCormick, M.S.S., PES
Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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