Coaching a European Club – Week 2

The players here do not work out during the summer, so week 2 was rough for some of the guys. It was evident during our basket college workouts that the young players were starting to wear down. The start of practice coincided with the start of school, so some of them went from no real activity to 6+ practices per week and the start of school. During both basket college workouts, we backed off on the intensity, and I backed off on our u20 practices too. With the basketball college players, we talked about the importance of sleep, hydration, eating right, eating vegetables, and staying away from soda and beer. If they are worn down after one week, this could be a long season, so week 2 was more about managing fatigue so nobody got hurt early in the season. 

During week 1, I introduced two loose secondary transition breaks as our offense staples. One veteran player told me that they did not run anything in the games last season, and another said that it took until after Christmas for all the players to learn their plays. I don’t even know if I would call our offensive options plays: it is more about spacing and using one simple tactic and ball movement to create a shot. However, even with only two really basic options, we have not executed well. I have had to do more 5v0 with this team than I did in the last two seasons of coaching high-school freshmen.

As many have told me since I arrived, players are not typically taught very much as youth players, probably because most of the youth coaches are players with no coaching experience and no guidance. We are meeting next week about this, hopefully to change this and improve the coaching. In my basket college workouts, one 13-year-old has shown up the last couple times because he said none of his teammates were very good and the coaches were not doing anything, so he wanted more of a challenge. Good for the player, but bad for the club when that happens.

This week centered more on defense. So far, I have introduced two of our three basic defenses. At this level, I tend to do more game-planning, especially when I have seen an opponent previously, as scouting probably will not be possible because of the distance to other clubs, the expense of traveling, and the game schedules. However, I also like to have base defenses that we can rely upon.

Some things are more difficult in FIBA rules than U.S. rules. It is much harder to go under a ball screen in FIBA rules because officials do not call a moving screen when the offensive player rolls into the defender going underneath, as most officials in the U.S. tend to do. Therefore, it changes the way that you coach and teach different situations. Also, FIBA uses the NBA lane-line now, which is wider than the high-school lane, so it changes the way that you think about defending the low post.

The two biggest things right now are breaking bad habits and balancing a desire for execution without limiting the freedom to make plays. We have one player from another country who does not speak the language, or English, and it is very hard to incorporate him because of the language difficulties. He is one of the better instinctual players, and has good size and aggressiveness, but he also does not fit within a team concept. He does not talk on defense because he is not comfortable with his English, so he hurts our team defense. On offense, he freelances and often makes good reads, but the other players do not know how to adjust to him, as we cannot run anything when he is on the court. I do not want to be a slave to the play, but I also want to make sure there is a foundation on which to develop the creativity and freelancing so that we  are more than the sum of our parts, not just five guys who don’t know each other’s names playing pick-up ball at the park. This is one of the great lines that coaches have to toe, as too much focus on running the play can stifle imagination and creativity (and learning), whereas too much freedom can limit success, improvement, and learning that comes from playing as a unit, not just as individuals.

During our mid-week practice, our u20 guys scrimmaged the women’s team. Our backcourt speed gave them problems, but in the half court, our defense was terrible. Simple things like not jumping to the ball – something we had even worked on prior to the scrimmage – are not instinctual here. The guys play hard and make up for a lot of their mistakes or lack of understanding with effort, but we have to be smarter and do the simple things to maximize our effort.

By Saturday, our men’s team actually strung together some good defensive possessions. Because they have not been taught a lot, we don’t do some simple things instinctually – jumping to the ball – but others we do pretty well, like rotating to an open man with the ball. In fact, more time than not, my instruction was based on not rotating rather than trying to get them to rotate. For instance, in a semi-transition situation, I do not want the defender who picks up the first post on the ball-side block to leave the post player to run out to the wing. I would rather make the wing make a shot than leave the post player open for a wide open lay-up. It’s a matter of trying to sharpen the instincts and make the effort in the right direction as opposed to over-teaching and deadening the instincts. We do some good things; now we just have to do some of the basics a little better to accentuate the positives of the good things that we do.

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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