On another site, a coach asked for a play to run with his 12-and-under team in late game situations because only a couple players make good decisions with the basketball. The question raises several other questions:
1) What is the purpose of the team? At 12-years-old, learning and development should take precedence over winning games. Therefore, all players need a chance to develop. Rather than hiding the poorer players, we need to develop these players to eliminate the weaknesses. Rather than focus strictly on the result of the game, we should focus on the process of improvement and development. If a weaker players takes a bad shot or commits a turnover late in the game, it becomes a teaching point rather than a reason to substitute or not pass to the player again.
2) Isn’t learning to win part of the process? Yes, which makes this question tougher to answer. While we focus on the process, part of the process is learning about shot selection as well as finishing games. Handling late game situations is part of the process. Late game situations differ from the first quarter because of time and score. While we do not want to obsess over the score or the outcome, players do need to learn to be competitive and how to win. Sometimes, this means getting the the ball to the team’s best player or finding a way for the best player to create his own shot or an easy shot for a teammate.
When we concentrate on the process, not the result, it does not mean that the result has no importance. We play games to win. The difference is approach.
This season, I played all 12 players in every half of every game. However, in close games, my best five players on that day generally finished the game. We played to win, but that goal did not dictate my coaching: everyone played whether we were down five or up by 20. Players generally had freedom to shoot any open shot, but in close games, we tried to work a little harder to get better shots rather than shooting the first shot. This dod not mean that the outcome all of a sudden trumped the process; instead, part of the process was learning to finish close games – when to foul; who to foul; who do we want to get fouled; when to gamble for a steal; when to shoot the three-pointer vs. attacking the basket; how to manage the clock. Ultimately, learning these lessons are part of the process.
However, we do not want to create situations where we avoid players, like Little League coaches who stick their T-baller in right field for every inning and never allow him a chance to play a meaningful position because the coach fears that the player could blow the game.
When coaching young players, coaches must balance the line between developing all players and giving all players a chance to learn, develop and exhibit their skills, and teaching players how to execute at the end of the game. By nurturing confidence in each player, the coach can worry less about hiding weaker players and concentrate more on maximizing the involvement of the best players. In this way, an occasional set play to create a good shot is not moving away from the process, but when implemented correctly, is an extension of the learning process.
By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League