We play a Mon/Wed schedule, which is less than ideal. We won our Monday game though we played without four guys who missed Saturday’s practice. We scored one point in our first six possessions even though we shot five wide-open shots and a lay-up which results in the foul and the free throws. Once we started to hit shots, we jumped out to a 20-point lead and eventually pushed the lead to 30. Then it was like we forgot how to play basketball.
I substituted five in and five out, which I do not like to do. However, I had a couple guys waiting to go in the game, and there were no whistles. They waited at the scorer’s table for over a minute of game time, and I figured that it was time to get some other guys in too. When the new five entered, we dribbled off of our foot twice, we missed lay-ups, we passed into defender’s hands. It was a disaster. We lost our concentration and intensity. Learning to play with a big lead and maintain focus on what we are trying to do, regardless of the score, is a learning experience like playing in a close game or playing when behind.
After the game, the disappointing second half was stuck in my mind. However, at practice on Tuesday, we talked about the good things that we did. We have been working more on help defense and rotations, and we implemented these things into the game. We played man-t0-man full court; when our guards needed help, the posts stepped out and slowed the penetration. We had guards rotate and help in situations that looked like a run-and-jump around half court. They really struggled to score for the entire first half until they got into the bonus, and we got called for some touch fouls, giving them free throws. Our opponent was without its best player, but our defense in the first half was very much improved.
In our Wednesday game, which I missed, we apparently started the game on fire and playing with intensity. However, we were out-rebounded in the second half and struggled in another loss.
After our Monday game, we spent more time working on man-to-man defense in the full court, and transitioning from transition offense into some form of an offensive set. When we get sped up against a press, even a man-to-man press, we tend not to get organized in the half court. Also, when things turn south, we tend to look too much for individual plays rather than working together. Therefore, that was a major focus for the rest of the week – moving from chaos to organization if the immediate great shot is unavailable or if we have a lead and want a slower pace. We went over a couple different ways we can run the court and end up in our basic set. One idea was that a reversal pass in transition starts our basic offense: we don’t have to reverse, look for a cutter or post, and then back out to start over if nothing is available.
We also practiced more against a zone because I want to emphasize moving into gaps, not defined spots, and I also need to find a way to get the guys to talk more defensively. It is improving, but still not where we should be.
On Saturday, based on some of the feedback from Wednesday’s game, I reversed our scrimmage rules for one-on-one. Typically we play make it-take it, and you have to get a defensive stop in order to play offense. However, in an effort to focus on defensive concentration, I changed it so that you had to get a score to get the opportunity to play defense, and the only way to get points was to get defensive stops.
I read a book chapter on Friday night titled “The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Theory: When Coaches’ Expectations Become Reality.” During Saturday’s practice, I was cognizant of the feedback that I give. There are players who receive more feedback than others; for instance, during shooting drills, a couple guys have weird shots that I leave alone. Six hours of practice per week is not enough to change a player’s shot, and these guys are two of our better shooters: one is the player that I send to the line if we are shooting free throws.
During scrimmages, I tend to talk to the point guards more than other players because I want them to be the leaders on the floor. I want them to see the game as I see it. I empower them to make the decisions in the games.
I hope that my expectations do not affect any of the players negatively. I think most of the guys have improved individually in their basic skills and their game understanding. Some have improved more than others, but I feel that has more to do with previous experience and individual variation than systematic bias on my part.
The article talks about implicit effects of feedback. For instance, if a coach gives more praise to a lower-performing player, and more informative feedback to a higher-performing player, the praise may be telling the low-performing player that a lower level of performance is expected.
I am a pretty positive coach. I try to use praise to encourage things that I want to see. I have a tall, skinny player who I want to be more aggressive, so I praise and clap and high five him when he makes a tough move to the basket, even if he misses or gets fouled. I am not praising him because I think that is all he can do: I’m praising him in an effort to buoy his confidence and encourage him to continue making that effort, regardless of the result.
Some players lack confidence and need a push; some have too much confidence, and need a dose of reality (not on this particular team). I think the amount and type of feedback depends on the individual and the situation, and I think one thing that separates good or experienced coaches from inexperienced or bad coaches is the ability to sense the need for a specific type of feedback and the ability to give that feedback.
The highlight of Saturday’s practice was hearing that some of my frequent sayings are retained. One of my frequent instructions is not to allow one mistake to become a second mistake. For instance, don’t put your head down after a missed shot and allow the opponent to get a lay-up at the other end. One frequent situation is a dropped ball or deflected pass: a small mistake. However, players often panic or rush when they retrieve the ball, and the small mistake becomes a big mistake (turnover). This morning, my big bobbled the ball and it was going out of bounds. He tried to save it and threw it out of bounds on the side. He immediately looked at me and said “second mistake.” I wasn’t even going to say anything, as he was off-balance and trying to save the ball, so a precise pass was not to be expected. But, it was good to hear that some things stick, and hopefully change behaviors as the players gain more experience.
By Brian McCormick
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League