How to Maximize Coaching Hours for Coaching Performance

In another article, I suggested that if we believe that coaching is a learned skill, and not an innate talent, the 10,000-hour rule popularized by Dan Coyle, Malcolm Gladwell, and others should apply to coaching as well as to our athletes.

When I was young, I coached as much as possible. During college, I coached a different team during every season and coached AAU too. By the time that I graduated from college, I had a dozen years of head coaching experience in volleyball and basketball from nine-year-olds through junior-varsity and with boys and girls. Additionally, I spent my first few summers after college working 8-10 weeks of summer camps which provided even more coaching opportunities to teach skills and manage teams. When other coaches rested during lunch, I ran my own individual workouts teaching skills that were ignored by the normal camp schedule. By the time I was hired for a head coaching job in a professional league when I was 25 years-old, I had considerable coaching experience even though I had not played college basketball or coached at any level above NCAA D3. 

Experience, however, is not enough:

Ten years coaching without reflection is like one year repeated ten times” (Gilbert & Trudel, 2006).

My entire coaching career has been a reflection. I question everything. I stopped working college camps because I grew frustrated with the way that most taught skills and hired the camp coaches. Most of my original articles, starting in 1998, were contrarian, and argued points like “Defense is Overemphasized.”

I have a shoe box with every practice plan from my season coaching a pro women’s team in 2002-03. I have a book that chronicles my experiences with an u9 boys’ AAU team in 2001. I constantly reflect on mistakes that I made.

When I left the pro women’s team in 2003, I realized that we did not scrimmage enough. I realized that was a theme – I’d never coached a team where, at the end of the season, I thought: “Man, if only we’d done more of X drill,” but I often ended the season thinking that we needed to scrimmage more. I changed. Last season is the only time that I have coached and ended the season thinking that maybe we should have done more drills, especially shooting, and fewer games.

After a high-school season in 2008, I thought that I concentrated on the officials too much. When I started with a new team in 2009, my personal goal was to go through the season without a technical foul, which I managed to accomplish.

I look at some coaches who I know. They worked very hard to get their first varsity jobs, but their learning stopped when they were hired. From the outside, it looks like they have repeated one year ten times. I watch college programs who have the same weaknesses from year to year – don’t they watch film? Have someone outside their program evaluate their team? their practices? How do they miss these same weaknesses from season to season? Obviously, there is no reflection. They coach one season ten times rather than learning from each season and improving.

Experience helps. However, experience alone is insufficient. Just because someone has five, 10, or 20 years coaching does not ensure that the coach is a good coach. For the experience to enhance one’s coaching, the coach must reflect on the good and the bad and make efforts to expand his or her learning.

Every off-season, John Wooden used to determine a weakness in one aspect of his teaching and write a researched paper on that topic. One summer, he wanted to become an expert on free-throw shooting, so he contacted the coaches whose teams shot free throws very well. He continually learned from his experiences. He used previous season’s practice plans and practice notes when writing each day’s practice plan. His experience mattered. His success was not an accident.

  • Gilbert & Trudel. (2006). “The Coach as a Reflective Practitioner” In Jones, R. (ed) The Sports Coach as Educator. London: Routledge. pp. 113-127

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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