Posts Tagged ‘fun’

Fun, Play, and So Many Questions

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

USA Volleyball’s John Kessell and USOC’s Peter Vint circulated this video, with Vint tweeting “I love everything about this!” Am I the only one left with questions? (more…)

Confidence and Motivation

Monday, December 10th, 2012

One goal (duty) of a coach should be to increase the team’s motivation. In Sven-Goran Eriksson On Soccer, the authors suggest that motivation is a function of self-confidence – when a player loses confidence, his motivation wanes. (more…)

Education, Contextual Interference and Competition to Promote Talent Development

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

In an interview, Xavi, the star of the Spanish National Team and F.C. Barcelona, introduces three concepts pivotal to talent development: (1) Education (development) over winning; (2) contextual interference; and (3) competition – dealing with failure. (more…)

Playmakers Basketball Development Leagues as a means to Increased Physical Activity

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

An oft-cited study by Gould, Feltz and Weiss of Michigan State University’s Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, found seven primary motivators for children’s sports participation:

  1. Fun
  2. Skill development
  3. Excitement and personal challenge
  4. Achievement and status
  5. Fitness
  6. Energy or tension release
  7. Friendship


Kobe Bryant’s Basketball Camp & Skill Development

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

Kobe Bryant apparently runs a hugely popular basketball camp in Santa Barbara, which is very commendable. However, after reading an article about the objectives, I am confused.

I must admit that I am biased against big camps. I run basketball camps, but even this week, while running a camp in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, I felt that we had too many players of disparate abilities to create a great camp. We made it work, the players improved and had fun, but it was far from my ideal learning environment.

With a young group, our focus this week was basic technical skills (dribbling, passing, pivoting, shooting, individual defense and lay-ups) and beginning tactical skills (give-and-gos and pick-and-rolls).

Kobe’s Camp, however, appears to focus on running different offenses:

The kids will be taught the flex offense, the Princeton offense, and of course, the famed triangle offense, among many other things. “It doesn’t really matter what age group they are, these kids can learn these things — especially at that age, because they’re sponges,” Bryant said.

Really? I agree that children are sponges and learn things quickly, especially when the instructions and skills are age-appropriate. However, I do not see how teaching the Flex offense to eight-year-olds is age-appropriate.

I worked a camp where every coach had to teach the same generic pass-and-screen away offense. It took all week to get players to follow directions and pass and screen away. Every team practice was spent memorizing the offense. However, if the players did not run the same offense with their teams at home, did all this practice time transfer to improved performance?

When I run camps, I teach general skills. Rather than learning the Flex offense or the Princeton offense, I teach players how to use a screen, how to make a backdoor cut or how to use a dribble hand-off. At my camp in Idaho two weeks ago, we learned all these skills. Through the six-week Playmakers Basketball Development League, players learn all these skills in general ways, not specific to one offense.

Now, this week, I used drills that I would use with a Flex offense team. Some of the girls at the camp run the Flex with their team, so I adjusted some of our general shooting drills to mimic cuts in the Flex, so they practiced the type of shots that they get with their team. However, the tactical instructions remained general: the goal was to learn how to read and use a screen in any offense, not in one specific offense.

When I was young, we ran the Flex. We set the cross screen and received the down screen to cut to the elbow. There was no deviation. Without a shot clock, we turned over the offense time after time until we got a lay-up or elbow jump shot.

When we moved to high school, we no longer ran the Flex. Now we memorized a new offense. Through these years of playing, we never learned to curl off a screen or flare off the screen or cut backdoor based on the defense; instead, we memorized where to run in a particular offense. If the shot was not open in the Flex, rather than flare because the defender went top-side, ball-side over the screen, we caught and waited for the next cutter or we re-screened if we were not open.

There is nothing wrong with the Flex offense or the Princeton offense, and there is nothing inherently wrong with teaching an offense at a camp. However, in the limited learning time available, how do you want to appropriate your time? Is teaching an offense that the players may never run again the best use of valuable time? Is it the most fun or inspiring use of time?

I try to teach to the age group. With younger players and beginners this week (10-14 primarily with a few 15 and 16-year-olds), the focus was fun and basics. We played dribble tag and speed tag every day. Why? The games are fun and with beginner players, these types of games improve their dribbling more than learning moves and doing more advanced drills. They learn naturally, one of Kobe’s emphases:

“Fun. I want them to have a good time,” Bryant said. “That’s where sports start. I want them to enjoy themselves, and not get bogged down by this or that. These kids are going to learn a lot of things at this camp — they’re going to learn them without knowing that they’re learning them, and they’re going to have a good time doing it.”

I agree completely with the attitude. We played tag because it kept the entire camp involved, is fun and develops skills without a lot of instruction.

We also spent time on lay-ups. We did speed lay-ups, power lay-ups, lay-ups off a pass, lay-ups off a catch, etc. We did a progression into the “Rondo,” and also learned the “Rondo Up-and-Under.” There was a 12-year-old who has never played in a competitive game before (from a remote town) who used the Rondo to create a shot in a 5v5 scrimmage on the last day to cheers from other campers.

We went through a defensive progression to learn to defend the ball and played lots of 1v1. We shot every day, going through the first three stages from 180 Shooter: 5 Steps to Shooting 90% from the Free Throw Line, 50% from the floor and 40% from the 3-pt line.

We played a lot of 3v3 and 4v4 half and full-court scrimmages to five baskets. I prefer short games with a definitive end to increase competitiveness. Also, short games allow you to change teams if the teams are unbalanced. When I worked bigger camps, each coach had a team of 8-10 players and the teams remained the same all week, even if the teams were unbalanced. We also played 30-minute games, which meant half the camp sat on the bench and watched (or sometimes more than half the camp if there were not enough courts to keep all the teams playing at once).

I usually play cut-throat at camp, so players are generally out for no more than 30 seconds in a half-court game and a minute or two in a full-court game. That keeps all the players engaged. Also, because no coach coaches a specific team or group of players, but assists everyone, the coach’s egos do not get in the way of helping the players. No coach is playing to win. Along the same lines, we did not spend time memorizing offenses. Instead, our goal is to teach general skills that players can apply to their teams at home regardless of the system that their coach employs.

Like all coaches, I have my biases. I am biased toward small-sided games, active drills and fun games that engage players while developing a number of basic, general skills. I dislike long lines and players sitting out.

While offenses taught properly can develop basic skills, is it the best way? Is playing 5v5 games with 8-10-year-old players the best way to develop their athletic, technical and tactical skills?

If you have more thoughts on camps and skill development, please join the discussion in the forum.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development

Is Basketball Practice Work or Fun?

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

When I talk to youth and high school basketball coaches, many seem to make practice intentionally not fun. To most, fun and work are opposites, and practice must be work to prepare for games and develop players’ skills.

In Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind, he quotes British management scholar David Collinson about the work climate at Ford Motor Company in the 1930’s and 40’s:

“In 1940 John Gallo was sacked because he was ‘caught in the act of smiling,’ after having committed an earlier breach of ‘laughing with the other fellows,’ and ‘slowing down the line maybe half a minute.’ This tight managerial discipline reflected the overall philosophy of Henry Ford, who stated that ‘When we are at work we out to be at work. When we are at play we out to be at play. There is no use trying to mix the two.'”

Pink continues and uses Southwest Airlines mission statement which says:

“People rarely succeed at anything unless they are having fun doing it.”

Do you approach practice like Ford Motor Company, separating play and work or do you believe in SWA’s approach where people accomplish more when they are having fun? Should you basketball practices be fun? Do coaches and leagues eliminate play too early in players’ development? Is it possible to have fun and develop good players and teams?

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development

Why Can’t Sports Be Fun and Competitive?

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

We completed our volleyball season yesterday, finishing 6-4 in league play (the school finished without a J.V. team last season, as so many players had quit from a winless team). Today, we will have one final practice to collect jerseys, play and have fun.

The A.D. joked with another coach on campus about our post-season practice. The coached asked, and I said that it was going to be a fun practice, basically King of the Court for an hour.

The coach made a remark about fun at practice, saying something to the effect of “Why are you making practice fun? I try not to make practice fun.”

I do not understand this attitude. There is likely a reason that the school finished without a J.V. team last season – it was not fun. This season, when we were losing games during the pre-season schedule, we were adding players. We went from 8 players on the day that we split varsity and junior varsity to 12 players at season’s end. Therefore, one cannot blame all the quitting on the losing.

We were more competitive than last season, and the players had more fun. Isn’t that the goal of sports and coaching? I am far from the most technical volleyball coach, but the majority of the players on the team improved, including the three players who had never played before. We did not do a lot of hard drills. We spent the majority of practice playing in different game situations. I would describe our practices as easy. However, we were a couple breaks away from winning the league championship (we were an inch away from an ace on game point in a game that would have created a three-way tie for the championship with us holding the tie-breaker).

I do not understand the mentality of intentionally making high school sports not fun. If I was a more technical volleyball coach, my team would have been more prepared and I would have done a greater variety of drills and a little more specific teaching, rather than trying to teach based on my instincts from when I play.

In basketball, I am a far more technical and knowledgeable coach, and I keep the practices fun at the high school level. We won the league championship this season AND every girl really enjoyed the season. Winning and fun are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to enjoy practice, work hard and improve at the same time.

It makes no sense to take the fun out of playing a sport on purpose.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

Maintaining Players’ Motivation

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

David Sirota, Louis A. Mischkind, and Michael Irwin Meltzer wrote an article titled “Why your Employees are losing Motivation” for Harvard Business School. They open with a powerful statement:

Most companies have it all wrong. They don’t have to motivate their employees. They have to stop demotivating them.

Coaches make the same mistake. Many coaches worry about motivating their players. However, in most cases, players choose to play basketball. It is not homework or Algebra. Basketball is an inherently fun activity. Unfortunately, many coaches intentionally eliminate the fun from basketball in an attempt to meet some higher goal.

Sirota, et al. suggest that workers bring three goals to work and players’ goals differ very little:

  • Equity: To be respected and to be treated fairly in areas such as pay, benefits, and job security.
  • Achievement: To be proud of one’s job, accomplishments, and employer.
  • Camaraderie: To have good, productive relationships with fellow employees.

When players lose motivation, often one of these three things is the issue. Often, when a player receives less playing time, he may lose motivation. Coaches think the player is sulking because he does not play and believe that the player should think about the team first.

However, the issue often is not the playing time. Instead, some players feel that they did not have a fair chance to earn playing time, which affects their motivation. I coached two de-motivated players several years ago. I spoke to them at the beginning of the year and explained that I was a new coach and they had a new opportunity. I set the expectations for them to meet in order to earn playing time and stayed true to my promise when they met the expectations. The de-motivated players became the hardest workers on the team because they felt like they controlled their own destiny, rather than feeling like they were in a hopeless situation where it never mattered what they did.

Some players lose motivation because they equate a lack of playing time with a lack of accomplishment. With a player in this situation, create small goals for the player and give them an important role on the team. To keep younger players interested on the bench, I have had players watch for certain things. At a timeout, they tell the starters that one player is left-handed or during the action, they call out screens from the sideline. They contribute to the success of the team even though they do not play as much.

Finally, some players feel like they are less a part of the team if they do not play. In these situations, the coach needs to include the player and point out their contributions to the team, even if those contributions consist solely of working hard in practice to prepare the starters for the game.

Sirota, et al. provide eight ideas to use to maintain your players’ motivation:

  1. Instill an inspiring purpose.
  2. Provide recognition.
  3. Be an expediter for your employees.
  4. Coach your employees for improvement.
  5. Communicate fully.
  6. Face up to poor performance.
  7. Promote teamwork.
  8. Listen and involve.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

The Fun and Games of Youth Sports

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Last month, I wrote a post titled, “Should Youth Basketball Practices Be Fun?” On another site, a high school coach criticized the idea of fun, suggesting that fun was nice, but he wanted his players to improve and excel, and the two were mutually exclusive: one can either have fun or one can excel.

This seems to be the general consensus. Competitive coaches look at fun as a bad word, and often appear to go out of their way to make the game not fun.

Anson Dorrance, the Head Women’s Soccer Coach at the University of North Carolina and winner of 18 NCAA Championships and 94% of his games, does not view fun as a bad word.

“Our underlying theme has always got to be that there are a billion people in China who don’t even know we’re playing soccer today, so let’s relax and enjoy ourselves because this isn’t the end of the world.”

Is his program less successful because he is not ultra-serious?

Former assistant coach Bill Steffen says, “When people ask me, ‘What do you remember most about working at UNC?’ The first word that comes to my mind isn’t winning or training or tradition, it is fun.”

Why do coaches think that always being a hard-ass is the best way to inspire players to perform their best? Why can’t the game be fun?

Last week, I attended a college game with a couple coaches who I helped when I coached during college. We talked about the first time we went to an AAU National Championship Tournament and the rules that the coaches imposed on the players, especially no swimming. Coaches and parents were concerned about conserving energy for the next day’s game. The girls were 10-years-old.

The second time that the coach went to Nationals, he eased up on the rules. He also finished second in the nation. Why not allow players to swim after a game? The girls wanted to socialize and have fun. Isn’t that why parents sign up their kids for sports in the first place?

Adds [UNC athletic department physician Bill] Prentice: “I’ve been around athletics all my life, and I have never seen any other situation like this. I used to sit there and think, “How [in the world] do these guys get away with this?’ Then one day you realize that maybe everybody else is doing it wrong. A lot of the other coaches have forgotten that it’s supposed to be fun. Maybe Anson and Dino have figured out that one of the keys to being successful is to treat the sport the way it was intended to be played. It is just a … game.”

Motivational Traits of Elite Performers

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Dr. Craig Stewart, a professor at the University of Montana, sent an article titled “Motivational Traits of Elite Young Soccer Players.” In the paper, older players scored higher than younger players in their motivation to avoid failure. The article states:

It has been determined that players who seek to avoid failure will avoid achievement-oriented behavior, participate in situations only if assured of success, develop various coping or ‘face-saving’ behavior to pre-explain their failure, exhibit lower effort in practice or game situations, and only increase effort if the team is successful (wins) (Cratty 1983).

Obviously, this does not lead to enhanced performance. The author suggests that the older players may have developed this negative type of motivation due to the coaching:

The avoidance of failure may be the result of the significant number of situations in which the athlete has been exposed to coaches who exhibit command-style techniques. Command-style coaches not only make the majority of decisions in an athletic situation, but also create an environment in which failure is more threatening to the athlete than success is rewarding. The longer players remain in that situation, the more they are apt to exhibit many of these counterproductive characteristics (Stewart and Meyers).

In Developing Game Intelligence, Horst Wein writes:

This rigid and authoritarian coaching style does not develop intelligent players with awareness and responsibility. To get more intelligent players on the pitch in the future, coaches need to stimulate more and instruct less.

To develop better players who make better decisions and to enhance motivation, coaches need to move away from the command coaching style.

Players will never reach an elite level if their motivation to succeed is stifled. Players who play with fear will never reach their maximum performance.

The only way to develop is to make mistakes. Without mistakes, there is no growth or development; the player simply does what he can already do. Nobody develops without bumps in the road.

Coaches should understand that youth athletes:

  1. are best motivated when they believe personal success is self-determined by their skills and performance;
  2. prolong their performance when internally motivated;
  3. Do NOT trivialize the importance of fun…regardless of age.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League