Coaching is an art and a science. Teaching, motivating, managing a loss, building players’ self-esteem, creating a positive team environment, and developing a coaching philosophy is an art. Basic physiological and biomechanical principles govern training, as coaches can teach players to run faster, jump higher, land more safely and use energy more efficiently, which is the science. Coaching also involves basketball-specific aspects which combine the art and science: substituting, drawing up the final play, teaching the proper shooting form and designing a practice session, week and season.
Many coaches ignore science and research and coach as they were coached. However, basketball evolves, as do the players. When Cleveland Cavaliers Head Coach Mike Brown played, there was no LeBron James. A 21-year-old, 6’8, 260lbs guard with James’ court vision and explosiveness was unfathomable. When Pat Summit played, a mobile, athletic, multi-skilled 6’4 player who dunks, dribbles and passes like Candace Parker did not exist. With these advances in athleticism, size and skill, how can one coach in the same manner as a generation ago?
Some aspects of basketball and coaching are timeless and universal. In some ways, former Oregon State University Head Coach Ralph Miller correctly stated that the jump shot was basketball’s last innovation. However, while basketball’s innovations ceased in the 60’s, our world constantly innovates. We know volumes more about training, the human body, nutrition and other scientific aspects of human athletic performance than we did five years ago. While a basketball coach’s job may not require knowing the latest data or instructing in these areas, understanding athletic performance, sports psychology, physiology, biomechanics and more improves a coach’s ability to train and develop his players and team.
Many sport federations sponsor coaching education programs. In Lithuania, “basketball coaches attend 40 to 50 hours of coaching seminars and lectures each year…The LPEA (Lithuanian Physical Education Academy) graduates 10-15 basketball coaches each year…Approximately 80% of Lithuanian basketball coaches have graduated from LPEA, where they have had 600 hours of basketball studies, while students work as coach assistants during training sessions, developing their first coaching skills, (Balciunas).
In the United States, USA Track and Field, U.S. Soccer and USA Weightlifting, among others, require coaches to pursue coaching education certifications or offer certifications for coaches. USA Track and Field, as an example, offers a 21-hour Level I certification, in which attendees pass (80%) a 200-question take home exam. USATF offers an intensive eight-day program for its Level II certification, while Level III requires an original paper and attendance at three 21-hour advanced clinics.
While these clinics focus on sport-specific skills, they cover general scientific information pertinent to the sport. For the USATF Level I course, six sessions focus on sport-specific material, such as the throws or sprints-relays-hurdles, while six sessions focus on general coaching/training information such as physiology and psychology.
To develop better players, we need better coaches. Better prepared, more well-informed coaches make better coaches. In other professions, employment depends on certification: lawyers pass the bar, personal trainers require certification through an accredited body and teachers are credentialed. Why not basketball coaches?
A certification does not make a good coach. Coaching depends on intangibles and personality, such as building trust and rapport with players, communicating effectively, setting appropriate expectations, reading player’s personalities and adjusting or accommodating accordingly.
However, a solid, basic scientific understanding is equally important; maintaining a safe environment, training to prevent serious injuries, using appropriate exercises, implementing appropriate conditioning and strength programs and training players’ mental ability are aspects of successful coaching.
Completing a certification may not ensure every coach understands all the concepts above and others included in the curriculum, but for coaches interested in bettering their coaching ability and assisting their athletes, this curriculum provides the basics for a coach to expand his personal horizons and challenge himself to learn more or improve his weaknesses. Beyond gaining experience, watching games, talking with other coaches, working camps and other ways to improve one’s coaching, a certification process and its curriculum offer industrious coaches another manner to improve their coaching ability and level of knowledge in an efficient manner.