Coaching a European Club – Week 6

The week started with a game, so there was no time to practice any of our issues from the weekend’s game. We started off in the lead, despite several missed lay-ups and free throws, so I thought we would eventually be okay. I took out one starter because he looked like he was sleep-walking, and after the first quarter, he was the only one who I felt was competing 100%. The game just got worse and worse, and we lost by 20. We largely played the same way as we did on the weekend, we just faced a better opponent. 

After the game, I addressed the mentality and the complacency and explained that we played essentially the same. To me, winning is not enough; we need to play to our best every game. Now, I know that is not possible, as learning is not a linear process. However, the goal is to minimize the dips and shorten the plateaus. I do not want a season that is like a roller coaster with wild highs and lows. I want something that when you look at it over the season and smooth out the edges, it appears to be something like a straight line.

I worry that I have been too lax with the team and too accommodating. However, every time I try to push, I feel some resistance from somewhere. The young guys do not want to change their terrible eating habits. Older players will not come to every practice. The club manager says that we have to accommodate school and work schedules and not put too much pressure on the players.

I finally emailed the club manager to ask the overall goals for the club. This coming week, the week before our first regular season game, all of the young players are missing practice for school events. I regularly get texts from players saying that they will miss a practice or workout because of homework. I don’t understand this. Depending on the player and the day, we have between 90 and 180 minutes of practice. All of the players in school live within a 10-minute bicycle ride of school, and most live across the parking lot from the school in the back of the gym. Their commute is literally less than a 5-minute walk to school and to practice. To me, from an American background, there is no excuse to miss practice for homework. In the last two years, I had guys who commuted over an hour by subway and bus to get to and from school, and who played multiple sports, and most never missed a practice.

As an example of the dedication, we were supposed to have our first home game of the preseason, and our last preseason game, on Friday. All week, one guy asked if he was going to play, as I have not taken him to a road game yet (the roster works differently here. I have 12 players who comprise the majority of two teams with 4-5 additional players filling out the u20 roster. However, to road games, I can take only 8-9 players. It works, in some ways, like the varsity/junior varsity worked in Utah). I told him to plan on being in uniform. He asked the time of the game, and when it would be over, because he had a party that night. The next day, the game was cancelled. He again asked if he was going to play, and I said not to worry about it, as the game was cancelled. After practice, when I confirmed that we would practice instead of play the game, as we usually practice on Friday nights, he said that he could not make it because of his party. He tried to explain, and I cut him off. I told him that I did not need an explanation, but that it was good to see his priorities. I told him to stop coming to the 1st team practices and only to attend the u20s, as that is where he will get playing time anyway. No sense in him practicing with two teams if that is his level of commitment. He managed to make it to practice. The expectations here are just so different than in the U.S. even though many of the young players have the same aspirations: a scholarship or playing professionally.

After the game, I returned to the basics. We worked on defensive footwork. I’m trying to get them away from the step-and-drag footwork to a more explosive push-off, and to use a hip turn rather than a drop step to change directions. Their footwork, for many of them, is lazy and slow. We also spent a lot more time working on defending a pick and roll in all of our different defenses and added a fifth way to defend the side on-ball screen.

I also added some half-court sets this week. So far, we’ve only run transition sets, but we’re not getting the ball down the court quick enough to make the transition breaks easy. Our transition baskets typically come in 3v2 situations against a press. If we aren’t attacking a press, we are getting the ball down court too slowly, and the plays are not working quite as well because they are not designed to go against a set defense. Therefore, I added a series of plays to go against a set defense. Because we have so many young guys who struggle with remembering and executing plays because they are thinking too much on the court anyway, I have been keeping the plays as simple as possible. I put in a couple of my favorite plays that I have used since my time in Sweden over a decade ago, and added a new play to the series that has quickly become my favorite play. I think I found the play in the video below:

With my u20s, I have returned to the basics and incorporated some of the Blitz drills and concepts. We almost never have a full team a practice, and we only practice as a team twice per week, so I do not want to put in much with that team. I use those practices as more skill work for the u20s from the 1st team. We have a scrimmage this weekend, and our top 2 u20s are not playing, so we will see if anything sticks.

With all of the players missing, we have our first game in a week, but we will not have a full practice all week. I still do not have a feel for the league or what our opposition will be like. I am confident that of we play smart and can finish defensive possessions a little better, we should probably be okay, but at this point, I really don’t know.

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

3 thoughts on “Coaching a European Club – Week 6

  • Pretty amazing what you’re going through. There is no excuse for kids consistently missing practices. Players have to learn to manage their time if they want to excel in a sport & life. If expectations are set, the kids and their parents will meet them. Sounds like you’re going to have to manage both sides of the fences – get the club leaders to become leaders and set and communicate standards and get your players to understand that their current attitude towards practice won’t cut it. Good luck – sounds like you’ve got a lot of work to do in changing the culture of the club and the attitude and commitment of your players.

  • Clarence:

    There’s no changing the culture. I’ll eventually write an article about it, but I have to be careful.

    Here’s an example:

    I have 3 teams. I have 16 total players if you count the 14 year-old that I called up. Today, I invited two 15-year-olds to practice with my 2nd group and play Saturday with my 3rd team. One came. The better one’s mother called the club director and said that it was too hard to get him to practice because he lives outside of town. “Outside of town” generally means beyond walking distance of school. I just can’t believe it. At the high school where I coached last season, teenagers hung out at school all day – you’d drive by at 10 PM and there were still students loitering at school waiting for a ride. Many of my guys missed their school bus to play basketball and had to take public transportation, which meant two different connections and easily over an hour travel time. And they did this every day, and there were no excuses. I can’t believe that a player who has an opportunity to jump from an u16 team to a local adult league turns down the opportunity. Sports, and especially basketball, has very little importance to people here.

    Two weeks ago, there was a week-long school holiday. We have two girls from a different country playing with the club and attending high school here. The club director told them they could go home (without asking the coach). They were gone for 10 days. Missed 3 games. And, here, it is unacceptable to question why that is allowed. It’s, of course, they should be allowed to go on holiday even though it is the middle of the season. We have 3 weeks off for Christmas vacation; we have a month between games (Dec 14 – Jan 11)!!! My freshmen high school team took off 5 days only because it was a state rule! When I was in high school, we got 2 days off. Society is so different here, and family and vacation are more important than they are in the U.S., whereas sports are infinitely more important to society in the U.S. than here.

    I had an 18 year-old last week who is on the very fringe of the team anyway who missed a practice to get a tattoo and then had the audacity to ask if he was suiting up for the first team game. I didn’t even suit a full team, but I didn’t give him a jersey. Are you kidding?

    It’s easy to say “change the culture”, but when the club is fighting for survival and is short numbers at every level, there have to be some sacrifices just to attract players. It’s not like the U.S. where my high school had 125 boys tryout for our freshman team. Our u16 team has 8 players, and at least 2 of them should be on a younger team! It’s a small town, it’s an aging town, and it’s in the heart of handball country. Unfortunately, that means the club has to make sacrifices that make me cringe. When I got here, I hoped to change things, but when you start to view it through a local eye’s and get to know the nature of the people, it’s not going to change. You just have to work with what you have. There’s a reason I’m the 5th coach in 4 years, and at least 3 of the 5 were foreigners who lasted a season or less.

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