The high school schedule is not designed to develop better basketball players. Intuitively, we have always known this: we lived by the adage, “Teams are made in the winter, players are made during the summer.” However, somewhere we lost sight of the difference between competition and training.
I coach some relatively inexperienced high school players. Since the Monday before Thanksgiving, we have had one scrimmage, eight games and four practices with four more games and two practices this week. We are in a stretch of five games in six days with no practices.
If player development was the goal, the schedule would be far different. We will have played 13 games and one scrimmage before we break for Christmas. When I coached in a professional league, our first game was the first weekend of October, and we played eight games before Christmas.
The high school schedule crams 13 games into one month for developing players while a professional league spaces eight games through three months. While we have had twice as many games as practices this month, when I coached in Europe, we had 4-6 practices per game (and we only practiced once per day because it was not one of the top leagues which often practice twice per day).
In which schedule will a player develop his or her skills?
We have adopted a mentality that believes that players only improve or develop during games. But, this is far from true.
In competitive situations, players play to their strengths: they do what they already can do. If I do not dribble well with my left hand, I dribble only with my right hand. If I cannot make a lay-up with my left hand, I shoot with my right hand. If I cannot guard a good player, I pick the player who looks like the worst player on the other team to guard.
How does this help a player improve or develop new skills?
In practice, players try new things. A practice lacks performance pressure, so a player can practice shooting left-hand lay-ups or dribbling the ball with his left hand without the fear of failure. A mistake in practice does not let down his or her teammates or cause the coach to take the player out of the game. By practicing new or undeveloped skills, a player expands his or her game and improves.
Unfortunately, off-season teams have adopted a similar schedule, often practicing once or twice per week and playing 3-5 games on the weekends. When do players improve if they spend the entire year engaged in a competitive environment? When is the time to develop new skills? When do players add strength or develop quickness?
By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League