Embrace the Challenge…. Accept the Process

Embrace the Challenge… Accept the Process

This weekend I managed to get down to watch a basketball game. For the first time in a long time, I could sit down on the spectator side of things and just enjoy the action purely for the fun of the game. Oh, what a beautiful game.

The teams weren’t evenly matched, but by God, one of the teams was a superbly well coached, finely tuned engine that seemed to be firing on all cylinders and capitalising on every single error their less experienced, less skilled opponents committed.

Screens were set by their post players. Multiple screens, their guards came off these screens and reversed the ball to the open man, which saw another screen set that created a driving lane to get open lay-ups every single time. Success… or was it?

The parents on the sidelines and the spectators were all in awe. This team was going to be good. I must be crazy, because I thought the complete opposite of what everyone else was saying. In a few years time, that well tuned engine would look like under developed players if pitted against the same opponents.

This was an U13 game. Why were the taller players penalised for their height and pigeon-holed to certain positions? Why were they employing multiple screening actions to get their players open? Why did they memorise multiple set-plays?

The less skilled team didn’t do any of the above. They got open and created space by themselves, they didn’t need a team mate to screen for them to create a driving lane. Their reactions were slower and they struggled, but their coach guided them and helped them find solutions without actually giving them any. Their failures are setting them up for later success…. It’s a Process.

Would you tell primary school students that their careers are decided? A chef and a waiter? Why then tell them post and guards?

Would teachers teach by getting the students to memorise passages so that they could pass their exams? Is that the point of the education systems? Pass your exams?

And if teachers gave the solutions to their students, how would they work out complex maths problems to pass their exams?

The sequences and set plays work now, because the opposition haven’t learned how to react otherwise. But, what if they did something different. What if they sagged or switched instead of hedging. Would your players continue to run the same plays or would the do something different to counter?

I managed to squeeze in another game this weekend. This one saw two well versed teams come up against each other. The first was undefeated in their last three seasons; the second team were the up and coming team. The undefeated team struggled as the very same players that dominated in those past three seasons ran the plays. They set screens on thin air or on their team mates as the defense constantly adjusted, rendering their plays useless.

Guards weren’t able to get open themselves; post players didn’t know how to execute any post moves. The coaches got upset and thats when the players got frustrated and replied, “The play isn’t working!!”

The simple reason is because these players have now become robots, programmed over the last number of years with specific actions and a set number of responses for each action. Sort of like that iPhone app, “Siri”.

Go ahead, download it and see what I mean. It’s responses are limited because it is a programme, a robot!

So, why do we teach our players to be robotic? Getting them to go through pre-programmed actions on the court and then when they encounter something unexpected, they become stumped, unsure and turn to their coach looking for the solution.

If you haven’t taught them how to find the solution, why do we expect them to figure it out in the heat of the moment?

Imagine learning a new language, and your teacher gets you to memorise phrases so that you can pronounce them perfectly. These are the responses that each phrase will elicit, and you will respond by another memorised phrase. How far would a conversation with that person go?

Consider the alternative and how you learn. Grammar, spellings, phonics, composition, comprehension and more… At least, that’s how I was taught. The usage of verbs and nouns, adverbs and pronouns taught patiently and explained in detail. The student will not get it in one year or two for that matter. It is a process, a journey, one that will see the student stumble and fall several times as they try and comprehend it, but it failure that breeds success and eventually it will click.

Suddenly, the student will be able to respond regardless of the situation, string sentences together and respond in a way that makes perfect sense. This student was taught and is better prepared for when the opportunity, whatever that may be.

Why would we do it in sports then? Why don’t we remain patient and teach our players HOW to play the game? It will take longer, but we will have better players that are able to read the situation on the court and react in best way that they know of. As it stands, however, we have players that are just good at running plays and moving to specific spots.

Developing an understanding and allowing learning takes time. It is a journey that our youth need to be exposed to. Coaches are caught in different situations, where they don’t believe they have time to teach, they may not know how to teach or they may just want to win and win now!

Coaches respond by strategically putting their teams in situations where it looks like the team know what they’re doing. Controlled movements and screens at specific moments in a set spot on the floor. As defenses evolve and competition gets tougher, the players don’t know how to respond and hence respond with, “the play isn’t working!”

I am thankful to have coached at multiple levels, and have heard this from players in the Premier League. My response is, “then don’t run a play and just play.”

Chaos, even when controlled, makes a coach appear like he has no idea of what he is doing. However, that’s the environment that children and athletes learn best in, where they are taught how to find the solution they seek, without being given the solution. An environment where mistakes are made and encouraged because players are out of their comfort zone and that’s how they develop. Failure breeds success. It is a necessity, especially at the younger ages.

As a young coach, I do not lay claim to know how best to go about teaching and developing players so that they may one day compete at the elite level. I do know that pigeon holing players and teaching them plays is not the best way to develop them and will continue to search for methods that make sense to me. It is about the players and not me!

Do you want your players to be trick dogs (roll over and play dead at your command) or do you want them to be hunting dogs (let them loose and they will get after it)??

Embrace the Challenge and learn to love the Process..

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