As a coach, I try to keep in mind a simple principle: Kids and players have better instincts than coaches often give them credit for.
I believe this is true on the court, so I often ask my players what they think and seek to empower them as much as possible to own their own games. And to trust their instincts. They are right more often than we might think.
But it is also true in a larger sense of development. Kids usually know what they want. And what they want is often very good for them. Not always, but often. So we are wise to listen.
This hit home to me during a conversation over ice-cream following our last 3-on-3 night of the summer. I asked my son if he had fun. He said, "Yes." Then I asked him what he liked about the league or what he wanted from the league. He gave me four things.
1) Get in the game.
2) Get the ball.
4)Try new things.
That was it. That's exactly what he wanted from the league. And I know he was not alone. Because the funny this is that's what every player on the globe wants from every basketball opportunity ever.
I often tell people that I spent two months in the NBA getting little to no playing time. Was I happy? Not even close. The paychecks didn't matter. I wanted to be on the court, to get the ball, to get shots, and to develop my game. Really, it's true.
If that is the case then, what does it mean for the games we play? Or the practices we run? In essence, it means we are wise to listen to the kids. And to, in turn, create ample opportunities for them to do those four things.
There are numerous implications for this, but one is that if we focus on these four things, I believe we will not only develop better players, but also happier players who win the long-game. If you consistently give players the opportunities to do these four things, they will stick with it. They will continue to grow and develop and enjoy the game.
Yet, when you start to add to this list, to put your own priorities on this list, you risk losing the kids. You take their heart, their joy, their fun. In the end, you take their game.
You notice winning or learning how to win didn't make the list right? That's important to note, because the response of my young son is backed up by countless research and surveys. Kids don't care that much in the end. It's the adults who think it is too high a priority.
Many argue that the kids need to learn how to win. And they are right. But how quickly do they need to learn? When do they need to learn? Maybe they know better than us. I tend to think they do.
I am not saying kids know everything that is good for them. Many won't work on their weaknesses without guidance or direction. But wise guidance doesn't mean forcing development upon them. Wise guidance usually means finding creative ways for them to own it. And maybe more importantly, putting them in the game enough for them to realize that they need it. Which brings us back to where we began.
There is sense in which everything we do revolves around not only giving kids the opportunity to develop, but giving them the chance to see that they need to develop. Creative games do just that. Kids need to be on the court, with the ball, getting shots, and trying new things without the fear of failure. It makes all the difference in the world in terms of their development.
They know that. The question is: do we?