The games you play shape you more than the drills you do.
It is not that the drills are unimportant. They are very important. I give plenty of time to them as a coach, but play is the foundation. Play is the essential that makes drills worth something. The games your children play fashion them more than the drills they do. If they want to be a true player, they need to play!
As I hope you will see while reading these posts and watching your children in action, there is much more going on in the “free play” of our summer leagues. You have to look beneath the surface, but it is all there. And more. Which leads me to my thought for this post.
The best basketball games force players to make the most meaningful basketball decisions.
This is such a vastly underestimated reality. Basketball is a game of non-stop decision-making. Shoot or pass? Pivot or dribble? Dribble right or left or spin? Pass to him over there or him right here? Cut? Help? Screen? Double-team? Go for the rebound or get back? That’s all just the start. That’s often every single possession.
But how do you improve your decision-making? You make more decisions. And when you make more decisions, you guarantee you will make more poor decisions.
Go a step further, in order to improve your decision-making, you must make decisions in real-time. Game context. Chest passes against the wall won’t hurt you, but they certainly don’t involve decision-making. And basketball is a decision-making game. So you better play. And whatever you play better enable you to decide a lot!
Go another step further, in order to make more game-like decisions, you need a game that makes those decisions more obvious and plentiful. In a sense, you need a game that forces you to make more legitimate basketball decisions. You need a game that doesn’t enable you to just hide on the wing. You need a game that forces you to attack, move, help your teammates, catch and pass and cut and shoot, etc. As much as possible. Limiting the amount of players on the court (or using a shot-clock) does precisely this.
I love watching our summer leagues, because I love watching kids make meaningful basketball decisions. I still can’t figure out why we insist on 5-on-5 at young ages (especially without a shot-clock, but even then it’s not wise). It makes no sense when you view the game in terms of decision-making—especially meaningful decision-making. If you think in terms of feedback, too many kids on the court at too young an age leads to too much information. It’s a form of overload. There is so much going on that you cannot process the simple decision right in front of you. It’s too much. What’s obvious for the pro can’t be seen by the amateur.
Not all decisions are equal either. Some are more attack-oriented or action-oriented. These are the ones we are most interested in. It’s good to know when to stand still and stay out of the way. It really is. And less players on the court make those decisions more obvious as well. But young players also need to know how to force themselves in on the action. By limiting the number of players on the court, this is exactly what we do. We force them to make more action-oriented decisions. I call these legitimate or meaningful basketball decisions.
These are decisions that matter more than we think. These are the decisions kids make on how to create an advantage and to build upon that advantage on offense. Or when to help their teammates on defense. By limiting the number of players on the floor, we maximize the amount of action-oriented meaningful decisions. And this makes all the difference.
The world needs more good decision-makers—on and off the court! Let’s keep encouraging our kids to be action-oriented. And let’s keep encouraging each other to sit joyfully while they fail! For that’s all apart of the process!