Developmental Priorities: INTERMEDIATE
Grades 4-8 – Ages 9-14
Fun is the foundation. It is also the frame. And it is not enough to build this frame one time. You must build it and maintain it. On the emotional level, you must cultivate love. You must engage in the game in situations you find fun.
As a coach, this must never be neglected. At any level of play. Ever. The pros need. College players need it. High School players need it. Adults need it. It must be fun. Or the building will collapse.
When the foundation and unseen frame are secure, you can start to put in walls and doors and rooms and hallways, etc. When kids have a feel for the game, you can start to really teach them how to play the game. How to move and screen and fade and adjust. When to help or recover or even to stand still.
Ideally this still happens in play. Wise teachers sneak in the learning. They give recipes to young cooks, but also plenty of opportunity to cook from scratch in order to create a real chef. They also encourage their students to watch, so that they can start to connect one thing to another. Remember, a player doesn’t have to be able to explain why or how something is done. He learns in the doing. The ability to have a feel for the actual doing is most important. It’s not learn how to drill, it’s learn how to play.
There is a language to the game of basketball—a literal language and a figurative language. The literal language consists of terms and words and points of reference that are essential to understand in order for players to be prepared for the next level. Ball screen, fade screen, cut, help, recover, and countless others. Players need to be exposed to this language or they will soon be lost.
There is also figurative language. It’s not enough to know the terms. You need to have a feel for when to use them. You need to know what it is to actually do the things in game-like context. It’s not enough to know random sentences in Italian. It’s also not enough to know sentences that you can only use when you are told to by someone else. When you get to Italy, you need to know when to use those sentences in context…on your own. So it is in hoops.
One example: shooting the basketball. It is seen by many to be a risk, but it is essential to a player’s long-term development and productivity. If a young player doesn’t learn how to identify as a shooter and thus, to handle missing shots, he limits his potential. This is true not only for shooting, but every aspect of his game. Knowing who you are later on involves the freedom to experiment and push your boundaries.
Skill development is important, but it’s not enough to workout. You need to activity try new things in games. This doesn’t typically help your team win this weekend, but it does prepare players to be at their best in the future. Take the hit now to win the championship later. At least if you want to serve your kids well.
First, you need to learn what you must improve upon. This goes hand-in-hand with point #4. You must have the freedom to test your boundaries so that you can see firsthand what you need to do better. And how those skills fit into a game context. It’s not enough for a coach to tell you. Kids must see it firsthand in games. This requires failure, but so be it. It’s worth it.
Second, you need to know how to improve. This means you start to understand the rituals and drills and specific ideas you need to put into practice to improve the things that matter most. This could be specific ball-handling moves or shooting technique or softer elements like how to run a ball screen or shoot on the move. Whatever it is, it is especially in the later stage of this development that young players are prepared for this process.