Here's a simple recap of what I posted last week put in another way.
Great, simple decisions are not easy to consistently make.
The pros are the pros, because they play more and, in turn, make the same sorts of decisions more than anyone else. Defense and offense. All over the court. Live decision. With real defense in a real game.
Drills in isolation are not all bad, but they are not enough. Not even close. Kids need to play. More specifically, they need to play in a variety of basketball situations.
We can often help them most by creating these various situations for them in breakdown games. What we emphasize is determined by who they are and where they are in their development. But they will often surprise you with their ability to pick things up...if you let them.
Don't get in the way. Embrace the messiness of learning. Create new situations and emphasize 1-2 things at a time and you will be very surprised at how quickly they learn. They will begin to have a 'feel' for how to move and decide in a game that is more important than all the technical skills you can isolate in drills.
We want our kids to just know how to play. To be able to make consistently good decisions. So our teaching must consistently put them in real-time situations. And new situations. This is a good education. Coaches and parents, please make it your own.
We began our Halfcourt 3-on-3 'League' last week. As I have told many, it is one of my favorites. Kids are empowered to play and they have a ton of opportunities to touch the ball in legitimate basketball situations. If you watch carefully, you will find that they are often presented with action opportunities that they could never consistently get in a 5-on-5 game.
All those things are great, but there is also a teaching element that I want to clarify today. The primary area of focus for us during these hours is teaching offensive and defensive team concepts. Essentially, our hour goes something like this:
5-10 min: Show an offensive/defensive concept that is the focus for the evening.
20 min: 'Practice' those concepts in breakdown, but game-like situations.
30 min: Play. Just play.
The reason all this is important is because in my experience, we often seem to want to teach kids concepts of play in very structured, anti-play sort of ways. Very vanilla, very obvious and controlled ways. But the big issue I have with these ways is that although they look good, they don't really work. At least not as well as I would like.
Embedded in our hour of play is, from my vantage point, the best kind of instruction.
Less telling, a little more showing, and a lot of doing.
Showing is good. Talking less good. Doing is best. By far. And not just doing in an obvious, do-it-the-same-way-every-time sort of way. But doing is a game-like way. Doing it with defense. Doing it on your own.
This involves more mistakes. But that also means it involves more learning in a shorter period of time. If you want to learn, really learn, how to play the game of basketball, messiness is essential.
Think of it in terms of learning a language. The most efficient and effective way to really learn Italian is to go to Italy and sound like a idiot for months. If you are willing to 'speak' your way around, you will sound dumb, but not for long. Eventually you will get it. Bit by bit you will make mistakes, ask questions, and figure it out. You will 'catch' the language, the accents, the way to put sentences together. If you really want to take it next level, you can study the language at the same time. Do both and you will soon put great sounds together instinctively and sound like a true Italian.
Another option is to stay here in the states, visit the Italian classroom and hit the text book for the same amount of time. Your learning may be cleaner. Nicer. And you certainly won't get worse. But you will definitely not improve as much as you would immersing yourself in Italy (you'll miss out on the food as well).
The design of this 3-on-3 hour is a pursuit of that immersive experience combined with a little book work. In a sense, that simple sentence defines everything we try to do.
For example, this coming week we will show and play through a basic ball screen option in a 3-on-3 format. I'll keep my talking and showing to a minimum, so that the kids can actually 'do' more. We use the breakdown or controlled scrimmages to 'force' them to implement these concepts before play is live. This enables them to add a little bit to their basketball language in a shorter period of time.
The belief is that if they do this enough with wise basketball concepts, they will instinctively start to do these things during games. Take enough time immersing yourself in good actions and you will eventually just do good things without a second thought.
So when you see kids running around for 50 minutes, know that there is a lot more learning going on than you might think. Embrace the mess and encourage you kids to do the same. Encourage them to ask questions and make mistakes. It's the best way to learn and that's what this is all about.
I told our kids at Just Play camp this week that though there is a clear need for specific skill work, it is the games they play that largely determine the kind of players they will to become.
Play comes first. And second. And third. You get the picture.
Here are a three highlights from camp this week.
1) Player-led communication and personal connection.
I love walking in the gym and hearing the kids talking to one another. Even more, I love seeing them form new friendships and relationships through this play. The energy is positive energy. I hear way more from the kids than I do from the coaches. Why? Because they own the games. And the teams. And even the rules.
Sure, we throw a ton of options their way and highlight different ways to play (especially the first few days). But then the onus is on them. And they love it.
But here's the thing: they do not get to this often enough!
2) "Dunk ball."
We have two rims we can lower. Elijah (my son) said his favorite game was "21" on a 6ft rim (maybe 6.5).
Is that good for his development? I think so. It forces creativity and touch around the rim and from the perimeter. It diverse their skills and feel for the game. It forces them to be creative off the dribble and with their shot attempts. And most importantly...it's fun! They like it.
But when I asked our group how many consistently play basketball on lower rims, not even a third raised their hands! This is a problem. I played hours upon hours of basketball with my friends on low rims. And I think it proved incredibly helpful. We create boring players by always playing the same games. We need to diversify.
3) 3-on-3 Guards vs. the Bigs.
This is another one I got from Elijah. Their group apparently chose to play the 3 smallest players vs. the 3 biggest players during one of their 3-on-3 times. Both teams ended up with strategies for defense and offense (pack the paint, protect the 3). I heard all about it and could not help but ask who won.
The answer? No idea. Probably the big guys, but they lost track of the score. No one really cared. They just had fun playing.
Would any coach create that game during a practice? Would any coach make those teams? Probably not. And maybe they shouldn't. But that's just the point. If all our kids do is play or practice under the direction of the coach, they will never enjoy those moments.
And that's a much bigger problem than we might think. And it's everywhere. In every sport. All over the US. We devise their great practice plans, but they grow stale quickly. They are often predictable and adult-oriented.
The instincts of our kids are often better than we think. We are wise to give them the time and space to do what they want. It is more important to their development (on so many levels) than we can imagine.
This is a fabulous summary of the coaching revolution that took place in Belgium soccer over the last 18 years or so. It is everything we stand for at Crispin Basketball and all the principles we want to spread. Give it a look.
Here's a thought for you today: I would have never played professional basketball if I always played the game the "right" way.
Do you know what I mean by this? If you do, you have your own personal idea of what the "right" way to play basketball really is (and it's far from personal, because many around you share the same view). The problem, however, is that you might be dead wrong.
Hear me out, you probably have some very good ideas. Good, crisp passing. Offensive execution. Unselfish play with good spacing, nice pace, and sound shot selection. Great defensive help with great transition defense. You get the picture. Basketball at its (supposed) best.
But here's the problem: if I had only played in that way ("the right way") during my most formative years, I never would have played professional basketball. Sure, I would have been a nice player. Solid. Well-coached. Tough. Gritty. And surely more fun to play with.
But I would never have been me.
Looking back, I was never a "right way" kind of guy. I was unpredictable, free-flowing, impulsive, almost aggressive to a fault, and insistent on winning or losing my way. I loved to run and, as most folks know, loved to shoot deep, transition three-pointers off the dribble during a time when everyone thought that was crazy.
And you know what? I responded by shooting all the more. With my actions (and my words) I often told the crowd they were crazy for not approaching the game the way I did (time has proved me right!). By the end of my career, I even told a coach and GM that they could either embrace me for who I was or release me so that I could find another team who would do so.
I naturally had to go through a long process to really get to that point, but, but here's the big point today:
I learned who I was as a player and where I could fit in the basketball world, because I had the freedom and the opportunities to play the game "the wrong way."
I can't underestimate how important this point is. After all, I spend countless hours of my life evaluating young basketball players at their most formative time of development. I see thousands of kids play each year, but I am always left with this gnawing sense that something is missing. While watching, I often have this simple thought:
These kids don't know who they are.
I know I am not the only coach who feels this way. And I get it. I really get it. The kids I watch are often trying to impress coaches like me. But here's the thing: I am most impressed by the kids who are clearest about who they are and, therefore, least concerned with who is watching.
You know what I really want to see more of on the recruiting circuit? Conviction. Personality. Fearlessness and freedom. A clarity of identity that declares with your play: "This is who I am!"
There is not enough of this in the basketball world. We have plenty of teams who play the "right way" and the "wrong way", but too few who play "their way." Or who even know what "their way" really is.
One of the primary reasons why is because too many of us are too concerned either with winning at young ages or with teaching players of all ages how to play the game in "the right way."
Even more to the point: one of the primary reasons why I see so little personality and clarity of identity is because young players have never been given the freedom to play the game the wrong way. They have spent their most formative years with a coach in their face and a tournament to win. Or worse, a parent who thinks they have it all figured out. They spend so much time trying to do what they are "supposed" to do that they never find their own voice. They never find their own basketball personality. Individually and together.
Is there a "right way" to play the game? Kind of. There are some common denominators that are best. And I tend to think that the best players have learned to play the game in a variety of ways.
But I tend to think that the right way to play has more to do with the players you have being true to who they are. Yet doing so collectively requires a clarity of identity individually; and both are lacking today.
The best coaching brings out what is inside. Great coaches don't impose a "right way" on the player for all times and circumstances. They teach the principles, but they teach them in such a way and with such space that the individuals under their care can figure out their own way, their own path, their own identity.
The younger the player, the more freedom they must be given to experiment and figure it all out. Sometimes such freedom is given by clarifying a wise offense and offering positive encouragement during the game. Sometimes it is given by sitting against the wall and keeping your mouth shut. Other times it is given simply by dropping them off at the park and encouraging them to just go play.
The development of a basketball player is more than just skills and drills. It is a process of self-discovery. And just like a process of discovery, it requires a great deal of diversity and a great deal of failure. It requires getting it wrong, so that you can really get it right.
Does this mean you don't coach? By no means. But you better be careful. Plenty a player is limited by great coaching. Or the kind of coaching that only knows "one way." Remember, the goal is to help your players become who they really are, who they really can be.
Are we really helping players become the best versions of themselves? Or are we coaching them to be just like everyone else?
I was blessed with coaches who gave me space and opportunity to figure it all out. I was also blessed with plenty of games to do just the same. We need more of these blessings. Whether you are a coach, parent or whoever, please take note and adjust accordingly.
The basketball world needs it. And so do I.