Three lies are everywhere in youth sports. As a parent or a coach, ask yourself if you are guilty of believing them.
1) More is better.
I understand why we believe this, but we have to be careful how far we take it. It seems to me that most people are convinced that in order to keep up with others or maximize potential, our kids must do more, more, more! Especially when it comes to organized activities.
The business of youth sports convinces us of this, but it's not true. There is often a point of diminishing return. Rest and rejuvenation is needed. Time for free play. The extra day or two a week may not make them improve as much as you think. In fact, it may make them worse in the end. More isn't always better.
2) Bigger (or farther away) is better.
The bigger the tournament or the longer the distance, the better it is. Or the bigger the program name or sponsor, the better it is. Nope. Not even close. If you aren't dominating things locally, why travel a few extra hours and pay more money to get beat? I just don't get it. Bigger isn't always better. In fact, it is often worse. It costs more and gives you less. Maximize the small opportunities in front of you and you may be surprised how far you can go.
3) We need to get there faster.
This may be the worst one. We need our kids to get better now, dominate now, work harder now, be the best on the team now. But why? What are we after? If it's a marathon, who cares who is in the lead in the first 3 miles? Or 8 Miles? Or 12 miles? Or more?
I just don't get this. I see constant descriptions for youth camps that promise they are going to change your kid's jump shot or his game or his confidence. In what? A week? A season? That's ridiculous. It's a borderline lie. That is not how development works. I may adopt a new description for every season program we have. It goes like this...
"You kid will get a little bit better and should enjoy the game a little bit more."
How's that sell for you? So life-altering, I know, but it's true. That's how it works. No dramatic, crazy steps. Just a step or two ahead in their development. That's all. And that should always be enough.
Stop believing these lies. They are everywhere today. Our kids need us to believe the truth and to enjoy the process day-by-day.
The shot-clock is the best teacher of offensive basketball ever conceived by man.
The more I watch basketball at every level of play, the more I believe that this statement is universally true. It is a key that unlocks a thousand developmental doors. I am going to list some reasons here. It is so important to focus on this, because although the United States invests more and more resources into basketball at every level, until we adopt a shot-clock at every level, we are stunting the growth and development of our players. It is not an overstatement.
The International game is played with a 24 second shot-clock. In most countries, from about 6th grade on up. And maybe younger. It's just their normal game. And though it may not seem like much, it teaches them better than any coach in the world. I am not going to elaborate on these reasons right now, but I will list them. USA Basketball and every state in America needs to take notice.
1) The shot-clock forces players to learn how to create efficient offensive scoring opportunities.
2) The shot-clock forces all players to learn how to shoot.
3) The shot-clock forces coaches to teach all their players how to shoot.
4) The shot-clock forces players to embrace their offensive roles on a respective team.
5) The shot-clock forces coaches to become better offensive teachers by forcing them to learn how to teach their players how to actually score.
6) The shot-clock gives every player more opportunities to develop their offensive game, in every game. More passing and shooting and dribbling opportunities.
7) The shot-clock teaches teams how to play better defense by forcing them to guard better offensive actions every single game.
8) The shot-clock leads to a game that is more fun to watch. It increases rhythm.
9) The shot-clock saves the sanity of college coaches who are tired of watching horrible offensive basketball at the youth and high school levels and teaching college players things they should already know. (Yea, that one's personal).
There is more, but that is plenty to get started with. I will elaborate more on these in the weeks ahead. I promise you, I am not overstating the case. The shot-clock is the best teacher of offensive basketball ever invented. Things need to change!
I want to get back to blogging here with a simple post. A question keeps returning to mind.
Will what we teach our kids about the nature of the game help them play it better (or at all) in 5-8 years?
It's not as simple as you might think. I am not just talking about technicalities. Not just pivot foot and sets and defensive rotations. I am talking about the very nature of the game and the understanding required to play it at a high level. Dynamically. Multi-positional. Offense/defense. Shot-selection.
One example: do your kids know that a catch-and-shoot jump shot (especially inside-out) is almost always a great shot?
I am retraining my college players to believe this. Really, really, emotionally/intellectually to believe this. Why? Because as kids they were taught that the closer they are to the rim, the better the shot. But that is not true! Not even close.
Of course, closer to the rim may help them win now, but it won't help them win later. We have to educate them on the basis of their basketball future. Take some time to think about what that means for you and for those you influence on the youth basketball front.
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.