Friday, July 29, 2011

Making Choices

I am preparing to help teach a high school government and economics course.  Introducing the subject of economics causes me to think about the conflict between unlimited desires and the limited resources available to meet those wishes.  The most popular example of this conflict in the news today seems to be the debate in Washington, DC, over the "debt limit."  Voters have expressed dissatisfaction with our tendency to legislate more benefits and government spending than our tax dollars can cover, causing enough politicians to "take a stand," however symbolic, by refusing to increase, without getting something equally symbolic in return, the amount of borrowing the Federal Government can undertake in the near future.

Just as we citizens will eventually be forced, by economic realities, to reconcile our government's spending with our willingness and ability to fund such spending through tax revenues, we coaches constantly make decisions about which aspects of the game to emphasize during our time with our players.  In yesterday's post, I expressed my belief that making the skill development process fun for players is the best way to ensure that they will spend the time needed to make the improvements they will want and need to make to reach their team, and individual, goals.  In addition to making this process enjoyable, a coach who is using player development as a key component of his strategy to build a competitive program needs to devote enough time and energy to skill work.

A coach recently asked me what I do with players during my "skill development workouts."  I warned him he would have to endure a long answer because midway through last season, I began devoting virtually the entire practice time to "skill development" (I plan to write soon about the specific drills that we use to improve skills).  I continued along that path during our summer practices and I intend to do the same next regular season.  So "skill development" is basically all I currently plan to do.

Over the years I have found that high school players do not magically appear with the dribbling, passing, and shooting skills required to properly execute an offensive system.  If a player cannot reliably dribble with both hands and pass under pressure he is unlikely to be able to read the defense and his teammate and execute the appropriate pass to get good scoring opportunities.  A player who cannot shoot the ball well is unlikely to be able to enter the ball into the post when his man sags and essentially double teams the post player.   I choose to install the least complicated offense (motion) and defense (man to man) possible so I can spend the majority of our practice time developing the shooting, dribbling, passing, rebounding, and defending skills that will hopefully allow me to gradually introduce more complicated offensive and defensive action.

After a relatively short time devoting significant practice time to developing basic skills, I have been surprised at the amount of progress players have made and at how quickly I am able to integrate more sophisticated action into our offensive habits.  I view basketball largely through my personal experience, and as a player, I literally worked on my game for hours a day, every day, all year, throughout my teenage years.  So after years of wishing that my players would devote more time to improving their games, I have learned how quickly improvements can be made with a relatively small time investment.  As explained in the last post, players that are making improvements in their shooting, ball handling, and passing skills have success in games, increasing satisfaction and enjoyment, and leading to more (and more enthusiastic) work.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has said that one of a coach's biggest decisions is to decide what to emphasize.  He explained that he once wanted to add a matchup zone to his team's toolbox of defenses.  After spending a significant amount of practice time working on the new defense, he found that his team was playing neither the traditional Duke man to man nor the new matchup zone well.  He decided that he had made a mistake in dividing his team's defensive practice into two parts.  His team was spending less time than previously working on the man to man defense, hurting the effectiveness of that defense, and spending even less time on the new matchup zone, causing its effectiveness to never develop.  He realized that his new fondness for a matchup zone did not coincide with any extra practice time, and that concentrating on something new means decreasing the time investment previously made to other areas.

I have decided that there are few activities that are worth sacrificing time that can otherwise be devoted to making our players more skilled and enabling them to gradually be able to handle more sophisticated schemes.  But this decision is a personal one.  Coaches in different situations, with different backgrounds, will come to different decisions.  However, it is important to understand that these decisions must be made.  Another thing Coach Krzyzewski has said (hopefully I don't butcher the quote too badly) that I have always tried to remember is that "it is not important what you know as a coach, but what your players consistently do under pressure."  Our players will consistently do the things that they consistently practice.  So choose what to practice wisely, or at least make a sincere effort to do so.

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