Sunday, 27 September 2015

The Kia Nurse Factor

Coaches can get caught up in the game, players can get caught up in the game and so it is fair to say that parents can be guilty of this as well. When it comes to parent behaviour there can be some very shocking events that transpire in the heat of the moment. After the fact the participants involved in these scuffles may feel bad about their behaviour but by then it may be too late to do much about it.    

Many of us have witnessed parents lashing out at referees, other parents and even the coach of their own child’s team.  It seems like when tempers flair no one is really safe from the wrath of a scorned parent who is attempting to protect their child. This is what makes this particular situation I witnessed that much more inspiring and impressive. 

It was 9:00am on a Saturday morning in April of 2015. The team I was coaching was playing up in a tournament and facing  teams in grade 10 that were a full year older than the players on my team.  This was the host team of the tournament and the game started a bit late due to some issues with the game clock. My team got out to an early lead and was leading by a comfortable margin from the beginning of the game until late into the second half.  The opposing coach had already been charged with one technical foul for lashing out at the referee on something he thought should have been called.  With less than a minute left in the game and my team up by about 10 points the referee called a foul on my centre.  As the referee approached the scorers table to report the foul the Head Coach of the other team started the slow clap to let the referee know its about time he called something worthwhile in his team’s favour. It should be noted that all throughout the game the calls didn’t seem one sided and the game was definitely not out of hand by any stretch. Calls were missed going both ways but not to a staggering degree.  So it came as a surprise when this opposing coach was showing so much outrage especially at this point in the game.  

The referee gave the coach a chance to calm down and stop what he was doing which was incredibly generous on the ref’s part.  When the coach continued on with his disrespectful display the referee ended up charging him with a second technical which ejected him from the game.  Once the team’s parents saw this they also started reacting as well which led to the referee also ejecting some of them too. 
It was what happened next that was truly inspiring.  As the players were lining up for the foul shots, the other team’s point guard made his way over to me and said “I am so sorry for how my coach and our parents are acting.”  My team captain team heard what he said and put his hand on the players’ shoulder as a non-verbal gesture to say it’s okay.  I told him not to worry about it we didn’t blame him.  

Due to the parents reacting to this call and some of the parents refusing to leave the game was called early. As both teams lined up to shake hands each of the players from the opposing team said to myself and my assistant coach “sorry for our parents and our coach”. I was so touched by such a sportsmanlike attitude by the players in light of such a contrasting viewpoint of they parents a few moments earlier.  Even as the boys shook our hands some of their parents were still charging towards the referees and insulting them. 

There are so many lessons basketball can teach when people take the opportunity to learn.  It is so refreshing when players learn things their parents haven’t quite grasped.  Here are a few lessons to take into account:

1) Players often learn more from losing than from winning - think back to the failures you have encountered in your life and remember the important lessons that came from that.  So, when you lose don’t lose the lesson. Often when a team wins they feel great and don’t take time to self reflect on what they can do better.  Losing often makes people stop and think often due to the pain that comes with not succeeding.  

2) The game is extremely difficult without referees - anyone who has ever played a pickup game without referees knows that it can sometimes turn into a courtroom where no one is ever guilty.  Especially when the call isn’t respected.  Pretty soon people are standing around arguing over whose ball it is and whether the infraction transpired of not. When this happens it can take a long time to get the game back on track again.   

3) Lose the attitude and keep the gratitude - Never forget being a referee is hard work! There are 10 players on the court and it is hard for 2 or 3 people to see every transgression that might happen.  Referees in many instances are keepers of the game in that they help to keep both teams in check.  We have all seen referees do a terrible job at times but always try to remember they are human and can make mistakes just like we all can.  Be as grateful as possible for their contribution and do your best to keep it positive. Also, keep in mind that many times referees at tournaments do many games in a row so sometimes fatigue can play a factor in their calls as well.  

4) Try to keep perspective in the stands - focus on the importance of enjoying watching your child and their team play.   Worry less about controlling the environment they are in. 

Sunday, 20 September 2015

The Lost Art of Shooting

Developing a consistent shot is probably one of the most reliables ways to earn your place on any team.  Good shooters are in need. Great shooters are a hot commodity.  If athletes knew how much coaches loved players that can shoot the ball they would definitely put more time in to improve their consistency.   

Coaches are always looking for athletes that can find a way to put the ball in the basket from mid-range to long distances. Investing the time to become a great shooter is such an overlooked way to make a team. I spend a lot of time in gyms and it seems like shooters have become extinct or are at least a very rare breed in this day and age. So I got thinking… what happened? How come there are so few players that are investing the time to get their shot going?

There are a few theories I am thinking about to help explain this: 

1. Shooting takes time - Learning to shoot takes effort, perseverance and can be incredibly lonely at times.  In a time where everything happens so instantaneously when it comes to learning the art of shooting players just don’t seem to stick with it.  There are so many other distractions that get in the way of shooting. Video games, hanging out with friends, watching TV, spending time on social media and the list goes on and on.  Shooters need to shoot! 

2. Access to gyms is much harder to find - shooters need time, space and a hoop to be able to perfect their shot.  The interesting thing is that so many players want to be comfortable in a nice warm or air conditioned gym (depending on the season).  They want the rims to be in pristine condition, the floor to be level and are not interested in shooting in the elements. Shooters need to toughen up!  Get your hands dirty and realize that dealing with different circumstances is what makes shooters great.  It is the mindset that you have to build that will help you to be successful.   The school doesn’t always let kids into the gym early or late anymore to get their shot going especially when living in a city.  This means players need to get resourceful to find a gym.  Here are a few ideas: 

  1. Find a community centre to shoot in
  2. Find an outdoor court to work at 
  3. Make friends with your neighbour that has a rim on their driveway 
  4. Work on the pieces of your shot in your garage or laying down on your bed.  Work on catching the ball into your shooting pocket or transitioning the ball up to the release.  You don’t always need a ball just work on the muscle memory of shooting.  
3. Shooters are obsessive -  Great shooters figure out how to shoot when the ball is slippery, when it’s windy, also when the sun is shining or when it’s hot.  They are prepared to shoot rain, snow, shine or wind.  They might get those gloves with the fingers cut off so they can still feel the ball and get their shot going in the winter for a longer period of time.  Those who shoot in the winter also know that you have to pump the ball up a bit more so that it will bounce at the right level.  They are obsessive about getting their shots up or working on their reps. The weather doesn’t stop them for getting it going. 

4. Players aren’t sure what to do - so many times I see flippant shots going on between drills.  Shooters need volume shots at a game like speed.  As a coach I want to see the quality of the reps not just reps for the sake of reps. Sure you can put up 3 shots between drills but if they aren’t game like I don’t want to see them.  Throwing it up from your waist or from half court doesn't count! Proper technique is important and it should be emphasized on every single shot you take.  

Also, great shooters have counter moves like a shot fake that actually looks like their shot so that they can free themselves up or draw fouls by getting the person up in the air.  Great shooters always have a plan and they track their results to know if they are getting better.  They don’t just show up and start shooting threes.  They don't take short cuts.  They get warm, get loose and get in a rhythm.  They have a shooting workout they work through so they maximize their time.  Three’s are an important part of being a great shooter but the mid-range game using 1 or 2 dribbles to get free and shoot a pull up jumper is rarely seen.     

Monday, 14 September 2015

Changing the Game Project

Imagine a 7 year old at a piano recital who is playing a song they have taken weeks or months to learn.  They make a mistake in their performance and their parent shouts from the back row “Ugh! You can do better than that! Come on!”  The collective gasp in the room would be quite apparent. 

This is the type of atmosphere that many young athletes face when they step on to the playing field and make a mistake.  Where at a piano recital we respect the mistake and allow the child to continue to play their song. In sports often times adults increase the pressure by getting upset and speaking out vocally.  They might also start talking to their child in the car ride home or get aggressive that their child isn’t doing something right that they expect them to.   

We have all made mistakes in our past and it is through these mistakes that we learn very important lessons.  It is these lesson that lead to the possibility of getting better and conquering even bigger lessons in life.  The way mistakes are responded to leads to the player making mistakes or learning the lesson in order to not repeat it going forward.  

There is no doubt that competitive sports have gotten a lot more intense over the last few years.  Parents have high expectations for their children or their children set big goals that they would like to achieve. Changing the Game Project is an organization dedicated to giving power back to kids and helping adults to realize that although well meaning the pressure and expectations are taking more away from the game than they are adding.  Changing the Game Project is helping adults involved in sports and working with youth to see it through the eyes of the kids.  They are helping by giving tools to guide us in being better advocates for these young players.  

Did you know that 70% of kids stop playing sports by the time they are 13 years old.  Some people might argue that this is because these kids weren’t that good, didn’t really like sports that much or were just trying it out.  This could be the case when it comes to some kids.  However, some attrition could also be due to the pressure they deal with when it comes to living up to expectations that are set too high from their parents.  These young athletes might end up burning out or dropping out even if they were a good player simply because it was too much for them to take in.  

There was a study done in 2014 for George Washington University, researcher Amanda Visik interviewed many young athletes and asked them why they played sports 9 out of 10 said they played because it was fun.  The children who were involved in this study were asked to list what they defined as fun. There was a list of 81 things here were the Top 6 responses:

  1. Trying your best 
  1. When coach treats players with respect 
  1. Getting playing time 
  1. Playing together as a team 
  1. Getting along with your teammates 
  1. Exercising and being active 

Here were some notable things that were at the end of the list:
48. Winning
63. Playing in Tournaments
66. Practicing with specialty trainers and coaches 
67. Earning medals and trophies 

This is very telling about what the focus should be on to help build a more positive environment for young kids in sport.  As time goes on there is no doubt that sports should become more challenging in order to build athletes that are ready for tougher competitive stages.  However, this increase should be done over a longer period of time and shouldn't start when kids are just learning skills.  The trouble comes when young athletes are put into a pressure cooker before they are capable of handling it.  Sure we want to make kids that are resilient and can handle tough situations but it doesn't have to happen instantly.  Kids should be allowed to develop, learn and in some cases struggle a bit in order to find their way.  Very few athletes fit the mould of being able to perform in pressurized environments from a very young age. Some of that needs to be taught and developed over many years of an athlete's life.  If you want to learn more about John O'Sullivan's and Changing the Game Project please visit  

Standing Out for The Right Reasons at Tryouts

As many athletes brace themselves to head into tryouts there are some important ideas that can really help you to stand out for the right reasons in order to impress your new prospective coaches.  I definitely have a lot of experience with this topic because I know what I am looking for as well as items many of my coaching friends are looking for when I did an informal survey of their thoughts to write this.  

More importantly as a player I walked on to both a college and a university teams using many of these strategies listed below. It is really important to stand out in positive ways in order to help your cause of getting selected for the team you aspire to make.    

1. Hustle, Hustle, Hustle 
This is by far the most important skill that can be done to help you make a team.  Not hustling is a sure way to get cut and quickly.  Coaches do not want lazy players on their team for extremely obvious reasons.  They want to see players who are willing to do extra and don’t waste time executing what they have just demonstrated.  Hustling is very much something that needs to be practiced just like any other skill from shooting to ball handling.  It extremely hard to continue hustling all practice or tryout especially once fatigue sets in. Those who manage to do this really increase their chances of a positive result.    

In the dozens of tryouts I have been a part of I have never once heard a coach say “Let’s not pick that player he just hustles way too much.”  So if you want to put all of the odds in your favour to make the team you are trying out for this is one of the most important pieces to be ready to demonstrate.  

Lets talk about some of the ways to hustle in the tryout itself? 
  1. When the coach calls you in at the beginning of the tryout
  2. When coach explains a drill and also when it is time to execute what they have shown you
  3. When you get into a competitive game or a drill
  4. When you have made a mistake 
  5. When you don’t feel like hustling anymore and especially when you are tired 
  6. When you get to go for water and you take a drink and hustle right back in ready to go

Remember if you hustle and really choose to demonstrate this skill you have to be consistent and carry it as part of your game going forward. You can’t just get out of the habit of this simply because you have reached your goal and made the team.  

2. Defence Matters 
One of the biggest mistakes players often make is thinking that coaches only care about how many points a player scores.  During a tryout the coach is well aware that no systems have been put into place and that many of the players who are in the gym do not know each other well.  It is a good idea to not only focus on how many points you score.  Coaches want to know that you can contribute on both ends of the court.  If you get scored at a high frequency you become a huge liability and your team gets exposed on the defensive end of the court.  

Be ready to shut down the player you are guarding.  Also, take care in not matching up with the easiest opponent on the court either because that can be very obvious as well.  Coaches see things like that and it raises red flags!  Something that really can stand out in a tryout is if you are the person that is rotating to help and communicating to your teammates defensively.  Coaches love to see leadership and commitment to defence.  

3. Keep it Simple 
Many players make the mistake of trying to do way too much in a tryout situation.  They think that the Coach is looking for them to do all sorts of things: shoot threes, make these amazing circus shots, take the off balance jumper, go to the shot block instead of taking the charge or playing good help defence.  When you do those things you actually hurt your chances of making a team.  It is much better to keep it simple and work within the constraints of your game.  Before going into the tryout think of your best skills and what you can do to to highlight those to the coaches.  

Coaches want to know you can be a consistent player that can be worked with.  They want to see that you can play within a team concept and aren’t looking to “hit the game winner” every possession. Sometimes less is more, for example, if it takes you 10 dribbles to get somewhere on the court that an efficient player could get to in 2 dribbles then work on being more effective.  Players stand out when they have a consistent and solid game rather than a flashy game with no substance.  

4. Set Other People Up for Success 
Tryouts can really bring out the individualist type of player. It can seem like a packed court on a Saturday where everyone is just trying to get a run and stand out.  If you can introduce some structure and look to make others around you look great that can be a skill that really stands out for you.  Making the extra pass, setting a great screen and rolling, or encouraging a teammate to get better stands out to coaches like you wouldn’t believe.  

This can also be done by jumping in and being one of the players that demonstrates the drill, fills lines or gets the basketballs for the next drill.  If you have an appropriate question to help clarify something the coach may have forgot to mention then be a leader and step up to ask it.  Coaches really like seeing players who look to help others but don’t ask questions the coach has already provided answers for.  This can make them mad!   

5. Use What You Have Learned As Soon As Possible
In a tryout coaches are trying to see which players retain and understand the content they expect you to learn.  Players can really make themselves look amazing when they put something they just practiced into work during another drill or a scrimmage. This could be something as as easy as how to do a proper left hand layup, where to go on dribble penetration, how to screen or where to go after you pass the ball.  Whatever it is that you learn during the tryout try to remember what it was, use it in the game and make it part of your game. Some really great players even have a basketball journal.  When they get home they write things down to remember that they learned during the session. They also write down what they need to improve on.   

6. Pay Attention to Your Gear
Wear something that stands out because when coaches are on the sidelines talking to each other they may not know every person’s name who is in the gym.  So they might say “did you see the kid in the orange shirt?” or “what about the one wearing the pink shoes?” If you wear all black or colors that all of the other players are wearing coaches have a hard time explaining which athlete they are speaking about.  Remember you don’t need to come out to the tryout in pylon orange but just do something simple that stands out.  I wore a yellow shirts to all of my tryouts in University and I could hear the coaches talking about me on the sideline. This doesn’t mean it is a guarantee it just helps to make sure the coaches at least saw you and made a decision about you which is way better than not being noticed at all.   

7. Show Off Your Positive Attitude
This is a huge way to stand out.  Get to the tryout early and offer to help set up anything the coaches may need.  Have a shooting or dribbling workout in mind so when you get there and get ready you can take the time to work on your game before practice even starts. There is nothing worse as a coach than when a player comes in and takes their first shot from half court or from the three point line prior to warming up.  For many of us that can be like nails down a chalkboard or in some cases a nail in the coffin for that player not making the team.

If your team is losing in a drill stay positive and try to spark your teammates to do better. It is a huge bonus if you can help to change the outlook of your team or to help turn the situation around coaches may notice that. Those other players may not make the team but that doesn’t matter it is important to treat them well.  If you resort to yelling or treating the players in your group badly this can be a huge warning sign for coaches that your attitude isn’t right.  They might think if you treat athletes in a tryout badly what will you do during the season when tensions are high with your very own teammates.  

***Bonus Message*** 

This is a special message 

Coaches sometimes cut players for the parents behaviour throughout the tryout process.  If the Coach sees that you are there in a positive way to support the athlete than that is great.  However, they will look that you keep your distance and keep your comments to yourself.  If however, you are coaching your athlete on the sidelines by coming on to the court or talking to them during breaks this can be a very clear red flag.  Parents don’t want to hear that they are the reason their child was cut but coaches just don’t want unnecessary drama, especially when they are volunteering.  It can hurt your child’s chances if you are too overbearing or on the other completely absent. So be cautious with how you are coming across.