Sunday, 29 November 2015

How Invested Are You In Your Team?

There are a many players (and parents) that are always looking for the next best opportunity.  They will leave their team at the drop of a hat trying to find the next best place to play.  They can be easily persuaded to situations that they think are greener pastures.  I have seen players play for a new team every single season for a few years in a row and notice that over time they really haven’t improved that significantly. It is very tough to build continuity that way and even worse to develop any type of loyalty and skill base over a period of time.   This also isn’t the best message to send to the coaches that have invested in the player, the club that has supported the athlete and the teammates that have bonded and depend on each other. 

I always think when it comes to developing great players at the younger age levels it is always better to be a leader on your own team than a follower on someone else’s team.  Leadership qualities need to be developed and practiced and it needs to be worked on consistently.  It is these lessons that play a big roll when joining a team at the next level.  Some players value joining “All-Star” teams because they want to win.  Many of these players end up sitting on the bench watching their teammates play and don’t have all the opportunities they could have had if they stayed with their own team.  There is something so special and rewarding when creating a winning team versus just joining one.  It's this type of development that is priceless and the lessons that come with it that go far beyond the basketball court.      

When it comes to your teams success are you “All-In”?  If the answer is yes then players will demonstrate this through their actions by buying in completely to the concepts the coach is teaching.  They work on their game on their own and find ways to work with others in challenging situations.  They will talk with their coach to figure out ways they should be getting better.  They have a good idea what they need to improve on over the course of the season and also during the off season.  

Nothing stops athletes that are All-In.  They plan their homework, social plans and even jobs around the practices, games and team events.  Even when they are injured these athletes still show up to practice not only because they want to be in the gym to see what is going on but they want to support their teammates, be supported by their teammates, continue to learn what the coach is teaching and help out where they can.  There are some injuries or ailments when it is best for the athlete to stay home to recover but for the most part it is a good idea to be around the team when going through challenging circumstances that injuries might bring.   

If you are invested properly in your team when a teammate has a break out game or achieves a personal best you are genuinely happy for them.  All-In teammates don’t get jealous or upset about the success of others. They know that that each individual teammates success is good for the entire team.   Sometimes this can be a very hard realization to come to.  However, if you are invested in your team you can quickly transition to the value of that player and what they are adding to the team overall.  

During a huddle athletes that are All-In have their hand all the way into the pile as the team does the cheer.  I have seen athletes be way out of the circle, walking away as the cheer was being shouted and completely disengaged.  This makes it very clear what their intentions are and where their heart is at.  

One of the last things that is a giveaway for athletes that are invested in their teammates is their ability to continue to work on their game.  If they bring things back to their teammates that they have learned in other programs  they might be a part of and genuinely care about working together as well as improving that can something really special to witness. It is this type of culture that can help the players and the team as a whole to go a long way.  All-In players are an extension of the coach and really help to make the team succeed overall because they work to enforce and remind other teammates of the message the coach has been working to get across to them.  The more of these types of players that are on the team is usually an indication of how successful the team will become.    

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Limp

When playing high school basketball one of my teammates had such an interesting mistake response.  After shooting the ball if she made the shot she would run back on defence and everything was great.  However, if the shot was missed she would begin limping back like her leg hurt.  It was almost as though unconsciously saying to those watching “I missed the shot because my leg hurts so forgive me. I am playing through an injury. ” Just to be clear there was nothing physically wrong with her leg and I don’t think she even knew she did that.  By the very next play her phantom injury was gone but every single time she missed a shot the same response happened where she would start limping.  

The other day I was thinking about it in the context of owning the mistakes that are made on the court.  You can only fix what you choose to acknowledge. We all have moments where the wrong call, read or decision is made.  The most important thing is working on figuring and analyzing further why certain situations happened in the first place.  The next step is to figure out how to correct them in order to move forward and continue to improve.  This can also involve avoiding the situation entirely going forward.  

These mistake responses can be very natural and engrained.  I can recall one player that I used to coach when given the ball he would dribble to the corner and then turtle over the ball.  Anyone who knows basketball knows that is probably one of the worst things to do because it significantly decreased the ability to make a good decision. You are completely at the mercy of the defence and your options are limited exceptionally fast.  Over time he worked on getting comfortable and took steps to stop doing this.  It took time to get him to change his behaviour which is true for any amount of change that is undertaken. It just doesn't happen instantly.  

On the other hand, one of my university teammates had one of the best mistake responses that I have ever witnessed.  When she made an unforced error she didn’t react she just focused on the next best thing she could do in order to help to fix the mistake.  She didn’t retaliated, get upset, pout down the court or waste energy instead she just got back on defence as fast as she could and focused on doing her part to stop the other team from scoring off of her error. Sometimes I think when players react it is more about them acknowledging to others that they made a mistake or in some situations a way to deflect the responsibility off of themselves.     

There is something so powerful about taking ownership of the mistakes you make.  Something so freeing knowing that going forward you can make a new choice when a similar situation arises.  Taking the power back that you aren’t a slave to the situations of the past is such an incredible feeling.  Taking a good hard look at yourself in moments of weakness, poor judgement or pain can really help to make you better.  Especially, when it isn't necessarily that pretty to look at. This is exactly how good people become great.  

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Pressing Mentality

One of the staple items coaches use over the course of a season is the press.  Presses are often used to change the tempo of the game and increase stressful situations for your opponent.   The increased tempo forces teams and players to have to think more quickly which in turn speeds up their judgements.  Against the right team and in the right situations it can really change the course of the game in terms of changing the momentum.  A good well executed press is probably one of the most difficult things to simulate in practice.  Pressing can really give your team such an advantage.  

No matter what the press looks like there are always some standard staples that should be included in pretty well every press.  

Presses simply do not work without players getting to the spots on their court where they need to be.  The most successful pressing teams are the ones that can crank the level of pressure and intensity level up to the next level.  This is when the offensive team is really challenged and may be pushed beyond their capacity to deal.  Even when the offensive team thinks the press has been broken great pressure teams force them into taking poor shots which achieves the same result since you get a stop if the rebound is secured.  

Pressure the Ball: 
The first part of ball pressure is forcing the person with the ball to make quick and uncomfortable decisions.  They cannot look around and over the press to be able to reason it through.  With someone right on them it helps to force the ball handler into make poor choices including putting the ball on the floor.  Make sure when you are pressuring that you aren’t fouling.  This can take away the entire purpose of the press as you are stopping time, allowing them to think as well as potentially getting players in foul trouble.   

Anticipate and Rotate: 

When pressing you cannot second guess and wonder what is going to happen next.  There are only a limited number of options that opposing players can execute at any given moment and perhaps one of the most important points is to be able to work on not letting the other team beat you by breaking the press the same way twice.  One of the ways to read effectively what is going to happen next is to look at the eyes and body positioning of the passer.  There is a very important point in making educated guesses at where you think you can take a chance and get a steal.  Some players make the mistake of gambling a lot but remember if you are wrong that could lead to the opposing team breaking the press and scoring.  Make sure to learn from mistakes and the wrong decisions of others in order to maximize the effectiveness of your press.  If you do make a wrong decision communicate while hustling back because someone will have to cover and rotate for you so you will probably have to pick up another check in the process of getting back.  

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Receiving Feedback

One of the most difficult parts of being a great player is being able to take feedback and sometimes criticism put it into action in order to get better.  High level athletes have an incredible gift at seeing coaching as exactly what it is and work on improving in the way they have been told.  The level of accuracy used by the athlete will definitely determine the level they will achieve over the course of their career.    

Some athletes are incredibly sensitive or disinterested in learning how to get better this way.  They seem to be more interested in being right and protecting themselves than in improving.  

Resist the Urge for Excuses - Sometimes it is hard to resist the urge to explain why something has happened the way it has.  When a coach is fixing something it's important to not make excuses or explain away a situation by simply dismissing it.  This is a really bad habit to get into.  Instead own what has been done even if the coach or the referee is wrong and learn the lesson from it.  Always explaining away the problem really develops a poor mechanism to take direction and just adapt.  On a team this is a very valuable characteristic to develop because if one player starts to make excuses other players start thinking that is normal or acceptable behaviour. It is a mess when an entire team starts showing this sense of entitlement and weakness.  

Listen to the Feedback  - Probably the biggest urge when feeling threatened is to block out the feedback or just make it seem like you are listening until the information can be dismissed. Some of the hardest things to hear are the most valuable items to pay attention to as a player.  If your coach starts in on something you feel you have heard a thousand times maybe ensure you are actually doing it.    

Put the Feedback into Practice - The sooner you can put the feedback you have received into practice the better it is.  Focus on solutions rather than obstacles.  If other teammates see you saying "Yes Coach!" and you then turning around and doing it then it will help to encourage them to do the same.  Overall, your team will be a lot more cohesive and chances are more successful as a result.  

Ask Questions - Players that really make the biggest strides are those that go one step further and when appropriate ask questions for further clarification.  Sometimes it is the wrong time to ask a coach a question because there just isn’t time to stop and answer.  But, during a break, before or after practice it is a really good idea to get further clarification.  It is really important to take the right tone when asking the question. The wrong tone can really escalate the situation in a bad direction.  If you think it is appropriate try to ask the coach in that moment though so that you can try to get the right answer when you need it.  

In closing, coaches have to know that often the level of trust they have developed with an athlete will determine the level of their willingness to implement what they are being asked to.  Delivery from the coach and the aptitude of individual athletes is or course important to take into consideration as well.  Coaches are often prepared to adapt to their players.  However, players definitely need to find a way to adapt to their coaches too. This is critical for the success of the team long term.  

Sunday, 1 November 2015

5 Ways to Find the Silver Lining in an Injury

High level athletes hate being injured. If an athlete is okay with having a serious injury and it isn’t that challenging for them to get through then I would say their level of desire should definitely be questioned.  Injuries break many athletes apart. It isn’t just the physical pain, it may not be the process of recovering either.  I would venture to say that the hardest part is the withdrawal of not being able to play.  Not being able to do something that you really rely on to get through.  There is nothing worse than knowing you can’t play because you are hurt or someone decides for you that playing needs to put on hold.  There are many lessons and important skills that can be developed when a player recovering from a serous injury. 

1) Get To Know Your Body Better - Injuries help you shift to a place where you can learn more about the inner workings of your body.  Many athletes push through a lot of pain on a continual basis and by doing so they learn to block out important messages that are being sent in order to keep going.   Knowing how to come back from an injury is a very different skill set. You have to learn how to work with your body to get back to a place where recovery is complete.  It can be a very delicate balance.  Push too hard and you take steps backwards in the process.  Don’t push yourself hard enough and you may not be able to return because your body isn’t ready. Who knows, the work you do now might save you from future injuries or help you on the road to recovery.  

2) Gauge What You Are Made Of - This lesson rings true for many fallen athletes.  Dealing with adversity really is such a powerful tool in being able to strive for your personal greatness. There is nothing like an injury to help you to dig deep and find parts of yourself that that you didn’t even know were there.  The recovery back to playing can be a very time consuming and a very unique personal journey.  Injuries contain lessons and lessons help to unlock very important parts of what is required for the next phase of life.  Getting through tough injuries is a test and a badge of honour once on the other side. 

3) Analyze Your Teammates And Opponents - Being injured is an excellent way to take a step back and look at your teammates and opponents for weaknesses and tendencies you potentially didn’t see before.  It can help to give you an advantage when you are ready to return to play. You can learn how to push them to become better and uncover ways to compete very differently against them.  

4) Increase Your Mental Capacity for the Game - While injured no doubt strive to become a student of the game. The mental side of basketball is one of the biggest parts of the game that is also probably the most under developed in the majority of athletes.  It is critical for long term success to become knowledgeable in common situations.  It never hurts to work on elevating your game by trying to learn more about it when you aren’t able to go to full capacity. Even just visualizing and working on your game that way can really show some improvement.  

5) Provide Leadership and Spirit - One of the most important things to do when you are injured is to maintain a positive outlook.  Being around the team to provide leadership on how to get through challenging circumstances as well as providing spirit and energy is very important.  Whenever possible do your best to be around basketball and your teammates.  You will give them positive energy and they can provide you with support.  Be the spark they require in times of need.  Share your thoughts about what you are seeing from the sideline to help your coaches.  Be the teammate they need you to be while you are out.