Sunday, 19 February 2017

23 Characteristics of Great Players

I am part of a distribution list called The Coaching Toolbox which gives amazing resources to coaches  and I came across this article. Apparently it was a part of Alan Stein’s Coaching Nuggets Collection. The author is Coach Lyndsey Fennelly of  Lyndsey Fennelly is a former WNBA player and is now a coach that does a great job of developing players.  I love her material a lot so you will have to take a look at her list.  

1- Getting Better – the #1 emphasis and purpose behind training. Each athlete’s goal every time you walk into a gym should be to pick up 1-2 new golden nuggets of improvement. Commit to this improvement by starting a basketball journal and writing the concepts you learn each day down on paper for maximum information retention. The way to create big separation in your game is by picking up as many ‘little things’ as you can.

2- Energy – there are 2 things people do when they walk into any room: they either take away energy with frowns, negative body language, and constant complaints or they give energy with genuine smiles, positive body language, and encouraging comments. An energetic gym is more fun to be so, as is living an energetic life. Create the energy in your own gyms, classrooms, and other environments.

3- Focus – most people attribute the success of athletes to the physical game. This is key and important, but you cannot under-estimate the power of a strong and focused mind. Great players focus on what is taking place in every drill, every practice, every game, and every day. The mind is constantly asking oneself : What can I do in this moment to get better?

4- Hustle – great players have an uncommon hustle. You should know that your career window is limited, so make it a habit to maximize every second every time you are in the gym. Set the standard of hustle in your practices, not in games. Great players don’t have an ‘on-off switch’; they simply have it always turned ‘on’!

5- Attitude – one of the few things in life we can control. You have only one today your entire life. Why not have a great attitude every single day? What’s special is having a terrific attitude every day under every circumstance. Show off your great attitude during the toughest of times – that’s impressive.

6- Commitment – the act of being pledged, loyal, and true to your dreams and visions. Create a goal for this season. Write it down somewhere that you can look at it daily. Remind yourself of the commitment you’ll need to make both on and off the court this year to have a successful season.

7- Passion – do what you love and love what you do. You cannot fake passion. If you truly love the game of basketball, you should have a passion for your improvement and development. You should have passion every time you step into the gym with a willingness to learn and mentality of, ‘what can I do to get better?’

8- Teamwork – in a team sport like basketball, the we is always more important than the me. The better the team, the more noticed the player. Do all you can to foster great teamwork, knowing that will get you the attention most players desire? A program with great teamwork, constantly putting others before themselves, is easily envied by the weak.

9- Body Language – 93% of what we say is non-verbal. You are constantly communicating even if your mouth isn’t moving. Communicate all the time that you’re paying attention, you’re engaged, you’re tough, and you’re eager to learn more. Great body language will make your coaches coach you more, will make your teachers teach you more, and will make an employer want to hire you one day.

10- Hard Work – “If everyone worked as hard as I did, I would be out of a job” is a quote by Steve Nash that is a great reminder that there is truly no substitute for hard work. Hard work is unquestionably one of the best
skills you can master to master a successful life both on and off the court. Allow no one to out work you.

11- Control – control of body, control of eyes, control of thoughts, control of emotions, control of the game,control of the tempo, and most importantly, control the controllable. Rather than blame, make excuses, or point
fingers, focus on the things you can control : your effort, your attitude, your mind.

12- Practice Makes Pe…Permanent – practice does not make perfect, it instead makes permanent. Great players don’t go half speed at any time, knowing that the opportunity to become permanently great was just missed. Practice habits that will make your game permanently improve and allow you to compete at the highest level.

13- Sportsmanship – the best players have a respect for the game, its rules, officials, and participants, including coaches, players, and fans. Be gracious in defeat and humble in wins without compromising the unrelenting desire to succeed, improve, and most importantly win.

14- Character – you speak louder in action than you do with words with the decisions you make. Live this simple rule : “do the right thing”. If you don’t whether you know it’s right or wrong, it’s most likely the wrong decision. Treat others as you want to be treated, including your teammates. Be ‘bigger’ than negative people and show off your true self all the time, not just when things are going well.

15- Pride – a true champion has the pride of a lion: self-respect and personal worth. You have satisfaction with your achievements, and you allow your pride to fuel your burning passion to always improve. Those with pride
have a feeling of ‘dislike’ when they know they’ve fallen below their own standards.

16- Loyalty – you are honest with your family, your coaches, your teammates, your friends, your teachers, but most importantly, yourself. You are loyal in words and actions with those you surround yourself with. Be loyal to these people in life by never violating their trust, turning your back on them, or speaking about them instead of to them.

17- Appreciation – life is TOO short to not appreciate each and every day you are given on this Earth. Two powerful words that we don’t use enough: “thank you” can be said more often than most do. Be verbally appreciative with sincere words and physically appreciative by never wasting an opportunity on court to improve.

18- Respect – most importantly, respect yourself because it’s impossible to respect others if you can’t respect the most important person in your life, you. Treat others as you want to be treated: coaches, parents, teachers, friends, family, teammates, officials, and opponents. Respect the facilities you play in and the environments you are surrounded by.

19- Accountability – you are the driver of your own life and of your own career. Do not fall prey to allow others to dictate your future. Take accountability and responsibility for your actions, your dedication, your work ethic,and ultimately, your decisions. Hold yourself to a higher standard of excellence than anyone else.

20- Finish – the great Michael Jordan once said, “It’s not how hard you push along the way, it’s having something in you to finish”. The great players and people in life finish what they have started. Make it a habit to complete everything you do with the same energy and effort you start with.

21- Intensity – an effort defined by expression of great zeal, energy, determination, and concentration. You ‘attack’ drills with speed, power, and a rage for improvement. Your end of game intensity is paralleled by your in
practice intensity. You show off your intensity not only in effort, but in your consistent body language.

22- Poise – having a calmness under every situation and always being yourself. Pressure situations don’t faze you, but instead bring out your greatness. You are always communicating an “I got this” with your teammates and coaches. People turn to you knowing you have an un-faze-ability.

23- Excellence – “the habit of excellence can become enjoyable addictive” (Dick DeVenzio, author of Stuff Good Players Should Know). We have trained all Fall Skills in creating habits of excellence on the court. Make excellence your habit in everything you do. Be an excellent student. Be an excellent friend. Be an excellent daughter, son, sister, brother. Be an excellent athlete. Be an excellent human being.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Practice Habits and Self Evaluation

Players of all sports often hear the saying “You practice how you play!”  It is important to evaluate your personal practice habits and the environment you are contributing to as a player in order for your team to work at its highest level.  Many players make the mistake of leaving it to their coaches to push them and make them better.  If you are waiting for your coaches you may be waiting too long and missing out on some key development opportunities that can help to take your game and your team to the next level.  Players that expect their coach to motivate and push them all of the time are like wheelbarrows.  Expecting someone to pick you up and move you around can be very labour intensive for a coach because they have a lot of players to work with.  If the majority of players are expecting that you tend to not go as far as teams with self-motivated players.  It is much better to be self-sufficient and find your own way as an athlete. It’s similar to an animal being fed in a zoo versus an animal finding their own food in the wild. The zoo animal waits for things to come to them.  The wild animal fends for itself and figures things out.  

 A coach is definitely someone that can assist you on a personal level but they are looking at the whole team it is hard for them to catch everything.  They don’t know you as well as you know yourself so it is possible for a player or two to slip through the cracks. They may be also dealing with those players that have the biggest problems so it is a really good idea to learn how to motivate and fend for yourself. This will help you to find the best long term development.      

Performance Is Not a Switch 
The whole meaning behind the saying above is that the energy and atmosphere you bring to practice is the same energy you are bringing to the game when the game starts.  Many players make the mistake of not bringing their best to practice and so when the game starts they are not ready.  The thing about performance is that it isn’t a switch you can turn on and off with any degree of accuracy. Really great players only have one switch they are always on.  If you take moments off at practice you are definitely going to do the same in games.  Even when these elite players are on the bench they are still engaged in the game and ready to go. Get in the same mentality you do for practice as when you are in a game.  Listen to music, get into the proper mentality and play at game speed. Your mentality should be to prove you are the best person in the gym and better than YOU were yesterday. 

Find Your Level 
Without a question you will know yourself better than anyone will so hold yourself to a high standard. In high school I was on a very under-skilled team where I grew up.  Over the summer I attended a basketball camp in Hawaii and my eyes were opened to a whole other level of playing.  When I got back to my team’s practices I held myself to a higher standard and that became the level for my play.  It didn’t matter what my teammates were doing I had my own goals in mind and it was like playing golf I was more interested in trying to play against myself.  My goal was to make myself better as well as my teammates.  I knew my teammates didn’t have the same goals as me but I worked with them to help our entire team be successful. I was the player setting the tone for my teammates and I worked with them to help us to be successful.    

Bring Others With You 
The energy level is critical if you are a leader on the team then it is up to you to get the best out of your teammates. If you don’t think practice has the right level of energy then work on shifting it.  Leaders work on bringing others with them and one by one they start to change the energy level of those on the team.  They might even take time over a water break to pull people in and encourage each other to give more. You might see something your coach doesn’t see so really work on being positive and encourage your teammates to give their best. Positivity is key and use your leadership to provide the guidance as well as encouragement.  If you try to get what you need through being negative it isn’t as easy for people to buy in but sometimes it is needed to get the message across. Sometimes a teammate needs to hear the truth there is nothing more detrimental to the team than fake harmony.  Be real, honest and authentic to each other in order to be able to perform your best. Most importantly show you care because it goes a long way.        

Get On The Same Page 
Basketball is a team game so if your team is on the same page and locked in they will be successful or at least on the right path.  If the players start buying in and coaching each other from the inside and the coach is doing their part it helps to develop a new level of teamwork.  When everyone is working together towards the same ends the team moves much more effectively towards the goal.  The more engaged the team is the more they move in the same direction.  Think of the opposed where everyone on the team pulling in a different direction and going nowhere.  

Focus On The Details 
You might do the same drill over and over again throughout the course of a season or even during your career.  The higher the level of play the more important it is to be locked into the details and doing things right every single time.  This is what it takes to master skills and also hold other people accountable as well.  This can be really powerful in terms of your development of standards over time.  Work on figuring out the drill from a mastery perspective by understanding the details.  Look to re-engage with the drill by thinking of one of the same details you want to do correctly every single time.  Whether it is from the start of practice all the way through to the cool down really lock into executing the small things.  

Practice Self-Evaluation 

1) Are you an energy giver or a taker on your team?

2) What is your preparation when you come to practice? How does that differ when you are getting ready for a game?

3) Do you encourage other people on your team to get involved when they are holding back?

4) Do you go at every drill in practice to make it game speed or to get better? 

5) Do you practice your hustling skills?

6) Are you vocal in practice in a positive way (talking on defence, giving reminders, cheering when you aren’t involved in the drill)?

7) Do you take it easy on your teammates because you are friends instead of pushing them to be better players?  

8) What can you do to make your team better in practice?

9) Is there anything you are holding back from your team that you want to identify?  

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Playing BIG

At certain points when kids are growing there can be a very large discrepancy in size.  It can be a tough thing to deal with especially for kids who are on the smaller end of the scale. I remember last year one of my players who was in grade 8 was literally half the size of one of the players on the grade 9 team we were scrimmaging against. When he stood beside the centre he only came up to his waist.  There is a saying that is often used “It’s not how big you are, it’s how big you play” or another one often used is "It's not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog." This can be of comfort to help players to cope with being small as they have to learn to work harder and engage in figuring out what skills to focus on that will set them apart. 

When you aren’t the biggest player figuring out what your skill set is can help you harness your game. Are you fast, are you a lock down defender, are you a great passer, are you focusing on shooting the ball, do you do the small intangible things that help your team be successful, are your courageous, are you a good teammate? Most importantly do you play BIG? None of those things have anything to do with size.  Sometimes getting exposed can be the best thing to happen to you.  Although it can be painful and very raw to know that truth. If you learn to evolve it can be a blessing.  This knowledge can help you to change your game as you continue to find your niche. Everyone has limitations to their individual game, after all no one is perfect, but it is those that focus their skills that will find a way to improve.  

Take Wayne Gretzky for example, on many of the teams he played on he was a couple of years younger than many of his teammates.  In one of his books I read he credited that experience with helping him build his incredible vision on the ice because he had to know where all of the big players were at all times due to fear.  Take away that experience and he wouldn’t be the same player he ended up being during his career.  In your journey in sports as well as in life there are always things to overcome and figure out.  Just giving up or getting discouraged doesn’t help you to grow.  Quitting or holding back limits your ability to think of a solution or find a way to evolve yourself. Some of your biggest strengths will come from your toughest challenges.  Keeping with something even when its hard and using your brain to get better is a great way to overcome obstacles.    

What does it mean to play BIG?

Well playing BIG is for everyone not just for players who are physically big.  Playing BIG means doing the little things that help your team to be successful.  When I think of playing BIG I often think of a player coming down on a fast break ready to do a layup and they have a defender coming from behind to block their shot.  Instead of taking the layup right away the player does a pump fake under the basket. As their opponent misses the ball and flies right past them the offensive players finishes their layup.  To me this is the epitome of playing BIG.   It doesn’t matter if the player is big, small or somewhere in between they used their mind to conquer the situation and it stands out because they made the right read.  Here are a couple of other examples of playing BIG: 
  • Setting great screens 
  • Making the extra pass to get your team an open shot 
  • Diving on the floor for a loose ball 
  • Taking a charge 
  • Learning to make good decisions especially around shot selection 
  • Hustling
  • Developing the mentality to fight back

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.  Sure big players have an advantage and there are many times when a coach is going to give preference to a player that is big and has potential to get better over a smaller guard. However, being a big guy isn’t always the best scenario when players are younger.  In fact, sometimes they grow so fast that they don’t know where their limbs start and end so they can be very uncoordinated.  I have seen a player that went through a growth spurt try to catch a ball that went through his hands and hit him right in the face.  There are also the growing pains and injuries that can come from growing too fast.  Keep in mind that when you are the biggest guy on the court you are also often tasked with guarding the biggest player from the other team which isn’t always glamorous if you aren’t as big, strong or skilled. There are many different types of big and so sometimes you might be a skinny guy that has to guard someone that is very strong and powerful which can be very challenging.  Sometimes coaches pigeon hole big players and don't allow them to do what they want to in terms of being outside the paint or shooting the ball (yes that still happens).  Also, the rest of your life you have to deal with people asking you how tall you are or make comments about it on a continual basis.  

In closing, you can’t control how fast or how much you grow. You also can’t control when either because some people hit their growth spurt early while others may be incredibly late.  What you can control is how you react to it and the way you are going to choose to help yourself to find ways to get better.  You can set yourself up to grow by eating healthy, getting enough sleep and getting enough exercise.  You can also perfect your skills and learn to do the fundamentals to set yourself up for success.  Striving for personal greatness isn’t easy.  Whether you end up growing a little or a lot is outside of your control but using the experience to be the best version of yourself is always a great way to manage the obstacle.