Have you guys ever heard any version of this quote, “Individuals may get better in the off-season, but teams get better during the season.”
I think that while we can appreciate the mindset behind this, that team development must be the #1 priority during the season, this statement seems to imply that individual player development isn’t as important from October to March.
If that is the case, we should highly disagree. Individuals need to get better during the season as well. In fact, the most effective way for us to improve our team is to improve ourselves!
Individual player development (which includes both athleticism and movement training, as well as basketball skills and fundamentals; and even better understanding of and insight into the game on a bigger scale) should be addressed and given priority at every practice. To what extent we should focus on these elements depends on the age, skill level, previous experience of the players, the length of practice, and the time during season (early pre-season vs. playoff time).
I know we can’t win if nobody rebounds the basketball. I’d be willing to bet that some of you realize that for the overwhelming majority, “defense wins championships.” However, the name of the game is to put the ball in the basket. So working on offensive moves and getting up quality reps of game shots from game spots at game speed is paramount to our team’s success.
Before he coached his first practice as the head coach of Butler, a colleague recommended that Brad Stevens have a manager chart how many shots his best player took during a 2+ hour practice. Coach Stevens ran what he thought was an excellent practice (in-depth teaching, sound team concepts, etc). After practice he found out his best player took less than 25 shots the entire practice, which Coach Stevens immediately recognized was unacceptable. From that day forward he began to implement quality shooting drills in every single practice.
Former NFL coach Jon Gruden laughs when he hears other coaches say, “We need to get back to working on the fundamentals” after a tough loss. Get back to them? Why did you ever abandon or neglect them in the first place? That may even be why you lost!
“I discovered early on that the player who learned the fundamentals of basketball is going to have a much better chance of succeeding and rising through the levels of competition than the player who was content to do things his own way. A player should be interested in learning why things are done a certain way. The reasons behind the teaching often go a long way to helping develop the skill.” – John Wooden
While the amount of time we spend on everything will vary (and we have a limited practice schedule of only 2 hours – twice a week), I firmly believe every single one of our practices should have at least some aspect and component of individual player development.
Here are 7 keys to effective player development:
1. Build our game brick by brick. Every rep of every set of every practice is important. How you do anything is how you do everything. You learned to walk one step at a time. You build a house one brick at time. You build your game one drill at a time.
2. We have to leave our comfort zones. All of us have to buy into this together. Once a player has the movement, skill or footwork down, they need to push harder than game speed. The harder you practice, the easier things become during games.
3. Know the ‘why.’ Every drill must have some perceived relevance. That means the players can clearly understand how this particular skill or drill will improve their game performance. Will being able to dribble 3 basketballs reduce turnovers when the lights come on and the crowds start cheering on game nights? Doubtful. Therefore it has minimal perceived relevance, but any drill that incorporates something that can be used in a game is highly important and worth the time.
4. Use visualization. Great players like Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant don’t just do a drill; they compete in that drill with the same focus and effort as if they were in the waning seconds of Game 7 of the NBA Finals. They imagine they are being guarded by an elite defender; not just lazily ‘going around a cone.’
5. Avoid fatigue and boredom. These are two of the biggest killers of player development. We must get in better shape, increase our endurance and stamina. We can combat this issue by being in better basketball shape and by trying to use some more innovative, purposeful drills. But in the end, we must all work as a team to be able to run harder, run longer, and run together. When your body gets tired, your mind quickly follows. Nobody improves their ability to learn when their exhausted and worn out; we are less likely to get better at a skill when our minds and bodies are exhausted… so we must work on conditioning, always.
6. Do everything with precision. Details matter! Perfect form and footwork are imperative. If you want to build a beautiful brick house, you have to lay every single brick with care and precision. Every stone must be in the right place, or it will throw the others off. Once you start sloppily laying bricks… the house suffers (both in appearance and structural integrity).
7. We must learn from our past mistakes. Remember that nobody is perfect. When you make mistakes, be sure to take the time to analyze and learn from them. Don’t dwell on it with regret and lose sight of what you can learn from the mistake, but rather focus on what you can learn from it in order to prevent it from happening again. Great players realize when they did something wrong, admit it, and learn from it.
Also we all need to understand and remember that skill improvement takes time, and is often a process of 2’s:
• It takes 2 minutes to learn a new move or new skill.
• It takes 2 weeks to work on it daily until you develop confidence in it.
• It takes 2 months of constant work to be competent enough to use it in a game.
“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start in order to be great.” – John C. Maxwell