Playing Next Year: Job #1

At a recent holiday party, the conversation turned to one couples son (age 9, I’ll call him Joe, not his real name) who is playing recreation level basketball. Joe is on a team with a capable coach who runs terrific drills and keeps practices a lot of fun (according to his parents).

The problem lays unfortunately at the coaches feet and in his desire to win over what should be his #1 priority. Apparently, the coach instructs Joe and several other players to get the ball to one particular player. If players get rebounds, they are told to immediately get rid of the ball and move away.

Because the team is so young, there is no real offensive system, the coaches use  a set play where “Ed” gets the ball to “Randy”” who shoots, pretty much every time. Set plays are a big no-no in my opinion (I’m backed up by article after article  about why having a set play at this age is a mistake).

I’m a huge proponent of giving all of your young players a chance to score and to contribute to the team. This way, every single player becomes part of the  team and gives you the leverage to keep even those disinterested kids focused (peer pressure!). Teamwork is also my own coaching success strategy; far too often  teams lose because their star player doesn’t feel well, play well or the other team figures out a way to shut him or her down on a given night. I feel like if  I have a team where every player can contribute, then we ultimately have a chance to win every game.

The bonus (and the real reason) for developing such teams, especially at young ages is that kids just want to play. They are more interested in fun than in winning. When I ask kids if they would rather win every single game during the season, or get a chance to play all the positions and have fun they vote for playing and fun, not for winning. Sure, winning feels great. But I can tell you from personal experience that it feels a hell of a lot better when everyone on the team feels like they contributed to the victory.

Meanwhile Joe is completely discouraged and no longer wants to play basketball. It’s a shame and a tragedy. I’d say with certainty that a someone coaching kids younger than 14 in semi or non-competitive leagues should have a singular, overriding goal each season.

That goal is to simply get 100% of your team back again next season.   By teaching them teamwork, the basics of the game this isn’t impossible. It’s Job #1 for me, especially for the girls that I am lucky enough to coach.

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