Basketball and the Night Watch.
Communicate Don't Blather
We are at that point in the season where us coaches are doing our best to get these players to communicate on the court. Notice I used the word communicate and not the word talk. Not all talking is a form of communication. I had that truth drummed into my head the last few years of my teaching career. Since the Sixties Revolution of the Day-Glo Painted Morons, kids have been told not to trust adults and especially adults who are trying to teach them what they'll need to become adults. This served a two-fold purpose, first, it deprived them of the tools they needed to transition into more responsible human-beings grounded in the hard won wisdom of the past, truths paid for in blood and sacrifice. And secondly, it detached them from the communal binding effects of such knowledge, making them more narcissistic, gullible, and easily manipulated at the same time.
Another reason has evolved out of this effort, a lot of the so-called adults in the room, who never learned the value of tradition, don't really have much to say. I learned this the hard way after attending many, many staff meetings where most of the speakers communicated very little that actually mattered and only parroted what came down from the top, in other words, they blathered a lot. Don't believe me? Look at how many sports commentators are making millions of dollars by proving how little they know about life and sports in general.
We had a college coach come in at the beginning of the season to look at some of our players. We warned them at the practice before that the coach did not want to hear us yelling at them to talk. Yet, the first thing the coach asked afterwards, was a question, "Do they talk?"
I had been there since the first day of practice and noticed that there were several of them who were making an effort, but things sounded more like the chatter at a polite afternoon tea than an actual attempt to communicate their needs and/or positions on a basketball court. And I, once again, was left to question my own beliefs as to why "talking' is so important to the game of basketball.
First there is the obvious, the talk to remind yourself what you are supposed to be doing in order to acquire the skills you need. This type of talk usually ended up in basketball versions of the rote multiplication drills that teachers used to teach math back in the day. (Those math drills were later discarded, and our kids haven't been able to multiply in their head ever since.) Stan Kellner, a legendary high school coach and advocate of cybernetics, said that we need to make our players talk in order to remind themselves of what they were supposed to be doing. For example, every time they do lay-up drills, your players should also say 'high and soft' as a reminder of where to place the ball. Kellner's concepts were pretty valid, but this method of simply repeating a phrase led to a wholesale questioning of the value of the technique because the players were simply repeating what the coaches told them to say.
To counter the more stifling effects of such rote learning, coaches freed up what was said and now emphasize the need to 'communicate', in order to let your teammates know what your needs are, or to let on-ball defenders know that you are in help position so they can feel safe in putting more pressure on the ball, or to let a defender know when and where a screen is approaching and what you are going to do in order to help them. Reminding your teammates what they should be doing, such as boxing-out would be another type of such communication.
College coaches are looking for leadership. They cannot afford to invest time, money, and effort into players that need to be dragged across the finish line. Who doesn't know someone who is more successful than others merely because of their ability to talk? I had a boss once who picked his nose and ate the boogers. I was shy and he was loquacious, he kissed ass to be truthful, but that's a form of talking.
I was a very well read, intelligent young man, but the people around me didn't know it because I never talked. Players need to understand the correlation between success and ability to communicate what they know. Talking also forces them to articulate what comes out of their mouth and that is an important factor too.
Author Daniel Coyle's book The Talent Code describes the importance of figuring game situations out by learning from mistakes. He describes the process of myelination where the connections in our nervous system are coated with a milky white substance that guards against energy loss and makes the communication between our brain and muscles more efficient. Figuring out your needs on a court and then quickly determining how to communicate those needs is a great skill that not only makes you smarter but improves your physical response time. Modern coaches need to devise more drills that allow their players to be placed into game-type situations where they have to recognize not only what what their individual response needs to be, but also how to let their teammates know what they need to do to help, and all in a timely fashion. This also enhances their teammate's ability to 'listen', another skill which is almost universally ignored when teaching players to talk.
Lastly, the most important reason players need to learn communicate could almost be said to be the best excuse in not 'communicating' while playing; it's pretty damn hard to do sometimes. A lot of well-intentioned players simply give-up on the task because of the difficulty involved in things like defending a dribbler. I raised this point one time in another blog post about resolving contradictions, such as how to best help and recover against the offenses that place their shooters in the corners and dare you to stop the top penetration. The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said it like this, "In formal logic, a contradiction is the signal of defeat, but in the evolution of real knowledge it marks the first step in progress toward a victory." In other words, the ability to resolve such contradictions to the best of your ability leads to the acquisition of 'real' or more meaningful knowledge and skill. Placing players in what could reasonably be called no-win situations and teaching them to how to 'best' accomplish the task, makes the player mentally stronger and a lot less likely to be overcome with frustration, and therefore, less decisive when the optimal response demands a quick decision. Things they might learn from such exercise include when to talk and when not to talk, how to use non-verbal cues to enhance communication, and using encouragement and praise to promote teamwork.
I feel cheated when I look back in time and see all the lies I was fed by some of our leaders and the media, such as, "Don't trust anyone over thirty." The way I figure, thirty trips around the sun, is just about the beginning of when someone should start noticing patterns and shit. It was a stupid thing to say, maybe the stupidest. But looking around me now, I can see it took hold, and our society is in jeopardy because of it. Our kids need to learn to listen more to the people who will tell them things that will genuinely help them to deal with the vicissitudes of living, and one of the most important things they can learn is the value of being able to communicate, on the court and off.
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