Basketball and the Night Watch.
Today was our first day of basketball class at COS, and we spent a lot of time making lay-ups. This is one of the most basic skills in the game of basketball, and most of our players have been making them for years, but I already spotted some things we need to work on.
This early in the season, as a coach, you need to say things to the players in a way that serves three purposes. You need to say things that are informative and helps them learn more than they already know about a subject, you need let them know that they don't know everything even if it is about something as simple as making lay-ups, and lastly, you need to let them know that you are not as dumb as you look. Okay, let me restate that; our other coaches are not really dumb looking, just me.
If I could have all of our player's former coaches in the gym with us on the first day, I would show them how to teach basic lay-ups. I'm pretty damn sure this would stir up a lot of resentment and garner a great many angry looks. I would explain to them that it is possible to win championships without know a good lay-up drill. I did it. I won four valley championships without being satisfied that my lay-up drill was any good.
Then, I attended a clinic in Fresno that featured a coach named Pete Sharkey. Peter is a local legend and has traveled the world teaching basketball. He started out with a simple lay-up drill where the player would start on baseline and roll the ball out toward the wing. Then she would run, pick it up, and carry it to the basket.
This is a perfect drill for teaching players to jump off the inside foot and to kick up their outside foot. After they get used to it, then you have have them take one dribble with their outside hand, then two or three. After that, it doesn't take long for them to get the steps right and you can go back to to using the regular dribble up or pass to basket drills.
I think the coaches would be stewing about this time and even making not so subtle remarks under their breath. I would try to mitigate things somewhat by explaining my own lack early of expertise on the subject, but I'm still pretty sure they'd still feel insulted.
I would have to explain why Coach Sharkey's drill was so revelatory to me. You see, it got to a point where I needed all of my girls, not just the good ones, to make weak hand lay-ups, and I needed to teach them how to do it.
Every year, a sizable group of the girls that we recruit are less than confidant in their weak hand lay-ups. I have to assume it is because most of the coaches did like I did and played the weak hand stuff off because it was hard to teach. Yet, players who reach college level basketball should always have confidence in their ability to go to their weak hand.
To get our girl's attention I would use the statement in the title. I would use this provocative challenge to get them to understand that as much as they think they already know, there's always much more that they need to learn.
This is the case about pretty much anything. I've learned over the years that most teenagers are not stupid, but they can be willfully ignorant in that they are in time and place in their lives where they are trying to get the separation from adults that will help them to learn to function on their own. It's not that they don't want to listen, but that they are trying to learn to trust in their own judgment.
They have to know for certain that what you teach will actually help them. Too many adults think that this is true about everything they say, yet it is not usually the case. For example, I myself have sat in way too many grown-up meetings when the vast majority of what I listened to didn't really need to be said. I imagine it's worse for a kid.
The Basket Has a Sweet Spot
It is right under top bar and three inches either side of direct center. The ball falling from directly overhead turns the basket into a circle and increases the size of the basket to where two balls could pass through at once. Putting it in from the side angle turns the basket into a oval shape and lops off as much as a third of the basket.
This means that players need to see the sweet spot, take the ball to the spot, and taught to finish high and soft off of the glass. It sounds easy enough, but its actually hard to do because as I said in a paragraph above teenagers are a lot like glazed pottery and not particularly porous when it comes to soaking up new ideas about things they think they already know. It is up to us as coaches to figure out ways to penetrate the glaze.
Verbal Cues are Important
Stan Kellner was one of the first to come up with a cybernetics program that trained athletes to use their mental abilities to increase athletic performance. One of his principle tools was verbal cues. According to Kellner, every time you run a lay-up drill is a great time to have your players say out loud, "High and Soft" as doing so will remind them to train their eyes on the backboard and to kiss the ball off of that sweet spot. There's also an added benefit in that using verbalization can help block out the negative noise of a hostile crowd and help the player to stay focused on the task at hand, i.e. placing the ball softly off of the sweet spot.
Weak Hand Work Transfers to the Strong Hand
I read an article that talked about the process of transference wherein what is learned from working on the weak side transfers to the dominant side. I have since tried to rediscover the article but have so far failed. I do remember, however, the light bulb that turned on over my head. It was a rule of thumb back then that you worked twice as much with your weak hand as you did with your dominant hand.
But, this article says that once you have the skills needed to perform with your strong hand, it makes sense to spend most, if not all of your skill development time improving your non-dominant hand. After reading the article, whenever we did lay-up drills in practice, full court dribbling, or finishing drills, we did everything on our weak side.
This not only improves your player's non-dominant hand, it also makes them into a more "complete" player, a state that has a synergism of its own. It is no longer a simple equation of 1 + 1 = 2. It becomes more like 1 + 1 = 3. It can mean that their further development become more a case of geometric progression than linear. In other words, they develop faster and better.
It takes a patience to get kids to accept these practices. They think they already know how to make lay-ups. The practices do work however. When we started using them regularly in our skill development, every girl on our team learned to get to the basket with much more confidence in their weaker hand. Now, I only wish I knew as much about shooting free-throws.