I learned a lot from coaching basketball. After about my 10thseason of coaching, I was forced to face a troubling truth: my teams always started the season strong, only to have a poor second half, and a first round loss in the state series.
My first reactions were to work harder, and to expect more from my players. I pushed myself, and I pushed them. They almost always complied. But the problem wasn’t my effort, or theirs.
It was when I went to a college basketball clinic that I first understood the problem. Basketball is a fast and fluid game. It requires continuous movement, thinking, and communication. Players have to learn how to see the game and make decisions. The coach’s role is to teach them in a way that engages their minds. They must learn to see and react to other players’ movements, to anticipate the next movement of a teammate or opponent.
All of this has to be accomplished in practice because a coach simply cannot impose his will on a game. Each practice has to be designed to improve players’ abilities to see, think, communicate, and move intelligently. Drills are designed to build from simple to complex, from applying a skill in isolation to applying it in full-scale competition. Restrictions are applied to encourage seeing and thinking: restrictions like not allowing anyone to dribble, or requiring the possession to end with a lay-up.
I learned something else as a result of that season: my players enjoyed practices and sustained their motivation when the season became a competition with ourselves to see how well we could play the game - how thoughtfully and efficiently.
Interestingly, our seasons reversed from the previous trend. We tended to start slow and look kind of sloppy at the beginning of the season, but always played our best basketball as the season progressed - all because we were genuinely engaged, and really learning.