By Ron Flynn
Coaches often talk about the importance of their teams needing to play hard, play smart, play together and have fun. While almost everyone would agree that those are excellent goals, what is the secret to getting players to do these things? How can coaches pave the way to help ensure their teams will play hard, play smart, play together and have fun?
The coach structures practices and then rewards or punishes in words or actions. How coaches interact with their assistants and players during practices and games determines success. The following are some ideas from many years of coaching kids and studying successful coaches.
1. Getting kids to PLAY HARD
This is very important, because you won’t beat good teams if your players aren’t used to playing hard. There are some ways you can help ensure that your teams do this:
- Strength and conditioning. Vince Lombardi said the harder we work, the harder it is to surrender.
- Pace in practice is important. There should be no long lines, with quick transitions from one thing to another.
- Reward good play and punish poor play. It is important with high school kids to make things competitive; some kids have to be taught how to compete. All kids aren’t naturally competitive.
- Don’t be afraid to be demanding. Lots of people have developed some really warped ideas about building self-esteem in kids. You don’t build self-esteem by telling them they’re doing a great job when it is obvious to everyone that they aren’t. If you want to help a kid develop true self-esteem that will last a long time, help him or her get better at something than they thought they could be. Don’t be afraid to push them.
2. Getting kids to PLAY SMART
- Really emphasize the fundamentals and insist they be done properly. Be demanding and consistent. Remember, no matter how good your drills are, they can’t do your coaching for you. Even a good drill is worthless if the players are just going through the motions.
- John Wooden really emphasized keeping it simple with constant repetition. Practice doesn’t always make perfect. If you aren’t doing things right you could be getting worse the more you practice something. You could be developing bad habits that will be very hard to break. Perfect practice makes perfect.
- Good coaching is good teaching. A good coach who is a poor classroom teacher is poor because he chooses to be or he/she doesn’t have a good grasp of the subject matter. Good coaches are like special-education teachers. They are always looking for ways to make sure the lesson is actually sinking in. Special-education teachers do it because they are working with kids who have difficulty learning. Coaches want to make sure their lessons sink in because they are putting their product out in front of the public and we all know the public can be very critical.
- The 5 P’s will help ensure smart play: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. A good coach never walks into practice and tries to wing it. Some do this, but they won’t be successful in years when the talent is off.
3. Getting players to PLAY TOGETHER (“We” Makes “Me” Stronger)
- Never reward selfish play or do things that could lead to selfish play. Example: Announcing how many points the leading scorers had over the PA system. Instead, develop a Star System that rewards things like rebounding, assists, shooting percentage, free-throw percentage and drawing charges. Take a star away for too many turnovers. One mistake some fans and coaches make is thinking that a player who takes more shots than his/her teammates is selfish. That may or may not be true. Coaches say things like, “We’d like Sally to shoot more, but she’s just too unselfish.” When a coach hears that they should think, “If you want Sally to shoot more and she won’t do it, that isn’t unselfish, it’s selfish. She’s putting herself ahead of the team. Quit worrying about someone calling her a ball hog and do the things she needs to do to help the team be successful.” If the worst shooters in basketball are taking as many shots as the best shooters, coaches could say that the team is playing together, but they wouldn’t be able to say they are playing smart.
4. Having FUN
- Use some humor. Sarcasm shouldn’t be hurtful. Don’t run drills all the time. Kids want to play the game and can learn that way too. Give them some encouragement. Show enthusiasm. Help them to love the game so they will want to do more than the bare minimum.
Assistant Coaches – most of you won’t start out as head coaches.
- Make yourself useful – help with taping ankles, getting things set up, etc.
- Pre-practice: work with individuals.
- During practice, coach the kids. That’s why you are there. If the head coach is working on his or her offense, then coach the defense or vice- versa. Point out their mistakes and show some enthusiasm when they do something well.
- Pre-game: help make sure everything is ready. Come early.
- Game time: Keep in mind that assistants make suggestions; head coaches make decisions. Not all of your suggestions will be used, but don’t let that stop you. Look for other ways to attack a problem your team is having.
- Post-game: Don’t second-guess the head coach. There will be enough other people who can fill that role. We all know that “hindsight is 20-20.” Be loyal.
While the methods outlined won't guarantee that every player will become great, they will definitely help to instill a competitive spirit and a team-first attitude in your players. Getting kids to work hard and play together will give any team a greater chance for success. Making sure your athletes have fun will better ensure they want to continue playing and will make them more willing to put in the extra time and effort it takes to become the best players they can be.
About the Author: Ron Flynn is superintendent of schools at Akron-Westfield High School in Akron, Iowa. He is a former highly successful high school basketball coach in South Dakota and was inducted into the South Dakota Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2002. He was South Dakota Girls Basketball Coach of the Year in 1988 and his teams had a 101-game winning streak from 1988 to 1991 – a South Dakota Class B state record.