Its the new year and the heart of basketball season which means our backyard is empty while we spend vast amounts of our time in a gym! Our coaching staff has been putting a lot of thought into program building and the never-ending pursuit of fundamental players with the attitude we desire in the program. The first step…determining what we deem are the core values of our program and what are the most important fundamentals an athlete needs to possess to play at a high school level. The challenge for our program in recent years is having athletes that were just that – athletes! We have, as a whole, lacked athleticism both physically and mentally and an advanced understanding of the game. My job as a coach…. fix this going forward and quickly!!
First, in dealing with my current players we began back in the summer developing the idea of this team as their “family”. We had cookouts in my backyard, we participated in team-building activities and topped off our summer with a back-to-school trip to Pigeon Forge and Dollywood. We laughed, rode rides and learned to put up tents in the rain! Overall, not a bad start to the school year and season. The next step: getting my players to believe in themselves the way that I believe in them. We may be missing some fundamentals as a team but overall they are a great group of kids with a ton of heart and potential both as basketball players and fantastic individuals! I am convinced that confidence will come if I just love them more – they will come to believe in themselves and their abilities as athletes and leaders!
The second step in the process is to ensure that our younger players as well as future players in this program understand the expectations of the program and continually work on their individual, fundamental skills that will allow them to grow as an athlete and person. When I took over the high school program 3 years ago I was the 3rd varsity coach in as many years and the team was coming off a bit of a disappointing season, given the talent that we had on the team. We lacked continuity in every way. We lacked core values and team concept as well as overall basic basketball skills. The advantage that my young players now have is that most of them have played together since they were very young, most of them actually played recreational basketball or on a travel team for me! I know exactly what basic skills they have been taught, what team expectations they have been held to in the past and their parents understand this as well. Therefore, I have come to the understanding that the only way this program is going to develop in the positive direction that I desire is for myself and coaching staff to be more involved in the development of players at a young age.
When my current younger players were just learning to dribble in those first years on rec or travel teams we absolutely LOVED the game, by “we” I mean me and the kids both! It was so much fun seeing them progress and learn. We played games that focused on specific skills and were consistently positive with them and in the process they developed into hard-working and focused players that strive to work on their fundamentals each day as the game becomes more advanced and their bodies change and adapt. I loved every moment of coaching in those early years and likewise love each and every one of those kids! The kids, they love us and the game too! They are usually the first in the gym, more likely to do their summer workouts and have developed friendships with each other that has developed into a sisterhood. Now, that is not to say that they haven’t struggled. They are still young in their tenure as high school athletes, they have dealt with a faster-paced game, learning to be leaders, adapting to new players as well as a few injuries; but I fully believe that those early memories and exposure to this sport will carry them and will become a guidepost as they grow as athletes and fabulous young women!
Our program goal for the future: have more exposure with the youth athletes in our community. Make sure in their formative years of play they are being taught basic fundamentals in a positive way that builds confidence, a desire to focus and improve, and the core ethical and moral values that we require in the high school program. Its also about changing the mindset of the parents at these young ages. In the formative years (and always) players need twice as much practice as games; so parents, you have to get your kids there! Also, don’t just sit back and expect everyone else to teach your kid about hard work. Encourage them and praise them for hustle and hard work, not just scoring at games but also great effort at practice, being a good teammate and paying attention to detail in their game and that of their team. A final note on parents, Play With Them! Especially when they are young, they love for you to get out on the floor or in the driveway with them; not to instruct them on a drill or shooting technique but in a game of “Horse” or “Gotcha”! Even as they get older, young players love to “beat” you, so lace up your Nikes and get out there and play with them!