Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Evolution of Coach41

Most people know I am a basketball nut. I play at least twice a week (sometimes more) and I officiate a ton of games (though not as much recently). What flies under the radar is that I used to coach youth basketball as well. I coached at my old grammar school from 1988 to 2000 and at another school from 2004 to 2005. Overall, that's 14 years and 228 total games coached at the youth level.

However, when I think back to when I started coaching, I find it amusing that I started coaching one year after I graduated from 8th grade. At this point, I had a grand total of 10 official organized games played under my belt.

With such limited playing (and life) experience, it's not a shock that I wasn't really a great coach in my younger days. Fortunately, like with most things, I had an inclination to improve and have gotten better over the years. Here's a brief look at the evolution of "Coach41":

1st Evolution (1988 to 1994) - With minimal playing experience, I was pretty much the screamer. I didn't know how to teach tactics beyond the basic zone defense and had no clue how to coach offense except to roll the ball out there.

2nd Evolution (1995 to 1997) - Though I wasn't a great coach, my teams were competitive and played some higher level competition during these years.  I realized I couldn't quite stay static and tried to learn more about coaching.   I learned more about basketball defenses including the 2-3 zone, 3-2 zone and using press defenses.  I still had no clue how to coach a set offense, but grasped the concept of fast breaks and got my teams to get up and down the court.   I also started to focus on skill development.  I primarily focused on shooting and a little on rebounding.

3rd Evolution (1998 to 2000) - This was a new chapter for me.  Whereas I had older teams (6th to 8th grade) for the first 10 years, this was the first time I started with younger kids (3rd to 5th grade).   From working with the younger set, I learned to teach the foundation of the game including dribbling, passing, shooting, defense and rebounding.   While it would be great if everyone did everything well, the fact was that some kids were able to some things better than others.

It was from this experience that I began to learn how both identify kid's strengths and also put each kid's talents to the best use in the overall team concept.  After all, if a kid is a good defender, you might as well put them in a position to do something with those skills.  No point in trying to force them to do something they aren't good at.

Patience was something I learned when working with the younger kids.  Though I admit I resorted to my old screamer days a lot when I got frustrated.  After working three years with the kids, I resigned in 2000 because I felt burned out.

4th Evolution (2004 to 2005) - After taking a few years off, I was asked to pick up a team in 2004 that needed a coach.  It was yet another challenge.  It was a combined 7th/8th grade girls team at a school I had never worked at before.  Since the kids didn't know me, I felt I had the burden to prove myself.   It took a little while to get to know my team as we lost our first two games in league but went on a roll before injuries derailed a potential championship season.  My time off allowed me to put to use some of the things I had learned from previous years to good use though.

While the team was fairly skilled, I did do some work on their dribbling and shooting and it helped some players greatly.  But the major thing I learned from this season is that even with a skilled team, you have to put the right pieces together out on the court.  Chemistry is super important and I learned I had a good skill in recognizing the pieces that could play well together.

After the 2004 season ended, I lost the four 8th graders to high school.  For the 2005 season, I had my four remaining players from the year before plus two newbies.   The 2005 year was difficult overall and tested my patience.  With only six players practices were difficult.  Plus, attendance to practices were pretty sparse at times as the kids were ready to graduate.   Despite the obstacles, I learned some perseverance and the team played as well as it could have.

Current Evolution (2005 to Present) -  I have not officially coached a youth game in 5 years.  However, I have continued to learn about basketball via playing in my various adult leagues and officiating.

In fact, I serve as "Captain" in some of the leagues I play in and that means I also serve as the defacto "coach" as well.  While I don't practice with my teams, I still impart some of my coaching experience.  I throw in different zone defenses and even do full court presses, which are rarely seen in adult leagues.  

However, "coaching" in these adult leagues have taught me flexibility.  Some players are extremely flexible and can adapt to what I ask of them.  Some players not quite so flexible and play to the style they are used to.   The main thing I do in these adult leagues is try to fit all the pieces into one cohesive team.  

Sometimes I have been very successful and other times, things have blown up pretty spectacularly.   If there is a major weakness in my coaching, it is that I prefer a team oriented style rather than a superstar oriented team.  My team oriented approach usually keeps me competitive but I sometimes don't win every game without the superstar.   This may be from my experience as a youth coach and sometimes this isn't favored by the guys who play for me.

Alas, that may be my next evolution.  I have to learn to integrate a star into my team oriented approach.  

In the mean time, my return to youth basketball coaching may soon be coming.  My old grammar school is constructing their new school building and gymnasium.  I may return to coach a team just to get in some time at the new facility.

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