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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Reflections on Coaching Third- and Fourth-Grade Basketball (Ctd)

We're about 2/3 of the way through our season. We practice one night a week for one hour. Some teams spend half their time running a set play and the other half on fundamentals; others spend most of their time on fundamentals and some of the time on situations (such as having their kids play in a 2-on-1 format). We do the latter, and we find that we're pretty good at putting the ball in the basket. Two of the teams that we faced that run set plays could execute the play on occasion, but most of the time the shots they got clanked off the backboard.

We spend time in practice on dribbling drills, working on both hands, working on fingertip control and working on protecting the basketball. We coach our kids to make every pass count, to throw crisp passes that the receivers don't have to bend too much or dive for. We have placed more emphasis on the bounce pass, for example. Also, we stress defense. We figure that if the kids can work hard on defense, they can stay with anyone. As a result, we want them to get into a good defensive stance and to slide their feet. We also encourage them to deflect the ball as much as possible. We even instituted a "tie up the ball drill" where a player rushes toward a coach and tries to tie up the ball (the assumption is that the opposing player has picked up his dribble). We've instituted a "three man weave" drill to work on passing and footwork, and we've shown the kids how to cut to get open. We've run give-and-go drills and pick-and-roll drills, all with a view toward giving the kids a sense of how to set a screen (and I saw one yesterday that would make an NBA coach envious, given that some of the most recent screens I've seen attempted in the NBA are heartless ballet moves that simply go through the motions). We also run shooting drills, including one where we have kids shoot off the blocks from both sides of the basket (at our last practice, we hit 16 shots in a row). And we stage 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 situations, so that the kids learn spacing on offense.

In other words, we're a bit like Mr. Miyagi from "Karate Kid". We repeat these drills so that the kids who never played before this year get an inundation of fundamentals. The kids with more experience work to improve their games. For the most part, we've been successful.

And now here's a story:

2 weeks ago we were missing 2 of our top 6 kids, had a late afternoon game, had some kids recovering from illness, and had one kid decide that he was going to imitate an NBA player by tossing up shots from all over the floor. The other team had some good athletes, but we weren't in sync, both teams played aggressive defense, and we lost, 5 baskets to 4. We probably shot 4 for 29 or something awful like that, our best players couldn't finish, and, well, we chalked it up to being down two players and having an off day. That said, the kids need to learn how to rebound from disappointment, and we didn't expect that we were going to win them all. We tried hard, but it didn't work out.

Fast forward to this weekend, and we heard that the team we were going to play had waxed everyone it had played so far, beating each opponent pretty badly. The other team didn't have a full complement of players, and we did, so instead of playing a third-grade unit together and a fourth-grade unit together, we mixed and matched (because the other team didn't have its complete third-grade unit, we would have risked having inexperienced third-graders guarding more aggressive fourth graders, they might have had the same predicament, and both coaches did their best to make sure their players had good challenges). Anyway, that probably wasn't the best for anyone's continuity on offense, but both teams did the best that they could. And, remember, that we had beaten everyone we played before last week, including a well-coached, talented team that we beat by 10.

The result for us was our best game of the year. Eight players scored, and one of our third graders, who didn't have a basket all year, scored three. Another third grader, who hadn't scored all year, scored his first basket. We set more screens in this game than we had all year, we took better shots, dribbled with more authority and played our typical aggressive defense. Both teams moved the ball well, drove the action, but, in the end, we beat them by about 8 baskets. The reason -- teams fare well when a) they give a good effort, b) they work on defense (tying up the ball on many occasions), c) they play unselfishly and screen for each other, d) they spend a little time on rebounding and e) they don't force shots. The coaches on our team took great satisfaction both at the development of the individual players and of the teamwork that they have built. (For example, in our pre-game warm-up, we work a 2-on-1 drill, and the kids line up accordingly without being told. When one of the third graders scored his first basket, he received hugs and high-fives in between periods).

Now, kids are kids, and who knows what will happen next week. But if you care about each kid's development, encourage him and his parents, get the kids to focus and work, you will see a solid effort, and, if you see that, you'll see improvement and good results.

Have fun!


Blogger jward said...

Congrats on the win. I've often wanted to get into coaching either basketball or football but haven't found the time necessary to dedicate to it. That being said, I applaud you for being one of the coaches on the "frontline" (the youngest generation of players) that still teaches fundamentals and sportsmanship over flash and individualism.

10:58 PM  

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