Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Teaching Players How to Dive on the Floor

All of us as coaches become quite frustrated when players refuse to dive on the floor for a lose ball because we all know how much those 50/50 balls matter in a close game. It also infuriates us because it shows that we are soft and that's something we just can't tolerate. Having a team that gets on the floor and plays physical gives you a distinct advantage. I coached a freshmen team in Bagley (MN) that started the year 0-12 and we wouldn't get on the floor for a ball, ever. But as time went we started  really getting on the floor hard and we finished the year 6-2. Was it all because of the loose balls, of course not! Some things started to come together. But I believe on of the things that came together was our "screw you" mentality. We were going to be the aggressors and we were going to out-physical you every chance we got.
With that said, I think sometimes players don't go to the floor because they don't know how to do it or it's not a habit for them. Sometimes I also think players are scared of getting hurt and need assistance overcoming that fear. Below are some ideas on how to build the habits and also the way that I teach going for a lose ball in order to hopefully prevent injury.

Building the Habits
Building proper habits for loose balls essentially boils down to doing two things - emphasizing it and rewarding it.
Emphasizing It:
1. Have it subconsciously be a part of every drill in practice.
     You don't need to do 10 loose ball drills a week for this to kick in, in my opinion. Loose ball drills are only something you run to start the year, or as a fun change up mid to late season. Their only real purpose is to get players over their fear of going for the ball. After that anytime there is a loose ball in a drill, in ANY drill for that matter, players need to dive on it. Even if a player fumbles the ball while passing it around in shell drill players need to sprint over and dive on it. This creates
2. Chart It In Games
     Kevin Eastman of the Boston Celtics (who you need to follow if you already don't), has a saying that goes something like: if you want to make things important to your players you need to chart it and stat it. He's exactly right. If you want players to dive on the floor for loose balls you need to keep it as a stat from your games. I think it would be relevant to keep attempts instead of balls gotten (you can keep both however), only because you want to highlight the effort that each player is putting in to get loose balls. It's also a stat that your least talented player can have a chance to excel at.

Along these lines, a great video for toughness is Tim Miles DVD "Creating a Culture of Toughness" and look into his GATA (Get After Their Ass) scoring system. It's a great way to integrate toughness into your program. It's a DVD that I watch every year before the season starts just to pick up a new thing or two and also re-affirm some old ideas.

Rewarding It:
     Rewarding it goes hand in hand with emphasizing it. You can chart it, stat it, and have it in practice all you want, but the thing that will get you farther with players is to positively acknowledge it when it takes place.
     In many of the practices I have been to, coaches find a way to give players positive feedback when the dive on the floor. It can be as simple as telling them good job, having everyone clap for them, etc. Another thing I have seen at practices for loose balls (and charges) that I really like is when it takes place the entire team sprints over, cheering, and pulls their teammate up. I don't know that there is a better reward.
     To emphasize it in a game you can simply have it as a category on your stat board and talk about it with your team. For example, "We only got 3 dives last game and we lost by 2, imagine if we would have gotten 2 more 50/50 balls that might have been the difference in the game" or "Jimmy, you did a great job last game getting on the floor 5 times, that's the kind of effort we need from you". If you want to go deeper with that you can give locker stickers for dives, among other stats. Either way, just doing some small thing to acknowledge the dive goes a long way.

Teaching the Form
     When teaching the form there are a few key points I like to make.
          1.The first is to dive at the earliest possible spot you can get the ball. No sense in waiting until the last moment - after someone else has started their dive.
          2. Leading with your shoulder is another important point. All players want to lead with their head, but I teach them to go shoulder first to prevent injury.
          3. Slide on your side is another key phrase I use. Have the players slide on their hip, it helps to turn the body and lead with the shoulder. I don't want guys landing on the palms of their hands either - sure way to break a hand or wrist. Side should hit first, then shoulder while the arms reach out.

All in all I think loose balls are an easy thing to have players do - once they become habit. We can stand and yell and stomp our feet on the sidelines over yet another missed opportunity - but what we really need to be doing is asking ourselves have we taught and emphasized the loose balls enough to be able to be angry at our players for it?

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