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Last week I was doing some teaching related professional development. The training focused on "being intentional" in the classroom. Lesson plans, instructions, addressing students, labs you pick, etc. Of course this got me thinking about coaching: how intentional am I in my coaching an dhow could I use this idea to improve? Below I will cover the two most important ways that you need to be intentional as a coach.
1. Practice Planning
In our group of science teachers we talked about intentionality in lesson planning. Many science teachers make the mistake of finding a "great lab" and then trying to shoehorn that great lab into the curriculum. They do it not because the students need it, not because the curriculum calls for it, but because they feel it's a great lab. They may also run a lab that looks great, but really doesn't challenge the students or inspire mental growth. When you look at it from the outside you can see the obvious flaws in the logic, we need great labs that fit our teaching goals and challenge our students, not just run great labs for the sake of great labs. Often times however, when you are in the heat of the year, you miss the forest for the trees. The same thing can happen to basketball coaches.
We as coaches fall into this very same trap with drills that we run. We will have a "great drill" that doesn't really fit with what they are trying to accomplish in that practice. We run it anyway because it's a "great drill" and they just want to run it. Many times we also run drills that "look good" but are too remedial for our players, but they look good so we run them.
You need to be intentional and make sure the drill fits your practice goals and also give the players what they require for their current skill level. For instance, why spend 10 minutes every day in the middle of the season on defensive stance if your players have it down (if they don't different story)? Why not spend that time having them work on guarding a live dribbler and playing defense 3 on 3? It's a drill that fits the need (defense) but also challenges the current defensive level of the players.
You need to be intentional about how you use build ups in practice as well. It drives me nuts when I see a coach do defensive stance, go right into some offensive concept, and then come back and do on the ball defense 20 minutes later. That's like showing a student how to do a math problem, doing 10 minutes of socials studies, then giving the student a practice worksheet from the math they did 20 minutes ago. Does that make any sense? The drill becomes abstract and the players aren't getting what they should out of it. Instead, do a few minutes of stance, few minutes of on the ball defense, and then move into a 1 on 1, 2 on 2, or 3 on 3 situation with an emphasis on guarding the ball. That way they are building up the skill and using it in a game situation.
When you are intentional about your practice build up you are going to get far more out of it. I've been blessed enough to attend some great practices of Minnesota high school coaches. All of these coaches, who are successful year in and year out, go to great lengths to be intentional about their practices. It shows in their practice and when the ball goes up on Friday nights.
Communication with athletes and parents is huge, we all know that. If you can communicate intentionally you will solve a lot of problems and everyone will be on the same page. But are we always intentional in our communication?
This spring I sat down with a coach who is transitioning from being the head coach to athletic director this year. One of the things that struck me with him was how intentional he was with his communication with parents. He would send out an e-mail every week giving updates, and spreading the message. He was intentional with communicating, and with the message he gave out. Anytime you are talking with people about your program (whether a head coach, assistant, player, or parent) you are conveying a message. So with that said everyone in the program needs to be intentional about the message.
It's also important to be intentional with how you communicate with players. The great coaches I have been around are all very intentional about how they communicate with players. It often appears as if every word they say to the team and the individual is carefully planned. They are not going out there in practices and games and simply shooting from the hip when they speak. It's very measured, calculated speech that lends itself to giving the information and getting the result they want.
A long time ago psychology students at UCLA went in and studied John Wooden's practices. They were keeping track of what he said to his players. They imagined they would hear a lot of positive and negative talk from the legendary coach. Instead, what they found was that the vast majority (over 85%) of Coach Wooden's comments were giving instruction. The Wizard of Westwood was intentional with his speak and his coaching record reflected it (and yes, having talented helped too).
There are a lot of things that you can be intentional about as a coach, but the two areas mentioned above are the most important. When you think of every great coach they share two common areas of greatness - practice and communication. Because of that, this year I am really going to focus my efforts on being more intentional in our practices and communication. I hope you will as well.