Saturday, May 21, 2016

High School vs. AAU

High school vs. AAU basketball has been a hot topic on Twitter lately. Recently an AAU coach in Iowa sent out a letter to his players. He suggested that his players not play with their high school team in the summer. Since everyone else is weighing in on this topic, I decided to take the advice of
  The Common Man - "Why not me, why not now?". I've coached both high school and AAU and think I can bring a pragmatic perspective to this - not that a single person cares about my perspective. So with that said, here are some random thoughts about high school and AAU.

First of all, I still agree with Brian McCormick that having both AAU and HS puts pressure on players to be in performance mode all the time. They are competing and trying to win for their high school in the winter, then doing the same for AAU in the spring, doing the same for BOTH in the summer. Throw in a fall league for good measure (AAU now has them too) and players are never out of competition mode. So we complain players don't work on skills, but WHEN should they work on them? So from that aspect I would like to see some changes made - not sure what they are. But anything to let players have a designated time to work on fundamental skills.

Second, AAU and HS provide different, but important, experiences for our players. In fact I think they need each other. What we need to help players understand is that AAU and HS provide two different services for an athlete but both are important. High school coaches have more time with their athletes during the year and thus take a big hand in developing players from skills to IQ. They also have more control over expectations in the class room. AAU is where players are allowed to show what they are capable of against high competition - and to get that buzz word: "exposure". Without AAU it would be harder for kids in a state like mine (Minnesota) to be seen by college coaches at every level across the country. Yearly, our AAU clubs and coaches give opportunities to kids that would not be otherwise possible. I know many kids who got the opportunity to play college basketball at a level they may not have without playing AAU. Other kids were able to find an opportunity at a non-scholarship school that may have not known about them otherwise. Many of the AAU programs and coaches in our state our a valuable resource and have helped to grow our game.

I'm not trying to say AAU doesn't develop. But there just isn't enough practice time usually for substantial development to take place. For example, I coached a middle school AAU team a few years ago. We practiced three times a week, two hours a day. Each night we devoted at least an hour to skills. This is more practice time than a traditional AAU team, and I still didn't feel like I had enough time to practice. Juxtapose (yup, just wrote that word) this with high school. As a high school coach I am in the gym practicing 2 hours a day with our players between 3 and 6 days a week in the winter. That's a lot more time to develop players. Then, additionally we work with our players 4x a week for 2 hours in the summer (skills for 1:15, lifting for 45). As a high school coach there is a lot more time to help players develop than AAU coaches have. It's math. Players need to understand and value the amount of hours they spend with their high school team and use them to develop so they don't get exposed. Where AAU coaches CAN (and do) help their players develop is giving their players good coaching against high level competition.

But I have an issue with everyone touting all AAU as "high level competition". The fact is that everyone can play, and everyone does play. So unless you are on a truly high level AAU team the competition you face is going to be a mixed bag at best.

I also think that both high school and AAU give kids a unique experience that the other can not provide them. AAU allows players to compete against kids from across the country and see how they stack up as players. It allows them to play on a team with a group of people who are just as crazy about basketball as they are. Many times this is not be true with their high school teams. It also gives them a different experience and a different "voice" when it comes to coaching. It also allows them to feel like they've gotten a fair shake or a fair look when it comes to being able to play college basketball at the next level. It gives them an opportunity to be seen. Our Minnesota kids get to travel the country, experience different things, and make lifetime friendships. I can't fault them for that.

On the other hand, high school basketball is a special thing. I know that AAU players and teams bond, but I'm not sure it's the same type of bond as the bond with your high school teammates who you are around all years. There is no other time in a young person's life where you can have this kind of experience. It's why I coach. There is something magical to me about spending a winter with a group of people, getting to know each other closely, and being able to represent your school and community. Nothing compares to that feeling. Also, high school basketball has certain accountabilities that are not present in AAU. Students who play high school have to be academically and behaviorally accountable to be eligible to play. While some programs monitor these things, there is no accountability at the top.

In terms of coaches at each level, there is good and bad in both. My issue with AAU is that there is no one that governs who can be coaches, what is accepted behavior, etc. There is no certification or checks and balances. ANYONE can be an AAU coach - and anyone is. The other part of AAU is that there are currently so many players that the demand for coaches out paces the amount of ready/good coaches. So you end up with people coaching just to be helpful, but who don't know the game. You end up with young coaches who don't understand what it is to be a coach but are handed a team and wished good luck. My first job as a coach was as an assistant freshmen coach. I was under a head varsity coach and head freshmen coach who taught me the ropes - and etiquette. Every time I see an #AAUBingo I kind of feel bad for the coach who likely doesn't even know they don't know. With that said, there are some FANTASTIC coaches in AAU who make our kids better. Many of them are high school and college coaches who "get it" and send kids back to their high school teams better.  And on the other hand there are many not so great high school coaches who exhibit #AAUBINGO behavior. I saw a JV coach at a large school coaching a game in a True Religion t-shirt, flip flops, jeans, and a winter hat. And he coached about how you would expect. It was as much of a clown show as any #AAUBINGO. If he would have been coaching an AAU game his picture would have been plastered all over Twitter.

In closing I want to say this. Basketball is a fun and beautiful game. Players should have JOY while playing the game. But I feel like JOY is too often missing. Why? Because we, the adults, can become so childish and selfish about it. You have to ask yourself "are you jealous"? I know I get jealous of AAU coaches who get to travel the country and just focus on helping kids get scholarships or the opportunity to play in college (the fun stuff!). I wish I had the time and flexibility. We also need to keep in mind that anything the player accomplishes is on the player. No AAU coach has ever gotten a kid a scholarship - the player's talent has. Just like no HS coach has really developed a player - that player's hard work, passion, and effort did. No AAU coach should send out an e-mail telling players not to play with their high school team - just like no high school coach should tell players not to play AAU. Support these kids and ensure that they have a great experience playing this game - because they only play it once. And we all know deep down that when every player's playing days are done they will remember how they felt more than anything. And we on both sides (HS/AAU) need to do a better job of supporting each other and supporting our players. I love this game, I love working with young people, and I want to see our game continue to grow. If coaches on both sides don't work together and support each other, we're only hurting the players and the game.

Friday, May 6, 2016

When to Correct Mistakes

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When should you correct mistakes? This is a question that every coach has to deal with daily in practices and games - what do you let go and what do you deal with? Saying that you correct every, single mistake sounds good in theory, but I believe that leads to jumbled messages for players and wasted time. The last few days I've heard this gem as rule of thumb: correct patterns of mistakes. If a mistake happens once treat it as an anomaly, when you see it a second/third time address it and the continue to address it. This cuts down on wasting time to stop practice for things that are not happening often. It also helps you dial in your focus and feedback.

I'm always looking for themes that pop up and this has come up twice in the last week. The first time it came up was last weekend at the PGC Clinic - one of the speakers talked about how when we look for patterns of mistakes our feedback is more useful. And this week I was started reading Bob Knight's "The Power of Negative Thinking". In the book Coach Knight talks about looking for patterns of mistakes when studying film and bringing those up during film sessions with players - as opposed to every mistake.

No obviously, there are some major mistakes you have to correct quickly and immediately. But if you subscribe to this it can help you dial into 'what's important now' and allow you to focus your energy on fixing the big picture things that will have the most benefit.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Power vs. Influence and Protecting the Relationship in Leadership

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I've been away from the blog for a month, but have so much to write! Visits with coaches, videos watched, and of course the amazing PGC Clinic in Chicago over the weekend. Lots of stuff to be shared on here. This blog is about a theme that's been popping up a lot lately in my teaching and coaching - using power vs influence to lead people.

Early in my career I was all about the power. I yelled, I screamed, I was rigid in my rules - and I had plenty of rules. To me discipline was about imposing my will on my players and students. You didn't do it my way - there was a swift and harsh punishment. I also didn't have time, or see the need, to explain the why in what we were doing. I had discipline and I said we were doing it - isn't that enough?!

But as I used the power, I always found a few things. First, I found it to be a law of diminishing returns. Eventually players and students would tune out. And when I had to lay down repeated, harsh punishments they would end up fighting back harder and harder. Also, and worse, I always had an empty feeling after these interactions of "discipline". No one had grown as a person, all we'd accomplished was a wrecked relationship and usually a begrudging conformity. I wanted to inspire leaders to do the right thing and I wasn't accomplishing that.

Over the last few years I've adopted a more transformational model of discipline. I've built deep and authentic relationships with students and athletes then used that relationship to help them understand what the right things to do are. In the video below, among a lot of great coaching nuggets, the Spurs Ettore Messina talks about discipline and says that there are two kinds. One is through power and fear, the other one is by getting people to put discipline on themselves. The second kind of discipline is where the real magic is in leadership. Great leaders have the ability to motivate people to have discipline because they want to. 

The idea of leading by influence also popped up several times during the PGC Clinic in Chicago over the weekend. First, I attended a lecture by Coach Rob Brost (@brookhoops) where he talked about protecting culture. He had this profound thought: everything begins with rapport. Rapport leads to relationships. Relationships lead to culture and discipline. I don't think you can have rules without relationships, but I like that this went even deeper. You want accountability and culture? You have to start with rapport and relationships. Great leaders understand rapport and relationships come before discipline and culture. 

Another way being an influential leader popped up when I was listing to Coach TJ Rosene (@CoachTJRosene) speak on non-negotiables for a successful season. He talked a lot about how his culture comes from a place of love. He's a coach who's high on accountability but gets the buy in for his accountability first. He talked about "The Everybody's" exercise where he has players list traits of great teammates and then helps them to see that everyone can do this. The way he does it creates the buy in because the players are coming up with the expectations that they need to be held accountable to. Great leaders create buy in by involving the players in the process. 

With that said, does it mean that influential leaders are "soft" don't have consequences? Of course not. We work with people, they are going to fail to meet our expectations. But transformational leaders, and leaders who use influence, don't just punish. Instead, influential leaders counsel their players as they discipline. They take the time to explain why the expectation is important, and how the player can do better next time. Lastly, when transformational coaches have to hand out consequences, they don't enjoy doing it. And after the consequences have been administered, they make sure to build the rapport and relationships back up asap. As a teacher and coach I am always going out of my way to do this and it pays big dividends. It doesn't mean I apologize, or back track. I simply let them know it's not personal, it's business, and it's being done for the good of the player and/or the good of our program. Great leaders protect the relationship between themselves and the players after the discipline has been handed out.  

On a personal note I'm really thankful I switched a few years ago to being more of a transformational or influential leader. It's really helped me be far more effective in leading of young people. I also truly believe that I'm building people up instead of tearing them apart now, and I am thankful for that!