Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Athletes vs. Players

Athletes vs. Players

I once read that being an athlete is a biological happening while being a player is about hard work and being a good teammate. This has really stuck in my mind lately. We are working very hard to be a good team and to be good teammates. The process has brought the opening statement to my mind. I have watched many people step on the court as tremendous athletes who aren’t necessarily good players. The NBA is filled with this kind of athlete.

The great players like Michael Jordan might be tremendous athletes but they also work extremely hard. While the stories abound that Jordan wasn’t the best teammate and didn’t treat people properly, it seems that he was always pushing teammates to their limit to see what they can handle and to see if they would be there in crunch time. By pushing them to excel and be elite was he really being a bad teammate???

Steve Nash is a very good athlete but doesn’t play above the rim with fancy dunks. What makes him so good? He was born with a certain genetic allotment and has had some luck along the way but he has worked tremendously hard to get to where he is. He is also a great teammate. You can see his selfless manner every time he hits the court and his teammates love to play with him because they know he is dedicated to winning and playing like a team.

While tremendous athletes can do some things on the court they may not make the best players because of their less than stellar work ethic and the way they treat their teammates. Have you heard of Stephon Marbury??

Lose to Win

Lose to Win

One thing I have observed over the years is that people often don’t realize how hard they must train until they have lost a game or title that really meant something to them. Unfortunately that’s a little too late to begin training hard. I am not saying that athletes don’t train hard but it is in the darkness of losing that I think they truly find themselves as an athlete. That darkness of losing makes the brightness of victory a much stronger option, you develop a hunger. The darkness helps you find out who you are as a person and shows you what you must improve on in order to be a champion. These “down” moments are when you face the choices that make you a player or not.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Helping young players

As coaches we get young players from so many different backgrounds and at different levels of development. We have to teach them so many things on the court but we also can have a dramatic impact off the court. I have evaluated my players in 6 different areas and have gone through the evaluation with them. I was amazed to see how many university athletes can’t see past supper time! It is probably much worse at the lower levels.

Most players don't have a plan for many things in their life. They are just rolling along. I think we need to a better job as coaches in educating younger players about identifying long term goals and the process to reach them. They still have to be kids and enjoy their youth but they need to think in a more elite manner. As coaches we need to plan the seed in their heads about where they can go as people and athletes and then help it grow.

Placing kids in "set in stone" roles early in their development hampers them. I think that once you plant the seed you need to help it along. The fertilizer is the positive comments and guidance received from coaches. Many kids have confidence issues which I have likened to weeds in your garden. If you don't tend to it everyday i.e. work on developing the individual, then the garden will get messy. We have to work as coaches to rid the weeds or it will stunt their growth.

How do we do that? Identifying when players might be struggling and chat with them in a positive manner. It may be that the challenge is too high for their skill level. It could be an external force acting upon them. Whatever it is, as coaches we are responsible for helping them be "weed free".

I know it sounds corny but we have to tend to the garden better as coaches.

Help the kids discover how good they can be, plant the seed, fertilize it and weed the garden daily. You never know which little seed could be the prettiest flower in the world.

Being Elite

Recently I had a discussion with Sefu Bernard. He is a coaching colleague and has a TREMENDOUS blog at We discussed the idea of being elite. He made the statement that people say they want to be elite or wanting elite results yet put in a mediocre effort.

I feel that there are definite levels to being elite. A player or coach can be an elite Junior High School coach but when they step up a level they fall back with the rest of the pack and must work their way back up.

We were an elite university program in Canada. Winning 85% of our games. 2 AUS titles and a CIS Silver Medal. Then came last year. We collapsed. Fell down a few notches. Why did this happen? Was it because of a lack of talent? We had plenty of talent on the roster. It all came back to mindset.

I tell our teams that if we want to be elite we must be elite in our thinking. Becoming good has so much to do with attitude and how you approach things. I try to set the example and show the kids that I am willing to work hard to help the team. They know that I watch tons of video and study the game so they seem to want to put in a little extra because of what I do. That little extra is what most people don't do. They look at talent and say that the player is ELITE when they may not have the right mindset. Jordan thought like an elite basketball player. Shawn Kemp may not have.

Last year we had a number of poor attitudes who did not permit themselves or the team to develop that elite mentality. The players don't become elite by putting on our uniform. The standards we set help them become more focused on being elite but it doesn't mean they will be. We slipped and now must fight to get back to elite status. People don't realize that "elite" is constantly changing.

Being elite is about having the proper mentality to work hard each day regardless of set back or distraction and preparing yourself to be successful when the opportunity comes. It starts in the mind. Problem is too many people are giving young players the wrong definition of elite.

Good coaches don't go blind

Good Coaches Don’t Go Blind

A classmate of mine made a statement during a recent assignment that “good leaders don’t go blind”. I thought it was very intriguing and wondered how it related to coaching.
I think coaches can allow themselves to “go blind” in a number of ways.

One way that a coach can “go blind” is by not seeking a fresh perspective or a fresh set of eyes. While diversity may seem to refer to race, gender or culture it can also refer to the thoughts that are present around you. Being open to the ideas of the people around you can help you stay fresh and energized. Totally ignoring those around you because you have always done something a certain way may allow you to meet the same level of success but it will keep you in the same rut. Stepping back and opening your eyes will also help you evaluate what you need to improve or change.

Many coaches run the same system and the same drills year after year. They never try to do anything differently or add to the system because they are in their personal comfort zone. They have their eyes firmly shut. They are “blind”.
Listening to others around you can provide you with a fresh new perspective and those eyes may pick up on the tiny things that help a team grow up or blow up.

Too often we blind ourselves when we put our head down and battle through the mundanity of day to day issues. As coaches we often concern ourselves with what is happening inside our own “castle walls”. We don’t step back often enough and see what is going on around us. We don’t learn to appreciate “the now” and we never see the many good things that are happening every day. We coach great kids every day yet the only time we notice is when we are talking about what type of person they were. The past tense is the wrong tense. We need to open our eyes and appreciate the players we are coaching now. Telling them that they are good people and that we enjoy working with them would only help them feel better being a part of your team.

Blindness causes us to ignore the small leaks in the dam that ultimately lead to big trouble.