I don't have basketball coaching experience. Not really. I don't know about the rigors of recruiting or of watching countless hours of film.
All my basketball coaching experience has come over the course of two separate teams. The first was WAY back in my senior year of college (roughly ten years ago now) when I coached my intramural basketball team. The second was this year when I coached my seven year old boys YMCA basketball team. We had one practice all year for my intramural team, and had only thirty minutes before each game to practice with the YMCA team. So practice time was at the minimum for both.
What could I possibly have learned from these two divergent coaching experiences? Well, actually plenty. I'm not saying Will Wade, or any professional coach, needs to learn any of this, but I found it interesting none the less.
1) Recruiting is what matters most. I didn't get to recruit in my YMCA league obviously, but I did for the intramural team. I had been on a senior laden team during my junior year that had been OK. My senior year there was no one left. I threw together a team at the last minute. I got some tall people, and some people who I knew loved basketball that were uncommitted to a team, and then anyone else I could find.So many people played intramural basketball at my school, so I figured my team was probably just going to be relatively average players. Turns out, I was wrong. My recruiting efforts had fallen flat. We were not a talented team.
2) Terminology is key. In the intramural league, it turned out I had very few guys that knew anything about basketball beyong the absolute basics from watching it. In the YMCA league, I had a lot of kids who had never learned to play basketball. In both cases I said, "We'll play man to man." In the YMCA league, everyone wears a colored wristband, and each person is supposed to guard the player on the other team that is wearing the same colored wristband. In both cases after one game, I discovered that many of the players didn't get the word "guard" or "man to man." Both resulted in total blowout losses. So I tried a new strategy after that. In the YMCA league, I said, "Stay so close to the person with the same colored wristband as you that you can smell what they had for breakfast on the breath." Everyone laughed and occassionally I had five to seven year olds telling me what they thought the person they were guarding had for breakfast. In the intramural league, I said, "I want you to stay so close to the man you're guarding that you tell me if he's wearing boxers or briefs after the game and what kind of deodorant he's wearing." Everyone laughed, and I had several people walk up to me during the game saying things like "Old Spice" with a smile on their face. Was it a perfect way to teach defense? Probably not. But people didn't understand what I was saying when I said "man to man" and "guard." So I had to make it simpler.
The second example was during the first game in the YMCA league I kept on prodding my team with the word, "Rebound!" after every missed shot. Let's suffice it so say that my team collected exactly zero rebounds in the first game (outside of maybe one or two by my kids). After the game, I asked, "Do you guys know what I mean when I say rebound?" They all looked up at me and shook their heads. I said, "It means I want you to grab the ball after a shot is missed." They all went, "Oh....." So I was an idiot that didn't get that my team didn't know what rebounding was until after it was over. So the next game when I yelled, "Rebound!" they knew exactly what I meant. And believe it or not- they did it!
In college basketball, coaches all have their own terminology that players need to learn and understand. Normally, those words are not "Rebound!" or "Man to man!" but the language can be just as confusing until it is learned. It is very important to learn the terminology and understand it.
3) Players that work on their own improve the most. In my YMCA league this year, I had a girl on the team. The first game, she could not dribble particularly well. She could not shoot particularly well. She could not rebound particularly well. But she was eager. She wanted to throw the ball in every time, and wanted to participate fully in the basketball game- more than almost any other kid on the team. Given how little practice time we had, I wasn't expecting a ton of improvement. Our second game, she was slightly better. Prior to our third game, she walked up to me when she first got there, a basketball in her hand, and she looked up at me and said, "I've been practicing." She then, still looking at me, started dribbling the basketball. Then she said, "A lot." Yep- she had been practicing a lot. She proceeded to become one of our best dribblers, one of our best rebounders, and one of our best scorers. She practiced on her own and improved more than I had ever dreamed. Now, the NCAA is not limited by thirty minutes of practice a week like the YMCA does, but there is practice limitations. The players have to work on their own. That is how they will see the most improvement.
4) Role players are just as important as star players. In the intramural league I coached, I quickly discovered that we did not have any true star players. We had two players (me and one other guy) that were solid players. I was afraid that would be the end of our team. In the end, what I discovered was that I needed to find everyone's role and put them in situations to succeed. Virtually the same thing happened in the YMCA league. When I watch most YMCA leagues, every team has one star player. When my team started practicing, I realized quickly that there was no star on my team. Eventually, I discovered that they all had roles that I could put them in to help them succeed. Forming role players is one of the most important things a basketball coach can do. If you can find at least one star player to be surrounded by role players that the coach is putting in a position to succeed, your team can be highly succeeded.
In conclusion, how did my teams do?
Not well. Early in both seasons things were disastrous. Absolutely awful. But you could see the team improve as the year went on in both leagues. Both times, we played the team we played in the first game (and were absolutely hammered, about 80-25 in the intramural league and 24-2 in the YMCA league) again in our last game. In the intramural league, we lost 27-23, and in the YMCA league we won 8-6. So neither team was successful and my overall coaching record would not get me any jobs anywhere else. But in both cases, my teams improved drastically. Why?
Mainly because of two of the things I listed above: teaching terminology and learning how to put role players in a position to succeed. Recruiting is critical at the beginning and getting the players to work in the gym is critical as well.
Another lesson? Teams change and improve as the year goes on.
Does this shed light on anything? Probably not. But it just was interesting and provides me food for thought as I watch college basketball this year.