Coaches always talk about how the pre-season is one of the most valuable times of the season because it is the opportunity to present/cover the most amount of information without interruption (i.e. games) in such a short amount of time. Therefore, during this time it is important to get across the message to your players the value of each practice and the need for their absolute focus/effort during every drill or instruction. Since there is so much information in such little amount of time until the season starts coaching staffs will tend to increase the length of practices or the number of practices within a day. Similar to when players begin to fatigue physically, players mentally become drained during longer practices causing them to begin to lose concentration. Lack of concentration then leads to bad habits and then those bad habits are exhibited during games. I always liked the line, “… (D)uring the most pressure situations habits are revealed.” Thus, if the entire preseason is predicated on extending the lengths of practice to fit in more stuff then you have to take in consideration how receptive players may be toward the end of practices. So, as a coach you have to identify the appropriate balance to achieve effective and efficient practices to form and sustain good habits.
Similar to the players, coaches have to find their role on a team. When I played we would always have a couple younger coaches who would help out or volunteer. The majority of the time they would rebound during drills or play dummy defense, while rarely instructing during practices. I remember the perception that typically came with that role from my teammates and myself. The perception was that since he was not often included during instruction/demonstration that there was not much credence to what he would say if he ever were to approach a player. So, as a coach in a similar position this year I am looking to build trust among the players, while being careful not to step outside my boundaries with the coaching staff. I think that building trust with the players is one of the most important things any coach can do at any level. I do not try to go out of my way to be heard or voice my opinion, but there are times where if I recognize something during practice or a game I will mention it to one of the players. Typically, it will be during a 1-on-1 chance when he is off to the side of the court. But, even then, my approach typically is not to correct their previous behavior; instead I attempt to create awareness. I try to ask them what they saw and why they reacted the way they did during the play, or sometimes I will tell them to look for something during the next trip down. For example, one of our players was setting a screen and his defender kept hedging out too far, so I approached the screener while he was on the sidelines to ask him if he sees his defender when he sets a screen, which of course he did. I would then respond to him saying, if you ever see your defender come too far to smother a screen there may be an opportunity to slip or cut to the basket immediately after the screen. Simple action, but the point is to always be aware for scoring opportunities. The player simply nodded. Whether he does it on the next trip, or in the following practice is irrelevant. To me, he still heard the option and the concept. I hope.
Other thoughts from Pre-Season:
- Hold on to everything that you can – notes, practice plans, game cards, game-film, etc.
- Put yourself in the coach’s shoes during situations – pre-game meetings, scout, drills, after game, etc.
- Rising coaches word to the wise – “Nothing is beneath you.” – Do you fit the bill? Responsible. Accountable. Dependable. Sustainable.
- Be respectful of everyone who helps put together the practices, games, meals, or any one involved directly or indirectly. So, that goes for other sports on campus and their players/coaching staffs.
- Volunteer for anything or show willingness to learn anything – (i.e. cutting film)
- Unfortunately, because of time and scheduling conflicts I have not been able to stay as long as I would like, but one thing I have noticed is that one of the most important times to get to know your players is before or after a practice. Be the guy to offer up getting up more shots. Offer to rebound for them when they shoot. Stay as long as the players do. Be the last one off the floor.