To me, it is funny that this topic is #SeasonPartOne because as I was pondering what to write it came to me that for winter sports teams and more importantly basketball teams there are really like 6 seasons within a season: pre-season, practice season, non-conference season, conference season, championship season and postseason. And honestly, there is a lot to unpack within each of those seasons.
Transition from Pre-Season to Non-Conference Games:
This is a tough one to tackle as a coach. From a coach’s perspective, you have been pushing your team and players for almost two months as they battle against one another.
You hope you are putting in the right things and that your system and plans for the team will work, but you honestly don’t know until you start playing other teams. That is when you really have to start adjusting to see what works within your system, what lineups work and what your team is made of. By the time things are starting to come together, you have to start worrying about your next opponent.
I think this can be a give and take by any coach. How much time do you spend on the opponent vs spending on yourself during the early part of the season?? Honestly, every coach will probably have a different philosophy.
My 2 thoughts on this:
- Use practices wisely!! Use September and October to put in your system while also allowing your players to have a chance to work their way into the rotation. Play with lineups, putting kids in different positions and giving players different responsibilities out on the floor. Sometimes as coaches we are totally focused on building for that first game which means just letting the starters play together. I think establishing a top unit early can be detrimental to team morale. Seeing how different kids play together I believe is extremely crucial to figure out in September/October leading into your first game:
- What happens during foul trouble?
- What’s our defensive group?
- What’s our pressing group?
- Who is on the floor when we need to milk a lead vs. who is on the floor when we are trying to come back?
- Spend this time getting your team in a good place!! Use October, November, and December as learning lessons to ensure that your team is rock solid come conference play. Scouts are only going to get you so far in the early part of the season. Use this time to build your team identity inside and out so when conference play begins there are no question marks for your players when they step on the court. I definitely value scouts and executing a scouting report out on the court, I just think during this time it is important to work on your team so they are confident in themselves and what they are doing on the floor.
End of Non-Conference into Holiday Break
I think this part of the year is TOUGH for winter sports coaches and teams. The team has to ensure two holidays where they are stuck on campus longer then their friends, the stress of finals gets to them and who knows how your season is going for the team or them personally. I find from around Thanksgiving till your last game/practice before Holiday break is a very tough stretch.
- Invest in your kids off the court! I know everyone is like duh… but this time of year is so stressful and it’s just the time they need it most. A simple text, hug, joke, laugh or encounter outside the 4 lines of the court can go a long way.
- Give more off days!! I feel like knowing your team is just crucial during this time. If they need more off days then give it to them. We just threw an audible off day in our practice week because we knew our kids could really use it as they head into finals. We hope it pays off for us as they will come into practice more excited and actually be focused on being there vs worrying about the stresses they have outside of basketball. Sometimes less is more during this time. Even if you don’t believe in giving more days off… during this stressful time think about having very short concise practices to get the most out of your players.
- FUN practices… now the whole practice doesn’t have to be fun every day and such, but mixing in fun drills, light-hearted things within the practice or to end practice I think will go a long way. This season is LONG so taking the time to learn and grow as these practices during finals and holiday breaks are crucial to getting ready for conference play, but understand the grind.
- Do team activities outside of basketball!! Dodgeball, bowling, team meal, gingerbread house decorating competition… the little things keep them invested and together during a time when the weather may be bad outside, all their friends are home and they are stuck on campus or bummed about how finals went. Doing things together during this time I think is very important as it is very easy for them to go back to their dorm room after practice and lay in bed and watch Netflix till the next practice.
It is a long season where do you go from here?!?
Good question and honestly there are so many different ways to go about this part of the season and it honestly depends on your own team.
- Meet with your players and do a mid-season review. I think this is very important because for some players the season is going great personally and for others, it may not be going so great. I think it is great for each player to hear from their coaching staff to discuss tangible things they can do out on the court to help the team/change their situation. The key word in that sentence is tangible. Give them something concrete that they can work on/do and be honest with them about where they stand in your eyes. The worst thing you can do is to tell them how great they are doing etc, but never get playing time or have the ability to prove themselves. You need to keep motivating your players in some manner regardless if they are the best player or the last one coming off the bench. Especially during this time of year.
- Make your team view conference play as a NEW season!! When conference play starts everyone is 0-0 which is a great feeling. Hopefully putting the emphasis on a new season where your team can go compete for a championship will give them new motivation and hunger to go out and get after it.
I hope the beginning of the season has been good to everyone and if it hasn’t been a good start then remember conference play and championships season is right around the corner and it can be a fresh start for everyone! Use the lessons you learned in the beginning part of the season and carry them into the final stretch of your season!