Every parent and every player wants a coach who truly understands what kids playing sports need. They hope for a coach who knows exactly what to tell the players in those tight games where one basket is all that’s needed to clinch a championship. Every joule of energy, each drop of sweat, and all of the effort in the world has boiled down to that key moment when a coach’s words and actions really pay off.
In the mind of each player, the spotlight is on one of them, but when it comes down to it, they turn to you, their coach, for guidance. Will you be ready to step up when the time comes?
Believe it or not, telling your players to do whatever it takes to clinch the win is not necessarily what they want to hear. Basketball is a difficult sport to play, and young athletes often pour out every ounce of effort they have into the game. Sprinting up and down the court requires heaps of effort and finding time for a player to catch his breath is often just not possible. To really motivate your players to dig hard and find that last bit of energy in the final moments requires you to do something you may find unorthodox: Don’t sweat it – just lighten up.
Here Coach Bill Thom talks about the importance of keeping it fun while practicing fundamentals.
When you relieve the pressure mounted on your players, it becomes much easier for them to focus their energy on the task at hand. After all, you are not playing in Game 7 of the NBA finals. A million fans aren’t crowded around their televisions with cold beverages in hand waiting for your star player to make that basket.
So don’t make your players feel like that’s the case. Besides, they might feel pressure from their parents. At their core, the kids just want to have fun – and so should you.
Making superstar memories
Like most sports, basketball is a mental as well as a physical game, which means much of the training is done off the court, away from the screeching of shoes and the swish of “nothing-but-nets.” Taking your kids for pizza after the game can really take the edge off, particularly during tight tournaments during which many youth can shake with anxiety about the prospect of a poor performance in the next game. These kids feel a lot of pressure, so show them how to have fun with each other and that easygoing nature will transfer into their game. They will hold the ball less tightly, and they will be much more rested. Just watch as those shots seamlessly sink.
While winning isn’t everything, it can certainly be a lot of fun. Nobody’s denying that! Coaches often want to distribute playing time equally to all players, and this is a great way to improve the overall morale of the team, but sometimes it takes knowing your team to improve your winning percentage.
Steve Nash suggests practicing enough so you know where to place your players and when to put them there. “How to set up pairings to create optimal chemistry amongst our starts or how your rotations might work as you substitute or establish lines (as in hockey) might be key” Nash says. Matching players against each other in competitive practices can help achieve optimal performance. You can find some competitive practice strategies here at PlaySportsTV.
When it comes to those final seconds of the championship game, every kid wants to make the winning basket. For the coach, it’s mostly up to the kids at that point, but the way you teach them to approach the game during the regular season and while practicing will decide whether they have anything left to make that winning basket.
As the ball lofts toward the hoop, and the final few seconds click off the clock, it’s how you have approached the game that decides the direction the ball takes. When the clock is at 00:00 and your kids have played as a team and have had fun, then it’s really time to celebrate, regardless of the score.