It is not easy to build a good basketball program, it never was and it never will be. It is a process of bonding a group of individuals, with all of their good and bad sides, and trying to make them work like a team. As much as we like to talk about X´s and O´s, the time has come to talk about the more important part that everybody tends to neglect.
Its all about organization, it is about the discipline, it's about building blocks. It is about your relationships with your players, how to get something out of somebody who has some flaws, who is selfish, who does not play defense or try hard and do not want to compete. All those things, Coach Pop thinks have more to do with winning or losing then drawing some kind of plays and following exceptional tactics.
One of the most important thing that you need to search when choosing a player is the character. Certain things certain players need to posses if you want to build a good basketball program. And if you want a guy with a flaw, let's say that he is selfish, how do you think to "attack" him, how to work with and around him. The main question is do you think that you are able to change that and is he or she going to be able to contribute to a team, to be a part of one, and to play with and for the same cause.
The bottom line is that those players are what they are and the thing that you need to understand is that the character is a part of that young man and it is going to come out of him sooner or later, and usually under pressure in the important parts of the game where the stress levels are high. You really need to get rid of such players.
The fiber of your team is the beginning of everything that you do. You want players that have gotten over themselves. you want to train your players to look beyond themselves because that is the time that they are going to acknowledge something bigger than them, and that is the team. But, for them to be able to get there, first they need to be fully self-aware, fully trained and developed both as a player and as human beings. Their fundamentals in both parts have to be flawless.
If they get over themselves then they know its not about them, but about the team. So this is the part where we as coaches have to be self-aware and that we have gotten above ourselves. We coaches have to be there for our players and not vice-versa. We have to serve them before they are willing to listen to us. We have earned their trust.
So, when you are choosing your players, they need to know that you really want them, but in a way that you accept them for what they are and not what they can or cant be. Do not look only for their skills. Look for their personalities, their manners, their talk. Aim for their heart.
How to Choose a Player
One of the ways how can you judge a player is how they talk to their teammates on the timeouts when they are losing a game. Are they blaming or encouraging, are they helping, are they hiding or they are stepping up and taking the responsibility.
Another thing that you want to see is how are they behaving in practice. Are they going hard or they are posing for newspapers, are they trying to lift the atmosphere up or are just trying to get through the training.
Take notice how are they talking and interacting with their coach. Are they respectful, are they polite?
All these things when considered are going to tell you more about the player than his ability to score or defend or whatever are they able to do on the court.
And now, when you have assembled enough good character on your team, this is the time when you can consider to try and have a guy with the flaw, because, in this massive character environment this flaw won't be notable. It just may be even fixable.
Another thing that is important is time. Building a healthy organization takes time and it takes hard work, and it has to start with the healthy fiber. Risking with some good potential bad character is dangerous because you are betting that you can use a piece of good talent without ruining the team harmony.
If you ask me, I never bet on such persons.
The other part of the story is that you want to enjoy yourself in your basketball program. You want for yourself and for your team to be happy. There is no way that you want to spend your time with jerks because very fast you are going to hate to get into gym knowing what are you dealing with. Very fast the kids are going to stop coming to practices and the whole team is going to collapse because of the bad fiber. It is better to have 10 good kids that are bad players then 10 talented that are just hard to manage.
In game management
As far as in-game management is considered, there are certain things that you need to take care of. Play all of your team. Give bench a chance. Incorporate them with more skilled players that could be your go-to option in these situations. Let it be more of "play the game the right way no matter what" and do not let it be "win, win, win". Many coaches are afraid to do this because they might lose. You need to develop the bench, they need to be extra motivated, especially in the games against the weaker teams. This way you are going to find a player, an ace in your pocket, you are going to surprise yourself and everybody else. You are going to add value to your team.
You have to be Honest. Brutal, direct, between the eye honesty that is the same for everybody is a formula for success. Never try to trick a player or lie to because then you lose trust and credibility. Do not manipulate your kids. Do not have one system for the talented kids, and the other for the ones that are less good. It has to be the same criteria for everybody. Your team has to march to the same drummer, to be evaluated by the same standards. If they fell that the rules are guiding the team and not one man own likings, then the acceptance of differences in quality will be easier and they within the group are going to acknowledge one another better.
The demands have to be the same from everybody and they have to be fair.
You must do everything as a group, make decisions and deal with the outcome. Everybody needs to have a voice, and everybody needs to be aware that he must share his ideas. You need to be aware that the ideas can come from anybody, and if you are wise enough, you will know that the best thing to do is to listen. Do not act like you are the smartest person in the world.
Just a Game
One of the important things that you need to realize is the thing that basketball is just a game. A GAME. its not a matter of life and death. Teach your players to enjoy your game, to have fun. Of course, teach them that winning is the better part, and in order to win more it means that you'll have more fun. And there is a certain path that you need to take to be able to win, so all those reps and drills are for their own sake to be able to have more fun.
Win or Learn
Get them to think about the certain way, and it is: "Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn." Loosing is just a numeric count on the paper, but if you do things the right way, if you have the right mentality, the right attitude, then there are small wins even if the score tells differently, and the score is not important.
Leadership is important, you probably will know who is the leader, but it is not you who should choose a leader. The team should decide who is going to lead them because the kids are going to feel who is giving them the most confidence. It has to be a natural process or you may put a burden on a player that is not the natural leader of the group.
Inspire them to Grow
Make your players get their own conclusions. Give them a thing to think about. Let us say the opposite team is getting too many offensive rebounds. Ask them: " What are we going to do about those rebounds?" or "Are we going to box out today or not?" It is better that they between themselves figure things out. You can practice with them all you want until they don't figure it out on their own there is no help. Be patient, choose your words, do not blame and just trust them. That kind of talks is going to make bonds between your players which is a thing that will make your team grow.
Building a team, a product of a good basketball program, is a journey, a process, and a joy is in the process. You do not need to put stakes on your team because it is an unnecessary burden. All you need to do is to give your best, to work hard each and every day, to love your players and to nurture them, so when the time comes when you win or lose, you are going to know that you gave it your best. And that is the only thing that really matters.
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