Our youth basketball program involves grades K-4 (we call it Hoop Troop). We try to incorporate a number of innovative techniques to build the same culture we want with our high school and middle school programs. Here are a few of the techniques we use to enhance player development and grow our culture. Although we gear it to our basketball program, these could be easily applied to other sports as well.
Positive communication and being an awesome teammate are part of our core beliefs in our culture. We want our players to grow up in our program knowing that if they pour into their teammates, it will help the team be successful. The same is true in life: if you pour into others, you will most likely be successful and happy. One way we foster this idea is by having our players “Find 5” multiple times during a session. “Find 5” means to find 5 high-fives from other teammates. All we do is say “Find 5” and they start moving around and giving great high-fives. (We actually practice giving good high-fives and share all the great intel like how to look at the other person’s elbow to ensure excellent contact). After a few times of “ordering” high-fives, they start to spread like crazy on their own. As coaches we give feedback that tends to perpetuate more high-five like…
“You guys are so great at giving high-fives!”
“Wow! We never even said to give high-fives in your line, but you guys are doing it! That is some high-level stuff”
“It is so awesome you keep giving energy to your teammates!”
...the players and parents all love the atmosphere of our youth sessions. The energy that can be created is outstanding.
(We do offer some time for high-five creativity. We have seen some fancy handshakes and positive touches over the years from elementary students).
Each day, we encourage the players to find whoever brought them to our “Hoop Troop” session and thank them. We ask them to come up with ideas of how they can show they are thankful. They usually offer “High Fives” of course, but hugs, words, and notes are some other great ways to show gratitude. After the session, we see kids interacting with their parents and grandparents in very positive ways. We know our culture is spreading.
It may sound crazy, but we do a number of drills without a basketball. By choosing to put down the ball, we can focus on body mechanics and footwork. For example, we have a “no ball” passing progression that involves learning to have eyes locked on the target, step into the pass, snap thumbs down, and communicate on the pass...and the receiver doesn’t initially have to worry about catching. We have the receiver visualize the ball leaving the hands of his partner and watching it all the way into his hands. (What a great way to introduce visualization to kids!) Shooting, layups, and dribbling are also done initially without a ball. This initial progression allows players to lock-in to what their body needs to do, and they see themselves doing it all with confidence. We later add the ball, but we will take the ball away at times to continue to build body-awareness and confidence.
After being at a PGC Basketball summer session, I was able to see an amazing culture that was created in just a few hours. I took a lot back to use in our entire basketball program. One idea we have implemented is asking players to be “locked in” while a coach or another player is talking. We have all been to a practice or training session where a coach is talking or demonstrating and kids are flipping balls around, dribbling, shooting the ball in the air, whispering, or looking all over the gym except at the person who is talking to them. It can drive a coach crazy. However, teaching players to “lock- in” can be a game-changer. When we blow one long whistle to the players, that tells them to freeze and get locked in.
Here’s what it means to be “locked in:”
We have found that not only do the players soak in more information this way, but they are proud of how well they do it as a group. Parents like it, too. They can now have their child lock-in at home.
Model being locked in as a staff. If another coach is talking, but sure you are locked in.
If a player is not locked in, model being locked in and look at the player until he figures out what he needs to do. They usually get it pretty fast. I even like to lock-in on the player and smile. :)
Leadership & Communication
Youth players often grow up in programs that set everything up for them. How does this hurt them? They don’t get a chance to communicate as much or develop leadership skills. It is actually very beneficial for players to be able to do some things on their own...especially at a young age like first grade. One way we foster this is by making the kids talk and form their own lines for our warm-up. A typical session may start like this:
[whistle to get locked in]...”Alright guys. We need 6 even lines (we change the number of lines every now and then) on the baseline that are pretty equally spread across the court. You will need to talk to each to get organized. Try to be next to different people than last week. You have 45 seconds.”
Typically, the first time (and occasionally down the road), the kids mill around and just look at each other or make very uneven lines...at first. However, we help them by asking them questions like: “Are all the lines even?” “How can you ask other lines to give you more people in a nice way...and as a good teammate?” “Cody, it looks like you are thinking about something. Do you want to ask your teammates for anything?”
We then encourage them to celebrate their success with those high-fives again. :)
In essence, you need to identify what type of culture you want to have at your highest level. Then, work backwards and see how you can grow it from the ground up. Plant the seeds, nurture them, and watch your program’s culture flourish!
One of the challenges of coaching high school athletics can often be getting your players to invest and work hard in the off-season. There seems to be an increasing trend of athletes that have a habit of not working hard. They key is to create a plan to replace the old habits with new ones.
4 Steps to Forming Hard Work as a Habit
Athletes are in complete control of their habits. With help, habit changes can be formed via focused effort, and your hard work, and your team’s hard work, will see continued benefits.
After my son Zak was diagnosed with an avulsion fracture in his hip, we started investigating ways he could continue to improve, even with a devastating injury. One thought was for him to watch film of high school, college, and NBA games while visualizing himself playing in them. This seemed to be going well, and he was enjoying the process.
About a week later, I happened to walk by while he was soaking in one of our high school games from a previous year. I watched with him for a little bit and noticed our team was struggling: there were missed shots, turnovers, and poor help defense. I saw myself call timeout to try to refocus the team’s efforts. As the players headed toward the sideline, they hung their heads and basically ignored each other.
I asked Zak if he noticed anything.
He replied, “We definitely were not playing well.”
I agreed, but I challenged him. “How did the players interact after we called timeout?”
“They didn’t,” he shared.
We talked about how sometimes it is really difficult to be a leader, especially when things aren’t going your way. However, those tough times are when your team needs you the most. My questioning quickly moved to finding out what the players on the court could have done differently. He explained they could talk to each other, try to pick each other up, give some high fives, and stand tall. I then figuratively placed him in the game and asked him what HE could specifically say… and then it dawned on me. We were doing Leadership Mental Training. He was thrusting himself into a difficult situation and visualizing how he could impact his teammates in a positive way.
We then constructed some steps that would be most beneficial for this new leadership development process:
Try this with your team both in and out of season.
There was a pop...and there was pain. My 9th grade son fractured his hip. It was an avulsion fracture, which means the muscle actually pulled the bone apart. He wasn’t doing anything that athletic, and he wasn’t doing anything to change the world like save a kitten or something. He was merely kicking a ball in PE class. At any rate, the injury-stars aligned, and on a routine swing of his leg just 10 minutes earlier, he dropped to the floor and could barely move. I received a call from Mr. Klatt, got someone to cover my class full of freshmen, and rushed to the training room. I found him laying there, grimacing, trying to push through the discomfort. I wanted to make his pain go away, but I felt helpless. I shuffled hopeful diagnoses at him: “I’m guessing it is just a muscle pull. At worst, it maybe is a dislocated hip that they can just pop back in. I doubt it is too bad, though. You were just kicking a ball.” I knew he wanted no part of it being a major injury, and I refused to even think it was.
Fast-forward to the emergency room where his soccer coach happened to be the on-duty nurse. The x-rays were pulled up on the computer screen just out of my sightline, but I could tell by Kristof’s eyes...the way they moved to the floor...that it wasn’t good. We would have to wait for the experts to read the x-ray, so we sat in silence wondering for the next eternity or so.
When we got the official avulsion fracture diagnosis, we also received a preliminary timetable for recovery. Before I share, you should know Zak (my son) worked really really hard all summer. You should know his goal was to make the varsity roster of the basketball team. You should know he hung a varsity game jersey by his bed to help him practice purposeful visualization and to inspire him to follow through with his commitments. You should know he loves basketball more than pretty much anything.
They projected 4 months, and he should probably be good to go. He should be able to start playing basketball in January. He was devastated. I was devastated for him. My mind attempted to click to a growth mindset and tried to convince me that this was in his best interest and an opportunity for him to learn and grow, but I wasn’t quite buying it at that moment. I was caught up in the emotion of my son moving through a very challenging time that was affecting his dreams. But on the way to the parking lot to pull up the car, I was able to snap myself out of it. As his dad and his coach, I knew I had to paint a new outlook ASAP.
We were able to gingerly slide him in the car, pain meds active, with an immobilizing brace on his right leg. On the way home we talked about how most people would probably just feel bad for themselves, but the elite would know that this experience would make them stronger. He agreed, but I gave it a couple of days before we got to work.
Zak’s Mental Training Steps
He began using an basketball mental training app created by Joshua Medcalf of Train to be Clutch. The affirmations included a wellness component which he listened to multiple times each day.
Check out the app here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mental-training-for-basketball/id522991011?mt=8
2. Reprogramming Self-Talk
I created a healing mp3 that included the self-talk needed to convince his brain to believe that he was a fast healer and loved the rehab process. We will have this on our website soon. It has been scientifically proven that our brain doesn’t care if we lie to it. In fact, it believes whatever we tell it the most, so we should take advantage. By listening to this mp3 3-4 times per day, Zak was reprogramming his brain that all these things were true.
3. Visualized Practice (with Practice Plans)
Zak went through at least one practice each day. With the advice from Rainer Meisterjahn (www.courtexperform.com), Zak visualized his way through at least one practice each day. He used one or more of the following: his own 90-minute workout, an old practice plan of mine, or PGC camp sessions from his notes. Regardless, he spent at least 45 minutes each day purposefully visualizing himself practicing and playing at a high level.
There was one more way he mentally trained, and it was something we created ourselves. For now, we have named it Leadership Mental Training, and I quickly realized it could be extremely important for all of today’s players...not just injured ones.
In fact, it is the subject of my next blog post.
Zak was supposed to be on crutches until early November. The results he experienced might seem unrealistic, but after just 3 weeks, he was walking without crutches, shooting free throws, and doing stationary dribbling. His mobility in his hip was outstanding and he was pain free. As of today, 4 ½ weeks after the injury, he is shooting jump shots, jogging, and riding an exercise bike. He is projected to be playing again in the next couple of weeks which will put him about 2 months ahead of the original projected recovery period.
There are five different methods in which we can use self-talk to impact our lives: Silent Self-Talk, Self-Speak, Self-Conversation, Self-Write, and Self-Audio.
Silent Self-Talk: Monitor Your Thoughts
The internal thoughts you have on a daily basis are called your silent self-talk.
How can you change negative silent self-talk?
Step 1: The most important step in changing your self-talk is to rid yourself of that little voice telling you that all this “self-talk stuff” is garbage, rubbish, baloney. You need to give yourself permission to buy in.
Step 2: Allow yourself to be aware of the self-talk that is working against you.
Step 3: Immediately turn the negative self-talk around. If you find yourself saying you are always late, instantly tell yourself the opposite: “I am consistently on time!” This turnaround of self-talk will actually change how you feel. If you find your self-talk exclaiming how sad, tired, or upset you feel...change it. Immediately tell yourself you are extremely happy, you are energized, you are calm. Change the signals that are being sent to your brain. Remember, your brain doesn’t care if you are lying to it; it has no moral compass. It will just take what you consistently tell it and create that reality.
Self-Speak: Monitor What You Say Aloud
What you say aloud affects your subconscious, so beginning to monitor your conscious, aloud self-speak is essential. Work to keep your thoughts positive!
Are you complaining?
Complaining is basically negative visualization and it doesn’t change your circumstances: it perpetuates it. When you complain about something going on in your life, you may feel better for a little bit, but it doesn’t change your actual circumstances.
How can you stop?
Try to reframe how you see the problem and find the value. For example, if your boss is sometimes rude and disrespectful, see that as a challenge you can grow from. The situation can be viewed as an opportunity to build patience and kindness in some tough circumstances.
Self-Conversations: Monitor the Conversations You Have With Yourself
The art of talking with yourself aloud and hold multiple sides of a conversation is Self-Conversation. We’ve all done it, so don’t feel like you are crazy. :) Those times when you are making a decision and you say something like, “Well, I think that would be a terrible idea.” And then you say, “You are probably right about that.” ... all aloud…to yourself. Remember, you are NOT crazy.
How can you take advantage of the skill of self-conversation?
One way to utilize self-conversation is to have daily aloud conversations with yourself regarding beneficial topics. For example, begin each day exclaiming, “Good morning! You look like you feel great today! I bet you can handle anything that comes your way!” Then respond, “I feel great and I know today is going to be awesome!” This may seem kind of weird, but I challenge you to try it. Find a private place tomorrow morning, and just try it. You might be amazed how it makes you feel. Why is this effective? It forces you to put thoughts into words, and words have a dramatic impact on how you feel.
Self-Write: The Power of the Written Word
Self-write is the act of creating written or typed messages to read to yourself.
How can you implement Self-Write?
Audio-Talk: Audio Files to Reprogram Your Thoughts
Audio-talk is the act of creating audio files of powerful, positive self-talk statements that you can listen to on a handheld device or computer.
How can you create and utilize Audio-Talk?
HOW TO HAVE YOUR PLAYERS CREATE AND USE SELF-TALK STATEMENTS
Remember, your brain believes what you tell it the most, so take control of your self-talk.
One of the most devastating inventions of Nintendo was the reset button. Okay, that might be a little hard on Nintendo, but nevertheless, I’ve blamed them for creating what I call: The Reset Plague. As crazy as it sounds, I had my first conversation about this menace in my first year of coaching...but we will get to that later.
The Reset Plague came rushing back to me when I was doing a shooting drill with my middle school son a short time ago. The drill in question: make five 3’s from each of the five angles in less than 2min 30 sec. He had been shooting the ball fairly well during his workout and was feeling fairly confident he would complete the drill with time remaining. After his first 5 shots didn’t fall, I saw him glance at the large digital timer with frustration--only a little over 2 minutes left and he hadn’t made a shot. He caught the next pass, put the ball under his arm and sighed, “I think we should just start over.” He wanted to just hit the reset button and pretend this poor start didn’t happen. I shared wholehearted disagreement...kind of nicely...mostly.
Flashback to 1995.
I was a rookie assistant football coach when I first had my Reset Plague epiphany. As a coaching staff, we were hanging out in a gym while the team was busy getting their gear on, and we happen to run into the opposing coach. He was chronicling his team’s inability to play through adversity; they just want things to be easy.
He explained, “Man, it’s frustrating. When things go well, we are fine, but when things go wrong, we just can’t seem to push through.”
We were actually struggling with the same issue at times with our players. It was right then when it hit me (insert Mario power-up sound effect).
“I think it’s Nintendo’s fault…. Seriously.”
The other coaches glanced at me, the rookie coach, somewhat confused but also mildly intrigued. A lot of kids were regularly playing video games, but I don’t they were quite sure of the connection, so I continued.
“It’s the reset button. I think they are just so used to it. When things don’t go well, they just press that. No consequences. They just get a do-over.” It was pretty true: if Bo Jackson didn’t score on the first drive in Tecmo Super Bowl: Reset! (It actually was a decent plan if you wanted Mr. Jackson to lead the league in scoring.)
The opposing coach looked at me and said, “You know what? I think you actually might be on to something. It’s sad, but I think you’re right.”
So what do you do when your players would rather “hit the reset button” instead of persevering through adversity? What do you do when YOU want to “hit the reset button’?
For starters, here are 3 ways to battle the Reset Plague:
1. Keep a Growth Mindset
There is value in any struggle. Reminding yourself to look for the opportunity in every tough situation is key. For example, in my son’s case, there was great value in trying to perform well after things didn’t go his way. That will happen in games. That will happen in life. Things will suck. Things will be tough. But craving those situations so you can learn and grow will help you achieve your dreams.
2. Play Present
Focus on the task at hand. One problem people face is living in the past or living in the future. We often get hung up on what has happened during the last game, the last play, or the last rep. We also tend to live in fear regarding the future...you may also call this worrying. Some examples of residing in the future include thinking things like “what if I don’t make this shot,” or “if I don’t complete this drill, I will be a failure.” Neither the past or future matter all that much. It is what is happening right now that matters. In my son’s case, he needed to focus on the next rep and let the results take care of themselves.
One of the best things I learned while getting my school counseling certification was how to breathe. This may seem silly, but it is amazing what slowing your motor down will do for you. Square Breathing was a technique I learned from an elementary counselor, but applies to people of all ages. When you start to feel overwhelmed, stressed, angry (or insert another undesired feeling), just square-breathe. Put your finger in front of you and trace a square. You will spend four seconds on each side of the square:
My biggest piece of advice is to avoid pressing that darn reset button. Once you do, it is easy to press it over and over and over again. Bo Jackson might lead the league, but you missed out on a great deal of growth.
I'm 41. I workout about 4 days a week. I'll usually hop on the treadmill for about 30-40 minutes and do some interval running, and I'll later move on to some weights. I tend to lift at a fast pace to try to keep my heart pumping and experience how we want our basketball players to attack the weight room. A couple days each week, I end my workout with a race on the rowing machine. I do this for a couple different reasons:
1) It puts variety in my workout.
2) During my weight training lifetime, I have caused an imbalance (much like many others). We were told to bench, but we never did anything to the opposite muscles...no pulls or back exercises...for years. At any rate, I figure a few extra reps of a pulling exercise may eventually balance out the inflexibility in my shoulders and back.
3) Lastly, I kind of feel sorry for the rowing machine. I don't think I have ever seen anyone else use it in years while I have been a member of the fitness club. I figure that I give some positive energy to the universe by visiting with the awkward wallflower at the dance.
I've probably been on the rowing machine nearly 40 times since winter. That means I've raced about 40 times. That's right, I've raced. I choose the race setting so I have a feeling of competition. For some reason, I even often visualize myself racing against the Winklevoss brothers from The Social Network. (Kind of strange, but cut me some slack. I think it's probably because they are the only people I know of, or have seen, that have rowed competitively). Yeah, I could just go for 500 or 1000 meters and glide my way across the water, but I would rather put a beat down on the Winklevoss family; like I've said, I would rather compete. I hate to brag, but I've never lost. Some races have been close, but I crank up my effort, sometimes even grunt a lot, and I secure the victory. Time after time I get to see the digital screen display two spread out squares for eyes accompanied by a slightly curved stair-stepped line of squares signifying a smile: a victory smile. My gold medal!
This past week, I was racing the twins in a 500 meter head-to-head and things were going great. I actually felt better than normal as I pulled the cable repeatedly to engage my oars (...or oar...I think maybe I would only have one if I was really rowing in a crew team). I was being sure to squeeze my shoulders and back muscles to engage that balancing effect I was talking about earlier. I was about 120 meters in, and things were going great! Then, as I looked into the mirror, I noticed my shoulder muscles and how they are a little more toned than they used to be. In fact, my neck muscles were getting a pretty pump as well...and my biceps and triceps. It is kind of embarrassing to admit it, but I was thinking, "man, this exercise thing must be working okay. I've got some definition here that wasn't there a few months ago. I'm getting a little more lean...at least in my rowing muscle areas." I was pretty into myself. I looked at the display screen and I was already over halfway done. In fact, there was only about 200 meters left. And then I realized it...I was losing to the Winklevoss brothers! 200 meters left and they were in the lead...by two digitally stacked squares (that is a lot in digital rowing display lingo). So I started to (what I like to call) "Bust It." I began rowing faster than I ever had and faster than what I thought was possible. Within about 75 meters, I made up one square.
"Awesome," I thought, "I can do this!"
With 125 meters left, surely I could make up the other square. But something unexpected happened: the Winklevoss brothers started to speed up, too.
...This is a machine that is just supposed to keep a pace and try to make you work hard. This couldn't be happening. I've never lost.
50 meters left. I pushed myself harder. I refused to lose to these punks. Still one square behind.
30 meters left. I was what appeared to be a half of a square behind. I was catching them.
20 meters. Almost there.
Two separate digital squares with a straight line under them appeared on the screen.
...to those two clowns!
I sat clutching my fake, cabled oar in disbelief. I didn't even want to look in the mirror in front of me.
After a few moments, I slowly glided forward and unbuckled my feet from the stirrups. Still in disgust, I pressed the off button on the display. I didn't want to see it anymore. What the heck happened?
Well, after some reflection, I KNOW exactly what happened:
That time I spent admiring the RESULTS of all my progress, I took my mind off the PROCESS.
It was a great reminder for me.
I think there are a lot of athletes and coaches out there that have worked hard. They work hard, see success, and feel good about it. There is nothing wrong with feeling good about things, but here is the danger: if you forget to focus on the process of improving, you will get passed by those who continue to work. Nothing is set in stone. We aren't successful because we always have been in the past. There are no guarantees.
We all know that MS kid who was awesome. No one could defend him, he grabbed every rebound, he could finish at the basket, etc. Then he got to HS and slowly disappeared. Most likely, he fell in love with his results and lost his focus on the process.