The Perfect Basketball Practice: My Beliefs About the Game
This guy Nate and I were supposed to meet to talk about coaching basketball. I didn’t know him very well, but we would soon be friends. It’s one of the best things about sports, that it delivers friends. Nate and I live in the mountain town of Boone, North Carolina where I can drive twenty-five miles to the north and be in Tennessee and just a little to the east and enter Virginia. My friends back in Indiana where I’m from often refer to me as being an East Coaster. I don’t think they realize I’m pretty much south and just a little east of Columbus, Ohio, and it’s at least a five-hour drive to the beach from here. I used to live in New Canaan, Connecticut and also New York City. Those are the kinds of places I think of when I think of the East Coast. Nate and I were to meet at a coffee place called The Local Lion right across from Appalachian State University where we were both lecturers. Nate has since moved on to a job with a less flexible schedule, and I try to keep my late afternoons clear for working out my girls and coaching their respective teams.
I arrived to The Lion first and chose a seat at a wooden table where I could see the door and watch for Nate. It’s a place that serves homemade doughnuts with names like “pumpkin apple cider” and posts videos online in which homemade chocolate glaze can be seen poured over one of their latest creations. I pulled out a notebook I call a daybook. I started calling my notebooks daybooks after I read a book called Write to Learn by Donald Murray. Murray was the first book I ever read about writing that I liked. He used the first person, told stories to illustrate his ideas, and he wrote in a conversational style that was easy to understand. In Write to Learn, Murray wrote this about his daybook: “anything that will stimulate or record my thinking, anything that will move toward writing goes into the daybook.” When I am feeling a little high falutin, I say that I write down intellectual seeds in my daybook that I hope to grow. For my meeting with Nate, I’d written down a bunch of stuff I thought we might teach the girls. Some of the words and phrases included work on weak hand, pivoting, shooting technique, and jump to the ball. I tend toward the belief that it doesn’t do any good to teach kids a bunch of plays if they can’t dribble or pass. It’s a cliche for coaches to say they want to teach kids to play and not a bunch of plays, but it’s another thing entirely to put teaching the fundamentals into regular practice over a long period of time. Besides that, with only 90 or so minutes twice week, which fundamentals will the coach choose to teach?
Nate arrived and came over to shake my hand. He’s a couple inches taller than me, probably 6’4 or so, and is an incredibly energetic and enthusiastic guy. We each had some experience with coaching basketball. Nate was a manager at Arizona when Lute Olsen was the coach, and he’d been a high school head boys coach in Maryland. I’d been a graduate assistant at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois where I’d played and then over the course of two decades had been a head coach and an assistant for boys and girls in both North Carolina and Indiana. The most impressive highlight I can share about my coaching career was that I was an assistant coach for Vance High School in Charlotte when that team beat a Chris Paul team on its way to the North Carolina 4A state championship. Nate had worked with the fifth graders the year before, and I had started working with girls through the YMCA in Connecticut back when my oldest was a second grader. We’d both learned that all of our high school and college experiences didn’t necessarily translate into planning effective and fun practices for the girls we would coach. After a trip to the counter for coffee and doughnuts, Nate and I sat down to talk.
For Nate’s notes, he came armed with an iPad the size of a standard piece of notebook paper. As I watched him pull out the pen that had come with the device, I remembered about how I’d read Steve Jobs always took a stand against the pen. He’d hold up his hand and wiggle his fingers demonstrating that people are born with natural pens for the iPad. With Jobs having passed away, the pen came to Apple. After some chit chat, we got down to the business at hand.
“What’s your ideal practice,” Nate asked, “for these kids we are about to start working with?” I loved that Nate sat down ready to fire off questions. It’s certainly my style too, to be constantly asking questions of others and trying to learn. I’m going to use Nate’s question in the coming posts to try and get down some of what I’ve come believe about ideal workouts and practices.