Sure it’s easy to tell people that you are in player development when you are working out an all-star player. What happens when you are working with a young player that has a chance to be good, but isn’t ready to get minutes quite yet? I think this is where player development coaches earn their money. Players are so fragile emotionally at their earliest stages and it is up to coaches to take them by the hand and make them understand what is going on. Players today aren’t like they were 20 years ago when they were physically and mentally tough. They get frustrated easily and tend to start going south on you quickly. Not to mention the parents and friends that are telling them they should be playing. This can sour their attitude quickly and it begins to start affecting them to the point where you could lose them.
As a coach there are plenty of things that you can do with them. The one thing that you can’t do is just to isolate them and leave the player on the side of the road. You need to develop a plan in advance to improve not only their physical skills, but their mental as well. It all starts with communication with the player. Sit them down and tell them that right now there isn’t enough minutes to get them in games consistently, but they are in your plans. Tell them that you want to bring them along slowly and will try your best to get them minutes in blowout games or if injuries occur. Make sure that they understand that you see value in them, but at this juncture just can’t get them minutes. Communication is step one in the program, as young players today need as much communication with their coach as possible.
After you sit them down to talk step two is planning their development program. As a head coach it’s hard to see this program through everyday so its important to delegate. You usually have more coaches than you need so put them to work and give them assignments. Assign an assistant coach on to the player to work with them everyday. It’s important that the coach get on the court everyday with the player, but it needs to be more than that. Coaches make the mistake of making their player development plan just about drills. That assistant coach needs to prepare that player for upcoming games just like you would a starter. If you have the means, break down film of upcoming opponents and talk with them about strategy. Ask them questions and get their brain moving:
What does our opponent like to do on offense?
What do we need to take away to beat them?
What are you matchup’s strengths and weaknesses?
How should be play them?
Sure they may not talk like a coach and understand how to answer all of those questions, but as you bring them along slowly they will start to understand game plans and strategy. Have that assistant coach talk with them in the locker room and before practice starts. Let that player understand that they are important and you are investing time and effort into them. At a young age they may not appreciate it and maybe think its irritating to them especially if they aren’t playing. No one ever says player development as going to be easy.
Before and after practice as well as before games is especially important in a young player’s development. Depending on your numbers not only put them through drills, but try to have them play 2-2 & 3-3. Put them through situations using your team’s philosophy to have them understand how your team plays. Again just more exercises that will give them understanding of how your team plays. You make think it’s silly to put this much time and effort into developing a player, but it will pay dividends in the game. During games have an extra assistant sit next to the young player(s) talking to them about the game what players did right and wrong. Constantly showing them attention and teaching them what they need to know to be successful. After games talk to the player about what transpired. Ask them questions like what could we have done better as well as what we did well as a team. Again having them use their brain and understand the game not only in the physical sense , but the mental as well.
I’ll be the first to tell you that nothing can replace actual game minutes for a player. You can put them through all of the drills that you want, but nothing beats having a player come into a game and play against actual competition. A player needs to be able to make mistakes and learn from them. Some will find a way not to make the same mistakes over and over while others will continue to do so. Player development is a very slow process in most cases. Everyone wants to coach a Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash , or Kevin Durant. But in most cases you are dealing with average players with average ability. Either way you are talking about fragile people I don’t care if its at the high school, college, or pro levels.
Player development is all about small achievements. Every day is about winning small battles, keeping your eye on the big war. You need to encourage players and tell them what they do right and wrong. Reward them with a compliment when they play well or do something right. When they have a bad game or a bad day reprimand them, but sit them down at one point and explain what they did wrong and how to fix the problem. As coaches you cant expect players to all be the same. You can’t just tell players in a huddle that you need to play harder. Some you can and they will understand that they need to pick it up. Others you need to break things down and explain them. Coaching is about not only competing, but also being able to make adjustments and have your players understand those adjustments. If you have a veteran team that understands you then vague comments are fine. With younger players you can’t just dismiss them as they need to be taught.
If you coach long enough you will encounter players that will succeed and fail. For the most part some players just wont be good enough at the end of the day. You will also have players that just weren’t mentally tough enough to compete. This could mean not knowing the offense or just not being ready. Having assistants talk to your bench players in practice as well as games can help with their mental development. Players need to be prepared for games mentally. They need to know what are good plays as well as bad. Let them know popular mistakes that are made on both ends of the ball. Let them know about effort and needing to battle themselves out. Players need to know that there will be bad days, but having rough days are just a way of life. But effort is the one thing that they can control. With this preparation players will tend to be ready a little bit more when their name is called to play.
Use your staff to the fullest. I meet so many young coaches that want to move up the ladder. They understand that they want to be head coaches and be successful, but sometimes don’t understand what it takes to get there. If you have young coaches on your staff have them fill this player development role. Have them spend time with your players and develop a plan for how to get player’s better. There is never a shortage of coaches that want to help or be a part of your program. Like I mentioned in past articles your coaches should want to be around your players. There are only so many coaches that you need to listen to during games. Assign your 3rd,4th, and/or 5th assistants to this duty. This can be a great learning experience for young coaches to be around players and understand how to get through to them. I’ve been in this role as a young coach at the age of 18 years old and it taught be so much as a coach. I believe being able to spend time and work with high school and college kids at a young age is instrumental on how I deal with NBA players at a daily basis. I don’t think I could be as good dealing with a Kobe Bryant or a Caron Butler if I didn’t spend so much time with players at a young age. Sometimes there will be good days and bad. Like I said before every day is a battle some will be wins and some will be loses, but all of these small battles lead up to winning or losing the war.
Young players at all levels are so fragile. I see so many players in high school and college that I know will be big projects at the next level in their development. It’s easy to point out that their careers will go in completely different directions depending on the coaching staff that they go to in the next chapter. As a coach you can’t dismiss young players. I see so many times at both college and pro that the head coach doesn’t have anything to do with their young players if they aren’t slated to play minutes early. There is no plan in place as their philosophy is if the kid gets better they get better if not just find someone else. I am not totally against the survival of the fittest lock them in a closet and let them fight their way out. I do understand though not every player is good enough to get to the fight as they need a little bit more attention than others. There needs to be a plan in order to get your young players to be serviceable at some stage of their development. If you don’t have the means or the man power to assign coaches to players then try to increase your communication to players. As coaches I think its so important on all levels to be on the same page with your players. Some will get it and some won’t. Not all players will welcome this with open arms as some players will fall by the wayside. As a coach you need to understand that some players don’t need encouragement, some need extra attention to maximize their potential, and some will never get it. But, without a plan of attack more players will fall through the cracks. As coaches its our job to try to motivate players to maximize their abilities on and off the court. Some may need a little more attention than others. I think with this philosophy in mind we can reach so many more players than just hoping that with shooting some extra shots every day that they will get it. With this mindset a lot more players will fail than succeed.