If there is one thing I've learned over the years as a coach, knowledge of the game does not equate to good coaching. I've seen plenty of highly knowledgable, ineffective coaches over the years.
I'll use an extreme, fictional example to paint the picture: say I hire Miami Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra to teach NBA X's and O's to a 4th grade team. Coach Spo is one of the highest regarded basketball minds/experts in the world... so why is that not an effective use of time for a 4th grade practice?
Understanding and naming exactly what is missing from "Coach Spo's practice" can give valuable insight into what makes a great practice.
Here's 3 key things that are missing:
1) The concepts are too high level. The teaching and instruction doesn't meet the players where they are.
2) 4th graders can't sit still and listen in a gym for more than 30 seconds, so they definitely can't lock in for an hour. You have to consider the method of teaching (think reading vs listening vs visual vs kinesthetic.)
3) There is no application for the kids. The end goal of coaching those 4th graders is to improve performance. They need reps to apply the lessons!
SO HERE IS THE SECRET SAUCE TO DEVELOPMENT: SMALL SIDED GAMES (SSG'S)
If you are wondering, "what is a SSG?"... let me explain!
Think of it this way... 5v5 basketball is complex, and it is hard to teach all aspects at one time! There's on ball movement, off ball movement, spacing, individual skill sets, team actions, etc. In the pursuit of teaching the final product at one time, players can often learn NOTHING. If your focus is on everything, your focus is on nothing!
SSG's allow a coach to teach bigger concepts by breaking them into smaller, more digestible concepts. SSG's typically take the form of 3v3 and 2v2, but can also include 1v1, 2v1, and more.
They are customizable to the level of the player and you can add rules to incentivize learning. For example, let's look at the most commonly used action in basketball: the pick and roll (PnR). Here's 3 cookie cutter examples for how SSG's can be perfect for teaching the PnR at different levels:
Have 2 offensive players and 1 defender. Make it easy for the offense so they can focus on critical fundamentals of the action (getting set, proper angle, looking to score, etc). The ball handler has 1 decision to make: if I'm open, score. If I'm covered, pass to my roller. This is great for 4th grade and under! The drill is simple enough to focus on a few key fundamentals while giving the kids a good balance of success/challenge.
Players get a real look of a pick and roll with live defense, but they don't have to worry about help side defense, teammates messing up their spacing, etc. They also can't just pass to pass to another teammate which teaches them to find solutions in the PnR. Put a 10-second shot clock on the game to get your whole team lots of reps and force them to execute the pick and roll with good timing. Keep score and compete!
*Pro-tip: cone-off a 3rd of the court at out-of-bounds to force players to operate in game-like space*
Ball handlers now have to worry about 1) their defender 2) the screener's defender and 3) the help side defender. More advanced skill sets and reads are required through the whole play, but we are getting closer to the conditions of what a 5v5 game will look like. If you skip "beginner" and "intermediate" steps and immediately try to put "beginner" level players in this setting, you will quickly see the quality of PnR's and game play become chaotic and ugly.
As Doc Rivers explained in the video above, Europeans and international players are accustomed to more 3v3 play. It's a quickly growing international game (now an Olympic sport), but America seems to be behind on valuing this small sided version of the game.
Players need to play more 1v1, 2v2, and 3v3. Whether that be at the park, in organized 3v3 leagues, or in team practices.
The above PnR SSG's would be far more useful than "Coach Spo's Practice" because it addressed the "3 missing things"
1) The PnR SSG's will meet the players where they are at in terms of skill and IQ.
2) There are 3 types of teaching going on: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Most importantly, it's QUICKLY teaching a few key points with minimal standing around.
3) Players are getting their reps and competing! Instead of just telling a player how to run a PnR, teach them a few key points and let them get 30-40 reps using and setting screens in competition.
Anytime I go to teach a new play or a concept, I always ask myself 1) Is the focus of this drill too broad? and 2) How can I get my players the most quality reps?
Especially at the youth level, I believe we over index on running set plays and undervalue teaching kids how to play. I am by no means "anti-play". I just don't like seeing youth teams run sets with multiple actions with robotic players, while their players don't understand any reads, counters, or how to play the game.
Let me know what you think! And remember...
PLAYS DON'T WORK WITHOUT PLAYERS!
- Coach Nick Kinzel