Balancing Player Development with Win Now

I recently did a teleconference with Beverly girls head coach Seth Stantial. Coach Stantial and I have spoken in the past about varsity players reading to elementary schools and situational basketball among many other topics. He is always excited to share out new ideas and remains open to listening to ways to improve. This time around we spoke about balancing the development of younger players versus trying to win now with seniors.

Win Now vs. Win Later

Coach Stantial’s stance on this was very simple. If his team has a chance to compete in the moment, that is the number one priority. This past season, his team had the opportunity to win a division title late in the season. They also qualified for the state tournament. Getting to post season play is never a guarantee. Coach Stantial’s chief priority was developing the players to be in the best position in whatever their next game was.

My own experience this year was similar to Coach Stantial. We had a group of seniors that played a significant chunk of the minutes and took the bulk of our team’s shots. In fact, we started five seniors in every game we played. Along the way we qualified for tournament play and competed in conference play.

There is certainly no substitute for game experience, but underclassmen benefit from the seniors in practice. Skill development is a part of every practice and competition against the older players and seeing how the seniors carry themselves can make them better. Returners also got a taste of on-court success which is hopefully a motivating factor in the off-season as they try to lead the next group of newcomers. Many people might even argue that the Steve Young and Aaron Rodgers path is best for player development. Seniors that serve as mentors to underclassmen give them more long term success than they would have if they took their starting spot.

What Will Happen Next Year

Coach Stantial knows that the team he coaches next year will be vastly different than the one he had this season. Starting with experience, the team will be asked to adjust quickly. It is early in the offseason but he believes that much of their offense will have to come from their defense. In order to be a team that creates offense from defense, his team is going to try to mix up their defenses.

He is aware of the challenges that come with being a team that plays a variety of defenses. Beverly’s brand of basketball typically starts with tough man to man defense. They focus so deeply on one brand of defense that they play it exceptionally well. Coach Stantial is a little concerned that he is going to be asking players to play so many different defenses. He is usually hyper-focused on fundamental principles. These fundamentals are still going to be featured in the first two weeks as they build toward game number one, but to get where he wants them some of it must be sacrificed.

The payoff could be high though. The teams they play early in the season might spend a disproportionate amount of time on the wrong skill. Developing man to man offense typically trumps breaking a zone press or a half-court trap. Playing several defenses respectably instead of one at an elite level is valuable early. It is a strategy to steal a game from an equally or even more talented team early in the season.

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