Coaching priorities at the beginning of the season have always been a challenge for me. There is so much to do and so little time to do it all. Skill development, offensive sets, baseline out of bounds, defensive philosophies, special situations, the pregame warm-up routine, and so many other necessities compete for a coach’s priority. And for a coach that somehow manages to get to all of it, there is always the fear that nothing is being done to the depth to give a team a positive identity. The analogy Mike McVeigh always used was that a coach only has 100 marbles. I asked Coach John McVeigh what he focuses on at the beginning of the season. He told me they want the players to run, rebound, and defend.
Run, Rebound, and Defend
McVeigh cited three things for focusing on these three building blocks. First, all of these skills are highly correlated with effort and within the players control. Second, they are conditioning intensive. For coaches that are concerned with players that are not in basketball shape (every high school coach I’ve met), these three skills will speed up the process. And finally, these three skills have a fast growth curve. The players and staff can leave the gym with a sense of accomplishment after a week. If you were to try to develop offense, that growth curve is much too gradual. Players develop poor habits in the offseason and there are too many details to dive into.
Coach McVeigh thinks about the first week of the season as a chunk of eight to ten hours of time. In doing so, perhaps what might not have fit on Monday’s practice gets worked into Tuesday’s practice. Inevitably, some really good ideas get passed up early in the season because there simply is not enough time to do everything. I remember last season telling my team not to ask questions on the third day of practice. It was not how I wanted to coach, but I knew that different players wanted to be on day forty after the previous season and we were not there. As Brad Stevens has emphasized, steps cannot be skipped.
McVeigh has an additional challenge at a boarding school like Brooks. After the first week of practice, they have the next week off for Thanksgiving. McVeigh chooses to see this as an opportunity as a coach to step back and to reflect on what is working and what is not.
He talked at length about being able to detach yourself during the season. This season will feature many new players and lineup combinations for him personally. What might have worked in the past might not work for a different group this season. The decisions and adjustments can sometimes be made before the team ever meets, but he knows that there are also tweaks that will come along the way.
That is partially why he runs tryouts in the first couple of days as he would any other practice. He told me that players who are competing for the last couple of roster spots need to show their commitment level to their role in a normal practice environment. Every time the team takes the floor it is an opportunity to see what you have.
As the team goes away, it helps give him clarity for what is the players fault and what is his fault early on. If as coach you are repeatedly finding yourself blaming the players, somewhere along the lines you are missing the message. It is probably you.