I spoke with high school girls basketball coach Matt Willis over the phone recently. Coach Willis has been around long enough to coach teams in which post passing was essential and post passing was non-existent. The types of shots that he values depend on the strength of his players. In other words he does not stubbornly stay with a system to justify shot selection. He reacts to the strengths of the players on the roster and creates expectations for all players based on those strengths.
A few years back I spoke to Coach Willis about roles. He told me then, what he told me earlier this week. He will be brutally honest with players about many things including shot selection. He expects his players to know who the primary offensive option will be. Sets are often designed for that player to get a scoring opportunity. A few years ago, he coached a tremendous post option. Therefore his team spent time everyday working on post entry passes. He told me that players that heaved up a shot from the corner in their half-court offense before attempting a post entry pass were frowned upon. Likewise, he has also coached players that are tremendous shooters from the perimeter. In both cases, he has had great success.
Most players that have played in his system have bought in to this philosophy. I asked Coach Willis if he used data to support the rationale behind telling a player why their shot is not a good option. The short answer was no. Typically players recognize that they are not efficient and they are their own biggest critic. It is almost as if his job is to give them enough confidence to where they should take that shot if the primary option is not there.
One Suggestion for Youth Programs
A couple summers ago I got ten ideas for building a youth program from Coach Steve Boudreau and Seth Stantial. Coach Willis’ advice is incredibly simple, but profound: Let the kids have fun. Coaches have an agenda to teach fundamentals and explain away mistakes. In the big picture that is important, but young players could not care less. If they are running around, making mistakes and end up with one great play that is celebrated that is what they will remember. Fond memories create a desire for more. And as the players start to have repeated episodes of enjoyment, they will want to learn the fundamentals intrinsically.
Developing the youth program is always on my mind as a high school coach. In small communities the youth program is essential for long term success. Coach’s take made me rethink the way I approach my interactions with kids. I am one of those people that teaches them triple threat immediately and talks to them about shooting form for minutes at a time. Fundamentals are important, but if I speak past 30 seconds young players lose interest. As Coach Willis stated, the stereotype for most players is that the high school coach is a drill sergeant. Show players the human side of you. Make jokes. Laugh. Get excited by the things they are doing instead of defensive about the things they are not doing.