Six Steps to Improve Basketball Off-Season Goal-Setting

Last off-season I set out on an ambitious path with my off-season basketball goals.

I was not one hundred percent successful in my quests, but I definitely improved as a coach and in my physical health. What I hoped to achieve was to make the goal-setting process a player priority too. In year one, I give myself an F on this process.

I had the players tell me three things that they wanted to do with their off-season last year. The results were uninspiring and most of the players could not even recall eight months later what all three of their goals were. Here are six steps things I took this year to make players more accountable to follow through on their off-season basketball goals

1. Utilize Google Sheets to make goal-setting collaborative and gamify getting better.

All goals are listed for everyone on the team to see everyone else’s goals. Each player has their own tab. I’m intentionally staying away and letting the players self-police each other with an incentive system to get them to check the spreadsheet. If a player accomplishes a certain task (player goals are listed on the link), they are given anywhere from one to five points. The spreadsheet has dates starting from the very first day of the off-season until the very first day of tryouts.

Last year the players had no way of tracking their goals and were never encouraged to do so. With a shared spreadsheet, they will be held accountable in a way that pen and paper cannot accomplish. Additionally, putting it into a spreadsheet can gamify the training a little. It’s not exactly Fortnite, but it’s better than a log that will inevitably go untouched. Let’s face it, most players are competitive. By giving them a point system and an incentive to follow through, they are more likely to write the points down and think about their goals during the day. We can either complain about instant gratification or find a way around it. Points and social pressure give players motivation in a way that tryouts in a distant land called December cannot.

Maybe Google Sheets is not the answer. Most of my players have no clue how to input formulas and needed to download the app. I am unaware of a better option though.

2. Get players to self-police each other.

It is one thing for an adult to say something. Kids will comply. It’s another for your peer to say something. Kids will want to copy. It’s why every kid wears Hollister. It partially explains why the Champion clothing brand is cool again.

With the spreadsheet, players have incentives to look at their teammates tabs and progress. On the Google Spreadsheet linked here the tab is called “Being a Great Teammate.” For instance, one player has a goal of go on a 1.5 to 2 mile run. If a teammate sees that that player has not updated the spreadsheet in a while, they get a point for sending that teammate a reminder to get going. Similarly, if the player has gone for multiple runs in the past week, players are incentivized to give their teammate positive feedback. For any type of feedback a player gives, they get a point.

Research shows that when people are dealing with the same obstacles in their goals they benefit from a support group. Too often, the goal process is done with an isolationist intent. The oft-quoted line of “players are made in the off-season, teams are made during the season” sounds nice, but can create unnecessary divisions. If I’m a player and want to get better in the off-season, I am reaching out to a teammate. It is the geographically most convenient person I know that has a mutual interest. It also may not hurt to look up the player that pushes me most and get some motivation.

3. The goal is connected to one individual, but is formulated with the coach’s help.

Last year, players pretty much told me their goals and that was that. One such goal a player had was, “I want to work harder on my shot every day and work harder on my dribbling in the off-season.” What does work harder mean? What does every day mean? What does the process of dribbling look like? The player and I never followed up on her initial plan. We missed the opportunity to help her clarify her good intentions and consequently the lack of action steps prevented her from getting the best results.

Additionally, players came up with numbers that were not audacious. In my own goal-setting of reading a book each week I came up short, but if I had settled for trying to read five books in the off-season I would have done what I set out to do, but missed out on my potential. Some players have a mentality of wanting to achieve what they set out to do, so they start too low. I shared my own experiences with them and drove up the reps or intensity of their goals.

4. Incentivize getting other teammates better.

Several players incorporated some variation of “work on my weak hand or finishing skills” into their goals. This screamed play one on one against your teammate, so we built this into the goals. Players get a point on their spreadsheets for doing a drill to address that weakness. The points were doubled or tripled for playing one on one against a teammate. I added that the game is played first to eleven (one on one has many currencies and variations depending on the neighborhood).

Too often I have heard from players that teammates do not respond to texts. There are two flaws in the way they go about this. First, a giant text chain is sent out. In any giant text chain, people do not feel compelled to reply. To fix this, we discussed texting one to one to bring out players that were shy or lack confidence.

Second, if the individual text option is not effective, I encouraged the veteran players to ring the doorbell at their teammate’s home. Isn’t that pretty much how Smalls got his start in Sandlot? Give someone a phone to come up with an excuse and they will have the added advantage of time in responding. Ask someone in person and in real-time, and suddenly excuses are harder to come by.

5. Let the off-season goals become part of the tradition in the program.

I reached out to last year’s senior class and also asked the outgoing seniors for their goals. I left these goals out of the spreadsheet, but I wanted to send a simple message to the returning young players. Goal setting is important. Every returning player has goals outside of basketball listed in the spreadsheet. It can be argued that the goal process is the most important skill that athletes need in their development.

It can also be argued that it is the most important part of the basketball team’s success too. The season is only about three months. That means three-fourths of the time the impetus is on the player to improve his or herself, not the coach.

6. Recognize that the goal-setting process won’t be perfect and be ok with that.

Kaizen is the Japanese term which implies continuous improvement. This is only year two of this formalized social goal-setting. I am sure there will be numerous flaws that crop up again this year. One thing I did not do after tryouts was give or get feedback on player goals. That will change this time around. Also, it is imperative to bring up goals and the off-season with players daily. Plant the seed in their heads. Improvement is possible through hard work and you do not need me or this gym to do it.

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