Dom Linossier is the gold medal winning head coach of the Victoria Metropolitan Under 16 Boys and coaches at the Knox Basketball Association. A career educator, Dom shares some thoughts on practice and building key moments into every session.
I love the practice gym at 6am on a winter’s morning. It could be the single most exhilarating place on Earth. Coach, a devoted athlete, a hoop and a ball. Gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. I love the practice gym at all times, but at that time, there’s something special in the energy in the air.
Most coaches would agree that one of the ultimate moments you can experience coaching is watching a player execute a skill, or read, that you have worked at continually in practice. You know the ones, where the players can’t help but turn and smile at the bench for a half-second – they know you saw it, but just want to confirm.
It might be the single-hand push pass that splits the hard show on-ball coverage, or the extra pass to improve the shot from a good shot to a great shot, or perhaps even the simplicity of great footwork on their off-hand lay-up. Sure, team success is nice, and we all want to be the ones standing atop the ladder cutting down the net, but these moments are something special. The feeling is absolutely the energy that flows from when you’re in that freezing cold gym at 6am working on spin out-throwdown-step footwork.
One challenge then, is to lift the frequency of these moments – player development is evident in the quality of play, and the relationship between player and coach that builds. Please find below some points that may help when building your practice plan to ensure a greater transition of teaching from practice to game play.
- Build moments of teaching into your practice plan.
This sounds simple enough – we all plan our training sessions (if you don’t, worth starting to do so), outlining certain aspects that we want to focus on which generally build on our short-comings from the previous game. Such a mindset is perhaps more present in the VJBL grading system in Victoria which requires teams to win from the outset in order to ‘qualify’ for an appropriate level of play. However, have you planned WHEN your teaching moments will be and WHAT they will cover?
- Common language – be explicit
When coaching the U16 Vic Metro Men in 2018, we found that our practices, despite being well-planned, were losing momentum. The players weren’t demonstrating as high a level of transition from breakdown to game-play as we had hoped, and we felt as though the campaign wasn’t progressing as we had anticipated. We tried to make a few adjustments, however, we still weren’t getting the results we had hoped for. At one post-training debrief, we started speaking about the phases of the training session, and how they weren’t translating. We decided to build the language of these phases into our discussion with the players, so that they would know exactly what was expected.
The 3 phases we referenced were: teaching, consolidation and game-play. After a brief discussion outlining the expectations of this language with the players – allowing them to define what each phrase meant – we then included it in the session.
It was common place for us to be saying “We move into a teaching phase here fellas, so important that you really focus on what is NEW here” or “Consolidation phase now gents – take the new learnings from the teaching phase and implement them in different situations”.
- Plan your instruction time – short, sharp, explicit
Ensuring that you keep to time is essential. With such a short allocation for explanation / teaching as a group, each coach needs to ensure that they are explicit with the instruction to athletes. Deliver the instructions in bite-size chunks to keep athletes engaged and energised.
A maximum of 20% of the time allocated to the drill should be spent explaining / with the drill stopped.
- Diversity of approach – engage all learning preferences.
Not being a huge fan of the phrase ‘learning style’ (philosophically, I disagree with the idea that we have one learning style, but we definitely have ways in which we preferto learn), each coach MUST look to diversify their approach to teaching each individual player the ways in which they prefer to learn. Importantly, this needs to be balanced with how the coach prefers to teach.
There has been some debate about whether or not ‘learning styles’ have a direct impact on the educational outcomes of students. I would suggest, however, that as coaches we are all aware of the different styles our athletes have, and what works best for one does not always suit the others. Traditionally, the educational system has referred to the work of Neil Fleming (1987) and his identification of the V.A.R.K model.
Visual Learners– prefer to use visual means to help categorise information. Often these athletes will ask to ‘see’ the drill before starting. This is the kid that looks at you like Javale McGee when you’re explaining it, but is Anthony Davis once they watch it once!
Auditory Learners – prefer to listen to explanations, process and question information through discussion. Often, these are the athletes who question before starting. These are the Sue Bird’s of the world!
Reading / Writing Learners– want information displayed as words. Often highly reflective; these are the athletes that will not question but will allow others to go first to pick-up the points-of-emphasis.
Kinesthetic Learners – these are those who prefer to ‘do’. They are the athletes that need to be involved in order to best feel as though the messages make sense. These are the athletes falling asleep during instructions, that are LeBron during games!
In order to adapt your practice, you could:
- Visual Reference points (oversized cones, coloured dots, culture messages stuck on the walls)
- Association of movements with key language terms (as you mention the language, demonstrate the skill / concept)
- Diagrams of drills shared with athletes pre-session.
- Have an athlete demonstrate, and then correct small elements as they do things (provide feedback in immediacy so that all athletes know the style of feedback that will be coming)
- Ask athletes for their opinion (build accountability, allow them to give feedback to their peers)
- Write the Points-of-Emphasis on a whiteboard before each drill (make it the job of an assistant) and use that as a reference point
It is important to note that catering for ONLY one learning preference WILL hinder practice. Catering for multiple will NOT disadvantage one over the other.
- Feedback – consistent, succinct, specific.
Make sure that athletes receive feedback consistently,that the feedback is succinct (one or two bullet points to address) and specific(target the Points of Emphasis of the drill).
Example: “Your pace is too slow. Make sure you look to shift the defender with your eyes AND your hips, not one or the other. Change your angles sharper. Good job. Next rep we lift.”
If the rep is excellent, let the athlete know in the same manner.
Example: “Great rep. Your hips stayed low, you snapped the ball well. Build your pace. Well done.”
- Build moments of teaching into your practice plan.
- Have a common language – be explicit with your athletes about what phase you’re in.
- Plan your instruction time – keep it brief.
- Diversify your teaching approach to address learning preferences.
- Ensure that your feedback is consistent, succinct and specific.
Good luck! I’d love to hear your feedback – looking forward to connecting and growing our coaching practice together.
I can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org via Twitter @DLinoss.