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Six ways to improve girls' basketball.

by Brian McCormick, CSCS
Director, High Five Hoop School, Sacramento, CA

1. Encourage elite players to play in leagues with other elite players.

Even during the high school play-offs, most teams feature only one or two exceptional players surrounded by average players and others who never left the bench. Elite players need more time playing with and against other elite players.

2. Use assistants to maximize court time to individualize development for players at both ends.

Many teams, it appeared, focused primarily on team skills like presses, set offenses, zone defense, etc. Individual skills were lacking. Players misunderstood passing angles, traveled constantly, dribbled too much, missed wide open shots, shot terribly from the free throw line, failed to move their feet defensively, lacked strength, especially core strength, etc.

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While team skills are obviously important in a team game, individuals with better skills make the team skills better. A set offense is great, but if the guards lack vision and pass the ball to the other team or if the posts cannot finish an easy shot inside, the greatest set offense is ineffective.

3. Challenge athletes to play to a higher standard.

As evidenced by the comment from the JV coach above, our society accepts something less than the best from female athletes. Coaches treat female players differently and dumb-down their instruction. Females need to be held to the same standard as male athletes to elevate the performance of female athletics, especially basketball.

4. Emphasize development over winning. Training to Win and Playing to Win are not synonyms.

When one steps on the court, he/she should play to win, whether varsity, JV or youth. However, the difference is the preparation, which is where the distinction between development and winning occurs.

Too many athletes peak early because coaches choose to Train to Win, which is known as the "Peak by Friday" approach to coaching. Unfortunately, the quickest road to victory in the next game is not necessarily the road with the athletes' best interests in mind.

The difference is more practice time devoted to teaching basketball concepts and improving athleticism, not adding more and more plays. Play the game to win, but use the season to develop players.

5. Coaches' education.

Lithuania is a small nation on the Baltic Sea that is a basketball powerhouse, consistently producing a strong national team and NBA players since it defected from the former Soviet Union.

Basketball coaches attend 40 to 50 hours of coaching seminars and lectures each year...The LPEA (Lithuanian Physical Education Academy) graduates 10-15 basketball coaches each year...Approximately 80% of Lithuanian basketball coaches have graduated from LPEA, where they have had 600 hours of basketball studies, while students work as coach assistants during training sessions, developing their first coaching skills (Mindanaus Balciunas, 37).

While impractical to expect every American coach to go through such rigorous training, some form of coaching education should be expected. Teachers are expected to have a Teacher's Certification; they do not just show up and say, "Well, I was a good student so I am qualified to teach." Professors cannot just hire their favorite student as an Assistant Professor as soon as the student finishes the class. However, coaches oftentimes have no qualifications other than playing experience. No background in kineisiology, movement science, exercise science, education, learning theory, motor skills development, sports psychology, etc. and none is expected.

While some coaches pursue their profession relentlessly, and never stop studying, watching tape, reading, going to coaches' conventions, etc., others get a head coaching job and turn on auto pilot after a year or two, doing the same thing year after year, using the same approach and training methods with little thought to alternatives or little effort made to find the best training methods. While we panic because our national team lost to Lithuania in the last Olympics, maybe we should take a lesson from the rigorous training expected of all its coaches, rather than simply blaming "spoiled NBA players."

6. Play fewer organized games. Give players a break during the year to prevent overuse injuries and burnout.

A near-by high school lost at home in the first round of the play-offs for the second time in three years. It's freshman and junior varsity teams either went undefeated or nearly went undefeated, as usual. The program starts mandatory twice a week AAU practice next week; games start the weekend of the State Championship Game and continue until August; in September, practice and Fall League starts again.

Many champion this schedule because of the success of the program as each level has won several league titles lately and the lower levels dominate the league. However, despite all the success, two of its players currently play in college, one at a local junior college and one at a DIII college. Several others were recruited by DIs and DIIs and a couple had the coach at their college approach them about walking-on once in college. Yet, all had lost the desire to play.

A friend attended this year's loss and said the team's best player looked miserable; the player has not improved in three years, despite the year-round play and the work with a personal trainer. In fact, many players work with personal trainers, including six from the JV team with one trainer.

All this training, all this time devoted to basketball, and these players peak as sophomores.

The players suffer from psychological burnout and physical overtraining, which is one reason the players choose not to play in college. Basketball dominates their high school life; they choose freedom in college. The psychological burnout decreases motivation; the overtraining limits improvement which leads to frustration (lots of time and effort with nothing to show for it) and psychological burnout.

Rather than peaking at the varsity level and competing for the real championship, this program burns out its athletes at the lower levels. They peak early, celebrate undefeated JV seasons and hate playing basketball by their senior seasons. It's a sad state and even more disturbing when many view this program as the area's model program because of its lower level success.

These six ideas are just a small step toward improving the women's game. Certainly, numerous other factors are involved, from getting the best athletes to play basketball, not soccer or volleyball, proximity to programs, etc. However, with attention to these six factors, overall basketball development would improve.

Visit http://lulu.com/brianmccormick for more information and to purchase Coach McCormick's newest book: Cross Over; the New Model of Youth Basketball Development.

Contact Information:

Brian McCormick, CSCS, Director
High Five Hoop School, Sacramento, CA
Phone 916-871-9121
Contact Coach McCormick by email.
General Information.

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