My rookie year as a basketball coach ended with a provincial championship this past weekend.
It was the crowning moment on a great season.
With G.C. Rowe Junior High closing down with the amalgamation next academic year, it appears it will be the last provincial basketball banner captured by a team from the school. That is a pretty cool thing.
I have heard a lot of praise about the team of 15 Grade 7 girls, about how good they are and how much they have improved in the past six months. Some people have wondered what the key was.
I’m not going to take the credit for what these girls have accomplished. I gave them my time and effort and asked the same of them in return. The credit goes to them for putting in the work ... practice after practice throughout the year. Yes, Mr. Iverson, we are talking about practice ... very important.
I quickly realized after a few practices that I had a group I would be able to work with. No matter the skill level, which there was obvious signs of skill and athleticism, they were a group who enjoyed the game and were willing to dedicate themselves to the team. Something I soon realized was they were an aggressive group, who would play hard and give it their all — which tends to be something you can nurture, but is very difficult to teach.
No real secret
There was no real secret to our success. I didn’t re-invent the wheel or anything. I had two practices every week before Christmas and three after. We put in the time in the gym. That is a big difference from what a lot of other teams did. Kids learning the game, trying to get better, have to spend as much time as possible working on their games.
To get the kids to consistently come to the gym, I believe they have to enjoy it. They have to want to come to practices and, for the most part, like their teammates. So, from the get-go, I wanted to have practices which made them work hard, were designed to make them better, but they also had to have fun.
Secondly, it is important to have good practices. I started out the first three months or so with a lot of emphasis on defence. I have always considered that end of the floor as the most important in basketball. No matter your skill level, if you play hard and good defence, you have a chance. Defence leads to offence is so, so true.
After a tournament in St. John’s, I realized I probably placed too much focus on defence and not enough on skill development. Ball handling and passing became the focus in the second half of the season. Strong defence remained a key, but to get better, they had to improve their dribbling and passing. They still have a long way to go, but they improved by leaps and bounds.
I spent a lot of time on the Internet reviewing ball handling drills and planning practices. Being unselfish was the message. Keeping your head up, and passing the ball ahead when somebody else is open became the thing to do. Who doesn’t want to score right? But, when you see girls giving up that opportunity for somebody else — and then being happy for their teammate — is a special thing to see.
Thirdly, they have to play games. They need to play against opponents who are equal to or better than them. Early in the season, we took our lumps against older and more experienced teams — some of which we ended up getting better than and beating later in the year. We played in five tournaments and got as many exhibition games as I could get (I wished we could have played even more).
Lastly, my interactions with the girls were positive and reassuring. I played the game; I know how hard of a sport it is. Mistakes are just that — mistakes. What point is it to get mad at a 12-year-old girl for throwing the ball away or getting it stolen from her? I was strict when I needed to be. I demanded they listen when instructions were being given. If they forgot simple things that they should know, then I had no problem getting stern. If there were times their effort slipped, that’s when it is OK to get upset — even a little mad.
It may not be a plan to carve in stone, but it worked for me. Skill development certainly has to be at the top of every coach’s playbook, and that only comes with practice. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but the feeling you get after a season like this is.
Cory Hurley is a reporter/photographer with The Western Star. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.