First Practice

Leaving a somewhat hectic day of conferencing, networking and generally attempting to stake out a small piece of the coaching landscape, I head over to the sports hall where the ‘rock’ and ‘hard top’ await. The walk over wasn’t particularly long yet the excitement of another year, another opportunity seemed to be consuming my thoughts with random strategies of game and player development. “How shall we run our fastbreak this year?” “What players will we get?” “How much will the returning players have developed?”

Having spent a couple of hours drawing out some plans for the next two-hours I was still unsure where the next two hours would take us, or even what the immediate future would look like. 18.02 and five players casually throw a number of balls around, not quite what I was expecting, where was everybody? I walked around and greeted the current attendees, parents included, as I see their participation to be central to all that we do. In fact, I spent a great amount of time talking to parents, generally asking them about the welfare of their son’s, what the summer looked like and what we wanted to do together over the next six-months.

18.08 – I call the players in and allow them to lead their session for the next 12 minutes. In this time I was hoping for the remainder of the squad to arrive. Self-directed practice is a brave approach but a vital one in the development of decision-making and autonomy. I often use this as a means of engaging the players in cognitive processes as quickly as possible. I allow them to use the first fifteen minutes to do what they think is appropriate to that moment in the season, their performance to-date and within a developmental frame. “What did you get out of that drill?” They had opted to run a 4 vs. 4 full-court game with no dribble. The responses eluded to working on spacing, movement and communication, however, they were critical of their performance and felt as though they needed to improve their communication in order to inform their use of space and movement.

We spent the next twenty five minutes constructing our player and coach expectations for the season. This activity, for me, is a fundamental part of establishing a collective direction of goals, aspirations and wishes, as well as an opportunity to articulate the detail and bring individuals together. The players did a fantastic job of sharing their ideas, working together and communicating. Little did they know that they had already started practice and that it was going very well!! I looked up to see the club’s Head Coach looking on, our current activity – writing, debating, problem-solving didn’t much resemble a typical basketball practice – but then is there such a thing?

19:00 – We get ourselves fully engaged in a number of game-based activities, 3 vs 3, 4 vs 4, establishing a number of principles for our Game Model, sharing thoughts and posing a number of questions. Throughout the drills I challenge the players to hold each other to account, to ask questions and to communicate in a leadership voice. The successes, at times, are in short supply but they are meaningful.

I call the players in at 19:59 to finish the practice, netball were poised on the sidelines and eager to take over our court. The effort, intensity and work rate had been good. Players were sharing ideas, communicating and correcting where appropriate. My behaviour had been more observation than anything else, a position that I do not recall taking very often. However, I was pleased with this, I wanted to step back more, to allow the knowledge and understanding of the individuals to emerge and for the players to share ideas and ask more questions of each other.

Walking back to the car, fuelled by energy and excitement at how well the first session had gone I allowed myself to smile and enjoy the moment. Whoops, the universe counteracts with the presence of a parking ticket stapled to my windscreen!! Reality comes crashing down all around me and I get into my car annoyed!

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