And then there were six

The players had started without me, a sign that once again I was late, yet a positive indication of where we were in terms of our development. They were talking, sharing ideas and moving through some of what we had worked on. I called them in and began my apology, “traffic was heavy, I didn’t finish teaching until 4.30 blah blah blah…..” During the off-season I had said that my practice sessions needed start as late as possible to allow for my extended commute but due to venue availability etc. here I was, practice six and late again.

We quickly moved on and got into some stuff, 3-man shooting drill, BLOB 5v0 walk through and some free throws, most definitely random in form. The tempo was high, the effort evident but the detail was far from accurate, I called them in, again. “What is your focus point prior to receipt of the ball?” The return was a splattering of responses, ideas and suggestions. Was it a well formed question? I wasn’t sure, I had taken to structuring my questions with a great deal of thought behind them, may be it was. I tilted my head and smiled as they moved back out to their respective places on the floor. The energy increased, they began to narrate their movement (that is what we are calling it from now on – it began at the last practice and was a small success for our advancement of communication in a leadership voice) and there was a sense that practice belonged to the players.

We had a new addition to the squad, I didn’t say a great deal to him, other then to welcome him and check he was okay. His response was an inquiry into when he would get to play. I directed him to the Team Manager and continued to move through our practice, posing short recall-based (convergent) questions – “at what point are you open?” “Are you continuing to move?” The interaction had a different feel to it, the responses were plentiful and evidence of the players engagement in some thinking. I was however mindful that our new addition had no way of knowing exactly what was going on. I committed to going over to speak to him and as I turned the need was no longer there, one of the players had their hand on his shoulder and was directing movement, sharing their interpretation of the task, and generally being of some help and support to our addition.

Throughout the practice I found myself attempting to be somewhat more patient with the players, to allow the chaos to run free as oppose to demanding systemic movement and order, a difficult task I can tell you. ¬†For example, coming out of a time out (this is what we call out water breaks) I had asked the players to run ‘strongside’ wing (our fastbreak movement) in a 5v0 format into ‘UP’ (our floppy action) in a 5v5 conditioned game. There was collective and individual conversations, politicking and general debate spread across the floor. I so desperately wanted to shout for them to hurry and get to their ‘spots’, to begin the task. But I didn’t, instead I said nothing, it cost me the tip of my tongue (almost!) but I said nothing, I stood patiently and observed the organised chaos. I guess if our view point was pedagogically framed we would refer to this moment as a constructivist approach to learning, social interaction, the sharing of ideas and the solving of problems as a collective. The question is, do we label this coaching? Certainly not if your stance in traditional, coach-centred and instructional in nature. A few hours early I had conversed with a colleague on the difficulties of employing game sense to my practice. Not because I craved control, but because the visual was a difficult one to digest. I think patience and the picture that is presented as a result of the shift in approach is very different, and one that takes some getting used to.

I set our final activity up, offering some instruction before allowing them to explore for themselves. It didn’t last long and I called them in again. “What are we in? What is our focus? Where should you be?” It was more than apparent that I had forsaken all that I set out to do and reverted to challenging their thoughts and actions, or was it? Perhaps there needed to be a blend, some instructional-based dialogue supported by questioning and time for the players to digest, to think and to action their thoughts? We concluded our time together, exchanged appreciation for the contributions to the session and I departed. Practice had been positive this week, my planning, particularly the design and anticipation of answers to my questions needed to improve further, as did my punctuality, but overall I entered my car happy and content at our collective efforts this week.


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