By Don Kelbick
Coaching is teaching. New ideas, new thoughts, trying to find ways to improve your players is all a part of coaching.
Coaching is also about control. Many coaches have become so involved with “my way or the highway,” that they miss the overall objective.
The objective is to maximize the players’ ability, not to get them to do what you want. All players are different. The way they learn and perform is unique. Trying to fit a player into a preconceived notion of the way he plays will almost always produce the opposite of the intended effect.
There was a story in the Miami Herald newspaper, recently, that caught my eye. The story was about a freshman player at the University of Miami named Shane Larkin. The reason that it sparked my interest was not because of who he is or how good a player he is (which is pretty good), but rather why he turned to basketball.
When he was younger, Larkin was a pretty good multi sport athlete. In fact, according to the story, baseball was his favorite sport. At least it was, until he ran into a coach who, after watching him bang out hit after hit, said to him that his hitting technique was based on luck and his good fortune would not last. If he wanted to be a good hitter, he had to change the way he hits the ball. The story said, after that discussion, he quit baseball.
On its surface, you might say that Larkin lacked the ability to accept criticism, learn new ideas or adapt to situations. But, in learning about his decision, you have to look beneath the surface.
For those of you who are not familiar with American baseball or are too young to remember some names, Shane Larkin is the son of baseball royalty. His father Barry Larkin is one of the greatest baseball players in the history of the game. For 19 years, Barry Larkin was the shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds. In those 19 years, Barry was an All-Star 12 times and won the Most Valuable Player award once. His fielding prowess was second to none and his hitting production compares favorably to the game’s all time greats. In 2012, he was the only player elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Growing up in that household would produce enough knowledge for any aspiring baseball player. But Shane went further than that. He lists his hitting instructors, in addition to his father, Tony Perez and Pete Rose. I would think that they would know a little bit about hitting. Perez is a Hall-Of-Famer who is one of the all time leaders in runs-batted-in and a number of other power hitting categories. Pete Rose is hitting. He simply has more hits than any other baseball player in history.
These are the players that taught Shane Larkin how to hit. I would think that the coach that recommended that Larkin change his hitting theories could probably learn from him.
My question is this; what was this coach trying to accomplish? Was he really trying to teach Larkin to be a better hitter? Or was the coach trying to get him to hit his way, whether it was good for him or not?
That really is something to think about. Coaching should be about teaching, adjusting and maximizing players. Unfortunately, for many coaches, it is about control. I read it in comments and hear it in conversations every day. I also see it in practice and it can be destructive. Too many times I see coaches try to work with absolutes, pass this way, shoot this way, etc. They lose sight of the fact that all players are different and they are unique.
I have learned that there is no “right” way to do things on the basketball court. What is right for Billy might not be right for Bobby. There is, however, effective. Method 1 might be effective for Billy and method 2 might be effective for Bobby. As a coach, we should be open to evaluating which method is best for which player. Allow them to explore what works for them.
More importantly, as a coach, evaluate yourself as to what you are teaching and why. Be honest, are you teaching to improve your players or are you teaching to soothe your own ego? Are the issues really that of deficiency in your player or your own control issues?
As coaches, these are things that we have to decide every day. Keep perspective, teach your players, allow them to learn.
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