The desire to improve

When I worked Snow Valley Basketball Camp years ago, I was assigned to be one of the post coaches. This meant that when there was position-specific breakdown sessions, I went with the post players and assisted the coach in charge of the session. It also meant that I was assigned several players to watch during their games to write an evaluation of their performance. 

I took the evaluations seriously. I felt that the most important thing that a player could take away from a week-long camp was a road map or an honest appraisal of strengths and weaknesses. One week is not enough time to improve greatly; the benefits of the camp are an exposure to competition and learning some new things to practice after the camp.

I fell asleep on the last night at my desk writing evaluations. I have no idea whether the players benefitted from the evaluations or if they looked at them, but I took the responsibility seriously.

At the end of my last two high school seasons working with freshmen, I have met the players and offered to let them know what they should do in the off-season; essentially, give them an evaluation and a road map.

Last season, one father followed up with me. However, the player did not follow the advice, and his deficiencies this season were much the same as they were last season. After this season, nobody was interested in an evaluation.

With the high-school season coming to a close in the next couple of weeks, players have a decision to make: How much do you want to make the team next season? Do you want to make the team or do you want to start? Do you want to make the junior varsity or the varsity?

Some things are out of one’s control; a freshman who attends a school with a stacked junior and senior class may not be able to make the varsity regardless of his or her talent or work ethic. A boy who is 6’7 has a much greater chance to make the team than a boy who is 5’7. Not every situation is perfect or fair.

However, for the majority of players, next season is under one’s control. The efforts made during the spring and summer will have a large effect on a player’s situation in the fall. The players who wait until September to think about basketball again will, in most cases, be behind their peers.

In today’s environment of protecting children’s self esteem, many players believe they are flawless. On a message forum, there was a discussion about shooting and changing a player’s shooting technique even if the results are pretty good. I asked what “pretty good” means, as I tend to think that other people’s “pretty good” is not very good. Shooting 60% from the free-throw line as a high school player is not “pretty good” as an example. The original commenter admitted that “pretty good” was determined by the player being better than his teammates. That is fine if his teammates are great shooters, but being the best of a bunch of bad shooters is not “pretty good.”

Most high-school players could stand to improve on everything. However, everything becomes daunting, and trying to improve everything generally leads to minimal improvement. Getting some guidance can help a player direct his or her effort.

When I watch players working out on their own, I tend to see players shooting around. The difference is the intensity of the practice, the concentration level, and specificity. When I am alone in a gym with a ball, I casually shoot around. I am not trying to improve; usually, I am thinking through something. I am not working out.

If a player sets out to improve his or her shooting, how will the player go about this? I had two players this year who need to improve their footwork on their shot; I had another player who needs to transform his shot completely; I had another player who needs to shoot the ball earlier in his jump; I had another player who needs to coordinate his upper and lower bodies better; I had another player who needs to fix his off-hand; I had another player who needs to fix his follow-through. They may set out to improve their shooting, but each has a different need and needs a different strategy to improve.

Some feedback or an evaluation would help these players. However, even more important is the desire to improve. The off-season starts now (or soon). How important is improving to you? What are you willing to do to achieve your goals? Where will you find the feedback to help you improve?

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