Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Sports Philosopher: The Biggest Little Adjustment

Sports Philosopher: The Biggest Little Adjustment:      Basketball players in high school or college can get into a steady role in their programs. Usually it is because of a skill or attribut...

Saturday, April 22, 2017

How to Acquire Basketball IQ

      The Coach's Award, the son of coach, a high basketball IQ are accolades and monikers that are used to define some players. As a coach you love having these kind of players, but not too many because sometimes too many coaches spoil the soup and you have to have some guys that are just unconscious or just 'go' without any caution. However, as I watch young players matriculate the one thing that I read in their body language and eyes when they are told that a good player has to have a high basketball IQ is one of desperation and/or depression. Also, they get a little self conscious due to being scrutinized.
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     In my playing days I used to think to myself about ways to raise the level of this intangible item. The tangibles are obvious; like strength, fundamentals, and others that may be trainable, but what's the best way to coach the enigma that is Basketball IQ? I've listened to the old guard of coaching. Bobby Knight, Pete Caril, John Thompson (80s) and more talk about the mental aspect of the game. I learned a lot about practice techniques, but what I want to speak to is how do they get it when they are not with you as a coach. Here are 5 things I've found that works and one "never fail".

1. Have them become a student of the game by watching games and listening to experts calling the game. Even better have a parent that grew up with the game sit and talk them through game situations. In other words: The what, why, and how things happen at certain times of the game." 

The What: What just happened?
The Why: Why did the coach make that decision?
The How: How can they come back or keep the lead at each phase?
     What games should they watch or on what level? Well, I tend to lean towards the college/high school game as a good learning tool for young players. Do not ignore the NBA because nothing is as entertaining as watching professionals do their thing. I consider the NBA something they can learn from but it is more entertainment value and they go until June. March Madness ends the college and high school games.

2. The experts that call college games are varied in what you will hear. At 5 years old I was learning the game next to my dad on the couch when the experts where Al Mcquire, Dick Vitale, Tommy Heinsohn, and even Dick Stockton but I am mentioning mostly color commentators. Today you have some good ones for the college game: Dan Dakich, Jay Bilas, Clark Kellog, Bill Raftery (who also makes the list of guys I would like to be at an Irish Pub with) and Doris Burke to name a few. A recent favorite that I came across is former Final Four Illini member Stephen Bardo. (Dick Vitale is still around, baby!) These commentators really have a knack of including ways that kids can learn the game while watching the college game.
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4. Don't stick to the Duke vs. Kansas, Kentucky vs. North Carolina blue blood games. Throw in a LIU-Brooklyn vs. Stetson, a Fordham vs. St. Bonaventure, a Marquette vs. Dayton once in a while. When Dakich does a game he will even go out on to the floor during a time out, others do this too, and teach the game and provide examples of game situations. He played Division I and coached as well so he has a passion for teaching. Bilas does too (I've watched him in action at the Bilas Camps at Queens University).

5. What you will see in a kid that does this, even once a week, is developing a
passion but also will get used to coach speak and the flow and decisions to be made.

     Lastly, developing a basketball IQ at an early age really helps kids understand the flow of a game. They pick up rules and nuances. The biggest thing I picked up from my dad and experts is how important time and score is in a game. Also, during elementary through Junior Varsity, or close to Junior Varsity, coaches should not have a high emphasis on win loss records but winning should still be the goal and the emphasis should be on skill development. Participation awards are not what I prefer. As kids grow up basketball is not or shouldn't be the only sport they play. As they get older they may still be doing 3 sports so time for skill work will decrease in the offseason.

     The "No Fail": If your kids have guts and you trust the venue, have them walk out with a ball to a court. Pick out a spot where 2 to 3 40 to 50 year old basketball people are shooting around. If the kids can talk them into playing 2 on 2, 3 on 3 or other competition against them this helps every time. Make sure you mix the teams because the old timers will be teaching your kids the pick and roll, give and go, box outs, man to man defense, help defense, switching on picks and they will do it like grumpy old dudes so it's hilarious. Coaches will recognize these fundamentals early in tryouts. I did this a lot at an inner city outdoor park when I was a kid. I was lucky though, those old guys were really interested in teaching while playing. They knew they could win but they wanted us to succeed and gain confidence while playing. Whoever those old guys where with the cotton knee braces with the hole in the patella at MLK Park in Grand Rapids (the 616) I'd love the chance to thank them. Of course, as I mention in the article entitled "The Biggest Little Adjustment" my Dad was the primary which made me lucky. They didn't care what I looked like. They saw a kid that needed an applied version of the enigma that is the "Basketball IQ".

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Biggest Little Adjustment

     Basketball players in high school or college can get into a steady role in their programs. Usually it is because of a skill or attribute that a player brings to the table. It may start as soon as their freshman or sophomore year. As a player, I was mostly given the role of a shooter and the biggest little adjustment came from my dad.
     Growing up, my family lived in a modest home in Michigan. Our neighbors spent money on landscaping and lawn services to spruce up their places. My father, who grew up in the greater New York city area, invested his money in a 20x30 asphalt basketball court with a cemented pole and hoop.
Sault Ste. Marie Macker (Bro in Purple)

     My dad played basketball, of course, growing up and would be seen for hours in the summertime shooting in the park. He told me he didn't really work on ball handling because in games he would just catch and shoot from anywhere. In his first year at the University of Dayton, he attempted to walk on to a Final Four team that lost to a John Wooden UCLA dynasty team. The summer near the tryout my father cut his toes off under a lawn mower. He still attempted to try out and was the last 5 to be cut out of a group of walk ons. The team didn't take any walk ons that year.
     Hall of Fame Coach Don Donaher came to my father and asked why he didn't mention his foot injury after the coach saw him taking off his Chuck Taylors. My dad looked at him and said, "Would it have made any difference?!?", with an inflection that most New Yorkers are known for.
Dad circa 1980
      In my senior season I was averaging in the high teens and I was on the scouting reports for opponents. During the middle of the season my shot was not falling consistently. My father had a flight out each week to the West Coast for his job, and would take the red eye in to see my games. One day, he took me into the company's gym and watched me shoot a couple of shots. He mentioned two or three things that were little adjustments which I could implement without changing my shot in form.
     Later that week, I put up 25 points in the first half in a 32 minute game. I ended the game with 30 and really have not harkened back as to the reason. My dad is known for the sarcastic northeastern jabs and we tend to go back and forth so melodramatic moments rarely occur. However, I can take my players aside every now and then, just like my dad did for me, and make little adjustments that usually pay off for the kids I coach.
     At 6'2 and the youngest of two sons, I am still the shortest of the males in my family. My dad recently got taller 3 weeks ago with a bilateral knee replacement at the age of 71. He is already out blowing leaves in his yard which exemplifies the toughness that has served as an example for me time and time again. I didn't need Sylvester Stallone and a pump up speech I just watched my dad work over my lifetime. My favorite dadism, among others was, "This is the first day of the rest of your life."
Brother in the Scrubs at the Woodstock of Bball
I get a chance to thank him for all of the big little adjustments he has allowed me in my lifetime, even though he won't accept the sappiness. Also, Happy Birthday Pop! and soon you will be hitting 'em straight again on the fairway.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Sports Philosopher: Gonna Leave a Mark: An Injury Story

Sports Philosopher: Gonna Leave a Mark: An Injury Story: It was early in Spring of 2008, and my compadres and I were preparing for the Panthers' Flag Football Tournament. The guys I played with...

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Caddyshack Life, Be the Ball

     As I matriculated through my teens, the need to make money was apparent. I needed a new Centipede game for my Atari console. As a 14 year old, my entrepreneurial neighbor, and one of my best childhood friends, decided to take an exam to be graded as a caddy for Blythewood Country Club in Rockford, Michigan.

     To work at 14, I had to have my school sign off on a work permit to work underage. He made the A Caddy list on the exam, and I made the B Caddy list. It meant he made 2 dollars more a round and got preference when golfers had their tee times. 

Here was the Sunday and Saturday schedule for me and him:
  • 5AM: We would hop on our bikes and make the 30 minute ride to the Country Club. 
  • 5:30-5:45: We would get on the Caddy list by signing in at the starter shack. We would then go to the Caddyshack with all of the other caddies. This is before the days of the entertaining smart phones and YouTube. 
  • 10AM: I would get to carry 18 holes.
  • 3:30PM: Walk off the course after 18 holes carrying a 20 pound bag for 5 hours.
  • 4:00: Receive 10 dollars that included a 2 dollar tip for my trouble.
  • 4:30: Hand in the chit/ticket to the starter and get the cash.
  • 5:00 to 5:30: Arrive at home after the bike ride on my Schwinn ten-speed. (It took longer getting home because East Beltline was a major road that had a large incline going back. Going was a downhill ride in 60 degree breezes which felt like 45 degrees going down the 1/2 mile downhill ride. My hands would turn purple.)
     What made it interesting was occasionally there was a 60 something year old caddy that would drive up in his old Cadillac and wait a few minutes for his clients. I was immediately interested in his stories and experience. It was more interesting than hearing other grouchy kids complain about their situations. He would talk about how the world really works and how he makes a living as a caddy. We would make small talk, and then he would grab two bags, sling them both on his shoulders, and he would walk up to the first tee. His best advice to me; was, and I am quoting as close as I can remember, 

"Sometimes, young man, you have to thrive to stay alive, but no matter how high you go, stay humble and most strife can be eliminated in your life."

     Seeing him walk away, at his age, with those two old leather bags that weighed more than the bags I had to carry made my burden a little less daunting mentally. I carried a bag for a judge a few times. He wore all purple, he had a
purple bag, and he had purple head covers. One day, around the 5th hole, I notice that one of the head covers was missing. I informed his honor, and told him I would be back. At that moment, I sprinted in the wrong direction dodging oncoming shrapnel from bad shots. I did realize the danger, I wasn't that ignorant. 600 yards of sprinting later I found the purple head cover. After 700 more yards, doing my best Usain Bolt impersonation, I reached the foursome who had pressed ahead. 

     From 10AM until 3PM I would get dragged along a course with gentleman who wanted to take as long as possible. Probably because of their long work weeks I assumed. I tried to make it as enjoyable as possible even during the hunting for balls under tall grass and swamp like terrain. Charlie Hustle was the term used by the Club's Golf Pro who was in charge of the Caddies. 

     The average day in the life as a 14 year old caddy included a 5AM departure from home and a 5:30PM arrival time. It amounted to 12.5 hours and 10 dollars for the day. Less than a dollar an hour. I would get 8 dollars as the minimum, and the members would usually tip around 2 dollars for my trouble. As I shot hoops in our backyard at the end of the day, I couldn't raise my arm over my shoulder.
     The best experience I had was caddying for the open tournament the club held at the end of the season. I had a young gentleman in his late 20s or early 30s. He didn't make the money as the other clients. He was a working man. I can remember his name, Mr. Vanderlaan. It ended up in a tie and needed to go extra holes to decide the tournament. The rule for this tournament was to play a nine hole playoff. It was already 5 o'clock. He was so positive, and accommodating. He even bought me a burger and chips at the turn. I regret now that I turned down the playoff because I would be late for dinner and my Mom's unbelievable cooking. He paid me the best fee I received in my short two month career as a caddy, 20 dollars. It could have been more if he won first. 

     I never found out if he came out on top. Probably because I didn't want to know how much cash I squandered for Italian food which in retrospect is probably more valuable to me now. My mother is up for sainthood on cooking alone. Add in the love and caring she should be a shoe in.
     As I sit here with two stepsons and a host of students and basketball players in the last 20 years, I can only wonder how much my standards have caused a different perspective on work ethic with which they may not be accustom. I almost feel sorry for them. 

     This experience causes me great pleasure when I golf still today or watch Caddyshack. Now, when I golf with my long time friend and a shot goes awry, I turn to him and often ask where that ball went, and he replies quit wittily, 

"In the lumbar yard, Danny." 

Sports Philosopher: A Caddyshack Life, Be the Ball

Sports Philosopher: A Caddyshack Life, Be the Ball:      As I matriculated through my teens, the need to make money was apparent. I needed a new Centipede game for my Atari console. As a 14 ye...