This article was written by Steve Smiley who is the head men's basketball coach at national junior college powerhouse Sheridan College. From 2009-2012 his team went an amazing 77-23 and in 10-11 and 11-12 he was named North Sub-Region coach of the year. Coach Smiley is a really good young basketball coach that is a proven winner and has a bright future ahead of him.
I wanted to write a quick piece about the current state of my team’s particular journey, which is probably very similar to where your team is, as well. We’re preparing for the second half of our semester (we actually start practice again tomorrow, Dec 31 after a 10-day break for the holidays), and we immediately hit the bulk of our conference slate, which determines our seeding for the Regional Tournament in March.
At this time of the year, there are no more “practice games” so we have to be at our best on every night to have a chance to win our league, the Region 9 of the NJCAA Division 1 level.
A Continual Process
I truly believe that one of the most important things to work on during this time of year is the constant attempt to keep chemistry strong on the team. We continually stress to our players that “all great empires are destroyed from within,” and while this can obviously be attributed to academic issues, behavior / off the court issues, in today’s context I want to stress how the empire can get destroyed from within as players begin understand their place on the team, for better or worse.
At our level, every player has the dream to move on the NCAA Division 1 level after playing here at Sheridan College, and to be honest, the majority of them have the talent to potentially do so. With that being said, they won’t all move on to that level because Division 1 schools will typically only take players at our level that have produced in games at a high level on a consistent basis.
It’s tough (though not impossible) for the 8th, 9th, or 10th man on a Junior College team to get a D1 scholarship, and the players start to believe that as they see certain players getting all of the recruiting attention while they aren’t playing much, and consequently, aren’t getting recruited as much either.
No matter which level you are coaching basketball at, your team definitely could be going through the same potential problems right now, whether you are a JV coach that has players hoping to make the Varsity, or a Head Varsity coach with multiple players hoping to get a college scholarship, and even at higher levels than us, a Division 1 Coach with players hoping to get a chance to play professionally.
It can be extremely difficult no matter the level you are coaching at to keep a team together and keep your guys that aren’t playing as much, motivated and continually improving to help your team.
Here are some ideas that we incorporate into our program to keep all of our players, whether they are #1 or #14 on the depth chart, focused and continually improving…
“A Rising Tide Lifts all Boats”
we stress this concept continually with our time, and for us, this simply means that the better our team is and the more success we have, the more opportunities ALL of our players will have at the end of the year. We have several examples of players that were on the end of our bench, or even redshirts, that actually signed to move on to the 4-year level because that year’s team was successful and it’s no secret that coaches at the next level recruit programs as much as they do players.
Coaches want to make sure that their recruits know what it takes to win, so they want to recruit winners, and we stress this to our guys. The better our practices are, the better our team will become, the more we will win, the more opportunities each individual player will have!
We continually ask and demand that each player improve their overall game by just 5% during the season. We know they’re not going to completely refine their skill set during the year, but we want small, incremental improvements throughout the course of time so that our team improves greatly as a whole… With that in mind, we talk about 5% improvement individually, and to define what areas they need to work on to improve by 5%, we use the idea of the One-
Minute Assessment, which is:
- “Here is one thing you are doing well (offensive rebounding), and here is one thing WE need to improve upon (Free Throw Shooting %).” We always give the player a positive first, which opens them up to the constructive criticism on the back end. If they know you are seeing them do things well, they will be more receptive to their areas of deficiency and will openly work on those areas…
Are you Ready When your Number is Called?
In reality, most players start to shut down and not care as much as soon as their minutes decrease throughout the year (and when you have 14 players on your team, and typically settle into an 8-man rotation, almost half of your team can fall victim to this disease!), so even though they appreciate the positive in the One-Minute Assessment, they still believe in their own minds that even if they do improve, they won’t play anyways, so why bother?
This is when we stress to them (and we do this right from the beginning of the season, and continue to stress it throughout) that each player will get an opportunity to prove themselves worthy of playing time… This opportunity might come in practice, it might come in a game, it might be a short amount of time or a bigger opportunity, but every player will get some small opportunity and if they seize it, they will get a bigger and better chance to produce.
We had a player three years ago that was #11 on the depth chart until late January (we start games on November 1), and at that time, a player broke his foot, so we inserted this particular kid, and he seized the opportunity by hitting huge shots and doing a nice job on the defensive end of the floor on the night his # was called.
From that point forward, he never gave up his starting spot, and we won 14 of our last 15 games of the year. We had another player that was inserted into the starting lineup from about #10 on the depth chart when the starter blew out his shoulder, and this kid started 3 games but didn’t produce much during that opportunity, so now that the original starter is healthy, he’s back to the bench.
The point is, though, we’re still stressing to that particular player that his # will get called again, but he better ready when it is!
Use of Season Stats
Some coaches shy away from this idea, but we definitely embrace it. We use the season stats as a tool to teach our players where they are deficient (obviously we have to approach the defensive end of the floor through film-work, etc) and this is another area to show players why they are or aren't currently playing, and what they need to do statistically to get a shot on the court. We have one point guard currently that has a 2.3:1 assist to turnover ratio, and another one that barely has a 1:1 ratio, and they've played identical minutes so far this year.
At this point in time it is clear which player is fulfilling his role better for this team, so he starts and gets more minutes currently. Stats help us (and so does film) to validate to our players some of the decisions we make. I encourage coaches to use stats and show them to your players. Don’t worry about them getting embarrassed by their teammates seeing some of the bad things they’re doing, but use it as a teaching tool. Our players have really embraced this idea, and it gives our staff credibility in making decisions.
Those are just a couple of ideas that you can use to help keep all of your players motivated throughout the course of the season. I highly recommend that you don’t just focus your attention on your current rotation of players, but work with and encourage your players at the end of the bench, because they could become valuable members by the end of the year.
In our program, it happens almost every year that a player from the first part of the season that wasn’t doing much ends up improving greatly down the stretch and completely changes the face of the team in a positive way. Don’t give up on those players too early, and keep fighting every day for a team that has a united chemistry to it, because those teams win at the end of the year. Good luck with the journey!