Focus on your character, not your reputation.
Focus on your blessings, not your misfortunes.
― Roy T. Bennett,
As I have written a lot about lately, I am back coaching high school aged young men. I very much enjoy coaching this age group because they are so hungry to get better and have the most to gain by being coached the right way.
Unfortunately, with that desire to get better comes some "fun" baggage: teenage hormones and insecurity. It is literally like trying to coach a flock of hummingbirds. They cannot sit still for more than 2 seconds, and their little brains never stop churning or settling on one thought at a time.
I have 12 young men on my team this year, and I hand-picked each one for very different reasons. They all have the ability to be very good role players or better on the varsity in the next year or two, but each has a defining characteristic that I was immediately drawn to. For some, it is their humility and respect for the game, their teammates, and me. For others, it is their hunger to find out the true depth of their potential. And for the rest, they have a special talent. The game comes easy to them if they can continue to find discipline in their abilities and skills.
With that said, they are all genuinely committed to our team, our philosophies and the direction I've laid out for them. The problem is that they all struggle with understanding the difference between committed and focused. A dog can be really committed to getting a bone buried in the ground. They will dig for hours trying to extricate that bone, but if a rabbit were to run through the lawn, that dog will quickly shift their attention from the bone to that rabbit in an instance. That's a pretty crass analogy, but that basically defines a teenage boy in a lot of ways.
So, as coaches and teachers, how do we help the committed develop an unbreakable focus?
I have to admit that this is one of my major weaknesses as a coach and as a parent, so I'm writing today's blog as research and therapy as much as helping you solve your own problems. I just hope through what I figure out, it helps you with some solutions of your own...and maybe you can throw me a bone and help me get better. Here are the 3 things that I've come up with to help move the needle from committed to focused:
1. Keep It Simple
As a System coach, I can focus our practice plan on shooting drills, running and passing drills, rebounding transition drills, and transition press drills, and I can see growth in who we are each and every day. The more we do simple drills that accomplish 2-3 goals within that one drill, the better we get at them and the better the System gets. I make sure that we have foundation principles that transcend from drill to drill and philosophy to philosophy. For example, we do a lot of shell drill (i.e. man-to-man, press run and jump) in the half court almost every day. One of our foundation principles is "up and on the line defense". No matter what defense we are in, we want to be on and up the passing lane one pass away, and we want to be on the rim-line two passes away. No matter what defense we are in, that principle will always put us in a position to protect the basket, be aggressive in the passing lanes, and be in a fantastic position to rebound. That principle never changes.
2. Teach in Context (more)
I grew up in a high school program where we would spend the first 90 minutes of every 2 hour practice doing drills (see Hoosiers movie). We might get the last 30 minutes to scrimmage and put the pieces together. It is extremely hard for me to let the idea of drill, drill, drill, drill, play out of my existence because I know how better it made me as a player. Things are different now...yes, I choked on those words a little as I wrote them. You can't do the things to kids that my coaches did to us (i.e. locked gym doors and put trash cans in each corner...I'll let you fill in the blanks.) What I am trying to get better at is letting kids play and then fixing things that are broken instead of making every kid work on things that may not be broken for them.
We do a lot of 1-minute scrimmages. Some days the goal is the first team to 7 points in 1-minute. Other days, we are looking to get a team to 7 possessions in that minute (encouraging faster pace and steals to create more possessions). And then we have days where I get creative in context with points only for offensive rebounds or forcing the other team to take a mid-range jumper.. The more my guys can learn to accomplish in 1-minute of play, the more that translates to bigger positive differences on the scoreboard. If I see that we are doing a poor job of defensive block-outs in transition, I will put a drill in that mocks that concept, so we can work on it repeatedly in a 7-10 minute drill.
In other words, let the kids performance dictate the drills you teach and work on. I am basically flipping the plan that my HS coach used. Let them play, and then teach where it is needed.
3. Position Kids to Their Strengths
I'll be honest. This a cop-out answer. It is still significant, and I will explain why in a bit, but I'm still working on this one. I need to figure out how to get that kid who, no matter how much drilling in context we do, can still not remember to block out or at least get to the rim-line every single time they are supposed to.
Offensively, putting a really good shooter who cannot dribble or defend in the 2-hole where it is their only job to run the right-side of the floor, catch, and shoot the ball off the pass, is a simple way to keep them on the floor and help them be productive. Teaching a big whose only strength is their length to be in a position to only focus on screening and offensive rebounding and telling them that they get to shoot every offensive rebound they get is another great way to hide a kid, but very much keep them productive.
The problem is that both of those kids still have to turn around and defend and rebound. Well, you can say, put him on the worst shooter on the other team. That still doesn't help us if that "worst shooter" never gets blocked out by our worst rebounder, or that "worst shooter" goes by my "worst defender" every time for a lay-up and/or puts my big in foul trouble.
The true problem is that I know the old "lock the doors and put trash cans in the corner" philosophy fixes the focus problem. I just like my job and these kids too much to go there. I have to find a happy medium where drilling that weakness and having consistent punishment over and over again until the weakness becomes a strength.
With that said, I would love your comments and ideas, so we can make this blog what it should be. I'm all ears, and I look forward to hearing what you are doing to improve your team's focus issues.
Coach Matt Rogers
Phone: (312) 610-6045
Matt Rogers is a 20-year high school and college coach veteran. He has led two teams to the NCAA National Tournament and one team to a High School State Championship. His teams hold numerous school and one NCAA record. He has mentored and coached players at every collegiate level while serving as an athletics administrator at the high school and NCAA levels. He currently is the Head National Scout/Recruiting Specialist for NCSA - Next College Student Athlete where he has helped thousands of young men and women from around the world achieve their dreams of playing at the college level. Coach presently lives in the Denver, CO area with his wife of 20 years and his two children.
To request Coach Rogers to speak at your school or event, you can reach him through any of his contact information above.