As a coach, you always want to put your team in position to win, help your players develop and grow, and just be successful. We spoke to arguably one of the best and most influential high school coaches, in Team USA U17 head man Don Showalter, and he gladly shared his coaching secrets with us.
Don’s tips to high school training could be summarized in 6 key points:
Coach Don stressed repeatedly, that organization is a huge factor for a high school coach, because it allows you to be efficient with your practices and make the most of your limited time. Coach Don himself got this tip from John Wooden and he also thinks that proper planned practices can help you get more things done and help your players develop. A solid preparation is also a matter of leading by example: if you want your players come to practice ready and focused, you should never come to practice unprepared and without a plan.
Good preparation and organization will also help you, if you, like many high school coaches, operate within constant time deficit. Coach Don stated several times that it is borderline impossible to do everything you want to do and it’s critical for a coach to be able to manage valuable practice time efficiently. The trick here is to pick two or three really key things that you want to concentrate on, start with them and build up little by little as your players master the core aspects of what the team wants to do on the court.
How you teach your players is important.
It takes about 20 days to develop a habit, and I think if you want to get good habits, you have to have repetition. But all the repetitions could be done in different ways.
Proper organization helps you show your players more things, but the way you show them things and teach them is equally important. Coach Don explains his vision of a proper teaching method on Team USA example: U17 team uses press defense a lot, so coaches put press in practices from day 1. They show players the whole system first, then break it down to parts and then put it back together again. This way the players can see what is expected of them and what they should work towards, but it also helps them recognize and improve the fundamental skills necessary to execute the system the right way.
How to balance team and player development.
At some point the athleticisms are going to catch up with each other and it’s going to be a matter who have the best skill work.
These are probably the questions that give headaches to a lot of coaches: “how much time should I dedicate to player development?”, “what drills should we run?”, “should I change up what we do in practice?”. Don’s answer is: try to focus on what you want to do and how you want to play, and go from there. It’s true that there are tons of good drills on the internet and in various coaching clinics, but try to be selective, and do not fall in love with drills which won’t help you with what you want to do on the court.
There’s a good example provided by coach Don: he likes to run ball-screen offense, so most of the shooting work and footwork in drills is going to be on setting ball screens and reading screens. Of course, mastering a particular skill is a long and hard process, so it is important to fresh things up every once in a while. Sometimes coach Don likes to give his players new looks in practices, but he also stays focused on drills that relate to his system.
One more point Don stresses, is what he calls a “team skill development”. Basically, it is usual skill drills, which are organized in team settings. For example, here is a ball-handling team drill: two lines of four players each, standing in front of each other and making left-handed passes. This way the players are working on their weak hand, but doing it in the team setting, which is crucial.
Probably the most important part of team and player development is to make sure you keep working on fundamental skills as the season goes on. Some coaches tend to become more focused on their sets, or general offense-defense looks, and they ease up on fundamentals. It’s important to equally focus on both parts over the course of the season.
Teams that Don coaches are considered to be successful late-season teams, and one of the main secrets is that balance and the fact they don’t stop working on their fundamental skills all season long. This way the players develop good habits by constantly working on their game, and Don tries to give his players new ways to improve.
Building a System
The reason coach Don loves and runs his ball-screen offense and press defense is simple: over time he figured out what is working for him and he sticks to it. Of course it’s crucial to be able to see what your players do best as a unit and be flexible to make adjustments. Don’s system is so great because it’s built on simple fundamental principles and coach can add or modify some elements depending on the situation and as the season goes on.
Don also stresses the fact that building your basketball program is crucial and can help you a lot as a coach. For example, if you are a varsity team coach, try implementing basic parts of your system with your junior high team, so that kids are familiar with what you want to do on the court.
You are on the floor, that’s what we’re practicing for. Figure it out.
We often hear about communication between the coach and the player and how important it is. Coach Don agrees with that, but he offers an interesting tweak to it: he doesn’t like to stuff his players’ heads with information and in some cases lets players figure things out themselves instead of giving them all the answers. Don thinks that this approach improves players’ communication within the team and helps them “think the game”.
When Don speaks on importance of good communication, he doesn’t only speak of a coach to player communication, but also a coach to coach communication. The players see when the coaching staff is on the same page, and coaches being in unison can make a huge difference for a team.
From head coach’s perspective, Don thinks it’s important to give his assistant coaches freedom to make suggestions and give feedback to the head coach, because if players see that assistants have a lot of say in the program, it helps overall communication, as they are confident they also can have some input.
But Don also demands his assistants to be loyal to the program and the system that they run, and wants them to understand that despite all the freedom he gives, the final decision is still his to make. There’s also a very interesting take on assistants role as a buffer between the head coach and the team, as the head man sometimes has to be hard on a player, and assistant should be right there to pick the guy up. And of course it’s true that sometimes players tend to be more comfortable going to assistant coaches if they have a problem with something, and if all coaches are on the same page, these kinds of problems will be solved quicker and more effectively.
Focus and stay in the moment
Don’t always be thinking that you want to be somewhere else. You are at this spot right now, so do a great job
The main tip to improving as a coach, in Don’s opinion, is being focused on the present, because when you are concentrated on doing the best possible job where you are currently at, everything else will fall into place. It is also a great message to send to your players, trying to win the day and trying to do your best every day.
It will also be very helpful for you as a coach to educate yourself and build up your profile. Don calls it “to get face time”: participating in various coaching clinics and seminars, going to college or other schools’ practices, trying to improve your profile and building relationships with other coaches, because you definitely can learn from all this.
And obviously, the most important part of success as a coach – always have passion and enjoy what you are doing.
Coach Showalter also breaks down how to attack a zone defense in this article.
Latest posts by Coach Keith (see all)
- Interview: Secrets to high school coaching with team USA U17 Don Showalter - May 12, 2017
- 5 Ideas To Get Your Players To Buy-In to Your System TODAY - December 7, 2015
- Coaching 1st grade to 8th grade with Bob Bigelow - November 30, 2015