As a coach, I am an engineer. I’m not designing buildings or aircraft carriers. I’m engineering people. When it comes to sports specifically, I’m trying to figure out how to bridge the gap between a player’s knowledge and their ability to execute what they know in any situation.
Speaking of bridges, ridges are engineering phenomenons. From the basic bridges that span a small country stream to bridges that span large rivers and bays, it’s amazing how they are built and how they work.
Think about how limited humans were before we built bridges. The more our players are able to bridge the gap between what they know and what they can do, the more successful they can be. It’s a pretty amazing feat when one is built. Humans have figured out how to build physical structures. What challenges humans and what will always challenge humans is building that mental bridge.
First, however, there must be recognition that a gap exists. There must be an acknowledgment that a bridge needs to be built. So many players have a lack of self-awareness. You can say it’s their fault, or you can blame it on someone else. Either way, until they are aware that there’s a gap, why would they want to build a bridge? Building bridges is hard and sometimes it takes more work than players want to do. But it’s a lot harder to build a bridge if you don’t know where you’re starting from.
So let’s say a player recognizes what they need to be able to do and that they aren’t able to do it well yet. They recognize they have to put work in to be able to do what they know they need to do. They commit to the work and are willing to do the work. What happens during that time when he/she is trying to build that bridge? What happens during “construction” when execution is required but the bridge isn’t built yet? How do we build confidence when it’s still a work in progress?
I don’t think there’s one simple answer to these questions. Before we address these questions, as coaches we have to ask ourselves some questions. What part of the year did this recognition come? How did the player recognize the gap existed? How critical is this gap to the team’s success? How much time will it take to bridge the gap? How much time and attention can we afford to give to building this bridge?
Of course, these questions are very subjective. Let’s think about some possibilities. If this recognition comes as part of a postseason individual meeting, then that’s the preferred time frame. Now the player has lots of time to work to build that bridge. If that realization comes in the last week of January, then is it better to wait until the off-season? Or is this bridge necessary to the player and team’s success for the rest of this season?
If the player recognizes the issue on their own, they are more likely to be motivated to resolve it. If a coach, teammate, or fan points out a weakness, the player might not be as open to that feedback depending on the situation.
Our approach to these situations must consider the situation itself? Are we talking about a point guard’s ability to post up or a post player’s ability to finish a lay-up? Are we talking about a point guard’s on-ball defense or a post player’s ability to shoot a step-back 3? If your biggest issue is that you need your post player to make a step back 3 in order to win, then I want to coach your team.
You have to judge what’s important and what isn’t. Will it take 30 minutes three times a week for a month? Will it take 60 minutes every day for six months? Of course, every situation has a different solution and you might not know the answer right away. But making a major adjustment to a player’s shooting technique is much more involved than teaching someone how to set a good screen. Teaching someone how to defend a post player isn’t nearly as involved as improving their weak hand. Knowing how much time you have to build that bridge and knowing how much time it will take is important in the process.
If you don’t have enough time, do you try to tackle it anyway? Is some improvement better than none? Or could that time be better spent in another area? This leads into the next factor — what else do we have to do? If we spend time in this area, do we have enough time for other areas? Do we have time for other players? Do we have time for other “things”? Do we have the expertise we need? Do we have the resources that we need? Do we have the staff that we need? Will this be the best use of our time?
Keep in Mind
Notice we haven’t answered the initial set of questions from the beginning of this post. Those are still important. We have to manage the process within the process. We cannot control every decision of every player that we coach. They will always have the freedom to make decisions that we won’t even know that they made.
Whatever bridge we are helping them build, there will always be obstacles along the way. There may be a call for action even when before the bridge is finished. The bridge may get built and then need to be upgraded later. As coaches, we must be able to carefully manage these situations with our athletes. Most likely, every athlete is going to require a different level of attention.
We are engineers. We devise ways to turn knowledge into action. The good news is that it doesn’t involve calculus or physics. The bad news is there is never one method that always works for every player.