What I Saw While Watching My Grandson’s Basketball Practice

My daughter gave birth to my 6th grandbaby on Saturday morning and so last night after training, I decided to go see her and the baby again at the hospital. As I was leaving the gym I remembered that my 2 grandsons had basketball practice right near there so I decided to go and watch them first. After getting lost and then having to drive around the school, on the sidewalk, I finally parked the car and got into the gym just after my youngest grandson, Bubba, had finished but just in time to see my older grandson, Dalton, start his practice. And was it fun to watch.

Dalton plays on an 8 year old team so you can imagine what that must look like. All sizes, shapes, and skill levels. Suffice it to say that none of these kids were fathered by LeBron James. Without boring you with the details, what I noticed most was that each kid was having a blast. They learned some basic fundamentals, setting a screen, blocking out, dribbling with both hands, etc. Each kid was corrected in a very short and precise manner, focus on just 1 mistake they made. Then they were sent off to try again. None of the kids hung their heads after they made the mistake or after they were told about it. They would just run back, smiling and laughing, to their line and wait for their next turn. There was a whole of looking around at what the other teams were doing. They were watching the other guys on their team were doing (Mirror neurons working?). The drills lasted just long enough for the kids not to become bored. At the end of the 45 minutes, the kids were laughing and playing and wanting more. And this was all accomplished without even 1 minute of scrimmaging not any mention of scrimmaging by either the Coaches or players, even though the other 3 teams were scrimmaging for about half their practice time.

Was the practice so great, that they all became all stars or the best players in the league? No, far from it. But each kid was a little better after the practice than they were before it started. Each kid gave a great effort in trying to do each drill, even if it was wrong, the effort was there because no limits were put on them. And each kid was excited to come back for Wednesday night’s practice.

Now I don’t if this was planned to turn out this way or not. Maybe the Coach just did it by accident. I don’t care as long as he does it all season. I am sorry I didn’t get to meet Dalton’s Coach and congratulate him for such a great practice. But you can be sure I will next time.



Free Play and Athlete Development

I was doing some work around the house tonight when my good friend Joe Hanson called me.  Joe always calls me to talk Athlete Development and we get into some pretty good discussions.  Tonight he called because his High School’s football team just ended their spring practice with a scrimmage against another local team.  Joe coaches at a small Christian School (translate: mostly white) and they played a team made up of mostly black players.  Joe’s question to me was “Why are their kids so much faster and quicker than our kids?”

Now I am not a scientist but I do have some opinions on this.  I can’t speak really well about the genetics, but I do think that, at least to some extent, they do play and a part in this.  However, I think a bigger factor is culture.  Go to a basketball game where blacks kids are playing and they are all expected to handle the ball and run the floor.  At a game where the kids are white, you get the ball and outlet it to a guard and, especially if you are a big kid, they don’t care if you ever get down the floor.  They don’t want you handling ball.

Black kids are expected to do run fast, have rhythm, jump high, be able to dance and such things.  They see this all the time and the mirror neurons in the brain allow you to mimic these actions. ( Bill Hartman: Please write a blog on mirror neurons).  White kids aren’t expected to do all of this.  The expectation is that they are slower, non rhythmic, can’t dance and can’t jump.  Is there any wonder why there is a difference?

This is why free play is so important.  In free play, you get to try things without the fear of being yelled out or taken out of the game because of a mistake.  Nobody tells you what you can or can’t do.  In free play, if you are 5’6 and weigh 300 lbs, you can still be a wide receiver and defense back.  You learn to run and catch and make moves which will help you become a better athlete later on.  The kids become fearless to new things an situations and aren’t afraid of failure .  These different movement experiences are what creates athleticism.  This is athlete development at it’s finest.  No expensive gyms or toys needed.  Just let the kids play.



Building a Foundation

Early Specialization Quote

This is a quote I stole from Jeremy Frisch’s Facebook page.  I have thought about this many times and have even said it in one form or another.  Whenever I am speaking to parents I always tell them this.  So why is it that we have the majority of kids still specializing in only 1 or 2 sports?  I believe it is because most sport coaches still, in spite of scientific evidence, believe that early specialization is the way to go.

Let’s think about this for a minute.  How many parents do you know that when their kid enters first grade they tell the school administrators that they only want their kid to study Math because he is going to be an accountant.  Hopefully, you don’t know any crazies like this.  But yet, this is perfectly normal in sports.  Why?

In a previous post I have written about Physical Literacy.  Being Physical Literate is no different from being Intellectually Literate (I don’t know if that is what you call it, but hopefully you get the point).  In school, we go through various stages of learning.  We start out by learning letters at home and practicing them when we start school.  Then we learn to put the letters together to form words and then we learn to read the words and then sentences and then those sentences are put into books and so on.  Then we branch out and learn all sorts of cool stuff like science, math and history.  Through all of these learning experiences a kid then decides what profession he wants to go into.  Usually he decides this, or he has some idea, by high school.  He is able to do this because he has been exposed to all kinds of different studies from accounting to zoo keeper.  After this, our student goes of to college where he declares his major and begins his studies towards his career goal.  But even then the first year or 2 he is not totally specializing yet.  The college still has him take some general courses along with his courses in his major.  Gradually, he then takes more and more specialized courses in his major until he graduates and is unleashed on the world.  Obviously some areas of study are going to take more time and the specialization is even greater. Be that as it may, it is going to take about 16 years of building a foundation before it is felt that this kid is sufficiently prepared to make his way in the world.

The question why don’t we do this in sport.  If a kid is Physically Literate he is able to choose from many different sports the one or ones he want to specialize in.  It causes me great pain to see a kid who has dreams of playing college football realize in high school that Nick Saban isn’t recruiting any 5’3, 135 lbs cornerbacks to come play at Alabama.  I am not saying he shouldn’t play football.  Go ahead and play.  But what if he would have been given the opportunity to participate in wrestling, weightlifting, handball, soccer or some other sport?  He might have become a National Champion or and Olympian in one of those sports instead of just riding the pine every Friday night.  But because of his lack of a well rounded Physical Literacy education, he will never know what his capabilities would have been.  To me, that would be a dadgummed shame.


Movement by Lee Taft

In today’s post, I have chosen to repost an article by Lee Taft.  I think it goes along perfectly with what we have been talking about the last couple of posts.  He posted this on Facebook a week or so ago and I thought it was so good I asked him if I could repost it on my blog.  For those of you who don’t know Lee, you need to get to know him and read his posts on Facebook.  He is, in my mind, the best speed and agility guy out there.  I have been fortunate enough to sit and talk to him for hours (literally) and his knowledge in this area is unsurpassed.

You can find him at:  http://leetaft.com

or friend him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thespeedguy?fref=ts 

Over the past years i have been blessed to visit colleges and spend time with their strength staff working on multi-directional speed concepts, strategies, and techniques. We have had great success in building successful approaches.

The area I have wanted to impact at the college level is the Physical Education, Exercises Science, Health and wellness, Physical Therapy, and other movement related fields. I feel each college student needs to take a 101 course in multi-directional speed movement concepts and implementation (The why’s, how’s…). There is so much mis-information out there on correct movement principles.

If physical education teachers really understood multi-directional speed techniques think how they could impact the quality of movement in our young kids. They could help reduce the potential for ACL and other injuries. They could improve overall confidence that is presently low in children who don’t have good movement abilities.

Just in the past few weeks coaches I know have lost players to non-contact ACL injuries- doesn’t need to happen! In the past few weeks I have watch many high school and younger basketball games and see such poor movement quality- doesn’t need to be this way.

I want to see a change happen through the masses. This can only happen if the people who have contact with kids most often understand this. I know PE is foolishly being cut in many schools but PE teachers are trained to handle groups and organize lessons. If each day kids were being taught the foundations of movement and this extended throughout the time they were in school- we would see so much more quality in movement.

We also need to educate parents, youth coaches, and all involved in working with kids. Movement is that important! It makes people feel empowered and able to accomplish tasked with grace and control. We either move or we die! Let’s improve the quality of our movement in sport, exercise, and daily living.

Change is coming!

Long Term Athletic Development – Physical Literacy

If you read our first post, you saw that we introduced long-term athletic development by showing a chart from Istvan Balyi that defined the outline or concept.  We now want to delve into some nuts and bolts of what is meant by long-term development.

Every parent who has a child involved in sport wants that child to do well. We pay for private instruction, travel teams, the latest equipment and anything else to help that child make the varsity team in high school or get a college scholarship. In our rush to do this, we as parents miss the most important factor. That factor is teaching them to be physically literate. This is something that every parent can do, yet it’s so simple that we overlook it.

Margaret Whitehead, one of the earliest pioneers of the concept of physical literacy, defined it in a paper in 2001 as:

“An individual who is physically literate moves with poise, economy and confidence in a wide variety of physically challenging situations. Furthermore the individual is perceptive in reading all aspects of the physical environment, anticipating movement needs or possibilities and responding appropriately to these, with intelligence and imagination.”

Sounds like what I want my athletes to be able to do. To further illustrate this definition, she developed a chart with 13 different fundamental movement skills that every child should master.

Physical Literacy Ages and Skills

If You Can, You Will Chart

As shown above, if you have a mastery of these basic skills you will be able to participate in most sports or activities that you desire. Unfortunately, many of them are lacking in athletes by the time they’re in middle school or high school. What we have created in this country is a system of specific sport skills first without fully learning the fundamentals.

Let’s take a look at how the system works in the United States. Little Johnny grows up and in about first grade wants to play football, so the first thing we do is sign him up for Pop Warner football.  Let’s say that Johnny is big for his age and we all know Pop Warner has weight limits as far as who can run the ball. So they make Johnny a lineman.

Johnny grows up and never gets much bigger, but because of the weight limit and Pop Warner football he has never played any other position. He gets to the seventh grade and all the other kids are catching up to his growth.  What happens? Johnny can’t play any position other than lineman, lacks other skills and finds out that football is probably not going to be for him.  He quits the football team and doesn’t have another skill set; therefore, he drops out of sport completely.

To me, this is tragic. There are many different sports that Johnny could have tried out for and maybe become very good at, but he didn’t get the opportunity to do so because he wasn’t taught any basic fundamental skills. Now I’m not saying that he could have been a pro or Olympic athlete in something else, but the shame is that we will never know.

According the National Alliance for Sports, 70% of kids quit playing league sports by the age of 13 – never to play them again.  The number one reason they quit is because they aren’t having any fun.  And why aren’t they having any fun?  Parental pressure is one reason (this could be a post and maybe it will be later), but I think another big reason is because they have no fundamental skill set.  ‘They won’t let me pitch because I can’t throw the ball well enough.  Or I can’t play wide receiver because I have stone hands.’  When was the last time you tossed a bag of chips to your child when he was hungry?  Talk about developing soft hands.  You better have soft hands and catch it properly; otherwise you’re going to have a bag of crumbs instead of chips.

Developing all aspects of fundamental skills can lead to a variety of choices for each child, whether he/she chooses to play recreationally or competitively.  From there, we can build sport-specific skills that can lead to more options for playing different sports as well as playing different positions within the chosen sport.




Long-Term Athletic Development

As coaches, regardless of the sport we are all looking for one thing. That is more athletes. Have you ever heard a coach say “Gee, I have all the athletes I need for my team”? No, of course you haven’t. The big lament is always about a lack of depth. So what we do as coaches is set around and wait for that next good class to come through to give us the success we strive for.

Instead of waiting for the next good class, let’s start developing our own athletes.  What I mean is that we need to develop ATHLETES that we can teach the skills of our particular sport.  Which leads us to the question of what is an athlete. I won’t get into much detail here, as we will discuss this in another post, but suffice it to say that an athlete is one who possesses the basic fundamental skills of running, jumping, throwing, catching, has balance and coordination.  If an athlete has these basic skills, a coach can teach him the sport specific skills needed to play any sport.

That sounds simple enough, but we need to have a long-term development plan. We we can’t just look at today, we must look into the future.

I’m sure that, by now, most of you have heard of Istvan Balyi. Many people view him as the father of long-term athletic development. Search the Internet and you will find many references and examples to his long-term athletic development plan. Here is a graphic that illustrates Balyi’s plan:

As you can see from this graphic, this is a step by step progression. You can put this into a pyramid and the base would be the largest block. Remember the base must be wide and strong to support our efforts in building our athlete.  Almost every sport will fit into this model. However there are a few exceptions. Sports such as gymnastics require a much earlier training plan because of body type or size needed to compete. we would classify these sports as early specialization sports.

So, here we have the model of what we are striving for. The question now is what do we need to do to get there? This is where it becomes really interesting.  Every parent wants their child to be literate. To get through life, every child needs an education. Within that education, a child learns the 3Rs; readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmetic.  Along the way, they also learn about history, science, music, and art. This is called a well-rounded education.

For about the 1st 12 to 13 years of age student’s school life, this is how the curriculum goes. Not specializing necessarily in one subject, but being exposed to many, many subjects. With this large knowledge base, a child can now decide what he is most interested in and choose to specialize in that course of study. This whole process begins by the student learning to recognize letters and numbers.

In the U.S., our current model does just the opposite. For the most part, we are only exposed to sports that our parents know or want us to play. The sport is chosen and he is signed up for this sport, given a few weeks of instruction, sent out to play the game and expected to win. We wouldn’t teach a child math for couple weeks and then expect him to do accounting, would we? Then why we do it in sport?

So what is the answer? The answer is to teach each child to become Physically Literate. In the next installment of this series, we will discuss what Physical Literacy is and its importance to the development of an athlete. By becoming physically literate in all environments, land, water, air, and snow and ice, a child will be able function successfully in any sport of his choosing.