Gregg Popovich and Steve Nash Youth Basketball. On the surface, there is not much in common between the two, however if you look deeper, both actually share a lot of the same values.
During a FIBA coaches conference in the fall of 2014 in Berlin, San Antonio Spurs head coach (and possibly the greatest coach of all time) held a question and answer session where he shared different ideas and values about what has made the Spurs organization so effective. He also spoke to what coaches can do TODAY to implement and emulate his system. (You can see the full video below.)
The first thing that Popovich talks about is the type of athletes he looks for when it comes time to draft or sign free agents. He notes that character is the number one thing he looks for and if the player doesn’t have good character, he and his staff won’t go near them, regardless of how talented that player might be.
He says that if players are worried about anything else but the team, like how many minutes they are playing, or how many times they touch the ball, then you don’t want them. In contrast, team-first players are the model players. These are the players he wants. And these are the players we want to develop at Steve Nash Youth Basketball, with a focus on character and life skill development. At SNYB we want to develop great people, and THEN great athletes.
2. Develop Everyone
Even at an elite level, Popovich understands the importance of developing everyone on the team – not just the star players. He talks about how all the players on a team are important and that by playing everyone, he can get a better understanding of individual talents and strengths, and how he can use each player more effectively.
If it’s emphasized by the one of the greatest coaches of all time at the highest level of the sport, then we would infer it is even more important at the youth level. Ensuring that all our players are getting equal opportunity to participate is a priority for SNYB and the Fair Play principles we follow.
I mean, it just makes sense. At the elite level, if you’re not going to play them then why have them on your team? And at the youth level, wouldn’t we want to maximize the potential of 12 players instead of just one?
3. Accountability & Interaction
Popovich brings up the notion of accountability as an important part of the Spurs system and philosophy. He notes that regardless of a player’s skill, everyone must be held accountable. He feels that if you’re going to be a part of his team, then you should (and will) have to pull your share of the weight.
He also recognizes that holding everyone accountable does not mean that you treat everyone the same. He says it’s important to treat everyone differently because each athlete is different, and will respond differently to learning new skills, accepting new responsibilities, or receiving feedback, criticism, and praise.
This is a very important note for us to remember as coaches. Just because everyone in your program is 8-years-old and new to basketball, it doesn’t mean that they will all respond the same way. Some will pick up skills quick, others will develop more slowly. Some will motivate themselves, others will need to be pushed. Some will learn best from demonstrations, others will benefit from cue words. Each athlete requires their own specific attention.
Leadership is one thing that Steve Nash Youth Basketball tries to develop in both players and coaches. Whether true leaders are born or made is a topic of great debate; Popovich believes that everyone can be a leader, they will just lead in different ways. He gives some examples of former and current players who led – like how Avery Johnson was a vocal leader, a non-stop talker, while Tim Duncan was a tactile leader, holding teammates or putting an arm around their shoulder to talk and provide support.
The same can be said of your athletes. Not everyone will be a leader the way that you might expect, but they are all doing different things which will have a positive or negative impact on the rest of the team. It is our job as coaches to ensure that leadership within a team or group is impacting everyone in the right way.
5. Setting Teaching Priorities
Popovich also spends some time talking about timeouts and how he uses them, and how some things that coaches are doing that he doesn’t necessarily agree with. A lot of times a coach will say “Rebound more! Get back in transition! Stop him!”, which are all things that should have been stressed in practice and preparation. Instead, he suggests to focus on one specific thing – and the address the HOW.
Popovich says there is too much going on for players to take in multiple instructions. Rather, ask them what they think and let them figure out what to do. If you do your job as a coach, players should have the tools to work together and figure out a solution on their own. Often times, Pop will bring his coaches to mid-court for the first part of the timeout, just so the players are on their own and have time to talk. And often when he comes back, they already know what they want to do differently, and he doesn’t have to say anything at all!
There are a ton of awesome tips not discussed in this short post, but we highly encourage you to watch the video below – and share some of your thoughts in the comments section!
Brandon Brock is currently pursuing a degree in Honours Recreation & Sports Business (Co-op) at the University of Waterloo. A current intern at Canada Basketball, Brandon’s basketball passion lies in coaching – he is also an Assistant Coach with the University of Waterloo Men’s Basketball Team.
Photo: Runaway Digital Media