Basketball Coaches Are Teachers, Not Conductors

Teachers teach lessons and prepare students to solve problems on their own; conductors, as best I can tell, control the every movement of an orchestra.

Basketball coaches constantly argue they are teachers because they use the basketball court as a classroom. And, obviously, some of them actually do. Read any of John Wooden’s books, or listen to Bill Walton’s admiration for “Coach,” and it is evident Wooden taught more than the 2-2-1 press and the UCLA cut.

However, if coaches teach players to make decisions in life, why do they not allow players to make decisions in games? The Phoenix Suns are a revelation in the NBA this season because Mike D’Antoni allows his players to play; he does not handicap their creativity and athleticism by dictating the action through constant set plays, like Jeff Van Gundy.

How are players supposed to learn to think for themselves and to make critical life decisions when coaches hoarde timeouts to use to prepare for every critical possession at the end of a game, thus eliminating the players’ decision-making? Coaches dictate the action; they draw the play and tell the players exactly what to do. In other words, the coach orchestrates the action. And, many coaches with endless egos like to point out and take credit for this orchestration.

But, what does this teach a young player? How to follow directions and do exactly what they are told? Is the goal to drill the life and creativity out of players until they become drones following every order?

There are two problems:
1) The peak age for sports participation is 12 years old. Most kids who quit cite the sport not being fun anymore as a reason. I see a correlation between the coaches insisting on the “my way or the high way” approach versus allowing the players to make plays. When I was in junior high playing for my dad and Dr. Morrison, I never remember a timeout called to set-up a play. I don’t remember them drawing up special plays. I don’t think we had that many close games, but I think they trusted us to make plays and win the games with our talent and basketball acumen. And, we all had a blast.

2) As the 2004 Olympics illustrated, our best players lack the understanding of how to move without the ball, play in pivotal stretches without instruction from the bench, play against changing defenses, adapt to circumstances, etc. If our best players lack these abilities, what does that suggest about our average players in this country?

There is a clamoring among some to adopt the International three-point line into the college game. They cite the rash of upsets in March Madness and “blame” the ease of the three-point shot, as evidenced by #2 Wake Forest being Pittsnogled out of the tournament.

I think the more important rule change, which will never happen, would be to adopt the International Timeout rule. Internationally, teams play 4 ten-minute quarters. In each quarter, a coach has one use-it-or-lose-it timeout and two in th final period. This is sufficient for any coach. While some suggest this would take the coaching out of the game, I argue it would heighten the importance of coaching.

Coaches would have to teach and prepare and trust their students to pass the test. No longer would they be able to hold their hand through the exam or bail out a player about to make a critical mistake. No more orchestrating the final three minutes of a game. Coaches would have to teach, and players would be better for it.

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