I’d like to welcome Coach Jim Burson this week as a guest contributor to the 94Fifty Blog. Coach B was the past President of the NABC and brings an enormous amount of basketball knowledge. He is perhaps best known for being featured by Sports Illustrated as the only coach outside of the Princeton system to have deciphered the Princeton motion offense. In basketball terms, its equivalent to deciphering the Rosetta stone. With that, please extend a warm welcome to Coach B!
How important is teaching the fundamentals of the game? Fundamentals are the basis for all of your coaching. That’s how important it is.
I coached at the Division III level for nearly forty years and won over 540 games in my career. At that level, my fundamentals development program was essential. In other words, the players needed to get better each practice, each day and each year.
I developed the Basic Daily Dozen Dribbling Drills and the Basic Daily Dozen Passing Drills. We did all these plus form shooting every day before practice. Repetition was the key – at least, I thought it was. The truth was and remains today: players have to want to get better themselves regardless of what their coach or personal skill trainer tells them to do.
And that was my most compelling job – to get the players to want to do the drills – those endless, repetitive drills.
My own experience with the power of drill work was pretty compelling. I started my son, Jay, on the Daily Dozen Drills when he was just 6 years old. He did them for years, even before he knew how to play the game.
One summer, I spoke at Coach Charlie Huggins’ camp, and I brought Jay along. I spoke at noon, and Jay wanted to play in the pick-up games that began that evening around 9:00 PM. Jay was a skinny high school freshman, 5 feet 4 inches and 125 pounds. His head accounted for half that weight. But even then he had averaged 19 points a game his Freshman year in high school and thought he was a superstar. I tried to tell him that he wasn’t ready to play with the college players. I admired his courage, but doubted his intelligence.
Finally, at about 10:30 PM after someone had called “last game,” Jay was picked to play. He took one shot and it was blocked; the ball was stolen from him twice and his team was beaten 10-2.
We headed home. Jay pouted, showing a full case of Lower Lip Syndrome, and complained all the way about getting fouled. We arrived home around midnight. As my wife asked me how our day had gone, the light went on over the patio at the back of the house and we heard the distinctive sound of a bouncing basketball.
I ran outside and there was Jay, practicing. I asked him what he was doing. He replied, “For nearly ten years I’ve done the Daily Dozen Drills because you told me to. Tonight I’m doing them for me. Next year I’m going back to Huggins’ camp ready to play.”
The next year Jay led the nation in scoring, averaging 40.1 points per game as a high school sophomore, and he still was only about 5’10 and maybe 140 pounds, and went on to become a an all Big 10 guard at Ohio State where he still holds multiple season and career records to this day. Jay had two things that led to his success: he could handle the ball without thinking about it, and he had a very accurate, lightning fast release. Both skills developed through repetition.
You don’t have to wait and hope for a “eureka moment” like Jay’s. This game is about repetition, and improvement can begin as soon as a player decides that he or she wants it. It helps even more if you can measure those results, (which is why I like 94Fifty so much).
Committing to the repetitive drills can make any player, regardless of athletic skills, become a fantastic player. And as I have seen both in my own home and with my many college teams, you are never too young or too old to develop a high level of muscle memory skills. It just takes your commitment to be the best you can.
We become what we repeatedly do.