Book Review: The Art Of Coaching

By Ryan McNeill

This week I had the pleasure of reading Brian Grasso’s book “The Art of Coaching” and it was the perfect book to get me through my current basketball season. Earlier this fall I read Brian McCormick’s book “The Cross Over Movement” and I was happy to see that many of his themes were embraced in “The Art of Coaching.” Coach Grasso did a great job of discussing important topics like creating long-term plans, understanding fads in coaching, how to create opportunities for your players to be successful, conditioning issues and “switch” words. He provided me with an abundance of concepts to implement in my practices and this book served as a great reminder that there are other coaches out there trying to implement “new school” approaches in regards to coaching youth basketball.

Early into the book Coach Grasso won me over with a small section that talked about coaches sucking the fun out of basketball. He wrote:

Youth sports and training for youth sports has become an exercise of pressure and fear. Repercussions for poor performance or lack of aptitude are severe. Kids today have lost the joy and innocence of what sport and fitness participation truly is – and that is affecting their lifetime adherence.

One of the things I can’t stand is the pressure that most coaches put on elementary school athletes to win games. Who cares if a 12-year old kid wins a city title? In my mind the important thing is that a child is able to play basketball and start a love affair with the sport that will last with them through the rest of their life. The problem that I see with too many of my counterparts is they get so wrapped up in winning games and forcing drills down the throats of their players that they suck the fun out of the game. They lose sight of the fact that basketball is just a game and it should be played for fun when children are in elementary school.

Another topic from this book that sticks out is the importance of play for younger athletes. Coach Grasso embraces play within his practices and explains this by writing:

Do you remember playing in the park with your friends growing up? There was little, if any, adult involvement, you set your own rules and ideas for the game(s) you were playing and because of that, were completely engrossed in the experience.

Simply stated – create exercise initiatives that are fun, movement-orientated, inclusive of all levels of athletic ability and allow for the kids themselves to create some of the rules or features of the activity.

This is in part why mini-treadmills, strength training machines and other such static devices are little more than ridiculous for children. It removes their innate mobility/stability interplay potential and completely negates movement and other related motor skill experiences

What’s the point in making kids always be part of structured games and practices? After reading Brian McCormick’s book “The Cross Over Movement” this fall I decided to implement more games into my practices and my kids have eaten this concept up. By adding games of HORSE, dribbling contests and shooting games into my practices it has served as a great way to reinforce the drills I am teaching them while also allowing my students to have fun. While this has resulted in me not spending time working on beating a press I’ve found their fundamentals are greatly improved which has led to improved results during games. However, the biggest plus to the addition of fun games to my practices is that my players are forming a greater appreciation and love for the game of basketball.

Something else that served as a great wake-up call for me was when he talked about the problem that many coaches face with instant gratification. Coach Grasso wrote in his book that:

“I understand the importance of learning execution-based knowledge. With our time constantly being squeezed by demands from work and home, sometimes the best and most effective thing you can do is look to understand the basics; the stuff that will have an immediate impact on your athletes or team.

Having said that, we have become a ‘here and now’ culture. We are often looking only for the instant gratification and nothing more. But when passionately developing young athletes, we have to come to an understanding and appreciate the fact that our roles are far more crucial than just teaching the latest speed techniques.”

Unfortunately this is something that has plagued me as a young coach. Far too often I have gotten wrapped up in wining games or getting my players to execute at a certain level in front of their parents and my peers. I’ve stopped looking at improvements over a season and instead have started to judge success by how my players are able to adapt to things they struggled against in a previous game. I’ve bought into an old school approach that values wins over personal improvement. Instead of looking to see gains in players during each game or practice I’ve learned that I need to take some steps back and realize that if Johnny can learn to dribble with both hands by the end of the season that is something to celebrate. I need to take a step back and look at the season as a whole instead of a daily or weekly snapshot.

Which ties in perfectly into another one of the more interesting concepts that Coach Grasso brought up in his book – the need for coaches to develop long-term plans for the following season. Coach Grasso wrote that:

The most common problem facing Trainers and Coaches today with respect to developing young athletes over time is the ability to plan long-term. Ther personal training and coaching professions are most typically based on session-to-session consideration – clients pay per session most often and trainers create training programs one session at a time. The same is true for coaching sport – most Coaches script out one practice plan at a time, rather than create a relative flow for an entire month or even a season.

As a teacher I use long range plans and daily lessons plans so I’ve naturally implemented this into my coaching. For me using lesson plans when I’m coaching is just a natural progression from how I plan for a year in my classroom but I can understand that for someone who isn’t familiar with lesson plans this will be a new concept for them.

I find that once I select my team I create a list of strengths and weaknesses that I want to work on during the first month of the season. After the first month of the season I’ll then tweak that list depending on what I’ve seen in practices and games that my players have participated in. For example, heading into the season I made sure that I was spending a lot of time working on my players mid-range game and their ball handling. Now that we’re a month into our season I’ve found that I need to spend a little less time on those two areas and now I’m switch gears and spend some more time working on their rebounding skills. If I were to just look at each practice as it’s own entity I would be missing out on the chance to refine specific skills over an extended period of time.

Kudos to Coach Grasso for pointing this out and offering up coaches numerous ways of implementing long range plans into how you plan as a coach for your season.

Sticking with the idea of looking at long-term results, towards the end of this book Coach Grasso brought up a great point when he was talking about the problems facing youth conditioning. He lamented that the problems in youth conditioning stemming from our culture being based on a gratification system and wrote:

Too much exposure in the beginning of a training programs is counterproductive to an optimal ending. Children can become overwhelmed by Trainers, Coaches and Parents when they are taught complex technical skills in one training session or a short period of time. The most critical problem in the youth training and sport industry is to overzealousness perpetuated by many Trainers and Coaches (and facilitated by many parents) in terms of gaining skill in a given technical exercise. We must create and work towards instilling a lifelong adherence to a particular skill or exercise. Our culture is based on a gratification system – we strive to see results now even if the act of trying to create results in the short-term proves to be contradictory to the science of motor development and blatantly less beneficial than a more holistic and long-term approach.

It makes me cringe when I think about how many times as a young coach that I would place a higher emphasis on teaching my kids how to break down a zone instead of working on ball movement, passing drills and general court awareness. I was blinded to the benefits of making the game fun and instead wanted to earn some more wins so I could puff out my chest in front of my coaching peers. Coach Grasso raised some great points in this section of his book but my favourite is when he wrote, “We must create and work towards instilling a lifelong adherence to a particular skill or exercise.” As coaches far too often we miss the point and forget that our role as coaches isn’t about winning games, it’s about instilling a love of the game in our players.

Whether you are a coach firmly established in the coaching community or a young coaching looking to leave your mark in this profession this book will do wonders towards helping you establish a program that will help the next generation of players fall in love with the game that you’ve loved.

If your interested in reading “The Art of Coaching” send Coach Grasso an email at grasso.brian@yahoo.com for details on how to buy a copy of this book or you can click here for a link to by the book online.

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