Men's Basketball Coach Bob Walsh's recent post "Why Is It So Hard to Talk and Play?" got me thinking about how we handled this at Paul VI Catholic High School.
Communication is a skill that most fourteen year old athletes don't have. We had to provide our athletes with a vocabulary we wanted them to use, we had to show them when to use it, and we had to show them why they need to use the skill. Lastly, we had to provide multiple opportunities in practice, in games, and in meetings for them to process the new material.
As we built the program, we needed to determine our benchmarks and we needed to determine what we would accept as evidence of mastery. Here are some differentiated ways to assess your program.
The win/loss record is the black and white standardized test. What is your program's accepted level of mastery? 20 wins? Top 4 finish? Championship?
This is the most glamorous and the most emotional benchmark. But this cannot be the only way to measure your program's growth, right? Look at UConn Men's Basketball, a national championship cannot be the only way to assess their 2010-2011 season. If you are rebuilding and felt 15 wins would be a great benchmark, but only won 13 games, is the entire season a failure?
Rank Film Clips/Games
Provide clips that illustrate different outcomes. Ask them to rank the best to the worst. You may be surprised to hear what they say.
When we were very young and did not have depth, we could not truly compete with some of the powerhouses. So, here is what I did to assess our transition defense:
Clip 1 showed an outlet pass with the guard taking 3 dribbles to the rim, but had his shot blocked by our late-to-recover big man.
Clip 2 showed a missed free throw into a secondary break that lead to a ball reversal and a made, open 3.
Clip 3 showed a successful defensive conversion that we negated with a hand-check as the opponent pulled the ball out to set up a set.
I intentionally picked three that did not end with a clean, successful stop. I needed to know if the team mastered the objectives the coaching staff set out to teach. Could they apply and evaluate the concept AND the physical execution, even though our youth could not physically compete with the 18 year old high major seniors they faced every night?
In the off-season, have them rank their top 3 offensive games, defensive games, and transition games. Have them rank the worst losses. Make sure they provide reasons.
Pick Your Own Team
There is always a way to incorporate a scrimmage into a practice.
First, this provides the guys who may not see a lot of game time with a way to communicate with their team and to contribute to the success of the team. We always had the last two guys on the bench pick and coach their own teams.
Second, it gives your main rotation feedback from someone other than a member of the coaching staff. What does it tell you if your starters don't get drafted in the first round? What does it tell them?
Third, it gives you feedback regarding sets in which your team believes. Are they calling the same sets you would call? Are they only calling one or two sets? Are they not calling any sets? This is all valuable feedback and an alternate way to assess your team's growth.
Even after the season, this could be a great way to debrief. Each student-athlete could draft their top 5 players if they needed a 3, if they needed a stop, or if they needed to execute a set. Play around with this to differentiate the assessments.
I sat with the coaching staff at St. Andrew's School (MD) a few weeks ago. They were despondent after a tough road loss. The staff is in their first year and did not bring any recruits with them. But, one of the coaches mentioned a few comments from the parents of their athletes. The parents commented on the fight of the team and the decreased margin of defeat. Rather than being down 20+ at half time, St. Andrew's is taking teams to the fourth quarter--with the same group from previous seasons.
I commented on the way their student-athletes tried to execute press breaks. Physically, St. Andrew's did not have the athletes, the physical maturity, or the depth. The other team pressed through the 3rd quarter until their lead swelled to 20. The St. Andrew's staff burned timeouts trying to stop the bleeding, but I was impressed how their kids kept fighting, kept listening, and kept attempting to do all the right things.
The differentiated instruction is the cerebral part of coaching and teaching to which I'm addicted. I'd love to hear your thoughts and suggestions. Ready for March Madness?