Friday, January 16, 2009

Screaming is not teaching

A good passage from Lenny Wilkens' book "Unguarded" (with Terry Pluto):

Coach Wilkens, who became a player/head coach for the Sonics in 1969, recalls a key moment early in his coaching career:

One day, a college coach named Marv Harshman was at a practice. I really lit into one of my players because he couldn't get the ball to one of our big men at the low post. I let him have it: How dumb could he be? Didn't he see the man open? Didn't he want to get him the ball?

After practice, Harshman told me, "Lenny, you know that you're a very gifted player."

I waited, knowing Marv has something on his mind.

"You really see the floor," he said. "It's easy for you to make that play, to get the ball to the low post. But not everyone sees the game the same as you."

I was starting to get the message.

"You have to show them, to teach them," he said. "You can't assume everyone knows the game like you do. Show them that there's more than one way to make that play."

I nodded.

Of course, teach them. It sounds obvious as I talk about it now, but teaching wasn't the norm for NBA coaching back then. It was screaming.

What Marv told me made sense. I thought back to my rookie year with the Hawks, and how no one really taught me anything. Few people even said a word, unless it was to yell at me. I was acting just like my former coaches, who figured, "Hey, I know how to make that play, so you should, too."

But why would the players know how to play the pro game, especially the rookies? Even some of the veterans had real blind spots in their games, because no one bothered to show them how to make certain plays. If you didn't pick it up on your own, the assumption was that you couldn't do it.

About midseason, I really started coaching the guys. We went back to the basics. And I felt better because of something else that came out of that conversation with Marv Harshman: I didn't have to yell all the time. Screaming was never part of my personality, so I was glad that I could coach more like myself. Talk quietly. Listen. Teach. Be patient. Admittedly, not all of this happened at once, but slowly I began to feel comfortable as a coach.

And we began to win.

[I'll post additional excerpts from Coach Wilkens' book over the weekend.]