We hear that word used quite often in sport. Having a good balance is crucial to the success of a team, but it’s not what most would think. It’s less about a balanced attack and more about the balance of the individual, right down to the basic positioning.
While I am a disciple of Coach Wooden I haven’t implemented the UCLA style of play as much as I have implemented coach Wooden’s attention to detail and focus on the fundamentals. And all that begins with balance.
The stories of Coach Wooden teaching players the proper way to tie shoelaces are well documented. We don’t take it to that extent, but we do reinforce the essence of that lesson which is that all things begin with proper balance.
Regardless of the sport, balance is the essential key to success. In baseball the best hitters have tremendous balance in their swings. That ability to maintain balance puts them in perfect hitting position should the pitcher deliver an off-speed pitch. Being even the slightest off-balance will result in a poor swing.
In short having proper balance is critical.
In basketball most people think of balance only as it applies to defense. We hear people saying it’s important to have good positioning when defending. That’s true. Proper positioning is all about balance, but it’s not reserved only for action on the defensive end. Proper balance should be prevalent in all aspects of the game.
So what is balance? It’s about having your head directly between the mid-point of your two feet. That sounds so simple, but it’s amazing how often it’s not reinforced.
Like a hitter in baseball, the slightest shift out of balance can throw everything off. If a player is making a pass without balance he or she doesn’t control the path in which the ball will be delivered. It will take a greater effort to make, what should be an easy pass.
That extra effort, must utilize muscles to keep from literally falling over. That may sound a little excessive, but it’s not. Furthermore, it’s the essence of what Coach Wooden was trying to convey through his lesson of lacing ones sneakers.
Everything starts with balance. We want to jump on balance, dribble on balance, pass on balance and rebound on balance. Even your eyes should be in balance, at the same level and not up or down.
You will often hear someone say, “he took his eyes off the ball” (which resulted in an error or a turnover). Essentially he lost balance. His eyes were not in balance with his body and he was not in proper position to receive the pass.
It’s easy to coach balance and the fundamentals of the game through the first few weeks of the season. Players are so anxious to get going that they would literally run through a wall in the first few weeks of practice. Once that enthusiasm begins to diminish so does their focus on the fundamental aspects of the game.
I remember many years ago, when my team hit a rough spot during the year, I called Coach Wooden looking for some answers. I told him that we had gotten off to a good start, but we had recently started playing very poorly and that I was at a loss to figure it out.
Without hesitation he told me to go back and review my practice plans. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if I found that we had slowly gotten away from working on the fundamentals. When I did that I couldn’t believe what I found. He was right. We had gotten away from the basics.
Back when I actually had hair I, like a lot of young coaches, thought the way to compensate was more time on team execution, rather then individual fundamentals. When it doesn’t work there is such a tendency to “run it again.” That was not good so let’s “run it again.”
The best plays, the best schemes and the best game plans will not matter without the fundamentals and it all goes back to tying laces and having proper balance.
We spend a lot of time working this throughout the year and more of an emphasis is placed on fundamentals if we are coming off a poor performance. The players know when we are not happy, as a staff, if we put in a lot of time and effort on the fundamental skills. However through time they also see the tremendous difference in effectiveness when things are executed using that proper balance.
In practice we will break it down to its simplest forms. We will work on catching the ball on balance, at both slow and full speed. We will work on moving laterally, while maintaining balance. We will work on landing after a rebound, getting balance and making the initial pass to initiate the offense. And the list goes on.
There is no question that it can become a tedious process for players, but it’s critical to the success or ultimate failure of your team. What we try to do is mix up our practice plans so that the players remain focused. After those first few weeks of practice, players simply want to play basketball so it can be challenging. Only you know your team best so you will have to figure out the best way to work the drills into the practice plan.
Quite often young players think that their ability will supersede everything. We know that not to be true, but we also know it can be quite a challenge convincing them that proper balance when passing or receiving a pass is essential to their success. Moreover, it’s critical to their continued development.
We all know that bad habits can be difficult to break and it can be easy to develop poor habits if you don’t work on them regularly. If not addressed those can be difficult to correct in the middle of a season.
I have always found that it’s best to throw as much of the fundamentals as possible at your team through the first few weeks of the season and then continue to work them into your practice plans for the remainder of the season. There will be times when you need to focus solely on fundamentals, but those occurrences can be lessened greatly by continuing to work on the principle of balance, working them into every practice plan.