Basketball Ontario Development Forum (Part 1)

Okay… it’s taken me a few days after returning from Ontario to thaw out, sit down and begin to type out some of my notes and thoughts. I tell ya, I love my country, but it was coooolddd! Mother Nature broke out the welcome mat with some frigid temps (-13 Celsius / 9 F ) for the first couple of days and then followed that up with a major snow dump of over 20-centimetres (that’s about 8 inches!).

Alright, enough whining. I know those in the cold weather spots are not feeling me at all. (Sorry.)

My next few posts, as promised, will share some of the ideas that came out of the Basketball Ontario Development Forum from just over a week ago. It was really well done with some honest and direct feedback from some experienced basketball minds.

Do note that the following is really my interpretation of the comments from others. (For some reason I feel like I need to cue a billboard disclaimer now pointing out that the “…following does not necessarily represent the feelings of the speaker…” etc… etc. I’ll try and preface my flat out additions with “SB.”)

Allison McNeill (Canadian Senior Women’s National Team, Head Coach) was first on the panel and spoke on ‘Trends in International Basketball.’ Here’s my summation of her talk…

AM: Trends in the women’s international game

  • Women are playing the game longer that before (i.e. well into their 30’s … she shared the stats, but I can’t find ’em in my notes right now)
  • They’re strong, fitter. There’s a better awareness of the benefits of nutrition and recovery in training
  • The top teams in the world – next to the US – are Australia (AUS), Russia (RUS) and Brazil (BRA)
    • Why? (a) They don’t have “US envy,” (b) centralization of training, (c) competition (e.g. playing professionally in Europe, WNBA, domestic pro leagues, age-group national teams)
  • All players have the skills – at every position; they are the ‘global’ athlete … the complete package that can shoot, pass and dribble
  • The game is faster and less predictable (due to the 24-second shot clock). And with technology, there is no hiding or secrets (e.g. strategy/tactics, personnel, etc.)

AM: On centralization

  • All 12 players for AUS were from the Australia Institute of Sport (AIS). (The AIS leads the development of elite sport in Australia and is widely acknowledged internationally as a world best practice model for elite athlete development.)
  • RUS, Cuba, BRA and France all have centralized programs for their athlete development

AM: On mental toughness

  • We (and I’m inferring that she means: parents, coaches, teachers, etc.) are creating a society of wimps (!) … (SB: She specifically references “A Nation of Wimps.” If you haven’t already, it’s well worth the time and read! I’ve given this to parents of high performance athletes too. Something to think about… we, as coaches, must also spend time teaching parents how to parent an ‘elite athlete.’ A conversation for later…)
  • Kids need BIG VISION, but they must be willing to work at it
    • (SB: I want to expand on this a little as Allison did talk more on the topic of mental toughnessin later conversations…) She had some wonderful points:
      • Stop telling athletes that they’re talented … praise improvement as a result of putting in the work
      • ‘Talented’ is not enough! One’s work ethic will determine their ability to achieve to their ‘potential’
      • (SB: Now here’s my favourite notion…) In assessing an athlete, you must understand their CAPACITY TO TRAIN. Can they handle the training load? This is a far greater determiner of long-term improvement… potential, for lack of a better word. (SB: I’ll paraphrase it all as: Talent is a willingness to do the work!)
  • Canadians, in general, are not mentally tough enough (SB: I think simlar thing can be said of athletes AND coaches in many other countries too)
    • Coaches/teachers/parents must stress kids to help them learn to cope

AM: On the highest level of play

  • The highest level of play is not the NCAA. It’s playing for your country. The National Team.
  • We (as in Canadians) must have kids playing professionally if we want success on the international level
  • (SB: Is what you’re doing, right now, preparing your kids to play at the highest level? Or, are you making them the best high school player they can be? College player? What onus do we have to the athletes we’re working with to put them in a position to achieve optimally? Or, are we just getting what we need from these athletes to win another game… championship? I ask myself these questions all the time.)

AM: On defense

  • Defenses are much more physical internationally and less complicated. There are too many games in a short period of time to over complicate things. For instance, at the World Championships, there were 10-games in 12-days.
    • Teams need to determine:
      • How they’re going to play the post
      • How they’re going to defend the ball screen
      • How they’re going to defend penetration
      • And, what their rotation will be out of any of the above

AM: On point guards

  • Teams still have small guards – especially so on the women’s side
    • Speed, skill, toughness and leadership are the most important qualities in a PG
    • Players must be able to make plays at full speed (with contact)
    • Fitness is critical
    • Must have the ability to pass – under contact, at speed, against size
    • Court savvy
    • Shooting ability

Done for now. That was a lot longer than what I thought it would be, but I learned so much from Coach McNeill not just at the Development Forum, but also during the subsequent days together. Big thanks.

The coming blogs will have ideas from Maurizio Gherardini (VP & Assistant GM, Toronto Raptors) on ‘Benetton Treviso – Building the Most Successful Club in Europe’ and Masai Ujiri (Director, Global Scouting, Toronto Raptors) on ‘Emerging Countries – Challenges & Opportunities.’ Lots more to share. /sEf.

Two other things from Coach McNeill that I wanted to pass on (about two great Canadians in the basketball world):

  1. Ken Shields (former head coach, Canadian National Team; widely regarded internationally as one of the top basketball minds) commented, to the effect: “Athletes used to come to the gym to train, now they come to be
    trained.” That is a poignant comment. Think about it. Not as an indictment of today’s athlete, but more so from the perspective of how you can affect change in that type of a mindset.
  2. Jay Triano (Assistant Coach, Toronto Raptors; former head coach and player, Canadian National Team; drafted in 1981 by the Los Angeles Lakers) apparently used to have a sign in his locker when he was an athlete that read: “Some where, someone is still practicing.” Huh… If people knew how hard they work, their mastery wouldn’t seem so wonderful. It would seem like what it is: Hard work! 😉

UPDATE – Coach McNeill has a great blog of her own that recently launched on Canada Basketball’s website… check it out here: Beyond the Court by Allison McNeill