Instruction v. Exposure

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For anyone who works with youth sports, particularly high school aged youth sports, you’ve probably heard a player or parent ask: “How can I get more exposure to college coaches?” I believe that we should refocus¬†this question to “Where can I get the best instruction?”

I understand and appreciate the desire to “be seen” by college coaches in your sport. I had the opportunity to play college basketball and it was one of the most impactful and important experiences of my life. I have seen, however, too many families who are only focused on the exposure they are getting once they have made it to high school and have started to dream about the possibility of playing their sport in college. Instead of enjoying the game and improving their skills, they focus on who is watching and how their individual play is being evaluated. Why is this a problem? In order to understand it, it is important to look at the roots of the words “instruction” and “exposure.”

The word instruct is simply defined as “to teach someone a subject or skill.” When you are receiving instruction in your sport a coach or other teacher is spending time teaching you skills important to the game. The environments that this teaching takes place usually are safe places where it is ok to make mistakes, it is ok to stop and discuss things with the teacher, and it is ok to ask questions of others. By nature, a teaching environment does not contain the pressure of a performance environment, thus allowing the student to learn at his or her own pace and focus on improving weaknesses. All too often, when athletes get to the high school level they believe that they don’t really have anything else to learn; they usually know the basics and their physical abilities have made them better than most of their peers. This false sense of security leads players to de-emphasize or completely ignore their need for skill instruction from qualified coaches and teachers of their game. The reality is that as your game advances, it becomes even MORE important to get quality coaching and instruction to get better. One of the coaches that I’ve had the pleasure of working with at the Jay Bilas Skills Camp is Alan Stein and he shared his experience in working with Steph Curry, arguably the most skilled player in the NBA today. Continuing to learn and receive instruction will ensure that you continue to improve your game.

On the contrary, the word expose is defined as “to reveal something hidden.” If you think about this, how often do you really WANT exposure? Players and parents alike think that anything that is providing them exposure to college coaches and scouts is a good thing; the reality is that every one of those “exposure camps” or “exposure events” is designed to reveal something hidden. Every time you play in front of a college coach, they are looking for you to expose your weaknesses. If you can’t guard one on one, that will be exposed. If you aren’t a good teammate or aren’t coachable, that will be exposed. If you are one dimensional in your offensive skills, that will be exposed. The whole purpose of exposure events and the evaluation periods for college coaches is for them to determine which players they are going to spend time pursuing in a more personal manner. The easiest way to shorten that list is for your skills to be exposed in relation to others of your same age group. Once you step between the lines in games at these exposure events, your game is what it is and it will be exposed.

I get it, players and parents still want a chance to play their sport at the college level and our current system relies on exposure events to give college coaches a chance to see players who may be able to play at their level. I’m not suggesting that there is no value to exposure events and that everyone should stop attending them. What I am suggesting is that skill instruction SHOULD NOT BE OVERLOOKED for high school athletes. It isn’t good enough to just get your teaching during your high school season and then go play on a club team or travel team to get exposure. Players who are serious about continuing to improve so that they can COMPETE at the next level, should seek out opportunities for instruction in the off season as well. This might mean choosing a club team or AAU team that is focused on teaching and improving your game. This might mean going to camps where the focus is on improving your skills, not showing off for college coaches. This might mean skipping a few ‘exposure events’ so that you can get some one on one instruction from a qualified teacher of your game. And it definitely means a lot more individual work on your own and small group work with your friends to improve your skills. If you focus more on INSTRUCTION, I can almost guarantee that there will be less to EXPOSE when you’re in front of those college coaches.

Giving Back to Basketball

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The game of basketball has given me an awful lot in my life.

This past weekend, I had a chance to give a little bit back and I’m so glad I did. From Thursday to Sunday I was the Camp Director of the Jay Bilas Skills Camp on the campus of Queens University in Charlotte, NC. Jay and I have gotten to know each other over the past couple of years and decided that we wanted to put together an “old school” basketball skills camp that would provide sound basketball teaching from experienced coaches and competitive environments that maintained the values of the game that we had been taught as young men learning how to play.¬†

On Sunday, as parents were checking out their very tired boys, we heard a lot of great comments about much the guys enjoyed the camp, what they learned, how hard they worked, and how it improved their game on and off the court. For all of our coaches, it was an exhausting camp: they taught stations in the morning, ran competitions all afternoon, and coached 5-on-5 teams every evening before being rewarded by sleeping on a hard dorm mattress! Jay and I got to talking about why these very experienced coaches would do this and I think it is pretty simple…if they are anything like me, they want to give back to the game that has given them so much.

It could probably be argued that nearly everything of value that has happened to me in life has somehow been a result of the game of basketball. As a young man in junior high and high school, the game provided the start of my identity, giving me something to be proud of myself for because I was good at it. It was in the 5th grade when I played on my first school team that I first learned the value of teamwork and the importance of everyone understanding and playing their role. The game of basketball was the first thing that my dad and I really connected over, and it is still an important bond between us 30 years later.

In high school I learned how to really compete for the first time through basketball and the game helped pay for my college education. When I got to college, the game of basketball started to teach me what hard work REALLY was and how hard I was going to have to work to be a champion. During those same college years, basketball brought me teammates who became my best friends, and who 20 years later are the most important men in my life.

After I hung up my jersey for the last time, the game continued to give to me. Basketball provided me a living for 10 years as I coached the game full time at the high school, NCAA Division 3, Division 2, and Division 1 levels. At one of my first stops on that coaching adventure, basketball introduced me to my wife, who was also working in the athletic department and 13 years later, the game is still one of the things we enjoy watching together. During my coaching career, basketball taught me how to sacrifice for something I was passionate about, how to treat people in a professional setting, the importance of relationships to careers, and the reality of life that sometimes you get fired and have to get back up and try again.

It’s been over 6 years since I blew a whistle for a living, but the game has continued to give to me. It has given me the pleasure of watching a great game in person or on tv, it has given me open doors of opportunity in the business world because of relationships within the game, and it has continued to give me the opportunity to teach the game to young people even though I’m not doing it for a living anymore. At this stage in my life, the game has taught me that you can never stop learning new things and the value of giving people an honest evaluation even if they don’t want to hear it.

I’m not pleased with everything about the game of basketball in 2014. It is a different game than when I grew up with different influencers, different expectations, and different motivations for many involved. I don’t like the way AAU basketball has morphed into a big business that has created an environment where it is hard for kids to remember that it is still just a game. I wish players wanted to work on their skills without any prizes or coaches or referees, but that seems to be slipping away. I can’t fix the entire game of basketball, but I can influence the very small corner of the game that I have been given to look after. The game has given me so much that the least I can do is give back to the game in any way I can in that small corner of the basketball world. It is a great game that has made me who I am today.