By: Coach Sivilis

Confidence and competence in sports are two essential qualities all coaches want their players to have. Not only are these qualities important, they are linked to each other. Confidence aids in competent skill performance and demonstrated competent skill performance builds confidence. This leads to the question of which comes first, confidence or competence? I am not sure, but I do know as a coach it is important I help my players develop both.

1. Demonstrated ability leads to confidence

Skill mastery does not happen overnight. This fact alone makes building confidence through demonstrated ability a challenge for both the coach and the player. When learning a new skill, failure seems to be a player’s constant companion. How can a player be encouraged to work through the learning process with the countless repetitions until mastery, or at least competence, can be demonstrated?

It sounds too simple, but the answer is to be sure to make sure players have a safe environment to fail in while learning the skill and to make sure every day in practice the players do something that is fun for them. If you can find a way to make learning the new skill fun while the players struggle to learn the skill, that is even better.

2. It needs to be safe to fail in practice

Failure is an important experience for players. Players, and teams, must learn to work through failure without a loss of confidence and suffer permanent discouragement. Frustration is OK. So is disappointment at experience failure. What is not acceptable is giving up.

Coaches need to create an environment where failure is not only acceptable in practice, it is expected. Players must be taught failure is part of the learning process, that as individuals and a team, people learn from making mistakes during the learning process. Players need to know repetitions, with feedback and correction following mistakes, followed by repetitions with corrections made is a critical part of the learning process.

Since players consider corrective feedback and instruction to be a form of criticism, they must be taught the need for this type of feedback and the difference between negative criticism, which there is a place for at times, and constructive feedback and instruction. Coach John Wooden was observed by researchers who found 80% of his communication with players involved some form of “criticism.” It was not until after further detailed research that it was discovered the key to Coach Wooden’s approach.

First, Coach Wooden mentioned something the player had done correctly, followed up with the feedback, instruction, criticism or scolding Coach Wooden felt was necessary. This was followed with a reminder of what the player had done correctly and then practice resumed or the player returned to the drill. Some individuals call this approach the “sandwich” approach to providing feedback that is critical. The feedback is “sandwiched” before and after by a positive statement.k

It is also essential coaches work hard to build positive relationships with their players off the court and away from the game. The more players learn their coach cares about them as a person and not just a player, the more willing the player is to listen to the criticism and feedback from their coach.

3. Don’t forget to make it fun!

Coaches, and adults such as parents, often forget one of the main reasons kids play sports is for fun! Working on skills requires thousands of repetitions which can be grueling physically, boring mentally and frustrating when making the same mistake repeatedly. So, it is essential to find ways to make things fun.

This doesn’t mean be silly and waste time. Find ways to make skill work competitive, which players love. Introduce variety in how the skill work is done.

4. Set Goals and Keep Records

Improvement is a powerful motivator! For players to experience the benefits of this type of motivation, there needs to be a combination of goals being set and records being kept. Players love to look at their daily data as its posted and to monitor their progress. This data can also serve as a valuable teaching tool for the coaching staff.

As much as we as coaches would like to control the progress of the player’s skill development, when it comes time to set goals, deadlines and targets, we need to let the players be in control of this part of the process and limit our involvement to teaching players how the goal setting process works, what is expected of them and to provide some broad and general guidance in determining the goals the player will set.

Why not set the goals for the players? It is a well researched fact goals set by individuals other than the individual who must achieve the goal have little or no motivational impact on the performer. So long as the established goals are realistic, fit the criteria established by the coaching staff and are challenging, let the players control this part of the process.

Why is keeping records and posting the data so important? This is one of the ways improvement can be monitored and measured. It is also a way players can DEMONSTRATE their skill development. Records are tangible proof of the demonstration of the ability to perform the skill. This makes the records and data shown an important ingredient in helping players build their confidence.

Point Guard Example

Pushing the ball up the court as quickly possible with as few dribbles as possible is a critical skill for point guards on fast break teams. Believe it or not, players, including girls, can do this in a minimum of four dribbles without traveling and truly gifted point guards love the challenge of trying to take the ball to the rim in three dribbles without traveling. Players initially will resist the idea they can cover so much of the court in so few dribbles, but by measuring their attempts and charting data, it becomes a challenging game for them, even if the only person the point guard is competing with is him/herself. Three concepts are stressed in this drill: four dribbles to the rim, use an arm bar and maintain the line of attack.

Four Dribbles to the Rim

Ball handlers should always be as efficient as possible with the use of the dribble. Just as the ball handler should drive from the 3-point line to the rim in one dribble, the ball handler should advance the ball up the court with the fewest number of dribbles possible.

An aggressive ball handler running at maximum speed can advance the ball up the court in four dribbles. Players who are not able to do this should work to develop this skill. Ball handlers who can advance the ball with just four dribbles are extremely difficult for the defense to stop in the open floor. This minimalist approach to advancing the ball with the dribble is not only difficult to defend, it creates numerous scoring and passing opportunities. Weaker ball handlers, high school girls and middle school players should set an initial goal of five dribbles.

Use an Arm Bar

Photograph by Dave Shutts Photograph by Jeremy Yutzy 1024x610 Confidence and Competence, Failure and FunBall handlers must protect the ball at all times. The best way to protect the ball while dribbling is to combine the use of an arm bar with placing the ball handler’s body between the ball and a defender.

The ball handler should not use the arm bar to push a defender’s hand away from the ball. Instead, the arm bar should be rigid. When the defender reaches for the ball and comes into contact with the arm bar, the effect should be like bumping into a wall. The rigidity of the arm bar serves to keep the defender away from the ball.

If the defender increases the pressure against the arm bar, the ball handler increases the force required to keep the arm bar stationary. The ball handler does not push back in this instance. The photos below demonstrate the proper positioning of an arm bar to protect the ball. Note in both examples the ball handler has positioned her body in such a way that her body will be between the ball and the defender with the arm bar serving as additional protection for the ball.

Maintain the Line of Attack

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. For a point guard, this straight line is the line of attack. It starts with the outlet area and finishes at the rim.

The point guard rushes the ball up the court on the line of attack or as close to it as the d

efense allows and returns to the line of attack as quickly as possible after deviating from it (Diagrams A and B). This concept emphasizes to a point guard the best, and quickest, route to rush the ball up the court for the fast break.

Four Dribble Attack Lay-ups

The purpose of this simple drill is to develop a point guard’s ability to start from a designated outlet area, turn, look, observe, decide and act, and attack the rim for a lay-up with as few dribbles as possible. The ideal is to be able to execute this in just four dribbles. Work from both sides of the floor. The chart below shows a total of 100 attempts, 50 with each hand and adding a dribble move for the last set of 10 reps each hand. This is an exhausting drill so you will want to start with just five reps and have the players work up to 10 lay-ups in each set.

n the example provided, this drill is being used in off-season work or during point guard developmental practice time. Note the player in the example was far from perfect. That’s OK during the off-season. It should also be noted the player also made attempts at attacking the rim with only three dribbles, something that should be encouraged. By pushing the envelope and failing, the player will improve at the important skill, getting to the rim in four or five dribbles in a game.

Every point guard I have ever coached became very determined to be able to improve in this skill area. When you see your point guards congregating at the outlet area, each with a ball, before practice you know what they are about to start working on, on their own. The challenge of the skill, combined with the record keeping aspect, make this a fun challenge for them. They are willing to fail at difficult attempts because the more they practice this skill, the closer they get to achieving the “impossible,” making lay-ups with only three dribbles!

Note, as part of the goal setting process, the player should not try to make 10 out of 10 attempts (or 5 out of 5) early on. The player needs some margin for error and a reasonable chance for some initial success. Very quickly the players will become bored with the greater number of dribbles and start challenging themselves with the lower number of dribbles.

This is a great drill because it requires the skill to be executed at game speed in order to reduce the number of dribbles used.

Update Goals and Standards

As players improve, goals need to be updated and new standards set. In the example provided, the player should increase the number of makes they want to make at each number of dribbles or the player could eliminate the 6 dribble level altogether in order to make the task more challenging.

As the players improve in this skill and are able to track their progress, an interesting phenomenon will take place. The point guards will start to use this skill in live game settings in practice, particularly if the coaching staff constantly makes dribble use rules a point of emphasis.

And there you have it. A simple example of how to work with your players on skill development, introducing failure in the process, making an otherwise boring task fun and helping your players to build REAL confidence due to demonstrated ability.

Summary of Key Concepts:

  • Confidence and competence are tied together
  • Demonstrated ability builds confidence
  • Players must feel it is safe to fail in practice
  • Off the court relationships are key to players accepting criticism on the court
  • Find ways to make things fun
  • Set goals and keep records
  • Update goals and standards

Source: Steve Nash Youth Basketball Blog
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