Friday, April 6, 2012

Fundamentals ... Who? When? Where? Why? What?

"The minute you get away from fundamentals – whether its proper technique, work ethic or mental preparation – the bottom can fall out of your game, your schoolwork, your job, whatever you’re doing.”  Michael Jordan, basketball player

“Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. You’ve got to get the fundamentals down because otherwise the fancy stuff isn’t going to work.”  Randy Pausch, "The Last Lecture"

"You have to learn the basics of your instrument. It is like sports: if you don`t have the fundamentals, you don`t get very far. Natural talent will only carry you so far."  Steve Wilson, British TV personality.

One of my personal favourite moments in terms of coaching and sports was when a parent went up to my son's Novice hockey coach roughly 10 years ago to press him on a concern.  He was a self-declared hockey expert and asked the coach why the team never works on a break-out drill.  The coach looked at him and replied "Well, very few of the kids can accurately pass the puck out from behind the net to the end of the blue line, so we need to learn that. Of the ones that can, they don't pass it hard enough and few of the kids know how to receive a puck coming at that speed on an angle coming from behind, so we need to learn that too."  This coach spent most of his sessions skating and puck handling.  The players were 7 and 8 years old.

The fact is fundamentals have to be a very big part of every program.  Even NHL players continue to work on their skating, footballers on dribbling/passing and baseball players on fielding grounders.  It's silly to think your team is past the point of working on fundamentals.

But we occasionally hit a problem with some coaches.

New methods in training are developed as we gain more intelligence about our sport, but sometimes coaches think that the new method replaces all other types of sessions.  An example is delivering a session using GAG methodology (Game-Activity-Game) .  GAG is great and I use it often, but raw technique still has to be taught.

GAG is being explained and demonstrated through the new community coaching curriculum in Canada.  But remember, it's not the entire session.  There is a warm-up portion where physical movements and fundamental ball exercises can be presented.
"The fact is fundamentals have to be a very big part of every program."
Most coaches only see their players for 1-2 sessions/week plus a game.  You need to teach them technique and the game.  And don't forget physical literacy and Agility-Balance-Control!  They don't play enough on the street so they don't get enough touches and game exposure.  So now what?  How do we get them their touches?

Some suggestions:
  • Run the occasional session where you run through several technical sequences with deeper coaching, then have a small sided game at the end.  Your Small-Sided-Game can still have a theme and ideas can be introduced.  Keep the fundamental exercises enjoyable and progressive.
  • Use the "warm-up" portion of a GAG session to give the players their deeper coaching and repetition in techniques.
  • Use the warm-up before your game to work on technique followed by an enjoyable and purposeful small-sided game before kick off.
  • If you have a good technical coach on your staff, send players over in small groups during training for more a personal level of instruction and refinement.
  • Conditions in your Small-Sided-Game can bring out more frequent use of certain techniques.
  • Make it fun.  Certain contests and games can directly tie success to the perfect execution of a specific technique.  Dribbling relays, consecutive successful passes, shooting games, etc.
  • Share the success indicators of a technique with the players so they can coach themselves to some degree.  Ex: if a short pass bobbles or pops up they know they hit the wrong part of the ball, if a ball is played through their legs then they know they were too square when defending, etc
  • Give them fun activities to do on their own before training as players arrive, by their own choice.  Large group keep away with 1/2/3 players in middle, crosses into the penalty area, skill challenges, "World Cup", etc.
New coaches need to remember, first and foremost, do not get frustrated with how a game is played without knowing the building blocks of what you want them to do and if they know how to execute those building blocks.  
Before we become tacticians and present our young players to the world on a full size field, there is lots to learn:
  • Fundamental movements (Physical literacy)
  • Fundamental attitudes (in possession, defending, transition, down 1 goal, up 1 goal, etc)
  • Mastery of fundamental ball techniques ("drills", exercises, activities, contests)
  • Fundamental principles of play and decision making (Small sided games)
So the questions are:

Who? Everybody

When? As often as possible 

What? Everything that is a building block to "big picture" ideas and interplay with other players

Why? Read everything above :)

Where? At training field, on-field during game warm-up, watching games lives, video review, etc.

How? Know your session topic, keep it enjoyable, focused, progressive and with definite indicators of success.