Slumps happen. They are as inexplicable as they are inevitable. Often we have no idea how they happen or why they stop, and usually it seems to be outside of our control. For me, it happened in one of the most important games I ever played in college. It was our conference championship game, and if we won, we would earn a berth in the national tournament.
For all the complaining that players are apt to do about not getting the ball enough, one of the biggest faults of most players is their failure to come to the ball against pressure. “Hiding” is more relaxing, and that is what players tend to do. They get 25-40 feet from the ball, and they stand there waiting for it to be thrown. Sometimes, they even wave their arms and frown, but whether they know it or not, they are hiding.
In 2002 I chose to transfer from my first college to the University of Alberta, a team I thought could win the National Championship. The U of A had won it all the previous year, and I wanted to win badly. I knew they were returning all five starters, but I believed in my skills and my work ethic. I knew I could break into the starting line up.
When you are guarding a stronger player, especially when he has the ball, how do you combat his pivots and his movement to the basket? How do you stay close to him and apply pressure without getting an apparently accidental elbow in your eye? It can be very difficult to apply pressure and hold your ground unless you can protect yourself in the process. Protecting yourself is the key ingredient, because no player is permitted to make contact intentionally. Intentional contact will result in a foul and a turnover, so a strong player who uses his strength merely to run over you or push you is of no particular concern. He is a poor player and will soon be out of the game. The problem is with the good player with strength, more strength than you.
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Process. Process. Process. You have probably heard it thrown around in the last several years when it comes to sports teams and their approach to success. It’s a “buzz word” that a lot of well-known coaches refer to all the time. Recently, I had the opportunity to hear one of these coaches, former Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith, talk about this idea of process. What he said blew me away.
Coaches always urge, “Hands up!” so their players will distract the offense and deflect passes, and players prefer to play with their hands at their sides. Because it is easier to move with hands at your side. (Sprinters don’t raise their hands until they cross the finish line.) In guarding the ball, there are times to play with hands down and times to play with a hand up. If you are guarding a dribbler, your hands need not be up, they should be down faking at the ball or helping your body stay in good position, on balance.
Do you ever feel like your performance in games is consistently inconsistent? That you’re putting in the same hard work at practice every day, yet some days you play really well and others you don’t play well at all? If that’s you, you’re not alone. If that’s not you, don’t worry—the frustration is coming soon!
No one is quite sure about how a player is supposed to act after a loss. It doesn’t seem necessary to cry for a week, especially since you are likely to have another game within that time. Yet, it doesn’t seem quite right to walk off the court laughing either. Naturally, some losses will be more bothersome than others, and, just as naturally, every player will lose sometimes. Therefore, it seems intelligent to prepare a response in advance for those unhappy times when the inevitable happens, you lose.