Building A Small School Program – Part 5

At the 4A level and below, I believe having an off-season basketball program is crucial to having success.  I know this is a battle at some schools for various reasons and I’ve already discussed the criteria for making the case for having offseason basketball.  If this is not part of the program at your school, I believe it is worth the fight to change it.  As the head basketball coach, it was my job to fight for my sport to have an equal opportunity for success….not an advantage, just an equal chance.  In this installment of Building A Small School Program, I will discuss the significance of having offseason basketball.

If you look back over the history of Class 3A (formerly 2A) basketball in Texas, I believe you will see a pattern over the past 25 years.  Historically, the State Champion in this classification has most often either been a straight basketball school (usually from Region 1 or 2) such as Krum, Peaster, Brock, or Ponder or a school with superior athleticism (usually from Region 3) such as Kountze, Arp, Troup, and Brownfield.  Though all of those straight basketball schools mentioned have either added football over the past few years or are in the process of doing so, the majority of their basketball championships were won prior to football being offered.  Accordingly, those schools with tremendous athleticism also had a very high skill level as well.

For schools, such as White Oak, that don’t fit into either of these categories, I believe offseason basketball is necessary to give your program a fighting chance. For any program to succeed, you must have a nucleus of players who are willing to invest wholeheartedly in your program.  It may not be the only sport they play, but it is their first love and the one they will put priority on.  At White Oak, most of the time, it is this type of player who was in our offseason basketball program.  As I’ve stated in other entries, we only got the players in offseason who loved the game and were willing to make a substantial investment in our program.  

In the fall, I broke our offseason into 3 phases. Phase 1 was a 3 week period of strength and conditioning which consisted of a mile run on the track, bleachers, sprints, and weights.  We charted our results in the weight room and on the track.  At the conclusion of Phase 1, we would evaluate how each player had performed that year and compared their results to previous years.  We kept offseason records by individual and by each year to use as a comparison as well as for goal setting. We also used a formula to create a SAC (Strength & Conditioning) score for each player.  We post such records as The Best of the Best (top 10 all time avg. mile time) and the Elite 8 (top 8 all time SAC scores) in order to challenge our players to compete with the best that had come through our program.  Numbers and times don’t always tell the entire story, but numbers don’t lie.  Phase 1 set the tone for our entire offseason program.  It built mental toughness and pushed our players to their limit along with creating the attitude which drove the culture of our program.  

In phase 2, we spent 4 days per week in the gym, normally splitting the court with our HS girls offseason.  All of our gym days were in our old middle school gym which has no air conditioning.  In August, September, and October, you go outside to cool off…it’s known as the Hot Box for a reason! Phase 2 was a 2 week period in which we spent our time on offensive and defensive fundamentals 4 days per week while lifting on Fridays which were Pep Rally days.  Our kids were encouraged to lift 2 days per week on their own during Phase 2 and we had open gym 1 day per week along with beginning our fall league schedule which was 1 day per week.  Our football players did not participate in fall league.

In phase 3, which was a 4 week period, we started to incorporate our offensive concepts 2 days per week and defensive concepts 2 days per week along with weights on Friday.  We continued to have fall league 1 night per week, open gym 1 day per week, and encouraged them to lift on 2 other days.  By the time we begin after school practice, we had introduced all of our base offensive and defensive concepts along with the drills to break down these concepts.  We wanted to be able to move at a fast tempo once after school practice began, so most of our teaching was done during offseason.  

One of the major challenges of fall offseason was incorporating our freshmen into the mix, since I had 9-12 in the same athletic period and I was the only coach.  The gap between our freshman and 10-12 graders was normally substantial, and rightfully so because of our junior high philosophy.  So, the following were some of the methods I used to help bridge this gap without slowing down the upper classmen.  1)For players that were not up to par on fundamentals, they would do an individual workout on the side under the watchful eye of one of my managers.  Most of the time, if I had an upperclassman manager who had heard me teach the skills before, they would take great pride in being my “assistant” and do a great job keeping the freshmen on task.  2) Instead of me teaching new drills to the freshmen, I would have the upperclassmen do it then hold them accountable if the freshmen screwed up the drill.  You quickly find out who your leaders are, how much they actually understand, and they gain more respect for being able to teach.  3)  The upperclassmen always knew part of their job was to train the freshman on the White Oak Way.  If freshmen screwed up, the upperclassmen always answered for it first then we all payed the consequences.  I believe this enhanced our leadership and the freshmen learned the valuable trait of being a good follower.

Spring offseason, consisted of mainly strength training until after the district track meet.  At this time, we would continue to strength train 3 days per week but also begin doing individual skill development during athletic period 2 days per week.  Each player had a specific workout tailored to improving various parts of their offensive game and they would normally work in partners during these workouts.  We also began our open gym sessions 4 days per week after the district track meet.  

During spring offseason, I believe it is crucial to respect the sports that are in season.  Since the spring has 4 male sports in season, these sports are all after school sports because of the number of players that participate in multiple spring sports.  It’s important to adjust these players strength workouts during athletic period to allow them to perform their best and to work around their schedules. Communication between coaches and players is crucial during this time of the year as well as supporting the players and teams that are in season.  

I will conclude with 2 general thoughts concerning offseason.  First of all in the fall, if the majority of your players are in offseason, be cautious not to peak too early.  It’s a long season and you want your team to be playing its best during district and the playoffs, not necessarily during tournament season. Finally, be aware of cliques developing between offseason players and the players that come from football.  I always assigned lockers in order to intermingle the 2 groups and I always assigned partners for drill work for the same reason.  The coach must always feel the pulse of the team and avoiding cliques is an important part of building team chemistry.

In summary, I believe offseason basketball is crucial to success in the small school setting but, like any offseason in the small schools, it must be conducted in a manner in which it does not cut the legs out from under other programs and always keeps the overall success of all programs in mind.  

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!

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