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The Mental Side of Training a Basketball Player

Last week, I wrote about dribbling drills & point guards and referenced Rus Bradburd’s article about training Jerryd Bayless.

Bradburd describes the process of training a player:

I had no choice but to experiment with failure. But how would Bayless respond to drills that involved precise footwork and coordination that might make him look clunky? I was going to put him through a maze of exercises involving hand quickness, reflexes, agility and timing. What would his reaction be when I asked him to let himself proceed making embarrassing mistakes?

Nearly every NBA player swaggers with confidence, a cocksuredness that is only sometimes deserved. That’s a given. But the players who continue to improve, even after they’re in the League, seem to me to have a balance: arrogance and humility. Could Bayless balance the two?

One of the greatest challenges in coaching and training players is to create this balance. This is not a basketball knowledge issue, but an ability to get to know a player and understand his psyche. Bradburd’s article illustrates a great awareness of Bayless, his background and his personality, similar to the awareness Idan Ravin illustrated in Chris Ballard’s “The Hoops Whisperer.”

“To be successful, Ravin realized, he had to see the world through each player’s eyes. ‘The biggest mistake you can make is thinking these guys are stupid and inarticulate,’ he says. ‘Whatever language they speak, they speak it well. And it’s not incumbent on them to understand me; it’s up to me to understand them.’

His approach was evident in the different ways he communicated with McClinton and Young during their workouts. McClinton was eager and unafraid to fail; Young was more guarded. ‘It’s just how each guy learns,’ says Ravin. ‘With McClinton, I can give him the whole palatter right away, and he’ll dig in. With Young, I just need to cut up the steak bite by bite. And it’s up to me to figure that out.'”

That is the true talent of the top trainers. Everyone does the same drills or variations of the same drills. However, different trainers get different results (coaches too). Why? Because of their ability to reach, motivate and listen to the athlete.

As Ravin says earlier in the article, it’s not rocket science. However, to train successfully, you have to be able to make that connection so you understand what the player needs and how you can get the most out of the player because at the end of the day, training is about the client’s success, not the trainer’s.