Screen left, screen left! Switch! Outlet! Good shot! Talking on the basketball court is essential if you want to take your game to the next level. A team is a cohesive unit and each player serves as the other four player’s eyes and ears. Forwards have to call out the oncoming screen for a guard. Two players have to communicate on a defensive switch. For the aspiring college athlete; coaches love a player who constantly communicates with his teammates in a positive, concise manner. Also, your teammates can always use some positive reinforcement and encouragement. Talking is no substitute for fundamentals. It wont make you a great defender or a knock down shooter. However, it will absolutely accentuate the ability you do have. In this week's Teammate-Ology blog we will discuss what great talkers look like on both offense and defense and provide real life examples of how great teammates communicate on court.
Talking On Offense
Talking is almost exclusively associated with the defensive side of the court. While it is absolutely essential on defense I believe talking on offense is understated. Talking on offense generally falls into two different categories; game planning and picking your teammates up with positive talk. Implementing these principles into your game will help you stay mentally engaged in competition.
Your coaches can give you plays and even a game plan and players should be fully aware of how the coach expects them to face a given opponent. Are we forcing a given player to their left hand? Have you been commissioned to limit how often a key player touches the ball? This is a part of the game plan that a coach will give you. But the great thing about basketball is that you have to think on the fly. You can’t be a robot out there. As a player it’s your job to recognize what the defense is doing whether it's a mismatch inside or even a defensive scheme being used by an opponent. Once you recognize what the defense is doing communicate the necessary adjustments with your teammates. Depending on the level at which you play, it may not be your job to make the adjustments. Talk to your coach about it, they will appreciate the fact that you recognized and communicated to them. This is why I love seeing college teams huddle up and talk during dead balls and free throws. They're just making sure everyone is on the same page which is an essential part of the game. Great teammates are always talking and looking for weaknesses in the defense.
Picking Your Teammates Up
As players it’s easy to get down on yourself. Nobody really needs to hear what they did wrong from their teammates. That’s the coaches job. If there’s something a teammate needs to do on the court always remember to be solution oriented. Players likely know when they made a mistake. No need to dwell on these issues. When your teammate makes a mistake pick them up; “It’s ok, next play.” “You will make the next one.” “You got this.” “Great shot.” It’s your job as a great teammate to help them stay confident. Always be moving forward. Always be encouraging.
Once you implement the positive talk into your teammates you will notice a difference in how they respond to you. That's a great way to build trust. No matter if a player made a great play or an awful play, pick them up. This type of energy is a necessary ingredient to every successful team.
Note: Watch any good team play. No matter if things are going good or bad you will notice that they are always encouraging and picking each other up. A few weeks ago the San Antonio Spurs lost to the Golden State Warriors after missing a last second potential game winner. I was surprised to see that Spurs players didn't blink an eye after the miss. They proceeded clapping and high-fiving their teammate who missed the shot. Conversely, when a bad team is struck with adversity they hang their heads. You may see players body language change or even yell at each other. Stay positive no matter what the situation.
Talking On Defense
Coaches can’t be fooled and neither can a good offensive player. Talking on defense is not about the hype of empty words and unnecessary theatrics. This is fake. Talking on defense is like directing traffic. Five players on one accord communicating to derail the opponent with purpose and meaning. There is no substitute for being down in stance and fully engaged on the defensive end of the court. As a defender you have to know your opponent and be prepared for what they will do to beat you. With that said, a great defense is ignited by the communication of the players. Talking promotes trust amongst teammates. It lets your teammates know that you have got their back. Talking can even mask mistakes made by players in real time. This is absolutely non-negotiable for bigs. Bigs see the entire floor and it's their responsibility to speak to the guards so they can be fully engaged on the perimeter. Kevin Garnett was amazing at this. His intensity was unreal. He raised the level of every single one of his teammates through talking, directing traffic and sacrificing his body defensively.
How’s your communication?
From a players perspective you have to make a conscious decision to talk on the court. Talking takes energy and effort. It can be emotional. When things are going great it’s much easier to talk. The real test is when you’re fatigued, or when things generally aren’t going in your favor. Then you need to lock in and make the conscious effort to continue to talk. Over time you will notice your energy level will increase as well as how your teammates respond to you. Remember that positive talk empowers your teammates. Everyone needs this from time to time.
As coaches we must teach our players the benefit of talking and hold them accountable as early as possible. It’s far easier to teach a young player to play the right way early on rather than trying to fix bad habits later down the line.
This week I wanted to share the experience of a good friend of mine. NBA Skills Trainer and member of the 2009 NCAA National Champion North Carolina Tarheels, Mark Campbell. Mark is one of the the few people I know that watches more basketball than I do. I asked him who the best teammate he ever played with was. Without hesitation Mark answered, “Danny Green” of the San Antonio Spurs. He sited Green’s voice and positivity as the reason why. Danny Green is a veteran and an NBA Champ. Surely Mark would rave about Green’s shooting or his defensive ability. He described him as smart, talented and ultimately unselfish. Describing his effect on the game Mark said Green’s talk on the defensive end was like nothing he had ever seen before. It became contagious and really easy for everyone to get on board. Green led UNC to an NCAA Championship in 2009.
When you think about Danny Green as a player think about the fact that he’s played for the San Antonio Spurs organization for 8 years now. A world class organization considered among the cream of the crop in the NBA and he’s started for the majority of his time there. He has the reputation of both a knock down shooter and one of the best defenders at his position. In the playoffs over the years Greg Popovich, arguably the best coach in the history of the NBA, has trusted him to defend players like Kobe Bryant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard and more. Here we have a first hand account of one of his college teammates saying that his voice and his positivity where among the things that stood out with Green. That’s why it’s important that we, as players and coaches, remember that it’s important to hone our skills. But it’s essential that we develop as teammates as well. These skills carry over into life.
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