Why the "Starting 5" is Dead.

Why the "Starting 5" is Dead.

Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece about why I believe the starting 5 is not an effective strategy at the junior level for development. It may not apply to all circumstances, but I believe the underlying idea behind why it is so, is extremely important for the future of all junior athletes. 

At some point during the try-out process when teams are being assembled at the beginning of the season, coaches start to identify who their strongest players are. Whether it be through attributes such as athleticism, scoring ability, ball handling, shooting proficiency, defense, etc. Generally, the top 5 players the team with a combination of those attributes in reference to the 5 positions on the court, will make up a coaches go-to Starting 5. It sometimes takes a bit of trial and error regarding who works well with each other, but all in all, most coaches have this figured out by midway through grading, and stick with it. And this is where the problem begins.

Young athletes these days are more aware and emotionally intelligent than most of us adults realise. They can pick up on how you are feeling not just by what you say, but how you act, the tone of your voice, and your general body language. So when a coach makes his decision on who their "Starting 5" is, and starts to run with it game after game, it leaves the athletes on the bench feeling inadequate, second best, and without realising, self-doubt starts to creep in. This means when some players come off the bench, they feel an immense amount of pressure to perform. They believe that if they don't, they will be subbed off, feel as if they let the team down, and consequently start to fall down a vicious cycle of fear, anxiety, and lower self-worth. This ultimately leads to a game day performance that is not a true representation of the athletes full potential, adding to the emotional self-battering they are already giving themselves, and making it even harder for the coach to want to put them on the floor.

The solution? Scrap the Starting 5. "Scrap the Starting 5?!" you say, "YES!" I say, and the reasoning behind it is pretty straightforward. 

In most teams, the strongest player shouldn't be THAT much better than the weakest player at the beginning of the season. After all, that is why we have try-outs. When teams scrimmage 5 on 5 at training, or do any competitive drills for that matter, very rarely have I seen one team dominate a drill so much that they are head and shoulders above the other, which shows that there shouldn't be too much of a gap between the players in a team. So why is it that on game day, coaches decide that a specific 5 players must consistently take the floor to start every game? 

I believe that the best teams are the teams that can truly go 10 deep, and here are some reasons why: 

  1. They have more than just one player doing all the scoring, which means you can't just shut them down to win the game.
  2. They are less tired and fatigued in the dying minutes of the game and therefore make better decisions in pressure situations.
  3. They are adaptive in their lineups and can find matchups that work in their favour.
  4. They bring more energy, confidence, and enthusiasm because they are all focused on the same goal and not distracted by anxiety, stress or ranking within the team. The thinking changes from "ME" to "WE."
  5. If players are injured or sick, it does not leave the team exposed, substantially weaker, and they can remain competitive.

Sounds pretty good right? Well, the only way to truly do this is to make sure that the "weakest" player, has just as much confidence in themselves as the "strongest" player. It means that everyone feels they are of the same worth to the team as each other, and most of all, that they all feel as though they have the coaches trust. 

This idea of having the same "Starting 5" week in week out is archaic, and should only really be applied at the professional levels where winning is everything. As junior coaches, our first and foremost role is PLAYER DEVELOPMENT, not winning. Even if you are a 1's team, I still don't believe that winning should be at the top of your list of achievements for the season. It may hold more importance than the lower teams in your age group, but ensuring that each and every player in your team is given the opportunity to learn, grow, and play the sport they love without feeling crushed by expectation, anxiety, and stress, should be a coach's top priority. And the only way to do this, is to prove to your athletes that you trust them. You allow them to make mistakes to learn from them rather than punish them, and you afford them the opportunities to play the game we all love.

So next season when games begin again, give everyone the opportunity to be in the starting 5 and see how much of a difference it will make by the end of the season.


*Obviously, there are circumstances where you can’t start some players; if they are sick, they have missed training or don’t train hard etc.
Some players actually prefer coming off the bench, and that is fine, just make sure its not a confidence issue.
You don't have to change the starting 5 EVERY week, but keeping the players guessing can help improve the confidence of weaker players, and keep the stronger players accountable and "on their toes."
Another way coaches can do this is to ensure court time is spread as even as possible - more on this later.

Tips for a Successful Try Out Period

Tips for a Successful Try Out Period

Try outs can often be a nerve racking time for many. For some, this may be your first time going through the selection process, for others you may be a seasoned athlete with numerous years under your belt. Either way, tryouts can often be a difficult situation for athletes to stand out, too often the pressure to perform over just a few hours can be overwhelming so making sure you are best prepared for them can be quite beneficial. 

Here are some tips and thoughts to best to prepare and navigate tryouts:

For the weeks leading up to try outs, what you put into your body is important just like getting some quality sleep can lead to better performance.

First impressions are everything when you only have a short amount of time to stand out. Arrive early, get signed in, lace up and roll/do the CORE ADVANTAGE warm up series (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbZZPHn7NnQ&t=22s. Arriving late to try out never bodes well for any one, can often increase stress levels and create a poor first impression.

Be the first person in when the coach blows the whistle, Be the first to set up a drill and run when moving between drills or drink breaks.

Coaches will often say what they are looking for when it comes down to it throughout the session, so just paying attention can be quite advantageous. This also means asking questions if you don’t understand something (be sure to have been listening before). Chances are if you don’t understand the instructions, someone else might not so be speaking up and asking questions can show confidence.

Play to your strengths. For example, if you don’t shoot 3’s well, don’t go shooting them when playing.

Hustle is something we can each control, so show off your HUSTLE! We all have some form of hustle, so be sure to get after the ball on defence, bring energy, talk often and fight for loose balls.

We all make mistakes, we are human. Don’t let it affect how you go about the next possession or next drill. Hold your head high and keep competing. 

While tryouts are often made up of different individuals, usually at some point you scrimmage 5vs5 and there is only 1 basketball on the court at a time so you actually get to spend very little time with the ball in your hands, but you get to spend about HALF your time playing defence so use that time effectively! TALK OFTEN AND EARLY! REBOUND!  

Try outs are a difficult time for everyone involved so always be respectful to the coaches and the other athletes. 

Good luck!

Junior athlete to Pro: The most important thing.

Junior athlete to Pro: The most important thing.

When I was growing up, from a very young age I was introduced to tennis. I really enjoyed it, and what wasn’t to enjoy, getting to just belt a couple of forehands over the net as hard as possible is something that most boys find entertaining. After a while, the practices started to add up and I actually became quite good. Within 3 years, I went from training once a week on a Saturday morning, to training 6 days a week, playing in the state development squad, and playing 2 match days, with tournaments on top of all of that. My life was tennis. After about a year of a full schedule, I started getting bored. Tennis became a chore. I remember waking up and pretending I was sick so I could miss a session, I was getting more frustrated than normal if I wasn’t playing well, and it even got to the point where as I would swap sides on the 3rd game, I would tell my opponent I would let him win 6-4 and we would just rally for 20 mins so I could just get out of there. Soon after, I remember coming home from school after a rough day, and I was lying on my bed when dad walked in and told me to get ready for training, I broke down and after gathering myself I said - “I want to quit.”

At the time, I could never really put my finger on why I grew this hatred for tennis, tennis as just a part of life for me, but looking back now it all makes sense. My dad, who is an unbelievable man, is a go getter. He was a professional track athlete and absolutely loved tennis, playing it regularly as a hobby. Once he saw I had a knack for it, he started signing me up for more training sessions and competitions, without even really asking me. There was never a time where I asked to go to an extra training, or when I asked to play in a higher division, or even want to go and have a hit in my own time. And don’t get me wrong, he was only doing what he thought was best for me, but the want to play tennis and to pursue as a career never came from me, it came from him.

Now, as an adult, looking back on my experience growing up, I have come to understand the most important thing that separates the athletes who make it to the professional leagues, and the ones who don’t, isn’t the amount of trainings they do per week, or the club they played for, or even the coaches they were taught by. The thing that separates the kids who make it and the kids who don’t, is their love for the game. The more fun and enjoyment they get from playing basketball, the more they will want to play and the more they will have the ball in their hands outside of trainings and games - and that’s what matters most. I have coached two girls for almost four years now, and they are incredibly skilled. They have hardly done any extra training or camps, they started playing rep ball when they were top age 12’s, and the only reason why they are better than most kids at their age is because they love basketball so damn much that all you can hear around their house is the sound of basketballs hitting the concrete any chance they get.

It is so important as coaches and parents that we remember this and apply it to our training sessions, games, and car rides home after games. By all means, open as many doors of opportunity as possible, but trust in them to decide whether they walk through them. Your best bet at giving a child the best chance of pursuing a professional sport, is not to force them into training sessions and games they don’t want to play, but to make sure every time they pick up a ball they are having fun and increasing their love for the game and allow for their passion to dictate their growth, not ours.


Easy Steps to Increase Your Vertical Leap

Easy Steps to Increase Your Vertical Leap

There are a bunch of people making a lot of money online selling courses that promise astronomical vertical leap improvements (for a price). These programs are generally pretty risky for young athletes, with a range of failures. They fail to account your current playing and training volumes, they don't address any underlying individual biomechanical or postural weaknesses, and they are saturated with high intensity plyometric drills, which is crazy given most junior basketballers are already overloaded for plyo's as it is.

Why Girls are Playing catch-up in junior Basketball

Why Girls are Playing catch-up in junior Basketball

When I was a 12 years old, every recess and lunch I would play basketball (1.5 hours x 5). When I would get home after school, I would shoot around pretending to be Michael Jordan for an hour (1 hour x 5). When I got to trainings, I would get on the court as quick as I could so I could practice crazy shots or trying to touch the rim with my teammates until training started (10 mins x 3). On the weekends, my friends and I would play 1v1, 2v2 or 3v3 at the local primary school or in someones backyard for hours on end(2-3 hours). This means every week, I would be playing basketball a minimum of 15 hours outside of any formal training. That means over a school year, I had a basketball in my hands for approximately 630 hours on top of training and games.