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Emotion As Part Of The Game

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Emotion As Part Of The Basketball Game
by Sidney Goldstein Copyright © 2003

Often I hear coaches and sports announcers talk about a team playing with or without emotion. The adage, emotion is a big part of the game, if not explicitly stated, is just assumed to be true.

I want to explore how emotion is related to the game and how coaches should use emotion to their advantage and that of the team.
In a psychological sense, emotion is the driving force behind everything that we do. The high school student wanting to be a surgeon studies hard to achieve this goal. Maybe a parent, another family member, or someone he/she looks up to is a doctor. Maybe the image of doctor portrayed on a TV show or just the idea of making a lot of money and being respected is appealing. Whatever the reason, the drive to be a surgeon is an emotional one.

The act of becoming a doctor requires study, which involves the opposite of emotion: calmness. It's difficult to study with anything on the mind. Once a doctor, surgery needs to be performed in a calm, cool, rehearsed and practiced way. Again, emotion gets in the way.
We could talk about the student wanting to become a diamond cutter or any other profession. The desire to make money or do a good job is an emotional one. The act of cutting the diamond requires calm, cool, precision.

So, do we expect basketball players to play with emotion? Can thinking about something emotionally help play? Would emotion get in the way of a last minute shot? Or do we want players performing calm and cool, just like the surgeon and diamond cutter? The bottom line is that emotion gets in the way of proper play. And like the surgeon or diamond cutter, a player needs to play calm, cool and rehearsed.
Here's where many folks get emotion confused with hustle. Do players need to hustle? Of course, but hustle does not involve emotion, it involves practice. So, you need to work on hustle in basketball practice.

And hustle drills should not be a small part of practice. All drills in my books are relegated to one of three levels. Level one drills, which involve working on mechanics of movement, are done slowly. Level two drills involve practice level drills done in a relaxed manner. Game level, level 3, or hustle drills are done all out, full speed. Often you make these drills a bit harder by putting the offense or defense at a disadvantage. Here are a few examples of game level hustle drills. Don't try these drills without understanding the entire offensive or defensive scheme.

1. Catch Up Drill in brief
The offense starts at the top of the key with the ball. The defense starts one step behind. The offense dribbles to the basket for a layup with the defender at the heels. The defense is supposed to catch up, then go 3 feet past the driver before playing defense. No reaching in from the side.

2. Three Yard Drill in brief
One way to do this drill. The offense starts at midcourt without a ball and sprints back and forth as well as side to side. The defender must stay 3 yards from the offense for this 20 second drill.

I want to say a few other things about emotion.
1. Remember that everything you do needs to be emotionally geared to the game. Put tremendous pressure on players at practice, so real game pressure won't effect players.

2. Over emotional displays after a dunk or good play hurt a team because emotion takes the mind off the task at hand. After a dunk players need to sprint back to defense, not do a high five. You are making some big mistakes in practice if players think they have time for high fives.

3. As a coach, one of your toughest jobs is to keep players focused and calm every game, especially before a big game. One, never tell players that this is a big game, that everything including the coach's job depends on it. If you do, then you deserve to loose your job. Players know instinctively when a game is big. They keep track even more than you. Downplay everything, Better yet, don't react at all. Take every game the same way. Before every game talk to each player individually, focusing them on the most important 1 or 2 things.

4. About the coach's emotion at games. From experience, bad experience, I can tell you that if you are emotional, players will sense this, reacting for the worst. I lost 9 out of 9 close games my first year coaching, because when things got tough I yelled louder and jumped higher. I learned my lesson well losing only one close game in the next 7 years at this school.

5. Another example of improper use of emotion, often initiated by the coach, involves the team cheer at the beginning of the game. Players usually from a circle putting hands together giving a big cheer like, "Let's Go". Skip the emotional outburst. Instead, calm players by saying a prayer or something thanking whatever gods that be that you are here, safe, and able to play the great game of basketball.

Your comments are welcome.
Sidney Goldstein, author of The Basketball Coach's Bible and The Basketball Player's Bible, has successfully coached both men's and women's teams over a period of 15 years.

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