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Hoosiers, Basketball Skills In The Movie

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Hoosiers Movie, A Basketball Review
by Sidney Goldstein Copyright © 2002 by Golden Aura Publishing

Today I watched the film Hoosiers for maybe the 5th time always in bits and pieces. I'm always touched when the main character in a film is a big time underdog who overcomes tremendous odds to succeed. If you haven't seen the film, Hoosiers is loosely based on a true story about a Milan HS basketball season. In the movie versions, big time coach, Norman Dale, who becomes a small time coach in Indiana after he is suspended from professional and college coaching for fighting with one of his own players, etc.

He innocuously shows up as coach at Hickory HS in Indiana in yesteryear, (1951) which has a total of 64 boys in the entire school and about 7-8 players on the the team. Using his idiosyncratic coaching methods he heads off career threatening problems with players, the administration, and towns folks to win the Indiana State championship. Along the way we get lots of Norman Dale's (movie character) basketball philosophy and methods. I'll comment about his philosophy.
First, let me say, that the movie is "right on" a lot, that's why I'm discussing matters. Many situations in the movie were probably dramatized and do not accurately represent Mr. Dales (if there is a Norman Dale) or the coaches ideas, but that's all I have to work with.

The right on stuff is incredible. Dale gets his players running, working on footwork and agility, tap dancing in place, and refuses to scrimmage at practice. He works on "popping" chest passes quickly, defensive footwork, and conditioning, running kamikaze drills.
One problem is that a footwork drill shows players sliding their feet. This is an no no. You never slide in basketball because directions changes are quick. If a players feet are together after a slide, then they must move the feet apart before changing direction. This makes a player late. Proper defense involves jump steps where the feet are always in position to run or change direction.
Popping a pass is what I call flicking a pass. And players flick passes using the wrists. The only problem is that nowadays the chest pass is outdated because it can only be used when the defense is far away. With tight defense, passes must be overhead or side passes.

The kamikaze drill where players run back and forth from one line to the next increasing, then decreasing distances can be done more effectively. One, if you want to run this drill, then make players dribble to make it even more difficult. To condition players properly you need more than just aerobic drills, which involve sprinting. Anaerobic drills condition by running 20-40 minutes while performing various ball skills. I call these continuous motion drills, which are the key to any practice because increasing conditioning, increases athleticism which by itself yields better players.

The movie shows many locker room talks, maybe just for dramatic purposes. Regardless, I will comment. In one scene the coach pleads with players and in another he rebukes them. Pleading with players to play right. or rebuking players for not, is a waste of time. Players do whatever a coach teaches in practice; nothing more, nothing less, with one exception. That is when a coach is not teaching at all. These coaches say that they never know what their players are going to do next in a game, putting on the onus on the players. These coaches need to get their practices together.

Another locker room talk myth involves a pep talk. My question is what did you do to get kids depressed? Kids are always up, so the solution to pep talks is to stop doing whatever it is that is depressing the kids!

In one talk before the big game, Dale tells his players not to worry about winning or losing, just play like they do in practice. This is right on. However, as a coach I never would say anything about winning, losing, or the the importance of the game. This psych's kids out! It's like telling someone that a foul shot is worth a million dollars, rather than how to focus on the shot. One thing excites players yielding poor performance, the other calms players down. And yes, players must be calm and focused going into every game, not excited. No cheers in the locker room or when you put your hands together before the tip off. Better to say a prayer of thanks at these times.

Another calming idea: purposefully focus each player on a specific task, two at the most, before the game. Example, you might tell one player to concentrate on boxing out, while telling another to look inside to pass. And, I left out the most important part here, kids keep score as much or even more than you do! They instinctively know the importance of each game. So, talking about it only psych's players out, no other information is transferred.
All in all I love Hoosiers because it shows a coach teaching players, not using them. At one point the coach tells his future star player who has not yet joined the team, that he's not going to recruit him. After this one act of recruitment, he keeps his word, not sending envoys with gifts and messages. Luckily the star joins on his own, deciding that the coach is dedicated and smart, actually saving the coach's job. Your kids will join you too for the learning experience involved in playing basketball, if you dedicate yourself to them and teaching.

A last word about teaching. My best day as a coach was not a day we won a championship or tough game (and there were many), but a day I was actually absent from practice! That's right, I was not there. I had a planned absence, and I didn't coach that day. The previous day I went over the practice with the captain, asking another coach to watch. (It was easier to explain the practice to the player, than to another coach) The report when I returned was that the kids practiced like I was there. And my practices are tough! If the kids join you, then every day at practice is a win. And they will join you, not just show up, if you have something to offer.

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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