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Olympic Failure 2004

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Olympic Basketball Failure 2004
by Sidney Goldstein Copyright © 2004

My first response to the poor performance of the men's US Olympic Basketball team is, "So what's new?" Has anyone watched an NBA game lately? The lack of teamwork and poor basic skills is surprising, especially considering the remarkable talent. So why is everyone so phased by this, what I call, par normal performance at the Olympics?
Simple, we lost! If we won, who would care about quality of play?

NBA coverage during the pro season provides plenty of opportunities to talk about poor play, including lack of team work, palming and walking violations, and so on, which seem to be accepted as norms. Refs even adjust calls in order to overlook the lack of fundamentals. So it is in college, high school, and below as well. But alas, one of our teams always wins in the NBA. Not so at the Olympics.

Not only did the US lose at the Olympics, but opponents actually played team basketball, making the US look real bad. Day and night each time down the court: team offense and defense verses individual chaos. And don't blame the players for their lack of training. Put the fault where it belongs: on the coaches. And I'm not blaming Larry Brown, I mean all the coaches involved in the training of these players over the years. Surely, someone emphasized fundamentals and team play? Good teaching sticks.

I've been writing about proper versus poor preparation of players for about 10 years, even though I recognized this problem much earlier in my coaching career. Most coaches, even at the pro level, are not interested in knowing that shots and passes are flicks of the wrist, that most shooting improvement comes without shooting the ball, that defense is a two step dance, that pivoting is the key to about everything done on the court, and that you really don't need plays! It's difficult for coaches to have a paradigm shift in mid career, rethinking what one knows about coaching, then acting on it. It's always a lot easier staying with the herd mentality, doing what you have been doing, even though it is clearly not effective.

If only these Olympic teams from other countries didn't play so well, then the embarrassment of losing would be less. And folks could go on their merry way in complete denial about the quality of coaching here. Hopefully, this slap in the face will result in something productive. Coaches might better understand that lesser teams can play good basketball to beat better teams; that inadequate play should not be accepted as the norm; and that quality of play, not winning or losing, should be the goal of every coach.

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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