In the world of high school sports, there are certain guarantees. The next generation will always be more talented than the previous one. Technology will make players even better, especially in baseball where bats now a days look like they are morphed from some alien being. The training will get better and better, and the year round workouts will keep players in shape. The sudden "personalization" of athletes choosing to play only one sport will allow players to be in top form when the season starts. Finally, advances in the medical field will allow athletes to get back to playing sooner than ever.
Do you know what ISN'T guaranteed?
Sport Specific IQ.....or, in other words, knowing HOW to play
As I go around the Cleveland area watching high school sports, there are examples everywhere, on every field, that make me wonder where the fundamentals have gone. Watching football and seeing a third down and four yards to go, and watching the wide receiver run a two yard pattern and getting stopped short of a first down, making his team punt. On the basketball court, watching a team make a run and cut into a lead by throwing the ball inside, then the next possession seeing the point guard dribble the ball up the court and toss up a contested three pointer. On the baseball and softball fields, seeing both outfielders and infielders throw to the wrong base, missing the cutoff, and allowing the runners to advance, leading to a big inning.
Examples of players that "get it"...
LeBron James.... Granted, he is a physical freak of nature, and the best basketball player on the planet. Know what makes him that?. He knows HOW to play. His "Basketball IQ" is off the charts. Not since Magic Johnson has the NBA seen a player that sees the floor like LeBron. He may be the most UNSELFISH player in the NBA, despite being among the league's leading scorers. It seems like he is three steps ahead of everyone else on the floor both offensively and defensively. LeBron was criticized early in his career for being too unselfish. For example, in a playoff game against Detroit, on the game's final play, he drove to the basket and instead of shooting, found a wide open teammate in the corner for a game winning three. The shot missed, and the Cavs lost, which meant LeBron was going to take some heat for not shooting. His response told you a lot about the way he plays:
I drove and three people surrounded me. I saw that I had a teammate open in the corner for an open shot. The right play was to kick it to the corner for an uncontested shot. I thought I made the right play. If the situation comes up again, I would do the same thing. I always try and make the right play
People will give LeBron some grief for his "decisions" off the court, but on the court, he is a guy with an extremely high basketball IQ.
Aaron Craft.... The current Ohio State point guard isn't going to wow you when you look at the stat sheet. He looks like he should be playing safety in the NFL. He isn't the greatest shooter or ball handler, and does turn the ball over from time to time. That being said, he is the most valuable player in college basketball. Ever watch the Ohio State offense when Craft isn't on the floor? It's disorganized, disjointed, and out of sync. He has a major impact on games without ever scoring. He makes the right pass at the right time. Defensively, he is off the charts as far as his basketball IQ goes. What breaks down the defense more than anything else? Dribble penetration. Craft simply does not allow it from his fellow point guard. How many times does he dive for a loose ball and calls timeout, giving Ohio State possession? He anticipates passes better than anyone. See what he did last week against Michigan State? Trailing by three late in the game, Craft was inbounding the ball under his own basket. Seeing the defender had his back turned, he threw the ball off the Michigan State defender, caught the ball, and laid it in, cutting the lead to one. He knows the importance of plays not seen by the casual basketball fan, who is usually concerned with dunks and three pointers. When asked why he always helps teammates up after that teammate took a charge, his answer is all you need to know about the IQ of Aaron Craft:
Those were huge plays. We took three charges in the lane today, where we saved ourselves six points. We won the game by four.....do the math
Or you can take the word of legendary coach Bob Knight, who had this to say about the Ohio State point guard:
I'm not so sure there is a kid in the country, regardless of size or position, that I would take over Craft. I think the game, to win, relies on SMART, and this kid's got it
The St. Louis Cardinals.... Ever wonder why the Cardinals are good every year? They do the little things and don't beat themselves. The make the right play at the right time. They hit cut off men, throw to the right bases, and make the other team beat them by not beating themselves. Little things that the casual fan doesn't see saves the Cardinals runs, and produces runs for them offensively. For example, in a tied game in the late innings, the Cardinals have a runner on second and nobody out. If you are the hitter, what do you do? Do you look for a pitch you can drive over the fence for a home run? What the Cardinal hitters do is try to hit a ground ball to the right side of the infield to move the runner to third, where a sacrifice fly gives you the lead. Know what happens to the hitter who just sacrificed an at bat to move that runner to third? When he gets back to the dugout, he is greeted by as many high fives from teammates as he would have been if he hit a home run. The Cardinals get it, and that is why they are always successful.
Talent produces points and highlight plays, Sport Specific IQ produces wins
Ever watch a youth baseball or basketball practice? At times it can be maddening. How many times on the baseball diamond have you seen the coach throwing batting practice to a hitter, while the other 12 players are in the field, some of them eating grass, and just tossing the ball back in the center of the field? How many times on the basketball court have you seen the players shooting from all angles, scrimmaging the majority of the time, and seeing the first string players destroy the second team players? How many times have coaches heard from players, when running a set play, that they don't know what to do if they are the four man on that play, they have always run it being the three man?
Wouldn't these young players be better served to practice "situations" that may come up during a game?
So, behind all the new 100 dollar mitts, 200 dollar bats, the 100 dollar an hour private lessons, and the thousands spent on travel baseball teams and AAU basketball teams, what are the results? Players that still throw to the wrong base, lose their man on defense, turn the ball over or foul when their team has the lead, try to hit for their own personal glory, and not do what the team needs them to do. So, the question that needs to be asked is:
Can Sport Specific IQ be taught?
Yes it can, but it takes patience and repetition....and here is how:
Baseball.... The best example of teaching baseball IQ came from watching of all things, an 8 year old practice last summer. There were 12 kids on the team. They were broken down into three teams of four kids a piece. Four kids hit, while the other eight were in the field, with the coach pitching. The four kids at bat hit until they made three outs, then the other group would hit, and so on. Each team got two times up to bat. Before each batter, the coach would ask a random player in the field "If the ball is hit to you, what do you do with it?" Each team received a point for each run scored, and a point for making the correct play. The score was kept to make it a competitive situation, so the kids stayed focused. It also forced kids to play different positions, and what play needed to be made at that position. So what happened to that team? After struggling early, the team would go on to win 22 of their next 23 games, including three tournament wins, and a runner up finish. Why? They played the right way and didn't beat themselves. It was all learning "situations" and not just hitting or infield practice.
Basketball.... Too many times, coaches take a "teach the offense, then scrimmage" approach to their team. How many of them teach "We are up by five points with a minute and a half left, how do we want to play in this situation?" How many coaches teach an offensive play "as a whole" instead of what each person does? If you run a set of plays in the offense, switch players around so they know what to do at each spot. Answer the question: What is the play supposed to do? If the play calls for a pass to the post, but your point guard is 6 inches taller than the man guarding him, wouldn't seem like a good idea to run the play where your point guard is in the post instead of your big man? You always see players point to the person who passed them the ball after a basket. How about pointing to the guy who set the pick who allowed you to get open? If your team is in the bonus and will shoot free throws after every foul by the opposing team, why is your team throwing up contested three pointers and not attacking the rim to get to the line?
What we have now is an emphasis on individual skills, and not sport skills. While we do see kids with incredible skills and talent, we seem to be lacking in team skills, and the ability to think their way through a game. Kids don't even watch baseball or basketball on TV anymore. There is so much they can learn by just observing.
Teach the kids sports Specific IQ at a young age. Given the time they have put in training year round, the game will become much easier for them when they know HOW to play, and not just play.