The U.S. men’s basketball team secured their worst-ever finish in a major tournament. After consecutive losses to France and Serbia in the FIBA World Cup, they’ll now play for 7th place. While this version of team USA does not feature the very best American players, it’s evident the rest of the world is closing the gap (if it’s not already shut). After playing international basketball for a decade, I saw their approach to player development was different. Their philosophy is something for all leaders to consider.
Focus on…growth over results:
One year ago, I was directing an AAU program in North Carolina. One of our coaches was leading two teams of 3rd grade and 6th grade boys. In their first tournament, six games total, each team played a 2-3 zone defense against them. At those ages, playing zone defense is much easier to teach and a smart strategy to win games. Unfortunately, it’s a poor approach to help young kids learn the game and improve as players. Coaches and leaders, we need to ask ourselves, “What is the goal — is it solely to win?” What if it were something similar to, “Help everyone have a great experience while growing as individuals and as a team?” Don’t mistake me, the score should be kept. A lot can be learned from experiencing victory and defeat, but the focus and what you emphasis should be on getting better. Have a bigger vision beyond the immediate.
Focus on…individual development and not solely the team:
All 7 professional clubs I played for had youth programs with grade school through college-age teams. As pros, we typically had one or two younger kids (16-20 year olds) practice with us only to return to their (age) team for games. It’s clear their team would’ve benefited from having their best player(s) practice with them leading up to games, but this approach allowed those individual(s) to compete against professionals. As explained to me from multiple coaches, the goal is not to win the youth tournaments but to develop pros. Is that the best way? I don’t know, but I do believe it’s essential for leaders to not lose sight of the individuals on their teams. Learn what their goals are and help them achieve them. You may go a little slower in the beginning, but I’d wager your team/organization will go further in the end.
Foreigners aren’t just competitive in international competitions; they are making an impact in the NBA. Check out where the most recent NBA award winners and champions hail from:- MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece 🇬🇷)
– Rookie of the Year: Luka Doncic (Slovenia 🇸🇮)
– Most Improved Player: Pascal Siakam (Cameroon 🇨🇲)
– Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert (France 🇫🇷)
– Champion General Manager (Toronto Raptors): Masari Ujiri (Nigeria 🇳🇬)
– Champion Head Coach: Nick Nurse (spent the majority of his coaching career in England 🇬🇧)
Prior to the World Cup, Serbian coach, Sasha Djordjevic said, “Let them play their basketball and we will play ours and if we meet, may God help them.”A USA – Serbia matchup was expected to happen in the medal rounds, but once both teams were upset in the quarterfinals, they faced off in consolation play with Serbia winning. The message is clear – no longer is there a fear factor when facing USA basketball. Additionally, many internationals believe they play a superior style. Not only are international coaches developing elite players, but they’ve changed the style of play in America. The modern game features interchangeable players and emphasizes spacing, ball movement and skill. It’s how Europeans have been playing for decades.
When someone makes the best in the world change their game, it’s a testament to the innovation and leadership of the up-and-comers.