Basketball coach Brian McCormick feels that people who specialise in multiple sports do better in their athletic careers than those who concentrate on one sport alone
As far as coaches go, Brian McCormick at first appears more John Buchanan than Bob Simpson, referencing Malcolm Gladwell and talking ‘basketball intelligence' and decision-training. As the conversation wears on, however, the comparison appears increasingly unfair. Although the fact that he is author of 13 books – on topics from youth basketball development to (self-helps) shooting and ball-handling – may perhaps suggest otherwise, McCormick is a basketball coach with ample courtside experience.
Currently an instructor at the Department of Exercise and Sports Science in Utah, McCormick is in India as an advisor for LeapStart, a sports and fitness programme for children in schools across India. “Professional teams are geared towards winning, while developing skills are more important in youth players,” he says. “My coaching is situation-specific. I try to create programs that engage players regardless of skill-level. I don't have one kind of specialty.”
It is not hard, McCormick says to coach both accomplished players and seven-year-olds. “I have always gone up and down the spectrum. I don't know any other way.” ‘Basketball Intelligence', he explains, deals with little tactical decisions made on court. “It just involves combining several aspects of the game. I use drills other than the fundamentals.”
McCormick's exploration of these areas was driven by an insatiable curiosity. “I did not like my high school coach. I asked him a lot of questions and the answer was: ‘that's just the way it's done'. I didn't like that answer, so I challenged it. I look for different sources of information all the time.”
On his vast blog, where he has posted extracts from his successful book, “Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development”, McCormick poses similar questions. In one chapter, he is critical of early specialisation in a single sport: “Because we concentrate on sport-specific skills, more coaches encourage early specialisation – when an athlete plays one sport year-round to the exclusion of other sports before puberty. Athletic development is a process, and early specialisation attempts to speed the process. However, is the goal to dominate as a 10-year-old? Early specialisation leads to early peaks. Players improve their sport-specific skills more rapidly than those who participate in a wide range of activities. However, those who develop deeper and broader athletic skills have a better foundation. While those who specialize early, hit a plateau, the others improve as they dedicate more time to enhancing their sport-specific skill.” He goes on to cite examples of successful sportsmen who played entirely different sports in their teens. They played more than one sport, he argues, not because they were good athletes but the other way around.
With kids below the age of six, developing general motor skills is more important, according to McCormick.
“You just have to make sure they are active and stimulated, that they keep moving their bodies. Let them play tag and dodge-ball. Skills in a sport can be perfected by doing them more, but if you don't have an athletic base it cannot be built later.” The American basketball model, he feels, will not work in India's case.
“The US has enjoyed success because of the population, the money and the history. It can survive without a lot of other things. Nobody outside the US can mimic it.” The Canadian structure, he says, would be a better one to imitate. “They have implemented a programme in age-group events; they have started getting research down to the local level and are now finding increasing success. So you have to create a system that catches kids at a young age, keeps them involved, and takes them through college. The most important thing is having coaches who inculcate basic skills first. You cannot expect one P.E. teacher who handles several sports to be able to teach all of them well. You cannot keep losing all athletes to cricket.”
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