• Ian Stacker

Some thoughts on High Performance

There was a time in basketball when the State Development Programs were called the State Development Programs, when the person charged with directing the Player and Coach development programs was called the State Director of Coaching and the person in charge of National programs was called the Manger of National Programs. In the past few years these roles have all been rebranded as High Performance this or High Performance that, the jobs haven’t really changed but the title has been rejigged with no clarity around what “High Performance” means.

This is a popular phenonium among large organisations and certain companies or individuals earn big dollars coming in and redesigning an organisation with the result largely centring around new names for the same jobs. In my three years at the AIS I saw almost a constant rebranding of job titles within that organisation.

Another example would be the Intensive Training Centre Program that over the years has been rebranded the ITC, ITCP, NITCP, NPP and SPP program and others, still basically the same program but new names to indicate new beginnings of the same program, I’ve lost track of what it is called these days.

Steven Icke’s grand plan for the AIS Basketball Program, which had gained significant respect around the basketball world, was to rebrand it as the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence so it could…….... gain respect around the basketball world.

High Performance is now the catch phrase for any sporting organisations National team’s programs and is now also the catch phrase for the elite sporting programs ran at the State level, even associations now have a High-Performance program operating out of the local basketball stadium.

So, what is High Performance? When I interviewed for the HPGM job with Basketball Australia I made the statement that High Performance was really anything to do with the National teams. One of the interviewees, a coach from a minor sport based at the AIS, looked down her nose at me and stated “HP is about much more than National teams”, mmm, clearly my interview went downhill from that point.

I am certain that the performance of the HP General Manager will be largely assessed by how well our National teams perform at major events. Not just our showcase teams in the Boomers and Opals but also our National junior teams.

Now a lot goes into trying to ensure that our teams perform at their best at these tournaments. I think it is also important to understand that different sports will have different requirements about what is going to help them achieve the best possible result.

One of the biggest factors to consider when planning for success and preparation of National teams is of course how much budget you must work with.

Now a sport like sailing may have needs to develop quicker boats, more efficient sails and so on, so technology will be a huge factor in the success of their teams compared to say a 100-metre sprinter where the human body and minimal amount of motor skills are needed – you need to be able to blast forward as quickly as possible for 10 seconds or so.

Each sport is uniquely different and the requirements around what will ensure success at the highest levels of different sports are vastly different. This is where the “High Performance” industry operates. There are all sorts of different experts who rightly or wrongly are confident that their area of expertise is going to make the biggest difference to a sports success.

Scientist who operate in mental or physical outcomes, skill acquisition experts, sports scientist like Stephen Dank, exercise physiologist, anthropometry, biomechanics, recovery, movement science, performance analysis, psychology, physio therapy and so all stake a claim in the “high performance” field.

But how does basketball best utilise these scientific areas and what are the most important areas to devote time and resources to, as time and resources (money) are the limiting factors on what can be done.

There is no doubt that the sports scientific community would naturally place great emphasis on their contribution to sport and life as their jobs depend on the need for their services. In my time at the AIS I certainly utilised these wonderful people as much as possible, especially the skill acquisition expert Adam Gorman who has had a lasting impression on my teaching of shooting and how we practise the general concepts of play.

The financially successful sports like AFL, NBA and NCAA all build wonderful facilities where all sorts of wonderful services can be provided to ensure their superb athletes enjoy the best of services.

Any visit to any of these places ensures you walk away appropriately impressed with their facilities and in some cases I think that is just the point. Recruiting is such a high priority in the NCAA and free agency in both the NBA and AFL now forces clubs to have the best possible facilities to enhance their chances of landing the best possible talent. Athletes would much rather go to a club that has great facilities than somewhere that is lacking in that area.

I’ve visited quite a few NBA teams over the years and there is a stark difference between some of the facilities offered, the successful clubs usually have plush, shinny, fully equipped training facilities while some of the less successful clubs aren’t quite so flash.

It’s certainly the same with college basketball where to whole purpose of the program is to GET the best possible players. Having awesome training facilities, with honour boards, shiny courts, big gyms and fully loaded team support staff certainly helps attract the best possible talent.

So, for Australia basketball what is the most important thing about “high performance” and what are we trying to achieve with “high performance”?

Let’s just stick with the theory (flawed as some might think it is) that high performance is about National teams. What is the most important factors in the success of our National teams? I would think having the best possible players with the best possible coaches would be important.

At what point, do we need best possible coaches? Is the USA National team great because Mike Krzyzewski coaches it or could it still be successful with say any of the other 350 odd division one college coaches or any of the 30 odd NBA head coaches? I would expect they would still be okay, if they were fully loaded with the best players available.

Most would say Brian Goorjian is our most successful NBL coach but he also had little success as National men’s team coach. So, does the great coach make the most difference or is it great players?

I would argue the most important time to get good coaching with players is in their developmental years – say from 14 – 18 years old. Certainly, the best players I have seen or worked with over the years were well on their elite pathway by the time they reached 18. Most improvement shown after that date was largely due to the competition and daily training environment they could get themselves into.

Sadly, in basketball our most experienced coaches are more often working at the highest levels of the game and coaches working with that 14-18-year-old age group are also still on a pathway that is years away from being experienced enough to have the greatest impact on young athletes.

We have many experienced coaches who have had success in both the NBL and WNBL who move out of coaching or out of the Country once they lose their professional gigs. They can make more money in other fields of work or in the school system than they can with any of the high-performance jobs in basketball.

This is largely due to a poor appreciation at the administrative level on the impact experienced coaching can have on young players. There are certainly plenty of experienced coaches available for the jobs provided by National and State Basketball organisations but the remuneration offered for these jobs is certainly not targeted towards attracting the best possible people. Last week I used the car analogy to compare the types of imports clubs shop for, go after a Ferrari and you’ll usually get something high quality, go to the used car auction and who knows what you’ll end up with. Highly successful coach Brian Kerle once used the expression “pay peanuts and you’ll get monkeys”.

Now this isn’t meant to degrade the people who are working with our best young players, they are certainly doing the best they can but if the sport is serious about using terms like “high performance” for their programs then they should certainly have a serious look at the remuneration being offered for their most important coaching jobs.

Which gets me to my point. The most successful development and National programs I have seen around the world have revolved around great coaches working with the best young players. National programs then having success on having a pool of very talented players to choose from.

On my visits to Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Spain I haven’t seen shinny flash facilities, especially the case in eastern Europe. What I have seen is elite coaches working with the best young players.

As we get further distracted by the “high performance” needs of our programs and we wander off into the sports science fields I think we are getting distracted from the most urgent needs of our sport. Getting the best coaches working with the best young players. Upskilling our coaches so they get a better understanding of some of the sport science services that can best impact on the sport. Until we can get our most experienced coaches working with our best players then finances spent on recovery pools, flashy stadiums and shooting machines, I think is misdirected.

Basketball is a highly skilled sport, players need all sorts of intangible abilities and all sorts of services can certainly help. But the most important thing they need is to be able to play basketball, well!

Brian Goorjian used to have a term he used when things started to get too complicated, he didn’t want to “turn things into a science experiment” he knew keeping things simple was the most likely way to ensure success.

If we as a sport start to devote too much time and resources to “science experiments” then we miss out on improving the things that can make the biggest impact on our National Programs, State and Club programs. Devote resources to making it viable for our most experienced coaches to work with our best young players, until we get that done our “high performance” programs fall short of their potential.

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