When evaluating your players, what’s more important to you – the way they perform in practice, or the way the perform in a game?
Say you’ve got a young kid who is still learning how to compete at the level you want him to and therefore inconsistent in practice. You know he’s good enough to help you, but he hasn’t earned a starting spot or consistent minutes based on the way he’s practiced every day. But he does get into the rotation, and when he does he’s very productive. How do you evaluate that? If it’s clear that he’s one of your best players in games but doesn’t compete hard in practice, which one is more important?
It will happen often in a season, when a kid who hasn’t really brought much to the table gets a shot in a game and plays really hard and helps your team. But then you go back to practice the next day, and he’s back to being inconsistent and not really competing. Do you keep him in the line-up because of his production in the games?
It can be a tough dilemma as a coach because the kids certainly know who the best players are. Once the ball goes up, they want the kids out there that can help them win, and they probably aren’t thinking back to practice the way you are as a coach. They’ll have no problem with you playing the guys who are out there producing when there’s a chance to win the game. You want everything to be earned through what you do in practice, but how much are you allowed to earn by the way you play in a game?
There is something to be said for a kid who gets himself ready to play on game night, who you can count on to bring it when it counts. We’ve also all coached players who make an impact in practice every day but struggle to produce when the ball goes up. Evaluating that can be a great challenge.
Long-term in our program what we do in practice every day is who we are. We want to establish the way we compete and the toughness we need to win on the practice floor, so that is where you earn minutes. If you really value practice and the way your guys bring it every day, then that needs to be rewarded. And it’s OK if you don’t. You can make a great case that the guys who bring it on game night are the guys you want to reward. But you need to know who you are and what you value, and be consistent with the reward.
Ideally the kids who bring it every day in practice are the same kids who produce on game night. But when someone gets on a roll in a game even though he hasn’t been great in practice, you have a decision to make. What is more valuable to you over the long-term?