Talent matters. Sometimes we forget that. I know I’ve failed to realize that plenty of times as a coach.
We want everyone competing at high level all of the time. It’s the core of who we are as a program. But we look at competing as something that everyone can choose to do. Everyone can go out and play hard. Everyone can try. We can all give 100% effort, and as coaches we know how to evaluate that. But I don’t think it’s that easy.
I’ve learned that talent plays a pretty significant role in your ability to compete. It’s pretty simple when you think about it. Anything that comes easy to me, I can do at a higher level. I can do it faster because it comes naturally to me. I don’t have to think about it, and I’m certainly not concerned with my ability to get it done. I know I can do it, I pick it up quickly, and I go hard.
When I’m not that good at it, I don’t go as hard. I’m tentative. I lack confidence. It’s not that I don’t care or don’t want to win, it’s just that it’s harder for me. I can’t do it as well. It’s not a conscious decision I make to slow down. It’s me trying to figure my way though it without screwing it up. I used to get that feeling when I would play with much better players. When I’d play against Division I players in high school or in the summer, I was slower. I didn’t react as quickly. I was trying to keep up, more than I was just playing naturally, because the game was a lot harder for me.
I realized at Maine, especially in my first couple of years, that I was misreading this concept. What I thought was a lack of effort was probably more of a lack of ability. So many things we asked our guys to do – especially on the defensive end – just didn’t come naturally to guys. At first I was getting on guys for not giving the right effort, but I realized a lot of it was they just didn’t have the ability to do it.
Pressuring the basketball is hard, and takes a certain level of strength and quickness to be effective. It’s not just a matter of effort and commitment. Long closeouts are hard, especially for slower players. At some points I was asking my guys to give a lot of help on the defensive end which created a long closeout, but they weren’t quick enough to do it. They wanted to guard the ball, but they started cheating to give themselves less ground to cover because they knew they couldn’t do it effectively. Transition defense. Contesting shots. Blocking out. Communicating on defense – yes communicating. The better players find it easier to talk more when they play, because they have the natural ability and are more comfortable. So many simple things that we look at as a matter of effort and commitment have a lot more to do with talent than we think.
When I left Rhode Island College I had the most talented team in the league, and we had developed a tough culture that was all about competing. What I was used to seeing every day was the best team in the league competing at a high level every day. When I took over at Maine, I had a team that wasn’t extremely talented and wasn’t used to competing at a high level. I knew we needed to get better, but I expected the compete level to look the same. I was wrong about that. We couldn’t compete at the same level we had at RIC because we didn’t have the same talent. Giving that type of elite effort was much harder.
What looks like a lack of effort might actually be a lack of talent. To compete at a high level takes the right mentality, but it also takes a certain level of ability. If you’ve got good kids who are bought in, who you feel like really care about your program, but are struggling with what you are asking them to do, ask yourself this question – are you asking too much of them? Are you putting them in a position where they can’t be successful?