Welcome to the Next Level Sports Blog! I am excited to help parents navigate the challenges of youth sports and give your son or daughter the best opportunity to succeed in their favorite sports while having fun. That is the reason we play, right?
A little bit about me. My name is Jeff Koval and I have been involved in youth sports, primarily basketball, for the last 11 years at nearly every level. I spent 3 years as Director of Basketball Operations for the UC Santa Barbara Men's Basketball Team where we had 1 NCAA Tournament Appearance and produced 3 NBA players. Additionally, I spent 8 years as a high school varsity, jv, and frosh/soph head coach while also operating a youth basketball clinic business and worked as a multi-sport plyometric trainer.
Over my coaching career I have found my most successful players shared 2 distinct characteristics. First, they were always around the ball. These players were always engaged, chasing lose balls, and wanted the ball throughout the game. This trait was closely linked to their aggressiveness. It seems simple, but in youth sports, the more aggressive the player, the more they played. My last year as a varsity head coach, I had a 6'6 junior center who should have led the league in rebounds and block shots. He had good body control and was very coachable. However, he refused to engage and compete aggressively consistently. Halfway through the year, I brought up a 5'9 junior from the jv team that was one of the starting tackles on the varsity football team. He had no clue how to play but listened to everything I said and became very aggressive when it came to rebounds. After a few weeks with the varsity team, he started at center for the remainder of the season solely because he was aggressive and coachable.
This leads me to the second characteristic of successful players. They are the best at one thing on the field or court. I have told my players and it rang true for my 5'9 center, if you are the best at one thing on the court, there will always be a spot on a team and playing time for you. This is why developing the fundamentals of any sport are so important. My 5'9 center was the best rebounder on the team. I prayed that he never shot or dribbled the ball on offense, but his rebounding ferocity made up for all his physical and offensive shortcomings. He was a poor man's Dennis Rodman and I loved coaching him!
My sister was a good high school basketball player. She was an average ballhandler for a guard, average court vision, average aggressiveness, and a below average athlete when it came to lateral quickness and jumping ability. Then she tore her ACL going into her senior year and became even slower. However, she earned the opportunity to play at an NAIA school because she had unlimited range and was a 40%+ shooter from 3. She was the top 3 point shooting guard in a very competitve league and division. Coaches were able to overlook her defensive liabilities because she could stand in one place and knock down shots!
One last story, I was coaching a boys freshman basketball team and we ran a fast paced style which was a lot of fun for our players. I had one player who had a limited skill set but he could make left hand layups and was willing to run hard. He wasn't one of the top 5 fastest players on the team, but he earned playing time because he was able to run the left side of the floor and beat his defender down the court better than anyone else. In one of our last games we were a 4 or 6 points down and he caught four straight passes for layups on the left side and we ended up winning the game.
These 3 players took pride in small areas of the game and became great at one individual thing. They mastered the fundamentals of one aspect of the game. You don't need to be the best, you just need to be the best at one thing!
Check back next week for Blog #2!