Coaching Notes from John Calipari: Importance of defining player roles

This is something that I did last year on my team that proved to be very beneficial for us.  We struggled mightily during the early half of the season.  One of my team’s most noticeable weaknesses was their lack of aggression.   I came across this video of current Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari talking about his method of specifically assigning each of his players a certain role to play on his team.  He mentions that he is even specific right down to the number of minutes that he will play each player.

I thought this would be a great idea to use for my team to help bring out some aggression from each individual.  I gave each player an index card where I had hand written a specific role for each individual.  I explained to them that these roles may change through the course of the season but this is what I expected of each of them individually until further notice.  I had each player memorize what I had written down on the card for them, then after a few practices I had each player stand in front of the team and tell them what their specific role was for the team.  So now everyone knew what everyone’s role was on the team.  I made sure that everyone was comfortable with the role I assigned them first (just as Calipari mentioned he does as well in the video).  I was pleased that I saw almost immediate results.   My only regret is that I didn’t do this at the beginning of the season.  It will definitely be a practice of mine from here on out.

For the most part, when a player displays passiveness or any lack of aggression on the basketball court, it could be attributed to many factors.  Sure, a player may be nervous or intimidated while out there on the court, but this is not a sufficient reason why he or she shouldn’t be aggressive.  A reason why a player would show any lack of aggression is because they are not completely sure of what their role is while on the floor.  If a player does not know their role, they are unsure of what exactly is expected of them.  When this happens, the player then reverts to the natural thought of “hoping”.  They ‘hope’ that they will make the right play.  They ‘hope’ they won’t make a mistake that will cause coach to pull them out the game or make their teammates upset.  They ‘hope’ not to look foolish out there or embarrass themselves.  There are so many things that can run through the minds of players during a game.   Defining their role could alleviate some pressure.

I like to use this analogy to further explain my point:  You have a new practice drill that you want to introduce to the players.  You start giving them instructions telling them to dribble all the way to the far left elbow with the outside hand, spin move when you get there then cross over to the right corner, dribble between your legs four times before going to the right elbow, pull up and shoot get your own rebound and put it back in make or miss, then dribble back to the near side of the court and repeat the steps but only in reverse order, how many of your kids would be totally confused.  I’m quite sure more than a couple on the first day of trying this drill.  Say you put a time limit on it and a penalty for messing up just once.  This would drive some players absolutely crazy.  How many players would be so passive because they did not want to mess up?  Even though this is a senseless drill (I don’t actually use this drill just incase you were wondering), the confusion is similar to the confusion felt by a player when he or she is in an actual game.  They are trying to remember a number of things while dealing with other factors that is trying to work against them (i.e. time, defense, etc.).  However, if you introduce a simpler drill to the same group of players (for example: having them complete five down and back sprints within a certain amount of time), there is not one player that wouldn’t run aggressively.  There is no confusion as to what needs to be done.  Each player knows exactly what to do and can spend less time thinking about things and just act aggressively.

It works the same way in a larger scale.  When a player knows his or her role on the team, they will concentrate on the responsibilities that make up that role and this will increase their aggression.  Whether it be the role of a scorer, rebounder, sixth man, defensive stopper, etc….each player will feel more comfortable out there on the court when they only have to worry about fulfilling their assigned role.  Bottom line, less thinking = more aggression.


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