Putting kids on the path to success: on and off the court
By Greg Bach
Former University of Connecticut star and NBA champion Scott Burrell played for many outstanding coaches throughout his multi-sport career.
And the Southern Connecticut State University coach says one of the keys to building relationships with kids – the kinds that are productive, long-lasting and life-altering – is honesty.
“So many people in this day and age tell kids what they want to hear and not what they need to hear,” says Burrell, the only athlete to be drafted in the first round in two professional sports. “You have to be honest with kids – it’s for the best interest of the team and themselves.”
And with that approach comes being more than just a teacher of jump shots and box outs.
“You have to put the kids on the right path to be successful on and off the court,” says Burrell, who scored more than 2,500 points and grabbed more than 1,300 rebounds during a 14-year NBA career. “It’s great to win but you want the kids to be successful after basketball, or whatever sport they play. And once they believe you are doing the best for them to make their life better you can build that relationship and that bond that they believe in.”
MOTIVATING THE RIGHT WAY
Squeezing the best efforts out of young athletes can be a tricky proposition. What motivates one player may backfire on the next.
So be positive and patient, and results will follow.
“You praise kids when they do well and you give them the confidence they need when they are down,” says Burrell, who played for legendary coach Jim Calhoun at Connecticut. “Sometimes kids can get embarrassed easily so when you are teaching them you don’t want to make them feel like you are belittling them.”
PUMPING UP PRACTICE INTENSITY
Burrell was a two-sport star: He could have played professional baseball if he didn’t go the NBA route. He was a first-round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners in baseball and of the Charlotte Hornets in basketball.
So through his growing up years he participated in a lot of practices in many different sports, and the ones that still reverberate today are those that were challenging and engaging.
Two words that are important to keep in mind when working with your young players.
“You don’t want to make practice too easy where kids get bored,” Burrell says. “You want to make it game-like so each day they come to compete. That’s what made it fun when I was growing up.”
TEACH, TEACH, TEACH
“Coach them, but teach them,” Burrell says. “Make sure they know you’re teaching them life lessons to become better people and better players for the real world out there. You have to prepare them for later in life.”
PLAYING WITH MICHAEL JORDAN
Burrell played on the ’98 Bulls team that won the NBA title, the sixth and final championship for Michael Jordan.
“It was the hardest thing to do but the best thing,” Burrell says of going against Jordan in practice. “There were no days off. He was coming to destroy every day to make himself better and to make the team better; to prepare himself and the team. So he comes at you but at the same time he’s trying to raise your game up to his level, otherwise you’re not going to be prepared for that game situation when he needs you. You learn so much mentally and physically – how to block things out, how to take criticism, how to prepare yourself. But it was a great experience to be a part of that. It was awesome.”
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