KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Rick Carlisle was in his element Thursday evening.
He had an attentive audience of international coaches as part of the Jr. NBA Global Championship at ESPN’s World of Sports at Walt Disney World.
The Mavericks’ coach, and assistant Jenny Boucek, were in teaching mode. And they had eager students, coaches from all over the world who are in charge of working with some of the best 13- and 14-year-old players in their respective regions.
They want to work on their craft, just as the kids they’re coaching want to get better, too. And in the Youtube generation, challenges are different. But the NBA’s junior program is serving a vital purpose.
“The Jr. NBA is a global initiative to help develop young players, but also to create interest in the NBA,” Carlisle said. “Focus groups will tell you that when kids at a young age become interested in a certain sport, that interest stays with them throughout their lives. This is the best of both worlds. Coaches get a chance to develop with our coaching clinic.
“And players are getting a chance to compete against other players their age from all over the world in a setup that looks like an NBA finals setup. It’s just amazing. This is a happening. And it’s really cool to be part of.”
Carlisle is a member of the Jr. NBA Leadership Council on top of being president of the National Basketball Coaches Association. For 90 minutes, he and Boucek delivered a wide-ranging message about the best ways to communicate with athletes in an age when young players have a short attention span and demand immediate feedback and gratification.
As he and Boucek talked to coaches from Africa, China, Australia, America and elsewhere. They could not stress the need for positive reinforcement in today’s coaching business – especially at the grass-roots level.
Boucek said that finding ways to make players realize their strengths and play to them is far more productive than constantly calling out their weak points.
But mostly, Carlisle and Boucek offered suggestions about how to get through to players in a Twitter age.
Among more than 75 coaches soaking up the information were Allen Skeens, the coach of the U.S. Central boys team of players mostly from near Kansas City and his assistant Loren Manning.
“When they started talking about how you have to use positive reinforcement and devise ways to communicate on their level, I thought that was great,” Manning said. “I asked our players if they knew who was talking to them when they had the opening ceremonies. It was Dennis Scott. And they had no idea who he was.”
That’s a common occurrence. Carlisle said he had a pair of rookies several years ago, Jae Crowder and Bernard James, who gave Carlisle nothing but blank stares when he brought up the coaching brilliance of Red Auerbach.
The point was that the sooner you learn to talk with athletes in their time element and in their preferred modes of communication, the better off coaches and teams will be.
“This is a totally adaptive world we’re in,” Carlisle said. “You can’t assume players know anything about the past. It’s a here and now time.”
And the same goes for how players are coached.
“This is a make-plays league now, not a call-plays league,” Carlisle said. “Luka Doncic is extremely creative. And it’s important, at age 20, that we put him in situations where we won’t stunt his creativity and we try to push his gift to a higher level.
“I believe you got to communicate constantly the importance of team and a collective goal. Social media has created an amazing phenomenon in the culture of NBA basketball and youth sports in general. Luka has more than two-and-a-half million followers on Instagram. Because of that, there is an undue pressure on him to create sensational highlights. You can see how those things would become a challenge in a team environment.”
All the sorts of things that coaches of younger teenagers have to overcome in a video-highlight age.