2009 was the year that I started to take my coaching career more seriously. I was completely fond of Spanish basketball and recognized the different skills sets of the players in the so-called ACB compared to Belgium. To improve as a coach, I really wanted to find out how the Spanish youth program worked. At that time, my basketball network was very close to unexisting. So I did not have a better solution than to write e-mails to some Spanish clubs with the question if I could come over to watch and learn.
Without any connections, I started writing mails to the adresses I found on the internet. I seriously doubt if my e-mails in English to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org ever reached an English-speaking member close to the staff. After several months (!) I got a short reply by a certain Pablo Borras, youth director of Estudiantes Madrid (next opponent of Donar Groningen to qualify for the Champions League). I did not hesitate for a second, and the very first break during the season, I took a flight to Madrid. I spent four complete days in the gym of Estudiantes, watching practices from the U8 till the professional men’s and women’s team in first division. For days and days, I looked away from the beautiful city of Madrid to take notes while my ass was freezing off in the hard stances in a gym with broken windows.
I must also admit that my very limited basketball philosophy at that point shook on its foundations… I saw U10 players:
– taking three-pointers
– making the craziest hop lay-ups
– learning to make one handed passes off the dribble
– continu their practice after 90′ on an outside court while it was almost freezing
Discussions with the local coaches and youth director made me understand all the “WHY’s” behind every drill and I must say that I still use some of concepts and drills today.
In the stances over there, I also got to know a young Brittish coach named Joe Riley. Basically, he gave up his life in the UK for two consecutive seasons to invest in himself as a coach. He absolutely wanted to discover all secrets of the Spanish youth program to take one day to his home country. He spent every day in the gym, taking notes. Since a couple months, Joe and I got in touch via Twitter. Joe is organizing all his notes into practice plans for youth programs. This is extremely valuable resource for every young coach! It shows the secrets behind the youth program that produced players like Sergio Rodriguez, Juancho Hernangomez or Felipe Reyes. Please have a look at his Twitter account or website and show some love for his unpaid efforts back in the days. Tremendous respect, Joe!
My trip to Estudiantes was also an eye-opener to the important step from a talent to a basketball team at the highest level. I saw a 16 year old Jaime Fernandez which grew later to a franchise player for the club (now playing for the first time for another club in the Liga Endesa). In 2013, I saw him again as one of the key players of the European Championship U20 in Estonia. I remember him (21 pts, 6 ast, 5 reb) killing Antetokounmpo (5 pts) and Greece for a spot in the semi-finals.
My love for Spanish basketball only grew during that trip in 2010 and it was for sure not my last trip over there, which you will read about in one of the next stories.
Well, after all, I can’t finish this blogpost without telling this embarassing story… I was sitting in the stance with youth director Pablo and asking why they would teach U10 players to throw one-handed passes off the dribble, even when some players were definitely not ready to do so. I explained Pablo that in those days you could almost get fired in Belgium by doing so. I will never forget the look on his face at that moment. He started laughing out loud and told me: “Watch a high-level game and count the number of two-handed passes… The only one you will see is the pass from the referee to a player on the free throw line”. I quickly realized he was right and how stupid it must look to practice two-handed chest and bounce passes then… Quite embarassing… Common sense, right?
When it comes down to teaching the skills set for a modern basketball player, 20 year old textbooks aren’t the best resources… Watch some Eurobasket & Euroleague games and its best players! Basketball is a quickly evolving sports, one of the reasons I love the game so much!