IA Blog

Watch & Learn

🕐 4 minute read 

I know it’s not the holiday season, but for many of us, it’s one of the most wonderful times of the year. It’s March Madness! For basketball junkies like me, there is nothing more exciting than watching the seemingly endless supply of college basketball this month. From teams battling for at-large bids to watching the next national champion cut down the nets, the Madness captures our attention. Whether you are in the arena watching firsthand or tuning in on TV, the energy is palpable.

I want to raise a different question though; how do you actually watch the games? Are you aimlessly channel surfing looking for the most entertaining game of the moment, or watching with a critical eye to improve your own game? I’d like to offer some insight based on discussions I’ve had with several NCAA Division I coaches to share not only what they see in opponents, but what they look for in prospects. 

It’s no secret, most of us have a tendency to watch the ball because we believe that is where the action is. Going forward, break that habit and watch everything away from the ball. This is where so much of the game happens on both ends of the floor. Watch the screen on the opposite wing and analyze the steps taken to create an open shot for a teammate. Did the offensive player get open with an effective v-cut and come right off the screener’s hip? Conversely, how did the defense guard that? Do they show and recover or trail hard? You will spend more time in these situations than you will have the ball in your hand so use every possession you watch as an opportunity to learn something new. 

When a shot goes up, don’t just focus on the rim to see if it goes in. Watch to see if all five players box out effectively. Notice whether each and every pass is thrown crisply or if defenses create turnovers by deflecting lazy passes. Sound fundamentals can win or lose games. If a player has scored the last 8 points, how does each team react? Does the opposition attempt to double team or go right after him on the other end to slow his momentum? Are offensive plays adjusted to capitalize on the open player during the double team, or do they stay with the hot hand? Strategies may vary based on situations and personnel, but having a keen eye to identify that will undoubtedly benefit you.

Even if you are watching from your laptop and not listening to players courtside, good communication translates. Look for players with demonstrative gestures such as pointing out defensive responsibilities or nudging a teammate to the correct position. Teams value “floor generals” and championships are often built on their backs.

The two most obvious behaviors that players can control are their attitude and effort. Look for players who point to a teammate and say, “nice pass” when they drop a dime off to them. Notice the player that runs over to pick his teammate up after diving for a loose ball. Be that player. If a teammate makes a mistake, don’t roll your eyes. Give them a fist bump and let them know you are here to encourage them. 

“The two most obvious behaviors that players can control are their attitude and effort.”

Similarly, if the camera pans to a huddle during a timeout, don’t change the channel. Look at a player’s body language and how they treat all members of the team. Are they upset and turning down an offer of water from a manager because they are dwelling on a previous turnover they committed? The best players have a short memory and quickly move on to the next possession. No matter which way the momentum goes, notice that the most successful teams never get too high or too low.
Coaches notice players taking even a single play off during a game. Let’s be honest, we have all dogged it on the defensive end one time or another. But if you want to stand out, have a consistent motor and put out equal effort on both ends of the floor. Stay engaged mentally for the entire game as well. The focus is just as evident in your eyes as it is in the way you move. Inevitably, on the biggest stage during March Madness, someone will cost their team a win by losing focus momentarily. Learn that lesson now, not when you make it to that stage. 
In closing, whether you realize it or not, coaches are assessing everything you do during a game. Try to look at the game through their lens and then be cognizant of your own behavior next time you are out on the floor. You never know who may be watching and what opportunity may be around the corner. 

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