By Toby Lockwood | Developing a successful program in the all-important u14 age group. Insights int

Toby pictured cutting down the net at one of the the state premiership titles his teams won

Preface by Janx

There are some great stories going on in SA Basketball at the moment and one of those was the recent rise of the Central Districts Lions boy's program. Part of the purpose of these blogs is to continue to strengthen the talent and development in South Australia, using the current wave of player development to build a bigger wave. In this blog Toby Lockwood offers some fantastic insights for Coaches, Coaching Directors, Club Administrators, players and parents alike. I feel that adopting these ideas will build some fantastic development and talent from the younger age groups.

Success at u14 level is immensely important for future success of clubs in the Australian system and often pre-empts windows of elite talent development in a program. All of South Australia’s clubs; officials, coaches, players and families, should value the U14 window of development. This is the only window when true national championships take place for club teams and sets up future success.

Toby has just completed an immensely successful run of coaching U14 Div 1 Boys with Central Districts Lions. Typically his teams have been the most dominant in the state of South Australia.

What makes this run of success really amazing is that the club (Central Districts Lions) had never in history made an U14 National Championships for boys, had rarely had teams finish above the bottom 3 teams, as well as decades without even making any finals in the age group, and in the few years prior to Toby taking over there were years the club did not even field U12 and U14 Div 1 teams.

In this 4 year window of Toby’s involvement those teams, between 2010/11 to 2014/15, the results were very impressive for the club:

  • An amazing 90% of games were won in regular season games, finals, state championships, Melbourne Classics and National Championships through this 4 year window

  • Success at State Championships: 1 runner up, 3rd place finish and 2 premierships, including in 2014 when the club drew with Sturt for State Champion Boys Club.

  • Qualified for u14 National Championships for all 4 years, the club had never in its history even qualified for 1.

  • 4 top 10 finishes at U14 Nationals, including 2 top 5 finishes.

I was Coaching Director at the club in this window and we were able to recruit, retain and develop talent from u12s but it was Toby’s ability to bring that talent together, in an environment that had been starved of success in decades prior, that opened up this window. These players were outstanding, with a great work ethic and loved their basketball. Toby would say they deserve the credit for the successful window, and he would be right, but I do feel that Toby can definitely offer some insights from the inner sanctum into this successful window.

This level of development has clearly led to a boom window of players making South Australian representative sides in both metro and country areas. Culture change is difficult in an environment starved of success. With great people continuing to run the club, and some great talent in the region, I look forward to the amazing success this age group has established for the club continuing on for years to come, a legacy to the culture established with Toby's teams.

I know a lot of junior coaches in SA keep an eye on these blogs to utilise for their own learning, with some great guest bloggers. I am personally really intrigued with Toby’s insights into this amazing window of the U14 Boys programs at the club. I’ve asked Toby to comment on everything from team building, tournament preparation, xs and os and anything else relevant to building a successful U14 program.

Over to Toby......

Whilst I was still playing, my first coaching opportunity was offered to me to coach the U18 boy’s second team with Andrew Jantke, the division 1 coach at the time. I had always thought about coaching but never actually offered to be involved. It may have been my friendship with Andrew that initially sparked my interest, but it was the opportunity to learn and develop from Andrew that confirmed my acceptance.

Andrew ignited my want to keep on this coaching learning and development journey. I’m not sure how the opportunity presented itself, but the role of U16 Division 1 boys coaching was offered to me. I didn’t feel I was ready for this but took this as a challenge. Early into the role there was an opportunity for the club to appoint a proven coach at club and state level for that age group. I was 100% behind the club accepting this offer from the established coach and for me to move the assistant coach position. The thought process for me was this is another opportunity for me to learn and develop from an established coach and more importantly, the boys would benefit more from this situation. I feel that coaches need to put their egos aside in these situations and always be willing to find the best pathway to develop knowledge and capabilities for their future players.

I feel it was about halfway through the year of assisting the U16 head coach that I started gaining confidence and felt that I was better equipped to take on a head coaching role for a division 1 group. The U14 boy’s age group appealed the most to me, therefore that’s the group I applied for and was appointed to.

I saw the need to come up with a development plan for the age group to ensure success. The thought processes on skill sets and values then start entering your mind. What do we want from the players in this age group? We wanted players that can attack the rim from either side of the floor that had an attitude of being relentless, but also wanted players to learn great decision making in the paint. To me a really basic dribble drive offense was appealing as it made players use both sides of their bodies, be aggressive to attack the rim and if not the rim at least the paint. I always encourage the kids to “have a crack” as this offense doesn’t allow you to be passive. The message was I’d rather see you making mistakes trying to have an impact, within team rules, rather than making minimal errors without challenging yourself. No matter what zone you get to, there will be a team mate to back you up and do the same when they catch the ball. Keep it simple but have key rules that are adhered to no matter how many times they are reinforced. Basics like jumping when catching, jump stop in the paint, etc. are continually mentioned until it is second nature.

I think the key to success can be attributed to three things;

  1. Culture - this isn’t the easiest thing to implement especially when the players and club have had no success in the past. I wanted the players to buy into the “journey” we were about to take. If we work hard and together then we will get better. No guarantees of results but definitely improvement. I also promised them that I would commit to them as much as they want me to. I believe that connecting on a friendship level helped this culture to grow. All of a sudden you have 8 kids working their tails off for wanting to do all they can for themselves, their coach and most importantly, their team mates. After the first year, we wanted the players to buy into the “journey” again but also were able to use the fact of continuing previous year’s success.

  2. Accountability – making every one accountable for their actions. No excuses for any one from player 1 to player 9 or 10. The same rules apply no matter who you are. Ask why they made a certain decision and what could they have done differently that could have been for the betterment of the team. Having players engaged and understanding not only what they’re doing but why they’re doing it plus the consequences of their actions seems to help them move forward at a quicker rate.

  3. Trainings – to me how you train is very important. I’ve seen so many teams training sessions to involve a lot of talking from coaches and drills against cones or chairs. I think the training sessions that we ran were a big reason to the success of the groups. Everything had to be structurally based whether it was offensive or defensive drills. It could be our warm up of finishing in the paint and around the rim to shooting drills to our game play drills. We wanted competitiveness, game conditions and learning about basketball in everything we do. We implemented a coaching on the run or fly style that seemed to be the best way to use the short time we had together on the court. During certain drills we would stop and freeze where they were and ask the group what was the error that we made, then ask them to provide some options or solutions. It was all put on them, from understanding the mistake to working out the solution. Then coaching staff would step in a show them the actions we were looking for. I believe these techniques increased their IQ as they appeared to understand the game at a higher level than a lot of players their age. They knew that in games where talent is relatively even, it would come down to understands the game more and who can go to another level.

Pictured above is Toby with this team that won the club's first ever State Championship at U14 Boys level

The reason for this success is the mindset of the young men that I have been fortunate to coach. I’ve had people tell me that they think I’m a good coach to which I respond immediately with it’s all about the players. I gave them the simple guidelines and structures that I felt can help them with their basketball development, but it was the players that bought in, worked their tails off and put in the hard work. They did it, without them the success wouldn’t be there and success that continued on as they moved to U16 and U18 age groups.

Pictured above are two excellent junior players that spent 2 years playing under Toby and went on to become NITP players, SA Country state team players and in the picture above represented a combined Australian Country teams in New Zealand.

My time at Central Districts Basketball Club came to an end just over a year ago and I left a better coach that when I first started. I am very proud of the four years coaching that age group. It is common knowledge in basketball circles that if someone 5 years ago had said the players, the club and I would have the development and success we had, they would have been told - they’re dreaming. I am so fortunate to have been involved in the development, winning championships and experiencing national tournaments with some fantastic young men. To this I thank the players and I thank Andrew Jantke who had the belief and trust in me to begin my coaching journey.

I took last year off as I needed a break and spend some time with my young family. My partner can tell that I am missing coaching and thinks I should offer my services again (I think she’s sick of me to be honest). So now I’m putting myself out there offering my services to a club that may think I have something to offer. I look forward to the next chapter of the journey, continuing to learn and develop as a coach, and more importantly, as a person.

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