THE WOBLAND GRAND MASTER
After 37 years dedicating his heart and soul to teaching and coaching young people at schools and on Unicaja’s youth teams, coaching maestro Bernardo Rodriguez, a renowned leader in youth basketball coaching, is set to spend his second summer as Technical Director at Campus WOB.
There isn’t a player out there who has been coached by Bernardo who doesn’t speak wonders of his work ethic and character. He has coached some of the best players in the history of Spanish basketball, including his own son, Berni Rodriguez.
We are excited that Don Bernardo has decided to stay on as part of our WOB family for another year and we would like to share a short interview so you can get to know him better and hear about the pillars of his philosophy as a youth basketball coach.
Hello Bernardo, welcome! We’d like to ask you: what is a coach and a maestro like yourself doing at a camp like this?
I’m here to have a great experience, to learn and share with the entire camp about something which is very gratifying to me: teaching and learning about this beautiful sport.
We’ve often heard you say in your courses and clinics that the ultimate goal of playing basketball in youth leagues is to contribute to children’s personal development in every way: physically, psychologically, cognitively, socially… Could you explain this idea in greater detail?
I would emphasize the word “contribute”, since the greatest responsibility in educating a child obviously lies with the family.
Basketball, consequently, cannot be seen as an end in itself, but rather as a means to help children to develop their physical potential and acquire healthy habits, instilling personal and social values such as commitment, perseverance in both favorable and unfavorable situations, taking on individual responsibilities for the benefit of the group, respecting others, being unselfish and accepting both winning and losing as just another part of the process of living.
Basketball also helps children develop their attention and concentration skills, helping them process the information that they take in while building their self-confidence, self-esteem and self-control, as well as their tolerance towards making an effort and sacrifices.
In sum, that is what they will find, to a greater or lesser degree, over the course of their lives. Basketball can and should help children to grow in all of the above-mentioned ways.
That’s why in our work as coaches, we always have to keep in mind that the activities that we carry out involve much more than just teaching technical and tactical skills. Would we feel good as coaches if we won a lot of games but our players were selfish, disrespectful towards others or incapable of accepting failure as something inherent to the game? That is why it is so difficult to be a youth coach.
In summary, EDUCATION FIRST, BASKETBALL LATER.
Well yes, in a very general and summarized sense, that is the idea that is at the heart of my work as a youth coach. From this point on, there are a number of other factors that guide the way I coach.
A child is a whole, the game is a whole. And that’s how you have to treat them as a coach.
Our job as coaches starts with the game of basketball itself and its requirements. Logically, sometimes you have to break the game down to work on individual components but then you immediately have to integrate them back into the whole, so they can be transferred into game situations.
Competition itself is a valuable teaching tool and children have to understand this. But families have to understand this as well. When families have a twisted perspective on the importance of competition, it can lead to irreversible damage in the child’s development.
On the other hand, I am much more interested in the process you follow to achieve your goals than in the result of the process. Youth coaches who win games but fail to achieve the personal and collective goals that they set out at the start of a game should not feel satisfied with their work.
Also, we can’t forget that a coach’s main source of information comes from the players themselves. So our best teaching tool as coaches comes from paying close attention to our players, seeing how they develop, identifying their weaknesses and knowing how to face different situations.
At Campus WOB we emphasize the importance of managing your emotions. We’ve heard you speak on a number of occasions about how important it is to know how to win and to lose.
That’s right. Winning and losing are the two possibilities that we’ll always encounter when we compete. So we have to teach kids to compete fairly and more importantly, to know how to win and how to lose. Your ultimate goal as a youth basketball coach is not to create “champions of anything” but rather to focus on the process itself, both individually and collectively, while always keeping the children’s qualities and potential in mind. As part of this learning process, your players have to learn to “create the game”, to share, to have fun and to play.
In terms of this last point, it’s essential to individualize practice and the learning process, since not all children have the same physical, technical or emotional characteristics, so you have to adjust the tasks to every child’s possibilities. If you fail to do so, you run the risk of frustrating the children and making them lose their joy for the game.
So having fun is the first main goal, right?
That’s the goal we all want to achieve with our players: TO HAVE FUN. But this goal has to go hand in hand with hard work and a desire to get better. If our players don’t improve, then our work is incomplete.
I personally think that it’s essential to use basketball to develop children’s mental skills. I think emotional factors play a critical role in the learning process, both in terms of a child’s physical growth as well as their technical and tactical development.
All of these ideas that I’m talking about are generally accepted by most youth coaches. The problem comes when you try to put them into practice, since implementing them isn’t easy and it requires practice and real effort on the coach’s part.
Could you tell us a little about your coaching methods? What are practices like according to your ideas?
I like to make the most out of our work time, so I design tasks where the greatest number of players can participate at the same time — if everyone participates, all the better.
When children are just learning how to play, we prioritize the amount of practice over the intensity of practice, though as soon as players learn a certain skill we should demand high intensity in drills, since that’s how it will be in games.
In terms of my coaching methods, I like to start from the requirements of the game itself, as I mentioned earlier, working on the skills the game requires and then applying them to game situations. If you coach this way, I think you help players transfer their skills to game situations much better than if you just work on different skills separately.
I think it’s crucial for players to develop decision-making skills, since these skills are key to reading the game. That’s why I design drills, activities and exercises that are set in real game contexts and which force players to be constantly taking in information from their surroundings.
One of the novelties this year at Campus WOB is CAMPUS WOB PRO, which is specially designed for boys and girls over 12 who want to take advantage of their week at camp to improve their basketball skills. How important is a player’s age when it comes to coaching skills?
I want kids who are just starting to learn to gain the greatest range of motor skills they possibly can, since this will serve as a foundation for later skills work. That’s why with younger players (8-11 year olds) we try to develop basic skills without getting too deep into technical details. When they are around 12 years old you can start a general process of technical training and then when they are 14 or 15 you can begin a process of specific technical training. These age ranges are very flexible and a coaches’ decisions will always depend on how their players develop.
Lastly, a case which is special to you: how to coach shooting.
Yes, shooting is a special case. From my point of view, shooting involves movements that you build up over time, so it’s something you should coach from the very beginning –obviously not in all of its technical aspects– but you should definitely coach certain elements of shooting which are very hard to change if players develop bad shooting habits.
One of the most important parts of coaching is how we correct our players in their learning process. Of course, we reject any methods that infringe upon a player’s dignity (insults, disparaging comments, etc.). I prioritize positive reinforcement over negative comments and I try to use the word “don’t” as little as possible. When players do something wrong, I show them what I think is the right way. So I try to use constructive corrections that give players the chance to get it right.
Well Bernardo, it’s been a real pleasure to have you with us. We’ll see you on July 2nd for Campus WOB’s 16th year, where we all continue growing as a team.
I’m excited for camp to start and I look forward to helping both the camp itself and all of its participants to have the most enjoyable and productive time possible.