Oct 17, 2018
Kobe Bryant shares thoughts on coaching, learning

Five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant was the headline speaker Tuesday at The Aspen Institute’s 2018 Project Play Summit. During his conversation with Kevin Carroll, he offered insight on learning the game of basketball and how his coaches influenced him along the way.

Kobe Bryant LakersHere are some of Bryant best comments.

On growing up playing soccer …

It trains the brain to look at things in sets of threes. … In basketball, what you see is the game being played with one or two players. There’s pick-and-roll, give-and-go.

In soccer, you’re playing in threes all the time, playing in triangles all the time. It’s not just my communication with you, but it’s how this communication and ball movement between us opens up something for that person. It’s not good enough for me to just think of you.

When I played basketball, it helped me at an early age to see the game three moves ahead instead of just two.

On the coaches who taught him the game at an early age …

They didn’t give me anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary to have. It wasn’t like they put me in front of a cone and forced me to dribble with a basketball, and then five tennis balls, and then do all this spinning and stuff. It’s unnecessary.

They taught me how to think the game first. How to pass left hand, right hand. How to finish left hand, right hand. And how to shoot the ball properly. Teach you how to play with others.

On basketball as work versus play …

It feels like you don’t work a day in your life when you’re doing what it is that you love to do. To me, play and hard work are one and the same. I didn’t realize basketball was hard work until it became a job and I started looking around at these other players and they weren’t playing as often as I was. And I started to realize, there’s a difference for some in work versus play. But for me, they’re one and the same.

On his high school coach, Gregg Downer …

He said, “If you want to get to that level, you have to stay at practice late. You want to get here early? I’ll go an open up the gym for you early.”

  » ALSO SEE: Kobe Bryant’s 3 tips for defensive slides

He was always on me about teaching the game. In high school, I could dominate because I was taller. He said, “No no, you got to get a mid-range game. It’s not good enough just to shoot 3 and post kids up, you gotta be able to get here, stop and pop. Pull up for the jumper, runners, all that good stuff.” He’s just a phenomenal coach.

Kobe Bryant Paul Pierce
Photo: Keith Allison, Flickr

On all of his coaches (soccer/basketball; Europe/America) …

They were never condescending. They were never abusive with how they taught the game. (My coaches) spoke to tactics, and if you had a question they encouraged it. They wanted you thinking more. It wasn’t a coach who said, “Look, I’m going to do all the thinking for you. Go out here, do this, do that” … I never had coaches like that. It was more like, “Here’s the idea, now what are you reading from that?”

They would always say our job is to give you the fundamentals, and from those fundamentals you can then have the ability to go out and problem solve.

On the value of imagination …

Imagination is key. You have to be able to envision it and dream it first. When I was a kid growing up, I’d be out playing by myself or when I was in the house with my dad’s tube socks, I would envision that I was inside the Forum. I would really be going against the Celtics. That’s what I see. To have the imagination and put yourself here … it’s really important to try and hold on to.

In this day and age, sports has become very structured, which is also concerning. It’s practice time, club teams, so we don’t have time to bring that imagination out.

On problem solving with young athletes …

If we’re constantly providing the answers for them, they’re not going to figure out how to problem solve on their own. So our job is to simply give them the tools to fish, and let them go out there and fish.

On coaching kids …

It’s a constant learning experience. We can’t discount the importance of coaches. If you ask Phil Jackson how do you get better as a coach, he’ll give you a very specific answer: What he reads, what he studies, psychology, human development … he studies up on how to connect with (players).

The level of importance that we have as coaches and parents cannot be understated. And to have a platform to be curious ourselves is extremely important.

Final musings …

It’s on us to try to teach kids what excellence looks like and feels like. They all have dreams of what they want to accomplish, and it’s our job not to tell them to have perspective or to be realist, but to give them the tools to help them chase that dream. And along that process, they’ll learn what excellence looks like.

As adults, it’s important for us to just get out of the way. Sometimes, it’s important for us to just observe, listen, learn and guide

Kobe’s call to action …

Learn. The same way Phil (Jackson) learns his players, I think we should challenge each other to do the same. You cannot underestimate the importance we have as coaches, the importance that sports play in the lives of our young children.

You can tell kids all you want how to be a good teammate, how to deal with anxiety, how to deal with pressure, but sports puts them in an environment on a daily basis in which they are challenged by those exact things, and emotionally they have to navigate their way through it.

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