Twitter – @AlexJSarama
Alex Sarama most recently coached at Elite Academy in Belgium as the Technical Director after three years working with the NBA. In his role as Associate Manager for Basketball Operations, Alex worked on NBA initiatives across Europe, Middle East & Africa to grow the game of basketball. This involved extensive travel to deliver clinics for both players and coaches all over the world, as well as coaching within programs such as the Jr. NBA, NBA Player Camps, Basketball without Borders, NBA Global Camp and NBA Global Games.
Within Elite Academy, Alex acted as Technical Director overseeing the player and coach development for all age group teams and coaches in the program. Additionally, he was the Head Coach for the U16 and U18 Boy’s teams.
Growing up in Guildford, England, Sarama was previously the founder and director of Goldhawks Basketball from 2011 – 2016. The club was based in Guildford, Surrey, where Alex worked with over 200+ youth players.
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Get your notebook and grab a pen so you can take some notes as you listen to this episode with Alex Sarama, International Basketball Coach.
What We Discuss with Alex Sarama
- Starting his own basketball club in the UK at age 14
- Transformational vs. Transactional Coaching
- The concept of Kaizen and small, consistent improvements
- Learning the business side of basketball running his club
- How he became an intern with NBA Europe
- Being influenced by Ganon Baker
- Advice on being a role model and inspiring kids
- Comparing coaching to being a conductor in an orchestra
- Allowing space for players to make decisions out on the court
- Teaching with small-sided games
- Picking your moments to offer feedback
- Using questions in practice as opposed to always offering instruction
- Why you should record yourself coaching and what you will learn when you do
- Using a code word with your staff for when a teaching point is going on too long
- Developing a common language for your team
- The willingness of coaches to share their knowledge all over the world
- Creating an 80 page playbook for Elite Academy and why that process was so valuable
- The Elite Academy approach to the overall development of their players – exposing them to experts in many specialties
- How Elite Academy structures their training year
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THANKS, ALEX SARAMA
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TRANSCRIPT FOR ALEX SARAMA – INTERNATIONAL BASKETBALL COACH – EPISODE 309
[00:00:00] Mike Klinzing: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the Hoop Heads Podcast. It’s Mike Klinzing here without my co-host Jason Sunkle this morning, but I am pleased to be joined by Alex Sarama from Elite Athletes in Belgium, Alex, welcome to the podcast.
Alex Sarama: [00:00:12] Thank you, Mike. It’s great to be on and looking forward to talking basketball.
Mike Klinzing: [00:00:17] Absolutely. We are excited to have you on and wanted to get a chance to dive into your basketball story, learn more about what you’re doing for the game. They’re in Belgium and internationally. With all the experience that you’ve had. Want to start out by going back in time to when you were a young kid.
Tell us a little bit about how you fell in love with the game of basketball.
Alex Sarama: [00:00:35] Absolutely. So this will be fun because I’ve never really had the chance to, to share like my whole background into a, it’s a coaching. I did it on a private zoom call with some coaches. You have a week. I think it’s really kind of how I got into the game and my experiences play.
I think it really kind of shaped how I coach now and the philosophy I have. So it all started for [00:01:00] me. I mean, in England, growing up in England, a town called Guilford, a pretty small town outside London. Basketball isn’t a big sport in the UK, but, The local pro team in the town called the Guilford Heat.
They were the biggest club in England at the time. And, so I just, I went to a game and absolutely loved it. I was playing soccer and tennis, and then as soon as I saw them play and I started, you know, doing sessions at my school. I knew that, you know, basketball was the sport I wanted to, to pursue.
So that was when I was about 11 or 11 years old. So played at school and then, because of, of how, what the structure is like in, in England, it’s nothing like the U S where, you know, sport in schools as so. established and delivered to a good level. It’s, it’s a cloud based system. So that meant that the delivery in scores is really poor.
[00:02:00] So when I got through about the age of 14, I started a basketball club at my school for kids who are younger than me for the 11 and 12 year olds. and it was from that age really that I knew I wanted to coach. I just loved the. The feeling and the impact that you could have through coaching and how you could really help, help young, young kids improve.
So I, I started coaching doing it a little bit more, and then the club that I was playing with, the Guilford heat, I was playing for that youth sector. I started doing a little bit of coaching for them. but I had a, I really enjoyed it up until I got to one particular team, which was the under sixteens.
and I, I went from playing in a local level, what we call locally to playing national league, which was a higher standard. And I just had really, really bad experience in terms of, the coaching that I received that year. And like, I didn’t know at the time, but I knew that there must’ve been [00:03:00] a more effective way to coach, but I just didn’t know what that looked like or what it felt like to be coached in that way.
And now that’s what I call transactional coaching. And that’s why. I’m so big on this whole idea of being a transformational coach, but, anyway, it was, it was really interesting. The, the season finished and, the Jordan brand classic event came to my town, which was, I mean, what are the chances of that?
And the Jordan Jordan brand classic was for the top 40. European prospects at the time, age do you? 17 so I mean, there was some big, I remember Mario Hezonja, obviously now a pretty established NBA name. He was kind of a top player there. So as part of the, the outreach for that event, they invented, some local clubs.
So I got to go and Gannon Baker did a clinic. And, I just, I, I felt like the energy that he was able to transmit in the session, and he was the one with tennis will stuff. And, you know, I, I don’t do that now, [00:04:00] but I just think the way he was able to hold the group and inspire the kids, that really kind of got to me.
And, so it was after that, Mike, I was, you know, I was 16 at the time, and I decided to, that I wanted to start my own basketball club. so I, I basically, long story short, I ended up starting a club called the Guilford gold box, and the idea was to still keep playing. but that, that didn’t work out.
So I, I completely stopped, stop playing with this Guilford heat club, and I just really wanted to dedicate myself to coaching. So, Really, that’s when I started this idea of Kaizen, which is, it’s something I use a lot now, elite athletes, but it’s something we talk about frequently and it comes from Japan and Toyota, and it’s basically this idea of continuous improvement.
what can you do each day, whether it’s small or something, a lot that you can do to dedicate on your craft to get [00:05:00] better. So I was doing a lot of studying and you know, I’d say at the time it wasn’t the most effective things I was doing. a lot of like flashy staff tennis balls too, or dribbling, lots of like on-air stuff.
But I still think the essence of the program in terms of trying to be transformational, inspiring kids, it was still there. So the clubs started growing really quickly, and I was still at school at this time, at the high school. So I was, I mean, I was running this some 16, 17, 18, and then I had to make a decision as to where I’d go to university in England.
So, I, history had always been what I enjoyed. So. I ended up going to the university of Nottingham and reading, reading modern history, which was great. That’s in the North of the Midlands of England. But I was doing that, running the club at the same time, and we had some good success with the programming we were producing.
In like international play, especially on the girl’s side. A lot of, we had [00:06:00] about 10 girls that got picked for England teams and you know, this was a very new program. I had a team of five coaches who are as employing like full time as an 18 year old and they’d be going coaching in schools, running the club.
So the university years went well in England. It’s just three years. so I did my study and go back to your foods a lot. There was like a two and a half hour train ride, so I was going back weekends to coach, help the club out. and I, I met a lot of people during that time who, Who now I, I talk about a lot people like Alan Key, James via Ashley Cook, sir, who, who I actually just started a podcast with
and so it was a great experience, but it was learning a lot by failure. And I, you know, as a, as someone so young, I had no idea how to manage people, how to do finances, but. Some really good lessons I took from that. And then my last year of university for, you know, moving forward for that, I [00:07:00] had to make a decision what I would do.
And I went through a pretty good university in the loving, one of the regarded as one of the top universities there. So there was some pressure to, you know, go and go and get a. what is considered a normal job. I didn’t want to do that. It’d always been about basketball. But the van, an opportunity with the NBA came up, NBA Europe advertising for internships.
And just so happened that the main headquarters for Europe, middle East and Africa are in London. So hundreds of people, thousands of people applied. And I was fortunate enough to get one of the internships, and that was in. Basketball operations and communications, which is based in PR. So how is working across both departments for six months?
And, my first opportunity was like two weeks into the job and are sitting at home on a Sunday evening. And I got a phone call from my manager at the time and he was like, what are you doing tomorrow? Can you come to Finland? And I was like, you know, [00:08:00] of course, that was for the basketball, that borders camp.
So it was. you know, scores of NBA players, coaches, personnel. They’re working with some of the best kids in Europe. I mean, countless NBA alumni went to that event and basically they, they threw me into the fire and the girl’s side of the account. Vanya van, your son, the veterans, my colleagues, she gave me the chance to run the first half an hour.
The camp. And that was my, my big break. I prepared for it and you know, I delivered something. They liked it. And then from then that moment onwards, they kind of could see, I could coach. They trusted me more, so I really was able to enjoy and do well with the internship. So they relocated me to Madrid in Spain.
After that. had an amazing opportunity to travel the world with the MBA went. So I think close to like 40 countries. I never imagined I would end up going somewhere like Kazakhstan, if, if you ask me, you know what I’d [00:09:00] be doing just the year before that, so literally traveled the world doing clinics to the NBA, junior NBA staff.
learning about the NBA business, making some great connections, but I, I really wanted to show, you know, what my ideas were for youth basketball and have a platform to share all the research that I’d be doing. Everything that I’d be listening to, studies, I’d be reading clinics I’ve been watching. So I just wanted to coach as opposed to doing clinics.
I wanted to have my own programs so. The opportunity came up to join Athletes slash Elite Academy in Belgi and you know, I think if any of the listeners know, I think it, it’s kind of the program’s been going a while and the work that Yara can, Ali had done, they’re always been very innovative and kind of trying to push the edge of what youth development looks like.
So I just figured it would be a really good fit. So took the, I mean it was a very difficult decision to leave the [00:10:00] NBA cause. Had some amazing people working with some of the colleagues like Manya Henry and Neil, who is my boss, who was like a 10 year NBA coach. So it was very difficult to leave, but I felt like I had to do it just because of.
Of where I wanted to go in terms of being able to coach at the highest level. So that’s kind of what’s, I know that’s a long, long background, but a lot of that kind of helps paint the picture of all the ideas I’ve taken over the years and how I ended up in Belgium and in Antwerp where I am right now.
Mike Klinzing: [00:10:32] All right, let’s go back. I want to just circle back to a couple of things that, as you were talking, just some things that stood out to me. So first of all, I know you mentioned a little bit, but when you started your own club, obviously you got into that too. Do it for the coaching piece of it, but clearly there was a business side of that and trying to figure all that out.
So as a 1617 year old kid, just talk a little bit about what that experience was like, maybe in a little bit more depth in terms of just trying to [00:11:00] run the business side of it, because obviously you had the love for coaching and being out on the floor with kids and coaching and doing those types of things, but just from a business standpoint, just talk a little bit more about what that was like.
Alex Sarama: [00:11:11] Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, I think one of my, my, one of my traits is I’ve always been pretty organized. I think that’s seen in, in my coaching, and how I prepare, prepare things and, and just all of that. I think my organization skills I like to think are reflected on the coaching side, but I think that was really key for the, for the business part of it in terms of, we were very organized and it was just.
I was, I was putting a lot of time in, but the things which I missed out on, I think were just things which come with experience. And that’s more like the soft skills. learning how to interact with people, especially, you know, the fact that these were adults who were a lot older than me. I think what, as you get a little bit mature, especially as I traveled.
I like when I [00:12:00] look back, when I, even when with the MBA, when I was looking back at some of the things I was doing, I was cringing just because a couple of years and made me so much, so much smarter. But I think the, you know, the approach I had was the fact that I was so young and you know, adults who are working in the club, I had to make sure that the organization was such a high level that no one would doubt my age.
And also I wanted, it was kind of the reason I got so obsessed with the self study because I didn’t want people to make offices. The 16 year old, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. So for me, I kind of just saw it as motivation to learn more, to study more, to get better, so that people wouldn’t talk about my age, but more like the qualities and what I was trying to do.
Mike Klinzing: [00:12:46] So where did you go? What were your go to sources at that time for trying to learn more? Were you reading books? What were you doing? What was it that you tried to do to improve yourself?
Alex Sarama: [00:12:55] I think that’s one of the hardest things for coaches today, especially young [00:13:00] coaches because there’s, there’s so much, there’s an abundance of information out there.
I think it’s so hard to have a filter and to actually figure out, you know, especially during this difficult period with the Corona virus, I mean, where there’s so much all around us and it’s actually a skill to be able to look at things with a wider lens and to take in the stuff that is most applicable to you.
So at the time I mentioned Gannon Baker, but I, I was really, I watched a lot of his stuff and I just. I just want, I saw one of Gannon’s virtual clinics the other day and I still just love how the energy that he has and you know,
Mike Klinzing: [00:13:37] I agree with you. He’s just off the charts on that area.
Alex Sarama: [00:13:41] 100% I think that’s a big part of transformational coaching, being able to inspire.
Kids, you know, and I wouldn’t necessarily do all the stuff Ganon does, but I think that the base there and looking at how you can have an influence on kids, it’s some really good stuff. I did get onto Brian, someone, Brian [00:14:00] McCormick’s books at a young age, I think when I was about 16, 17. and I speak to Brian quite a bit now, but I think his books in terms of fake fundamentals, they’re on Kindle.
21st century coaching. That actually inspired me a lot because when I started the club MC, I actually started the Gold Hawks with a family friend. And the first sessions he did, I thought they were amazing cause there was all these fundamentals, you know, like zigzag, drill. Two lines passing. And I was like, Oh, I wish I had this when I was younger.
But then when I read Brian’s books, I realized there was actually fake fundamentals, you know, and we were, we were doing all these things in practice, which don’t transfer to the game. So, that, that was a defining moment for me, reading, reading Brian stuff. And then I’d say I was, I was pretty lucky in terms of, I then started to get onto some of the games approach ideas, I think as it was taking off.
So that was when I discovered Mike McKay for the first time. And [00:15:00] you know, Mike is a mentor to me now. I’ve, I’ve been fortunate to spend a lot of time around Mike and, and having conversations with him. So I think I was very fortunate in terms of, I was able to get access to some, some really good ideas at a young age.
Mike Klinzing: [00:15:16] I think the opportunity to be able to have those experiences, as you said when you were younger, because a lot of times, I know, and I’ve spoken about this on the podcast before, just about myself and I think about when I was 22 2324 and I’m 50 now, so this is a long time ago, but back then I had just come off a playing career and kind of just felt like, Hey, I was a good player.
I know how to coach. And probably didn’t do some of the things that you described yourself doing at a young age, which gave you a nice head start in terms of being able to figure out what works, what doesn’t work, figure out your coaching style. Whereas I look back and I basically just kind of mimicked the coaches that I had as a high school player and [00:16:00] as a college player.
And that was kind of what I did. And it wasn’t because I had studied and analyzed whether or not it worked or it was just, that was just what I knew. And at the time, I guess, I don’t know if it was arrogance or just confidence that I knew what I was doing, but I just didn’t go out and do the things that you described that you did, which is try to learn from people who have done it before and who have different ideas and thoughts and try to put together.
My own philosophy, and I came to that in life much later than you. And then even through the course of doing the podcast over the last two years, I feel like my education in the game of basketball and coaching has really taken off. And one of the things that’s kind of been a theme of what you’ve been talking about is your transformational versus transactional coaching, which is something that any coaches out there that’s done any kind of reading at all.
Has probably heard those terms, but let’s just in your own mind, define for us when you say transformational coaching defined for us in your mind what that means.
Alex Sarama: [00:16:56] Absolutely. Mike, I just, before I do that, [00:17:00] that’s an interesting point you made, I think you know 90% of coaches. They coach the way they coach because of what they had when they were younger.
I think with me, I think it was actually just lucky, the fact that the coaching I had was so bad that that was the reason I didn’t want to coach in that style. so I, yeah, it’s a really interesting one, but, you know, to answer the questions as the transom transformational versus transactional. So. To give you some comparisons.
The transformational coach is someone who focuses on, on vision and the longvterm in mind and a transactional coach. It’s more short term. You’re focused on, on winning, and obviously at the pro level, that’s very different. So the youth level in the context and working out, but transactional is more your coaching.
And, You’re more like reactive in nature and you’re using kind of punishment or rewards as motivation. You’re like, if you do this, I will give you this. If you [00:18:00] like run X amount of suicides, it’s, you’re doing it to try and motivate, motivate the kids. Whereas the transformational coach and what we talk about elite, elite Academy is we’re trying to use our charisma as coaches and just.
being able to inspire the kids through other ways to motivate them. And, we talk about being role models as a transformational coach. So we’re walking the talk. So I spoken about the Kaizen concept already and, you know, very similar to what you said about why one of the reasons you’re doing the podcast, Mike, to actually learn some new things.
Well, I think that that’s a great example of the Kaizen, but, As if we’re expecting our players to, to be learning and to be getting better, especially during this period with the virus. We as a staff have to be doing that. So all the things we’re doing at EA is we focus so much on coach development as a whole staff and showing, you know, I think the kids, they, they have a growth mindset.
If they see it in the cultures. and I think if, if [00:19:00] the coach doesn’t have a growth mindset, I think it’s much less likely to filter down to the kids. Then other elements of transformational, I mean, we talk about challenging players to think, the transactional coach to me is more of a PlayStation coach.
And what I mean by that is if, if we’re imagining a game is taking place and we see a lot of coaches and, and there being a PlayStation coach and they’re shouting and telling players what they’re trying to do. the whole time pass here, shoot, dribble, dribble, set a screen, and it’s like they’re controlling the joystick, like NBA two K.
And that’s kind of what I spoke about on that virtual clinic when I gave the analogy of the orchestra. And how a coach needs to be like more like a conductor from a classical orchestra. Because you know, if we started seeing during a great classical performance, the conductor shouting at the violin sections or turning to the clarinets or elbows and telling him to speed up, while it would ruin the performance.
And that is exactly what happens when coaches and a game do the same [00:20:00] thing. Because we’ve got to think about how difficult it is for a young athlete to make decisions. You know, especially with the pressure of the crowd, that the situation in the game and then all the information they’ve got to take in to make a decision.
You know, is this choir open? maybe it’s a ball screen. They’re running and they’re tagging the roller. They’ve got to try and make that decision. Who’s open while, if the plate, the coaches shouting instructions. Information is coming in from the crowd. That’s like an overload on the brain. So transformational is we’re allowing the players to think for themselves and put them into, in situations where they can do that without trying to control and influence that Mecca mechanism.
To do that. And then just start, I’d say last things to touch on here. And I think, something. In in Europe, maybe we need to focus on a little bit more is the inspirational element, and I think in Europe we are so good on the basketball part, the technical, tactical, but I think maybe we, [00:21:00] this is where we need to pull a little bit from the States and this is kind of why I’m trying to balance my coaching between both cultures in terms of having the tech tax from Europe.
Then having the inspirational and the feedback culture stuff that I think some North American cultures are really good at.
Mike Klinzing: [00:21:18] So I like when you talked about having kids, being able to have the opportunity to make decisions, because to me, that’s one of the issues that when I go out and I have. Kids that are my, my daughter is in high school.
My son is a middle schooler, and then I have a daughter in elementary school, so I’ve coached them at all various levels and go to tournaments tonight. I so often have talked about and seen whether it’s coaches on the sideline. Just constantly yelling instructions where to go do this, do that. And as you said, the kids out there on the floor have a difficult time processing that in real time and it just distracts them.
And then you think about [00:22:00] parents that are in the stands doing the same thing. And this is a topic that I’ve frequently talked about, and I just think that when you try to put yourself in that position where somebody, and in this case. Two or maybe three, somebody are all yelling things at you and an oftentimes there.
They’re in. They’re not, they’re not in concert with what the coach wants you to do. So the coach may wants you to do something. Mom’s yelling something else, dad’s yelling something and you’re out there trying to play and make these decisions. And it just becomes to the point where the kid is overloaded.
And I had a John L. Sullivan who, I don’t know if you know John at all, but
Alex Sarama: [00:22:37] I went to one of his seminars live actually.
Mike Klinzing: [00:22:39] Okay. And how many, he’s just tremendously smart. But in his book that he just came out with recently, he, when he was on the podcast, he talked about a quote basically that says the intelligence should be in the game and not on the sidelines.
And to me, like that line just encapsulated everything that you talked about, which is, I can be on the sideline as the coach [00:23:00] yelling all kinds of things that I see or that I think I know. But ultimately. I can never provide enough direction as the coach to every player out there to get those things to happen.
I have to transfer that intelligence to my players through our practices and through the things that we’re doing and through thinking through the game and giving kids an opportunity to learn how to make decisions as opposed to me trying to, as you said, be that PlayStation coach who controls every movement of my players out on the floor.
Alex Sarama: [00:23:27] Yeah, absolutely. Mike. You know, and just to add on that, I think when we look at the role of a coach and what good coaching looks like, sounds like and feels like it’s actually to make your, your role, more redundant as the coach. Because if your players are having to rely on you, well to me that means you haven’t done a good job coaching because they can’t be independent of you.
So that’s the thing that I’m trying to do at Elite Academy is. You’re not trying to create performers and an athlete too. [00:24:00] Can can self regulate the able to perform individually and they’re not relying on mom and dad shouting instructions or looking over to them to support, they’re not relying on the coach.
They can just go out and in the storm of the game, they can execute and perform under pressure.
Mike Klinzing: [00:24:16] So what does that look like when you’re organizing a practice or a training session with a team or a group of players? What does it look like? Give us some, some concrete examples of things that you do that help kids with that decision making process out on the floor that’s going to help them be prepared to react in such a way in a game that they aren’t relying on their coach or somebody in the stands yelling things out to them.
Alex Sarama: [00:24:39] Absolutely. So I think the practice design is a key component of that. And what I mean by practice design is simply how you, what you, what you’re putting in your practice. And that’s where small sided games are absolutely critical. And I think we’re seeing a good shift, especially over the last two years with.
coach’s moving away from the old platform [00:25:00] drills, things done on air against, you know, playing, not playing against the fenders. And I think people are definitely taking in more of a game sense approach now. And for me, that’s really important because, Simply, you know, if you’re not creating opportunities in your practice suppliers to make decisions, then you’re not going to see that transfer to the game.
So what you’re actually putting in the, in the practice is really key. But then how you’re giving feedback and how you’re actually coaching, I went to the basketball bit is that’s kind of easy to an extent because anyone now can go on Twitter and get great small sided games, ideas, you know, so many good resources out there.
But then how are you actually delivering that? That’s, that’s a kind of a different art. And for me, I, something that I’m very self conscious of is the feedback element. And that means, when we look at different types of feedback, trying to be a little, you know, Brian McCormick’s got some great stuff on this and he speaks a lot about [00:26:00] specific versus general.
And so many times we see, the general feedback being given. And what I mean by that is coach is saying things like, good job, good job. and then not actually being specific. What was good about that? And that’s what I’m, I’m really trying to, that’s why I really tried to focus on this year. So I can really be specific to athletes and not always giving feedback to every rep of a small site game.
And there are moments, you know, if you’re doing that and your. Giving a running commentary during your practice will play as just, they’re not going to listen to you and it becomes white noise to them. So picking the moments that you, you, you say something, it means that what you say is going to be taken in much more, by the athletes.
So I, I, I use, like, I use the term delayed versus instant. You know, I’m not giving instant feedback on every rep. I might say it’s an individual walkout or a team practice. I might let them play a little bit and self explore and then we’ll do a recap after that. So that’s just some different [00:27:00] ways that we give feedback.
And then as well, you know, the most obvious one in terms of, instructional versus open ended questions. So using questions to try and probe a response from the athlete and, open versus closed questions. So an open question would be more stuff like, how did that feel? What did you see that. Well, what was the reason you made that decision?
I think those are just some really key probes that the coaches can be asking to kind of prompt some of this stuff.
Mike Klinzing: [00:27:29] So how intentional do you have to be with that as you’re going into a practice or going into a season or thinking about for a coach, maybe who’s trying to change the way that they give feedback?
Because I know that if I don’t. Go into a practice with the idea that I want to coach and ask more questions, or I want to make sure that my feedback is specific. I’ve been as guilty as anyone, and I think it’s very easy to fall into that trap of the good job, the [00:28:00] nonspecific type of feedback. Or a lot of times as a coach, we want to say, here’s what I saw.
Here’s what you should have done. Rather than, as you said, ask that question. And what I find is when I’m consciously thinking about. The things that you just described, then I do a really good job of it. If for some reason I lose my concentration as a coach or I get unfocused, sometimes I go back to maybe those old ways of doing things.
So just for yourself, do you have to constantly have that in the forefront of your mind that I’ve got to remember to give specific feedback. I’ve got to remember to ask questions just as that’s something that you go into every practice with or every training session with the idea that that’s the type of feedback that I want to provide.
Alex Sarama: [00:28:42] Yeah, absolutely. So I think when I, when I realized that I needed to get better at it, that was, I think, October, November, kind of early season. I was always being sure to remind myself of it, each practice. and what’s really helped me is just miking myself up. [00:29:00] so I mean, you can buy an audio recorder, so like $50 on eBay and Amazon.
And all I do is I might cop every practice and games as well. And then I just, I get all the audio because the audio is actually, I find the audio more important than the video. And, this is just some advice. My mentor Mike McKay gave me, he visited me in Belgium in February, and he was with. Team Canada that just played some of the FIBA world cup qualifiers in Belgi
So we spent a week together and, Mike was just like, you know, you should really make yourself up consistently. And then just play it back when you’re working in the day. So what I do now is just, after delivering a practice, say I’m, you know, doing emails the next day or on practice planning or even, you know, doing something like cooking or driving, I’m actually just playing the practice back all the game.
And that’s really what makes me self-aware, by, I have noticed that since I’m doing that, my self [00:30:00] awareness has shot up just because of the fault that the. That the microphone is there. And then another way to do it is, I think this is a great way to kind of build, build trust and confidence with your players is just being runnable with them and telling them, this is what I want to get better at.
So at the Academy, we’ve, we’re just introducing something called. An IPP, which is an individual performance plan. So every player has their own IPP of stuff that they need to work on. and it’s just the rule of three. So it’s three things, max, and it’s really specific. So it could be something like shooting off the twist.
it could be something like making the right decision versus a drop coverage and pick a role. So basically the first, you know, a few 10 minutes of every team practice players are working on their IPP. But then the idea is with our coaches, we’re going to do our own. IPP is for coaches. So what is it that we as coaches want to get better at?
Because you know what, I’m, what I’m going to do, [00:31:00] I’m coaching on the 20 ones next year. I’m going to get the players to present on their ITPs to each other, and then I’m going to present on mine and I want to be. being vulnerable with my guys and you know, some of them I think will, will go on to have good poker is I’ve got some pretty talented guys.
I think they’ve answered some decent levels of in Europe. And I’m just going to be like, this is what I need to get better at. And if it is feedback, I would tell them that. And then we would have a relationship where if, you know, in the practice session, if I’m not being specific, if I’m not being conducive with the feedback I’m giving, we have that relationship where they will just tell me.
And I think that’s the best way to regulate and and just be open with your players.
Mike Klinzing: [00:31:45] I love that. There’s two things. One, what you just said kind of goes back to something that you had spoken about earlier, which is the need for you as a coach to model what you want to see in your players. So if you’re going to ask your players to have that growth mindset and grow and put together an [00:32:00] IPP, well then it’s clearly important for you to do that as a coach.
And as you said, by you showing your vulnerability by you showing. Your players, the things that, Hey, I’m not perfect. These are some things I need to work on. I think that can only continue to engender that respect from your players because they see you in the trenches with them doing the same thing, trying to improve and get better.
And then I go back to, it’s funny because right when you started talking about changing and being intentional about doing. Asking questions in the way you were coaching that. Then my next question was going to be have governed videotaped or tape yourself, and then you went right into talking about that.
So that was perfect. So my question related to that then is when you first Mike yourself up. Was there things that you were surprised that you heard that you didn’t realize maybe you were doing as much or as little as you actually were when you listened to that tape for the first time or two
Alex Sarama: [00:32:54] All the time.
And I think it’s, that’s, that’s part of the journey is as a coach. And I mean, there’s [00:33:00] still so much like when I’m playing stuff back, which I know it needs to be better, but at least now I’m self aware of that and I’m trying to address it. And to me, I think it was things like, It was actually too spending too long sometimes to set, to explain like a small site, a game or a drill that we’re doing and just talking for too long.
And then, you know, I’m seeing the time tick by on that record and I’m like, geez, this has to be better, Alex. and then some things which, I had, I had one the players and one of my teams this year who, Who really struggled to understand concepts, and it wasn’t his fault. He was, in Belgi we’ve got two languages.
We’ve got, French and the Dutch part, and we’re in the Dutch part, and he was coming from the French part, great kid, but coming from the French part, so he was learning Dutch and English at the same time. plus, you know, he was, he was one of the younger players in that group. So a [00:34:00] lot of the concepts that I was doing.
I mean, there was like Sweden, Chinese for him, and you know, he really improved up the season, but I didn’t do a very good job being transformational with him at certain points. Like I would assume, I assume it would be easy or presume it would be obvious. and it really wasn’t. So I think that was an experience that actually helped upon reflection.
Make me. a little bit, a better coach, you know, and I think it’s knowing how to manage players who need a little bit more time to maybe learn a concept or something. I think that’s really important and things which appear obvious to you as the coach. I can guarantee that. Not obvious to a 14, 15 year old kid.
Mike Klinzing: [00:34:45] Yeah, no question about that. And then I think that one of the best skills that you can have as a coach is something that you just talked about, which is the ability to deliver information in a clear, concise way, in a short amount of time. Cause we all know, as you said, if you stand up and you [00:35:00] explain. A drill or a concept and you’re going to talk for two or three minutes.
By the time those two or three minutes are over, you can guarantee that 95% of your players are staring up at the ceiling or looking around and they’ve completely tuned out to what you’re saying, and if you can accomplish that same thing in 15 seconds or 20 seconds and explain it, I think that’s a huge piece of it.
Another thing that always seems important to me, and just tell me if this. Applies to what you’re doing. But I always think that one of the most important things that coach can do is to make sure that you have terminology and names for everything that you do so that you can quickly say, okay, everybody, we’re going to jump into drill acts.
And everybody immediately knows what drill actually is as opposed to, alright. We’re going to go into that drill where remember, this is what we do. And I just think that terminology and making sure that you have names for everything you do is so important. If you found that to be the case at all.
Alex Sarama: [00:35:53] Yeah, 100% on, on terminology.
And I think it was just an interesting thing you were saying [00:36:00] about talking too long. And I think a good thing that coaches, if you haven’t, you know, you’re fortunate enough to have an assistant coach. Just have them time you when you’re making an intervention or explaining something. And I, something that we did is if it got to 45 seconds, and I was still talking, my coach would give a trigger word and it could be anything.
And we use something I stole from Mark, Mark Bennett, a great UK like performance, sports coach who has some really good, good ideas. And we just use the word pineapple. So if I was speaking for 45 seconds and it went over that time, and my assistant coach felt that. it was going on too long and it wasn’t something, and it was unnecessary for me to be speaking longer.
They’d just say, pineapple, I’d stop talking, would go into it. I get, it’s a good exercise, tangible fee you can do as a coaching staff to kind of look at that. But I mean, going to the question of terminology, I am a, I am. [00:37:00] I consider it to be very important for sure. And we have a glossary that we expect all our coaches in the age groups in all our age groups, some on the twelves up to you, 20 ones to be using because you know, it just doesn’t make sense for kids to be going up age groups if they’ll, you know, they got new concepts to learn and if they’re having to relearn words while that’s just not, not, can use light, productive whatsoever to the athletes.
So, as the technical director of the Academy. I consider it to be really important that we all speak in the same average. We give the glossaries to our kids to learn. And then someone we’ve just started doing to kind of teach it to them in a fun way is, sharing clips on our social media platforms.
So. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and I’m using our terminology. You’re using it to describe the clip. So I mean, coaches listening to this, just check out elite Academy on 12, and you’ll see some, especially on my Facebook [00:38:00] too, and I basically just give a short description and a couple of paragraphs as to what we’re seeing.
And then the key buzzwords in there I define at the bottom of the post. And it’s just a really fun way to kind of. McKay talks about hiding the carrots and the spaghetti sauce. Well, that’s a good example of that. We’re kind of showing them something fun, but at the same time they’re getting a chance to learn and speak our language.
Mike Klinzing: [00:38:23] Yeah. I think that’s critical, especially as you talk about youth players and so often we forget, I think as coaches that basketball is a game and it needs to be fun. And too often I’ll see coaches that they’re so focused on. I don’t even know what you’d call it, but it’s just they make it where the game is not fun.
And I think if you can figure out a way as a coach to make sure that your players are engaged and that they’re having fun and that you as yourself, as the coach are having fun. And yet you’re still being able to teach them those decision making skills and the skills that they need from a technical scan [00:39:00] standpoint to be able to perform in a game.
Then I think you’re really getting into that transformational coaching that you were talking about where the kids see you as the coach having fun and putting the time in, and then they consequently, because you’ve put the time in planning and coming up with your drills and your activities and your practice plan.
That is going to be beneficial to them as players, but also is going to do it in such a way that the kids enjoy it and love it and want to come back. To me as a youth coach, one of the most important things that you can do is to instill a love of the game. In a young kid because we know if a kid falls in love with the game of basketball at age eight nine and 10 they’re much more likely to stick with it and work harder and practice because they love the game, not because their coach is telling them to or their mom is telling them to or their dad is telling them to or their friends.
It’s because they have this innate intrinsic motivation to be able to continue to play. And to me, that’s so critical as a youth coach.
Alex Sarama: [00:39:55] Yeah, I 100% agree with all of that. Mike and in Europe from a European [00:40:00] perspective, I hate in the countries where basketball is not number one, I E.
Quite a few countries in Europe that is West where soccer is number one and basketball is second and most of those and add lots of other sports. And there’s lots of competition because these sports are played year round. And I feel like in some countries like Serbia or Lithuania. You don’t necessarily that enjoyment side, maybe it doesn’t, it’s not always there because simply the basketball is number one there and the kids aren’t going to drop out and do another sport.
Whereas in Belgi where I’m coaching, obviously this year, especially in the UK where I’m from, if it’s not fun, kids are just going to go and play another sport and then you’ll lose that kid. Potentially. You lose that kid from basketball for life, and that’s why being a transformational coach and.
Everything that we’ve spoken about in this podcast, you know, using small sided games, making the experience fun for the athlete. Well, if we’re doing that, we’re going to have more people playing [00:41:00] our sport for life, which is obviously the goal.
Mike Klinzing: [00:41:02] Absolutely. Which goes back to, I want to circle back to your experience with the NBA, because I just had a couple of things that I want to touch on and then we’ll get more into how you ended up getting connected with the guys at elite athletes.
But let’s talk about your NBA experience, and I know you mentioned that you had. Been to over 40 countries. So when you think back to that time, was there any country or experience that was surprising based on maybe what you thought before you went to that country? Just maybe share one or two. Not even necessarily basketball experiences, but just cultural experiences from the opportunity to travel to different parts of the world that maybe a lot of people haven’t gotten a chance to go to.
Just talk about maybe one or two transformational country, experiences that you had.
Alex Sarama: [00:41:46] Absolutely. So, I mean, that’s all. I’m asina, one of my coaching idols, he appeared on, on the immersion podcasts, and he spoke about how travel is kind of like number one for exposing you to new ideas. And. [00:42:00] self-development.
And for me it was, well, I could come see, can see it completely what he means. And I’d say first just living in Spain. I mean, Madrid is what an amazing city Madrid is. But then just being able to see some of the cool things done in Spanish basketball. I mean, I was doing, I did. My last year I was coaching a group of under 10 under 11 girls at the school.
So not even the club, just sort of school and some of the things that they’re encouraged to do, like passing with one hand. Like underhand finishes and these are 10 year olds. And it’s like just that pure creativity. I who was, it was so cool to see that. I mean, at EA we talk now about basic amazing and how I think so many coaches have the idea of fundamental skills and they have this idea of fundamentals completely wrong.
And to ask like a fundamental, there’s not a two hand chest pass, which you hardly see for us would be [00:43:00] like a fundamental, it could be a one hand NOLA puffs. Because it is fundamental. You have to be able to do that, especially at the highest level. You know, say you’re on a pick and roll scenario. You’re trying to deceive the defense with your eyes.
That’s a critical, critical skill you need to play at the highest level. So I think just living in Spain, seeing some of that creativity more just the friendliness of Spanish coaches. I mean, I was at this club Tarla donors, and they invited me to their 50th anniversary event, and. Total. Adonis was one of the top four youth clubs in Madrid.
So they competed with rail Madrid, who I’m sure everyone’s heard of. And then Esther, the anthers in front of the broader two other good ACB clubs in the top league. and the coaches and the sports directors from those clubs came to this event of Tarla donors to celebrate the success of the club. And I sat there and I remember, cause that was in my first three months, and being there in Madrid and coming from the UK where the sport was so politicized.
I was just like, this is [00:44:00] amazing. You would never see this in England. And seeing this level of openness between cultures, I think just that ability to share and it’s just that that was something really cool. I mean, just in a nutshell, really quickly, you know, just being, spending time in the fall, I needed Serbia.
That was just amazing. Just to see the basketball culture. I mean, it’s like, I remember going to. I was doing a play account for, so honest and true, and here’s what the Raptors so allowed it the countless airport, and I was driving to like the middle of nowhere to this place called just an impact. And, I stopped off at this gas station to top up and there was like this massive, like Shrive for Lithuanian national team and it’s like huge post of, some bonus that president bonuses that.
RV. That’s, so, that was just amazing to see that, especially coming from the UK where basketball is so [00:45:00] small. and then just really, you know, I think I’ve taken a lot of ideas from Italy. I’ve got some very, very close Italian friends I speak with. I probably speak with coaches in Italy more than any other country in Europe.
And I just love how they teach the game. I mean, I have a pretty romantic view of Italy. Anyway, I study. I specialized in Italian Venetian history, so as a, as a whole, I like it, but as a country, I like it. But I love the basketball too.
Mike Klinzing: [00:45:30] I think what you just said, those stories speak to something that I probably knew before I started the podcast, but it’s become completely clear to me after having done this for nearly two years, and that is just.
The openness of coaches and their willingness to share with other coaches, with other people to help one another, learn to have that growth mindset and to just. Share the game and help grow the game. I think that’s something that has come [00:46:00] across so loud and clear to me. The number of people that have been willing to come on our show and just the number of people that I’ve seen, whether it’s online and doing research or just reading and doing things.
People are so willing to share in today’s day and age with each other. There really isn’t anybody out there anymore who. Is trying to keep secrets of, Oh, I got this great new thing that I’m developing and I’m not going to share it with anybody because I don’t want anybody stealing my ideas. And I think even if you wanted to today with the internet and social media, just the interconnectedness of all of us throughout the world makes it.
Really almost impossible even if you wanted to, to keep those things from everybody. But I found that the coaching world is just so open and willing to share, and to me that’s one of the best things about basketball coaches, I think in particular. It’s just incredible the amount of sharing that goes on.
I think that’s what you’re describing your experience was like when you were working for the NBA and just go into all these different places around the world.
Alex Sarama: [00:46:59] Yeah, [00:47:00] 100%. And I think as well, Mike, you know, you can learn from anyone. And I think the biggest thing when I was traveling was it was keeping an open mind on any, any coach, whatever level.
Like we’re as a youth, you 12 coach to a pro coach, regardless, I’d always try and have conversation and just soak up whatever I could. I think, you know, that is the great thing about this game. The sharing piece, which you mentioned that I hate. It’s one of the things I value the most now. You know, I’ve got coaches, I’ve got friends in, in countries all over the world, and I hate, that’s why I love the game.
It’s one of the main reasons.
Mike Klinzing: [00:47:35] Yeah, absolutely. And then I think the wider your network is, the more different ideas and different thoughts that you have to come in contact with. And I think one of the things that I always find to be interesting and fascinating is you’ll have conversations with coaches and there’ll be somebody who maybe.
Even the concept of what they’re talking about or what they’re teaching is the same as something that you do, but maybe they just use a [00:48:00] slightly different phrase or a slightly different way of describing it, or the wording or vocabulary that they use is different and all of a sudden you just grab onto that and you’re like, Oh.
That really makes a lot of sense. Like I’ll give you a good example. There’s a coach here in the United States, Jason Zimmerman, who coaches at Emory university, and I heard him speak at Jay Bellis, his camp last June. And he was just talking about how he ran his transition offense, and he told his players on the wings that, you know, you always hear coaches say, we got to sprint the lanes and we got to get down the floor.
And his terminology was. We don’t sprint the lanes. We race the lanes. So he tells his two guys, you’ve got, we’re racing. It’s a race to get to your spots down on the offensive end of the floor. And I had just never heard anybody say it that way. And I came away from that and said, that’s something that.
From this point forward, I’m never going to say we need to sprint the lanes. I’m always going to just say we need to race the lanes, [00:49:00] and those are the kinds of things that that was nothing earth shattering. It was nothing revolutionary, but it was something that just clicked for me. It made a ton of sense and I thought, if I’m a player, sprint the lanes, okay, I guess I kind of get that means, but if I’m racing the lanes and I’m racing my teammate on the other side of the floor, I get that.
That’s going to motivate me. Just a little bit more, and I think that kind of phrase ology, and being able to pick that up from so many different coaches, especially for someone like use that such extensive international experience, you just are exposed to so many more different ways of even looking, like I said, at the very same concept, but just looking at it in a different way.
Alex Sarama: [00:49:37] Yeah, I think, great point Mike. And I’d say Ross McMains, New Zealand national team assistant coach, he kind of opened my eyes up to this with the terminology, and especially giving like the example you just mentioned with the race to lanes, giving your terminology a name, which actually makes sense to the athlete and is [00:50:00] somewhat,
Similar or represents the actual movement they’re doing. So something like, we talk about something very similar. We call it a bolt, and that’s one of Ross’s terms. So it’s simply running the floor at the speed of Usain bolt. So we just call it bolt. So many little things. If I took our glossary, our terminology, we’ve really tried to.
Match things up so it makes sense to the kids and it’s easy for them to remember. And I think that’s the, that’s why I’m loving you’ve coached him right now. I mean, eventually I want to coach at the highest level. That’s my goal. But I really think that it makes, makes you a better coach coaching at the youth sectors, because you know, if you’re trying to get a 13 14, 15 year old to understand you, I think.
That’s great because then any anyone’s going to be able to understand you at any level if you can do it and it works with young kids.
Mike Klinzing: [00:50:55] Absolutely. Have you ever thought about putting, or maybe you have put [00:51:00] together, for lack of a better way of saying it, a dictionary of the key terms, like a bolt and put it down, put it down on paper.
Have you ever done that or thought about doing it?
Alex Sarama: [00:51:10] I’ve done it. So, I w you know, I just completed on being an EA eight months or seven months now. And part of my role as here was I wanted to get a feel for the Belgium basketball landscape. And then I’ve devised a whole strategy of play based on a lot of the research I’d be doing this year.
Countless hours on synergy, but then just watching a lot of games in Belgi So I’ve come up with a style of play and a strategy for how our elite Academy players all the way from youth, 13 to 21 play and trying to get them ready for latest trends that we’re seeing in the game. And so that means I’ve done, so I’ve got like an 80 page document on how to offensive concepts.
Like us, a smaller one for defense. Then we have separate documents for how to teach all that with video playbooks, and then the glossary [00:52:00] is one. The last resources, and I just finished the glossary properly about a month ago, but it’s essential because you know, any coach that joins our program now and say, I don’t know, Sal is the coach and the NCAA in years to come, or.
A pro league or whatever, any coach that is joining, I can instantly give them the glossary or a player and they can, they can kind of, we can speak the same language. I feel like if you’re joining a new coaching staff, when you don’t have that, I think it’s a lot harder to feel part of the process and to be able to be confident giving feedback if you’re not sure as to what the language of the program is.
So I consider it to be an essential task for any head coach. And yes, it takes some time, but I think it’s all the, all the better for it. And I think as you do it, it was a great task cause I was really learning stuff as I was making it. And I benefited from it from a selfish perspective as in terms of having to think and come up with stuff which is going to make sense [00:53:00] for the kids that we have.
Mike Klinzing: [00:53:02] Yeah, absolutely. I can see where it completely clarifies your own thinking. And then I love it from. The standpoint of, yeah, it also helps with onboarding coaches and making sure that everybody in the staff is on the same page, but then you also share that with the players and now collectively, our team, our club, our group, however you want to look at it, we now have this collective bond, this collective language that only we share, which just again, makes it.
More special to be a part of that group, that team, and I think you’re more, you can create that special environment where kids, players, coaches, feel like, Hey, it’s, it’s an honor to be a part of this. It’s a, it’s special. It means something to be on this team or to be part of this club. The more things you can do to inspire that type of feeling, I think the better.
Chemistry you can build, the more comradery you can build amongst team members, and ultimately we all know [00:54:00] that when you have a team that is together in that way on a personal level, that they tend to come together more as a basketball team as well.
Alex Sarama: [00:54:10] Yeah, completely. You might completely agree.
Mike Klinzing: [00:54:13] All right, so let me ask you about how you got connected to Elite Athletes.
Just kind of give us the story of how you ended up getting connected with the guys there and just tell us that story of how you ended up there.
Alex Sarama: [00:54:25] Absolutely. So when I mentioned about the club, I started gold Hawks right back in the first few minutes of this, of this podcast. I mentioned how I was lucky to meet a lot of influential people during my gold Hawks years.
And I actually met the EA guys during those those years that I was running gold Hawks. And, I actually went to a coaching clinic in Belgium with ’em. So my club coaches there was Rob, Christina, and then, Alan keen, GB national team had coach and we went, the four of us [00:55:00] to this clinic, and I’m sitting behind me.
It was Yarik from EA and the whole EA crew. So it was about eight of them are wearing that EA gear. and I’d seen some of their stuff on YouTube. And it’s funny, like seeing the old stuff, it was. It was all the stuff that we do not believe in now, like parachutes, hurdle, speed, ladders, all of this stuff.
But that already had some success with like some that videos had like a million views or whatever when YouTube. So I’ve kind of known about them, but we just started talking, got on really well, and then we exchanged contact info. And then. You know, four months later they, we, I bought them to England to run a camp and that was the first ever international event for EA outside Belgi
And it was a really good success. We had about 60 kids take part in this, in this camp that they ran. So we ended up, we did like three more camps during the years. I joined the MBA. We kept in touch. EA [00:56:00] actually came to one of the basketball border’s events to coach and run some of the skill and athletic development stuff.
So we stayed in touch and I think it was, it was just the natural fit really. I mean, as they were growing there was, the aim of the Academy is to do something like no other Academy in Europe. It’s a very, very different model. I think very transformational, but then it’s, it’s very innovative. and I just figured like it was a perfect fit.
Mike Klinzing: [00:56:26] So then give us an idea of when you say innovative and you say that they’re trying to do things differently, just give us an idea of. If you had to sum it up in a couple of paragraphs, just tell us what elite athletes is all about. Just give us an overall general philosophy of what you and the club are trying to do.
Alex Sarama: [00:56:45] Sure. So it’s really helping athletes to recognize their full potential. I think just the way we are unique is we have a very specialized approach to coaching. So we have basically, as opposed to having. One or two [00:57:00] coaches working with the same age group, which is the common approach. In Europe, we have a team of specialist coaches.
So we have the team practices, which we call TPP. So team performance plan. then we have team practices, which are individual focused. So all the players there as one team, but they’re working on individual skills and that’s like an IPP type practice. So. I lead on the TPP side of the program or the strategy concepts and tactics, but obviously there’s a.
Great deal of skill in there as well. But then your Michael’s, he leads on the IPP side. So we have a team of three skills trainers, but through those practices, so every Academy team, it depends on their age and the period in the season, but they, it’s not just one practice, which is the same. So like for instance, the U sixteens would have two team TPP practices and two IPP practices every week.
So. Obviously that’s that. They’re working with real [00:58:00] experts in that. And then we have, so that’s two type of sessions. The other two types, we have a strength sessions and movement sessions. So the strength sessions, you know, everyone, everyone does that. That’s, that’s started like strength and conditioning.
But. We do things very differently because we have a guy called Olivier good to look who really is. He’s a world leader in his field and we focus a lot more on the movement side of basketball than the strength. And we really feel like where the game is going is we want to have athletes who are great movers and it doesn’t matter if they can bench.
No X amount. If they’re not a good mover, that means nothing. So Ali does a lot of, dancing, rhythm work, working on body coordinations. We get, we get like opera singers in to do sessions with our guys. We get dance instructors in, we get boxes. It’s, it’s, it’s, there’s so much we do that. So it’s really trying to expose [00:59:00] our kids to, to experts in each field to give them the best chance they have to fulfill that potential.
Mike Klinzing: [00:59:07] Do you feel like that kind of stuff also helps to not only train them as athletes, but also help to keep them engaged because it’s something new and different that they’re seeing all the time, as opposed to, as you said, like the old standard strength and conditioning stuff where everything is the same all the time.
By providing that variety you find that keeps kids engaged?
Alex Sarama: [00:59:26] 100% and it’s like the fact that they have, each week they come into contact with like 10 different coaches. I mean it’s, I think it’s the kids love the Academy and I think one of the reason why, like the retention rate is so high. is, is because of that.
It’s fun for the kids and they know it. It’s, it’s good for their learning.
Mike Klinzing: [00:59:47] Absolutely. Give us an idea. So here in the United States, I’m just trying to wrap my head around sort of what your program looks like day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year. So maybe just give us an idea, an [01:00:00] overview of, you know, you mentioned, okay, we have two team practices a week.
We have two skill development practices per week. Just maybe give us an idea of. Let’s say what, what a week in season looks like, and maybe what a week in the off season, quote off season looks like, so that people have a better feel for what it is that you guys are doing on a year round basis.
Alex Sarama: [01:00:24] So we periodized the whole year, so we split it up into.
for different topics. So we have post season, and that’s kind of like an active recovery phrase as soon as the season finishes, and it’s just three weeks of passive recovery. So it’s typically coincides with their exams. So it’s, it’s just we play different sports, no basketball, so three weeks they don’t touch a ball, that typically is May and June.
Okay. so then after that, you know, it’s a KYP know your [01:01:00] players situation. Some players, if they feel drained while they’re going to take longer, maybe it could be four weeks or five weeks. some players might be ready to go off for three. So it depends. But then, you know, when the post season finishes, we go to our off season and that’s, that’s just focused on individual skills.
So that’s. That’s like your individual packages, like passing, finishing at the rim. a little bit of soft touch stuff could be maybe some basic pick and roll concepts, but not getting too tactical. shooting is a heavy, heavy part of that shooting is the master skill. so then off season takes us, it’s like June and July and then late July and for the whole of August is our pre season.
And that’s, we take all the kids away. So we spend a week with them on a retreat, and we do a lot of our culture building. Then with all the Olivia, so kind of setting the Academy standards. We watch called [01:02:00] documentaries together. We read books together. It’s just, it’s like a really nice retreat, quite a bit of meditation, mindfulness done, done by Ali during that period.
So, and at the same time, we’re having our, our team practices then. So we’re really like introducing, Some of our tactical concepts to the guys. And then you do that.
Mike Klinzing: [01:02:20] Do you do that onsite or offsite?
Alex Sarama: [01:02:22] So one week is offsite and then the other three weeks in Antwerp, which is our, our town. So it’s, we typically go, we go to the Netherlands, we’re going to the Netherlands this season for like a week.
So the whole Academy, it’s like 80 kids, but it’s just so nice to building, we call it the brotherhood, which is like the vibe we have and it’s every helps build a proper hood. so then that kind of leads nicely into the season and the start of the season. And that for us runs from August until, early may.
So it’s quite a long season.
Mike Klinzing: [01:02:57] So how many days a week then are you seeing the kids? Are you [01:03:00] seeing them seven
Alex Sarama: [01:03:00] days a week? Just describe what that looks like in season that we have. Typically it’s four practices a week that we have, but those practices are divided by the categories I mentioned. So, and it depends on the age group.
So, and the time in season, for instance, September, it could be like all teams doing more TPPs like actual team practices versus the skill staff. But to give you a. And insight as to how it looks. So under fourteens they do one TPP team practice, and then three team practices. But as the IPP sort of individual skills, you sixteens it’s two and two, so two TPPs, two IPS.
And then from you seventeens upwards to 20 ones. It’s three team practices and one individual. And then for the, throughout the whole program, they get three strength slash movement practices a week. well, I mean, that’s just, that’s the base, to be honest, Mike, we, we have a [01:04:00] school partnerships, so we have, I think that’s something quite rare for clubs in Europe, but we’ve just developed a partnership with a school so we can, some of the kids that go there, we can see them in the mornings for some like extra movement or shooting work.
But then we, we do have own facility, which we’re really lucky cause that’s quite rare I think for programs in Europe. So a lot of kids come just to get shots up or do extra workouts if they have time during your season.
Mike Klinzing: [01:04:22] So depending on the age group, how many games are your kids playing over the course of a season?
Alex Sarama: [01:04:30] I’d say, I think it’s something between like 30 to 35 everything. So that ends up being ] one game a week. One day a week. Yeah. Got it. That’s including some tournaments that we do where it’s like multiple games. We only do like one or two of those a year though.
Mike Klinzing: [01:04:48] Yeah, I know. That’s one of the big debates that we have here in the United States amongst coaches and with our youth basketball system is the fact that just as an example in our spring, which we [01:05:00] call quote, are a UCS, and you’ll have teams that maybe you’ll practice once, twice a week for an hour and 15 minutes, and then every weekend there’ll be playing five, six, seven games in a tournament.
And there’s this thought of. What’s that? What’s the proper balance in terms of the training side of it, the practicing side of it versus how many games you play. And I know that’s a debate that, you know, there’s sort of this divide between what the American system is versus what the European system is and so often, and the more people we’ve had on the podcast.
Talk about how the European system is so much better for developing players because you’re just in a practice setting more where you can really be working on improving your game as opposed to, I just have limited practice sessions. Then I go out and I’m just playing all the time, and I think there’s a balance to be had, and we’ve talked about with other coaches.
One of the things that’s different about basketball today versus when I grew up playing 30 years ago, [01:06:00] 40 years ago, is just that kids don’t play. As much pickup basketball as they did, which kind of goes back to what you talked about as a coach sitting on the sidelines, just kind of letting the kids play without getting instruction.
I think about most of my upbringing in the game of basketball was just playing and just figuring stuff out on my own. And so I think it’s an interesting, just debate and trying to figure out what the best way is for developing players. But I think if we. Here, if I hear you talk and just think about the things that you’re doing and how, what I know about player development, it just seems like putting the kids through a system, like what you guys are doing there with elite makes better players as opposed to, I have an hour or two a practice a week and then I’m just going out and playing games.
So I, I’m sure that you’re of the philosophy that what you guys are doing in terms of training is, is, is ahead of maybe what we’re doing here, especially at the youth level, at least in the United States.
Alex Sarama: [01:06:55] So, yeah, I think your insights are so, so true. To be honest, Mike, and I think [01:07:00] when we look at the influx of European players in the NBA, when I was my three years with MBA Europe, it was really exciting because we were so excited to see all the European guys that were coming through.
And the record numbers, I go to something like 61 I could be mistaken, but that was, I think that was the figure in my second year there. And. The reason why is undoubtedly because of the skill level, and you look at a lot of these players and just obviously you’ve got your exceptions. The Giannis’ of this world, but if you take the typical European player, the reason why they’re in the NBA is just because of their skill level.
And. The athletes that you have in the U S I mean, it’s, it’s incredible the level of athlete that you have. And I completely think that if the youth development was done. The right way. We’re obviously, you know, people say there are no right or wrong ways in coaching. What I mean by that is probably, [01:08:00] you know, more, more evidence based approaches.
Are you using small sided games, more of a modern approach? I think if, if you, youth development was done in that manner in the U S consistently and players spent time on that as opposed to all the time that they spend on AAU. You know, leading to all these injuries that we see and just kids not having a chance to work on some of this stuff.
I think it would be incredible just to see how the level of of players would, would go even higher and not, not necessarily as throwing from an athletic standpoint, but more just skill. Yeah, I
Mike Klinzing: [01:08:35] agree with you a hundred percent I think one of the trends that I’m hoping it’s going to catch on, and it was.
Maybe going to start to gain some traction with the Olympics, which obviously was canceled for this summer, but got pushed back to 2021 is the advent of FIBA three on three being added to the Olympics. And I just think that when people see. That game that it’s so fast paced and it’s so much [01:09:00] fun and it obviously is a small sided version of five on five basketball, but there’s just so many more touches and opportunities and I’ve kind of had an opportunity to be involved in some three on three leagues and getting a chance to participate.
We’ve talked a little bit about our experiences at snow Valley basketball camp here. In the States where they play a version of a small side of game called cutthroat, which is kind of like a continuous, you could play it four on four, three on three. And to me, when I see those games played out and I see one, how much.
The kids enjoy it. How muddy opportunities they have both authentically and defensively to be involved in the plays, to be involved in the decisions that are required within those games. I just think, man, if we could get our young kids playing more of this type of basketball and getting more opportunities to be coached in this environment as opposed to having eight year olds running up and down a 94 foot court where.
The vast majority of their time is just spent [01:10:00] jogging up and down the floor instead of playing basketball. I just think it’s a huge, huge, it would just be a huge advantage and our youth development system would be so much better if we could get that done.
Alex Sarama: [01:10:12] Yeah, completely. So, you know, we’ll see. We’ll see if that, if that can happen.
Cause obviously that would require a, literally a momentous shift in the game. Absolutely. A lot of powers to do that. No question. No question.
Mike Klinzing: [01:10:27] I think USA basketball is trying to take the lead on that. It’s just, it’s such a difficult environment here in the United States simply because youth sports has become such a huge business that you’re fighting against all these institutions and adults and businesses that have an interest in kind of keeping the system the way it is.
And so I think as we move forward, USA basketball is going to try to take the lead and it will be very, very interesting to see how much, how many inroads they can make to try to get that system changed around and get it to the [01:11:00] point where it’s really about what’s best for the development of our young players and not so it’s best for.
The wallets of people who were involved, on the business side of it. So I want to finish up here, Alex, by asking you about just your career goals, your career plans, and what you hope to accomplish in the game of basketball moving forward from a coaching standpoint.
Alex Sarama: [01:11:24] So, I mean, I’ve, I’ve been using this break to actually reflect and think about that quite a bit.
Mike. I’ve got so much I want to accomplish with EA. I’m so happy. Like. What we’re doing, and I, I genuinely want to have a really positive impact on, on the youth basketball world in particular with, with some of our ideas and what we’re doing. So I’m certainly like for me, this, this is by far the top priority right now.
and, and spending the next few years to try and take EA where I think we have the potential to get to. [01:12:00] And I just love it because coming into contact with so many coaches, you know, coaches like yourself and just being able to talk and share the game. It’s, I just love it. I mean, I’m still really young as a, as a coach.
I’m 24 years old. but to have, have the chance to kind of have my own. I guess footprint on the program and to have that have that impact. It’s something I really enjoy. plus it’s a nice way to travel. I mean, we do, we do quite a bit of international staff. So really, really happy doing this. I think eventually, I think it was just natural all come to a point where when my coaching may be, I might want to look at the next level up from, from the youth youth environment.
I just, I don’t know what that looks like right now. And I think for me, I mean, I’ve been so. Obsessed with this idea of trying to learn everything and know it all, and it’s just, it’s not realistic. Just from a pure health benefit, it’s not attainable. So for me, I just want to be in an [01:13:00] environment where I’m happy as a coach and where I can have an input.
I wouldn’t want to be like, I used to think it was like NBA at all costs, especially when I was with NBA Europe. It was like, get on an NBA team at all costs. But then I was like, you know, it’s. If that’s not going to make me happy, if it’s not the right situation, the right environment, and you know, and it’s, plus, it’s just, it’s so tough, you know, to get there because there are so many great coaches.
So I, I don’t really, I can’t really tell you what, well, I’m going to see myself in 10 years cause I just, I just don’t know. I don’t know where the game’s going to take me, but I think as long as I can, I can have basketball and, and be comfortable doing it as a full time job. And be happy wherever I, wherever I am in the world, then that’s what’s most important to me.
Mike Klinzing: [01:13:49] I think there’s two things that stand out for me from getting an opportunity to talk to you here for an hour and 15 minutes, hour and 20 minutes, however long we’ve been going, and that is [01:14:00] one, just the desire that you have to. Continue to learn about the game. And that to me speaks to the fact that whatever it is that you end up wanting to do, whether that’s at the youth level or whether that’s at the NBA level, the fact that you’re a student of the game, and this goes not just for you, but for any coach.
I think if that’s the case for anyone, you’re going to continue to get opportunities being cause you’re going to continue to work at your craft. And so I think that’s something that is critical and it’s a great lesson that. Hopefully through this podcast that coaches out there that are listening are hearing that the amount of time and effort that you put into improving yourself as a coach goes a long way to what you’re going to end up being able to do in your career.
And then the second thing is just, I love what you said there at the end about being happy. And so often we get focused on these external goals or things that we think we want or things that maybe people around us say we should be going after. That might not [01:15:00] necessarily make us happy. And I think ultimately what’s most important is that you find the right level for you as a coach.
And for some coaches, that’s the youth level. For some coaches, that’s the MBA level. And for many, it’s levels in between. But I think that ultimately, if you’re a student of the game and you find a position and something that you’re happy. In and that you can continue to grow and have input, then you’re going to end up being in the right place at the right time.
And so I think it’s been a very enlightening conversation today, Alex, I’ve really enjoyed getting a chance to talk to you and learn more about what makes you tick and what’s going on there with elite athletes and Belgium and how you’re putting together the program there, and just helping us to understand maybe the difference between the system that you guys have in place versus the system we have here in the States.
And before we wrap up, I want to give you a chance to share. Your contact information, share social media website. Just ways that people can reach out to get in touch with you if they want to have a conversation, find out more about what you guys are doing. And then once you do [01:16:00] that, I’ll jump back in and wrap up the episode.
Alex Sarama: [01:16:03] Great. Thanks Mike. So firstly, thank you for the opportunity to, to have this platform. So for, for coaches looking for more information, my social media handle was just AlexJSarama on Twitter, you know, very open to talking with coaches. a lot. I love to do it. And our website is www.Eliteathletes.be
Mike Klinzing: [01:16:29] Alex, I can’t thank you enough for taking the time out of your schedule to jump out with us and share what you’ve learned about the coaching profession and share your journey. I think there’s a lot of valuable lessons that you’ve learned along the way that you were able to share with coaches and to everyone out there.
Thanks for listening and we will catch you on our next episode. Thanks.