Teaching Methods

West Virginia head basketball coach John Beilein tries to do much of his teaching during practice and film study, but there are times during games when the point he wants, nor needs, to make just can't wait.

Beilein, who is doing yet another outstanding job of molding a young group of players into a cohesive squad, has long maintained that the biggest part of coaching is teaching. He likely leads the league in film study ("I never dreamed we'd watch this much film," transfer Robert Summers notes), and his practice sessions are broken down into periods and sessions that emphasize a particular skill or aspect of the game he wants to get across. Those building blocks are then assembled into the offensive and defensive schemes employed by the Mountaineers, much as the basic four math functions are used to set the foundation for higher challenges such as geometry and trigonometry.

Of course, there's teaching during games as well. The Burt, N. Y. native often walks down the bench during contests, reiterating points he made to the players on the court and explaining his thinking. Those that pay attention (and it certainly looks as if everyone on this squad does), pick up lots of information in this manner as well.

There's one method of instruction, however, that has seen greater use this season than in the past, however, and it's one that Beilein would prefer not to employ, for a variety of reasons. However, there are times when its use becomes mandatory, and the veteran coach hasn't hesitated to use it when the situation calls for it. That involves pulling a player from the game after a mistake and delivering a quick lesson right on the sideline.

Beilein prefers not to employ this for a couple of reasons. The first is his belief that players learn by doing – and the natural follow-on is that players learn from their mistakes. He'd rather not interrupt the flow of the game, his substitution pattern, or the rotations that he is developing in order to make a speech to an erring player. Most errors, he notes, become teaching tools that can be reviewed in film sessions the next day, or on the practice court before the next game.

Beilein also doesn't want to expose or single out a player who erred on the court.

"I don't want to embarrass a player that I just put in by taking him right back out," he noted. "That's not my intent at all when that happens."

Of course, this isn't the NBA, where a player that gets pulled from the game might retreat to the end of the bench and pout after getting a talking-to. However, Beilein remains sensitive to the fact that these are still young men, and that a mini-lecture in front of eight thousand spectators might not be the best thing for a player's confidence or psyche.

However, there are some mistakes or problems that Beilein simply can't let wait.

Beilein instructs
Joe Alexander
"If it's something we emphasized in practice the day before, or something we've told the player several times and he does it again, then I feel like I have to get it corrected right then," Beilein noted.

Most of WVU's players have been exposed to this over their careers, and the youngsters are getting their dose of it in the early going of this season. It will be rare to see a Darris Nichols or Frank Young taken aside in such a manner, against for a couple of reasons. One is that the veteran duo makes fewer mistakes to begin with. Another is that, having played a great deal, Beilein can communicate quickly with them during a game to correct any problems, and doesn't need to take them out of the game to get the point across. Those are lessons the new players are learning, and as their career minutes increase, the need for these personal timeouts should lessen.

Take for instance, Joe Alexander. (We don't mean to single out Joe as a prime offender – it's just that he provides an excellent case study.) Last year, Joe had so few minutes on the court that he felt the need to attempt the spectacular the moment he got on the floor – often with less than desirable results. This year, it's been obvious that Alexander has improved greatly in letting the game come to him, and although he has had a handful of moments that caused an upset Beilein to take him out for a personal lesson, he has taken them in stride and used them to help improve his game. Alexander says that his greatest improvements since the start of the season have come in playing within the offense and not forcing things, so it's clear that all of the Beilein methods have been successful in helping the high-flying forward mesh his considerable skills into the system.

As the season wears on, these quick hooks will likely reduce in frequency. The hope, of course, is that it's due to a lessening in the "big mistakes" that typically cause such pulls. And as they do, it will be just another demonstration of both the efficiency of Beilein the teacher, and the basketball IQ of his players, at work.

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