On clinics: 'We need to give back to the young coaches'

Jan 21, 2019 by Simone Pianigiani - Milan, Italy Print
On clinics: 'We need to give back to the young coaches'

In one significant way, AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan coach Simone Pianigiani had a unique upbringing as a coach, never leaving his hometown club in Siena, Italy until he was already a EuroLeague head coach with two Final Four appearances behind him. He depended a lot for his formation as a coach on the transfer of knowledge that happens at clinics. Pianigiani talks here about the role of clinics in his experience as both an attendee when he was young and, for many years now, a featured speaker.

I believe in clinics. When I was with the national team, I moved all around the country to hold clinics in many, many places, and not just at the high levels. Clinics help coaches start their careers in the right way. I know, because they helped me.

When I was young, I followed all the international clinics that our federation organized in the summers. In the 1990s, it was the golden age of Italian basketball, so there were always great clinics coming to Italy, with top coaches from the NBA and Europe. Not just one coach, but everybody. It was so interesting. They talked about many situations on the court. Taken together, you learned a lot about the game from the people coaching it at the highest levels.

When I was still in high school and started to see that I might want to coach someday, the best book for coaches wanting to learn was Dan Peterson's "Basket Essenziale". It was very interesting the way it was done. He had sections that showed how the professionals evaluated games and gave reports on players. It also had sections on technique and skills, and plays that he drew himself, by his own hand. This was a bible for our generation. I was also able to see him give clinics back in those days. Now, it's a privilege to be able to talk with Coach Peterson as a friend of the last 15 years, a real privilege, because I remember starting out in coaching by following him.

"Now you can use technology to follow video of clinics, but it's not the same as going there live and having direct contact."

Clinics are more than just the coaches who give presentations, too. When you listen to them, it's always a good chance to get good ideas. But you are also with your other colleagues at the clinic, the other younger coaches. You spend your free time together and talking a lot more about basketball. You have two or three days together, which is something that's not possible during the season, and you can share your experiences without stress.

Now you can use technology to follow video of clinics, but it's not the same as going there live and having direct contact. One of the things I like most about clinics, both when I was attending them and now when I am giving them, is that people can ask questions after each presentation. I know from when I was young how important it was for me to ask other coaches questions directly about what was affecting me with the teams I had at the time. It helps you figure out situations and move forward with solutions, which is very important when you are young and trying to make a step forward. When I give a clinic, now or in the past, I say honestly what I am doing with my team. You must say everything you know, mostly to show the problems and doubts that have and want to improve. Basketball is great because it's always changing, both the style and the problems that coaches manage. What I like is to speak honestly and be open about these doubts and problems. When I finish my speech, which can be technical about some part of offense or defense, I open the floor so that the other coaches can be free to ask me about anything. You must always be open to learn -- and steal. You put all that in your bag and you will find your way, but always in our job, there is a moment to learn. You can see another coach with a very different style or system, but you can still steal maybe two or three things that are perfect for you.

Another thing is it doesn't have to be just basketball clinics. Even recently, when I was coaching the national team, I had more free time because didn't have a team to run every day. So I looked around at other sports and it was very interesting to get ideas there, too. All sports have more or less the same problems of managing at the highest level, where there is a big organization and a lot of people to manage. For example, I followed a lot of meetings and also spoke to my friends in football who were coaching both national teams and clubs. One thing that football has more than basketball is a lot of players, and as a coach you have to manage that. You have to know how you handle different personalities and how to organize them all in a team. Now, we are going more in that direction, with longer rosters in the new EuroLeague. We have more games now, and in the near future, there will be even more. You have to have high-quality people around you and divide responsibilities with many coaches and trainers while working individually with the players. You also have to plan the technical part and strategy of so many games, more now than in the past. How you organize all this is very interesting. So I watched these football teams with so many players to learn more about effective communication, organizing meetings, and how to handle big stars.

"Everything is faster now. Everyone wants immediate results. We can't lose focus on how we can do something for the players to be better, to keep improving the level of play. This for me is so important."

Clinics are part of the responsibility we have as coaches at the higher levels. We need to give back to the young coaches, to our profession. And what I hope is that we can take what we are doing and building to create a platform to give back to the younger generation. With the new EuroLeague coaches association, it would be great to put these ideas together and every summer have one or more of us who can go around Europe and continue to do this.

This is so important. And it's not easy. Everything is faster now. Everyone wants immediate results. We can't lose focus on how we can do something for the players to be better, to keep improving the level of play. This for me is so important. Under stress during the season, it's sometimes easy to forget how to do this, but it's very important to help a single player be better in one or two things. Then the team will be better by the same amount, and with all players getting better, you will have more wins and success. The top priority is to work with the players, make them more comfortable and help them get better. This makes basketball better.