The success of the Finnish national basketball team has brought a lot of joy and positive feelings to the Finnish sports field in recent years. That feeling and comprehensive culture has also been conveyed by supporters, partners and the media statements of the players. Success is the result of long-term and systematic work. The foundation has been built with care.
The right person to tell the background of the success is Jyri Lohikoski, who has been the coach of the youth national team since 2004 and also works as the director of the basketball assist center. Jyri was born in Helsinki and has been involved in basketball since he was a child. His father was a basketball coach, referee and club manager in his time. Jyri himself has been very versatile in about ten different sports. However, basketball has been the biggest and most important sport, which he played all the way up to the top Finnish league.
The direction of Lohikoski's coaching career took place in 2001. "At that point, I had to make choices because I was busy with many things at the same time. I had just graduated with a master's degree in education from the University of Helsinki from the classroom teacher's training program. I coached at the same time and I had also been selected as the regional coach of the southern region of basketball. In addition, I had just got a job as a teacher."
All three could no longer be done fully at the same time, so the player career was left out. Since then, and already during his studies, Jyri has been mainly coaching 10-19 year olds. At first, coaching took place alongside the work of a teacher, but in 2005–2007 there was an opportunity to be on leave from the work of a teacher and work as the training manager of the basketball association. Several of the reforms and orientations of Finnish basketball coach training originate from these times. In the end, Jyri decided to choose basketball completely instead of teaching: "In 2018 I took another off duty from my teaching job and in 2020 I gave up my position. This is now the fifth semester when I have only worked as a basketball coach and coach trainer."
The basketball is an intense game and it is played in a reasonably small space, an area of 15 x 28 meters, where athletic players move in different directions – forward, backward and upward. Everyone participates in attacking and defending. A lot of points are scored in the game and there are a lot of events when ball control changes quickly. "Basketball is a really eventful game, so it's also an emotional game. A lot of things can happen during one game. You can be well ahead at times, but during the game you may also be at a loss. Basketball is a multi-structured, multi-faceted and intense team-oriented game," Lohikoski summarizes aptly.
Basketball is played on all continents and can be played in many ways, which are also influenced geographically by history and cultures. When Jyri was asked about Finnish basketball's approach to playing, the team is at the heart of the answer: "We think in Finland that basketball is first and foremost a team game and US comes before ME. In a certain way, the common goal drives the individual goal over the team. At best, it means that if an individual is having a weaker or worse day, we can support the individual with a common game and common trust and common things. On the other hand, if the individual knows that behind him there is trust and security that the team also supports him, then the individual dares to be himself more courageously and fulfill his own role. So basketball is first and foremost a team game!”
Different aspects of the game and skills should always be considered in coaching. Jyri has been coaching in several different positions: as a physical coach, a psychological coach and later as a head coach with a stronger focus on technical-tactical matters. Lohikoski sees this as a strength: "I have been able to coach all these aspects of the game. And each of them is equally important for the end result. In the role of head coach and team leader, I consider it important that all these areas are taken into account."
Lohikoski says that a good coach asks himself, his players or the other coaching staff what kind of things about the game are emphasized for people of this age and level. Through this, training solutions are created, which helps to make decisions about, for example, what kind of physical-motor, technical and tactical training should be carried out. "Basically, I'm a game teacher, so in a way, the most important question for a coach is what kind of game and from that you can conclude what kind of training," Lohikoski elaborates.
Often, in different sports, people talk about the path in terms of the player's career or the structure of the game. In Finnish basketball, the approach is different, head coach Lohikoski says: "In our thinking, the game of basketball is always the same, that is, we attack and defend and the game goes around in the same way - certain things only stand out from the game in different ages and levels. And if you want to use a metaphor, it's more of a spiral."
In Finnish basketball, they really think and live as a team game, where no player can be bigger than the game, but still the coaching is very people-oriented. Jyri describes this as follows:
"My coaching contribution is most beneficial to the team when it helps the team as a whole. At the same time as I say this, however, I think that there can be no other way of leading, coaching or teaching than being people-oriented. I can't coach or help the team except through a person. We always have three levels in a coaching situation or in any meeting situation: we have the game, we have the player and we have the coaching. No matter how much understanding the coach has, the coach can never directly affect the game because the coach does not make any baskets, points or rebounds. Because of this, the coach's intervention in the game always goes through the player, in which case the person always comes first. In that sense, the coach's skills such as pedagogical skills, interpersonal skills, leadership skills are really important."
So the coach always affects the game through the players, i.e. the people. In this sense, people-orientation is at the core of coaching. In Finnish basketball, they say that a good coach is warm. It can also be seen in the training materials of the coach. In addition to warmth, there must be quality, as Jyri says: "However, warmth alone is not enough in any case. There must be quality in addition to warmth. The concept of didactic competence can be used for this. That is, no matter how warm you are and you get along well, if you have nothing to offer as a coach, then the interaction will be limited, and the players and the game will not develop. So strong subject matter expertise is also needed in addition to people orientation. In Finnish basketball, on a conceptual level, we talk about the human perception between the coach and the player, and the learning perception between the player and the game. And then between the coach and the game, we talk about game concept. "
In basketball, players have different roles and the tasks complement each other. Lohikoski describes this in the way that it is important from a coach's point of view to know the things that motivate and inspire the players the most: "Especially in junior coaching, we think that it is essential to be motivated through successes. That's why it's important that the player gets to do the things he's good at. Then the player's own self image and identity grows and strengthens." During Lohikoski's interview, at this stage it has already become very clear that players are valued, they want to be known and supported in growing as athletes.
The Finnish basketball learning concept includes the active role of the athlete and the skills of learning to learn, at the core of which is self-reflection. The youth national basketball teams have already used the Qridi Sport application for four years to support growth as an athlete through self-reflection. Lohikoski feels that the Qridi Sport tool is useful for coaches and athletes: "We have been very satisfied with Qridi Sport! We think that the skills of learning to learn play an absolutely central role in growing up as an athlete. Good learning always involves reflection. Qridi Sport has enabled us to abandon paper self-assessment forms, and we have been able to do all the surveys after training and matches, at the end of the camp day or in the morning when the players wake up, conveniently in electronic form. The application also enables easy weekly surveys between national team camps, monitoring of test results and programming of independent training sessions. Qridi Sport helps us achieve our sports education goals significantly."
In Finnish basketball, during the last twenty years, through several strategic processes, an understanding of what is Finnish basketball's human perception, game and learning concept has been formed. Community spirit, team play and helping others has become a central value, which is naturally also reflected in the concept of learning. "If you want to use fancy terms, which we may not really want to use, but for some it opens up more, then our understanding of learning is very much based on socio-constructivist thinking, i.e. building together, learning together and playing together. Here collaborative coaching methods and, of course, common training methods for coaches, such as the conversational approach and the related reflection are really essential things. The goal is to be able to mirror your own thinking and actions in relation to yourself and the team in relation to the game," Lohikoski describes.
If you want to learn something from the story or success of the Finnish basketball in recent years in other sports, then long-term strategic planning is what comes out clearly in Lohikoski's speech: "What has been done and is being done all the time is based on strategic analysis, planning and implementation. And the fact that we have been chosen for this kind of cooperation, learning together, managing together, is a choice because we believe that this is how we will success better."
Basketball is a big and competitive sport in the world. In the end, there are few residents and basketball players in Finland, which is why there are relatively few exceptionally gifted individuals for basketball. "Individuality is not a competitive advantage, but we have been analyzed that by assisting more we will do better. On the other hand, we also wanted to understand our history and social background. Finns are hard workers, we are hardworking and we are no strangers for cooperation. So, in a way, who we are and where we come from and how we can succeed work well in our strategy", explains Lohikoski.
More information on the guidelines of Finnish basketball coaching: https://www.basket.fi/basketball-finland/
Photos: U16, 2022 European Championships (FIBA), received photos from Finnish Basketball Association.
Interviewer: Toni Eskola