Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Basketball Defense: The Main Thing Is the Main Thing

"The main thing is the main thing." - David Cottrell, Monday Morning Leadership

Defense isn't as much hard as hard work. Saying that we value defense isn't the same as rewarding it. I started my best defender last season as a matter of principle. 

What is the main thing? "No easy shots, a.k.a. Hard 2's." Easy shots are layups, putbacks, free throws, uncontested shots, and often attacks in transition. 

Prioritize communication and control (take away preferred options and force the ball where we want). If we don't communicate in practice, we won't in games. We're weak there and I own that. 

Premortem examination. Where are the black swans (book by Nassim Taleb by the same name), obvious unaddressed problems after the fact? Avoid critical mistakes: 1) get back (transition), 2) find your player, 3) block out.  

"Position in life is everything." Quick stance summary, play balanced, low, nose on the ball (on ball defender), challenge the ballhandler. 

Pressure on the ball, position off the ball. "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." If you want to make an impression at tryouts, start with defense. 

HELPSIDE 'I'. I believe that at more advanced levels, zones, changing defenses, and advanced techniques are vital for winning. But I coach middle school. We play man (individual assignment defense) "help and recover" defense. Development is the first priority, above winning. 

"Know your NOs." No direct drives, no middle, no paint, no second shots, no bad fouls.

How are we going to defend pick-and-roll? Our first priority is taking away the drive. I want the 'bigs' to show (hedge, fake trap), but our slower bigs reflexly will talk and want to switch. This is a work in progress. 

How can we contain closeouts? Teach proper technique but do not allow 'fly by' drives to beat us. 

How do we defend the post? We teach "three quarters" technique but I'm open to considering fronting the post IF our perimeter defenders show they can apply enough pressure on ballhandlers. 

How do we defend off ball screens? First, we must communicate better and get prompt defensive calls. Second, clog the middle. Third, whenever possible go THRU (between the screener and the screener defender). We're NOT playing NBA shooters in 7th grade. Late in quarters or end-of-game with short clock, we'd be switching. This deserves a much longer discussion (see video below)...good screening teams will make it hard to defend...but the main thing is taking away the easy shots.  

Monday, September 24, 2018

Basketball: Goldilocks, Finding Balance. How Much Coaching is Enough?

"Implementing Extreme Ownership requires checking your ego and operating with a high degree of humility. Admitting mistakes, taking ownership, and developing a plan to overcome challenges are integral to any successful team."- Jocko Willink, Extreme Ownership

How much coaching is enough? We're writers, creating characters. Build players (depth, skill) and character. The first rule? Don't be boring while creating memorable players. 

Author Judy Blume, from MasterClass lesson on Creating Characters

I have ideas about what isn't enough. When players don't give feedback, communicate poorly on the court, don't understand the goals or the plays, I haven't coached them enough. "What is not learned hasn't been taught." Regardless of whether it's my 'fault', I'm accountable for it. 

I think the 'standard' layup lines are not enough. 

Alternative layup drills. We worked on these yesterday (six players, two coaches).

Left. Wing attack. Emphasis on separation, rip through with ball protection (out of defender's strike zone), explosive attack and finish. 

Right. Dribble handoff/dribble at with decision making. Coach defends poorly (direct DOWNHILL drive), well (pass to roller), overplays (back cut) with layup. 

Recognize that some players (increasing in my opinion) have learning disorders (especially dyslexia and attention deficit), learn slower without a defined disorder, or have less experience or aptitude for a new language. Build our teaching and feedback skills. 

For example, we instruct a player to force the dribbler left. She has dyslexia and problems with spatial instructions. Instead, direct her to force the player toward the benches or the bleachers. Some players need different instructions. They may be embarrassed to share their problem. 

What's overcoaching? Have you watched games where every possession the coach yells out something like "Blue. Eagle. 15." Then the team runs some play...leading to his kid shooting. Teach young kids to play not run a million plays. Basketball requires both discipline and freedom, execution with creative expression

In Thinking Volleyball, Mike Hebert shares a Japanese college coach's approach:

“Our players practice 8 to 10 hours a day,” he responded. “Last year we practiced 363 days.” “Why did you decide not to practice for two days?” Sherry asked. “One day was national holiday,” he said. “And the other day I sick of team.”

I'd call that overcoaching...

My way is never the best way, just another way. Finding balance matters. It may take a lifetime to write Goldilocks. 


Four ways to score. Are you a scorer, facilitator, screener? If a player wants to become a scorer, discover multiple ways to score. Fall in love with perimeter shooting and you limit yourself. Drive without shooting skill and defenders will lay off. Free throws, inside moves, putbacks, scoring in transition, scoring off the pick-and-roll all are viable alternatives. Very few "one-trick ponies" become proficient scorers. Find versatility of attack. 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Basketball: More Mental Models that Matter

We're wired to think in stereotypical ways. Thinking well takes effort. Errors literally take no time at all.  

Understand biases and use mental models makes better decisions. The brief video above launches us into today's discussion. 

Hanlon's Razor. We need not attribute to malice what we can explain by stupidity (or an innocent mistake). Long ago, my wife felt one of our twins wiping her hands on her skirt. "Don't wipe your hands on my skirt." The twin replied, "I didn't. It was my nose." 

First Conclusion Bias. Quicker isn't always better. We have parallel brain processing to solve problems, a back-of-the-envelope (Reflexive, X-system, System 1) mechanism and a slow processor (Reflective, C-system, System 2). Detailed strategies require Reflective thinking. Larry Fine's quick thinking fails spectacularly in the video. But we don't reflect upon whether to jump away from an onrushing car. 

Stress. Pressure degrades performance. The 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo has been attributed to 'mind blindness'. In Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink discusses combat errors under stress including friendly fire. I've shared Chris Webber's 1993 timeout mistake as pressure-related. I highly recommend the book Performing Under Pressure

Multiplying by Zero. "A chain is only as strong as its weakest link" or "one bad apple can spoil the barrel." The "Dork Defense" ignores the non-scorer to add help against the stronger players. Strong teams will apply pressure against another's weakness. We can't afford to have a zero multiplier. 

Fragility or robustness? A system or organism lives or dies according to its fragility or robustness in a given ecosystem. "Adequate" defense or rebounding can prove inadequate against another team's rebounders. Local basketball guru Tom Hellen says, "A team that cannot shoot free throws lasts as long in the post-season as a dog that chases cars." Construct teams for robustness in many different milieus. 


ATOs from the ATL. Many were designed to free Kyle Korver for threes. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Basketball: Woodwardisms "Getting the Story Right"

Great stories surround us. Writers excavate, reveal, and polish them. For Bob Woodward, great stories expose the abuse of governmental power...theft, misallocation of funds, betraying the public trust, treason. The public's need to know balances against the perpetrators' need to conceal or discredit. 

We have great stories within us. Propriety, fear of retaliation, uncertainty, and other factors prevent more revelations. 

Sports has great stories of intrigue, subterfuge, and betrayal. Tonya Harding and Lance Armstrong crossed lines to win. "Whatever it takes." BC basketball had a point-shaving scandal in the late 1970's. NBA referee Tim Donaghy pleaded guilty to federal charges centered around gambling on games he officiated. 

Adhere to core principles in telling your story. Bob Woodward is the foremost investigative journalist of our time. In his MasterClass he shares his methods including some of his tapes. You're not misquoted in tapes. During one presidential interview he emphasizes, "I want to get it right." You get it right using human sources, tapes, and documents with corroboration when documents are unavailable or a sole source is questionable. 

Documents are out there.

Here's a partially redacted document from the UNC academic fraud scandal, and here's an article from the New York Times where the NCAA tap danced around the issue, deferring to the foxes in the henhouse. 

Woodward describes, the "treacherous curtain of deference" surrounding powerful people. Journalists seek a peek inside the curtain."A source within blah-blah-blah" reports bibbidi-bobbidi-boo" because they want anonymity yet feel information needs sharing. 

Great journalists like Woodward don't just find stories. They probe "inside the mind" of their subjects to understand their motivation. Share the what, the how, and the why. 

Bank robber Willie Sutton denied saying, "that's where the money is." He responded, “Why did I rob banks? Because I enjoyed it. I loved it. I was more alive when I was inside a bank, robbing it, than at any other time in my life.

Many coaches maintain a cloak of secrecy around their program and methods. How many of us actively expose who we are and what we do, warts and all? Kentucky coach John Calipari comes closer than most.

Nobody makes a big deal out of it when baseball players turn pro right out of high school. I don’t remember an uproar when Tiger Woods left Stanford for the PGA Tour. Neither Bill Gates nor the late Steve Jobs made it all the way through college. We’ve had swimmers turn pro and pass up college.” 

― John Calipari, Players First: Success from the Inside Out

Calipari goes to church every day. My late Irish grandfather would simply say, "he needs to." 

Writers illuminate truths. Woodward often says information is "close to the bone," meaning emotionally hurtful truth. Cheating to win, crossing ethical boundaries bares an individual's true nature. 

Where is a story's center of gravity ? Expressions abound regarding turning points, "the die is cast" about Caesar's crossing the Rubicon, or a "Minsky moment" where risk becomes collapse. 

Woodward advocates the "Rule of Six" where stories convey at least six important messages. 

Learn from exceptional actors around us. When we understand the messenger well, we may be slower to dismiss the message. 


Signature moves apply to teams, style of play, and individuals. John Wooden's UCLA Bruins had the 2-2-1 press and the UCLA cut offense. Everyone knows the Princeton Offense. Georgetown had a devastating man-to-man press as their style of play. Abdul-Jabbar had the Sky Hook and we remember the McHale Move, Olajuwon Dream Shake, Iverson crossover, Sikma Move, Pierce step-back, and so on. Here's a brief video on the Westbrook split pick-and-roll. 

Friday, September 21, 2018

Basketball: Starting Practice

Steal good ideas...from everywhere, from everyone, from every domain, from other languages. Sawubona. "I see you." Newton's 3rd law. "Newton's third law states: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." You get what you give.

When does practice start? On the spreadsheet...stretching (physical and mental), the practice plan, remembering a whistle. What do we want to accomplish, how, and what interference will arise (last season it was influenza)? 

Wrong. Don't start with dynamic stretching or two laps to warm up muscles. Practice starts when we greet players as they come in. Basketball starts with relationships. Urban Meyer's practice starts when a player crosses the 'red line' around the field. That signals you're fired up and ready to go. 

Everyone has a name. Some even have nicknames - Po (Polar Bear), Badger, The Blur, the V-Rex.  And they're girls. If your moniker is the most ferocious dinosaur of all time, how do you play? The Blur went on to win a state championship in the 600. 

Fire needs oxygen. Don't suck the air out of the room. Don't bore them. Don't be an energy vampire. Yes, I prefer them to start with flips and form shooting. But if they have five minutes early fun with Knockout, they're having fun. Basketball...fun...associate practice and enjoyment. 

In high school, we began practice with five minutes of jumping rope. If I had more practice time, I'd start that way. 

Drive the tempo. I know one coach (who played in the Final Four) who uses background music to accelerate the tempo. Keep the story moving. 

Never saying my ideas are the best. That's why I'm stealing yours. 


Basketball is a game of separation, getting it and preventing it. "Don't dribble the air out of the ball." But if you're dribbling, separate. Change direction and change pace. "Crossover on your shoe tops." A crossover is not just changing hands! 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

GENERIC ARTICLE - Process Overview

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale and other novels

David Mamet, The Untouchables and others

"Write the best story you can and throw out all the good lines." - Hemingway


"Good artists borrow; great artists steal." - Picasso 

"The sculpture is in the marble." - Michelangelo

"Everyone has their version of the truth." - Bob Woodward

Good writing exposes truths. 

"I'm not worried about you being the best; I want you to be your best."


Want to get it right...it matters.  

Capture the reader with the title and content (improve!) 

Add value

Move the needle where possible

Where is the meaning...Adler level 3 - words/topic/meaning/mastery

"Sometimes simplicity is born of ignorance and sometimes from knowledge."

Power the first line

Keep it moving in the opening paragraph

Tell the story

What's next 

Rule of 6 (Present at least six items worth knowing)

Find a strong conclusion


The Key is THERE somewhere. It's there. (Mamet Masterclass)

Add supporting quotes, images, or references


Don't be a jerk!

Basketball: The Social Science of Influence

Education changes behavior. Coaches educate and influence our proteges and we can do so better if we know the pressure points of influence.

Robert Cialdini wrote the book on influence. Use his instruction.

Authority figures. Leaders can use authority for good or evil. Jim Jones used authority during the Jonestown cult to get followers to "drink the Kool Aid" poisoning (cyanide), leading to over 900 deaths. The Milgram Experiments showed volunteers anonymously give electrical shocks at maximal voltage under the direction of a researcher. We have great responsibility to use our authority wisely as coaches. Teams can play The Beautiful Game or Prison Ball.


Quid pro quo. We transform our know that into players' know how. Our time turns into their efforts. The charity industry employs fifteen times more than agriculture into the US. Their requests for donations may include a dime, a calendar, address labels and more, seeking reciprocal donations. We send you a DVD of your favorite rock group and you send a contribution to public television. I help you; you help me. We provide a scholarship; you provide the labor. Quid pro quo, Clarisse. 

Social proof. The power of group dynamics gets people to act or not. An individual is more likely to act as a lone rescuer than within a group. There is no diffusion of responsibility as the lone hero. Suicides spike after a celebrity suicide. The "good person" becomes part of a lynch mob

Get your key players to energize and engage the entire team.

Commitment and consistency. When we make public commitments, either in the media or in writing, we feel an obligation to follow through. Your university asks for a pledge of support. Politicians ask for your vote in return for campaign promises, "a chicken in every pot." The Knights of the Round Table pledged their loyalty. Before a big game, ask each player to sign a pledge of giving their maximum effort for that game. I've done that, but it's a one-time offer. 

Reason giving. Do this because

"Win one for the Gipper." 

Liking. Recently I shared Kevin Eastman discussing the triad of Trust, Respect, and Liking. Players respond better to coaching and leaders they trust, respect, and like. We might say, "I don't care if my players like me." Really? Top-rated Navy Captains were liked more than lesser-rated skippers. 
Here's a slide from a Mindfulness powerpoint I created. 

Use the tools of influences positively to coach better. 


Hat tip: Chris Oliver

Teach players to play with SSG (Small-sided games). K. J. Smith informs an extensive presentation.