Wednesday, February 21, 2018

What's Your Moat?

The word "moat" derives from the French 'mote' or mound, meaning mound or castle on a hill. Ironically, the word describes what is surrounded, not what surrounds. 

In business, your trademark, brand, scale, and products and/or services define your moat. Coaching a team, what defines your moat, your sustainable competitive advantage? And moreover, what liability or "human misjudgments" could undermine your dominant position? 

Charlie Munger's landmark address asserts some of the latter possibilities. For instance, "incentive based bias" affects behavior over many domains. You might call that "cheating" but sometimes it's favoritism. Do you cut the Mayor's grandchild? Do you favor Pietra over Paula in tax policy when Pietra is your donor? Do you "reciprocate" in dealing with 'agents' for players. Or do you publicly overcommit to your community (Administration, fans) doing "whatever it takes" to succeed. 

Steven M.R. Covey shares the tree of trust in The Speed of Trust. Recent NCAA scandals have illuminated coaches with extreme competence but challenged integrity. Coaches who see everything somehow look the other way when it comes to acquiring and supervising their lifeblood, talent. The Gepettos of college hoop shrug when their charges go off to Pleasure Island, unaware that real boys can turn not only themselves but their fathers into donkeys. 

We build our moats with character and consistency. Brett Ledbetter (What Drives Winning) explains, "Rather than separating “who you are as a player” from “who you are as a person,” Ledbetter works hard to unite them because uniting them makes both the performances and the people better." First, high character players are the foundation of our moat.  

Quality teaching and constant learning widen the moat. The best coaches work constantly to improve themselves, to understand big ideas and translate them into their program. Programs use heart-rate monitoring to assess effort, computer programs to train alertness, mindfulness to expand attention, and alternative exercise like pilates to enhance athletes' flexibility. 

Continual self-reflection on strengths and weaknesses with actions to reinforce strengths and mitigate weakness maintain the moat. Self-reflection can involve film study, checklists, analytics measuring performance like points per possession, or mentoring where coaches use assistants or consultants for feedback. 

Control what we can control. We can't always get better players, but we can always help our players become better. That's our ultimate moat. 

Lagniappe: terrific thoughts from Coach Larry Jackson (Xavier Newsletter #70)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Warren Buffett's lesser known partner is Charlie Munger, Harvard trained lawyer, Renaissance man, scholar, master of thinking and applying mental models. According to Buffett, Munger can detect what can go wrong with an idea in a minute.

Occasionally, the investing Universe brings together magical, cosmic synergy to create what Munger called the "Lollapalooza Effect," force multiplication (in either direction) amidst biases that divines special risk or opportunity. Munger values preparation, patience, discipline, and objectivity in cobbling his analysis. 

Can we identify a similar analogy in player evaluation and development? 

Obvious dimensions include elite size and athleticism. Assessments of skill in youth suffer as snapshots and project uncertain trajectory. That demands a philosophical leap of faith, judging motivation and discipline, and intangibles like basketball 'instinct.' The Samuelson highlight video above shows the integrated excellence, skill, cutting, passing, and savoir faire of the elite player. Know how vanquishes know that

Munger asks first what the rational observer sees and would do, and second what subconscious (emotional) biases interfere with arriving at conclusions. Paraphrasing Richard Pryor, I ask, "do you believe your beloved judgment or your lying eyes?" 

Buffett and Munger also adhere to their 'circle of competence' with conviction of YES, NO, or TOO TOUGH TO UNDERSTAND. Fortunately, the too tough to understand seldom applies to the fundamental basketball excellence, just the characters involved. 

With a more advanced young player, it's tempting to abbreviate baby steps of judging footwork, balance, pivoting, protecting the ball. But thorough and thoughtful preparation, Popovichian "pounding the rock" is precisely what produces lollapalooza.

Wedding skill, knowledge, and experience shapes the finished product. Cultivate and seek LOLLAPALOOZA.

Lagniappe: Xavier suggested "Partner Workout" 2006

Double bonus:

Tap play using a screen to create a speed mismatch. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

Art, Basketball, and Trust: "Show Me"

"Don't talk of stars burning above, if you're in love, show me." 

Trust wields a double-edged sword. During internship, I found myself "on call" a lot during short-staffing seasonal vacations. The Chief Resident explained, "we need somebody who knows what they're doing." No good deed goes unpunished.

Coaches need players to trust. SHOW ME why you deserve minutes. "Show me, now." 

Steven M.R. Covey writes in The Speed of Trust, "Trust impacts us 24/7, 365 days a year.  It undergirds and affects the quality of every relationship, every communication, every work project, every business venture, every effort in which we are engaged."

Urban Meyer defines his trust components (vide supra) in Above the Line. He reframes  Greek influencers - ethos (character), logos (logic), and pathos (emotion).

Trust and leadership intertwine. Covey writes, “Over time, I have come to this simple definition of leadership: Leadership is getting results in a way that inspires trust.” Leaders create trust. Trust builds loyalty. Loyalty reinforces leadership via positive feedback. 

Leadership comes from above AND below. Players know when they lack enough communication, skill, intensity, or rest and can freely share that with coaches. Coaches can admit mistakes, in tactics or motivation and earn more trust from showing our humanity. Competence does not mean infallibility.  

In the film about trust, Finding Forrester, Sean Connery tells Jamaal, "you write your first draft with your heart and you rewrite with your head." When he corrects Jamaal's manuscript, he asks in the margin, "where are you taking me?" Basketball is not so different, harmonizing the heart and the head, with the coach figuratively wondering, "where are you taking me?" The best players take us to greater trust. 

Trust mirrors VDE - vision, decision, and execution. Without vision, there is no decision. Good decisions offer the possibility of execution. Execution informs results. 

Every practice affords participants (coaches and players) opportunities to gain or lose trust. Mistakes don't terminate trust. But repeating the same faults (selfishness, sloth, tardiness) or actions (turnovers, poor shot selection) erode trust. 

Trust demands reciprocity. Reflect on inspiring trust and how players can earn trust. Remember Covey's quality of relationships. Quality repays time with trust.  


This two guard front sets up two quality scoring initial corner 3 off the back screen and a screen-the-screener option later. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Practice Checklists

I love practice. The worst part of school vacation for me is no practice. Every practice can be better, but how? 

Sure, we have practice schedules, with timelines and activities. Maybe checklists can improve practice

For reference, Atul Gawande wrote, The Checklist Manifesto, the bible of checklists. Michael Simmons and Ian Chew share How to Create a Checklist. Simmons and Chew remind us the best checklists are tested, concise, user-friendly, and critical. I cannot claim this 'first draft' proven in any way. 

Every team has different needs to address their philosophy, culture, and identity. But unifying themes pervade coaching. 

1.What does our team need NOW? These may overlap but not converge with yours...
2.Does practice address the needs? 
3.Why are we needy (knowledge, skill, effort, athleticism, conditioning). Fix root causes.
4.Can we measure progress? 

Checklists don't replace common sense, adjustments on the fly, or intangibles (team health and morale, leadership development). 

They also don't eliminate benefits of simplicity, clarity, and consistency. "Don't cheat the drill. Fall in love with easy...the easy pass, the easy shot. 

Admittedly, we don't have scouting reports, film to review for future opponents, or team-specific game plans. But we also distribute minutes fairly and have limited practice time. 


Another late game play, "Touchdown."

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Hardwood Classroom (Basketball Practice Mindset)

Every player should know she improved each practice. That's the goal anyway. Dispense with distractions. Brian McCormick shares the 'three L's' that don't belong at practice - lines, laps, and lectures

Every activity robs Peter to pay Paul. Lines don't teach. Laps don't spike anaerobic threshold. Three-minute lectures replace three minutes of fundamentals, offensive or defensive transition, team defense or offense. 

Coaches maximize limited resources - time, personnel, and attention. In Above the LineUrban Meyer emphasizes attitude and readiness. When players cross the red line, they're expected ready. "The rule is that once they cross that red line, they are not only running – they are prepared to give all they’ve got." But young players aren't at OSU. Raise expectations

Strive to practice with higher energy, tempo, and efficiency

Players should heed Coach Meyer's advice to "Get Your Mind Right – What you focus on, how you talk to yourself, productive vs negative mindset." The court is their atelier, the hardwood classroom. Whenever appropriate, praise the praiseworthy, especially effort. 

Emphasize competitive practices, the struggle (borot'sya) to become your best and challenge teammates to be their best. Players share accountability. Rotating drills encourages versatility and excellence within the competitive cauldron

Alternate high intensity training with lower intensity activity. Free throw practice affords a convenient time to provide water breaks. 

Offense-defense-offense (O-D-O) provides an alternative to scrimmage that initiates three possession activity with a free throw, BOB, or SLOB. We can extend each three possession game a possession or two at our discretion. 

But within O-D-O or small sided games (e.g. 3-on-3 or 2-2), prioritize spacing, player and ball movement, your offensive emphasis (e.g. pick-and-roll, off-ball screens), and particularly shot selection. 

To teach spacing and movement, regularly practice 4-on-4 (no dribble) with the third group rotating to alternative activity (usually free throws). 

Practice should elevate not demoralize. Be demanding without demeaning. We aren't in the business of demotivation. 

Nobody coaches to rob children of self-esteem. Practice can't be drudgery. Accomplished teams PLAY basketball and miserable teams WORK it. 

Lagniappe: Full court "game winner" actions

Middle 'go'

 Side 'go'

Diamond 'X' Go


Friday, February 16, 2018

PTRW (Play the Right Way) "You Know It When You See It."

PTRW. "Play the right way." What does that mean on a granular level? Well-coached teams find and develop more players doing the right things. If we ask players about the meaning of PTRW what will they say? 

Telling players to "play hard" or "be aggressive" is vague. 

Show players how playing hard looks. "Catch people in the act of doing the right thing.

Ask players to give examples of doing the right things. What makes a good individual action? What defines a good team action? 

Remind players: 

"Good defense comes from multiple efforts."

"Good offense comes from multiple actions.

Excellence departs from ordinary. You know it when you see it. 

Kentucky demonstrates the "classic" transition defense drill...communication is key. 

Most coaches expect players to respect the game. Have players explain what that means. Demand unselfishness, intelligence, relentlessness. Inform them how players disrespect the game (e.g. dishonoring opponents, teammates, and officials, running up the score, dirty play, disinterested play). 

PTRW implies thorough preparation and assiduous practice. You know it when you see it. 

Lagniappe: 2 plays from FastModel Sports

 SLOB into middle drive.

Horns slice cut, if not available...wing ball screen. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Fight Through Complacency as the Season Winds Down

"Sports doesn't build character; it reveals it." Practice and games teach us about our nature.
Thought leader Michael Mauboussin keeps a decision journal to help him learn from his decisions. After 'evolutions', I ruminate about the lessons dispensed:

What went well? 
What went poorly?
What can we do better? 
What are the enduring lessons? 

Two things we didn't do well (in victory) were defend the give-and-go and contest shots. Both require awareness and reaction. Eighty percent of the game is mental, and concentration skills complement physical ability. 

At practice, players didn't recognize the deficiency. So we worked on defending the give-and-go repeatedly out of shell. 

Life rewards work, patience, and balance. Confidence finds middle ground between uncertainty and arrogance. Sports teaches lessons, especially the fragility of arrogance. Coach Auriemma has said, "the only thing worse than losing is winning all the time." 


"Movement kills defenses." One of the simplest actions against the 2-3 zone is passing and cutting. Above, the ball is swung to the corner and the wing (3) cuts through looking for the ball. This pressures x5, the middle defender. If she picks up 3 quickly, then 5 can roll behind for a short shot of the glass (the bank is always open). If 3 receives the ball, 5 can roll to the middle for a 'small-area' 2 on 1.