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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

2-on-2 Dribble At

Our job is teaching players to "see the game." After playing 1-on-1, players learn 'small group play', which can emphasize wing to low post, top and high post, and top to wing for example.

It's obvious that if the guard passes to the wing, she can basket cut (give and go), cut through (same side = bury, opposite side = through) or screen the ball. But she has other options young players need to learn, such as "dribble at".

Left:  1 dribbles 'at' 3. 3 can basket cut, fake screen and 'slip', cut away, or get dribble handoff (1 is 'inside' 3 to dribble handoff "platter."

Right: 1 goes outside with screen and roll.

You cannot have a pre-arranged "signal" or call for everything. The more that players learn to play, the more the communication becomes instinctive.

In some sense, we do our players a disservice by overcoaching and underteaching. Give the players a chance to learn, leave their comfort zone, and make mistakes. In the long pull, that's better coaching in my opinion.

Extraction Points


Basketball coaches learn a lot from each other and often football coaches, who have a lot going on with a huge roster and extensive game planning. Coach Starkey shares thoughts on Bill Belichick. Learn to absorb the key points and develop the best habits. 

You can distill excellence: passion, curiosity, learning, preparation, communication, focus on solutions, innovation. Individuals who excel in any field share these traits. 

Here are the article's critical elements:

Coach Belichick is a forward-thinking individual.  He has no time to think about past 

accomplishments or failure.  He is about coaching and living in the moment.

Coach Belichick, despite being at the top of his profession is a driven, continual 


He engenders loyalty with both surprising kindness and utmost competence.

“Probably the story of his career, from my vantage point, would be his attitude 

toward learning” 

Belichick had divined creative solutions to complex problems

One of the things that makes Belichick a better leader while assisting him in his 

quest for knowledge -- he's a great listener

The best coaches know how to challenge and, in turn, prepare their players and team

The great ones are always looking for ways to improve and not sit status quo

If we have a guest speaker, he wants to know, what did he talk about? What was 

good about it? For a guy who’s extraordinarily bright, extraordinarily successful, 

he’s always searching for a better way, a different way.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Basketball Jones? Van Gundy Defensive Edit

Got a basketball Jones? We spent a lot of time at practice today emphasizing offense, especially playing a futsal-like 3-on-3 in a limited area. Growing up, we played a lot of 1-on-1 and some 2-on-2 depending on availability. Most younger kids don't have the opportunity to go to the playground anymore.

Here's a Jeff Van Gundy basketball defensive video and some annotations. Let's face it...this isn't material that everyone will want to study.

Load to the ball - get numbers to the ball side
His bigs hedge the high ball screen - no ICE for them
Great shots of the post position battle (transition D comes early)
"Kick smalls out" challenge the perimeter early

Effective ball pressure helps keep passer from distributing to players in 'their' spots
No middle/no paint
Dead dribble defender forces toward baseline
Closeout technique (high hands)
Scoring area 'trace the ball'
Notes they will defend some players differently (where they force them)
"Show your hands" to avoid fouls
They emphasize denial on wing to post entry (often dig at post if entered)
Contest everything (but don't foul)
"Hip to hip" to deny 'duck in' passes (use the body)
Influence post player to baseline (Kevin Eastman's 'homeless' position)

No gap splitting
Bigs need to recognize EARLY and react to BLOW BYS (drives)
"Sink and Fill" when smalls double team, must be physical and help rotates
Dig and recover- perimeter players drop and harass the post (on the DRIBBLE)
Dig and attack turnarounds from behind
Pick-and-roll D (he calls it DOWN not ICE)
Spread pick and roll high, try to keep dribbler from using the pick
Calls double team PnR "Blitz" recover to man if pass weakside
On "Blitz" have to rotate to keep action from the paint
"Blitz" high ball screen force "lob" pass
"Blitz" high ball screen good roll, big must step up
"Show" (fake trap) and go under against some (non-shooters)
"Stunt" to popper on pick-and-pop 
Sometimes dead fronts in post (scouting report dependent) - obviously ball pressure needed
Uses different colors to define defensive actions...for example 'WHITE' traps post from oppos wing

I'll leave the rest to you like "War" to defend Hawk and UCLA cuts. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Practical Pressure Purges

I have previously shared lessons from Performing Under Pressure. Weisinger and Pawliw-Fry describe the biology of pressure and short and long-term mitigators of degraded performance. While 'brevity is the soul of wit', I recommend watching the embedded videos (Van Halen is optional).

First, I'll share how I unwittingly used one of their 22 strategies to succeed at Sam Jones' basketball camp in the summer of 1972. Each camp had competitions such as best free throw shooter, ten shots. Shooting ten in a row differs from game conditions. It's rare to see anyone shoot more than five in a row, e.g. a fouled three point shot plus a technical foul awarding two shots.

The strategy? GO FIRST. As a high school junior, I had shot 78 percent, so I came in confident (one of their four long-term "COTE of armor" methods - confidence, optimism, tenacity, enthusiasm). When they asked for a volunteer to go first (outdoors, asphalt court), I was on that like a rat on cheese. My rationale was that if I made ten, no other camper was likely to be able to make a "pressured" ten. I had NO pressure going first. I made ten. As we say in Boston, Ovah.

I share ten simple, practical Performing Under Pressure strategies with brief annotations. The goal of the short term strategies is boosting positives, eliminating negatives, focus, proper arousal, and finding what works for you. When you can "group" the strategies, so much the better...simpler, quicker, and stronger.

1. Use music as it can distract you from pressure and regulate arousal. Some music can stimulate and other can calm. Some does both (anyone who has heard the entire William Tell Overture/Lone Ranger theme can attest to that).

2. Focus on the moment (score a double for Right Now).

3. Watch video of your performance. (score a triple for Right Now, three for one). Watching video removes self-consciousness and shows you succeeding.

4. Be positive. Use the four ginormous words, I CAN DO THIS.

5. Highlight reel. Jason Selk's great book 10 Minute Toughness incorporates a number of valuable strategies for mental toughness. Develop a mental ESPN highlight reel of plays that show you succeeding. They don't have to be extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime achievements. Visualizing yourself perfectly knocking down open jump shots or anticipating a pass as you step into the passing lane works just fine.

6. Power position. Daughter Paula, right used to walk into the gym "making myself big" standing tall to let everyone in the gym know "I'm here." Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy describes the value of assuming "power positions" to raise testosterone (confidence) and lower cortisol (a stress hormone) even after as little as two minutes.

7. Breathing.
Another principle from Jason Selk was proper (centered) breathing...controlled breathing...slow inspiration (6)/breath hold (2)/slow expiration (7)

8. Anchor words or cues. Heisinger and Pawliw-Fry discuss the "cookie jar." Shoot the basketball as though you are shooting a cookie into the cookie jar on a high shelf.

9. Simulation.
Feel the pressure. Experience and embrace it via simulation. When teams and individuals practice pressure situations they are more likely to perform when THE MOMENT arrives.

10. Speed kills.
Haste makes waste. Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman described heuristic (automatic, reflexive) X-system and thoughtful, reflective (C-system) operations working in the brain. It takes more energy but activate your "C-system" to help DO YOUR JOB reflexly.

The Worst Kept Coaching Secrets from David Lee

Do you wonder why some coaches succeed and others fail? This NESN interview with David Lee articulates the differences.


Recently I've written more about defense, including the pick-and-roll defensive option, ICE. But where young players almost always struggle is managing closeout situations, which often emerge after ball rotation.

Here's a 'typical' example via Twitter and BBallBreakdown

First, watch the video showing how offense defeats closeouts. Defenders are vulnerable when the have momentum working against them and the offensive players ATTACKS DECISIVELY. Effective defenders create indecision (high hands) and contain the drive.

I don't like the high center of gravity in the video, but it has its strengths. First, MOVE ON THE PASS and think CLOSE THE GAP. Challenged threes have dramatically lower shooting percentage than open threes, ergo get at least one HAND HIGH to discourage the shot without fouling. The key elements are early movement, contest the shot, contain the drive. 

I teach an exception for late shot clock and end-of-quarter/end-of-game in a drill I call five seconds to glory. 
The perimeter defender runs at the ball and looks to contest the shot and allow the drive. The help defender contains the drive. This drill tests offense (decision-making and execution) and defense (full contest without foul and help). In a time-limited situation, the offense can't make multiple passes or take more than at most two dribbles without the clock or time expiring. 

There are loads of closeout drills. I love the energy in this brief video. 

The simplest thought is CLOSE, CONTEST, CONTAIN. 

ICE Station NBA Style

Mere child's play relative to stopping the side screen-and-roll.

Defending the screen-and-roll is one of the toughest assignments in basketball, along with defending great post players (vanishing species), and closing out. Coach Nick demonstrates how they do it in the NBA...and shows supporting video.

COMMUNICATION is essential to maintain coverage
FORCE the ballhandler baseline
Screener's defender "zones" and CONTAINS the dribbler
No DEFENSIVE ROTATION necessary from the help side (ball reversal stresses rotations)
ICE "permits" the "HARD 2" (long 2) for the screener
There is only minor variation (not shown) for the high screen-and-roll

Why this discussion, today? Gary Washburn in The Boston Globe (bottom of column) discusses the explosion of three-point shooting by bigs in the NBA. NBA players are highly skilled and adaptive, changing to confront the defensive landscape.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Offensive Delay Game

Excellent teams manage special situations. Players must be able to identify and execute in high and low pace situations. Coaches may not have 'discretionary' timeouts to map strategy and players must understand their responsibilities and what the goals and limitations of 'delay' may be. They must know how defenses are likely to approach delay defensively (extreme ball pressure, overplay, fouling poor free throw shooters).

The emphasis should include adequate spacing, ball control and turnover avoidance, using time, having capable free throw shooters, and recognizing opportunities for layups. You want to avoid providing the defense trapping chances.

The most renowned delay game was North Carolina's "Four Corners" piloted by Phil Ford.

Ford had exceptional ballhandling and distribution skills and could score off the dribble or at the free throw line if he got separation or fouled. Note how Carolina spreads teammates out and Ford works to penetrate or threaten to score. Strength and stamina help the point guard run this offense. Running this offense successfully requires extreme competence at point guard. When players help off the low teammates, backdoor opportunities become paramount.

It can be run as a primary offense against high pressure defenses.

Another simple delay offense runs off downscreens, passing, and cut through by the passer with layups an option on the give-and-go. This keeps the middle open and sets up mismatches on defensive switching.

Here's another simple delay game that requires fewer capable ballhandlers.

1-4 high delay with multiple options. Principle is shallow cuts from wing.

Triangle arrangement with screens away from the ball is another good option, especially if you have an exceptional post player.

You don't need many schemes, just one or two with players who can execute and make free throws.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Defensive Dirty Dozen

Simple is better. Embed core defensive principles and get your team to buy in.

  1. Five guys (or girls). Not the burger joint, defense. Together. 
  2. You. Great team defense starts by winning individual battles. 
  3. The ball scores. Gotta see it and stop it. 
  4. Know your nos. No easy baskets. 
  5. No penetration.
  6. No paint. 
  7. No second shots. 
  8. No uncontested shots. (Challenge without fouling)
  9. No stupid fouls.
  10. Communicate at all times. 
  11. Stops make runs. 
  12. Great defenders earn minutes. Recognize and value them. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Practical Basketball Advice for Players

You want to become a basketball player. Are you committed? What are you prepared to do, to sacrifice to achieve your goal?

You could make a list of dozens of items; let's keep it brief.

Commit to academic excellence. "No ability without eligibility."
Read at least an hour a day. Learning isn't optional for achievement.
Learn the game. Study!
Get in great condition. Basketball isn't a running game, it's a sprinting game.
Footwork, balance, maneuvering speed. Buy a jumprope. Use it.
Learn fundamentals first. Technique trumps tactics.
Shoot, shoot, shoot. Repetitions build reputations.
Share. The best players make everyone around them better.
Be a "Positive Dog" Attitude comes first.
Control what you can control. Attitude, choices, effort.

Musings on Close Games

If I could share advice (or get it) from anyone in basketball, what advice would I dispense/give? Everyone knows the importance of winning close games. What factor or factors determine who wins and loses 'close games'? 

Kevin Brockway shared statistics on coaching records in games decided by five points or less and found a lot of variability. 

The implication is that coaching makes a big difference in "crunch time." What we would want is to look at what transpired before or what outcomes occur (for example) when games are within four points with 'X' time left in the game (e.g. four minutes). For example, a team could trail by twelve with eight minutes left, narrow the score, but not finish. Or a team could blow a lead like Memphis did in 2008 to lose the NCAA final to Kansas. 

What sequence of events causes teams to win or lose close games? How can players and coaches troubleshoot and stop this from happening? 

In the NBA, a lot will depend on your 'closer'. Having a Lebron James would help, but even Lebron's effectiveness depends on how he gets isolation, being more effective off a pass

But most coaches can't access statistical depth and breadth or have a superior closer. What can the proletariat do to compete better (or win) close games? It's a copycat world. 

Score more points in transition. Golden State led the league in 2014-2015 and Houston was second. 

Score from the perimeter (3s). Golden State, Houston, and Cleveland led the league in scoring from international waters. Maybe it shouldn't surprise that the Warriors were near the bottom of the league in scoring (percent of points) on free throws. It's hard to pile up points on threes and shoot lots of free throws, too. 

Deny points in transition. It takes discipline and effort to limit points in transition. The Celtics led the league in allowing fewest points in transition, not surprising that a Brad Stevens team would play smart. 

Limit points from the perimeter (3s). Golden State and San Antonio both finished in the top five in points allowed on threes. 

Be more efficient. The Clippers, Warriors, Raptors, and Toronto were among the leaders in offensive efficiency. 

How about some practical advice? 

Relentlessly encourage play POSSESSION by POSSESSION


Improve scoring in key (e.g. After Timeout - ATO) situations (such as baseline out of bounds - BOB - and sideline out of bounds - SLOB) situations. Portfolio of "winning plays" in critical situations. 

Have offensive and defensive DELAY GAMES. 

Sucess in close games is just one measure of overall team and coaching effectiveness. Good players and coaches want to succeed in every situation and adding value should be both our vision and mission. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

From the Tank to the Bank

This month's Success magazine discusses Shark Tank behind the scenes. We can often translate ideas or concepts from one medium into our arena. 

Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks' owner notes, "entrepreneurs face the challenge of being self-aware." Kevin Eastman admonishes coaches to recognize, "shoot, it ain't working." Coaches are entrepreneurs, as Chuck Daly wrote, "I'm a salesman." We need both a solid product but an effective pitch to get our customers (players) to buy into our program. Belief in a flawed product doesn't rescue it. RealClearSports discusses the top 10 turnarounds in NCAA Men's basketball history. 

Real estate tycoon Barbara Corcoran has always feared failure. Insecurity can drive individuals to outwork and outthink their competition. Adversity will accompany every competitor. How we transform challenges productively determines whether we reach our destination. 

You can have too many assets. Abundant talent doesn't guarantee success. How you develop and deploy (process) means as much or more than having assets. In 1898, Samuel Langley received a total of $70,000 in government grants to develop manned flight. But money and previous success with catapulted flight didn't translate into victory over the Wright Brothers. A high payroll doesn't guarantee championships in the NBA. SBNation chronicles the hot mess of the Brooklyn Nets. 

You can look but not see. With the obvious success of companies like Uber, who stood to lose? Of course, the Taxi industry. 

Recognizing competition matters. 

Some young players are not highly regarded or recruited but both talented and driven. Steph Curry was not a highly regarded recruit but became an NBA MVP. Nassim Taleb wrote "The Black Swan" to promote the concept of the reality of the highly improbable. 

Here's an excerpt from the New York Times review, "First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable."

Whether in life, business, or coaching we need to see what others don't, recognize strength, weakness, and opportunity. That means overcoming intrinsic biases such as overconfidence, confirmation bias (reading and opinions that reinforce our beliefs), and framing (limiting choice). If we want to change the world, we often must change ourself first. 

Definition and Differentiation - "Share Something Great"

Whether you are a player, coach, or administrator you should ask questions.

What defines you? 

What differentiates you? 

How can I improve my team? 

Before you ask yourself any of the above, think hard about your commitment level to become your best and your willingness to change. 

Your defining qualities or values don't exist in isolation. You might be a great reservoir of information yet be a poor communicator or poor teacher. Those aren't fatal flaws as long as you are willing and committed to change. You might be a wonderful communicator but lack the breadth and depth of knowledge needed to add value to your organization. You must embark on a learning journey, much as Charles Darwin did during his five-year 'mission' on the HMS Beagle. 

Are you willing to embrace (not just accept) criticism and mentoring? Great players and coaches want feedback on how to improve, to build skills and even greater consistency. 

A Physicians' Assistant asked me for "life defining advice" as he asks everyone. My answer was "share something great." That could encompass anything from a pithy quote, to life insight, or a peanut butter cookie recipe. Because everyone has both God-given and developed talents, why not share? 

There's a story about a poor young man who walked hundreds of miles to see a guru to seek advice. He asked the guru for information about his future. The guru paused and said, "for the next fourteen years you will be poor and often sad about your state in life." The young man responded,"and then?" The guru answered, "you will be used to it." 

Sometimes we are quick to accept our circumstances. If we seek something more, then we must constantly learn, seek solutions, and be open-minded. "Be more to do more. Do more to become more." But that means spending time thinking and changing to differentiate yourself from our peers or our competition. That means finding a process of reading, study, reviewing where we have been and where we want to go. It doesn't mean "style drift" from one area to another, but finding areas of expertise in which to excel and grow. 

Whether basketball is your passion, vocation, or avocation, do you have any idea what you know and what you don't? That means having a willingness and openness to seek and experiment with ways to study better, teach better, and develop and refine your process. For example, working mostly on strategy and tactics means little if you or your players lack fundamentals. You can't employ complex systems that MIGHT work for another team if your players lack the basketball IQ or have learning problems. 

"Man's reach must exceed his grasp." Aspiring to greatness has merit, but preparation and perspiration gets you more than inspiration. 

It applies in all areas of your life. Yesterday, I read an article on updates in acute leukemia, did continuing education case studies with new blood thinners, and today attended an hour conference to update information on acute pneumonia. Nobody requires me to do that all the time, but I want to share the best information I can. 

"Share something great." 

Imagination Leads to Innovation Leading to Differentiation - Bill Russell

                          - Bill Russell

People argue about who belongs on basketball's Mount Rushmore. Everyone would agree about Michael Jordan and then arguments begin. You might include Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone. But you can only have four. 

That's okay, because Bill Russell goes on Mount Olympus. Averaging twenty-three rebounds for his NBA career, Russell was the most dominant team sport athlete of his era with fourteen championships in fifteen years. He led San Francisco to a pair of championships, won Olympic gold in 1956, and eleven championships in thirteen seasons for the Celtics...including multiple championships as a player-coach. 

Russell simply revolutionized the game. Russell defined shot blocking and shot altering defense. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


While in trading, "the trend is your friend," in basketball, maybe not so much. Kevin Sivils discusses trend following in Study Coaches.

Shakespeare had it right, "First above all, to thine own self be true." You need a philosophy that you can live, you can teach, that you can trust. I've discussed the warfare analogy - infantry, cavalry, and artillery. You can't be an "artillery" coach with "infantry" players. If you have aircraft carrier players, then wanting to play speedboat basketball makes no sense.

I grew up playing in a system that was a hybrid defensively between UCLA (three- quarter court 2-2-1) and North Carolina (run-and-jump), but could morph into a variety of defenses in the quarter court. Maybe my coach followed John Wooden and Dean Smith, but maybe the players ball pressure in the backcourt and size in the front court dictated a "safe press" environment. What I know, in the Pete Newell tradition, is that "coaches who try to coach what they played usually end up with a poor reproduction of the original."

Coaching is teaching players to "see the game" and to problem solve real time by recognition and repetitions. Playing well requires twin tracks dedicated to learning constantly and accepting the repetitions of deliberate practice. If you want to become a carpenter, then you need to learn how to use a variety of tools. If you want to become a scorer, then you need to develop scoring moves suited to your talent and disposition. A smaller athletic player can have a post game, but learning to score in transition and off the drive, to come off screens, to knock down perimeter shots, and to penetrate and kick makes more sense in basketball teleology.

I want to be able to teach like Pete Newell and Kevin Eastman, to have the detail orientation of Wooden, the communication skills of Smith and Shaka Smart, the self-control of Brad Stevens, the intensity of Bob Knight, the discipline of Pete Carril, the moral authority of Del Harris, and more. As a player, I wanted to be Jerry Sloan not Jerry West. Grind.

Dribble drive might be trendy but teaching values of grit, teamwork, and accountability offers more durability.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Conditioning Options for Basketball

"Fatigue makes cowards of us all." - George Patton

Conditioned athletes share both physical and psychological advantages. What metrics define great conditioning and how do we arrive there? 

From an exercise physiology standpoint, scientists measure aerobic fitness in terms of maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max). While this has been used for Olympic athletes and studied in 'normals', Air Force officers, and other populations, it requires high technology, expensive equipment that isn't practical for most programs. 

But a simple exercise test (12 minute run) approximates it well. 

For example, several years ago (at age 58) I performed this test on a treadmill and achieved 1.35 miles in twelve minutes, about 37.27 ml/kg/minute. That compares favorably with a measured reading of about 44 ml/kg/minute working as a staff pulmonologist in the Navy over twenty-five years ago. Prior to conditioning programs, health assessment and approval are important. 

You can then apply your data to normative tables for age

That's the 'easy' part. 

I believe that multiple exercise components condition both sport specific (e.g. basketball drills) and general, such as jumping rope and sprint training. I've previously written about conditioning within practice. We have such limited practice time that I bake conditioning into drills (transition, continuous 3-on-3, Kentucky layups, etc.). 

Jumping rope develops speed, agility, and coordination. There are enough rope jumping exercise that players and coaches should find some attractive. Jumping rope burns calories at about the same rate as running an eight-minute mile. For healthy, younger athletes I recommend a five minute workout. As high school basketball players we commonly warmed up with about three minutes of jumping rope. 

Sprint training in isolation has value, but basketball players will find it less enjoyable than basketball activitiy. This article suggests a variety of training exercises

Get players to buy into conditioning. Coordinate conditioning into practice whenever responsible. Use alternatives like jumping rope. Determine whether measuring fitness or setting standards will apply to your program. You can make the conditioning competitive and a team-building exercise. 

Studying Failure

Failure in basketball assumes many forms, but distills to decision-making and execution. There's much to learn from failure. Edison learned what didn't work with a thousand misses designing the lightbulb. Henry Ford failed twice before getting the Model A into production. Abraham Lincoln's election defeats far outnumbered his eventual Presidential success.

Initially, players don't know what to do or how to do it. This progresses to better ken of what but still flawed execution. Better still is good judgment and inconsistent execution. Eventually, for some players, consistent judgment and execution emerge.

But what repeatable choice and play errors must we exorcise? The problems facing players in the highest arc of the basketball universe overlap but differ from newbies. Not knowing or covering your assignment as middle schooler differs qualitatively from reflexively helping off Steph Curry, giving him an open corner three. But the results align.

Create. In a game of cutting and passing, standing around becomes the first error (omission). You can't create or prevent separation as a totem pole.

"This is how we play...not."

Move. The game honors moving the basketball, not holding it.

You are most open the moment you catch the ball. Holding it allows defenders to close, rotate, and help. Exposing the basketball creates turnovers and held balls. Shorter "touch times" (less than two seconds) attacks the defense and gets higher percentage shots.

From Stephen Shea, Ph.D.
Play with purpose.
Offensively, move with purpose (not porpoise). The porpoise doesn't put the ball on the floor immediately and automatically. Players who immediately 'ground' the ball limit themselves. Defensively, ball pressure stresses defenses.
Don't lose your mind. Concentrate. "The ball scores." What is the most likely path to score or prevent scoring?
CARE. Concentrate-anticipate-react-execute. A games is the sum of a finite number of possessions. Failed concentration in any area means more opportunities for failure. Failure to see an open man deprives you of quality shots; failure to see defensive breakdown permits easy shots.
Avoid the traffic. Your parents, from your youngest days insist, "don't play in the traffic."
Great players get separation and play in space. Dribbling into traffic or passing into traffic bakes turnovers not baskets. Great defensive coaches teach defenses to get deflections, steals, turnovers, blocks, and poor shots by collapsing the traffic.
"Make the bad man stop." Take better shots. The quickest route to better scoring is better shots. "Better ingredients, better pizza?" Doc Rivers calls bad shots, "shot turnovers." Know your range and that of your teammates.
Yes, a 'lottery ticket' shot can go in. But it won't happen often. Force your opponent to get "one bad shot" and they'll be buying the lottery tickets.
Burn these dos and don'ts into your (or your players') heads...
Don't stand (player movement)
Move the basketball (touch time)
Play with purpose
Avoid the traffic
Take better shots

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Apprentice

Whether a player or coach, you seek mastery. But you serve an apprenticeship, "paying your dues" through concentrated effort and developing experience. Observation, skill building, and creativeness all participate.

Expecting success, recognition, renown, or riches without the requisite sacrifice, belief, and patience is unrealistic and disingenuous.

Robert Greene's Mastery discusses the apprenticeship in detail. For example, seeking entry into writing, Benjamin Franklin entered a nine-year apprenticeship in a print shop. This afforded him exposure to both the trade and the output (books, pamphlets, etc.) to study.

In medicine, we have a saying during training - see one, do one, teach one. That applies to study, feedback, and teaching. The students and residents get intense experience and supervision, working up to eighty hours a week.

8 Strategies for the Ideal Apprenticeship from Robert Greene

Most professions organize training to last over 10,000 hours. Bill Bradley began a practice regimen of three hours daily and eight hours on Saturday beginning at age twelve. He lacked quickness, athleticism, and ballhandling skill as a youngster and made himself into a great player. He forged a spectacular basketball career at Princeton, played professionally in New York, and became a United States Senator.

In creating your apprenticeship, seek mentoring and education that provides you the training and experience that can help you achieve your goals. Understand that it won't be easy, will require discipline and sacrifice, and it begins with understanding "this is how it works." Some trainees find that their expectations don't mesh with reality. That can create frustration or worse.

Good training forces you out of your comfort zone. It demands you stretch yourself (physical play, emotional toughness, increase breadth and depth of skills) and 'rewire' your brain through appropriate repetitions.

But having sufficient commitment to your field and process is where it all begins. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sports Parenting and More

I've been fortunate to have great sports parents. They sacrifice for their children and reinforce the message that the team comes first. Surely they experience frustration at times, and my least favorite part of coaching is substitution. Balancing development and competition can frustrate anyone. Just keeping track of minutes is tough and we're lucky a parent helps track minutes and data.

Coach Mac shares an outstanding framework for sports parenting. Yes, I've yelled at my daughters, "don't reach in" and "no stupid fouls." You can't help the team (as much) with foul trouble. The message speaks for itself.

Communicate expectations. My goal is child development first within the context of their family, academics second, and a comprehensive exposure to basketball theory and practice. My "perfect" player becomes an exemplary youngster, process-focused student, and loves basketball and wants to share the game with others someday. You don't have to be a 'great' player to succeed with those goals.
Be transparent. Players and families may not agree with every aspect of the process, but it exists and continually evolves and improves. Basketball 'vocabulary' embraces commitment, discipline, effort, energy, perseverance, sacrifice, and sharing. When we engage players with those values, they succeed in.

Value relationships. At a workout last week a former player (high schooler) came over, encouraged the girls, and gave Coach Labella and me a greeting hug. Basketball and life begin and prosper with relationships. I'm neither Doctor Pangloss nor Pollyanna and won't sugar coat reality. All relationships in any basketball program don't work. Control what you can control. Maybe that's what you get when your coach studied "The French Philosophical Novel" in college.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Ratings Performance System (RPS)

"Measure a thousand times, but cut only once." - Turkish Proverb

I've discussed Jim Collins' seminal work Good to Great. He describes the 'flywheel' of forces that drive great organizations. Collins and researchers found that technology doesn't drive success but adds value to successful companies.

We can envision many uses of technology and metrics to monitor team performance, ranging from conditioning to game understanding (quizzes with feedback) to performance.

Dean Oliver's landmark Basketball on Paper identified key metrics that drove winning, become the Sabermetrics analog for basketball. Bill James' ability to use complex statistical analysis in player analysis spurred "Moneyball" and helped the Red Sox win three championships. The Celtics' internal analysis of NBA statistics (personal communication) found guard rebounding correlated with winning. Oliver emphasized four key measures of success - shooting percentage differential, rebounding, turnovers, and free throws taken.

What surprised many was the importance of OFFENSE to winning. My mantra, "Possession and possessions" derives from rebounding and turnovers leading to POSSESSION and shooting percentage and free throws consequent to good POSSESSIONS.

With older groups in particular, we track player minutes (partly to assure 'reasonable' minutes), and assign varying values to player contributions.

For example:

+/- 3 points (drawing a charge, committing a charge)
+3/-3 making or missing a three point shot

+2 (offense) two point goal, assist, screen leading to a basket, offensive rebound
-2 (offense) two point miss, turnover, missed free throw
+2 (defense) steal, forced turnover, blocked shot
- 2 (defense) lost assignment, bad foul leading to free throws

+1 made free throw, defensive rebound, forced held ball
-1 allowed held ball, common foul

You can get extra points for the "hockey assist" pass, hustle plays (e.g. deflection in transition), et cetera.

I use the data to assess both team performance (e.g. shooting percentage, turnovers, rebounding) and individual performance (plus/minus). Jacking up a lot of shots (throwing mud against the wall) doesn't mean 'sticky' performance. Players can 'show up' as screeners, rebounders, stellar defenders without big offensive numbers.


Below minus 10 - really struggled
Minus 10 to zero - negative
One to plus 10 - positive
Plus 10 to 17 - strong contribution
18 and above - extraordinary performance

The highest score I've recorded for an individual on our teams was 26 and that's for sixth to eighth grade girls.

Players like the system because it credits them for contributions that don't readily appear in the scorebook. It adds value by identifying "needs" areas (e.g. shot quality, turnovers, free throw percentage). I tweak the system to fit my analysis, but it's far from definitive because it doesn't look at situational performance, opponent performance, groupings (e.g. did a stronger player appear weaker by playing with weaker players?), and so on. I don't have the resources to film, analyze, and get the most accurate data.

What 'tracking' does (see The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy) is quantify process and progress and allow trends to emerge objectively. It tends to expose weakness and reveal surprising strengths.

Ronald Paul Sen, MD
Melrose, MA

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

"How Can I Increase My Role, Coach?"

At an offseason workout for eighth graders yesterday, I told one girl that her goal shouldn't be to make the high school varsity next year. She should work toward contributing as a starter. Challenge players to become more and ask questions. The right response could be, "what can I do to make that happen?"

When players want a bigger role and more time, what can they do?  You want to be an ACE - show attitude, make great choices, give total effort.

Total commitment means showing up EARLY ("Dean Smith time"), being ready to go, listening at all times, and being a GYM RAT.  Outwork the competition.
I've heard many coaches tell players we'll be in better shape than every opponent. Was it true? As Division 1 college pitchers (I walked on), we had to run an indoor mile for time. I ran a 5:07 as a junior. Unfortunately, my fastball was about as fast. Deeds not words matter.
Jay Bilas writes in Toughness, "Play so hard your coach has to take you out." You have to make every repetition count. Maybe you can't win every sprint, but you can do your best on each sprint. Coach Dean Smith spoke of not coaching effort but execution. He meant that effort is expected. Coaches see everything.
While the coach always needs to energize her team, be noticed by your energy and energize your teammates. Energize as a role model, by encouraging teammates, and supporting players just as hard when you are on the sidelines. The best teammates make other teammates better.
Eighty percent of basketball is mental. Playing smart means understanding balance (spacing, floor balance, defensive balance), shot quality not shot quantity, taking care of the basketball, giving help, recognizing the right play in the right situation.
I think it was Doc Rivers who said that we need character not characters. Coaches, teammates, and fans recognize players who make a difference. When individuals show commitment, work ethic, curiosity, energy, and sacrifice they make a visible difference. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Good to Better: Reality Check

Jim Collins' Good to Great differentiates exceptional companies from their peers. How can we extrapolate to our programs? What message must translate daily?

From "Punya"

P.T.A. means disciplined PEOPLE, THOUGHT, and ACTION. Breakdowns at any process level interrupt organizational potential. That requires hard decisions. 

From "Punya"

Transformative leadership combines PROFESSIONAL WILL and PERSONAL HUMILITY

"Who before what." Successful organizations attract and retain the best people. Because people and process drive results, "hire tough." We know that struggling organizations have shifting goals and product lines, higher turnover, and poorer financials (fan base?). 

With the departure of Theo Epstein to the Chicago Cubs in October 2011, the Red Sox made a series of changes creating dramatic results. Without assigning blame, the organization went last-first-last in 2012-2014 and remain in last in the American League East, leading to a bloodless coup in the front office and the installation of new direction in Baseball Operations. Whether they can cut their losses on the disastrous Hanley Ramirez signing and 'aceless' pitching staff remains to be seen. Many organizations struggle to make tough choices (money, power, ego) and prefer 'attribution bias' to accountability. 

Become a Hedgehog

The best organizations focus on central themes, to excel within their area of expertise. Alabama football has an unequalled recruiting machine. Syracuse University basketball lives and dies with the 2-3 zone. The San Antonio Spurs rely on exceptional ball movement to create high quality shots. Papa John's preaches "Better ingredients, better pizza." 

Culture of Discipline

Successful organizations consistently do the right thing (get in the fight, win this possession) with specifics (ball pressure, good shots, rebounding) and stop doing the wrong thing (limit turnovers, stop bad fouls, exorcise selfishness). 

Technology Accelerators

Technology doesn't have to be expensive. Newspapers and duct tape build jump boxes. Water in plastic milk bottles replace cones. Tracking key statistical metrics (basketball analytics) has become a cottage industry. Being demanding regarding even a few items (transition points allowed, free throw percentage, shooting percentage, turnovers) can dramatically improve a team performance. You can track stats just as well with pencil and paper as with a laptop.