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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Zone Offense Thoughts from Del Harris

Del Harris has shared a lot of great information over time, information that deserves dissemination. Coach Harris believes that good defenses will quickly adjust to a few set patterns. He advocates principled learning to develop intelligent freelance in his Coaching Basketball's Zone Offense (1976). I borrow heavily from his chapter on general approach. 

1. Fundamental excellence matters. Regardless of strategy, competent passing and shooting impact the results. Zone defenses have intrinsic weaknesses (e.g. rebounding assignments). We emphasize the "two second rule"; don't hold the ball more than two seconds. I am the first to acknowledge that our players (8th grade girls) don't 'see' these evolutions yet. "What is not learned hasn't been taught." 

2. Transition creates opportunity (numbers) and takes advantage of defensive mistakes including poor defensive transition.

3. Passing with patience. Ball movement creates defensive mistakes (effort, distortion of the zone). Cutting demands player rotation. 

We've gone away from set plays because of poor execution, but this reliably got mid-range shots for our 5 when we ran it properly. 

4. Spacing to open the lane for both passing and driving. 

Fool's gold to be 'closer' to the basket initially and compromise passing lanes. 

5. Penetration (multiple means - passing, dribbling, dribble/relocation).

If the defense allows direct passes into the high or low post, take advantage, but it has to be done safely. 

Driving into the gaps may bring multiple defenders to the ball and can create fouls. 

Dribble 'relocation' facilitates passing. 

6. High and low post combinations when available. 

7. Inside game when personnel permits. We are quite limited by size, so creating posting opportunities is less of a priority other than moving the ball through the post. 

8. Man principles, including screening, give and go. 

For experienced coaches, this is elementary. But our players mostly don't have the VDE (vision-decision-execution) inputs down. "The more we give, the more we get."

Fast Five: Leadership, It's About the Details

"How you do something is how you do everything." 

The Cavaliers beat the Celtics Thursday night. But, truthfully, the Celtics beat themselves defensively. Coach Brad Stevens wasn't in the mood to discuss 'spirited comebacks' not when his team had allowed 100 points through three quarters. "We weren't connected on defense at all." 

Let's reiterate some key points from Extreme Ownership. I won't 'sell' that basketball (a game) has any meaningful relationship to war. That's silly and disproportionate. But leadership matters in any team activity. 

1. "There can be no leadership when there is no team."

Leaders are either effective or ineffective. Committed leaders align team members to get optimal performance. Weak leaders end up with dysfunctional teams. They live in the blame, complain, and defend space. 

2. "There are no bad teams; there are only bad leaders." 

The authors describe a BUD/S (basic underwater demolition/SEAL) class where one boat (Boat II) consistently wins and another (Boat VI) finishes last. The instructors decide to switch the boat leaders, believing the Boat VI leader feels 'victimized' and limited by his perception of a "bad team". The next boat race (a grueling test in the harsh surf) with new leadership, Boat VI wins, narrowly defeating Boat II. New leadership turns around the program on Boat VI and the culture of teamwork on Boat II still allows for high performance. 

3. "The leader is truly and ultimately responsible for everything."

Leaders find solutions. The first part of the book emphasizes the core elements to success - the proper mindset, the process of execution, and sustainability. The authors use scrubbed battlefield stories (e.g. a traumatic friendly fire catastrophe) and business examples (an executive unwilling to commit to ownership and results) as typical situations where decisions determined destiny. 

4. "It's not what you preach, it's what you tolerate." 

Few of us face regular life or death situations where minutes matter. But we oversee preparation (practice) and operations (games) where engagement, effort, and execution do impact our 'mission'. Everyone (including we coaches) errs. But are we accepting repeated mistakes - traveling, allowing front cuts, poor shot selection - or are we intervening? If you're a player, have you given your best? If you're making mistakes, what are you doing to stop committing the same ones?

5. "Leadership doesn't just flow down the chain of command, but up as well. We have to own everything in our world." 

Attention to detail often flows through miscommunication. "What was my assignment?" As the coach, I am responsible if one player is repeatedly beaten in transition or if another is routinely out of position on an inbounds play. I need to give and receive feedback, and double and triple check player understanding. I cannot allow an environment where ignorance or ambiguity exists. 

We continually fail to run this play wrong. The 1s, 2s, and 5s are doing their job. The 4 doesn't cut or the 3 doesn't deliver the pass. But it's open and it's on me to make it work. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Fast Five: Minute Clinic

If you got called out of the crowd at a coaching clinic and had a chance to share a few "pearls" for coaches and players, what would they be? 

1. Be yourself. But work every day to become a better version of yourself. That might mean better communicator, better teacher, better listener, more knowledge, better psychologist, or a combination. I can't be Dean Smith, John Wooden, Pete Newell, Red Auerbach, Geno Auriemma, Doc Rivers, John Thompson, Jack Clark, Anson Dorrance, Bob Knight, or Pat Summitt. I can study their best personal, technical, and tactical qualities and adopt some of them. 

2. Add value. Give the team and the individual player what they need at the moment. That means asking the right questions at the right time. How are we "performance-focused and feedback rich?" 

3. "Never be a child's last coach." Leadership relates to effectiveness. A kind word can last a lifetime and thoughtlessness can leave indelible scars. Think back to mentors who made a difference and how that changed you. Has anyone changed your life by saying "I believe in you?"

4. Seek wisdom over knowledge. It's not what we know but what we share that matters. How do we make our teams and players 'antifragile'? 

5. Ego is the enemy. Don't let ego destroy you, your family, your relationships, or your team. Teach with purpose and seek balance. "Are we building a statue or a program?" Stay hungry and stay humble. Ego prevails when common sense ends and selfishness corrupts. 

Fast Five Plus: Musical Reminders on How to Play

We enjoy watching teams play inspired basketball...aspirational, energetic, intentional. Most youngsters won't be inspired by Rossini (William Tell Overture), Tchaikovsky, or Wagner. Maybe slightly more contemporary tunes can get us there. 

Be somebody. It's the work, outworking the other guy. While the overarching principle behind coaching is "Keep it simple, stupid", for players, it's the work

Rise up. What gets your team fired up? They've got to find their muse...they're reason to give more every day. You need to play with optimum 'arousal' in psychology terms. 


Need more energy? Play with purpose; play to make your teammates better. You can't play defense expecting to be beaten and play offense expecting to be contained. Club can't handle you!

"Basketball is a game meant to be played fast." - John Wooden 
Learn to fly. 

Find balance and belief. I asked my team 'what is the opposite of fear?' They answered, "confidence". I suggested that the opposite extreme of fear is 'lack of fear', which is recklessness. The 'balance' amidst fear and recklessness is confidence. 

We can find wisdom in studying greatness. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Fast FIve: What is the Proper Shooting Warmup?

Presumptuous. That would be a middle school coach pontificating about the 'proper' shooting warmup. 

What I can offer is some perspective and caveats. I hate seeing young players walk onto the floor and start jacking up threes. It reminds of the story of the guy getting his AM newspaper on his front walk and sees a snail. He picks it up and flings it across his yard. Two years later, he sees the snail again, picks it up and the snail yells, "What was that about?" 

1. Your warmup begins with your mental preparation. I believe that having a 'mental warmup' before games makes sense because stress degrades performance. Of the sports psychology books I've read, the two I favor are Jason Selk's 10-Minute Toughness and the Weisinger and Pawliw-Fry work Performing Under Pressure. Selk provides a very specific routine tailored to each individual. I've attended lectures about mental preparation by Dr. Tom Hanson, who worked with an unnamed future Hall of Fame shortstop. Amy Cuddy's TED talk discusses the role of body position and hormonal responses to stress. It's worth the watch. 

2. Time is a premium. First, in our area, for the games that matter most, e.g. sectional championships, the amount of formal warmup (because of multiple game scheduling) tends to be very brief, e.g. 10-15 minutes, tops. I've seen it less when games run over. So, if you expect to get thirty minutes, good luck. It's not happening. So you might think about developing a "rapid warmup" if you expect to be playing in those contests. That's why I consider mental preparation SOP. 

For more generic shooting (after your individual/team stretching), professionals have their routines. They reinforce their form, touch, and see the ball go through the strings. 

3. Purify your form. Form begets function. I believe in Fred Hoiberg's approach.

When I attended a UCONN women's practice, each player also followed this routine. 

4. Process begins with the small things. J.J. Redick starts by making 20-25 shots from each block. He then moves into working into his game shot routine. 

5. The magic is in the work...that works for you. I remember Elden Campbell saying that he would start along one baseline and make five consecutively, then wing, foul line, wing, and opposite baseline. 

Great players have idiosyncratic warmups. Ray Allen used to take several hundred shots. You don't have the time or the rebounder to do that. 

Kevin Durant works on some of his favorite shots. 

As I reminded one of our players last night, "Repetitions make reputations." 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Fast Five Plus: Making Practice Harder Via Constraints

"Make practice hard so games are easy." - Don Meyer

Use the tools at our disposal to make practice harder. For example, Bill Belichick likes to used soaked, less than perfect footballs. Bad weather? That's how games are played in the Northeast. 

Court conditions. We play 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 on one side of the split (the line bisecting the court lengthwise). 

Time conditions. Run situational plays, baseline out of bounds (BOB), sidelines out of bounds (SLOB), after timeouts (ATO) with time constraints (3, 5, 10 seconds) to mimic end-of-quarter, end-of-game situations. Yesterday, we actually held for one shot effectively. 

Playing conditions. Instead of starting scrimmages or half-court drills consistently from static situations, start from 'artificially real' turnovers, blocked shots, and edges. Can add constraints like no more than two dribbles per player. 

Dean Smith Scoring. Scrimmage with points award according to shot quality...e.g. 2 points for layup (made or missed), 2 points for open shot, 0 points for poor shot, -2 points for turnover. 

Advantage disadvantage. We always run press break either 5 on 7 or 5 on 8. We may add constraints like no dribbling. Modify 'shell'. 

Gradually, glacially some players start to value anticipation and communication. Everyone doesn't 'get it'. 

Confirmation (free throws). Finish a scrimmage or drill where a group wins by requiring a made free throw to 'seal' victory. 

Competition. The more competitive the drills, the more they include offense, defense, and decision-making, the better. 

Fatigue. "Fatigue makes cowards of us all." I really like the 3 by 3 by 3 shooting drill, which I usually run for 5-6 minutes. 6 basketballs in play. As soon as you pass, you take off and become a shooter. 

Track improvement by shots made for the group. 

Information. Stop practice during a scrimmage with a "timeout". Put in a new play (ATO, SLOB, BOB) and see whether and when players can absorb, retain, and execute the new play. We struggle with this (eighth grade girls)...but I believe it's worth it. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Fast Five: Stories are Forever

We know that stories 'stick'. The Heath Brothers outstanding Made to Stick belongs on most serious storytellers' shelves. Stories transmit information, emotion, warnings, principles, and above all, hope. 

1. Made to Stick uses an acronym (SUCCES) to define the key elements of stories. The best narratives are 


2. Stories are timeless. The "hero's journey" is the scaffolding of myth, legend, and entertainment. Joseph Campbell wrote the classic The Hero with a Thousand Faces sharing the structure of the monomyth. 

Whether it's Ulysses, Superman, Luke Skywalker, or Katniss Everdeen, the hero's journey has common origins and patterns. 

3. Stories give us hope, not guarantees. 

I shared this story with my team yesterday. Dean Smith's Tarheels trailed Duke by eight points with seventeen seconds to go...and tied the game in regulation to win in overtime. Miracles happen.

4. The best stories reveal the power of work and time. 

John Wooden's Pyramid of Success includes 'faith and patience' near the top, which I express to players as belief and time. 

Unimaginable obstacles yield to belief and time. 

5. The power of connection and sacrifice deserve study and recognition. 
The sacrifices most of us make are often trivial compared to heroic sacrifices of some. Basketball is about connection and sharing. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Daryl Morey and The Undoing Project

I bought Michael Lewis' The Undoing Project on a whim. I'd read some of Lewis' previous books (The Blind Side, Moneyball, The Big Short) and appreciate his ability to see the world differently. I was not expecting the second chapter to be entirely about Daryl Morey, the Rockets' GM. Morey is also the co-chairperson for the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. 

Daryl Morey is a nerd. He might say that a nerd has the will to see the world differently. He chose to use a different data set to identify and select talent for his franchise. He limited the value of interviews and put a premium on data. Morey added his definition of a nerd, "a person who knows his own mind well enough to mistrust it." 


Houston representative: "How did you not see 'eye to eye' with the coach?"

Player: "He was short." 

But while developing his model, he realized the limitations, in an almost Shakespearean line, 

"It is impossible to know for sure." 

Lewis discusses the tragically flawed approach to evaluating young players and how Morey sought to improve his data, with adjustments for age, minutes played, pace of games played (e.g. tempo affects shots, affecting points), and competition. 

He shares that early data sets suggested that rebounds per minute (bigs) and steals per minute (guards) had predictive value. 

He presents Charles Barkley's opinion of 'basketball nerds' and Morey in particular:

"He's one of those idiots who believe in analytics...I've always believed analytics was crap...Listen, I wouldn't know Daryl Morey if he walked in this room right now...The NBA is about talent. All these guys who run these organizations who talk about analytics, they have one thing in common: They're a bunch of guys who ain't never played the game, and they never got the girls in high school and they just want to get in the game." 

He also discusses flaws in our human perception, related to cognitive biases:

Confirmation bias: scouts tend to see what they want to see

Endowment bias: we overvalue our own players (relative to trades)

Recency bias: does one workout establish player value? 

Anchoring: we decide a player is a good "comp" for another player, whether he is or not. He discusses the Jeremy Lin analysis, an "unathletic" Asian guy. He adds that when they analyzed the "two step" quickness of NBA players, Lin ranked...first. What you think you see and what is are not always congruous. 

And he notes that other 'invisible' factors are in play. DeAndre Jordan had a relatively unproductive college (one year) career...because he hated the coach. That data overshadowed previous production. 

If I recall, the last time I checked, only two major sports franchises did not send representatives to the Sloan Analytics Conference. During Morey's tenure as the Houston GM...the Rockets have the third best record in the NBA. As my son Conor reminded me when he was sixteen, "I may not be the most popular kid in school, but I know nerds run the world." 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Brilliant, Simple Actions from Warriors - Cavaliers

I'm not 100% sure about all the assignments but the diagrams reflect the principles. 

Usually in the NBA, you see ball side "zipper" cuts. This often evolves into pick-and-roll action which can come either ball or weak side. The Warriors ran it with ball reversal into a Klay Thompson layup. 

Having LeBron seems unfair sometimes. Here the Cavs run flare screen action into a backdoor cut for LBJ for a slam. 

"But Coach, Times Have Changed"

From Wooden - A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections on and off the Court - Coach John Wooden with Steve Jamison

"There was a time when the majority would follow blindly, even into the shadow of death, but such is not the case now. Young people of today are far more aware, inclined to be more openly critical and more genuinely inquisitive than they used to be. So leaders must work with them somewhat differently.

I wrote the preceding observation a quarter of a century ago. 

Are people really that different today? Have times changed so much? I wonder about that."

I know that times ARE different. Socrates wrote, “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”

But whatever the day, we hold certain principles timeless. As coaches, we need the buy-in that comes with fairness, respect, and trust. But we share the obligation to add value to those willing to pay the price. We model what we value. If we want engagement and sacrifice, we practice the same. 

Fast Five: Christmas Presents

Merry Christmas to all with best wishes. 

What presents belong under your tree or your players'? I'll leave five, although I have many more on the shelf. 

Commitment. Has anyone been more committed to their sport than Dan Gable

Whether we know anything about wrestling, recognize Gable's uniqueness as an athlete, coach, technician, and teacher.

Bill Bradley was an All-American, Rhodes Scholar, World Champion, and Senator...because of his discipline. As a Princeton freshman, he made 57 consecutive free throws. It all began with his workouts starting in middle school (three hours a day and all day on Saturday). 

In the consolation game of the Final Four, Bradley set the Final Four scoring record putting up 58 points against Wichita State. 


Tim S. Grover wrote the book, "Relentless", defining relentless athletes. 

"What would you have to sacrifice to have what you really want? Your social life? Relationships? Credit cards? Free time? Sleep? Now answer this question: What are you willing to sacrifice? If those two lists don’t match up, you don’t want it badly enough."

If you want a bigger role, I say this, "Do more to become more; become more to do more." 

Toughness. The most underrated quality of a 'player' is toughness. Jay Bilas shared his timeless thoughts on toughness. 

You might throw in the innovation of Bill Russell, the preparation of John Wooden, the process of Nick Saban, the creativity of Pete Maravich, the teaching of Pete Newell, the humanity of Dean Smith, the personality of Jerry Tarkanian, the sacrifice of Pat Tillman, the communication of Del Harris, the servant leadership of Don Meyer. 

Add your gifts to the list. 

Have a wonderful day. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Championship Program Under the Microscope

“Our people are our single greatest strength and most enduring long term competitive advantage.” Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airline

What makes a winner? Winning, whether in sports or business, reflects your people, process, productivity, and consistency. 

Southwest Airlines defines winning. The second largest US airline, Southwest Airlines has fashioned profitability for an industry record forty consecutive years. Fortune ranks it among the ten most admired companies in the world, an achievement for seventeen of the past twenty-two years. 

The Main Thing. Southwest cut its teeth centered on the theme "low cost airline". Southwest has no first class, no full service meals, and has the most rapid turnaround of its plane of any major airline. 

Innovation. Southwest pioneered frequent travel miles and senior discounts. 

Service. No frills service comes with Southwest. But among large airlines, it has excellent on time performance. 

Process focus. Don Yaeger profiles Southwest and CEO Gary Kelly in Great Teams. He explains their focus as 1) employees, 2) consumers, and 3) shareholders. Southwest believes that employee satisfaction drives results. CEO Kelly remarks that being an industry leader doesn't protect you from competition from startups. In 1986, when Kelly started with the company, TWA's Carl Icahn made a "tongue-in-cheek reference to tiny Southwest that earned several laughs from the industry crowd." Kelly noted, "no matter how big you are, you need to remain pays to be hungry and you should never lose your competitive edge, because there is always somebody out there trying to knock you off." 

Part of their employee culture is fun...and a little goofiness. 

Southwest ranked thirteen among five hundred companies on Forbes' list of Best Employers for 2016. CEO Kelly notes, "Employees are invested in a common goal, which is to connect people to what's important in their lives..."

Southwest employees is the largest domestic carrier ranked by number of domestic passengers boarded. 

Business results.

The three-year chart of Southwest shows price rising from under 20 dollars a share to over fifty, as it nearly tripled in value. At the top of the chart, the Airline Index (XAL) rose 64 percent. (No position in Southwest stock)

What enduring lesson emerges for us in the basketball community? 

1) "People come first." Southwest thrives with its focus on its people. We've all seen Southwest employees in their advertisements... another reward for service. 

2) "Fight for your culture every day." Southwest maintains its focus on being THE low cost airline. 

3) "Stay humble, stay hungry." 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Better Communication

"Better ingredients, better pizza." - Papa John 

Nothing belongs to humanity more than communication. Communication permits the division of labor and development of society. There's only one basketball. 

Better communication challenges us every day. Effective communication requires both a speaker and a listener. Simplicity, clarity, tone, and especially non-verbal messaging matter. But communication also requires accuracy. The reason for 'readback' is that one of eight messages is not clearly heard and understood. 

Communication should make a connection and be constructive. How many players and teams simply "tune out" the messenger and the message? 

In Monday Morning Leadership David Cottrell makes several critical points: 

1) "The main thing is the main thing." Do our players and teams know the main thing? If we ask them, can they articulate our core philosophy, our culture, our identity? If they can't, that's on us.

2) "People don't quit jobs, they quit people." It's easy to be on our 'high horse', my way or the highway, but when people are voting with their feet, is the whole world wrong or am I? Leaders inspire, engage followers, and increase purpose. 

How can we communicate better? 

Know your people. If something feels wrong, explore. "I don't know but I'll find out." Is there illness or injury? Is there a school or relationship problem? Players have a lot of voices in their head - family, friends, AAU coaches. Maybe the AAU coach tells them to defend the pick and roll differently. Solutions don't drop like manna from heaven. 

Catch people in the act of doing well. Some coaches throw 'attaboys' around like manhole covers. "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar." 

Praise the praiseworthy action. Praise drives effort. When correction and criticism are necessary, we can separate "bad play" from "bad player." Better yet, we can use the Pete Carroll approach, "this is how we do that." We don't overlook errors, but the goal isn't to demoralize our players and teams. 

Listen. Connection is a two-way street. We're not always right and we don't always have all the facts. It's our job to know what is going on and not listening can be our failure. Very few of us have the cachet that we can run roughshod on people without ever caring. We need to give and get feedback. Even if we could, is the Macchiavellian "better to be feared than loved" the best path? 

Extreme Ownership

A reader recommended Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. They earned their leadership stripes as Navy SEALs. 

First, words about SEALs and their extraordinary winnowing process. About 250 new SEALs are forged each year, from 10,000 candidates. Twenty percent of candidates fail psychological screening and are dropped...because it was found that 98 percent of psych fail trainees failed the training. 

How fit are SEALs? I saw one in clinic many years ago (he looked like Rambo), who said that he didn't feel well. "It took me an hour to run the ten miles to get here." 

Even after completion of initial BUD/S (six months), SEALs require an additional two years of training before they deploy. These heroes get 2 1/2 years of rigorous training before doing important work. Comparing them to "one and done" insults them and their mission. 

I have only read condensed summaries of the book but share some of their key points, relevant to business and sports. Part of "Extreme Ownership" to me is playing not to the scoreboard but to your own standard of excellence. That doesn't mean being ignorant of the score and situation, but consistently doing what is right. 

“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.” 

“It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.” (I like to say, "if you stand for anything, you stand for nothing.")

“After all, there can be no leadership where there is no team.” 

“A leader has nothing to prove, but everything to prove.”

“A leader must have a competitive spirit but also be a gracious loser.”

“Extreme Ownership: there are no bad teams, only bad leaders.”

“If frontline troops are unclear about the plan and yet are too intimidated to ask questions, the team’s ability to effectively execute the plan radically decreases.” (This reflects the concept of "Commander's Intent". During battle, each frontline group must know the desired 'end state' and work to achieve those conditions.)

“The goal of all leaders should be to work themselves out of a job. When mentored and coached properly, the junior leader can eventually replace the senior leader, allowing the senior leader to move on to the next level of leadership.” (A few of my favorite moments in coaching have been when players expressed a desire to coach in the future). 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

SWOT Team (Self-Analysis)

In most professions, practitioners can benefit from constructive oversight. For example, surgeon and author (Better, The Checklist Manifesto, Being Mortal) Atul Gawande engaged a senior surgeon to monitor his surgical technique. During medical training, we have intense observation from both peers and supervisors.  

Consider professional sports, where there are hitting spray charts, "hot zones" examining the strike zone, tendency charts, and game films broken down in every way imaginable, from pitch-by-pitch, down and distance, after time out, et cetera. There's also common sense. Charles Barkley said of Zach Randolph that he's been putting up double doubles for ten years and he hasn't gone to his right once. 

Businesses know their competition, and sometimes recognize their own online brand cannibalizes their brick-and-mortar operations.

During our careers, the focus often shifts to self-examination and self-regulation. For example, patients can draw inferences about doctors from Healthgrades

But do we know where we succeed and struggle? In high school, over forty-five years ago, our coach used statistics and shot charts to analyze performance. I spoke with him about a year ago, and he said that he determined that rebounds and assists usually gave a good description of how games went. That corresponds to my possession (of the ball) and possessions (what did you do with the ball) theme.  
What do we want to know? We can start with SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). Our 'strength' thus far has been reasonable defensive pressure. Our shooting woes offset that. Nobody succeeds without putting the ball in the basket. I can't control what happens in the off-season, but we spend about forty percent of practice on shooting. Our opportunity is seeing the game better. We spend a lot of time on 3-on-3 play, with emphasis on spacing and reading (chunking information) the defense. The biggest threats we have are discouragement and disillusionment as we face better competition.

Benchmarking can help us compare ourselves to external and internal standards. We can trend our field goal percentage, assists, and 'good possessions' (got a quality shot). At higher levels, more sophisticated analysis can examine performance by differing lineups and situations.

Earlier I wrote about the success of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the Civil War professor turned general who explained his success, "I know how to learn." What can we learn? What is the cost of not learning? 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Why Process Matters

"Accidental greatness" never happens. Nobody accidentally "works hard". Not that working hard guarantees anything. Anybody can get lucky once, but repeated success invariably reflects reproducible process. 

At the hospital where I practice, we had a young African-American, Troy, who was head of Environmental Services. He dressed impeccably, but also jumped in and showed employees what to do, when and how to do it. I told him "you won't be here long" and he asked "why?" "Because how you go about your business marks you for something bigger." Troy was gone (to a bigger hospital and bigger job) in less than a year. 

Distinguish what we do from who we are. We can be great at our job and a dishonorable person...or vice versa. But as leaders, we have the opportunity to influence others profoundly...positively and negatively. 

Stephen M.R. Covey shares the duality of character and competence. What you see (competence) and that less observable both are vital. There are great and nefarious leaders in history with great results and abominable character. 

What are some great examples of great process in sports? In Saban, Monte Burke's unauthorized bio, he says that Saban's wife attributes her husband's success to his greatness recruiting. In John Calipari's Players First, he acknowledges that he only recruits among the top fifty high school players. Pete Newell, John Wooden, and Bob Knight were known for their brilliant teaching of fundamentals. Dean Smith was an innovator in use of analytics and practice techniques, like occasional scrimmage scoring by SHOT QUALITY. Anson Dorrance of UNC women's soccer brews a "competitive cauldron" with a heavy emphasize on conditioning. 

What the above also shows are many varied pathways to success. But none of these are possible without talent. But talent is insufficient. Few of us know of Larisa 
Preobrazhenskaya, the Mother of Tennis. But all of us know her proteges. She was known for focusing on fundamentals, to the point that students did not play tournament matches for THREE YEARS. She emphasized imitatsiya - rallying in slow motion with an imaginary ball. 

In one of her classes of ten students, three achieved top ten rankings in the world...despite players getting GROUP (not private) lessons in a dilapidated facility. 

Indeed, 'technique is everything'. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Life is twenty percent what happens to you and eighty percent how you handle it. 

As coaches, our job is to take our team where they can't go by themselves. Winning comes as a result of the talent, the teaching, and the process. 

But we're NOT here to make excuses. 

Joshua Wooden taught his son John, "Don't whine, don't complain, don't make excuses."

Urban Meyer described 'below the line' behavior in his book Above the Line as "blame, complain, and defend." 

Sometimes I'm stunned by what I hear from other coaches, both good and bad. One coach whom we upset a couple of years ago said (in the handshake line), "we would have beaten you if we made shots." Who would have guessed? 

In another game, the opposing coach came up to me during the game, commenting on the officiating, "did you steal something from those guys? They're killing you." (The officials wanted cash before the game; I have nothing to do with their pay). 

I know a Division I college referee (name withheld to protect the innocent) who told me that at some venues if you don't officiate the way the "Mr. Big Time Coach" wants, you'll never officiate another game in the building. 

Other coaches work on managing expectations. "It's a rebuilding year." "We don't have much material." "I'm not getting enough support for the program." "We're in a really tough conference." You know the drill. 

I recently told my team, "nobody should feel sorry for us. We're playing unselfishly, but we have to play harder and smarter." Results shouldn't affect our process. 

You weren't happy with your grade. Did you study? Did you get help? Did you invest your time or spend it? 

You're not making shots. Did you put in the time practicing? Are you working to get separation and get the ball in your spots? Do you have a plan to develop mental toughness? 

What do great leaders do? They ask questions. 
- What do I learn from this? 
- How do I reinvent myself? 
- Am I furious or curious? Why? 

Forget about sorry. 

Fast Five: Spacing Mandates

Preaching sometimes falls on deaf ears, "spacing, cutting, screening, and passing." How can we reinforce SPACING? 

1. Hall of Fame coach Chuck Daly distilled the concept, "Spacing is offense and offense is spacing." 

2. What does that mean to players? During one segment of practice, I like to coach 3 on 3 to the split. 

3. Great spacing opens driving and passing lanes and limits doubling and 'digging' at the post. Spacing forces defenders to cover more territory. Offense has more room to operate and focus. "You don't sit three to a desk" in's too distracting. 

4. "Spacing line." I teach the 3 point line as the "spacing line".

If you're the 1, do you want X2 near the lane line or closer to the corner? 

5. The biggest downside to 'screen based' offense is the changes in spacing demanded. 

Part of spacing includes knowing both what to do and what NOT to do. 
  • "Don't cut to an occupied post." 
  • "Little guards, don't cut to the treeline." (where the bigs are)
  • "If a driver gets the ball, vacate her path to the basket." (Cut to move defenders)
Bonus bite: "The basketball is like a magnet." Defensively, the ball should draw you, but offensively, staying too close to the ballhandler will hurt your team.