Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Visual Shooter

It seems as though everyone has a phone with a camera. Have you analyzed your form? 

Proper footwork essential to proper balance. 

Whatever it takes. 


Ray Allen arm/elbow shooting position. 

Steph Curry shooting progression with slight "turn"

Note that Ray Allen has the more traditional squared up progression. 
Optimizing the launch angle and launch speed of a shot. Let's go with about 50 degrees. 

The elbow is in an "L" position. 


One size does not fit all. 


Binocular vision available without obstruction.





What Coaches Do

"Coaches take players where they cannot go by themselves."


Evaluating Players

Here's something I use at times, although I don't share it with every player. Is is subjective? Of course, as I don't have measuring tools to evaluate every skill. For example, my leading scorer might shoot free throws or perimeter shots poorly, but take quality, appropriate shots. Being a shooter and a scorer are not synonymous. 

When I think of a scorer, that means having "four ways to score" among the many - interior, mid-range, perimeter (3s), dribble penetration, transition, offensive rebounding, free throws, etc. 

I put the "knowledge" and "process" categories at the top, including toughness, as they constitute the sine qua non of effectiveness. 


One of our jobs is facilitating and encouraging player development based upon our assessment, experience, and expertise. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Shooting (Don't Listen to Me)

You want to be a shooter? There's no such animal as a great shooter with bad form, but I see players who won't change from poor form. Nowadays, with everyone with camera phones, I don't get it. 


I teach 'elbow in' and 'squeeze the elbows together'. I used to use shoelaces tied together and looped around the player's elbows to make the point. Everyone probably thought I was crazy. At the end of the shot prep, your elbow points at the rim (if you want to make shots). 


Kevin Eastman, one of my coaching idols, teaches '6 boards' and 'ten toes to the rim'. 



Get your head right. Get your form right. 

Pete Maravich reviews technique. 



You cannot shoot your best without binocular vision. Check for the "open window". 





Potpourri. A Clinic Every Day - BOB - Taking Care of Business


Constantly work on building relationships and perspective with our players. The lessons we share, not the basketball, can affect their lives forever. 

Chuck Daly said, "I'm a salesman." We all are. We ask them to BUY IN to a program we believe ADDS VALUE. We share a philosophy, we build a culture, and we create an identity. 

During halftime today, my message was "we don't take plays off." I emphasized the importance of staying mentally and physically engaged every possession. But I also explained that means doing your homework on time and well. And later in life, it means figuratively to take care of your business the right way. When you lose your assignment (in basketball), good teams capitalize. When you don't block out or sprint back with awareness on defense, good teams make you pay. Mental errors aren't acceptable

Every practice and every game presents challenges which are learning opportunities. Up until the last couple of minutes of the game, the second half fouls were 11 to 3. The players were rolling their eyes at the calls or the non-calls. I reminded the team to "control what we can control", our choices and our effort. Don't let distractions (the officiating) interfere with our performance. 

But the girls 'entertain me', too. With about 2 1/2 minutes left, we were up by three points and there was a commotion on the bench. Our littlest player was yelling, "It's GO TIME" to get everyone excited. 



This has been very good to us with our shooters getting opportunities. "Oakley" (Annie not Charles) converted several of these today. 










Blindspots

What do people not have and don't want? We don't want blindspots...holes and biases in our 'objective' self-assessments and views of others. 

Banaji and Greenwald look into our blind spots in their analysis, 'Blind Spot'. We all have cognitive preferences (biases) that are revealed in the Implicit Association Test

You can take a variety of tests (studies) which identify your automatic preferences. 

Can we see how others see us? In "Communicate to Influence," Ben and Kelly Decker remind us:



Look behind - see where you've come from.
Look ahead - see where you're going.
Look inward - know who you are.
Look outward - know those around you.
Look down - be grounded in reality. 
Look up - get help wherever and whenever you can. 

For example, when we are selecting teams do we have automatic preferences for certain types of players? 

When under adversity, do you call upon all of your resources or start pointing fingers?

Is something in our blind spot because we don't WANT to see it? At what level are we committed? 

In Fearless Leadership, Malandro discusses five levels:


We are scoring less because our zone offense needs more practice and more time. Restating core principles isn't enough (dribble into gaps, reversal, flash to holes in the zone, post up, screen vulnerable areas). 


There is never a reason to choose blindness. 


Friday, January 29, 2016

One More

Plan, act, reflect, and give and get feedback. This is a Kevin Eastman drill called "One More" where you pass and follow your pass and the last player attacks the basket. It teaches passing, cutting, and finishing and reminds players of the value of "one more" pass. When done well, it has people yelling "one more" and is a high energy drill. 


But I really wanted to talk about "one more" in a different context. 

In "The Hard Hat", Jon Gordon describes the brief, intense life of George Boiardi who died in a freak lacrosse accident while starring for Cornell. One more meant doing a little more to become so much more. 

In "The Compound Effect", Darren Hardy wrote about becoming 1% better every day. He shared the power of exponential growth through tracking and action. 

We had a tough game where our leading rebounder and scorer couldn't attend because of another commitment. Before the game, I asked our players for "one more rebound" each, although I've asked for "one more" positive play - which could be a steal, taking a charge, a great pass, setting a drag screen to free a teammate. The players responded and we earned a win against a team that had beaten us four times the previous year. 

As Coach Wooden reminded his players, "Little things make big things happen."

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Annie Oakley



Sometimes you can earn a nickname on my team. For example, we have "The Badger" and "E Money." I've given the moniker "Oakley" to a shooter, but nobody on my team had even heard of Annie Oakley. 


"She shot a cigarette out of the hand of Kaiser Wilhelm" and "she was in one of the first motion pictures ever." She taught over 15,000 women how to shoot and she was an advocate for equal pay for women. 




Elena Delle Donne is among the basketball versions of Annie Oakley.

Note the eye-popping career free throw percentage of .939!

But in fairness to other WNBA (active) greats, Delle Donne isn't among the 3-point percentage leaders.

But none of that diminishes the work of Annie Oakley...

AWES

Acronyms grow on you. PR might mean public relations, but I prefer Primacy and Recency. RICHEST (Leadership) - relationships, intent, commitment, humility, enthusiasm, servant leadership, thankfulness. SSCP (Offense) - spacing, screening, cutting, passing. DRFLaPS (Zone offense) - dribble penetration, reversal, flash, post up, screen.



But acronyms are much like shots, they only matter when you convert them. They count when transformed into action. And the action acronym is AWES...ability, work ethic, selflessness. 

Greatness = Ability + Work Ethic + Selflessness

Add in an African proverb, "you can go faster alone, but you go farther together." 

The player who 'awes' makes others around her better. Her ability translates to offensive and defensive productivity. Her work ethic makes her a "come with me" leader, encouraging concentration and effort from teammates. Her selflessness connects teammates with her and to each other. 

The player who 'awes' knows that the TEAM is the MAIN THING. She cares sincerely about the well-being and improvement of both teammates and community. She defines her growth as relevant only in as much as the team rises. When we see AWESome, we know it and feel grateful to be part of it. 

Anatomy of a Win: Boston Over Denver

Baseball statistics are like a girl in a bikini. They show a lot, but not everything. - Toby Harrah

Box scores can lie but they usually don't. They don't show "hustle plays" like 50-50 balls won, great blockouts, deflections, charges taken, and so on. Last night the Celtics defeated the Nuggets. Does the box score reveal why?

Shooting percentage differential. Denver shot 43% and the Celtics the same, but the Celtics took twelve more shots. Within those totals, Denver was 7-21 on threes and Boston 9-28. So among those twelve extra shots, Boston had seven more attempts from deep and converted two more (six points). The Celtics are fourth in the NBA in opponents' effective Field Goal Percentage.

Rebounding differential. Denver outrebounded the Celtics 53-48 and both teams had fourteen offensive rebounds. Rebounding doesn't explain the score as it gives Denver a marginal edge.

Turnovers. The Celtics are among the league leaders in steals and are third in the NBA in forcing opponent turnovers per 100 possessions. They rely on "defense into offense". The Celtics had only 11 turnovers and Denver 20, with the Celtics winning the steal battle 15 to 4. "Better ingredients, better pizza" meant more shots and better shots (in transition). This translated into 24 versus 14 points in transition.

Free throw differential. Denver shot eight more free throws and converted four more. This wasn't enough to overcome their shot differential and turnovers.

Assists. The Celtics had six more assists (29-23) and we know that players shoot a higher percentage off passes than off individual efforts. The Celtics are 7th in the NBA in assist ratio...not surprisingly Golden State and San Antonio lead the league. Part of that relates to the Celtics mediocre three point shooting (not racking up assists on missed shots).



0:45 Marcus Smart's steal turns into a transtion 3.

It's worthwhile to remember the line from The Big Short "Truth is like poetry, and most people #$%@ing hate poetry."

We Didn't Start the Fire


What drives you and your program? What are your character and intent? You cannot separate how you play or coach basketball from how you live. In "The Hard Hat" Jon Gordon explores the brief, exceptional life of George Boiardi who died living lacrosse and more for Cornell University. He includes 21 Ways to be a better teammate. His first recommendation: Sweat more. 

Below is a quote from a letter from Willard Straight to his son.





Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Celtics Spread Reverse

Late in the 3rd tonight, the Celtics get ball reversal into a weak side "shuffle-like" cut. 

5 = Olynyk
1 = Turner
3 = Crowder
2 = Smart

Simple concept with our "core four" - spacing, screening, cutting, and passing. 


Nunn Sense - BBallBreakdown Breaks Down Officiating



Annotations:
0:56 Crawford takes issue with the contact and retaliates with excessive contact. "Flagrant 1 - unnecessary contact vs Flagrant 2 - unnecessary and excessive. 
2:30 J.R. Smith blasts a screen. Nunn argues that officials wait for the monitor...rather than make a call that they have to rescind. 
5:10 Defensive 3 seconds. "You don't clutter up the middle...you have to go to the defender...not just extend an arm."
7:40 To travel or not to travel. "Technically, it's a travel." But in the NBA, who knows? "These guys can cover a lot of ground."






Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Post Your Favorite Drill

The coaching community shares information and debates controversies. How does one build better players? 

I can't say that I have a favorite drill, anymore than I expect that a carpenter would say she has a favorite tool. But I believe that superior players excel by creating and preventing separation. I also believe in the adage, "good players need two dribbles, excellent players need one, and elite players none.




For example, Evan Turner gets great separation with the crossover. 




And Steve Blake shows that he can repay a favor. 

The drill can be run "statically" (offensive player has the ball) or dynamically with the offensive player receiving the ball on the move. I prefer the latter, but with three baskets and I can run six groups (1-on-1, using both sides) which gets far more repetitions. 


It's pretty obvious that "2 Dribble Limit" means that you get a maximum of two dribbles to score. I'm not saying that ball reversal isn't important, but the last thing I want to watch is teenage girls dribbling the basketball east and west, NOT attacking the basket. If you can get to the rim with one dribble, so much the better. If you can get into the paint with a dribble for a mid-range shot and finish, great. But you can't bring a knife to a gunfight. As they say in No Excuse Leadership, "bring a tank and four friends."

We can modify the drill by adding another defender in the paint and keep score by awarding one point for a hoop or one point for a stop. You can matchup by size or create size mismatches to challenge players. 

I tell young players with a good "catch and shoot" game, "that's nice, but any good coach stops that". Shooters need to learn penetration and penetrators who can't shoot seldom last. 

Teach them to spell, too. "There's "a rat" in S-E-P-A-R-A-T-E." Be that rat. 

Truly Blessed, Words and Deeds from Bob Cousy

At the end of your life, what have you given? Years ago, I heard Bob Cousy interviewed. The reporter asked, on the heels of a ginormous Michael Jordan contract, whether Cousy had been born thirty-five years too soon. Cousy had won an NCAA Championship, eight titles with the Celtics, and was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. 



Cousy was Maravich before Maravich. 

Paraphrasing Cousy:

"I enjoyed a wonderful career at Holy Cross and enjoyed my time there. I was fortunate to have played on some great teams with the Celtics. After that, I was lucky to have coached at Boston College and in professional basketball with the Cincinnati Royals. I've had a wonderful broadcasting career with the Celtics and really enjoy working for the Celtics in the community. My health has been very good and I have a wonderful family. I am truly blessed."

Cousy had achieved many goals that most basketball players could only dream about. But when asked about money, he responded with extreme gratitude about his many blessings, not his achievements nor grousing about what had not come to pass.

Later in life, he sold his memorabilia to help his family.  "Bob Cousy, the Boston Celtics great, kept his memorabilia in a somewhat haphazard state in the cellar of the house he has lived in for 50 years in Worcester, Mass. He did not see his collection much except to take people downstairs to visit it. But his daughters, both schoolteachers, needed money, one to pay off a mortgage and another to help with her children’s college tuition."

Each day, we should strive to give back something. 



Become a Quarterback

You need a big heart not a big arm to become a great quarterback. Decisions and execution define you. All of which is why teaching and learning basketball challenges us. 

You must bring energy to work every day. You can't have the luxury of indifference. 

You must learn how to read defenses

You must value the ball

You must become accurate with your passing. 

You must see the quality shots for others and for yourself. 

You must make other players around you better

You learn to get everyone involved

You must share the mantle of leadership but be a giver.

You have to win the one-on-one battles with your opposite number. 

You are the coach on the floor

Monday, January 25, 2016

Practice Schedule and Closeout Corners

I appreciate how hard the team has worked to operate practice at a high tempo and get a maximum number of reps. 

Their enthusiasm for competitive drills also keeps it fun. 

Closeout and pressure the shooter. 

Gone, Blatt, Gone - Coach Nick Shares the Blatt Firing Mutiny in Video

Assessment by Coach Nick (including must-see video) chronicles the anatomy of a firing:




  1. Fired while in first place
  2. First coach to be fired while in first place
  3. Disrespected by LeBron
  4. Lack of communication about roles
  5. Mutiny by selected players
  6. LeBron "disconnected from the action"..."not actively making plays"
  7. Coach Nick implies unprofessionalism
  8. "Without effort, that's tough to do."
  9. "False effort" by players
  10. It's not only LeBron with limitations
  11. "The ball stops."
  12. "Kawhi has probably eclipsed LeBron as a player." 
  13. "Against supreme ball movement, you need supreme effort."
  14. Ultimately, Coach is saying, "actions, not words, speak loudest." 
  15. "Stagnant offense" dooms the Cavs against the Warriors
  16. For whatever reason, Blatt couldn't get professional effort 
  17. In the past, "his teams were professional...and played as hard as they could." 

3 Shooting Drills from Drew Hanlen

Drew Hanlen has a lot of basketball training drills and I've cherry picked three from tribe.betterbasketball.com. Remember Picasso's wisdom, "good artists borrow, great artists steal." 



We run something similar. Maybe we'll start at 5 and have a goal of win at 0 and lose at 10. Also, we'll have a shooter from each elbow and two rebounders, so we get more shots in the same time. 

Six Concrete Ways to Expand Your Game

Decisions determine destiny. Even when you become a "competent" player, you can expand your game to enhance your role. Invest in yourself

But most young players simply don't know what they don't know. What opportunities can inform your total game? 

Knowledge. Because the game is eighty percent mental, the more you 'see', the quicker you react as the game slows down. Read, watch some youtube.com educational videos like those from Coach Daniel, Coach Nick at BBallBreakdown.com, and FIBA educational video online. When you watch a game, study footwork, cutting, post moves, and more. 

Athleticism. You want to become quicker, stronger, and better conditioned. Build yourself up with a scientifically proven, free approach. In addition, use a jump rope. I'm a huge fan of the aerobic value of jumping rope. 



The Scientific 7-Minute Workout - A Visual Guide from Kathi Kaiser

Improve your finishing. Learn how to finish around the rim with both hands...seeing players make layups from both sides with either hand never gets old. 



Maybe young players do these drills all the time. The good ones do. 

Augment your arsenal. Find additional ways to score situationally. 


Learn to shoot the floater. I practiced with a six-foot step ladder with a tennis racket appended to simulate the onrushing defender. I wasn't any good at tennis anyway.

Extend your range.



Many young players worry about extending their range before 1) developing consistent, reproducible form and 2) making shots consistently within their range. Distance shooting demands leg and core strength and mountains of repetitions. 

Use the Glass




It's scientifically proven that your margin for error increases when you use the backboard. Recently, ESPN discussed the top ten shooting guards in NBA history, egregiously omitting Sam Jones, a victim of recency bias. Jones (along with Tim Duncan) is one of the greatest users of the window in history. If you omit glass work from your training, you're losing great opportunity. 

Craft your plan; then work your plan. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Most Popular Posts

I'm approaching four hundred educational basketball and leadership posts. Here are the most popular posts. 

The Power of Why?

Tiger: BOB

BBallBreakdown Breaks Down the Spurs Defense

Out of the Box: BOB

The Screen Game

Dean Smith: An Iconic Figure in Basketball and North Carolina

Why Half Court Offense Fails

You Can't Use Everything but Anything Can Stimulate Ideas

What Does Playing Hard Mean?


Model Behavior with a Math Spin

Above all, education is about changing behavior. And we coaches are educators, molding young lives with input that can last a lifetime. Humans are unique machines because we can improve both our hardware (physical and brain structure) and the software (brain function via altering brain function). It begins with modeling effective behaviors.

Should we be goal-directed or process-directed? They're not mutually exclusive because when we focus on goals, invariably they translate into our process. 

Kansas State's Bill Snyder shares his family goals, relevant because family is our smallest and most important team.  


Commitment leads Snyder's list. We cannot expect our players to be "all in" unless we are. Everything counts. This summer I awarded "Participation" recognition because a player attended virtually every voluntary workout and game. My mother reminded us "the only place success comes before work is in the dictionary." It's always about the work. 

Dean Smith had a saying, "I don't coach effort, I coach execution." What I think Coach Smith meant was that players embed effort within execution. 

I know some coaches who excel at setting low expectations. "We'll go as far as the talent takes us." I believe in the opposite, because "confidence comes from proven success" and you cannot perform above the level that you believe in yourself. Every player should approach every activity positively

Mistakes deform the math. What do I mean? If we have 75 possessions in a game (and don't shoot threes), then we have 150 possible points. If (excluding free throws) we shoot 30 percent then we can score 45 points, which approaches enough to win regularly at our level. But that ignores turnovers. And if we turn the ball over 25 times, that reduces us to 50 scoring chances, and 30 percent is only 30 points, which loses every time. 

Improve the math. When we value the ball we have fewer than 14 turnovers and take quality shots (increases our shooting percentage to over 40 percent). So that's 40% of (75-14) equals 49 points which will win consistently at our level. Add in free throws and we're going to succeed almost all the time. 

Because "we play fast", I'm sure that we lead our league in possessions and we lead our league in scoring. And I suspect we're close to the league lead in free throw percentage because we work on shooting for at least forty percent of practice. 

We're here to create futures for our players, beginning by emphasizing that what we do today matters to what happens next. When we show detail-oriented, people-focused commitment, how can players lose? 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Baseline Out of Bounds Screen-the-Screener Action

We emphasize that the first job on an inbounds play is safely inbounding the ball. But we want multiple options to get quality shots. It doesn't always work, but the play starts when the official hands the inbounder the ball. 


Align personnel to maximize your skills. 

3 sets a diagonal screen and 5 dives to the rim. 
2 arrives to screen for 3 for a midrange shot.
1 works as a safety valve, although can then go into screen and roll action with 2. 


Ten Ways to Minimize "Avoidable" Trouble

Players think about how they can win. Coaches agonize over a thousand ways to lose. Players need constant review of what works and why and what fails and why not.

Avoid dangerous passes. The most commonly stolen passes are wing to top and top to post. At every level, you see this over and over. Get the right passing angles and pass away from defenders AND help defenders.

Minimize inefficient offense. When the break isn't there, players need early offense options (especially with the shot clock). Play with purpose and don't habitually run offense from either side or the corners.


Jump to the ball. "Don't let the passer become the next catcher." As coaches, we preach fundamental basketball actions - give and go, pass and screen, pick and roll. Defenders must be aware, alert, and react EVERY possession.

Don't let the ball die. The ball is alive. When the ball dies, offense dies. Move the ball.

Are you playing Deadman's Defense? Defenders playing six-feet under the ballhandler are. When there is no ball pressure, the offense is free to make whatever passes they can execute.

Are you lost? Where did you catch the ball? Even in the NBA players catch and rebound the ball out of bounds. First time in the gym, study the geography of the court. Are there asymmetrical boundaries to the stands/walls? When there are, invariably you will see careless players catch or dribble out of bounds.

See traffic jams. GPS.  Great players play in space.Anticipate and avoid traffic.




Do yo see Totem poles in your gym?

Totems play lousy defense. Then when they come alive and decide to defend, they pick up fouls.

Finish your cuts. When you cut and stop and passes go awry, it's on you...not the passer.

Silence screams



Protect your teammates. See screens early and announce them...early, loud, and often.

Winning Basketball Actions

Teaching players to 'see the game' separates excellent educators versus good ones. Players need to know what differentiates winning plays from ordinary ones. This post is intended to help visual learners (many players) see valuable basketball concepts. 

1. Make one of the best plays in basketball. Taking a charge regains possession and adds a personal foul to the opposition. 



Shane Battier reminds us to see the ball (the ball scores), anticipate, and be tough. 

2. Set up a teammate with a great assist. A wonderful pass makes three people happy...the scorer, the passer, and the coach. 



I love a "low risk, high reward" pass that leads directly to a score. Shots off passes routine come with a higher shooting percentage than individually-driven plays. "Look ahead" passes, passes to backdoor cutters, and no-look passes (maybe we should call them look away) come to mind. It doesn't have to be flashy to be effective. It's always about making the right pass at the right time. 

3. Windex. Possession (get the ball) and possessions (what you do with it). Clean the glass. Defensive rebounding is about position and toughness. Offensive rebounding rewards anticipation and quickness. Another great play comes with the "tip out" rebound where an offensive rebounder keeps the ball alive by tipping it out or to a teammate. 

4. The "touch pass". Players who make touch passes show both awareness and skill. 


This type of interior pass meets the low-risk, high reward standard. 

5. Making free throws. Okay, Captain Obvious. But many players spend hundreds of hours on tricky dribbling and styling when making free throws wins games. Invest your time, don't spend it. 


One of the great free throw shooters in NBA history, Rick Barry, used to shoot the underhand free throw. 


Hammer Time

We haven't put this in. Who says insomnia is a bad thing? Theoretically, it could be run as a BOB, SLOB, or even a set. 


Action begins with a weak side screen to get ball entry.
This leads to a pick-and-pop on the right.
The primary intent is screen-the-screener action for 3 for a corner 3. 
If the pick shows the driver a layup that's great. 
A delayed action is a screen for the five for a basket cut or rebounding.
1 has defensive balance. 

Realign assignments according to your personnel. 

As a "game winner", I'd switch 1 and 4 because the defense will put size on the ball. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

The RICHEST Leader

Leaders and followers contribute to the richness of teams. You cannot be an effective leader without followers. Great followers help create great leaders and can develop into great leaders. 

The richness of leadership doesn't mean money although, in some experiences, leaders will reap financial rewards. Mother Teresa experienced richness within a vow of poverty. 

I refer to RICHEST as an acronym. 

R - relationships. Leaders connect with followers using many techniques. They communicate both verbally and non-verbally, model desired behaviors, listen, and respect subordinates. A leader who arrives late and leaves early cannot expect commitment from followers. 

I - intent. Simon Sinek has discussed the value of 'why' to an organization. Intent implies both having a philosophy and a purpose. But we want leaders who model good intent not a nefarious or self-serving purpose. 

C - commitment. 

A leader with a lukewarm commitment to an organization, project, or people will find neither trust nor loyalty. Actions, not words demonstrate your engagement. 

H - humility. Humility doesn't mean thinking less of yourself; it means thinking less about yourself. Humility helps effective leaders listen and share because they realize that they don't have all the answers. 

E - enthusiasm. "Nothing great is accomplished without enthusiasm." Enthusiasm derives from the Greek 'en' and 'theos', literally in god. Leadership implies a certain zeal or fervor applied to work. 

S - serving. Servant leadership is redundant. A leader who does not serve is not a leader at all. In Greenleaf's original Servant Leadership essay he discusses the foundations:

"The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?"

T - thankfulness. We get back more than we give when we give more. Recently, when discussing the death of former player Andrew Smith, Brad Stevens remarked that coaches receive more from kids than they give. We need an attitude of gratitude. We have a lot for which to be thankful. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

On Mentors

Mentorship transforms lives. How many of us recognize those people who helped us along the way in life and have appreciated them fully? I specifically remember the moment when a high school coach and mentor told me forty-four years ago that I would start, for the simplest of reasons: I had earned that privilege. 

In this article, Herb Welling shared from the Herb on Hoops Facebook group, Bill Russell shares his story of mentoring. Here are a few excerpts from the article:

The truth is, that in all walks of life, mentors transform lives.

You need to be there, physically present and in the moment, so you can look a person in the eye. That’s how you make a difference. 

In A Game Plan for Life, John Wooden shares stories about seven of his mentors, ranging from his father, to his college coach (Piggy Lambert), a posthumous model (Abraham Lincoln), and his beloved wife Nell. 

In the Navy, "the Boss", Captain T.E. Walsh expressed it another way, "I am your mentor...and your tormentor." The Boss simply expected us to approach any problem the way he would and "handle it." That meant "take care of your business." 

MENTOR is a bit unusual because it serves both as a NOUN and a VERB. Of course, that's not unique, as a negative word PIRATE, also serves both functions. 

As coaches, we provide mentoring about sports but more importantly about life. We promote values like commitment, discipline, effort, humility, passion, and sacrifice. But we have the regular opportunity to model positive attitude, communication, and thoughtful decision-making to our mentees.

Find moments to praise players for "getting it right." The powerful message "I believe in you" remains undiminished through a lifetime. 


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Hedgehog and "Good to Great" Philosophy

Jim Collins' landmark book, "Good to Great" includes the "Hedgehog" concept as part of achieving sustainable competitive advantage. The hedgehog relies on simplicity in its survival strategy, rolling up into a ball and revealing a spiny exterior when threatened. 

Collins writes: "Those who built the good-to-great companies were, to one degree or another, hedgehogs. They used their hedgehog nature to drive toward what we came to call a Hedgehog Concept for their companies. Those who led the comparison companies tended to be foxes, never gaining the clarifying advantage of a Hedgehog Concept, being instead scattered, diffused, and inconsistent."

The central concepts include simplicity and clarity. These themes are echoed elsewhere, with David Cottrell's "Monday Morning Leadership" espousing "the main thing is the main thing", Bill Walsh the primacy of the 49ers "Standard of Performance", and Don Meyer "mature simplicity." 

Extending Collins' analogy further, the great companies chose areas in which they could excel relative to the competition, for which they had great passion, and chose an economic metric for their industry. For basketball, this translates to STYLE OF PLAY, ENTHUSIASM, and POINTS PER POSSESSION (or 100 possessions). 

Some programs can find players to fit their style of play, while in developmental programs, we choose the style suited to our athletes. With speed and some talent, our only chance to compete against the BIG and STRONG is to outrun and outexecute in transition. 

Enthusiasm starts at practice. Coming to practice should never be a chore, but a chance to "run and have fun" with an uptempo style. Simplicity doesn't exclude a detail-oriented approach. Conditioning need not be dreary, evolving over speed-based drills like Kentucky Layups, Hoiberg speed drill, and Continuous 4 on 4. 

If points per possession is the bottom line, minimizing wasted possessions (turnovers) and maximizing 'finishing' with better shooting are the "economic engines" we need to tune. Although we spend at least 30 to 40 percent of practice shooting, I continually worry that's not enough. Getting more players more shots is a constant priority while ratcheting up the competitiveness of the shooting between groups. 

The "Good to Great" philosophy doesn't guarantee us anything, but it provides us another framework upon which to layer the details of planning, practice, execution and refinement. 



Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Cutting Review and D-Wade Video

I've discussed cutting in some detail previously. What five components should a young player absolutely understand?

  1. Effective cutting begins with reading the defense (part of 'seeing the game') which reflects a common theme. 
  2. Take advantage of defenders losing concentration, vision, or discipline
  3. Cutting is about getting separation with twin concepts of "change of direction and change of pace" and "movement kills defense."
  4. Cutting properly demands spacing and timing
  5. The screener is the second cutter. Screening isn't grunt work; it's opportunity. 



This brief video reviews how Dwayne Wade loses defenders by smart cutting - looking for head turners, back cuts, and curl cuts. 

Emotional Fuel

"Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life." - Confucius

I've always believed that the key to success in most sports is finding players who want to succeed as badly as the coach does. How we embrace our work determines how we attack it. We need to stimulate the thirst for knowledge and the appetite for sustained growth. But how do you provoke and measure that level of commitment



Let's provide "Emotional Fuel" to players. We have to understand the "retail politics" of coaching isn't fundamental teaching, Xs and Os, or better drills, it's how we get players to "buy in", their commitment, and add value to grow willing competitors. In the graphic above, that means they become Ambassadors for their program. 

Motivation works best when driven internally not externally. Beginning with ourselves, we encourage a "Get to" versus a "have to" mentality. We "get to" become better conditioned instead of "have to" become better conditioned. We "get to" communicate better defensively instead of "have to." 

Be transformational. "Little things make big things happen." Spend time building confidence without being disingenuous. We can always find positive points for each of our players. Recently, I had a player who was becoming disengaged defensively when her offense struggled. I pulled her aside and told her three things: 1) you're going to play because you're one of our most productive players. 2) When you make a poor play, and everyone does, "move on" and play in the moment. 3) "I believe in you." It took a minute and she seemed relieved. 

Encourage self-evaluation. What do I do well? Where do I need improvement? How can I contribute more to the team? 

Peer evaluations can produce startling results. Years ago a teacher had an unruly class. She distributed paper with everyone's name on it and asked each student to write down any two things that they liked about each child. She collected the papers, cut out the comments and glued them on a paper so that every child had a paper filled with POSITIVE comments about them. Years later at a memorial service, many of those children, now adults, still had those papers validating their self-worth.

What we do matters. How we do it is critical. We can always do it better.  




Free Throws, Ten for Ten

"Layups and free throws win games." I don't know how many times I've heard or said that, but few contest the importance of differential interior scoring or free throws. Players who can get to the line and convert have extraordinary value. Do you know the story of Spencer Haywood? Haywood sought a basketball scholarship at Detroit. The coach said, "Make fifteen free throws in a row and I'll give you a scholarship." Haywood did and the rest, including an NBA career and free agency are history. 

Dean Oliver has been called "the father of basketball analytics" and included free throws (in a game) taken as one of his 'big four' determinants of winning. He believed that analytics improved the ability to describe a game quantitatively.

Virtually anyone and everyone who has played or coached a lot of basketball has experienced the joy or frustration of made and missed free throws deciding important or close games. The "Hack-a-Shaq" philosophy evolved to take advantage of poor free throw shooters. During 'crunch time' coaches want players who can make free throws in the game and with the ball whenever possible. If you want to be out there when it matters, learn to make free throws. 

What is the best way to practice free throws? Some advocate for Paul Westhead's approach, the so-called "Guru of Go", former Loyola Marymount coach. This has potential value for more experienced players.


I used to practice "right" and "wrong". Right was at practice where we had competitive rounds of ten (forty shots per day) for the "Daily Championship." Wrong was trying to make as many consecutively or as many out of one hundred (which I recorded on old-fashioned graph paper). 

Free throws are about excellence. Steph Curry finished free throw practice by swishing five. Winnecunnett, a school that won five consecutive New Hampshire titles, used to finish each practice requiring each player to make two consecutive free throws. 

Free throws create indelible memories. My high school team went ten for ten in the fourth quarter of a sectional championship to send the game into an overtime win. As a kid, I won the free throw contest at Sam Jones' camp, by going first, and making ten, which I reasoned would "ice" the competition. Believe it or not, I once made 144 consecutively (no pressure) while practicing at Harvard's old IAB (Indoor Athletic Building). But I've missed the second end of a one-and-one to lose a game and made free throws to win games. But, no matter how you practice, reps matter. 

Here are my core free throw beliefs, which doesn't make them correct. 


  1. Aline yourself using "the nail" which is driven into the center of the free throw line in every regulation court. 
  2. Do NOT step up to the line until you have the ball from the official. I've seen too many players "freeze" at the line waiting for the ball. 
  3. For games, have a defined "pre-shot routine", which should finish with breathing out before shooting (so you are not breathing during the shot). I don't like "ball spinning" during the routine. 
  4. Block out all extraneous thoughts except shooting your shot and the "feel" of your successful shot. Never think about the implications of making or missing the shot.
  5. Have a specific target, the center of the rim or (back in the day), the center of the four bolts that attached the rim to the backboard. IIRC, this was described in John McPhee's "A Sense of Where You Are" about Bill Bradley.
  6. During practice, add pressure. During solo practice, run between sets of three, or after making three, sprint dribble back to the free throw line and back for a layup (alternate right and left handed layups). 
  7. Add maximum pressure. Practice with a friend and allow them to harass you verbally and distract you physically during free throws.  
  8. Before finishing, practice strategic missing (for the situation where your team needs two or three points and you only have one shot left). 
  9. Increase the degree of difficulty by only counting 'swishes' when you practice. 
  10. Free throws define the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.