Wednesday, February 21, 2018

What's Your Moat?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lagniappe: Xavier suggested "Partner Workout" 2006

Double bonus:

Tap play using a screen to create a speed mismatch. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

Art, Basketball, and Trust: "Show Me"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Practice Checklists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Another late game play, "Touchdown."

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Hardwood Classroom (Basketball Practice Mindset)

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

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

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

Strive to practice with higher energy, tempo, and efficiency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lagniappe: Full court "game winner" actions

Middle 'go'

 Side 'go'

Diamond 'X' Go


Friday, February 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Remind players: 

"Good defense comes from multiple efforts."

"Good offense comes from multiple actions.

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

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

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

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

Lagniappe: 2 plays from FastModel Sports

 SLOB into middle drive.

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

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Fight Through Complacency as the Season Winds Down

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

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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Senior Night Snaps

Melrose defeated Wakefield 65-55 last night (Senior Night) to clinch at least a share of the Middlesex League Freedom Division crown. 

Steve Karampalas sends along images. Here are some of the best; click to enlarge.

Using Mental Models in Coaching

"In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none." - Charlie Munger

Coaches have a cornucopia of choices to build systems. How can "mental models" assist us. We have literally thousands available. We must narrow the list. And each of us may benefit from different ones. "One man's meat is another man's poison." One of the most powerful models is inversion, or thinking backwards. Rather than being brilliant, let's avoid being stupid. "Avoiding stupidity is easier than being brilliant." Take more layups. Turn the ball over less. Don't allow easy baskets. None involve brilliance. 

Here are three, selected from Michael D. Simmons.

1. Prioritization (80/20). What does my team need now? Selecting and implementing systems is time sensitive. Prioritization means choice among individual and group training, offense and defense, tempo, and "fitting" our system to our people. Prioritization means allocating the right time and training to meet our needs. 

2. Problem solving. Leaders solve problems, sometimes unconventionally. Simmons shares ideas from a few billionaires...why not study excellence? 

Charlie Munger: Analyze what can go wrong instead of what can go right (invert)
Warren Buffett: Use checklists to avoid stupid mistakes. 
Ray Dalio: Learn how to think independently.

Steve Jobs: Use storytelling to make your vision more compelling.
Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn founder): Build deep, long-term relationships that give you insider knowledge.

We battle mundane problems (transition defense, player and ball movement, free throw shooting) relative to economic development and world peace. But we still need frameworks and specific plans (education, training) to overcome them. 

3. Learn better. 

Learning demands investment in ourselves, using better software (knowledge) to develop our mental hardware (wisdom). 

Flip through but skip the sales pitch. Read, reflect, retain, respond. Commit to spending a minimum of five hours a week increasing your skill.

We have many other challenges, like cognitive biases, resource limitations (time, money, assistants, organizational support), but control what we can. 


"Fence series"
Players have to read '2'

Fence "Middle" - inbounder reads low defender

Fence handoff with screen away to set up trey. 

Fence into ball least favorite option. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

"I Never Did It Before and I'll Never Do It Again."

We are all susceptible to misjudgments. But repeated errors can prove costly. 

This blog publishes the entirety of Charlie Munger's elaboration on "availability" and misjudgment of behavior. We could substitute the mental model of "a leopard doesn't change its spots" or the parable of the scorpion and the frog. Or Aristotelian, "we are what we repeatedly do."

Players develop bad habits...excessive dribbling, poor shot selection, relaxing on defense, not setting up cuts...the list goes on forever. Until we stop them. 

The player tells us, "I didn't do that" or "it didn't happen that way." Sometimes she looks at us funny. We lack film that showed what the coach said was materially true. 

Jay Bilas discussed humiliation in Toughness. "In the second half, there was a loose ball, a 50-50 ball, right in front of the Duke bench. If a photograph had been taken at the exact moment the ball became loose, anyone examining that photo would have determined that I should be the player who secured possession. The truth is, it wasn't a 50-50 ball. It was a 75-25 ball...I didn't get possession...Instead of diving on the floor for it, I bent over like I was picking a daisy on a walk through the park...a Cal player dived onto the floor, knocked the ball away, and Cal scored an "easy basket" in transition. Coach K was livid...Coach K ran the play back and forth (on film)...and he told me the truth about what the play signaled about me." 

We want to trust Player X. You must earn trust, play after play, day after day. Seek disconfirming evidence. Look for information that invalidates your idea or belief. 

I can't accept players "Just watching." Last night we had a four on four live rebounding drill, no dribbling, get the ball and score. Start the players on blocks and elbows. Coach shoots an intentional miss. Both "teams" are on offense. Get the ball. Put it back up. Score. Even a made basket is live for rebounding until the whistle blows. The game honors toughness. Don't tell me. Show me. 


"Elevator" deception play with two chances for SLOB layup...analagous to a football screen pass. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Fast Five: Anson Dorrance Quotes

Anson Dorrance coaches the UNC Women's Soccer team and has coached the US Women's National Team. He wrote, The Vision of a Champion, sharing coaching insights with special attention to coaching women. 

When I think of Coach Dorrance, I think first of his relentless focus on conditioning, the "competitive cauldron," "continual ascension," and "competitive fury." 

His resume' includes over twenty NCAA Championships and coaching some of the premier women players in history including Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, and Kristine Lilly. Transparency demands noting sexual harassment litigation by two former players. 

"Isn’t it wonderful that you play a team sport, knowing that if you struggle, the person next to you will carry you? Don’t every forget that, because there’s going to be a time when others struggle, and you need to carry them."

"That Saturday we had begun to rebuild our winning mentality. We did that with one of the most important steps you will read about extensively in this book: by each and every player stepping up to take responsibility."

"Competition is key to developing players. The only practice environment in which you truly develop a player is a competitive arena."

"What this team fought through in order to win surely took mental toughness. But this mentality was not constructed during the adversity. Actually, those comebacks were constructed in the off-season. My favorite quote about this is attributed to Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight. "The will to win is overrated in athletics, because everyone wants to win. It’s the will to prepare to win that makes the difference."

"One of the most unfortunate things I see when identifying youth players is the girl who is told over the years how great she is. By the time she's a high school freshman, she starts to believe it. By her senior year, she's fizzled out. Then there's her counterpart: the girl waiting in the wings who quietly and with determination decides she's going to make something of herself. Invariably, this humble, hardworking girl is the one who becomes the real player."

"It is critical for you as a young player to understand that vision and great tactical minds are built on a complete foundation of skill, so that you can problem-solve individually and hurt the other team tactically.  Knowing what to do is easily compromised by being unable to do it.

"One of the wonderful life lessons of athletics is that success itself shouldn’t be the ultimate reward--because there are a lot of people who work incredibly hard and never "make it".  What is important, above all, is being in the arena."


Celtics "UCLA Slip"

Duke double downscreens sets up mismatches on off-ball switches. 

Keywords: Anson Dorrance, competition, coaching, North Carolina Women's Soccer, basketball 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Underappreciated Dimensions to Winning Basketball

Critical dimensions distinguish successful teams from struggling clubs. Good teams find ways to win close accessing positive plays, avoiding negative ones, or both. Good teams find answers. 

Winning defense denies easy baskets. That prioritizes defensive transition, rebounding, contesting shots without fouling, avoiding "bad fouls", and excessive fouling. 

Key point 1. Don't "double down" on a mistake. Many players followup a bad shot or a turnover with an immediate foul. 

The keys to transition defense are floor balance, effort (sprinting not running), and awareness. 

Key point 2. Transition defense assigns responsibilities. Guards don't allow "sneakaways" or "cherry-picking." 

Defensive rebounding is about positioning and toughness. Whether you excel at blocking out, "hit and get", or just get the ball...find a way. 

Key point 3. Possession is not established until the ball is in the hands of a competent ball handler. A "rebound" never happened with an immediate held ball or a turnover. 

Bad fouls usually involve poor hand discipline, fouling jump shots, fouling three point shots, and fouling shooters taking poor shots. Excessive fouling usually results from lack of proper defensive positioning, reaching instead of moving the feet, and situational unawareness. 

Key point 4. Good players seldom commit bad fouls

Good offenses have good possessions. They avoid turnovers, pass and cut well to get easier shots, take quality shots, and convert free throws. One of the most common problems we see is shooters taking "rushed" shots out of rhythm. They shoot before they have caught, controlled, and "loaded" the shot. 

Key point 5. Disallow shot turnovers


Celtics' BOB "Triangle Stagger" a variation of horns staggered screen action. 

Double Bonus: 

1. Generate "good ideas" in your idea book, which you can keep in your pocket or on your phone.
2. Have a "drill book". 
3. I'm creating a living "video drill book" spreadsheet to share when it's more complete. Add your favorites and delete information irrelevant to your system or players. 
4. Use "checklists" pregame to review key points. 
5. Reread outstanding books. I'm rereading James Kerr's Legacy

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Sacrifice, Basketball, and Us

"As the Italian proverb says, ‘At the end of the game, the king and the pawn go back in the same box’." - James Kerr, in Legacy

How do we measure a life, our life? Do we measure what we accumulated or what we leave behind, our legacy? "Good enough seldom produces enough good."

Coach Nick Saban asks, "are you spending time or investing it?" 

Achievement demands more. My coach, Sonny Lane emphasized "sacrifice" as the price teams paid for success. Sacrifice meant time, conditioning, going to the floor, making the extra pass, watching grainy black and white film. The New Zealand rugby All Blacks simply say, Champions Do More. More means one more sprint, one more set of reps, one more walk through. 

Senior All Blacks approached a rookie before his first 'test' asking, "what are you prepared to offer? What are you prepared to sacrifice?" At that moment, he understood the meaning of their legacy and tradition. 

Leadership consultant Rod Olson observed before rappelling down a 75 foot cliff, "Army Ranger leaders have their soldiers focus on the facts, not how they feel when performing difficult tasks." Be fully engaged. 

While studying Navy SEALs, Olson saw a sign above a door: 

Be Someone Special.
SEAL training teaches that character informs performance. Character defines trust and trust inspires loyalty. 

When we select young players for training, we don't know their character, commitment, or connection. But we control the communication, energy, preparation, teaching, and time devoted to them. Make a difference. 


"Easy" sets for developmental players:

"Horns" pick-and-roll (can run to either side)...3 has to be aware that alert defender will help and she must find opening for cut.

Horns "down" with double off-ball screens and isolation option for 5 (they should finish their cuts). Rollers are second cutters. 

Backscreen from 1-4

Back cut from 1-4