Friday, August 17, 2018

Basketball: Criticism

Nobody enjoys criticism. Criticism is inevitable. Sometimes, we deserve it. 

In his MasterClass, Goosebumps author R.L. Stine shares his best (five-star, Amazon) review. "The packaging was really good. It was very easy to open." He also discloses his editor's (his wife) worst review, two words scrawled on his manuscript, 

Thomas Keller informs the value of criticism within The Disciplines of Success. If a customer is unhappy, he asks rhetorically, "how can we improve their experience?" Have we adhered to our values of organization, efficiency, constructive criticism, repetition, habit, and teamwork? 

Criticism impacts us contingent on both delivery and receipt. Return to the THINK acronym - true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, kind. "You stink" might be true and necessary but fails helpful, inspiring, and kind. "Let's earn a championship by avoiding the traffic or getting great shots" advances our mission better. 

My coach, Sonny Lane, said, "if I stop yelling at you, then I've given up on you. I don't think you can become a player." That provided useful framing. If we couldn't embrace coaching, we couldn't succeed. If we want players to "run through the wall," then they have to buy in. 

Coach Wooden discussed the "sandwich technique of placing criticism" between praise. Elite teaching texts discuss the Wooden method...M+, M-, M+. Wooden's players responded because they didn't feel that the criticism was personal and believed it positive. 

Establish standards. If you don't know expectations, then sticking to them is impossible. We can't demand that you make eighty percent of free throws taken. But we can expect that ball pressure means closely guarding, "nose on the chest." Kevin Eastman would say, "do it harder, do it better, change personnel, and "$%&# it ain't working" (do something different). 

Separate process from results while being specific. "Stop fouling bad shots." Players don't always know what we mean. "But you told us to challenge every shot." "Make them earn it. Don't foul baseline floaters, hope threes, flyaways, and late shot clock prayers."

Be solution focused. Yelling to express our frustration or vent emotion doesn't create solutions. That's not saying that Del Harris' level five communication (Go nuts) doesn't have a role, rarely. 

Know that everyone takes coaching differently. Anson Dorrance (The Vision of a Champion) believes that women respond better to positive coaching and positive video than negative. 21 of 31 National Championships in Women's Soccer argue that he's doing a lot right. 

Separate criticism of the person versus correcting an action. A bad play doesn't establish a bad player or a worthless person. Would you work hard for a leader who called you worthless? How does it feel to be coached by me? 


A local sports commentator said of Connecticut's 100 plus game win streak (a few years ago), "it doesn't matter, they're playing women." Coach Auriemma recognized that strong women empower us all. When we exhibit sexist behavior, we devalue ourselves and expose our weakness and prejudice, not someone else's. Greatness never arises from prejudice. 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Basketball: Youth Coaching, What's the Deal?

The old joke says, "the perfect job is coaching in an parents." I think that's unfair. I've met lots of great parents through coaching, although I know that everyone won't feel the same about my coaching. 

As a kid, I was coached by parent coaches. It wasn't a big deal. I coached my children many years ago (they joke about the 'C' team) and I coach other people's children now. I think they're a big deal. Although I don't take a stipend, parents pay significant fees (gym, officiating, and league) so they're making a financial and time commitment. 

Parent or non-parent coaching? The question really is, "who leads and how do they lead?" In Extreme Ownership, Navy SEAL Jocko Willink writes, "there are no bad teams, only bad leaders." 

In Star Trek, the "Prime Directive" was non-interference in the development of other cultures. In youth sports, every parent deserves a minimum of a Fair Deal and a few have a Prime Directive of the Best Deal for their child. Who wouldn't want that? I want parents to advocate for their child, as long as their youngster is fully engaged. 

What is that Best Deal? The Best Deal includes opportunity, playing time, appreciation, achievement, and recognition (All-This and All-That, plus media recognition). Realistically, coaches influence opportunity and minutes, but as Kevin Eastman says, "you own your paycheck." I don't control achievement and renown.  

What's the program philosophy? Is the priority winning over all else or success through teaching, personal growth, and teamwork with winning a bonus? Are the stated process and goals aligned with actions? 

What's the historical player experience? Did players enjoy being part of the team and part of the program? Did they feel welcomed, encouraged, and relevant? Would they do it again? If there's ever a question in a parent's mind, encourage them to speak with former players and parents. 

What's the process? Are practices, meetings, and activities transparent? You cannot fairly judge what you cannot see, hear, and feel. I'm not be as far along as Ray Dalio, but I share his belief in radical transparency. Come to practice and see the organization, energy, tempo and efficiency, teaching style and substance, energy, and teamwork. 
I share many basketball messages with families via email. I'm always available for letters of recommendation for former players.  

What is the coach's availability? Is the coach available via phone, text, and email? What are the boundaries and expectations? Every coach differs as far as offseason options and responsibilities to their jobs and families.   

What are the coach's knowledge and experience? It's reasonable to gather facts before assessing your child's coach. What's the coach's motivation? What type of players have come through the organization? Who stayed, who left, and why? 

Players and parents have many choices. Find something that fits for you and seek shared expectations. That's the real deal

There are many ways to play the pick-and-roll...beat the pick, hedge, Ice, under, through, trap...but trapping without containment is disastrous. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Basketball: Easy If You Know It

"A good coach or teacher can make the hard subject matter seem easy." - Jim Harbaugh, in Seth Davis' Getting to Us

Simplicity tests us. The Feynman Technique (teaching) simplifies the material. Great coaches purify. Pete Newell taught, "get more and better shots than your opponent." John Wooden preached the details. "Little things make big things happen." 

Reduce basketball to executing core tasks. Teach players the big picture. Small phrases share big ideas. 

"No easy baskets." Make the opposition work for everything. Have players define easy.

"Fall in love with easy (shots)." Player and ball movement make easy. 

"Win individual battles." (Contain the ball, block out, separate.) No team succeeds without winning the small battles.

"Scoreboard over scorebook." The scoreboard is about team. The scorebook is about you. 

"Exploit your edge." Do you have superior size, athleticism, skill, or basketball IQ? Use your tools to advantage your team and yourself. Without an edge, we cannot succeed. 

"Space the floor." Have players explain why. Make the defense cover a larger area. Players should explain that space opens driving and passing lanes, reduces deflections and chances for double teams. 

"Share better." Share energy and enthusiasm. Talk. Share the ball. Coach Pete Carril described "being a light bulb."

"Be here now." Urban Meyer preaches, "A to B, 4 to 6." Each play you go from point A to point B in 4 to 6 seconds. 

"Possession and possessions." Turnovers are coach killers. Get possession and don't give away possessions. "The ball is gold."

"Ring the strings." Whether basketball or guitar, you gotta ring the strings. 

Hakeem Olajuwon, the master of footwork and finishing. 

Lagniappe 2: 
Boston College transition drill

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Basketball: Seasonal Cooking, The Guitar Student, and Defensive Lagniappe

Learn from everything and everyone around us. 

Alice Waters explains the impact of 'seasonal eating' in her MasterClass. Writer Michael Pollan discussed the feeling he got when eating the fruit bowl at Chez Panisse, an indelible memory. 

Conversely, Justin Sandercoe teaches guitar at Each lesson builds on the prior, reinforcing proper technique with simplicity and clarity. His "ten principles" lesson translates to basketball. 

1. Practice what you're not good at.

2. Don't practice mistakes. Do it right. 

3. Play perfectly slowly first. If you're not good at a skill, slow down. If you were a race car driver going off the course on a turn, would you drive faster? 

4. Set a timer. Spend five minutes of practice using a five minute timer. This is analogous to pomodoro technique from in Learning How to Learn. Don't cheat the drill. 

5. Focus on one element at a time. 

6. Practice every day. Be consistent. "Spaced repetition" is more effective.

7. Keep a practice schedule...note how much you practice. Only you know how much you practice. 

8. "If it sounds good, it is good." 

9. "Playing and practicing are very different." Practice is about developing skill...playing is about letting it happen. 

10. "The more you think, the more you stink." Develop your instincts. 


"You can observe a lot by just watching." - Yogi Berra

What do we see in this 5 on 5 shell? 
- Ball pressure
- Jump to the ball.
- Drop to the level of the ball. 
- See both the ball and your man.
- Load to the ball (help side).
- Communicate (early, loud, often).
- No direct drives.
- It's not perfect (note the help without rotation initially).
- Help side defender goes 'through' on the off-ball screen. 
- The followup shows the help AND rotation. 
- Ball reversal challenges the defense forcing long closeouts. 

Lagniappe 2: 

Find ways to put players in positions to succeed.  Everything doesn't belong in our "fruit bowl." Some will go into sherbet, salad, or jam...

Monday, August 13, 2018

Basketball: Defending the "Hard Stuff"

I once believed that defense wins and offense determines the margin of victory. Now, maybe offense wins, provided you can defend "the hard stuff." 

What defines the hard stuff? Our defensive mantra is "no easy baskets." What leads to easy baskets? Using the principle of inversion, what must we limit and specifically, how? 

Sources of Easy Baskets

Transition offense.
Attacking closeouts off ball reversal. 
Free throws. 

I haven't included "uncontested threes" because in youth basketball, few players provide consistent threats (3 in 10 threes = 45% twos). 

Transition defense. (Get back, above)

"Basketball isn't a running game, it's a sprinting game." Transition D means sprinting, beating your player to half court, being engaged and communicating, protecting the basket and denying penetration. Good teams allow few transition baskets. Our goal is to allow no more than three. 

4 by 4 by 4 continuous transition practices offense, defense, communication, and conditions. 

Deny the paint. (No middle)

This also tests transition. If we allow dribble penetration (inability to contain the dribbler and win one-on-one battles), then we won't be very good. 

Advantage-disadvantage drill demanding communication, decision-making, and high effort. Offense goes to defense and new group goes on offense.

Remind players to "know your NOs." No direct drives, no penetrating passes, no middle, no uncontested shots, no putbacks, no bad fouls. Drop to the level of the ball with the "Helpside I" (above) and load to the ball. Don't return to the basics...never leave them


Defending the pick-and-roll and closeouts are among the toughest assignments in basketball. There are many closeout drills. This is my favorite. We can add constraints to limit dribbles, require screening, or both. 

No uncontested entry passes. 

Some teams still have effect post players that demand denial. 

Coach initiates play with pass to any post or perimeter player. Post defenders deny, perimeter players initially drop to level of the ball. Offense plays on its side of the split only. Once ball is entered, defense must work together to deny the post but also cover the give-and-go or pass-and-relocate (ball side). Defense can choose to front the post. 

Hand discipline. Show your hands, be smart.

Good teams "foul for profit." Defensively, the mantra of "one bad shot" or "Hard 2's" gets violated by bad fouls. Make the officials see your hands, so they know you aren't reaching in. 


Chris Oliver shares "stack overload" against 2-3 zone defense. Many of us run this type of action from a myriad of initial sets (box, triangle, 4 across high). 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Basketball: Revenge of the Nerds: Stats and Charts. What Matters?

When my son was sixteen he said, "I may not be the most popular kid in school, but I know that nerds run the world." He's almost thirty-seven now, a stats guy, but that hasn't changed. Good stats accompany success. 

Great teams pass the eyeball test and statistically. Win "possession and possessions." This season Villanova was second in effective field goal percentage and fourteenth in turnover percentage. 

From a practical standpoint, find reliable, vital numbers and use them for improvement not character assassination. 


The EFG formula corrects for three point shots made. 

If we're charting, make the work worthwhile. Shot charts inform where the rubber meets the road. Who makes what and where? 

Tweet of note: 

Golden State defeated Houston in Game 7 with an explosive third quarter, abetted by Houston striking out from the perimeter. Ultimately, it's EFG% differential that has the highest predictive value. 

The Rockets came up completely empty. 

The Celtics were outliers in EFG% this season, but lead the NBA in defense. 


Dean Oliver's original 'four factors' were field goal percentage, rebounding differential, turnovers, and free throws taken. 

I was surprised to see that Golden State captured the second highest percentage of all rebounds in the postseason. 


The numbers are smaller for assist ratio, assist percentage, and assist-to-turnover ratios but GSW led the NBA in assist ratio and assist-to-turnover ratio during the most recent playoffs. "Assist ratio in basketball is defined as the percentage of a player's possession that results in an assist."

With young players and lower shooting percentage, my coach argued the importance of assists (leading to easier shots) and net rebounds (more opportunities). 

Turnovers. This tweet says it all.
Keep it simple. Track EFG% and turnovers and reap the benefits. 


I won't call this Evan Turner's signature move, but it's impressive nevertheless.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Basketball: Q & A for Teams and Players

"This is who we are and that is who we are not." Teams establish their identity with help from mentoring and training. When a player strayed toward selfishness, my daughters' AAU Coach, Shawanda Brown, would simply remind her, "that is not how WE play." 

Asking better questions affirms our identity. 

After practice, games, tournaments, or seasons, ask: 

- What went well?
- What went poorly?
- How can I do better? 
- What are the enduring lessons? 

During the offseason, ask:

- What is my plan to wear down our opponents?
- How can I leverage my strengths and lessen my weaknesses? 
- How can I share better?
- How can I become physically and mentally tougher? 

In Getting to Us, Seth Davis explains Tom Izzo's football mentality, that defense and rebounding are the blocking and tackling of basketball. But if we don't have the people to play that style, that's the wrong answer. That doesn't mean we don't defend and rebound but it can't be our primary focus. 

The historical core of warfare is infantry, cavalry, and artillery. Basketball is no different. The infantry pounds the ball inside. The cavalry leverages team speed. Long-range shooting supports both. Few teams excel at all, so every team identifies its principal edge and style of play. 

John Miller's QBQ (Question Before the Question) demands better questions. If we use "when" it implies procrastination. Using "I" means that it's MY problem, not someone else's. Miller says, Begin with "What" or "How" (not "Why," "When," or Who"). This contrasts with Simon Sinek's "Begin with Why?" 

Responding better questions forces specifics. "I need to get better" is an empty promise. Urban Meyer uses an equation    E + R = O   Event plus response equals outcome. Find a better response, play by play, minute by minute, day by day. 

WHAT? I need proper, repeatable shooting form. 

HOW? I will make two hundred jump shots and one hundred free throws TODAY. I will find a teammate to practice with me. This addresses my needs and sharing. 

There is no WHEN. NOW. 


"A good day is filled with knowledge, understanding, and sharing." - George Raveling

Coach George Raveling combines a lifetime of experience, overcoming hardship, and achievement with relentless sharing. Read his newsletters here. Coach Raveling encourages us to serve not to take. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Basketball: PEAK Performance, Seth Davis Style

Two key components of learning are self-examination and spaced repetition. Seth Davis' Getting to Us studies how elite coaches operate. Internalize their lessons taught by watching film, attending clinics, mentoring, and reading. But use caution before putting mortals on pedestals.   

Coaches often come in two flavors, relationship-oriented or task-oriented. The former are called "players' coaches" and the latter taskmasters or hard guys. Players can wear out the player-friendly coach and the authoritarians sometimes grind down the players. What stands out is that substance and style both matter, although no one approach works. 

Davis uses the acronym PEAK to summarize the qualities of successful coaches. 

Calvin Coolidge owns the most famous persistence quote..."nothing in this world can take the place of persistence." John Wooden won his first NCAA title during his sixteenth year at UCLA. Dean Smith won his first at Carolina in his twenty-first season. Winners are too-often labeled unsuccessful until they've won a championship. 

Davis believes that empathy is the most critical quality of the great coach. Leaders care about their players and their feelings. We've all met technically solid coaches lacking communication skills, humanity, or both. Getting to us demands getting the players to buy in

Although we study leadership, we recognize that great coaches are comfortable in their own skin. Some are vocal and demonstrative like a John Harbaugh; others are reserved like Brad Stevens. Judge neither on style alone. 

Steven M.R. Covey uses a tree to depict character and competence of leaders in The Speed of Trust. Without integrity and good intent, capable people can work great wrongs. Knowledge is necessary but not sufficient for success. Applied knowledge requires real-time analysis, flexibility, and teams that can execute based on those inputs. 

Ironically, Davis first profiles Urban Meyer and Tom Izzo. Meyer has three NCAA titles, Izzo one and a legion of Final Four appearances. But Meyer is currently suspended and Izzo reticent on scandals surrounding their programs. It's fair to ask how and to whom their empathy extends. 

Chris Oliver shares a complex sequence with 'floppy-like' action, leading to a flare screen into screen-the-screener action. Too complex for my young'uns but maybe good for you. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Basketball: Have the Courage to Struggle

"You have to fight for each note." - Hans Zimmer

You want to be the pro from DoverExcellence won't come easily. If it were, everyone would be great. 

Nobody's watching. Doesn't matter. Nobody cares. Doesn't matter. Does it matter for you? How are we investing our time, right now? 

So many luminaries have lived the struggle. It's shocking. Eighteen year-old Wolfgang Puck stood on a bridge for an hour contemplating jumping. Drew Carey attempted suicide twice as a young man. Billy Joel's Second Wind followed his depression. They have plenty of famous company. The greatness coin has madness on the flip side. 

How do we ease the struggle? Entertain. Energize. Excite. Bring value to the players and to the game.

If my youth team came out an played 2-3 zone for 32 minutes, slowed the game to a crawl, and made a couple more shots than our opponent, where's the fun and where's the learning? 

Make a great argument for your team's play (from This is what we do, it's exciting, and it's worth your time. 

Engage the players and the fans. Make it relevant. Make the game beautiful. 

"Fall in love with easy." Pass and cut, give and go, look ahead, inside outside, move the ball. 

Find ways to put players in a position to succeed. Chris Oliver shows how spacing, screening, and cutting set up a driver. 

The corollary to "don't play in the traffic" is to get opponents to play in the traffic. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Basketball: Bringing Back Former Players

"Are you building a program or a statue?" - Anonymous

We build legacy. Former players are part of our legacy, for better or worse. Sometimes they share both savoir faire (know how beats know that) and sense of urgency. "This is what you do to be successful. Now is when you do it." 

Coaches influence players but players make programs. The Greeks claimed ethos (character), logos (facts), and pathos (emotion) as principles of persuasion. Robert Cialdini (Influence) studied influence and found six major principles. 

In coaching, we'll substitute words like relationships, minutes (playing time), expertise, and culture. Does our twelfth player feel as valued as our first? 

Growth culture outperforms fear and loathing. Players who return to help a program feel positively about their experience, relationships, opportunity, and performance. They radiate energy and purpose. They remind players who we are and who we are not. 

Returning alums reinforce our philosophy, culture, and values to help forge team identity. They serve as role models for young players. They demonstrate proper technique. They usually do 'us' better than we do. 

Warriors coach Steve Kerr preaches mindset, mentors, and culture. When alumnae (I coach girls) return, they embody a legacy of commitment and achievement. 

Little girls (like Victoria Crovo, on right in both pictures) make big things happen. She did excellent work as an assistant for us and one of her mentees was a league All-Star and team Offensive player of the year this season as a freshman. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Basketball: Need a Two and "The Winner's Brain"

Every coach develops a portfolio of 'best actions' to score for man, zone, ATO, BOB, and SLOB situations. 

The "best action" depends on offensive and defensive relative strengths and may have analytic evidence in favor of it. 

Alice Waters' MasterClass reminds me to think simplicity and planning of how a 'meal' comes together. Her honors include election as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007; the Harvard Medical School’s Global Environmental Citizen Award, which she shared with Kofi Annan in 2008; and her induction into the French Legion of Honor in 2010.

We need to 'hunt' easy shots. The one's I'm showing aren't necessarily my favorites, but illustrate "multiple actions" within solid offense. offers possibilities and I'm supplying a few more. 

Hornets "Spread Twirl" with elevator screen into spread PnR with corner option. I copied this creative design into the high ball screen. 

SLOB, Handback Horns PnR weak. 

BOB, Horns 15 screens. 

Man. Zipper Pinch Cross screen

Zone. 2-3 Providence "Push" screen X2. Almost a 'cousin' of Michigan State's "X" but differs with '1' the key. 


Self-improvement covers many dimensions. In The Winner's Brain, the authors discuss the science of brain enhancement and maintenance. They distill four factors in Brain Care - adequate sleep, exercise, diet, and brain training (especially favoring yoga and music). 

1.  Self-awareness: thinking about yourself to become a winner
2.  Motivation: cultivating the drive to win
3.  Focus: locking on to what's important
4.  Emotional Balance: making emotions work in your favor
5.  Memory: "remembering" to have a winner's brain
6.  Resilience: bouncing back into success
7.  Adaptability: reshaping your brain to achieve
8.  Brain care: maintaining, protecting and enhancing your winner's brain

I'm studying guitar online and am literally THE worst guitar student in the world...but I'm committed to improving. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Basketball: Patience

"Patience is the ability to wait and calmly persevere." - John Wooden

Craftsmanship takes time. 

Studying MasterClass teachers, I get to see REAL genius at work, artists at the top of their craft...Hans Zimmer, Steve Martin, James Patterson, Thomas Keller, Garry Kasparov, Steph Curry.

Coaches don't insert the DNA; we amplify the DNA. Encourage players to express themselves through their play. Make them 'interesting' and relevant

How do we learn to think differently, more creatively? Give players tools and then situations to build in randomness. Yesterday, early in practice, I reviewed the "Sikma Move", the counter from the corner with an upfake and baseline drive. Later on during the '2 on 2' segment, a player executed it but missed the shot. What mattered was a willingness to develop a new tool. 

Patience arrives in many forms...the basket cut at the right time, waiting for screens, waiting for the cutter to free herself or the defender to fly by. Actions have to develop. The passer has to see you to make your cut relevant. 

At the end of quarter, half, or game, you must know what to do and when. In a given possession, the first shot might be a great shot...or not. 

Do you have a great example of how patience with a player or team paid dividends? Everyone knows Michael Jordan's story. Bill Walton's UCLA backup, Sven Nater led both the ABA and the NBA in rebounding and was the 1974 ABA Rookie of the Year. He averaged less than 5 points and 5 rebounds per game in college but his apprenticeship paid off. 

Near the pinnacle of Wooden's "Pyramid of Success" are FAITH and PATIENCE (or belief and time if you prefer). 

The will to work unrecognized in the summer heat and humidity shows commitment, discipline, and patience. Craftsmanship takes time


Basketball Immersion shows video of pivoting to change direction and create space, especially in traffic.