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Monday, October 14, 2019

Basketball: Arguing the Other Side, Zone Defense in Youth Basketball*

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." - Albert Einstein 

Find strategies to make better decisions. Author Nassim Taleb (Skin in the Game) reminds us not to oversimplify, "complex systems do not have obvious one-dimensional cause-and-effect mechanisms."

To understand an argument better argue the opposite sideI won't rehash the reasons we don't play zone defense. Here is why we should play zone defense. Good man defense has ball pressure, good help, and thoughtful positioning away from the ball. Good zone defense shares similar principles. 

1. Zoning works. Young players (especially girls with less strength) struggle with perimeter shooting. Sometimes zones intimidate young players. 
2. Other teams play zone, so offense gets regular practice against zone. (*Best reason)
3. It helps protect players in foul trouble, which seems inevitable, especially in certain road venues. 
4. It allows teams to disguise man coverage.
5. It helps launch transition...and we want to run. 
6. Zone neutralizes the pick-and-roll. 
7. It puts additional pressure on the opponent's 'star' player. 
8. Players will play zone in high school, so they get a head start in middle school. 
9. It's all about winning, right? 

Our core responsibility (end state) is developing players to succeed in high school basketball. When winning occurs during intermediate stages as a result of good process and luck, we'll take it. 

Lagniappe: SLOB (Love a Parade) 

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Basketball: Ten Thoughts on Worldbuilding


"If you are building a world, you have to care about that world." - Fantasy author Neil Gaiman

We build our basketball world with characters, dialogue, and story. We paint the landscape; we make the rules. 

Identify a core philosophy. Your philosophy is uniquely yours. If it's win at any cost, step on anyone in your way, then be prepared to defend your world. "The last fifteen minutes of a dictator's life are always the worst." Do you believe in karma? 

Add value. The top player and the twelfth deserve respect, attention, and teaching, to be valued and feel valued. That doesn't mean they merit the same minutes. 

Identify and stick to core values. My high school coach, Ellis "Sonny" Lane informed consistent values - family, school, basketball. Almost fifty years later, those values still resonate. Gloves and hats in the winter still work. 

Become the coach/player that you want to be. What belongs in our kingdom? We always have room to grow technique, tactics, teamwork, teaching, and communication. 

Energize. Up the tempo. Work to squeeze more from practice. Coaches have to bring the fire every day. 

Radiate positivity

Be the "Positive Dog." Our local volleyballers have 16 players on the team. In a recent competitive match, a lot of players didn't get court time. That didn't make them care less. It's a big reason why they've won a state championship, eight sectional crowns, and fourteen league titles in sixteen seasons. 

Build our brand. Own our brand - what we represent, how others see us, our "Mood Board," our ability to sell our philosophy and process to players, parents, and the community. 

Ideas are like compost heaps. Sometimes they stink but they encourage growth. Great ideas can come from anywhere. The more we expose ourselves to concepts from other domains, the more translation we can get. Read, read, read, read, read. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” wrote Margaret Mead. Learn across disciplines. An excerpt:

Rhetoric: People like symmetry, AB and BA. In his inaugural speech, John Kennedy used chiasmus (rhetorical symmetry), "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Mae West said, "it's not the men in my life, it's the life in my men." I tell players, "if we don't put an end to the turnovers, turnovers will put an end to us.

Leave an impression. "Success leaves footprints." Whether tryout out or applying for a job, bring our best self. As Sam Jackson says, "this is a look at me business." Maybe this job isn't for us, but the next one might be. 

Get the buy-in. Seasons are stories. Teams have to believe. G.K. Chesterton wrote, "Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."

Lagniappe: People do the impossible. Why not us? 

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Basketball: Ideas for SLOBs Against 2-3 Zones

We want versatility, actions that work against multiple defenses. Situations arise where a quick score is needed. But with limited practice time (three hours a week starting in November), we have to pick and choose. Here are some ideas from playing around with FastModel. 

Top entry, with options to pressure x3 and x5

Side entry with serial cutters. 

Sandwich screen-the-screener for possible 3 or layup


TOP. Ball reversal with screen. With middle schoolers, I don't know if we can execute an "over the top" pass to 5 directly...

Lagniappe: from @KevinEastman Give and Take? 

Friday, October 11, 2019

Promoting Antifragility in Basketball

No simple definition of antifragility exists. We know it when we see it, a system that thrives under exposure to stress. 

Nassim Taleb writes, "Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better. This property is behind everything that has changed with time: evolution, culture, ideas, revolutions, political systems, technological innovation, cultural and economic success, corporate survival, good recipes (say, chicken soup or steak tartare with a drop of cognac), the rise of cities, cultures, legal systems, equatorial forests, bacterial resistance … even our own existence as a species on this planet."

Taleb notes that "antifragility is relative." Within basketball games, rebounding and defense tend toward more antifragility than shooting. 

Successful coaches promote antifragility with the familiar chiasmus, "when the going gets tough, the tough get going."  

Exceptional players are antifragile, such as Bill Russell in playoff game 7s during his NBA career. "His average for the ten Game 7’s was 18.8 points and 29.3 rebounds.  His victims were all the greatest players of his era, Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Pettit, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Oscar Robertson. He won when it mattered and he changed the game."

Professional leagues encourage parity by discouraging antifragility. Free agency, salary caps, scheduling, and reverse draft orders foster fragility. Tanking capitalizes on fragility. College sports like basketball are different, where the rich get richer and stay rich. 

How can we encourage anti-fragility within our programs? 

Improve our teaching. In the stock market they say, "plan your trade, then trade your plan." High basketball IQ teams are more antifragile. Remember Taleb's caution that "antifragility is relative." And remember that Mindfulness is antifragile. 

Recruit and retain well. That applies to every aspect of an organization. When a custodian at the NASA Houston Space Center was asked about his job, he replied, "I helped send a man to the moon." We must add value and make people feel valued. Robert Townsend wrote in Up the Organization, "Thanks is the cheapest form of compensation." Conversely, David Cottrell wrote in Monday Morning Leadership, "people don't quit jobs, they quit people." Fight for your people, not with them. 

Elevate our Standards of Performance. It's worth reading the summary and the book. Bill Walsh's commitment to high individual and organizational standards was antifragile. 
Condition within drills. Efficiency promotes both robustness and antifragility. Brian McCormick's 3 L's of laps, lines, and lectures make us fragile. But remember we can overwork players...making them more fragile. 

Never leave the basics. We don't go back to basics. Watch football and the teams that block and tackle well, win field position, and take care of the ball win more than their share. "Fall in love with easy" shots and deny opponents that luxury. 

Get to Carnegie Hall. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. Tom Hellen says, "Teams that can't shoot free throws last as long in the playoffs as dogs that chase cars." 

Lagniappe: Double Pindown from Sean Billerman. We've run this out of horns. 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Fast Five: Faustian Bargains in Coaching

Coaches make Faustian bargains. They don't always get caught. 

The ongoing NCAA basketball scandal is still being threshed. The tide has only started to recede, revealing who's caught without a swimsuit. 

Coaches pick low character players, believing shortcuts to talent give them the best chance to win. Bo Schembechler said, “Well, if you ever really want a guy and you don’t get him, that’s OK. He’ll only beat you once a year...On the other hand, if you get the wrong guy on your team, he’ll beat you every day.”

Even Hall of Fame coaches like Bill Belichick get seduced by talents like Aaron Hernandez. While covering the Major League Lacrosse All-Star game, I heard Paul Rabil say that Belichick called Hernandez, "my best football player." 

Some high profile parents force their way into the headlines. Coaches have taken notice and some have an avoidance policy. 
Former Coach Gary Williams wasn't going to be held hostage. In a Washington Post series, "Nobody has ever accused me of cheating in recruiting in my career," Williams said. "That is a good thing, supposedly. But people turn that around and say, 'He won't play the game.' You do it [my] way, and you are criticized for not cheating."  The 2009 article adds, "The funneling of cash recruiting inducements between colleges and AAU or high school coaches, in the form of tax-deductible donations usually made by college athletic boosters at the behest of the coach, has become common, according to several prominent college and AAU coaches. Some summer league coaches also charge college coaches -- sometimes hundreds of dollars -- for copies of "scouting reports" that are often little more than lists of players' names. What's more, one elite AAU coach has suggested that he will create a 1-900 telephone number so he can make money when college coaches call him about recruits."

While coaching at Boston College, Celtics great Bob Cousy acknowledged that his NBA pedigree and high quality education wasn't going to lure recruits from (southern) schools offering parents job and players 'girls'. 

The enticements never stop. "Under Pitino, director of basketball operations Andre McGee hired strippers and prostitutes as a way of gaining favor with high school recruits from 2010 to 2014." The University tried to whitewash allegations against their former coach. It wasn't pretty.

I worked with an ICU nurse whose sister was a dean at a prominent college basketball power. She told me that whenever an academic disciplinary problem arose at the school, it was always decided in favor of the player

Lagniappe: Spread DHO Downscreen (via @BBallImmersion)

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Basketball: Vision Quest, Entertainment or Craft?

See with fresh eyes. As a craftsman (coach or player), see through the eyes of a fan. As a fan, learn some of the players achieve excellence (see below). 

Day to day, both sets of vision serve us. Watch an athlete show her skills, yet question selfishness, undisciplined play, poor footwork, indifferent defense. Or see high skill and fantasize about adding more athleticism, vision, and strength. 

Communicating our vision challenges us, because we report through the window of craft, the lens of entertainment, or prisms of self-interest or parental love. Is the announcer's job to cheerlead or describe the action? Does the coach share her true feelings about the team or strategically lower expectations to solidify her job? One coach raises the bar and another lowers it. 

Study a high school contest. What's the intent, the style of play, the freedom, discipline, the relative skill, athleticism, size, toughness, and resilience between the teams? How does each team operate, seek to wear down the opponent? Coaches see a different game than most fans or parents. 

Watching my teams, I'm frustrated when we play without a plan or purpose, playing "Rec Ball." It's one thing to "burn the boats" as part of a master strategy. Burning them through carelessness, neglect, or inattention is another. 

Which philosophy aligns with yours? 

Lagniappe: Dr. James Gels shares SLOBs. What's the "process" behind the play?
  • Make good decisions, passes.
  • Know the situation, score, and time.
  • Get the receiver open.
  • Will the receiver be a shooter, driver, facilitator, or even a screener? 
  • Match the skills required to personnel.
Lagniappe 2: Fratello downscreen hole

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Basketball: Will This Be on the Test?

Life constantly administers tests. Years ago, as I walked through the Emergency Room, I saw an elderly, demented person in bed looking extremely uncomfortable and crying out. I wasn't an ER doctor or the attending physician.

People seemed puzzled. Granted, the differential diagnosis was extensive for delirium in an elderly person. I asked, "has anyone checked for urinary retention?" The nurse did a bladder scan; the person had a distended bladder. Urinary catheter insertion restored  a baseline condition...not magic or genius, just a little playing the odds. Pain and agitation relief came without opioids, a CAT scan, or tranquilizers.

Are we here to learn or grub for a grade? Seth Godin explores education and motivation. 

Nobody sees us studying, thinking, writing, working out, compiling experience. The work  of continuing education itself has value. 

"Online courses can’t offer too much in the way of credit (because there’s too little scarcity) and online tests are difficult to administer in high-stakes situations."

We earn "credit" by adapting to changing conditions. 
Everyone's favorite radio station? WII - FM. What's in it for me? 

"Instead, you create an environment where willing, caring individuals can find an experience that changes them."

Our students (players) decide how engaged to be, how important the work is for them. We have the chance and the obligation to make the "basketball experience" holistic. Remind ourselves of Brett Ledbetter's What Drives Winning mantra, the person is more important than the player. Yes, authority figures can terrorize their subjects, but I expect that Steve Kerr, Doc Rivers, Tommy Amaker, Gregg Popovich, and others go to work with more carrots than sticks. 

Did you respect authorities who took the time to understand you? Did you play harder for coaches who cared about you or beat on you? 

Lagniappe 1: Ball movement...Horns slip, paint touch, ball reversal
Lagniappe 2: "Movement kills defenses." Fake off-ball screen, clear through, and cut behind the defense. Basketball IQ matters. 

Monday, October 7, 2019

Basketball: Tribe of Mentors, 11 Questions

Tim Ferriss curated answers from "famous" or "high achieving" people, sharing them in his book Tribe of Mentors. Think about our answers and the reasons why. Readers who don't have hours of reading time can read snippets, chapters in under ten minutes. It was a free Kindle download at the time.

1. What is the book (or books) you've given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life? 

Coaches traffic in truth, but we love stories reinforce the truth with fiction. The Positive Dog by Jon Gordon shares the power of positivity. I needed more positive reinforcements like PD. As coaches, we help others learn mastery and self-belief. Gordon’s books including Training Camp, Soup, The Hard Hat, and The Energy Bus promote achievement and teamwork. 

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl informs man's inhumanity to man in the first half of the book, years of captivity in Nazi prison camps. The second half of the book offers a hopeful narrative about suffering and techniques for coping. 

2. What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? 

FastModelSports makes FastDraw software for basketball. This allows one easily to create, modify, archive, and share basketball concepts and plays. 

3. How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a "favorite failure" of yours? 

I had a mediocre not average college athletic career at Harvard. It wasn't from lack of effort but effort isn't always enough. The experience reinforced the need to add value and make players feel valued. “Thanks is the cheapest form of compensation.”

4. If you could have a giant billboard anywhere with anything on it- metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions- what would it say and why? 

"Think for yourself.” 

The world bombards us with unfiltered information. “Is that right?” Research, double check, and recheck. How can we become our best? Repackage our message powerfully, simply, and clearly. 

5. What is the best or most worthwhile investments you've ever made? 

I’m coming up on forty years of marriage and am truly blessed with a wonderful, selfless family. The time spent with them is precious. I can’t show enough gratitude to them. The Jar of Awesome reminds me about gratitude. 

6. What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

Coaching, getting to know players and families and their hopes and dreams makes me  better - and there’s plenty of room for improvement. Parents sacrifice so much for their children and deserve recognition for that. 

7. In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to? 

Eating better is a constant struggle. Preparing and consuming better food remains a battle. Aside from health benefits, eating more vegetables and less meat, avoiding processed food, and consuming less sugar offer better health and less animal suffering. 

8. When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?

I don't meditate enough, but I'm working on it. Mindfulness grows the learning and memory centers and shrinks the amygdala, the angry, reactionary brain. The results show up as better cognition and sleep, less anxiety, and lower blood pressure. It's real and has a wealth of scientific and historical support. 

9. What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise? 

"Work the officials." Players play, coaches coach, and officials officiate. Control what we can control. I want the officials to keep the players safe and be consistent. Looking for an edge by badgering officials is a fool's errand. It also sends the wrong message about self-reliance to players. 

10. What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the "real world?" 

Invest your time; don't spend it. We can't reclaim wasted time. Leverage your abilities to expand the skill set necessary for your long-term personal and professional success. Work to think, write, and speak more coherently. 

11. In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life? 

Watching MasterClass daily has expanded my knowledge and perspective. Lecture series from some of the best writers, filmmakers, artists, actors, chefs, and leaders in the world add great insight. If series from Ken Burns, Sam Jackson, Jane Goodall, and Bob Woodward don't inspire us, we're dead to creative thought.

We can be ordinary but add value. What are your answers? 

Lagniappe: BDT from @BBallImmersion

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Basketball: Feedback...

The Heart of Coaching shares the valuable expression, "performance-focused, feedback-rich." Everyone wants high performance and needs feedback.

Make feedback meaningful. 
  • Add value. 
  • Be specific. 
  • Stay connected. 
  • Detail-oriented. “Work harder” doesn’t say anything.
Understand the emotional impact of language. AND is more powerful than BUT. “That was really good but” is deflating. My most powerful impact arises from “I believe in you.”

“Water the flowers.” Young players need positivity. 

Kids remember the experience. They’re constantly judging our preparation and interaction and deserve our best every day. 

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Basketball: Bet on Yourself*

Bet on yourself.* But there's a catch. Actually there are a bunch.

*Be punctual.
*Don’t be a jerk.
*Be confident yet stay humble.
*Have a clear philosophy and a workable process.
*Do the work.
*See the big picture.
*Sweat the details. 
*Learn and teach better.
*Others have feelings, too.
*Know the risks...especially if coloring outside the lines.
“Be aware of whose toes you step on.”
*Will our ideas withstand sunshine (transparency)?
*Develop a thicker skin.
*Do a premortem. (What can go wrong?)
*Understand the role of skill and luck in outcomes.
*Keep an open mind. We will be wrong.
*Be the keeper of the story (advance the story).
*Edit, edit, edit.
*Our pyramid will entomb us. Sooner or later?

Friday, October 4, 2019

Basketball: Fast Five - Stuff You Can Use Today

Coaches help teams write their narratives. How do we measure success? Jackie Robinson said, "life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives." Our best actions develop better adults and better players. 

Find solutions that tell better stories. 

1. What do small-sided games mean to you? For me, it's fewer players, more touches, and added constraints. 

Practice or tryouts can include 3-on-3 inside the split (yellow) using a mosaic of spacing. 4-on-4 with constraints on dribbling also assesses offense with cutting, ball movement, and defense.

2. What's the 'establishing shot' of our story? It is a picture of triumph, work, or getting up off the canvas? Here's ours. 

Anson Dorrance's quote about Mia Hamm informs the meaning of work for mastery without any expectation of credit. The magic is in the work. Are we working for achievement or recognition?  

3. What's on your "mood board?" 

Yours can remind you of whatever you deem important. 

An analogue is the 'collage photography' of David Hockney. We assemble our lives using a variety of overlapping pieces...and that gets messy. 

4. Ask better questions. Develop your most important question. Mine is, "what does our team need today?" How can I make a difference

5. Rebuild our culture. Every season we start fresh. Steve Kerr noted, "by human nature, we're all selfish and we want what's best for us." In The Team Building Strategies of Steve Kerr, he adds, "get these players to go against their natural instincts of being selfish and find a way to get everyone to come together as a team." 

Kerr emphasizes:
- "It's a long season, this game's meant to be fun."
- "Be mindful of the right way to do things."
- "There's compassion - for each other and for the game of basketball."
- "And...there's competition." 

Raise expectations about communication and high performance. 

Know the distinction between interest and commitment. Persistence - how do we teach persistence? Model persistence. Share stories of persistence. The world overflows with stories of persistence, from Lincoln to Lawrence Frank and Kyle Maynard

Lagniappe: Be grateful. 

Be the difference for someone else today. 

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Basketball: Learn Across Disciplines, What Diane von Furstenberg Can Teach Us

25 days until tryouts. 

Learn across disciplines. Designer Diane von Furstenberg discusses her vision of mental toughness.

"My mother was a survivor (of WWII)...she didn't want her daughter to be afraid."

"It's about building your will never lose your character." (Etorre Messina preaches the centrality of character.)

"...being in charge of your life." 

" true to's practice, it's everyday, you cannot lie to yourself." 

"...not be have to be your best friend...count on yourself."

"Men not like jersey...women use jersey...women are more practical." (Jersey is versatile, elastic, durable, soft, and wrinkle resistant. Do you like ironing?)

" be a woman was an advantage...women are strong...but they forget to show it. Never be ashamed of being strong. Deal with your strength with delicacy..."

"Confidence is everything...magical. "For her, you are the woman across the room (she sees you as confident)." See through another's eyes, too

"Trust your instincts." 

"It's your journey. You have to live your journey the best you can."

"Pay attention to the obstacles." 

"Be demanding of yourself." 

"Success and together at all know something else that others do not know.

"Every day there are setbacks." 

"So the most important thing to remember is facing the don't remember that good idea happened because of a setback.

She counts her family as her biggest pride.

"...brand that is meaningful that has a purpose that has made a lot of people happy and has given her financial independence."

"Most of the people that I know who are successful...(at times) feel like losers." It's not going to be 'easy' every day. 

Lagniappe:  Mike Dunlap conversion defense drill (offense and defense...7 seconds)

Lagniappe 2: Pick-and-roll ballhandler video (short) from @John_Leonzo
Lagniappe 3: Horns Stagger Pop

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Basketball: "What's Your Concern?"

Coaches have legions of concerns about teams. But we should invest our time and efforts in what we can control. 

What can we control? Use practice time to maximize its impact on player development, team development, and game play. That's how we advance the story... where the rubber meets the road. 

1. Tempo (speed it up)
2. Efficiency (fake fundamentals) 
3. Measurement (of practice)
4. Feedback 

What's your (top) concern? (Handling pressure, "Skill", man or zone offense, defense, depth, toughness, basketball IQ, etc.). 

-Scoring against "legitimate" defenders. 
-Containing the ball.

How can we mitigate that concern? 

Lagniappe: Rule of 3
Lagniappe 2: Thinking about evaluation

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Basketball: Coaching and the Companionless

What are our conversations with players about their hopes and dreams? Technique and tactics work because of ties and trust. 

The recent graduate comes in for a physical examination. Most have exemplary physical health. But what is their outlook on the present and the future. Where do you want to be in five or ten years and what are you doing today to reach that destination?

Each of them needs a skill set beyond basketball - organization, learning, and communication. Education changes behaviors and we reinforce (or not) positive culture and a growth mindset. Our substance and style informs the value they derive from coaches as mentors. 

You've seen the Mike Leach video lambasting his players. Leach's education and law degree haven't immunized him from controversy through the years. But as Mickey Mantle advised Roger Maris during his pursuit of '61', he could "hit 'em with your wallet."  

We invest time and effort to help young people become productive adults. It's hard and sometimes frustrating, competing for their attention - entertainment, relaxation, as well as family and academic demands. 

Young people deserve our attention not insults. National Public Radio shared a story about a final resting spot in Istanbul for the abandoned, refugees, suicides, LGBTQ citizens shunned. "It's called the Cemetery of the Companionless. Unlike any other cemetery, there are no names. There are no tombstones, no surnames - nothing personal on the graves, just numbers. It is a place where actual people are turned into numbers. And nobody goes there. Nobody pays attention. It's completely neglected."

We've seen players neglected and abandoned by their coaches. Maybe we've said something, maybe we haven't. Maybe some of us have experienced it ourselves. Is that the coaching we want our children to receive? 

Lagniappe: Mystics turn a side pick-and-roll into a paint touch and ball reversal and the Sun are helpless.