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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Basketball: Defeating Your Dragons



Every book written is about "someone is searching for something." - Matt Haig

Author Neil Gaiman shares that "the importance of fantasy is not that dragons exist. The value is knowing we can defeat them." We have dragons of self-doubt or overconfidence, laziness or obsession, selfishness. We must defeat them. 

A hierarchy of truth infuses coaching. 
  1. "Coaches are only as good as their players."
  2. "You can only become as good as you believe you can be." 
  3. "The basic contradiction of the game lies in becoming your best while willingly sacrificing to make everyone around you better." 
  4. "Hold fast to your dreams." 
  5. "Coaches take teams where they cannot go by themselves."
Don't lose the signal amidst the noise. "At your best, you make everyone around you better." When players don't make the open pass, take the bad shot, or don't sprint in transition, the dragons win. 

Do players and coaches want or need to be great at their craft? Do you hire the person who wants the job or needs the job? One player wants to give her best. The next is driven to give her best. Whom do you choose? 

Coach Don Meyer slayed many dragons. His core values of passion, unity, servant leadership, humility, and thankfulness served as his broadsword and shield. Imbue your team with the attitudes, beliefs, and values that will serve them and others through their lifetimes. 

Lagniappe 1: via @RadiusAthletics
Lagniappe 2: via @BBallImmersion
Players need different tools to create separation. When played tightly, players need to create to create space first. When played loosely, they may need to attack the defender's space first to create separation (see below). 









Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Fast Five - Basketball: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?


Where do you get your ideas? According to author Neil Gaiman in MasterClass, "that is the question." Later, he says that the writer's job is to "get the bad words out." And so it is for coaches, to eliminate the chaff. "Make the sweat count.

Find your approach, which shouldn't replicate your coach or another coach. John Wooden said, "basketball is a game meant to be played fast." Ecclesiastes 3 says, "there's a time for everything." The basketball edition tells coaches, "there's a time to play fast (lengthen the game) and a time to slow down (shorten the game)." 

The way to become a better coach is coaching. Give yourself away. If Phil Jackson's "basketball is sharing" is true, then coaches give themselves away. 



Each team writes a narrative. They need their own voice. Strong teams have their own cadence and jazz of individual instruments calling out to each other. How do the ideas fit together to achieve Anson Dorrance's "continual ascension?"  

Some basketball ideas are universal. "Control the tempo." "Create and deny separation." "Find ways to wear down the opposition." "Spacing, cutting, passing." "Seek advantage in every action." "Find actions that are hard to defend." 

Practice represents the proving ground to blend ideas into action. One, two, three. 

1 - do you have the personnel for isolation? Do you have coachable athletes who translate box moves and wing series into basket attack? 

2 - do you practice two-man actions? 



3 - how do three players create? 





DHO into secondary PnR


Triplets series with multiple options


Triplets with backscreen option into middle PnR

Ideas arise at every level of basketball and every day. 



Capture the symphony of ideas into practice and games. 

Lagniappe: "No SNOWMAN defense. Snowmen play bad D." Coach Liam Flynn gives more specifics. 



Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Basketball: Erasing the Seams, Conversion Practices

We value "seamless" basketball. In her MasterClass, director Jodie Foster discusses how music "erases the seams" in films. Where are the seams in our play and how do we mitigate these transitions between actions? 

Conversion. The new defense is vulnerable during the "Golden Moment" after scoring if the offense can inbound quickly. This also manifests through the defense reacting more quickly than the new offense. 

- Offenses beat zone defense first through transition. 
- Inbounding quickly is central to the hyperspeed offense of The System. 
- Forcing turnovers with rapid conversion sets up easy baskets.
- Maximum pressure, full denial defense after scoring (chest to chest) relies on conversion

Drill: Coach Bob Knight used the "Change Drill." During scrimmage, a whistle signaled the offense to drop the ball immediately and offense-defense switches. Enhance the drill by demanding new defenders cover a different player than their assignment. 

Action to action. If great offense is "multiple actions," then better cutting and passing applies. 

Drill. Israeli National Team Coach Ari Shivek employs what I call the Shivek Drill. The drill teaches passing, cutting, receiving, shooting, and closing out. Players alternate lines. 


Run this at both ends of the court, using 3 players and 2 basketballs. 
- Middle passes and cuts for give-and-go to layup.
- After passing (4) cuts to receive a pass and shot (foul line or three pointer) 
- After passing (3) cuts to the corner. The layup scorer closes out and 3 drives to score. 

Rebounding. How do we outlet the ball efficiently? It demands catch, control, vision, and safe passing and catching. 

Drill: Rebound and Outlet


Rebounders and defenders deploy at the blocks and elbows. Coach shoots and misses, rebounder catches and pivots to the outside. Guards get above the foul line extended with back to sideline (seeing the whole court). Rebounder outlets overhead pass to guard and opposite guard cuts to the middle and opposite rebounder runs the floor while the rebounder becomes the trailer. 
Offense-defense-offense. Depending on player availability, we run 4 on 4 or 5 on 5. In the midst of the flu epidemic and injuries, we're regularly practicing with eight to ten players. We initiate three possession games with either a free throw, BOB, or SLOB against man-to-man defense. There's immediate conversion to full court man defense. This directly simulates games and practices special situations EVERY practice. 

I certainly don't have all the answers. What actions help your conversion? 

Lagniappe: via @BBallImmersion (Chris Oliver)  Rebound Outlet at the Nail

The rise of three point attempts spawned a change in rebound direction and locations. Check out Chris Oliver's blog and discussion about how this creates a possible paradigm shift in rebounding and transition


Monday, January 28, 2019

Basketball: How Am I Becoming a Better Coach?


Find our better version. "The magic is in the work." 

Take time to think. Spend five or ten minutes daily, just thinking. What does my team need now? 

Control what I can control. I control my attitude, choices, and effort. Am I spending my time or investing it? We decide whether to access a movie channel or a podcast. 

Take better notes. Record and study at spaced intervals. This helps concepts stick. Reduce mistakes by focusing on the errors. Note from this weekend - let the play develop on the baseline out of bounds plays. 

VIDEO. We need video. "Veni, vidi, vici." I came, I saw, I conquered. VIDEO. What made this play work? What was the spacing, the timing, and the action? Is there a better option? 

What am I reading and studying? The difference between who we are today and whom we become in the next five years are the people we meet and the books we read. Last night I listened to a Basketball Immersion podcast. This morning I took several MasterClass lessons on "Leading a Values-Based Business." I'll read a chapter or two of Howard Marks' Mastering the Market Cycle after finishing this missive.  

Increase efficiency
- Operate at a higher tempo. 
- Make it competitive.
- Condition within drills. 
- Limit the lines, laps, and lectures. 
- Include special situations. Many games are close. Any possession can be the answer. 

Don't return to the basics. Stay with the basics. What do we do well and what has to change? Never presume that we have all the answers. 

Get players to improve their self-assessment. What are my ways to score? If I want a different role, how can I improve to fulfill the tasks of that role

Stay focused. Do what we can do. I believe in certain defensive philosophies (run-and-jump) and changing defenses. BUT I don't think that's best developmentally for middle school players. We're better doing fewer things well than many okay.

Is what I know making the players and team better? Does each practice activity make us more skilled, better decision makers, or more competitive? 

I can't imagine not having the capacity to improve as a coach. 

Lagniappe 1a: Acknowledge our mistakes. This weekend, I allowed a basket off the tap. I allowed an inadequate defensive deployment, a speed mismatch. I apologized to the team yesterday and told them that can't ever happen again, even if we have to put four players under our own basket. 

Lagniappe 1b. It's not enough to stop your player from scoring. Your responsibility is being part of the team stopping our opponent. "The ball scores." Help and recovery is a team job. "The help can never be beaten." 

Lagniappe 2: LATTE

Starbucks has a customer service model acronym, LATTE.

L = listen to the customer
A = acknowledge the problem
T = thank the customer for bringing the problem to our attention
T = take care of the problem
E = explain to colleagues so they don't have the same problem

This works well in coaching and in playing. 


Images today via Howard Schultz MasterClass, "Leading a Values-Based Business"

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Basketball: Fast Five: What's on Your Crash Cart?


Urban Legend? The Chief Resident in Surgery was called to the ER to see a patient with back pain. Short on decorum, he said, "Look, I'm super busy. I hope you're not wasting my time." He then looked at the patient's back, with a hatchet embedded. "That'll do." 

Maybe it's a stretch (okay, it is), but doctoring and coaching overlap. Really. 

At life threatening events called "codes" the Code Team has a hierarchy of options and treatments. ABC means airway, breathing, circulation. En route, I'd think, first MAKE THE DIAGNOSIS

You're also part of a team - person 'running' the code, Anesthesia (airway management and breathing), nursing (Crash Cart, supplies and drugs), aides (perform CPR), nursing documentation (who did what and when), phlebotomy (blood drawing), runners (to take specimens to lab), and so forth. LEAD

As an instructor (coach), I'd tell players (students, younger doctors) to identify urgent situations, initial assessment, and management. A lot of training teaches recognition and treatment when the situation goes south. Here were my Big 6:

Confusion (change in mental status)
Hypotension (low blood pressure)
Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
Chest pain 
Bleeding 
Sepsis (overwhelming infection)

You don't need total collapse of the patient to initiate resuscitation, just serious instability. And during a basketball game, critical situations often arise. What's your approach?

Kevin Eastman says, "Do it harder, do it better, change personnel, $#7* it ain't working.

Timeouts. "Stops make runs." No stops, no runs. You know them when you see them. Timeouts don't carry over or arrive in your Christmas stocking. Timeouts definitely belong on the cart. 

Energy and Urgency. Transition defense fails from unawareness, effort, organization (responsibilities), personnel, and more. Did we have floor balance? Did we lack a plan or the speed, athleticism, or will to stop transition? 

Discipline. Foul trouble often occurs from poor technique. Reaching in, bodying ballhandlers, lack of verticality, pushing on rebounds, and allowing post entry are sure ways to get into foul trouble. 



Warming Blanket. "The Microwave."  Hypothermia is relatively rare but warming blankets aren't. Exposure and sometimes surgery cool the body to risky levels. Inserting "instant offense" makes coaches smarter. Cultivate a bench scorer.  

Best Four Actions. Need a hoop? What's your "go to" BOB, SLOB, offensive set, zone offense action? These may arise in ATO (after timeout) situations. 

These are just a few "emergency" remedies. We need more...during turnover crises, for 
stopping the star, stopping points in the paint and inability to control penetration, 
offensive stagnation, and comebacks (presses and personnel). 

Knowing when to intervene and having the remedies give us a chance to survive to fight another day. Who and what's on your crash cart? 

Lagniappe: "Staggering" actions from MoraBanc and FastModel Sports with both diagrams and video. Good stuff. 







Saturday, January 26, 2019

Basketball: Thinking Outside the Box, From Tularemia to Unorthodox Offense

"Think outside the box." What does that mean? We have 'conventional wisdom' then outside the box which may have originated as a puzzle

In Biohazard, a mentor told author Ken Alibek to study the epidemiology of tularemia (rabbit fever) in the USSR. There was a massive (100,000 cases) outbreak in 1942, hypothesized as unintended results (blowback) of biowarfare. Alibek suspected that wind shifts blew the weaponized germ back at Soviet troops. Other authors argue that it was naturally induced during public health infrastructure failure. 

Thinking Volleyball devotes an entire chapter (10) to thinking outside the box. Author Mike Hebert writes, "I want people to ask questions and not immediately embrace the prevailing orthodoxy when it comes to anything related to volleyball. Ask questions, investigate, do research, use trial and error, and steal good ideas if you have to."

The introduction of three-point shooting, penetration of analytics, and expansion of defensive versatility were all "out of the box" concepts that became mainstream. 

Coaches, where do we deploy unconventional strategies to succeed? 

Stall. What price victory? Is it worth it to win a middle school game? Is holding the ball out for two minutes the same as delaying for thirty? 

Small ball. Steve Kerr adopted videographer Nick U'Ren's lineup suggestion of Andre Iguodala in the 2015 NBA Championship series. Good ideas are all around. 

Hack-a-Shaq. Intentionally fouling poor free throw shooters to stop the clock and reduce points per possession has enjoyed variable success. The principal complaint against this is "deliberate fouling makes the game unpleasant to watch." 

Junk defenses. We can dispute the value of innovative defenses like box-and-one, triangle-and-two, Amoeba, and the Freak


From Medium.com 

Unusual offensive deployment. Dean Smith's "Four Corners" offense functioned as both a delay offense and a stand-alone offense. Ford's ballhandling and passing prowess created scoring chances for him and teammates. 

"Conventional" press breaking often uses guards to advance the ball. We can invert using  ballhandling post players to disrupt defenses. 

Energizing. Energy matters, especially on the road. Brian Scalabrine says, "find ways to impact the game." Energy players may earn time because of the energy they impart to teammates.

Information Organization and management. How do we organize, store, and share information? Don Meyer was famous for his three notebook system - new basketball information, new knowledge, and appreciation notebook annually shared with his wife. Google drive spreadsheets help practice planning, education, lineup development, and more. Flashcards test player knowledge. Share liberally. Life is short. 

Change ourselves. From Thinking Volleyball, "It seemed that nothing I said had achieved any traction. There I stood, having just been struck by the reality club. In an instant I realized the importance of keeping up with the generational changes in outlook that occur every 5 to 10 years among our respective athlete populations."

Lagniappe: "It's a shoulders game." - Kevin Eastman




"Low man wins." Beat people with your shoulders and hips and separate with the ball. 

Friday, January 25, 2019

Basketball: Research, Mining for Gold

Keywords: Basketball, coaching, FIBA, Tara Van der Veer, Bill Belichick, Lagniappe


"Good ideas are sticky." - Shonda Rhimes 

There's no research monolith. Ideas fly by every day. Experience layers our approach. What worked, what didn't? Teach what we know and seek better ways. 

Learners begin the knowledge journey with a wealth of resources...the Internet with abundant teaching material and video, the FIBA platform, books at reasonable prices (often portable with E-readers), DVDs and streamed coaching seminars, and primitive life forms, bloggers. 



For example, discover FIBA video with Tara Van der Veer on skill development. Pure gold. 

Skill multiplies with belief and time. Think about Bill Belichick, breaking down film since age nine. Taking his first job for 25 dollars a week and climbing rungs on the ladder, from gopher to go for 8th Super Bowl championship ring. Someone estimated that he coached and game planned 750 NFL games in over 40 NFL seasons. He lived the research and became a walking encyclopedia of NFL football. 

Start with relationships. The FIBA educational platform centers on people. For example, regarding assistants, it states, "People perform best when they feel that their contribution is valued and they understand what it is that they are contributing towards. A simple “thank you” can be very motivating and coaches may do this verbally, by writing a short note or by acknowledging to the team a particular contribution that has been made."




Players aren't our servants, tools, or objects. They are our students, collaborators, and partners. The players are the game

Hold ourselves accountable to professional standards, regardless of our level. FIBA recognizes that "The coach’s focus must be on success, which is measured in terms of development rather than simply games won."

Develop skill, athleticism, game knowledge, teamwork, and resilience. Conditioning, advantage-disadvantage play and constraints teach resilience. Am I a player others want to play with or a coach players want to play for? If not, what has to change? 




Games generate questions. That's research. What are teams trying to do? Who has done it before? If it's working, why? How could it work better? Does the team inspire via style, skill, and toughness? 

Coaching is craft. Research informs our process. Put on a show that everyone should want to play, to watch, and to become a valued contributor. 

Lagniappe: via @RadiusAthletics


Simple actions create powerful options. By convention, the passer cuts first. Put drivers and finishers on the nail. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Basketball: Reviewing Practice

With the MLK holiday this week, we had only one practice. I divide practice into technique and tactics, with at least half devoted to fundamentals. We always work on apply and defeating pressure on the second practice of the week. 



Sometimes, we just can't get everything done, even with good focus. 

I wanted to review some half-court offense, because during our last game, the offense lacked creativity...and take extra layups and shooting. We derive benefits from form shooting (Flips) and won't sacrifice form. 

531 shooting involves upfakes and one dribble moves into a jump shot (5 on one side, 3 on the other side of the court, then 1 back over), going either right or left. 



Curls and Flares and Fly Bys. Fly bys exposes shooters to more pressure/distraction. 

Expose players to actions you can run, realizing they'll do fewer. The execution, against live defense, was good. Players need actions to separate and get mismatches. 



Double downscreens or 5 iso.


Horns backcut (hand signals) 


High ball screen (hand signals)



Nurse (in honor of UCONN's Kia) backscreen for PG


Middle ball screen "Triple" 

Yes, it's a lot for seventh grade girls. Ask for a lot. They can handle it. 

Lagniappe: via @CoachLiamFlynn
Beyond our capacity, but pretty stuff. 







Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Basketball: Showtime with Sam Jackson's MasterClass

I love MasterClass, sharing wisdom across disciplines. Sam Jackson's MasterClass explores auditioning. We audition every day because "it's always showtime."  Many of his quotes apply to coaching and playing. 

"And if he good enough, they'll cast him because it's the look that they want." 

"...make a lasting impression." (Initial impressions have staying power.)

"Be in that moment with that particular person." (Focus on people.)

"Make them want to leave that room with you." (Hire you.)

"Always be off book." (Know the material, the script, the role)

"Have an emotional depth..." (Control yourself.)

"Always let them hear what you're saying." (Communicate.)

"Be polite and listen." 

"Take that correction and incorporate in what you've done." (Be coachable.)

"I present my best self with confidence and assurance."

"Every job's not for me, or I'd have them all." 

"Part of this is the giving aspect of it...it gives back to you in the same way you give." (Coaching is a giving profession.)



"Go in there to present your best self to those people."

"Go in there to have that joy..."

"Go in there and rock the house." 

Lagniappe: "Continuous dribble handoff." 



Kevin Eastman drills, including continuous dribble handoff at 2:36. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Basketball: Distant Replay, Ken Loeffler on Basketball (Part I)

Basketball wasn't discovered yesterday. Our truth seeking journey excavates older literature, like Ken Loeffler on Basketball (1955). Loeffler won the NIT title in 1952 and NCAA title in 1954 at La SalleI share some Loeffler wisdom.




"Coaching is no popularity contest." 

"Stress the difference between...intelligent mistakes and wild mistakes." (During wild mistakes, you have no business doing what you're trying to do.)

"Brains, not brawn, became the prime requisite of basketball."

"Getting along with others is the essence of sportsmanship." (And teamwork)

"One of the marks of a finished basketball performer is that he never takes any bad shots-"

"Too much time cannot be devoted to shooting." 

"...relate their movements to those of their teammates, whether they have the ball or not." (Excel without the ball.)

"Games have been one with just this theory: the one superior offensive man played the one inferior defensive man." (Who doesn't love mismatches?)

"any defensive man who has played an opponent who knows what to do without the ball has had an unforgettable experience." 

"Avanti!" Ever forward!

"We finished the season with a much better record...because of balance." 

Lagniappe: via @BBallImmersion

We teach basic defensive concepts in middle school for a reason. 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Basketball: A Game of Mistakes


Coach Bob Knight said, "basketball is a game of mistakes." We won't totally eliminate mistakes, but learn from them. Another old saying is, "one mistake, bad play, two mistakes, bad player, three mistakes, bad coaching." Accountability means holding to a high standard. 

In Malcolm Gladwell's MasterClass 'Research' chapter, he reminds us that just because something isn't recent doesn't make it less valuable. The mistakes that I made as an ordinary player in the 1960s and 1970s still inhabit players in abundance. Newell's 1962 Basketball Methods still resonates truth. "Don't commence your defensive play after your man receives the ball. Make your offensive man show you he knows how to create a lead." 

Mistakes are inevitable; what mistakes matter the most? Holster mistakes that lead to opponent scoring, deny our scoring, and to possession change (turnovers, violations). Some examples: 



Fix mental and physical mistakes. "You can't stay on the floor if you don't know your defensive assignment." You also can't play if you can't contain your man. 



We coaches own bad shot selection, poor spacing, high turnover rates, and players misunderstanding our intent. "What hasn't been learned hasn't been taught.

Coaches obsess over "what does my team need now?" We need to intensify our work on layups, transition defense, and being patient enough to let actions develop (rebounders waiting for outlets to clear and BOB plays to open). 

We can always get better. What does your team need now? 

Lagniappe: "No middle, no paint." My players hear this a lot. Coachingtoolbox.net shares this Bruce Weber drill for emphasis. 


Sunday, January 20, 2019

Basketball: Creating a SHOT LIST



You know good basketball when you see it. I had an hour car ride home, feeling that we hadn't played well and that I hadn't coached well. Winning is not the same as playing well on defense, offense, and conversion.

We lacked offensive flow...despite getting a lot of good shots. We didn't turn the ball over much; we had chances we didn't convert. 

Arm players with quality. Young players usually lack the playground "know how" to sustain quality creation. 

Conversely, they need freedom, too. Finding balance between freedom and structure always challenges us

Here's a limited example of a shot list (and a reminder to me not to try to overdo it)



A shot list provides a mental cheat sheet. 

What went well? First, the defense did a better job at containing the ball and denying the middle. When they didn't, our centers provided solid protection. 



We had a few good chances out of straight pick-and-roll (left) and a beautiful read by the 1 and 5 on a slip for a layup which resulted in free throws (right). 



We had possibilities on spread give-and-go...mostly give-and-no...although during one sequence we hit three consecutive perimeter shots (I don't remember that historically with seventh grade girls). 

What went badly? I called a timeout with the ball about the level of the hash, looking to set up an ATO (below), but the officials gave us the ball on the baseline...so my timeout and plan were burned. I suppose we could have just inbounded and reset. As I said, the coaching wasn't great. 



How do we improve the halfcourt offensive quality? Start by defining hard-to-defend actions. 

If one PnR is hard to defend, how about two? 



We have the personnel to run dribble handoff into a second ball screen. 


We haven't committed to screen the roller (Spain PnR) actions. 

Or what about offense from 1967 (Santa Clara), with screen-the-screener? 


We've demonstrated Flex at practice, but with injury and illness, we haven't had many repetitions, especially out of the BOB. 

Or what about getting drivers in position to drive? 



We could run staggered screens to get multiple options for a two-man game with half a side cleared. I didn't have that on my radar. 

We'll keep working on technique (fundamentals) and tactics (second half of practice) and I'll work to prepare my team better. Everyone needs to keep grinding. 

Lagniappe: via @BBallImmersion
Space and re-space. Good offenses are fanatical about spacing. 

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Basketball: The Big Idea



What is our Big Idea? Secretariat was perfection. Baseball has the perfect games. In basketball, we want to play the highest quality basketball. We're not close. 

The highest quality I viewed was the Winnacunnet (NH) girls program of Ed Beattie. How dominant were they? "Over the final six seasons, with teams that included such headlining stars as Abigail LaRosa, Tiffany Ruffin and Kirsten O’Neil, Winnacunnet went 119-3 overall, including a 75-game Class L/Division I win streak." They had brilliant transition, spacing, movement, and finishing, winning five consecutive state titles. As I recall, he said they had nine-high school All-Americans and twenty-one Division 1 players. 


Years ago, at a (random) summer tournament, I briefly chatted with Coach Ed Beattie. He explained that the team was together all year...no offseason practice prohibition. "It's between the girls and me." He also explained they finished every practice with each girl making two consecutive free throws...making over twenty consecutive free throws AS A TEAM. 

Make signature moments - multiple actions (offense), multiple efforts (defense), and sustained effort by talented players. 

Coaches impose schemes, themes, and storylines...seeking solutions, the dominance of a group or the emergence of reserves. We suffer defensive lapses, cold shooting, fluctuating intensity. How do we elevate the quality of play and limit the downside?

"Stops make runs." Runs make success. What transforms ordinary into extraordinary? The magic of 372...three consecutive stops, seven times a half, both halves. 

Replay your last game in your mind. What went well or poorly and why? Expecting consistency from young players is a fool's errand. But it's fair to expect effort and fair to ask for it. 

Reimagine sequences that worked or failed. What players think is pressure defense differs from what coaches think. We and they need to have the same mental images? With unlimited resources, I'd film practice and games and have a library of clips of ideal and defective play. 

Recall your personal experience, watching yourself or your team on video or grainy 8 mm black-and-white film. Video reality restricts denial and self-deception. Make the Big Idea come to life. 

Lagniappe: via Frank Martin...closeout, containment, competition