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Friday, September 30, 2016

Tryouts: More or Less

Garden Party
I went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friends
A chance to share old memories and play our songs again
When i got to the garden party, they all knew my name
No one recognized me, i didn't look the same

But it's all right now, i learned my lesson well.
You see, ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself

Tryouts are on the horizon. What are we looking for? What is the ultimate goal? What 'confounding factors' exist (push back)?

The search. This isn't America's Got Talent. Nobody wins a million bucks. I'm not a System Coach, so I'm not focused on the tallest, the quickest, who will 'fit in'. Dean Smith said, "I don't coach effort, I coach execution." Effort (especially at tryouts) is a given. Sometimes, I'll do a test, "I need a volunteer." Back in the day, by the time I heard "I need a", I'm already up. I don't care if it's a volunteer to pick up trash. Coaches see that. Does a player make eye contact? I had a player awhile back who was the best sixth grader I've ever seen at making eye contact. I know she will succeed in life.

There's a balance between seeking more skill and more potential (that elusive combination of size, quickness, and athleticism that we believe we can use our alchemy to create skill).

At tryouts, I run players through 'drills and activities' that measure proficiency and potential at what we do. Can they learn a drill "on the fly"? Can they pay attention? We'll do Shivek "pass and cut"" drills (Israeli National Team), 3 line pick and roll options and 4 minute shooting (UCONN), and 4 on 4 halfcourt no-dribble (Indiana) scrimmaging among others. How well do you 'see' the game?

I'm not interested in watching three-man weave or cone drills. I'm confident we can beat a team of cones already...on most days.

Carl Pierson (The Politics of Coaching) does quantitative metrics including speed testing, jump testing, and weight lifting. "Why didn't my daughter make the team?" "She's a great kid, but aside from limited basketball skills, she was last of forty girls in each athletic measurement." "Oh."

The goal. Believe it or not, there is a state Middle School Championship. I...don' I don't take a salary (there is one available) and I can't lose my mind over whether early teen girls win or lose a basketball game. The bigger fish to fry are learning teamwork, collaboration, leadership, problem solving, persistence and all those values that drive successful adults. The lessons from sports should translate to the classroom and the boardroom. And yes, that means learning to overcome biases and selfishness and already baked in bad habits. It means embracing work and change. It means teaching better listening skills, better learning skills, and improving communication skills (nonverbal and verbal).

Under the best circumstances, there would be coordination with the high school program.

Push back. Families pay to play, the money going for gym time, officiating, and to a lesser extent (they're in eighth grade now) equipment. The Rec Department obviously benefits from more participants. An extra couple of players brings in 800-1000 dollars. If you multiply that by four grades, boys and girls, the dollars start to add up. I understand that parents want more 'minutes' for Susie. That argues for fewer players. Parents of children at the margin of making the team presumably want more players. Some coaches argue "you should only have ten players", more development. I'd argue that I want to give more players a chance to develop.

I fall back to watching a friend (and high school teammate) play on the "Freshman B" team in high school. He later outplayed a future Boston Celtics draft choice in Boston Garden in the State Tournament. An outstanding student and person, he earned a scholarship to Tufts and became an executive for Fluor Corporation. That's applied learning.

Pete Newell argued that balance is an important part of the game. I agree. That means life balance as well as balance on the court. "Ya got to please yourself."

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Tightrope

"Life is about the management of risk."

A local coach was placed on leave for "alleged verbal misconduct." I know nothing about what happened. We regularly hear about respected coaches leaving their program under a variety of circumstances.

There is always a balance in communication with players. Del Harris talks about levels of communication with obvious levels such as teaching and criticism and harsher levels including discipline and "go nuts" (when players cross absolute boundaries).

Obviously, EVERY coach walks in a potential minefield of dissatisfaction that can cause hard feelings up to termination. We are all aware of the "prime directive" that every parent has the first obligation to advocate for their child (selection, playing time, role) but that does not mean they can influence any of the above.

What "line" cannot be crossed? Times have definitely changed. I could not have more allegiance to my high school coach, who challenged us with harsh language at times, and literally gave a haircut to a player who crossed his (liberal) grooming standards. Clearly, that could not happen today. I would also add that what we said to each other at practice for motivation went a lot further than anything the coach ever said.

Crossing the line.

Calling out. I seldom 'call out' an individual player during a game or practice. I regularly ask a player to 'give us more', especially the most talented players. We can challenge and criticize without demeaning. Coach Brad Stevens preaches "warm and demanding" behavior.

Refocus. After a mistake, it's far better to refocus players with a (Coach K) "next play" or "positive play" than launch into a tirade. We have an agreement about players being substituted out for repeated mistakes (accountability to team) that players agreed upon.

Never curse at a player. How would cursing at a middle school girl make her better? It is said that hearing "Goodness gracious, sakes alive" from Coach Wooden was the strongest criticism a player could get. I'm not suggesting that foul language is a firing offense, just reflecting what my mother taught, "it shows a lack of vocabulary."

Threatening players, especially regarding playing time. I can't get into specifics but I know of coaches who have done that. It is more than semantics to say, "to earn more playing time, this is what you can do" than "if you do that, I'm sitting you." Obviously, academic requirements and team rules apply. We have very few "rules". The best teams handle discipline internally.

Calling out players in the media. Not that anybody is knocking down my door for interviews, but we are best serve by "catching players in the act of doing well." WHAT WENT RIGHT, especially giving attention to players who may get fewer accolades, is a best practice.

Keep the story straight. Major counseling of a player requires another adult presence. It is too easy for "he said, she said" situations to arise. When another adult reinforces, "this was the message", you serve yourself and your players better.

"Never be a child's last coach." When players are dropping out from a program, does that say more about them or us? That doesn't mean that disciplinary boundaries don't apply, including schoolwork, practice attendance, substance use, prejudicial behavior, and so forth. "Are we building a statue or a program?" And are we growing the game or our ego?

I consider my first coaching goals to build character, competence, and connection. If we succeed on those metrics, everyone is a winner.

Stolen Basics

"Good artists borrow, great artists steal." - Picasso

Hoop Thoughts shares Richard Sherman's approach. Here are a few excerpts and annotations: 

On to the next shot...the next possession...the next day...the next game.  Live in the present -- the past and future are irrelevant.  Be process oriented. (Play in the moment, win this possess, improve now and today)

Anybody who knows him knows that he holds himself to an incredibly high standard. (My definition of accountability is holding yourself and your team to a high standard.)

That's process oriented thinking.  It's not the result that makes a difference in the evaluation of your level of execution. (Improve the process and the spectra of possible outcomes will improve. There is not 'one input'/'one outcome' in life. Consider Malcolm Butler and the sequence of events that led to his Super Bowl interception. 

Control what you can control. (We can control our attitude, our choices/decisions, and our effort)

Part of being a competitor is being self-motivated. (The best professionals in life use internal fuel to work consistently to become a better version of ourself. We continually reinvent ourselves and our teams. Leaders have to embrace change. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Combination Actions: Low DHO Flex

We have used dribble handoff (DHO) actions as another way to get into screen-and-roll, with another good option bringing another screener in to set up a second ballscreen action. 

Here's another option...

Left, initiate DHO with a pause for an initial UCLA cut. Right, DHO ball side and Flex action on the help (weak) side. Even when the timing isn't perfect, the 3 clears through and you will still have classic Flex cutting. 

The 1 is likely to get an open perimeter shot or the 5 can rescreen into another ball screen. Worst case you have 2/4 ball screen initially and 1/5 ball screen late. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Fast Five: Practice Absolutes

I've shared thoughts on elements belonging at practice. Each of us has 'absolutes' - dimensions or boundaries that cannot be crossed. Our emphasis and priorities begin with practice. 

We play fast...we have to practice fast. 

Attention to detail. "Do it right." Every possession matters. Attention to detail shows up in how players and teams compete possession by possession. 

A. I saw a team lose a one-point game in which on the first two defensive possessions, their "star" player allowed offensive putbacks for scores by not even trying to block out. 
B. I saw a team, leading by 8 with a minute to play and the ball at halfcourt out of bounds (shot clock league). After the inbounds, a senior starter jacked up a three FIVE SECONDS later (and missed). "What is unacceptable in defeat is unacceptable in victory." Those were teachable moments of epic proportion. 

Urban Meyer at Ohio State calls total effort - "4 to 6 (seconds), (point) A to B." Basketball demands constant engagement. 

Energy. False hustle means phony enthusiasm, industry without purpose. It also includes playing without thinking. If someone were secretly filming your practice, what would they see and hear? We want authenticity from players who truly love the game not just playing. "Are you investing your time or spending it?" (Nick Saban) 

Clarity. Progress intersects autonomy, purpose, and mastery. I want players to 'own' the game. But ownership also means making decisions in the best interest of the team. "It's not your shot, it's our shot." (Jay Bilas) Do you know what you don't know? How do we defend that? Do our players have a growth mindset and an organized process for improvement on and off the court? Moneyball. Can we see gains such as shooting percentage differential, assists, rebounding percentage, and turnovers. Do they understand screen means screen and move and pass means pass and move? 

Discomfort. "Make practice hard so that games are easy." Play 'advantage-disadvantage', no dribbling, shooting practice against defenders, competitively, with consequences. Accepting mediocrity in practice means encouraging mediocrity in games. Create an 'expectation culture' where players push each other to improve. "You can play better defense than that against me." Recall the great story about a little girl telling an excellent mogul skier, "I love that you never fall." The skier realized that she wasn't going all out and became a champion by embracing adversity. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

What Belongs in Practice?

Economics defines the allocation of scarce resources. Among the most valuable commodities is practice time. Effective use of practice time help separate excellent from mediocre programs. 

Serious coaches maintain a "Drill Book" to assist with practice planning. 

I include conditioning within drills and scrimmaging; I don't have enough practice time to carve out separate blocks for exercise. 

Not having an experienced assistant limits the 'division of labor'. 

Hubie Brown shares his practice organization:

1) Exercise
2) Shooting drills (rotated) but relate to offense
3) Defensive block (5 x 2 minutes)...part-whole method
4) Offensive block (whatever you're teaching)
5) Transition (including advantage-disadvantage)
6) *Defeating pressure 
7) Special situations (BOB, SLOB, full, 'go to' plays)

Most of us have "fundamentally challenged" and developmental players who need the majority of practice time devoted to building fundamentals. I generally commit 30 percent of practice to shooting...and that never seems like enough. 

Bad News in Practice

1) players standing around in lines
2) coaching soliloquys 
3) low tempo 
4) drills irrelevant to game play

What elements are indispensable to every practice? For example, we would all agree that poor free throw shooting dooms a basketball team. How much time and what techniques deserve consideration? Ideally we combine multiple elements within a given drill. 

Regular Features

Individual skills: 
multipurpose ballhandling (dribbling plus passing on the move)
shooting and finishing (separate perimeter and post for part of practice)
individual/small group defense (ball pressure, ball and help side action, post, pick-and-roll) 
Offensive forced movement (e.g. pass-and-cut drills) 

I want to vary the drills yet also make them competitive. Players must learn to shoot off the catch, off the dribble, coming off screens, and with defensive pressure. 

includes part-whole (1 v 1, 2 v 2, 3 v 3)
SSG (small-sided games) in limited space (e.g. from split to sideline)
Zone offense (boggles the mind that I have to invest time on this in middle school)
set plays concepts (limit): e.g. DHO, Horns variations, 2 guard fronts
4 on 4 no dribble
"Component" actions: ball and off-ball screens, back-door actions, UCLA and Flex action 

This includes work applying and defeating pressure 
Advantage-disadvantage (5 v 7, 2 v 8 - 4 sections, 1 v 2)

Special situations/Scrimmage: (players favorite time)
Combine special situations with O-D-O (offense-defense-offense) by initiating the sequence with special situations plays 

Offensive and defensive delay
Game winners 
"Rare birds" - intentional missed free throws, up 3 on D

Every practice needs energy, tempo, competition, translation to game play, and fun. We have to PLAY basketball.  

Interdisciplinary Analysis: Paul Tudor Jones and Basketball

Most of you (basketball readers) have never heard of Paul Tudor Jones. We can learn from the best in their business. Excellence has certain intrinsic themes. Steve Burns shares dimensions that made Paul Tudor Jones one of the best in his profession. 

#1 He has a strong work ethic based on passion for the business.

Every great (fill in the blank) puts in the work, because they don't see it as work. It is our purpose. 

#2 He followed price action not fundamental valuations.

What is working is what matters. Sports are a copycat industry. Maybe it's the Sky Hook or Triangle Offense. But that can change to '3 and D' and 'Positionless Basketball.'

#3 He was able to stay humble and stay flexible. He was always ready to admit he was wrong and exit any trade.

We will be wrong. Change when wrong. We have to be able to get off the road when we miss our exit. 

#4 He did not believe in adding to a losing trade.

"Do more of what is working and less of what isn't."

#5 Mr. Jones adapted, evolved, and was a competitor in his trading.

Competitiveness is at the core of excellence. 

#6 He learned the lessons of early failure instead of quitting or repeating the failures.

Einstein said, "insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result." We need to identify when to change and how to do what we do better. 

#7 Paul Tudor Jones was a risk manager first and a trader second.

"Life is about the management of risk." We take excessive risk when we take on characters instead of character. 

#8 He cut losses quickly instead of holding them and wishing they would come back. He saved a lot of mental pain and stress that way.

We all share cognitive loss aversion. But we are vulnerable to 'sunk costs' instead of moving on from mistakes. 

#9 Paul Tudor Jones traded smaller during losing streaks.

Some teams throw money at problems instead of finding alternative solutions. Leaders find solutions not problems. 

#10 He looked for only the very best risk/reward trading opportunities.

When we analyze players, we understand that four quarters doesn't amount to a dollar. We need to maximize our opportunity by getting our best combinations in play while developing everyone on our team (portfolio). 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Above the Line

Daily reading is an imperative. I'm not consistently at two hours a day but I'm working at that, falling under the category of Time: Invested not spent

I finished Cousy's "The Killer Instinct" and am working on Urban Meyer's "Above the Line". I want to share some of his ideas. 

First, he believes that personal leadership to create team leadership creates great value. When he refers to "above the line" behavior, he means INTENTIONAL, PURPOSEFUL, and SKILLFUL. How does he recommend doing so? 

This isn't exactly his method, but it's close enough. From a biological standpoint, it's resolving the process between two systems in the brain...the automatic (reflexive, x-system) and the conscious (reflective, c-system). We need both. If we have a speeding car approaching us, then we need an automatic, life-preserving action. But when facing many life decisions (e.g. personnel, strategy, tactics), then back-of-the-envelope calculus often won't be optimal. 

He discusses an equation  E  +  R  =  O 

Event plus response equals outcome. We can't control the event but we can control our response, which alters the outcome. For a big 'event', we need a big response. We also should understand that our "R" creates another's "E". 

Components in our "R" ultimately include:

Reflect (get your mind right)
Make a difference
Build skill 

I think important components in our R can include 'historical inputs' (what happened in previous situations), thinking out of the box, and 'cabinet-level' (trusted advisor) discussion. 

Meyer also discussed avoiding BCD (blame, complain, and defend) a variation of Joshua Wooden's advice to his son, "don't whine, don't complain, and don't make excuses." 

We can rearrange to embrace ABCDE (attitude, belief, commitment, discipline, effort). None of these are skill-focused, rather they belong to our internal focus). 

We can modulate our process to get better personal results and train our players to develop leadership skills. That helps them individually and collectively make better decisions during adversity. Meyer gives examples where players made better decisions because they activated the "R factor" process. 

He acknowledges that he lacked an adequate process in Florida which contributed to personal stress, although he doesn't discuss (for obvious reasons) some of the personal issues Florida players experienced under his previous approach. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Need a Three? Mixed Bag of Quick Hitters

Credibility requires clarity and competence. Our teams receive judgement on their organization and preparedness but especially their execution. 

Situations arise requiring a three-point shot. Here are a variety of possible three point options derived from contemporary actions. I prefer to use alternate actions from sets which appear 'ordinary' or pedestrian. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Great Ideas Are Less Important than Timeless Principles

Regular readers (we won't need a stadium for a meetup) know that I believe in cross-platform thinking. A great chef, teacher, speculator, or business maven will have a stable of principles we can embrace. We need to be able to make progress with our process. 

Here's a reference to a Warren Buffett 1998 lecture that works. 

I heard someone say that Buffett and Munger “never say anything new”. I've yet to hear anyone say anything more relevant than Pete Newell's observation about 'getting more and better shots than your opponent." 

Never wavering on their basic philosophy has brought them a long way. Each of us develops a style and substance to find basketball and life solutions for young people. If we can simplify the game and add basketball and life skills, our players benefit permanently. 

"It’s very hard to earn a lot as an investor when the business you’re in doesn’t earn very much money.”  Metaphorically, if we don't help players grow very much, then we're not providing much of a service. 

If you own good businesses with strong earning power, you’re less concerned (or hopefully not concerned at all) about the stock market or the near term prospects for the economy. Again, metaphorically, if we maintain a good program with consistent value added (control what we can control), then worrying about competition and politics becomes less consequential (not zero). 

“I don’t want to buy into any business that I’m not terribly sure of. So if I’m terribly sure of it, it probably isn’t going to offer incredible returns." If our program takes excessive risks with the personnel or with the rules, then we might get better results...or terminated. 

“If you’re right about the business, you’ll make a lot of money.” If we do the right things for a long time, we'll do a lot of good for a lot of people. 

It’s worth listening to the best investor in the world articulate his own philosophy in his own words—even if that philosophy is already seared into your mind. We can always improve our understanding and execution when we commit to developing and sharing best practices. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

5 Line Shooting Drill (and Variations)

Shooting. There is no substitute. Embed repetition and competition within shooting drills.

This drill comes from

In this drill, there are 5 'radians' along which players shoot. They suggest making consecutive shots at each 4 foot interval with the goal of completing each line (25 shots total) in two minutes. You cannot advance to the next line until you've completed the five consecutive shots in that line. Like most shooting drills, it works best with a rebounder. 

Alternatives might include making five consecutive shots from each spot in a radian or taking shots from all twenty-five spots and seeing how many you make. I know how I would have played it...seeing how many shots it required to make all twenty-five. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Bass Ackwards

"Spartak can be summed up in one word: tekhnika (technique). Every moment, every resource is devoted to helping players with the most essential task: hitting the ball correctly. Or, to put it a different way, to building a reliable, fast skill circuit."

"If I ruled the world." Fun game. Fundamentals would take priority over game play. 

Swen Nater writes in You Haven't Taught Until They Have Learned, "assume that recent graduates are stronger on theory and concept than they are on practice and technique." Think about it. In most professions (e.g. medicine), a lengthy period of fundamental instruction (e.g. biology, physiology, anatomy, pathophysiology), precedes the actual practice (surgery, prescription, psychotherapy). 

But we have devoted, opinionated teachers (coaches) who advocate for game playing as the instructional method of choice vis-a-vis 'practice'. Which may explain why you can watch middle schoolers mindlessly jack up three pointers (amidst a healthy share of airballs) with coaches accepting if not encouraging it. I prefer the Bilassian "It's not your shot, it's our shot" mantra. 

Effective teaching demands priorities and emphasis. Almost every practice, I discuss core offensive priorities. "Basketball is a game of cutting and passing." Offense requires spacing, screening, cutting, and passing. Ergo, our offensive priority should be spacing and movement (player and ball). And our practice emphasis should be on activities (drills and scrimmage) that translate to that end. 

Our goal is player and team development. But most coaches assumptions that our players are stronger on theory and concept would be dramatically wrong. I would wager that if I ask my players (fill in the blank) of "basketball is a game of (cutting and passing)" that fewer than a third would answer correctly. But more might be able to demonstrate, because we often play half court (four-on-four) with no dribbling. If you do not move, then you will not get the ball. 

We need to help players 'see the game'. I believe that should involve didactics, film study, drills (with decision-making), and competition (scrimmages and games). But watching youth basketball convinces me that we can do a lot better. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Drill: Dribble Handoff and Decide

The best drills translate practice to game activity. We will use dribble handoff (DHO) with and without secondary screens this season. Players need to come off the DHO downhill (hard) to the basket and react to defenders. 

The ballhandler needs to learn how to drive, drive and dish to the weak side, and execute screen-and-roll actions on the ball screen. Adding the 5 and 'coach' to the drill increases the decision complexity. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Baseline Out of Bounds 15 Series

One general principle is using multiple plays out of the same formation or using the same play out of different formations. 

We've had success with a number of these looks, despite our youth and limited shooting ability. 

Base play dribble handoff into pick-and-roll with stagger away. 

Variation with curl on the weak side. 

Screen-the-screener action for the second screener. 

Option using "Tiger" (option screen away) and "Cub" (slip) 

Want something entirely different? America's play...screen for the inbounder. 


"Happiness begins when selfishness ends." - John Wooden

The first two words I say, seven days a week, going out the door, are "Positive Dog" after Jon Gordon's eponymous book. Controlling what I can control begins with regulating my attitude. Why? 

Shawn Achor has done exciting research on happiness, which he discusses above. 

Happiness produces results, not the opposite. 

We can develop a happiness process, which includes writing. 

Last night someone I respect told me that I am doing my coaching all wrong, it's about developing the few, the excellent players, not trying to develop more players. I would never convince this person that I am right. I am pleased to have a process where I am developing people and some will become very good basketball the context of enjoying the game and their teammates.

I'm reading Swen Nater's You Haven't Taught Until They Have Learned: John Wooden's Teaching Principles and Practices. Nater discusses the process that Coach Wooden shared with his players to make everyone their best. 

He discusses the sacrifices required to mold yourself into the role Wooden demanded, which quite possibly differed from high scoring star, in the process of developing successful teams. 

He cited Andre McCarter, a prolific scoring guard who remade his game into shutdown defender at the front of the UCLA press. McCarter played on Wooden's final championship team and was heavily involved in nominating Wooden for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Wooden may have cost McCarter a fortune in professional salary, but had his admiration and love for his respect and fairness. 

I'm familiar with this role (not the prolific scoring), but the tasks at the front of the 2-2-1. They blend with the culture I promote - teamwork, improvement, and accountability. Which brings me back to constructive criticism of my approach. I'm promoting a process of commitment, discipline, focus, and personal growth. The more that players embrace that process, the higher the likelihood of basketball growth in that context. Selling 'process' embedded within teaching and humanity produces happiness for me. And I firmly believe that creates better people and better players. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Leadership: Urban Legend

OSU football coach Urban Meyer has shared many valuable leadership lessons, among them his 10-80-10 principle. It's a variation on the 80-20 theme, but argues that your top ten percent need no motivation, but can be used to help move others (the 80 percent) into the top ten percent. 

But he also emphasizes other important points for growth. 

"A leader is someone who earns trust, sets a clear standard, and then equips and inspires people to meet that standard.”

"Meyer quips in Above the Line that average leaders have inspirational quotes, good leaders have a plan, and exceptional leaders have a system."

"Meyer’s Above the Line standard requires that a player’s behavior be “intentional, on purpose, and skillful.” 




Fast Five: Screen Gems

Spacing, cutting and passing, and screening are core dimensions to create separation to generate great scoring opportunities. You don't have to be a great dribbler if you can create separation without the ball. 

Here are a few helpful tips:

1) "The screener is the second cutter." Screening is not SCUT WORK; screening creates OPPORTUNITY for the screener. 

2) "Screen with deception." The less time defenders have to react, the less successful they will be in defending. A couple of steps with misdirection can help. 

3) "Screen the body." Some use the term "headhunting" to define screening the body. Some coaches teach screening an area, but I want the body screened. 

4) "Understand the possibilities." Screeners have to learn the proper roll, pick-and-pop, how to rescreen/change angles on the bump, and how to slip screens with defensive overplay. 

Clever action with fake screen from "set one, get one" on the BLOB. Instead of STS action it's "screen the slipper." 

Malone and Stockton in classic "slip" from side pick-and-roll. 

5. "Drag" screens in transition often create great looks. Your ability to make teammates better appears in many situations. In the quantitative system I've used analytically, a screen leading to a hoop carries a +2 value. 

It doesn't require extreme toughness to set a drag screen, but screens also have a cumulative impact to wear down defenders. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Fast Five: Building Relationships

Repetition of major themes keys clarity...for example, the primacy of CHARACTER, COMPETENCE, and CONNECTION. 

How do we connect with our players? How do they recognize that we care, that we add value to their experience? 

1. Greet every player by name, preferably within the first few minutes of practice. It might seem like a small detail, but your name intimately links to your identity. When a pharmacist asks for the spelling of my name, I foresake the military alphabet for uniqueness- S as in somebody, E as in everybody, N as in nobody. 

2. Clarify everyone's roles. When Coach Wooden recruited Swen Nater, he told him he couldn't promise him any minutes, as Bill Walton was his competition. But he promised him that if he practiced hard against Walton, he could assure him that he'd improve and have a chance at a professional career. 

3. Set priorities. I can't reproduce my coach, but players and families know that 1) family events, 2) school, and 3) basketball are their priorities. But when you're on the court, your full attention, concentration, and effort belong to your team and to the game.

4. Simplify the emphasis. Bill Belichick sums it up; "do your job." You cannot do your job unless you know your job. Create a dialogue with each player such that she is 'crystal clear' about responsibilities. Can they handle the truth? 

I saw a sectional championship game lost (by a point) because of failed defensive rotation. The opposition had a tall (6'2") and talented post player. The pre-game scouting report showed the coverage and the protection (left). X4 would double the post and X3 immediately rotate to cover the opposite forward. Three times the double occurred WITHOUT rotation. Layups. I will never double from across because of that, and will double with a smaller player (X2 or X3). We need to have the connection to know the job gets done. 

5. Individualize feedback. Swen Nater's book about John Wooden (You Haven't Taught Until They Have Learned) is full of lessons Nater learned from individually-tailored feedback. Wooden understood that he couldn't treat everyone the same, from his 1964 Championship team. He couldn't come down hard on the sensitive Gail Goodrich and he had to keep the uber-confident Walt Hazzard's ego in check. In The Heart of Coaching, Thomas Crane calls it a "performance-focused, feedback-rich" environment. 

Cultivated connections create trust, trust between player and coach, coach to coach, and player to player. When people know that you have a designed process to help them grow and achieve their goals, everyone benefits. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Lead and Effect Change

Brett Ledbetter wrote a terrific book, "What Drives Winning." In this brief lecture he discusses power and action, but especially changing behavior. One standard he suggest comes from Pat Riley, "Catch people in the act of doing the right thing." 

"It was the only team that I'd ever been on that nobody wanted to be on." 

Is power the goal or something else? I have no interest in taking power over players; I want them to empower themselves through team actions. 

What is really important? How can we achieve that? 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Del Harris Defense

Coaches are hypocrites. I mean that. We preach defense but we spend more time on offense than defense and usually favor offensive production. 

Reality is that if we spend the majority of time on defense, then we simply won't score enough to be competitive. In the arms race of basketball, offense gets more of the money, love, and time. 

All of which demands that when we invest defensive time, we should bring great ideas to the fore. Here are some thoughts distilled from Del Harris, an underrated coach with high character and NBA championship pelt. Urban Meyer would say he has ethical trust, technical trust, and personal trust. 


  1. Be physical. Make the first hit. Play with body contact first of all. We like tobody up, as picks are about to be set. We want to body up on cutters.STAY CONNECTED TO YOUR MAN as he comes off of picks. Do not let him create a big gap between you and him or he will beat you on easy catch and shoots, splits and penetrations.
  2. Pressure but still contain the man. Our second front court priority is to prevent your man from “taking the angle toward the goal.” Move your feet and body in order to cut him off. Make him go “East to West”, not “North to South”.
  3. In our basic 5 man to man defense we want the defenders one pass away from the ball to deny the inside passes aggressively. On the perimeter they must know they are defending their man, but be in a help position.
  4. Challenge every shot possible—our third on-ball priority—deny easy passes in the scoring area–pressure but contain and challenge the shot.
  5. We utilize switching on defense against several NBA offensive maneuvers. We like to switch equal size players and often involve our 2-3-4 men in switching with each other—especially in pick/roll games.
My 'simplified' defensive appeals are:

Defense should attack, not play passively. Deny dribble and pass penetration into the paint. Don't foul perimeter shots and especially do not foul 'bad shots' such as off-balance shots and runners. The 'trend' in basketball is 'positionless' play, meaning more switching as 'smaller' player need to play more physically. We're not ever 'good enough' to allow easy baskets (layups, put backs, transition hoops, and free throws). 


“The game is always going to come down to not turning it over, getting the best shot that you can, and then making sure you’re good and consistent with the way you play effort-wise and focus-wise on the defensive end.” - Brad Stevens

This is a "reminder" post, something I (and other coaches) can refer to and relate to in good times or bad. 

The coach's task is to help players get where they cannot go alone.

What does my team need NOW? 

"Soldiers eat first." It's about the players. The players aren't ASSETS; they're kids. What are we doing to make them well-adjusted, productive citizens? This quote speaks volumes, "are we here to build a program or a statue?"

Add value relentlessly. Players should be excited to come to practice, to learn, to build life skills, and get traction in a slippery world. Learn every day.

You succeed in basketball by wearing opponents down. How are we going to do that possession after possession?

Excellence doesn't come from slogans. Excellence follows consistent, effective process.

"The magic is in the work." Are your dreams and goals aligned with your commitment and work? 

Keep it simple. Simplicity builds clarity. Details define clarity. 

Execute. Don Meyer noted, "what is unacceptable in defeat is unacceptable in victory." Help your teammates get easier shots, get and maintain possession, and deny the opposition any easy baskets. 

Motivate. I can't change the world until I change myself.

Do well what we do a lot. If we ask someone to excel at everything, they probably won't excel at anything. Find solutions to finding solutions.

Push the right buttons; don't just push buttons. Create a legacy of making others better. If it doesn't translate, why am I investing our valuable time on it?