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Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Premortem Examination: "What Went Wrong?"

Speculators, companies, and sophisticated analysts perfom a PREMORTEM EXAMINATION. They "look back" from an assumed future date to determine 'what went south' and failed. The 'premortem' improves project outcomes an estimated 30 percent. 

The premortem informs what might go wrong and improve decision-making. It can avoid confirmation bias and overconfidence. 

Author Gary Klein, who wrote Sources of Power, shares insights on the Premortem at Here are critical excerpts:

"By making it safe for dissenters who are knowledgeable about the undertaking and worried about its weaknesses to speak up, you can improve a project’s chances of success." We have all witnessed leaders reject unwelcome criticism from concerned stakeholders.

"The team members’ task is to generate plausible reasons for the project’s failure." 

"Those in the room independently write down every reason they can think of for the failure—especially the kinds of things they ordinarily wouldn’t mention as potential problems, for fear of being impolitic." 

As we launch a basketball season, asking "what went wrong" in advance seems painfully obvious. 

1) Attribution bias. Blame events beyond our control - bad luck in close games, officiating, injuries, or illness. Weather caused missed practices. Our key players were out. Does it matter? Control what you can control.  

2) Culture wars. Team chemistry failed. Who owns that? Last night I reminded players about their commitment. They do not play for the community, their school, for their families, or even for me. "You play for each other, the girl next to you." 

3) Development failure. Practice didn't produce offensive cohesion (especially early offense), skill growth (shooting), or reducing mistakes (turnovers). Players struggled to grasp new concepts. "What has not been learned hasn't been taught." We trade in reality, not in excuses. 

4) I am the problem. The coach owns culture, team selection, skill and team development, and the allocation of resources (practice time, philosophy, playing time). Development and competitiveness, not winning, are the primary goals. That may not always translate to the most wins. But we're playing the long game. 

Heather McCloskey provides detailed inquiry into product rollout here.  

Bonus: Last night we held a "tutorial" on a few 3-on-3 actions - high ball screen with corner, scissors action, UCLA cut, Flex action, and "blind pig." Scissors action can also occur off the ball. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Balancing Deliberate Practice (Hard) with Fun (Easy)

What drills benefit and excite players? Where do crazy ideas like that arise? I don't "have to" go to practice. I "get to" practice. 

My daughter sent me a Stanford Business School case about Zappos, the Tony Hsieh Internet shoe power. Hsieh created a special kind of company that empowered employees. Happy employees provide better service and yield happier customers. Zappos hires for both ability and culture fit. The interview starts when you get on the Zappos shuttle from the airport. The driver assesses how you'll fit into the Zappos culture. They offer new trainees $2000 to quit after the training. 75 percent of Zappos business is repeat business. 

Our players are both 'employees' and 'customers' and we serve them. 

Some the drills I love don't excite the players. They may not appreciate the value of leaving their comfort zone in deliberate practice. 

Arik Shivek pass and cut drill. Deliberate practice takes players out of their comfort zone but not so far as to make success impossible. 

Elbow to sideline shooting drill. One minute or 10 shots, whatever works for you...emphasize conditioning, shot preparation, form, and passing to the shooting pocket. 

But what do the players enjoy? 

This year my players are young girls (11-12 years old). 

Dribble Tag. Who doesn't like to play tag? Dribble tag (within the arc) challenges them to 'escape dribble' their teammates. It gets everyone ball handling work. But add constraints, not only area but playing non-dominant hand or requiring a crossover every third dribble. 

Continuous four on three. Most players prefer scrimmage over drilling. Indulge the palate but not with a full meal. Emphasize conditioning and 'conversion' with continuous 4-on-3, with defense getting back into the play. 

Frito-Lay (Free throw line to layup). But their all-time favorite is something I call "Frito Lay." Two teams, one ball apiece. The first player in line flips the ball with reverse spin to the free throw line. She has to catch, front pivot, and make a one dribble layup. She gets her rebound, dribbles to the free throw line and shoots. Score one point for her team with each make. Switch sides after the first game. Game is 21. Frito Lay adds competition and teaches basic skills, of which we can't get enough. 

What drills excite your players? 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Erosion of Skill

Geoff Colvin, author of Talent Is Overrated, discusses performance and the Experience Trap. "People who outwardly are doing the same thing are not necessarily doing the same thing." 

Surgeons, auditors, and criminal justice professionals assessing recidivism experience skill erosion. Developing and maintaining expertise requires more than just time

Professionals do not experience practice (deliberate practice) in the same way, because professionals are totally engaged in the improvement process. 

Talent is misperceived as an "inborn gift." Activity-specific talent as a gift doesn't exist (according to research). 

Great performance flows from deliberate practice. Expertise is AVAILABLE if we do the work. Colvin says "it is an activity DESIGNED for you at this moment." It pushes you just beyond what you can currently do (leaving the COMFORT ZONE). It is REPEATABLE at high volume. Colvin discusses the neurobiology of myelination (the correlate of "muscle memory," as muscles don't have memory). FEEDBACK is critical. It's hard because it incorporates mistakes and failure. 

How does the UCONN women's team keep winning? They practice highly realistic drills that are extremely intense. For example, they practice with a 24-second shot clock, not the usual shot clock. "Practice is hard so games are easy." 

Fighter pilots during Vietnam improved dramatically with training intensity, "highly realistic simulation at an intense level.

Be specific when designing training. "What am I learning?" After you finish, reflect on the experience. Then adjust. It's more work than we're accustomed to doing. 

Consider using "case studies" of what worked (and what didn't). 

Future high value skills will differ from 'traditional' skills because they will inform human interaction, empathy, collaboration, storytelling. 

Nostradarnit and Car Athletes, Explicit Teaching Required

Nostradamus (1503-1566) made the play call on Napoleon. "Able was I ere I saw Elba." 

Coach Pete Newell explains our task as helping players "see the game." Experience helps us see the bad play before it happens. We experience "anticipatory frustration." 

Some examples:

- Back or front cut as the offensive player reads the defense (common)
- poor spacing (common)
- Closeout with poor technique (common)
- High ball screen at its inception (moderate)
- UCLA cut off wing entry (moderate)
- Defensive double team (common)
- Failed weak side block outs (common) 
- Screener slipping because of defensive overplay (rare)

Coach Neal Cobleigh (@coachncob) reminds us to teach to what happens a lot. "Good players" understand what other effective players will do and how to defend those actions through MULTIPLE EFFORTS. Defensive understanding should improve offensive execution. 

Chess grandmasters rely on "chunking" to see board positions and opportunities real time. For example, I illustrated six simple actions with three-on-three inside the split

One example...

We learned these dimensions at the playground. "Car athletes" (driven to practice) need explicit instruction. 

Defensive understanding doesn't come easily. 

x3 has overplayed, opening back cut. Ballside defender has to basket protect
Next responsibility would be to closeout to the corner on the pass. 
Help side defenders need to get to the paint on the corner pass.

In the 1-2-3 setup (e.g. UCLA cut, two guard front not shown), a is the give and go off the screen, b is the wing ball screen, and c is the post rolling to the basket. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Fast Five Plus: Find the Fire

Self-motivation (intrinsic motivation) serves as an important tool in emotional intelligence. 

How can we "pump up" our motivational skills? Self-motivation arises in a myriad of sources - coaching or mentoring, parenting, meditation, music, famous quotes, great speeches, movies, and more. 

1. Energize the room. At Navy Officer Indoctrination School in Newport, Rhode Island, our trainer, Lieutenant Unruh always brought the fire. As coaches, we can't have an off day. I remember coaching drills one summer Sunday afternoon and had nothing. I got home and my temperature was over 101. I was just sick. 

2. Have a theme. Our team should reflect "teamwork, improvement, accountability." 

“Duty, Honor, Country.”

“Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be...They are not a slogan or a flamboyant phrase...they build your basic character; they mold you for your future roles as custodians of the nation’s defense. ... They teach you ... to be an officer and a gentleman.”

Honor is neither easy nor ephemeral. We choose honor or we choose something less. We can be both honorable and imperfect. That is humanity. 

3. The Growth Mindset. Whether we read Steve Kerr (mentors, mindset, culture) or Carol Dweck, the "mindset" mentality permeates current leadership writing. Embracing the 'growth mindset' means accepting a certainty of improvement provided we 'trust the process' and do the work. 

4. Stay on message with key words. 

Everyone has favorite words, like commitment, dedication, persistence, sacrifice, sharing, work. 

5. Structure. 

"Trust the process." We need a process to trust it. Aristotle noted, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit." Find ways to win the day. 

6. Overcome adversity. 

7. Words make a difference. Words can cut; words can heal. Empower others. "I believe in you." 

8. Give and get feedback. Feedback provides more fuel for our fire. "Do your homework; gather data and details to support your feedback. Always describe behaviors, not traits. Don’t dwell on the past; instead focus on what the employee can change in the future." We should let our 'stars' know why their act worked, what's over the horizon, and what's next. Become that "better version." 

9. Fire up. 

"Make sure your servant's towel is bigger than your ego...if you want to make an impact, find your broom." 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Communicating Through Parents to Players

Here's are parts of a letter I shared with parents after the tournament. The messages are always for both parents and players. 

3 practices, 3 games. It takes time. Faith and Patience flank the top of the Pyramid of Success. Basketball evolves on a four-legged stool of athleticism, size, skill, and game understanding. The latter only comes from experience. It's important to see both the here and now and the possibilities. 

After practice and games, I ask four questions:
1) What went well?
2) What went poorly?
3) What can we do differently?
4) What are the enduring lessons?

The experience will help. The players can see where they need to be better. They also got to experience both some success and adversity. The effort was good. 

"What is unacceptable in defeat is unacceptable in victory." 
1) Our spacing needs to be much better. Poor spacing guarantees poor offense. "Spacing is offense and offense is spacing." 
2) We need a combination of more explosiveness and more commitment to attack the basket.
3) Young players choose dribbling over passing. "Pass and cut." You get two dribbles off the catch to attack the basket.

4) Nobody can run their offense from the corner. It allows defensive help to have "numbers" to play 3 against 5 (see above). If we 'choose' not to run (transition) then we would need outstanding half court offense to score. 6th graders don't have that skill. 

We need to work on "small-sided games" in practice within limited areas (analogous to soccer 'futsal'), which yields more touches and capacity to function in small spaces. 

The girls have enough size and athleticism to develop the other 'legs' to become successful to the extent they work and study the game. 

More Sushi and Basketball: What Is Your Tuna?

Quotes from Jiro Dreams of Sushi

"If it doesn't taste good you can't serve it. It has to be better than last time.

I've never had a disappointing experience there.

We don't care about money. All I want to do is make better sushi. I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more.

But just when you think you know it all, you realize that you're just fooling yourself...

Until you can adequately squeeze a towel they won't let you touch the fish. Then, you learn to cut and prepare the fish. After about ten yearsthey let you cook the eggs.

There is still a long way for him to go...but I think he will improve. It depends on how hard he works. In order to make delicious food, you must eat delicious food.

There are dynamics in the way the sushi is served, just like music. You're consuming Jiro's philosophy with every bite.

But is there a substitute for tunaI don't think so. [Sic.] The entire process is metaphorical.

Studying hard doesn't guarantee you will become a respectable person.

But in reality, the sushi is 95% complete before the fish is brought out to me.

During the first year Jiro's was checked by Michelin...Jiro didn't make sushi for Michelin even once. Yoshikazu was the one who made sushi for them. [SicInstitutional excellence transcends individual achievement.

Always...look ahead and above yourself. Always improve on yourself.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Quick Hitters

What are your favorite quick hitters? Do you like to run the same actions from different alignments or different actions from the same looks? Or you just know what works?

Back cut action through the high post. Even better if you can isolate a penetrating 5. 

Stagger roll. 

Screen the screener action after initial zipper-like action. If there's a switch then you can roll down the 5 instead. 

Fast Five: Doctor NO

"To become a great writer, you don't have to elevate your vocabulary; you have to elevate your ideas." - Anonymous

The first defensive priority must be STOPS. Call it what you like, HARD 2's or ONE BAD SHOT, the mandate is NO EASY BASKETS. No easy baskets, no easy baskets, no easy baskets. 

Nobody wins 0-0 but defense keeps you in the game until offense catches up. What comprises NO EASY BASKETS?

1. Know your assignment. When you don't know your job, you can't do it. 
2. The ball scores. If you're covering Susie but Latoya is penetrating, then you must help on the ball (load to the ball) and recover. 
3. Stop the ball. Allowing penetrators a full head of steam seldom goes well.
4. Protect the paint. Hard 2's don't generally live in the paint. 
5. Win in transition. Beat your player to half court, fully aware. Take three explosive strides and defend with attitude. Win with your feet and your head. 
6. NO LAYUPS. The team atop the layup battle succeeds in youth basketball. 
7. Show your hands. Move your feet and avoid fouling flyaways, runners, fallaways, and jumpshots. 
8. Communicate. Silent teams lose. Be hard to play against and easy to play with.
9. Clean the glass. Own the defensive boards with position and toughness. 

Redemption expresses the beauty of sports. An integrated USC went into Alabama in 1970 and crushed the mighty Crimson Tide. Alabama integrated their program, closed practices, and returned the favor the next season running the Wishbone to beat the Trojans.  

Friday, November 24, 2017

Shokunin: Jiro Dreams of Sushi. What is our Basketball Craft?

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

We renew our minds constantly or allow them to wither away. Does mastery matter for us? The cooking documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi informs basketball excellence. 

"You have to fall in love with your work.

You must dedicate your life to mastering your skillThat's the secret of success...and is the key to being regarded honorably.

All of the sushi is simple. It's completely minimal.

Master chefs from around the world eat at Jiro's and say..."How can something so simple
have so much depth in flavor?"

Ultimate simplicity leads to purity.

The techniques we use are no big secret. It's just about making an effort and repeating the same thing every day.

In this line of business...if you take it seriously, you'll become skilled. But if you want to make a mark in the world, you have to have talent. The rest is how hard you work.

He sets the standard for self-discipline. He is always looking ahead. He's never satisfied with his work. He's always trying to find ways to make the sushi better, or to improve his skills.

First, they take their work very seriously...and constantly perform on the highest level.
Second, they aspire to improve their skills.

The way of the shokunin is to repeat the same thing every dayThey just want to work.
They aren't trying to be special.

If ten tuna are for sale, only one can be the best

Failure was not an option.

Our father was always strict with himself. We hold ourselves to the same standard.

The masters said that the history of sushi is so long... that nothing new could be invented.
They may have mastered their craft...but there's always room for improvement.

Always strive to elevate your craft." 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Scalabrine and Extra Stuffing

Brian Scalabrine had an NBA career, coaching experience, and excels as Celtics' color commentator. His analysis is always fresh, however heavily tinged with Celtic green. First half observations against the Heat. 

"The Celtics are at their best when getting into the paint." 

"You've got to be patient with Hassan Whiteside on you. He's a shot blocker and you won't get doubled." 

"Especially early in the game, NO EASY BASKETS." (Jaylen Brown with a foul)

"Celtics have to do better keep Dragic out of the've got to keep the ball on the side." 

"Miami doing a great job getting into the paint and making plays from there." 

On Tyler Johnson, "a hard playing guy who can get to the basket." 

"The Heat have an edge to them...they got blasted by Indiana."

"The Curse is real." (Blake Griffin, the Clips, and the Kardashian clan)

"To be honest, I can see why they called that." (Baynes hammered Dragic.)

"You're pretty much at his mercy (Kyrie) when he's going 1-on-1." 

"He (Ellington) comes off the screen hard, separates, challenges at the rim. That's the way you play basketball."

Fast Five: "I've Got Your Back"

"WE ARE ESSENTIALLY ALONE. There is no getting around this fact, even if we try to forget it a lot of the time." - Matt Haig in Reasons to Stay Alive 

The greatest fears of the dying are pain, shortness of breath, and isolation. "We are essentially alone." Never let your family be alone. 

As coaches, we have to defeat that aloneness. Our players must know, "I've got your back." 

Having your back has its origins in ancient fighting. Armor fitted the warriors' front leaving their backs exposed. Fighting 'back to back' literally afforded life-sustaining protection.

What does it mean practically? Having your back implies more than fighting with each other but for each other. We need players who are for the team not just on the team. Being part of a close-knit team means a unity culture, not just teammates. 

Having your back informs clarity and simplicity. "This is who we are; this is how we play."It implies an understanding of how teams fit together. Basketball challenges to blend individual excellence and personal desires for a greater whole. Teams have a variety of roles - primary scorer, rim protector, facilitator, defensive specialist. The "difference" among Pierce, Garnett, and Allen was greater than the similarity of Westbrook, George, and Anthony, all 'ball-centric' scorers. Molding a diverse team from similar ingredients should take longer.

Do we have our players' back? Each player requires recognition and role definition. Greet every player by name early in each practice. Add value to them and verbalize their value. Model caring and character.

That doesn't exclude what Cal rugby legend Jack Clark relates about "conditional love." "When you start looking at people who are really successful, who are part of successful organizations, the last thing they are is unconditional. We’re pretty highly conditional here."

Be consistent. Be authentic. Don't be a jerk. Make "I've got your back" credible and meaningful. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Coaching Examination: Stan Van Gundy

Stan Van Gundy isn't just "the other brother." Professional coaches, whether in the NBA or overseas, share a wealth of knowledge. Ask "what makes Coach special?" 

Stan Van Gundy has degrees in English and Physical Education. 

Van Gundy established a winning record. The NBA is a "bottom line" league. 

Philosophy: Every coach needs a philosophy. There's no "cookie cutter." Basketball shares 'open source' knowledge. Everyone knows that defensive success hinges on limiting the pick-and-roll game and perimeter (three) scoring. Van Gundy believes in discipline to create a culture of trust and communication, which informs defense (multiple actions) earlier. 

Van Gundy feels youth basketball is flawed."The youth basketball system has become flawed, because some coaches and parents judge whether they've had a successful season based on wins and losses rather than if the players have improved and actually enjoy the game."

Strategy: He recognized the changes in the NBA early. "Here is a quote from him at the 2013 MIT analytics conference, "There were some things that we were doing that I think the analytics supported... We didn't want to shoot mid-range jump shots. I remember being in Miami and all the TV analysts- I won't mention them by name. They would be killing us because we didn't have guys with a mid-range game, and I remember saying “Thank God.”

He also heralded the "Stretch 4" game. "Van Gundy’s Magic teams pummeled teams with 1-5 pick-and-rolls and 1-4 pick-and-pops. It was simple, yet brutally effective basketball."

Clinic Notes: Here's a great set of notes via Zak Boisvert. The text shares a lot of his beliefs on attacking the ballhandler. 

The diagram is illustrative:
1) One word calls. "Communication not conversation."
2) Prefers to send the ball handler weak. 
3) x4 has to know whether 4 needs to be defended tightly as a perimeter threat. If not so great, he wants x4 to BUMP the roller. 
4) x2 has to balance physicality with consequences of not being able to closeout. 


0:19 High ball screen into stretch 4 jumper (see diagram above)
0:22 Side pick-and-roll into 3 from the top (sagging defense)
0:47 Side pick-and-roll into mid-range shot
1:30 Horns into downscreen with DHO into rescreen for ball handler
1:40 Sequential (left and right) high ball screens on same possession

Thinking About Zone Offense

"That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet." - Emily Dickinson

Oh, no. They're playing zone defense. If the zone is good, defense pressures the ball and shows good help principles away, like individual assignment defenses. 

But good offensive principles - spacing, ball movement, and player movement - apply to all offense. If we allow the defense to take away movement, then that's on us

Brevity and simplicity:

Spacing: how much is enough? 

If the attackers (dark circles) are closer, the passing lanes shrink...and deflections or turnovers are revealed. When the post players (closest to baseline) line up BELOW the defense, they become INVISIBLE. That will allow them to FLASH to various spots and SCREEN. 

Great players have the capacity to "draw 2" defenders, opening up areas. Good players penetrate into gaps...and zones show gaps.

We've discussed the utility of ball reversal and screening.

Nobody likes being screened and zones are not exceptions. The ball is reversed and the low defender screened. 

Screening the middle of the zone can be devastating. 

Generally, close to the basket, the officials allow more physical screens. 

Michigan State uses a play called 'X' (for obvious reasons) with criss-crossing screens. This allows penetration by 2 and with a roller (5) and interior pick-and-roll. 

Combination actions (multiple actions) key good offense. 

The wing (2) can draw 2 and pass across or pass behind her to the baseline cutter. 

We are "light years" away from running anything like Tom Izzo's "Fist Down." What I like about Izzo's stuff is that you can get layups off it. 

This complex zone set play attacks the middle of the zone and sets up everyone for possible opportunity. BUT, at times, violating the "don't play in the traffic" rule gets violated. 

Attack the zone; don't let it attack you.  
  1. Transition obviates the need for zone offense. 
  2. Attack and distort the zone. Fake shots and fake passes move defenders out of position...players are taught to move on the pass.
  3. When driving, think pass. 
  4. Rebound aggressively. Zone defenders have no set rebounder to block out. 
  5. Think about attacking "parts" of the zone, especially with screens. 
  6. If you don't have range, don't shoot just because you're open. 
  7. 2 second rule. Keep the ball moving. 
  8. The ultimate rules are 1) get open, 2) move the ball, 3) hunt quality shots.  

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Moving the Ball: Elementary

"Movement kills defenses." Basketball is a game of "cutting and passing." 

But do players KNOW? In The Heart of Coaching, Thomas Crane writes about "performance-focused, feedback-rich" culture as the key to "sustainable competitive advantage." 

Here's an introduction to share with young players about cutting and passing. As a middle school coach, I guarantee that my players (3 practices), don't understand yet. 

Give and go. The first 'play' we ever learn. Setting up your cut is critical. 

Read your defender. If they 'overplay' (play high, left), then a back cut (back door) is available. If they play low, then you can front cut (face cut). 

Typical point guard cuts. "UCLA cut" (option cut), off the high post. If the guard goes "ball side" that is called BURY. If she goes opposite that is called THRU. 

Two man game with low post. If the ball is entered to the post, 1 must relocate through or to an open spot. If she passes to C (coach), then she can "set one or get one" (screens). Yes, if x4 fronts, then 4 can seal...but we're not there yet. 

Pass and follow. 1 can pass and use 5 (widebody?) as a screener and passer. 

Scissors action. 1 hits the post and 1 and 2 cut opposite (by convention, the passer goes first). 

Ball reversal. Moving the defense forces closeouts, which challenges many defenders. The ball can go around, over the top (skip), and through (inside to outside) the defense. 

Courage in Basketball

Courage isn't the reverse of fear. Recklessness is. Courage is nuanced, balanced. But basketball players need courage for peak performance. 

Laurence Gonzales wrote a marvelous book, Deep Survival. He discusses a lethal Korean form of martial arts involving swords, Kum Do. Within the practice, masters teach the four "Poisons of the Mind" - fear, confusion, hesitation, and surprise. Courage provides clarity and action and overrides the Poisons of the Mind. 

Taking a charge demands courage (or foolishness) in a world of concussions. Rebounding tough or polishing the floor to recover the 50-50 ball require mettle. 

Taking the big shot informs a different type of courage. 

Ball pressure takes fortitude. You will get beaten, but can recover and should get help. You'll also get flattened by hard picks. That demands toughness and spunk. 

Standing up to bullies takes courage. Coaches can be bullies. The good ones don't intimidate to communicate. 

Supporting a teammate can show strength. 

Being different necessitates exceptional strength. Jackie Robinson got no welcome mat or heralding trumpets. Spit and racial epithets greeted Robinson. Bill Russell dealt with systemic racism during his early years in Boston. Dean Smith endured death threats to bring Charlie Scott to North Carolina basketball. 

Reinforce to players to do what is right, to have moral courage. Hazing teammates is wrong. Mistreating underclassmen is wrong. Going along to get along can be wrong. Courage comes in many forms.