Thursday, June 11, 2015

Having Passion: The Key to Success

I teach at St. Paul Humboldt High School. I am a Hawk for life, but Humboldt is not a traditional sports powerhouse  - their basketball team owns the all time worst winning percentage in the St. Paul City Conference. The lone exception for sports success at Humboldt is soccer. They've made several trips to state and are always very competitive in their conference, even though they have a much smaller population that other schools. Why is it that they are the outlier in an otherwise bleak sports landscape? The secret may lie in something I observed in the last few weeks of school.

I was leaving school for the day and it was pouring. As I ran to my car, something caught my eye. I noticed students out on the field. Once I reached the dry car I looked out and saw it was soccer players playing by themselves in the downpour. One thing was very evident in that moment - these players have a passion for soccer. So much so they don't care that it's raining and cool - they just want to play soccer.

That then led me to think about my experiences as a player. Just as in my coaching, I went to a few different high schools as a player. Maybe I've just got a nomadic spirit, or I think the grass is greener, I don't know! Anyway, one of the successful programs, Rushford-Peterson, was only ten miles down the road from the traditionally unsuccessful program, Houston. So what made these programs different? If you drive through Rushford on a summer night it's common to see pick up games at the courts behind the school. It's also common to see kids attending open gyms, lifting, and working on their game with almost zero adult prodding. Those kids have a passion or a fire that most schools don't have - as well as a legendary high school coach. The uncommon passion those athletes have leads to uncommon results on the court almost every year. On the other hand in Houston where I graduated from, we didn't have nearly as much of that passion. I'm a proud Hurricane and love my school, but traditionally Rushford has better sports teams year in and year out. A part of that success is the passion that the Rushford kids have for sports and what they are willing to do in pursuit of their passion.

The first thing I think coaches need to be able to do, is define what passion is. For me, passion is an unconditional love for something that causes you to go above and beyond what is expected. Passion isn't something you can fake. Passion is something that you have in every situation involving whatever it is you are passionate about. Some players play really hard but don't practice hard because they only have a passion for competition. Players who have a true basketball passion are the players that show up and work hard always - even when no one is watching.

The second thought I have as a coach is how do we cultivate that passion? Some people will argue that you can't, that players either have it or they don't. But because I am a believe in growth mindset, I'm of the belief that you can in fact cultivate passionate athletes. It's not easy, and there is no great blue print however. Below are some ways that I do believe we can help our players to grow a passion for basketball.
  • It's easier to develop passion early in life. 
    • The younger the players, the easier it is to get them excited. 
    • Two huge tips for this are: make it fun and give them people to look up to. 
  • You can't force a player to have passion. 
    • They have to develop it, you can't will it on them. That's when burnout happens. 
  • To be passionate players must have some autonomy. 
    • No one wants to work for "the man" all the time or be told what to do. Players have to have the opportunity to work for themselves and their satisfaction. 
  • Once they have the passion, stoke the fire but be careful .
    • Once they have the passion, offer opportunities to grow. 
    • But be careful not to push too hard so it becomes a tiresome job they are doing for someone else.
  • Keep it fun. 
    • Kids play games to have fun. So keep your activities as fun as possible so they enjoy what they are doing and want to continue. 
    • There was a study in Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers" book that stated that the more kids played pond hockey (read: pick up hockey), the better their chances of being professionals was. Why was that? Simple, the more they played pond hockey, the bigger their passion was, and they were willing to put in more work at older ages. As coaches we need to tap into this and keep basketball fun as much as possible. 
Obviously there is no science to instilling a passion. But I do believe that if you keep it fun, especially early, kids will WANT to excel in the sport and thus will be willing to go above and beyond expectations to achieve that. As a coach if you can get the kids in your program to be passionate, there is no ceiling on what you can achieve.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Spain's U16 Iverson Set

I'm always fascinated by how teams get their scorers the ball in space to attack. The Iverson set is always a good way to get your scorer the ball and ready to attack. In their 2013 European Championships semi-final game against Italy I watched Span run the Iverson look with an interesting twist. Instead of running the under wing all the way through, the under wing stopped and screened for the opposite big on the backside elbow. See the video below.



Thursday, May 21, 2015

Italy 4 Out Secondary Actions

Tonight I stumbled onto a gem of a game. It is a a European U16 Championship Semi Final game between Italy and Spain from 2013. Spain ran some really great sets (that I will post here sometime) and Italy ran some of the best 4 out I've ever seen. I am sure I will post that over time here as well. If you want to see the full game it is here:

Within their motion, I noticed they were running an interesting, yet simple, secondary series which I will diagram that action below. I really liked the introductory flex type action and what they ran out of it.

The action started out with a reversal and the post setting a back/flex screen for the wing on the guard's side. After running that action they ran two different looks.

The first option they ran was to have the post step out and catch the ball. The point then ran off the post and got a dribble hand off and attacked the paint.


They would also quickly swing the ball back to the guard. If they did the guard would get an immediate down hill ball screen from the big. 


A third action they ran, aside from the back screen, was a point to wing dribble at and back cut. As the wing back cut, the post rose. The ball was passed to the post on the elbow. As the post caught it the back side guard dove and the back side wing filled. The point passed to the backside wing filling the guard spot then down screened the ball side wing who back cut.


I am sure as I watch the game more I'll pick out more great secondary actions. These are simple, but very effective. I really like the movement and offensive opportunities they create!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Broken Window Theory and Your Team

I've read a lot of Malcolm Gladwell. The guy's got some pretty good research that I feel is important for coaches. In his book The Tipping Point Gladwell talks about the "Broken Window Theory". The Broken Window Theory was introduced in 1982 by Wilson and Kelling. The basis of the theory is that if a building has a broken window it shows that no one cares. Because no one cares more people break more windows. Pretty soon because the windows are broken people start to graffiti the building, break into it, etc. That will then lead to the same thing happening to the buildings around it until an entire neighborhood is ruined.

This idea was put to the test in the 1980s to clean up the New York City Subways. The Subway system was a haven for crime from graffiti and fare jumpers to muggings and beatings. What law enforcement did to clean it up was start with arresting and charging every fare jumper and constantly cleaning all the graffiti, instead of the muggings and murders. Some people wondered why - why waste time on "trivial" stuff like fare jumping and graffiti? But then something amazing happened - crime took a nose dive. Part of the reason was in arresting the fare jumpers they were getting people with weapons and intent to commit bigger crimes. By constantly cleaning up graffiti they were proving they had pride for the subways.  But more importantly it sent the message that the subway was important and they weren't going to stand for anything. It got people thinking: "If they are this mad about fare jumping, what are they going to do to us?"

Great story, but what does this have to do with coaching? Well, a lot I think. As a coach I think it's important to identify and fix your "broken windows". What are the small, almost unnoticeable, things that are leading to bigger problems? You might not even notice them until you examine the situation. What things are you letting slide that are encouraging players to have bigger issues? It could be with players or parents. Either way, it's definitely worth examining and fixing before they become real problems.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

David Blatt and What People Think "Coaching" Is

I loved the David Blatt hire by the Cavs and I still do. I really think that the guy can coach. I also think he fell into an unfortunate trap of unbelievable expectations and a tough situation for a first year NBA coach. If he'd taken over a middle of the road NBA team he would have had a much easier transition - and probably have done a lot better.

But this post is not to defend David Blatt. He's a big boy and he can handle it himself. This post is to talk about his recent comments on coaching and how people perceive "coaching". For insight into what people think "coaching" is, we need to look no further than Blatt's defense of himself this week:

Well....yeah... Obviously Blatt has received a fair dose of criticism and a flood of memes. While this statement makes me laugh I think it's an accurate insight to how many people perceive coaching. If you were to survey the layperson who watches basketball, they likely believe that the game is dictated by game coaching and that coaches really are making 150-200 critical decisions in the course of a game. Kind of like when you play NBA 2K at home and control the player's ever move. Why do I think that? Look at all the coaches in the NBA who are getting fired - especially over what happens in games - obviously someone thinks that their game time decisions are costing their team's wins. 

This is a big problem that I believe coaches face. The truths of coaching I have found are:
  1. Players win games on game day.
  2. Coaches win games in practice. 

My point being that coaching is not about the "game day decisions", as I believe a small percentage of games each year are won and lost on those - as important as they may be. Good or bad coaching happens every day in practice with the tactics and habits that you engrain there. It's about making a few big decisions on how you are going to run your team and then executing them in practice. Practice is the teaching and the game day is the test. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Importance of Pace of Play in Basketball

I have been watching a lot of basketball lately, both NBA and March madness. One of the things I've noticed is how good offensive teams run offense at a great pace. This is kind of a "no duh!" type statement, but I feel it's greatly over looked. This year during the NCAA Tournament it is apparent that offense in college basketball is on the decline. I think a big part of that is pace. Many of the teams I watched slowly ran through their stuff, almost looks like a walk through sometimes. And they are running actions and not looking to score. When I watch some of the best teams in college or the NBA, they play with great pace. The Spurs and Hawks are two teams that come to mind that play with great pace, and they are fun to watch.

What does "pace" mean anyway? It doesn't mean hoisting up shots right away, thats for sure. Pace to me is more about how quickly they move the ball and people in their offense. Teams that play with great pace are quickly, and constantly, moving the ball and people. They aren't waiting a long time to "let things develop" they are forcing the action and making things happen. They also aren't running their stuff robotically, they are constantly looking for openings to attack and make moves.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

"Chips": A BLOB for An Inside Scorer

One of my favorite things about scouting is that you constantly pick up new ideas that you can steal and use. One of the teams that we played this year (I won't say which one out of respect) ran this play called "Chips". It's a baseline inbounds play for a 4 or 5 man (or anyone really) that is a good inside scorer. This team ran the set for their stud 4 man and got him lots of good shots off of it. It was too good not to steal!

The set starts in a line. Put a shooter first to occupy the defense on the back side. A post player is second.  Your best shooter is the third player in line. The first player goes basket and corners out. The second player goes to the ball side corner. The third player cuts hard to the rim (sometimes you can get this shot). The inbounder throws to the corner who reverses to the point at the top. The third guy in line, who dove in-screens the inbounder who curls to the rim.
As the inbounder curls, the corner (5) pins in for the  screener who pops to the corner for a three.

Here is a short clip of Euroleague team Maccabi Tel Aviv running something pretty similar in a game this year.