Saturday, May 21, 2016

High School vs. AAU

High school vs. AAU basketball has been a hot topic on Twitter lately. Recently an AAU coach in Iowa sent out a letter to his players. He suggested that his players not play with their high school team in the summer. Since everyone else is weighing in on this topic, I decided to take the advice of
  The Common Man - "Why not me, why not now?". I've coached both high school and AAU and think I can bring a pragmatic perspective to this - not that a single person cares about my perspective. So with that said, here are some random thoughts about high school and AAU.

First of all, I still agree with Brian McCormick that having both AAU and HS puts pressure on players to be in performance mode all the time. They are competing and trying to win for their high school in the winter, then doing the same for AAU in the spring, doing the same for BOTH in the summer. Throw in a fall league for good measure (AAU now has them too) and players are never out of competition mode. So we complain players don't work on skills, but WHEN should they work on them? So from that aspect I would like to see some changes made - not sure what they are. But anything to let players have a designated time to work on fundamental skills.

Second, AAU and HS provide different, but important, experiences for our players. In fact I think they need each other. What we need to help players understand is that AAU and HS provide two different services for an athlete but both are important. High school coaches have more time with their athletes during the year and thus take a big hand in developing players from skills to IQ. They also have more control over expectations in the class room. AAU is where players are allowed to show what they are capable of against high competition - and to get that buzz word: "exposure". Without AAU it would be harder for kids in a state like mine (Minnesota) to be seen by college coaches at every level across the country. Yearly, our AAU clubs and coaches give opportunities to kids that would not be otherwise possible. I know many kids who got the opportunity to play college basketball at a level they may not have without playing AAU. Other kids were able to find an opportunity at a non-scholarship school that may have not known about them otherwise. Many of the AAU programs and coaches in our state our a valuable resource and have helped to grow our game.

I'm not trying to say AAU doesn't develop. But there just isn't enough practice time usually for substantial development to take place. For example, I coached a middle school AAU team a few years ago. We practiced three times a week, two hours a day. Each night we devoted at least an hour to skills. This is more practice time than a traditional AAU team, and I still didn't feel like I had enough time to practice. Juxtapose (yup, just wrote that word) this with high school. As a high school coach I am in the gym practicing 2 hours a day with our players between 3 and 6 days a week in the winter. That's a lot more time to develop players. Then, additionally we work with our players 4x a week for 2 hours in the summer (skills for 1:15, lifting for 45). As a high school coach there is a lot more time to help players develop than AAU coaches have. It's math. Players need to understand and value the amount of hours they spend with their high school team and use them to develop so they don't get exposed. Where AAU coaches CAN (and do) help their players develop is giving their players good coaching against high level competition.

But I have an issue with everyone touting all AAU as "high level competition". The fact is that everyone can play, and everyone does play. So unless you are on a truly high level AAU team the competition you face is going to be a mixed bag at best.

I also think that both high school and AAU give kids a unique experience that the other can not provide them. AAU allows players to compete against kids from across the country and see how they stack up as players. It allows them to play on a team with a group of people who are just as crazy about basketball as they are. Many times this is not be true with their high school teams. It also gives them a different experience and a different "voice" when it comes to coaching. It also allows them to feel like they've gotten a fair shake or a fair look when it comes to being able to play college basketball at the next level. It gives them an opportunity to be seen. Our Minnesota kids get to travel the country, experience different things, and make lifetime friendships. I can't fault them for that.

On the other hand, high school basketball is a special thing. I know that AAU players and teams bond, but I'm not sure it's the same type of bond as the bond with your high school teammates who you are around all years. There is no other time in a young person's life where you can have this kind of experience. It's why I coach. There is something magical to me about spending a winter with a group of people, getting to know each other closely, and being able to represent your school and community. Nothing compares to that feeling. Also, high school basketball has certain accountabilities that are not present in AAU. Students who play high school have to be academically and behaviorally accountable to be eligible to play. While some programs monitor these things, there is no accountability at the top.

In terms of coaches at each level, there is good and bad in both. My issue with AAU is that there is no one that governs who can be coaches, what is accepted behavior, etc. There is no certification or checks and balances. ANYONE can be an AAU coach - and anyone is. The other part of AAU is that there are currently so many players that the demand for coaches out paces the amount of ready/good coaches. So you end up with people coaching just to be helpful, but who don't know the game. You end up with young coaches who don't understand what it is to be a coach but are handed a team and wished good luck. My first job as a coach was as an assistant freshmen coach. I was under a head varsity coach and head freshmen coach who taught me the ropes - and etiquette. Every time I see an #AAUBingo I kind of feel bad for the coach who likely doesn't even know they don't know. With that said, there are some FANTASTIC coaches in AAU who make our kids better. Many of them are high school and college coaches who "get it" and send kids back to their high school teams better.  And on the other hand there are many not so great high school coaches who exhibit #AAUBINGO behavior. I saw a JV coach at a large school coaching a game in a True Religion t-shirt, flip flops, jeans, and a winter hat. And he coached about how you would expect. It was as much of a clown show as any #AAUBINGO. If he would have been coaching an AAU game his picture would have been plastered all over Twitter.

In closing I want to say this. Basketball is a fun and beautiful game. Players should have JOY while playing the game. But I feel like JOY is too often missing. Why? Because we, the adults, can become so childish and selfish about it. You have to ask yourself "are you jealous"? I know I get jealous of AAU coaches who get to travel the country and just focus on helping kids get scholarships or the opportunity to play in college (the fun stuff!). I wish I had the time and flexibility. We also need to keep in mind that anything the player accomplishes is on the player. No AAU coach has ever gotten a kid a scholarship - the player's talent has. Just like no HS coach has really developed a player - that player's hard work, passion, and effort did. No AAU coach should send out an e-mail telling players not to play with their high school team - just like no high school coach should tell players not to play AAU. Support these kids and ensure that they have a great experience playing this game - because they only play it once. And we all know deep down that when every player's playing days are done they will remember how they felt more than anything. And we on both sides (HS/AAU) need to do a better job of supporting each other and supporting our players. I love this game, I love working with young people, and I want to see our game continue to grow. If coaches on both sides don't work together and support each other, we're only hurting the players and the game.

Friday, May 6, 2016

When to Correct Mistakes

Image Courtesy of
When should you correct mistakes? This is a question that every coach has to deal with daily in practices and games - what do you let go and what do you deal with? Saying that you correct every, single mistake sounds good in theory, but I believe that leads to jumbled messages for players and wasted time. The last few days I've heard this gem as rule of thumb: correct patterns of mistakes. If a mistake happens once treat it as an anomaly, when you see it a second/third time address it and the continue to address it. This cuts down on wasting time to stop practice for things that are not happening often. It also helps you dial in your focus and feedback.

I'm always looking for themes that pop up and this has come up twice in the last week. The first time it came up was last weekend at the PGC Clinic - one of the speakers talked about how when we look for patterns of mistakes our feedback is more useful. And this week I was started reading Bob Knight's "The Power of Negative Thinking". In the book Coach Knight talks about looking for patterns of mistakes when studying film and bringing those up during film sessions with players - as opposed to every mistake.

No obviously, there are some major mistakes you have to correct quickly and immediately. But if you subscribe to this it can help you dial into 'what's important now' and allow you to focus your energy on fixing the big picture things that will have the most benefit.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Power vs. Influence and Protecting the Relationship in Leadership

Photo courtesy of
I've been away from the blog for a month, but have so much to write! Visits with coaches, videos watched, and of course the amazing PGC Clinic in Chicago over the weekend. Lots of stuff to be shared on here. This blog is about a theme that's been popping up a lot lately in my teaching and coaching - using power vs influence to lead people.

Early in my career I was all about the power. I yelled, I screamed, I was rigid in my rules - and I had plenty of rules. To me discipline was about imposing my will on my players and students. You didn't do it my way - there was a swift and harsh punishment. I also didn't have time, or see the need, to explain the why in what we were doing. I had discipline and I said we were doing it - isn't that enough?!

But as I used the power, I always found a few things. First, I found it to be a law of diminishing returns. Eventually players and students would tune out. And when I had to lay down repeated, harsh punishments they would end up fighting back harder and harder. Also, and worse, I always had an empty feeling after these interactions of "discipline". No one had grown as a person, all we'd accomplished was a wrecked relationship and usually a begrudging conformity. I wanted to inspire leaders to do the right thing and I wasn't accomplishing that.

Over the last few years I've adopted a more transformational model of discipline. I've built deep and authentic relationships with students and athletes then used that relationship to help them understand what the right things to do are. In the video below, among a lot of great coaching nuggets, the Spurs Ettore Messina talks about discipline and says that there are two kinds. One is through power and fear, the other one is by getting people to put discipline on themselves. The second kind of discipline is where the real magic is in leadership. Great leaders have the ability to motivate people to have discipline because they want to. 

The idea of leading by influence also popped up several times during the PGC Clinic in Chicago over the weekend. First, I attended a lecture by Coach Rob Brost (@brookhoops) where he talked about protecting culture. He had this profound thought: everything begins with rapport. Rapport leads to relationships. Relationships lead to culture and discipline. I don't think you can have rules without relationships, but I like that this went even deeper. You want accountability and culture? You have to start with rapport and relationships. Great leaders understand rapport and relationships come before discipline and culture. 

Another way being an influential leader popped up when I was listing to Coach TJ Rosene (@CoachTJRosene) speak on non-negotiables for a successful season. He talked a lot about how his culture comes from a place of love. He's a coach who's high on accountability but gets the buy in for his accountability first. He talked about "The Everybody's" exercise where he has players list traits of great teammates and then helps them to see that everyone can do this. The way he does it creates the buy in because the players are coming up with the expectations that they need to be held accountable to. Great leaders create buy in by involving the players in the process. 

With that said, does it mean that influential leaders are "soft" don't have consequences? Of course not. We work with people, they are going to fail to meet our expectations. But transformational leaders, and leaders who use influence, don't just punish. Instead, influential leaders counsel their players as they discipline. They take the time to explain why the expectation is important, and how the player can do better next time. Lastly, when transformational coaches have to hand out consequences, they don't enjoy doing it. And after the consequences have been administered, they make sure to build the rapport and relationships back up asap. As a teacher and coach I am always going out of my way to do this and it pays big dividends. It doesn't mean I apologize, or back track. I simply let them know it's not personal, it's business, and it's being done for the good of the player and/or the good of our program. Great leaders protect the relationship between themselves and the players after the discipline has been handed out.  

On a personal note I'm really thankful I switched a few years ago to being more of a transformational or influential leader. It's really helped me be far more effective in leading of young people. I also truly believe that I'm building people up instead of tearing them apart now, and I am thankful for that!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Memphis Griz BLOB

Photo courtesy of Slam Online
Dave Joerger is doing one heck of a job this season, there is no doubt! What he's been able to do in Memphis with all the injuries and cobbled together line ups is incredible. There is no way they should be a top 5 team in the West, strictly based on roster. Last night against the Raptors they ran a great BLOB set late in the game when they needed a score. In my opinion BLOB sets are the hardest ones to find because there isn't a lot of good action to run with the ball in that spot. This set, however, has a nice mis-direction to get Vince Carter a look for 3.

The set starts in a weird formation with the a post and guard off set on the ball side elbow. The point is on the backside block and the 5, or a post, is on the ball side block. In this set #2 is your shooter. The shooter (2) cuts down and appears to set the down screen for 1 and 4 also cuts down so it looks like a double. At the last second the shooter (2) peels off and comes out to the ball side corner for a 3 off a baseline screen by 5. 1 cuts up to the top and the ball is entered to 2 or 1.

Here is the video of the set ran last night. They get it back to Barnes who goes 1 on 1, but I don't think that was the designed look. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Using the SCHAPE Board in Practice

Over the last six months I've become enamored with PGC Basketball (Formerly Point Guard College). I'm heading to Chicago to this spring to attend their PGC/Glazier Clinic and want to attend a summer session if it's in the budget. I really appreciate and enjoy their approach to the game and their belief that basketball is about more than simply putting the ball in the basket.

One of the tenants of PGC is their philosophy of "SCHAPE". SCHAPE stands for Spirit - Communication - Hustle - Approach (I use attitude) - Enhancement. It's encompasses all the things that truly great players should have as part of their character. It's dirt simple and powerful at the same time.

We've used SCHAPE as a team all year. We do periodic SCHAPE check ins, talk about having SCHAPE, and hold players accountable for SCHAPEing the gyn. But mid-way through the year I did not feel like they were truly internalizing and embracing the concept. In light of that, I came up with the SCHAPE Check In Board (as seen on the right) to try and boost our SCHAPE.

The shape board is made from a dry erase board.  The board consists of a two column chart. On the left is each part of SCHAPE. On the right is a rating for each category. All the black lines on the board are drawn in with permanent marker and the green is written in with dry erase marker so it can be erased and updated as we progress through practice.

Periodically during practice I update our SCHAPE board based on how we are performing in each category - especially if I feel like we are slipping in an area or areas. When the board is updated, we stop and talk with the players about what we are seeing. We hit them quickly with highlights and then what we need to improve on and how we can accomplish that. Each stoppage takes 15-45 seconds from practice. I hate giving up ANY time from practice, but I've found that the investment pays dividends.

Immediately I noticed a positive change in our practices. Players were embodying the characteristics of SCHAPE and correcting issues more quickly. Personally, I was doing a much better job of monitoring how we were doing and holding us accountable. I can say with 100% certainty that it made a difference in our practices this year.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Communication - Not Just Talk!

I didn't realize that I wasn't teaching communication well - until this year. I've always been a coach who's "preached talk", demanded our team talks, I've even shown them what to say. But this year I realized in some ways I was missing the boat - I was not teaching them meaningful communication. They were "saying things", but they weren't COMMUNICATING. Sure they were calling "ball", "help", "man", but it wasn't to anyone and was not being acknowledged or used by anyone else on the floor. It was empty words that were not being heard by others. In short, I taught them to talk, but not to communicate. 

This year I started preaching something different. I started teaching them to "have a conversation". Instead of just talking, say something important to someone. Some of the ways I have done that are below:
  • Talk about EVERYTHING that is happening, all the time. 
  • RESPOND to other's communication by repeating it or responding with something else. 
  • Use NITE (PGC acronym) and LEO Communication. 
    • NITE
      • Name
      • Information
      • Tone
      • Eye Contact (When possible)
    • Leo
      • Loud
      • Early 
      • Often
What does "having a conversation" look like? I will use our defensive transition conversation as an example. It illustrates how the conversation involves everyone and forces action. 
  1. Everyone yells "PAINT" on the way down the floor, communicating that we need to get two feet in the paint. 
  2. Once the player gets in the pain they (an everyone else in the paint) start yelling "who's got rim?"
  3. A player takes rim by yelling the response "I've got rim". It should be the first player back theoretically, but they need to hear "I've got rim" before moving on. 
  4. After a player has taken rim - all the players in the paint yell "who's got ball?". 
  5. A player responds by saying "I've got ball". 
  6. Once the ball is stopped they point and talk their match up. 
No brain surgery going on here, but I do think the simple things are powerful. If you are yelling "who's got rim?" more than 2x, you better get to the rim - same with the ball call. Communicating helps players really understand what needs to be done on the floor. 

Getting players to "have a conversation" has helped our communication this year. Are we were we need to be yet? Of course not, but I've noticed that we are doing it better than teams I have worked with in years past - so at least I've made a step in the right direction. I'd love to hear other's feedback on communication with their teams. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Ball Movement, Star Players, and Selfishness

Quote courtesy of @Royceyoung
Before I begin the article, I want to state for the record I LOVE KEVIN DURANT. I love to watch him play.  He's great for the league and great for basketball in general. He's got some athletic gifts but has worked hard to be an incredibly skilled player. He's one of the best on the planet. And mostly, I love his attitude and approach to the game.

With that said, his comments made to reporters on Monday (see the quote above) are troubling and seem to convey a lack of offensive understanding on his part. The issue I have with the comments is with the premise that the OKC Thunder have dynamic scorers who can "get buckets" and that means the team is more effective with those players in iso situations. Durant makes it sound as if the OKC Thunder are somehow different from the Spurs and Warriors in terms of personnel. The Warriors and Spurs are full of guys who can "get buckets". Do you think Curry and Klay could demand, and be successful with, more iso plays? How about Lamarcus Aldridge? Of course, but they don't because they understand offensive basketball and the power of ball movement. They understand that moving the basketball will get you MORE open and create BETTER scoring opportunities.

Offensive basketball is really simple - disorganize the defense, find a small advantage, take advantage of that and create a big (scoring) advantage for yourself or a teammate. My problem with high pick and roll and iso situations, without previous action, is that they allow the defense to become organized, marshall their troops, and defend the action more effectively. If you look at the Spurs/Warriors/Hawks/Blazers basket attacks, many come when the defense is disorganized by ball movement - creating BETTER lanes to get to the rim and score or create. What Durant is missing is that if OKC moved the ball better he (and Westbrook) would score MORE EFFICIENTLY because the defense wouldn't be as ready to defend them if they were attacking off of ball movement.

And it's not just Durant that feels this way. I would wager that the best players on EVERY team from middle school to the pros feels that way. I would bet that Jahlil Okafor and Ish Smith think that the 76ers shouldn't move the ball as much because they need iso plays to help the team win. I know some of the better players on our sophomore team deep down feel that if they got more chances to ISO that it would help our team score more. The players on the BEST TEAMS however are able to put those feelings aside and embrace the concept of moving the ball. It's obvious that the Spurs and Warriors have done this with great success. Would San Antonio and Golden State still be good if their strategy involved more iso play for their stars? Of course, but they wouldn't be nearly as scary. This doesn't just apply to the elite teams in the NBA. The Hawks are a great example of the whole being greater than the sum of their parts because of their willingness to have ball movement in their offense. Atlanta's ability to move the ball has really helped the Hawks play to their full potential, and exceed expectations, the last few years.

One of the misconceptions with ball movement is that the offense becomes "equal opportunity". I hear this all the time when coaches discuss the cons of motion offense. Do you think Curry get's less shots because of good ball movement? Obviously not. The Warriors players have been taught shot selection, roles, and who should be taking what shots. If OKC had better ball movement, Durant and Westbrook would still take the majority of the shots - as they should. The difference would be that their shots would be better shots with less defensive pressure.

Why do players NOT want to move the ball? Durant himself even admits it is "great basketball".
In my opinion it comes down to three things - lack of understanding, lack of trust, and strong belief in abilities. First, players don't understand what moving the ball does to disorganize a defense - which opens up better shots. They miss the importance of ball movement in breaking down opponents.  Secondly, and probably most importantly, they don't trust the system or their teammates to give it back. They fear that moving the ball means losing out on scoring opportunities. Thirdly,  all good players have a healthy dose of ego (as they should). They believe they can get to the basket/score whenever they want against anyone that is guarding them. What they miss though is the amount of effort they have to put in and the fact that those shots are less efficient than ones that come from ball movement.

The last thing I want to address is the idea of selfishness. It is easy to deduce that Kevin Durant is a selfish player. I don't think that is the case. I think Kevin Durant wants to help his team win, but truly believes that he and Westbrook playing a certain way will help them do just that. To steal an idea from my head coach, Mark Klingsporn, there are three types of players when it comes to selfishness. There are selfish players, there are selfless players, then there is an in-between where you are not selfish, but you are not selfless either. I think MOST players fall into the middle category. I think that Durant isn't selfish because he wants to win and wants his teammates to have success, but I think don't think that he's selfless enough to consciously give up the ball (and possibly shots) often. And thus he fits in with where most players are.

The magic key for coaches is to get players to buy into being selfless for the good of the team. It's not something that is easy, and something that I invest a lot of time in as a coach. If you can get your players to understand the ideas of "small advantage big advantage" and "good to great", your team will be special offensively - no matter what offense you run.