Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Visit with Coach Rod Briggs

Photo Courtesy of
Chris Neal - The Capitol Journal
Coach Rod Briggs (@RodBriggs3) is the head coach at Lansing High School in Kansas where he's had many successful teams including a 24-0 state championship. He's done a great job of developing the Lansing program and also developed a few other programs as his time as a head high school coach. Last week I was lucky enough to be able to spend THREE HOURS with Coach Briggs. I noticed that he was posting pics at the Mall of America on Twitter, so naturally I hit him up for some hoop talk. Below are some highlights of our conversation. 

General Odds and Ends
  • When taking over a job, seek out the basketball junkies in the program and get them into the gym as much as possible. 
  • When taking over a job, start building around your youth. Find the best lower level groups and really support them. 
  • Get the right guys coaching in your travel program - not parents if possible. Find people who will teach skills. 
  • The weight room is very important to a program. 
  • Having a culture of "time investors" and "gym rats" is important. 
  • Being able to understand a parent's point of view will help you with them. 

Small Sided Games
Race Car
Race care is a small sided game Coach Briggs shared that is pretty similar to Ping Pong. It'd be a nice mix up if you've played a lot of ping pong in practice and want to do something a little bit different. I also think that it would be a better way to teach fast breaking because unlike in ping pong the defense is not set. 

The game starts with 4-5 teams and 3-5 players per team depending on your numbers. In the diagram we have four teams - regular, black dot, X, and fractions. One team (regular) starts with the ball and takes it down against the fractions team. They play until a stop or score. 

If the offense gets a score, they take it out and transition the other way immediately. The other team (black dots) must touch inside the half court circle and then get down on defense. Those two teams play. 

If the defense gets a stop, they take the ball and immediately transition to the other end. The next team up must touch center court and then transition down to the opposite end.

You can play to a set number of scores. 

Wide Cone 1 on 1
In this game you put two cones wide, you can put them higher than shown depending on what you want out of the game. There is a line in front of each cone, one offense with the ball and one defense without. The offense and defense must sprint around the cones - the offense then tries to attack the rim.
Xs and Os
Gator is part of the Kansas Secondary Break. It's a great set for a stud point guard, especially a bigger one who can post up some. Also the 3 in this diagram should be your shooter. 

The secondary starts in typical Kansas fashion. The wings are deep, the post is on the block, and the 4 is trailing. The 1 reverses it to the 4, who swings it to the 2 filling up from the deep wing. The 5 sets a back screen for the 1 who cuts to the block and posts up. 

 As the 1 clears to the block, the 4 and 5 set a double screen for the player in the opposite corner. The corner (3) comes off the double and catches a pass from the 2. As 3 catches, 4 and 5 turn and set a double for the point guard (1) who cuts out to the wing.

Stack is a simple zone set that gets your athletic player open for an inside layup. The set starts with your 3 (athlete) and 4 stacked on one side and your 2 (shooter) and 5 stacked on the other. The point dribbles to one side to shift the defense. He then comes back across, as he does the shooter (2) cuts out to the wing in the direction that the point is dribbling. The point must attack the guard on the side you are running the play to so he can't take the wing. As the 2 cuts out, the 4 screens the middle defender in the zone. As 2 catches the ball the 3 shapes to the ball and should be wide open for a score.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Italy U19 Horns Series

I'm not a big fan of horns in the traditional sense. Both posts come up and set a double ball screen, the point comes off and one post dives and one pops. I am, however, a big fan of the A frame set and running some different actions out of it like many NBA and Euroleague teams are currently doing.

Italy has been running some fun things out of horns with their U19 team. The following horns looks came from their recent games against Australia and Canada.

Basic Action
This is an action they ran a lot, and is very effective. The set starts in the typical A Set. One post screens across and the player coming off the cross screen immediately sets a flat ball screen for the point. This is something I haven't seen before and really like. Lots of teams cross screen their posts, but not into a flat ball. The cross screen makes the ball screen naked and really opens up the driving lane.

As you can see in the video, the cross screen opens up the flat ball. Because it's naked there is no help on the drive. 


Cross Screen to Flair
If the screen action wasn't there, they would screen with a flair screen. The point would pop out with the dribble. The post who set the initial cross screen would come back and flair screen the post setting the flat ball screen.
You can see them run it here. They then throw the ball back to the popping screener and play out of it. 

Post Up Set
This is a great post up set that the Italians run out of that horns look. It starts with the cross screen and flair screen. If the drive isn't there, the point guard goes right into a dribble handoff with the corner on that side. As that happens the flair screen happens.

The player who set the flair screen (5) follows the dribble handoff and sets a ball screen for the player coming off the dribble handoff. As the dribbler comes off the ball screen the screener (5) dives across the lane hard. If the driver can't turn the corner he immediately throws it across to the post on the opposite side, who came off the flair screen. That post immediately looks inside for the rolling 5. If the post entry isn't there, he passes to the corner on his side and follows with a ball screen.

Here is some video of them running the set all the way through. I think the skip across with the post dive and ball screen on a quick reversal are great actions. 


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Australia U19 Overload Break Quick Hitters

Italy and Australia are two of my favorite international programs and they played a great game in the U19 World Championships. Australia ran two wings to a side on the break often - filling the wing and the corner. Overloading a side off the break is a much different look than the traditional one wing on each side look. They ran several interesting secondary/quick hitter looks out of these sets.

Australia Quick Strike: Flex
I'm not a fan of the standard flex offense, but I do love incorporating the flex action into an offense - especially as a secondary. Here you can see Australia's version of it.

They ran this set right out of the break. One of the perimeter players (2) cut to the block. The 5 occupied the ball side block.   As the point crossed half court, he reversed it through the trailer. As he does the 5 pops and gets the ball. The wing (3) then cuts off the flex screen set by 2. The trailer down screens the screener. 

Australia Quick Strike: Double Back Screen
This one starts out with the same basic look. Two wings on a side -corner and wing. The post on the ball side and the trail filling the opposite slot. The trailer (4) screens down for the wing (3) who cuts up and gets the ball. Right as the point makes the pass the post (5) sets a back screen for him. The point then cuts out to the corner, getting an in screen from the corner player (2).
As soon as the 2 sets the screen he continues on and back screens the post (5) into the block. 
Here is a quick video clip of them running the action. 


Australian Quick Strike: Elevator
I'm always a fan of elevator plays. They are simple, yet effective, and can be deadly to get your best shooter shots. Australia had a really great wrinkle to it out of their secondary/quick hitter look.

The entry starts in the traditional set of a trailing slot, wing, and corner on one side and the post and point on the other. The trailing four screens away for 3 on the wing. The wing (3) comes up and catches the reversal from 1. The 4 drifts to the elbow. As he passes, 1 cuts off the back screen from 5 to the rim. As he gets there the 2 screens in for the 1 to the corner, the 2 then comes out  on the elevator screen from 4 and 5 for the shot.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Another Video Highlighting the Importance of Developing Intrinsic Motivation

This week I was lucky enough to attend an AVID training in Orlando, Florida. While I was bummed that I didn't get to attend Coaching U while I was there, I did get to see this amazing video. First, I want you to just watch the video, it truly is inspiring.

Amazing what kids can do, huh? That was the theme that our AVID presenter used, but I saw it in a completely different light. For me, this video is yet another example of the power of autonomy and ownership for our youth in sports. If an adult would have built a beautiful pitch, organized a team, forced them to practice, and signed them up for this tournament I don't believe they would have been nearly as good. And they surely wouldn't have enjoyed it nearly as much. The secret here is that these players went through the ultimate talent development experience. 

First, they had ignition - which if you've read Daniel Coyle's "Talent Code" he talks about. They watched soccer on TV. Soccer excited them and caused them to dream. It lit a fire that made them want it badly. If their parents had just enrolled them in soccer this ignition may not have happened - or at likely not to the degree of these players. 

Secondly, they had autonomy and ownership of the situation. No one told them to make a team - they wanted to. No one told them to build the field - they wanted to. No one told them when, where, or how to practice - they did it on their own. They started playing for the love of the game. No coach scolded them when they all just decided to jump in the water and play for a while. No one told them they had to practice X hours a day - they did because they truly loved it. They were truly free to pursue it at their own leisure. I believe this freedom made them work harder. I also believe that's part of the reason that basketball exploded in the inner cities during the 70-90s. It was much more of a free play system (street ball) that players pursued at their own leisure. 

Third, they had spartan conditions. Coyle also references this in the talent code. There is an advantage to training in conditions that are not ideal. I believe it makes you hungry for success. If you have it all already - what's the rush to work hard? 

Lastly, they had a true sense of belonging to the group. This wasn't manufactured because adults forced them onto a "team". This was a group of friends who truly wanted to do this together. It's very important for groups to want to play/be together in order to have sustained success. 

The combination of all these factors was a group of people who maximized their abilities and did it all with a true sense of pure joy. The most important aspects were that they had proper ignition and then had the autonomy to drive themselves to be great. For me, this group of young men had the perfect sports experience. It also sounds like something that we wish every single one of our teams did!

So...that begs the question, how do we get there? I've written blogs before on the topic so I will keep it brief. As coaches we need to step back and let our players lead (guide on the side not a sage on the stage). We need to allow them time to play, experiment, and have some autonomy over the team. No one wants to be ruled with an iron fist, especially when you are partaking in something for "fun". That doesn't mean as a coach you let the players run the team, have no rules, etc. I believe that discipline is something that still needs to be maintained. But at the same time I think too many coaches (myself included) can approach the game from a "coach centered" space because it's enjoyable for us and it was how we were coached. But what our players really want and need is the opportunity to lead, have some autonomy, and do it as a close group.

I also think that for our younger kids ignition is key. Right now we give our 4th, 5th, 6th graders too much too soon. They play in tons of leagues and structured activities when all they really need to do is free play and build a love for the game. Yes, in high school coaching and structure is important (to a point). But does it really need to be so prevalent for elementary schoolers? I would say that elementary kids might be better off in the long run engaging in free play with their friends than they are playing traveling and going to structured camps. By then they have built up the love of the game, so when things do get structured and more rigorous they are better able and willing to push through that. 

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!