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.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Using the Activity Triangle for Planning Practices

The diagram on the right is one I use on a daily basis when structuring practice. It's a great way to ensure the activities you are doing in practice meet the current needs of your team. I'm not sure where I got it from, but I am confident I stole it from somewhere. Apologies to the person who didn't get credit.

The triangle is used in two ways. First, I use it to analyze WHY I am doing a various practice activity. I try to be very systematic about planning practice and using the right tool to teach a given aspect of the game. To me, ANY team activity outside of warm ups fall into one of three categories:

  1. Teaching
    • When you are showing the players how to do something, you are in the teaching phase of practice. 
    • This is usually categorized by instruction, demonstration, and players doing the action at a speed of 75% or less. 
    • I know it's time to move past the teaching stage when players can verbalize or explain the action you are teaching and can also show you how to do it correctly. 
  2. Technique
    • Technique accounts for most traditional "drills". Anything where players are performing a given aspect of the game and really focusing on technique. 
    • This category is identified by it's focus on performing a single action repeatedly between 75% and full speed. It's also identified by it's lack of game like environment and randomness. 
    • I know it's time to move past technique when players can correctly perform the action in a drill setting, at game speed, over and over again (85%-100% correct). 
  3. Training
    • Training is any full (5 on 5) or small sided game in practice with rule modifications used to focus the game on the skill you are using. Also can be any small sided or full sided games in general that allows players to APPLY the skill in a realistic game setting.
    • This is the type of activity to use when players can perform a skill in drills, but seem to "forget" or not be able to perform it in a live game. 
    • This is where you get the carry over from practice to games. 
The key here is to look at everything you do in practice and understand why you are doing it. If your players can't tell you how to do something, then you need to teach (or re-teach) it. If they can correctly explain the skill, and preform it at game speed in a drill, then they need to spend time in training activities. At the same time you can't jump into training activities before players can perform the movement correctly. It's a important balance to strike in your practices, and is important to understand where your players are in regards to the skills you are trying to teach them. As a rule of thumb if they don't know - I teach. If they know, but can't do it - we drill technique. If they can do it correctly in a drill but not a game - we train. 

I will use defensive slides as an example. At the beginning of the year I spend 5-8 minutes TEACHING the footwork. I demonstrate it (or have a player demonstrate it), then have everyone do it in slow motion. We might break into partners and do it in slow motion until everyone has a feel for it. I'll even ask a few players how to perform the movement to see if they at least KNOW what they should be doing. After that we go through some traditional drills - mass stance, 1 on 1 dummy cut offs, etc. Once we see players doing it technically correct, we move into training. In training we play variations of 1 on 1 and 2 on 2 that force them to defend the ball constantly. As they play, I watch their form. If they start to develop poor technique, we move back to technique. We alternate between technique and training as needed, with the occasional "reteach" thrown in when warranted. 

The other way I use the triangle is as visualization tool for how we utilize our practice time. When looking at various skills or tactics, I like to think about where the red dot would fall on the triangle from day to day, week to week, or even practice to practice. It's a great way to monitor amount of time we are spending in a given area, and analyze if it's meeting the needs of our players. Very early in the year the dot would be more toward the bottom middle of the triangle because we would be spending a lot of time teaching and drilling technique. By the end of the year we should be spending most of our time in training because we've learned the skill and gotten the technique down - hopefully. 

Hopefully this is useful for you when it comes to practice planning. I've found it very beneficial and think it applies directly to making me a more efficient coach. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Jab Fake I Like...

Most of you that read this blog know that I'm not a big fan of triple threat. I don't look down on people who use it, or teach it, but it's not for me.  I think it's slow, cumbersome, kills your team's offensive flow, and leads to a lot of this...

With that said, I did like how Kelly Olynyk used it against the Timberwolves last night. What I liked about it wasn't that it made the Big KAT get weak in the knees, it is that Olynyk used it IMMEDIATELY. He saw that KAT was out of position already and used the jab with a purpose - to further get him out of position. I like this and it's a LOT different from what Anthony is doing above. It's fast and keeps the cadence of the offense going.  Now, looking at it through the lens of a high school coach, I'm probably teaching a hard drive on this - unless it's an exceptional shooter.