Friday, August 24, 2012

It's All About Trust

Today I made the two hour drive to Upsala, Minnesota to meet with Coach Vern Capelle to talk coaching and it was well worth it! Coach Capelle has a great wealth of knowledge about the game. One of the things I really wanted to talk to him about was his 4 Out Drive Motion, which he has a video on. Along with the 4 out stuff, which was great, he shared a great insight on what makes him a successful head coach. He kept talking about trusting his players. He talked about trusting players to shoot even when they are having a bad night (and letting them know you trust them), trusting players to make the right reads/plays even when they've screwed up, and trusting players to do what you are asking. He discussed how that makes players play harder and more aggressive - because they know you trust them and have their back no matter the outcome. The faith is a motivator for players.

Coincidentally, today I started reading The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner. One of the first chapters talked about when Turner Broadcasting (TBS) wanted to launch The Cartoon Network. They needed immediate programming so they bought Hanna-Barbera Cartoons (Flintstones, Scooby Doo, etc) because they had all the classic cartoons. Hanna-Barbera also had a studio, but the studio had struggled in recent years coming up with any hip, new, creative programs. Ted Turner gave the studio 2 years to turn it around or it would be shut down. The man he appointed to help with the turn around, Alan Keith, devoted all his time to switching the mindset of the animation team. When it was acquired, the Hanna-Barbera philosophy centered around churning out product as cheaply and quickly as possible. So Keith made the effort to change that mindset. Designers were given the freedom to be creative and take more time, explore more options, try different things, and come up with innovative, quality work. The managers were there to help the designers in the creative process not drive them. The process was long but what do you know, Cartoon Network eventually took off because of it!

What do these two stories have in common? As Coach Capelle does with his players, Cartoon Network's Keith TRUSTED his employees to do their best. Both men gave their people the freedom to be themselves and do what they were supposed to do, and do it well. It ended up with Capelle's team's being successful and Keith's TV network taking off. Same principle in both.

This whole thing also directly ties in with one of my favorite blogs of the last few weeks from Coach Sefu Bernard. In his blog, coach talks about great coaches being "guides in the side" and not a "Sage on the Stage". There are a lot of great Minnesota high school coaches who I have been privileged to watch them practice; coaches such as Coach Novak, Coach McKenzie, Coach Thorson, Coach Miller, Coach Klingsporn, Coach Liesener, Coach Fore, Coach Linton, etc. None of these coaches are a "Sage on the Stage" all the time, constantly doing a lot of talking and repeating. They are all the "guides on the side" for the most part, giving a little advice and then moving on and letting the players go. They are moving through the communication levels. They are teaching in bullets, not paragraphs. They are facilitators not lecturers. And they coach like this, again, because they trust their players. I would assume that Coach Capelle and TBS's Alan Keith are cut from that mold as well.

The last few days have really reinforced the importance of having trust in players. As coach Capelle said, it makes them player harder, and better. As people we all want to be trusted. I think it's one of the world's best feelings. I love that my wife trusts me and I trust her, it's why our marriage works. But I now wonder if I trust the players I coach enough? Do they know I trust them? I'm going to go back and ask some former players over the next week and see what they have to say on the subject. Should make for some interesting conversations.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

In More Depth: Three Things on a Note Card

I got a comment on my first "Three Things on a Note Card"  post asking to go a little bit more in depth with what we would put on the note cards. So what I am going to do below is give different player types and what we would put on the note card. I will then put some "team" concepts we might put on a note card for everyone for a given game.

Individual Players

Player Who Drives Out of Control and Takes Bad Shots or Makes Bad Decisions
For the player who loves to get to the lane and throw garbage up at the rim I would write the following things:

1. Find the open teammates on the drive.
2. Use the jump stop when you get to the lane.
3. Pressure on defense

-As you can see, we are trying to use the note card to help guide our player. If he has a talent for getting to the lane we need  him to utilize that skill, but we do want him to take it in a different direction. So this will serve as a reminder (along with some conversations) for what we need him to do. If he isn't doing it, we talk about what was on his card.

Untalented Offensive Player
This is your defensive stopper. This is the player who plays hard, does it the right way, but just isn't offensively skilled. We all love this type of player and know they can get frustrated when they are not scoring. I would go with something such as the following (depending on skill set):

1. Move the ball on offense
2. Be in great help position on defense
3. Pursue every rebound

-Here we are giving the player roles that he can accomplish without having to shoot the ball. We hope that this takes the pressure to score off of him. Doesn't mean that he doesn't shoot (never put that on a card) and if he's open in his range he shoots it, but it's giving him other things to do. If he can do those things then hopefully he feels more successful even if he isn't scoring.

Best Player By Far
When your best player is by far your best player you need to walk that fine line between him being a ball hog and scoring for the good of the team.

1. Find your shot
2. Get other's involved on offense when the defense keys on you
3. Be a leader by being the hardest worker on defense and the boards

With this we are trying to let him know that it's OK to score, but don't force it. We are also conveying the importance of worrying about the defensive end of the floor as well.

Player Who Doesn't Want to Shoot
We all have seen that player who's good but doesn't want to shoot the ball. When that happens it hurts the team. So what we would put is the following:

1. Shoot the ball
2. Shoot the ball
3. Shoot the ball

We would get a chuckle out of it, but it also makes the point that we want the player to shoot!

Bench Player
The worst one to fill out many times is the player who you know probably won't play. I've tried a lot of different things, but I think giving them realistic goals is better. If you give them all game things and if they don't get in the game it becomes a sore spot for them. They need to understand their role and feel important with what they are doing. So what we would put on the card is:

1. Be a great teammate
2. Coach your teammates on the floor
3. When you get your opportunity work hard and take advantage of it

It might sting the ego a little bit, but I think they deserve your honesty. You aren't completely shutting them out either though. I would also put more game situations in there if it's a game you know they have a good chance of playing.

Including Team Goals

There are times when I will use one of the parts of the note card (or add one) to address a team issue. It might have to do with a specific opponent or something that we are not doing well enough. For instance, if we are not rebounding well I'll add that to the card. Or if we are playing a pressure team I'll add in there "backcut against pressure" to remind them to backcut.

What to NOT Put on the Card

In my opinion I don't put stats on the card. There is nothing worse than putting get 10 rebounds and your guy gets 9 and is pissed because he didn't get the goal. You can put team goals such as "win the rebounding battle" but it's hard to put a quantity on there. I would also caution against phrases such as "be a scorer" unless the player won't shoot. If you are telling a player to be a scorer who doesn't need a push it gives the green light to be a ball hog. Also, don't tell player what they can't do, tell them what they can do. As an example, you don't want them to shoot use something such as "move the ball" or "find open teammates". Telling players what to do is far more helpful.

In Closing

Hopefully that helps to better illustrate what I was talking about. I just think that note cards are a great way to reinforce the roles that you have talked about with players and can be a valuable asset to your players.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Teaching Players to Use Imagination

I've always hated practicing offense without defense, unless you are teaching the offense for the first time. I've thought that it's a waste of time because players are not reading a defense, they are just going through the motions of the offense. They are not getting anything out of it.

Today however, I was having a conversation with Paul Richardson that made me take another look at 5 on 0. Coach Richardson is the girls coach at St. Paul Humboldt where I teach and does an outstanding job.  Coach Richardson shared a story about a coach he played for who his who practiced his motion 5 on 0 motion. It wasn't the typical 5 on 0 however, his coach demanded that the players use their imagination while running the offense. They needed to know where the defense was, where the other player's defender's were, etc and react to it. The coach then called them on mistakes and sloppy play every, single, time. He was constantly questioning why they chose to go where they did, why they'd go where someone else was, etc. Coach Richardson said it would drive him and his teammates nuts but helped them to understand the movements on a deeper level.

After hearing how 5 on 0 was used; I have moved from strong hate to slight dislike for it. Its still not something I would do for long periods, or on a daily basis, but when first teaching the offense as a whole I think it's a great addition to the teaching process. The idea of having players imagine and conceptualize not just what they are doing, but what everyone else on the floor is doing! Along with that, the idea that the coach is there holding their feet to the fire his huge. This is something that I will definitely use in the future and appreciate the tip from Coach Richardson.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Emphasis Alone is Not Enough

Photo courtesy of
I was reading some Kevin Eastman notes from the 2012 Coaching U Live clinic that where posted on Coach Peterman's Hoop Scoop Blog (great resource). As always Coach Eastman has great insights into the game and into coaching, the one that stuck out with me was the following:
"Emphasis alone is not enough, you must enforce it."

At times that can seem like kind of a "no duh!" type of statement but it goes deeper than you think. What things in your program do you enforce? You might emphasize the jump stop on a drive, but do you pull a player out for it during a game? Do you call a player out on it every time in practice? If not you may be emphasizing a jump stop, and talk about it, but you are not truly enforcing it.

The tricky part is, what do you enforce? If you enforce everything you enforce nothing. Enforcing everything sounds great in theory, but may be impossible in practice. So my project for the next week is to come up with some things that would be good for us to enforce this year. What do you enforce and how?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Being "Intentional"

Image from
Last week I was doing some teaching related professional development. The training focused on "being intentional" in the classroom. Lesson plans, instructions,  addressing students, labs you pick, etc. Of course this got me thinking about coaching: how intentional am I in my coaching an dhow could I use this idea to improve? Below I will cover the two most important ways that you need to be intentional as a coach.

1. Practice Planning
In our group of science teachers we talked about intentionality in lesson planning. Many science teachers make the mistake of finding a "great lab" and then trying to shoehorn that great lab into the curriculum. They do it not because the students need it, not because the curriculum calls for it, but because they feel it's a great lab. They may also run a lab that looks great, but really doesn't challenge the students or inspire mental growth. When you look at it from the outside you can see the obvious flaws in the logic, we need great labs that fit our teaching goals and challenge our students, not just run great labs for the sake of great labs. Often times however, when you are in the heat of the year, you miss the forest for the trees. The same thing can happen to basketball coaches.

We as coaches fall into this very same trap with drills that we run. We will have a "great drill" that doesn't really fit with what they are trying to accomplish in that practice. We run it anyway because it's a "great drill" and they just want to run it. Many times we also run drills that "look good" but are too remedial for our players, but they look good so we run them.

You need to be intentional and make sure the drill fits your practice goals and also give the players what they require for their current skill level. For instance, why spend 10 minutes every day in the middle of the season on defensive stance if your players have it down (if they don't different story)? Why not spend that time having them work on guarding a live dribbler and playing defense 3 on 3? It's a drill that fits the need (defense) but also challenges the current defensive level of the players. 

You need to be intentional about how you use build ups in practice as well. It drives me nuts when I see a coach do defensive stance, go right into some offensive concept, and then come back and do on the ball defense 20 minutes later. That's like showing a student how to do a math problem, doing 10 minutes of socials studies, then giving the student a practice worksheet from the math they did 20 minutes ago. Does that make any sense? The drill becomes abstract and the players aren't getting what they should out of it. Instead, do a few minutes of stance, few minutes of on the ball defense, and then move into a 1 on 1, 2 on 2, or 3 on 3 situation with an emphasis on guarding the ball. That way they are building up the skill and using it in a game situation.

When you are intentional about your practice build up you are going to get far more out of it. I've been blessed enough to attend some great practices of Minnesota high school coaches. All of these coaches, who are successful year in and year out, go to great lengths to be intentional about their practices. It shows in their practice and when the ball goes up on Friday nights. 

2. Communication
Communication with athletes and parents is huge, we all know that. If you can communicate intentionally you will solve a lot of problems and everyone will be on the same page. But are we always intentional in our communication?

This spring I sat down with a coach who is transitioning from being the head coach to athletic director this year. One of the things that struck me with him was how intentional he was with his communication with parents. He would send out an e-mail every week giving updates, and spreading the message. He was intentional with communicating, and with the message he gave out. Anytime you are talking with people about your program (whether a head coach, assistant, player, or parent) you are conveying a message. So with that said everyone in the program needs to be intentional about the message.

It's also important to be intentional with how you communicate with players. The great coaches I have been around are all very intentional about how they communicate with players. It often appears as if every word they say to the team and the individual is carefully planned. They are not going out there in practices and games and simply shooting from the hip when they speak. It's very measured, calculated speech that lends itself to giving the information and getting the result they want.

A long time ago psychology students at UCLA went in and studied John Wooden's practices. They were keeping track of what he said to his players. They imagined they would hear a lot of positive and negative talk from the legendary coach. Instead, what they found was that the vast majority (over 85%) of Coach Wooden's comments were giving instruction. The Wizard of Westwood was intentional with his speak and his coaching record reflected it (and yes, having talented helped too).

Closing Thoughts
There are a lot of things that you can be intentional about as a coach, but the two areas mentioned above are the most important. When you think of every great coach they share two common areas of greatness - practice and communication. Because of that, this year I am really going to focus my efforts on being more intentional in our practices and communication. I hope you will as well. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Defining Roles with Three Things on a Notecard

There are many times when players are unsure of their role(s) on the team, especially early in the year while the team is still forming. The "Three Things on a Notecard" technique is a good way to quickly clarify roles for our players. The Three Things on a Notecard technique is quite simple - write three things on the notecard that you really want the player to concentrate on. These should be different for each player and tailored to their abilities and skills. These notes can be as simple as rebounding or something more complex such as where you want them to get their shots from.

Now, the three things you write are not the only three things the player should do, it should just give some direction to the player. Also, make sure your roles are written in positive, instructive talk - the instructions should be what you want the player to do, not what you don't want them to do.  

They are quick to make, and I have felt that they've made a difference when helping players to realize their roles. Hopefully they can work for you!

Great Majerus Set Pick and Roll Play

A number of years ago I attended a clinic with Rick Majerus on the pick and roll. It wasn't the best clinic that I had been to, but I did get a gem. This pick and roll set is great because if it's simplicity. You can draw it up as an end game set or put it in during 5 minutes of practice. Lastly, it gives you the slip look which is hard to guard when teams are aggressive.

The set works best when you have a post (or player) who can shoot it and a bigger post who is normally your screener. It also helps if you have one more shooter to be the wing that fills to the top. It is also a great set if your point guard is your best player

The set starts with a point, two wings, and a stack on the left block. The point guard (1) dribbles away from the stack. The wing being dribbled at (3) on that side circles under and comes back to the point. The backside wing (2) cuts down, off the stack (double screen) and across to the opposite corner. 

Both backside block players (4,5) start to come up to the ball with the big post (5) coming first and the shooter (4) trailing. The first player to the ball, the big post (5) slips the screen to the rim and the guard (1) looks for him.

As the big post (5) slips the shooting post (4) sets the ball screen. The player at the point (3) fades to the opposite wing. The guard (1) comes over the pick and roll and the screener (4) pops. Look to kick across to the opposite wing (3) for a shot, hit the player on the block, or hit the screener for a three.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Cutting Down on Ankle Injuries

If you were to ask any coach what the most common injury is, it's the ankle. For many coaches, the answer is ankle braces. I used to be an ankle braces guy, but then I started reading Alan Stein's articles on ankle injuries. In his articles he says that ankle braces are not the answer, the answer is properly stretching and strengthening the ankle.

Last year at Como Park we decided to try it on the JV. No ankle braces, just strength and flexibility exercies. Low and behold we only had one ankle issue all year. We had a few minor rolls, but they didn't affect the players and were a lot less frequent than previous years. Below is a video by Alan Stein's Stronger Team.Com with some of the exercises we used. Hopefully they help you out as well.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Players and the Test

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Last week I was attending an AVID conference in Philadelphia for school and I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to sit down with Coach Phil Martelli of St. Joe's University. I respect Coach Martelli a lot for his knowledge and passion for the game. He's old school in his willingness to share his thoughts and ideas with other coaches. We talked for almost two hours and he was very open with his answers - he wasn't hiding anything and was very honest.

One of the best pieces of knowledge he shared was his approach to game time. I've heard him say it before in articles and videos, but it was great to hear it again. He made the analogy of a teacher and a coach. The teacher works hard to prepare the students for the test, but when the test comes how do they act? Are teaching running up and down the aisles screaming at the players "REMEMBER YOUR TIMES TABLES!!!!" or are they quiet and relaxed? Coach Martelli went on to explain how so many coaches are crazy on the sideline but are they really doing any good? Is all the yelling and screaming sinking in or simply floating out the opposite ear? He went onto explain how great coaches prepare their team all week for the game - even having to yell and scream at times, but when it's game time they relax and let the players play. Great coaches make a few, calm, adjustments as the game goes on as opposed to stalking the sidelines in a rage.

For me this really hit home. I used to be a huge yeller and a screamer on the bench. I would have hated to play for me - although I felt like the guys played hard.  Over the last few years I have mellowed, but not enough. Every game I go in saying I am going to be calm and laid back, however that usually isn't the case. So this year I am going to make an even greater effort to relax during the games and be a true teacher during the "tests".

Friday, August 3, 2012

Quick Pin: Set for a Secondary Shooter

When looking at set plays, there are two powerful ideas: mis-direction and combo actions. The play below encompasses both of these. It's a 2-3 high set where your shooter is actually the five man. We use the five man to screen and then get him open when the defense is preoccupied with defending the first action. The set includes some interesting counters you can use to play with the defense.

Note: I wouldn't run this with your best player at the five, but I would run it with a secondary shooter at the five that the defense isn't going to key on right away.

Quick Pin
The set is a 23 high with the post on the ball side at the first hash mark, just below the FT line. On the guard to guard pass the post (5) sets a curl screen for the backside wing (4) who cuts over the top of the screen. If they really cheat it, the wing (4) can reject the screen and backcut in a Princeton or Dana Altman 2-3 High fashion. That look because very effective against an aggressive team.

As the wing (4) comes off the screen the guard who passed the ball (2) sets a quick downscreen for the screening player (5) in a flex like action. The inside man (5) pops up for the shot. Again, this screening action makes it look as if we are looking for the curl. The defense is going to help on the curl and become an easier target for the downscreen.

 Backscreen Counter
An easy counter to this set is having the shooter/post (5) backscreen the passing guard (2) after setting the curl screen for the wing (4). After setting the screen backscreen the shooter (5) pops back for the shot.

Back and Screen Counter
This counter is similar to the counter above, except the guard (1) swing it to the wing (3) on his side and then screens the screener for the shooter (5) who is setting the backscreen. 

Flair Counter
Another simple counter is to have your guard pass the ball, V cut and get it back. As that happens the wing (4) pins the shooter (5) who pops to the wing for a shot.

As usual, nothing new or revolutionary here, but  this set is an interesting way to get a secondary shooter some looks without drawing immediate attention to them. This would be a helpful set if you ran Princeton, a 2-3 High, or even a 4 Out Motion offense as it starts that way and you can run it right into the offense. Either way, I like the idea of using the shooter as a screener first, then getting them open for a shot. It puts their defender in a tough spot - help on the first action or stay with the shooter.