Sunday, November 1, 2009

Never Tell Your Players to "Post Up" Again

Been a while since my last post, but I'm back at it! Sorry for the gap.

Recently I watched Coach Petetigoue's Zone Dribble Drive Motion DVD and he did an EXCELLENT JOB! One of the best points he made was he was telling his post player to "box out" the defense and not "post up". After seeing him make that point, I will never again tell my post player to "post up" but instead will have him "box out". Boxing out envokes ideas of contact, being low and wide, having your hands ready, fighting for position, and really getting into the person you are boxing out, which is what you should do when you post up as well. If you are told to post up, there is the mental image of a guy standing on the block, hand up, looking for the ball - he is not being aggressive and not making contact. So start this season by introducing your players to the concept of boxing out when looking to get the ball.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Showboating or Fundamental Play??

Thought about this the other day whie watching that insane hockey goal by that nine year old on ESPN and thought it would be something to share with you guys.

Many times we as coaches we get upset with a player who throws no look passes, behind the back passes, shoots reverse layups, etc. But at the same time we marvel when we watch those same plays happen on highlight reels when they are done by Bob Cousy, Pete Maravich, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, etc. When we see them performed by these legends we compliment them on their command of the fundamentals. We don't see and forget all the crazy passes Cousy threw that sailed out of bounds, all the reverse layups that Jordan missed and all the no look Magic Johnson passes that went sailing off an unsuspecting teammates head. We also don't see, on those highlight reels, the time they spent as youngsters perfecting those passes and moves. How many times they screwed it up before they acieved mastery and success at these moves.

The point of the above is not to say that every kid should be throwing behind the back passes all on every play. It's to put out there the idea that these things are not terrible plays, they are in fact fundamentally sound basketball plays when they are made in the correct situations by players who have learned the skill (sometimes you have to give them some rope while they learn). So as a coach think about teaching how to shoot reverse layups (I'm HUGE on these), and at least how to throw a good no look pass on the break. If they are not done at the correct times they are in fact showboating! So as a coach, take the time to teach your players when are where to use some of these plays and it just may benefit you downt the road.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

True Fastbreak Basketball: The secret is in the mindset - not the system.

Coaches all over are constantly looking for the best fastbreak "system". I personally don't believe that there is a certain system that is the perfect system for the fastbreak. I personally believe that the secret to great fastbreaking basketball is the mindset of the coach and players. If you have the mindset there are many different fastbreaks that you can run and have high scoring success with.

The coach has to be able to let go of the reins a little bit, let the players take shots (even if a few are questionable), and let the players play a little more loose for the sake of the tempo. If a coach can not give up some control to the players, the fastbreak is not going to score nearly as many points. Traditionally, high scoring teams are lead by "Maverick Coaches" (knew you missed that word after the election ended) that have a free wheeling spirit and kind of let things fly. They enjoy the pace of the game and the crazyness of it all. They are ok taking a high bulk of shots. Minnesota has had some very high scoring teams in Cass Lake-Bena and Minnesota Transitions Academy, both teams routinely go over the 100 mark. They shoot early and often with multiple players taking a high amount of quick shots. They take a lot of open threes on the break. They push the ball, let their players play a little more than some. Thus they score more points. They also have the talent, and it helps when you have talent!

As with everything else X and O related, it looks great when you have studs running it. Of course LMU was great when they had guys like Kimble, Gathers, and Fryer, because those were some great players! Same with with those Runnin' Rebel teams in the 90s look at the STUDS those guys had! Most high scoring teams are unsurprisingly lead by talented high scoring players!

I do think, however, that many of the great fastbreaks teams run have some commonalities. First of all, and most importantly, those fastbreaks are PASSING breaks. It is a given that passing is faster than dribbling, and most prolific fastbreaking teams use this type of break. These teams also use a sideline passing break. It seems passing it up the sideline, away from congestion results in quicker advancement of the ball for many teams. Most prolific fastbreaking teams use this type of system. Also, most fastbreaking teams put a high emphasis on second chance baskets and offensive rebounds. Coach Arseneault from Grinnell wants his teams to get 1/3 (33%) of their misses and Coach Porter of ONU Women's fame wants his teams collecting 40%! So great fastbreak teams take a lot of early shots, BUT they also get a lot of thier misses for second chance baskets. The last commonality of almost all prolific fastbreaking teams is that they push on makes and misses both. They are ALWAYS looking to get the ball out and run with it no matter the situation.

Something else that aids the high scoring fastbreaks teams is not their specific offensive system they run but an aggressive, pressing, trapping defense that creates live ball turnovers and easy layups or shots on the other end. Very few teams are a great fastbreaking team if they play passive half court defense, only because each possession for the opponent takes too long. It's part of why Coach Bennett's teams were never extremely high scoring although they were GREAT defensively. Grinnell College, a very well known scoring machine, would rather give up a layup after ten seconds than get a defensive stop after 30. When Coach Bennett heard that theory, I am sure he puked on his shoes. Their reasoning is that they want to push the tempo and fastbreak - they can't do that if the other team is running their offense. They would rather get a quick steal and a layup. Both Minnesota schools outlined also use an aggressive trapping system that gets them easy points.

At the end though, with most things in basketball come down to the Billys and Joes running those Xs and Os. If you have a great team, you are going to score a lot of points regardless of the system you run. And if you let go a little bit, your team is going to score more regardless of if you are running the Grinnell, LMU, North Carolina, Olivet, or UNLV fast breaking system.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

From The Other Side Of The Desk....

Whenever I go into my athletic director's office, I sit on one side of the desk and he sits on the other. I often wonder exactly what's going through his mind over there on the other side. What he thinks of me, what he wants from me, and what he wants me to do with our program here at South Tama County to make it as successful as I know it will be someday. So, I finally asked him and here was his response:

1. Get people to trust in you and themselves.

2. Don't fear
conflict. Conflict is healthy. If kids / coaches / parents / anyone isn't doing the job, confront it in a constructive manner.

3. Get
commitment. Be commitment. This is nonnegotiable.

4. Hold kids and coaches
accountable. I'm not saying make them run if they don't shoot 50%, but address it when they don't meet goals / expectations. Make it matter.

5. Focus on what the end
results should be. Talk about it, be about it, live it all the time. If you do that, kids will want to do what is necessary.
I thought this list had some very good ideas and that I needed to share it with all of you. Hopefully you take time and consider these thoughts.

Number two is a very good point for me personally, many times we as coaches shy away from conflict because we see it as a negative, when in reality many great things can come from conflict if it is approached in the correct manner.

Hopefully this gives you guys something to think about. It's always good to know what is going through the head of the person on the other side of that desk!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

What Are Your "Acceptable Turnovers"?

I went to a clinic at Marshalltown Community College today and listened to Coach Rick Majerus speak. While I didn't pick up a lot from the Xs and Os side (he shared some PnR material that was pretty basic, good, but stuff I had seen before), I picked up some great lines within the presentation. Some stuff was just amazing he said. But something he said was that he had some "acceptable turnovers", which were turnovers he wouldn't get upset about. The one he shared was a player getting a three second call because he was posting hard. I agreed with that statement, and decided to put together a list of my own. Below are mine, and a little reasoning on why. What are yours?? Why??? Feel free to post and share on here, or shoot me an e-mail!

1. 3 Second Call When Posting Hard
-For this, I agree with Coach Majerus, don't fault a player for posting hard. Now if it happens a third time you start to get on the player about it.

2. Offensive Charge Three Feet Around the Basket
-Some of you are shaking your heads on this one, but first, before you laugh, let me explain. I want our players attacking the rim hard, if they have to worry about changes, they are not going to go as hard. Also, if you make a player take a good hard charge, and you attack him hard, he's definitely going to think twice about taking another one. He may end up turning or flinching the next time and gettting a foul called on him instead - so a positive for us. Again, if it happens more than twice with the same player, we have issues that need to be addressed.

3. Rebounding Foul
-Don't care what you say, I want my players to battle for a rebound within every inch of the rules, and if they pick up a few fouls on the way so be it - as long as they are not dangerous and flagrant. It's about creating a culture of toughness and not worrying about those fouls is OK by me.

4. Foul, turnover, or Out of Bounds Violation When Going After a Loose Ball
-Sometimes, you are going to get a foul diving for a ball, or you are going to grab it and turn it over by travel 0r out of bounds. I can live with it, as long as the player is on the floor.

5. Five Second Call On the Passer When No One is Open
-This is another one that might make you wonder. But for me, if no one is open, don't throw them the ball. I have this for two reasons, it relieves pressure on the passer and puts some ownership on the other 4 players to get open in a dead ball situation. It doesn't give the passer the excuse of "I threw it because I was going to get a five second call". Also, if we do get a five second call, the turnover is going to be a dead ball foul, thus allowing us to set up our defense. So if no one is open, don't throw them the ball.

So there are my five. What are yours? Do you have any?? Just something to think about on a Saturday night!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Having a Substitution Routine - And Teaching It

Checking into and coming out of a game, it's a simple thing, sometimes. Players checking in and out, moreover how they do it, can have a very big effect on your team in a number of ways. Having, teaching, and enforcing a set routine on subsitutions can have a very positive effect on your team. Below are some negative situations and how you can change them to be positive impacts on your team.

Situation 1:
Player A checks in for player B, player A runs in, points at B who runs off. On the next defensive posession the player that A was guarding (who B should have been guarding) takes the ball and dribbles in for a layup because player B forgot to ask player A who he was guarding.
Solution 1:
It's a simple thing, but teach and drill your players on communicating with the player they are going in for to find out any offensive/defensive assignments. What I prefer is giving player A a water bottle, towel, or something else and having him hand it to player B. Player A cannot let go of the towel/bottle until he tells player B what his assignments were. If player B does not know what he is doing, player A is held accountable. Also makes players aware of who is coming in for who. Simple but can be effective.

Situation 2:
Player A checks in for player B. Player B is mad that he got taken out and stomps to the end of the bench where he proceeds to pout.
Solution 2:
If you haven't taught and drilled this as unacceptable behavior, it's harder to enforce it as such. The routine I like is having any player that gets taken out have a seat on the bench next to the head coach. No matter what, players that come out are required to sit in that seat - and are not allowed to move until directed by the coach - they then slide down one seat. This takes care of a lot of the end of the bench tirades and pouting that takes place on so many basketball courts. It also gives you, as the coach (or your assistant) a chance to calm them down and refocus them. If they do not come to thier assigned seat, then can be more effectively disciplined I feel.

So there are the two routines I teach and they are things I feel are worth taking the time to teach. Have others? Help me out and pass them along!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Never Lose Sight of When It Was Magic...

I know I just posted yesterday (see below), but I decided I had to post again today.

I was working my elementary open gym tonight and started thinking about my basketball experiences at that age. And just like that my first ever REAL BASKET, in a REAL GAME came flooding back to me.

It was the last game of the season, I was in kindergarden playing YMCA ball in Virginia (MN). It was actually at the old Eveleth (MN) YMCA with the dark, dingy gym. Anyway, it was my last game, hadn't scored yet but had tried many times. I just couldn't put it up there. It was toward the end of the game and a teammate threw a pass my way, I was right under the basket, on the right side, in perfect position. I caught the ball and heaved it up there with all my might, and by the grace of God the thing went in! I still can't believe it did. But of all the parts of the memory that came back to me, the most vivid part was the pure, magical joy I felt seeing that ball go through. Didn't make another basket the rest of the game, and finished with only one basket, but that one basket may have been the happiest basket I ever made. It was a rare moment when the game was pure and good, when nothing else mattered but the fact I made that basket.

The reason I told this story was not to show how great of a basketball player I was/am (because let's be honest, I'm not!), it wasn't simply to share a story about myself, it is because the story reminded me of a time in my life when there was no pressure to win or perform, when basketball was completely pure. I urge you (coach or player/fan) to revisit those lost memories of when basketball was simple and pure, remind yourself of that time. And also, as a coach, to remind your teams of that time in their lives, to remind your team that at the end of the day basketball is a great and pure game.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Condensing Your System

It's my personal belief that players win games, schemes do not. As a coach I want to introduce some concepts and ideas on offense and defense to help my players be successful, but at the end of the day I'm more interested in developing players than developing offenses and defenses. My philosophy is run a few things and run them well instead of running 7000 things.

As a high schooler I went to two high schools and played for two different varsity football coaches. The first man I played for ran 3 formations, and we probably only had 15 or so plays, but boy we ran them well. The second coach I played for had 120 plays and 16 formations in our playbook, we were constantly confused about what was going on.
The first coach I mentioned has made many, many trips to the state football tournament, is in the Minnesota Football Coaches Hall of Fame I believe, and everyone regards as a living legend. The second coach was out of football after two years as a head coach and has not coached again. Both coaches had roughly the same amount of talent, but the first spent more time developing it than the first.

This is why I'm a firm believer in running a few things and running them well, having offenses and defenses that are multidimensional instead of having a different offense or defense for every situation. A coach and I on a message board had this philosophical disagreement, I am not saying my way is right, but it's probably my firmest belief as a coach. He liked the idea of running a different defense and offense for every situation, I personally would rather run a few things with wrinkles to address different situations.

Instead of needing a different offense for half court man, half court zone, half court man pressure, half court zone traps, etc, I like to think I've built a half court offense that can simply/easily adapt to what the defense throws at us (I can see having two half court offenses for man vs zone, but anymore than that is unneeded in my opinion). Instead of having 3-4 BLOB sets, have 1 with a bunch of counters to take advantage of what the defense does. Same thing with defenses, instead of teaching 2-3 different kinds of full court presses, teach one full court press with options and then get good at that one press. Make that one press able to counter a few different pressbreaks. Same goes for half court defense, I believe in a staple defense and a simple backup you add later in the year. The more things you can combined and have multiple looks from the better. For instance, this year I've taken my break and added a simple wrinkle that turns it into a 3 across pressbreak in case we can't get the ball in and run. So that cuts down teaching time for a pressbreak and a fastbreak.

Anyway, as a coach, look at your system and figure out if there are anyways you can condense them down to cut down on teaching. Any way you can take your man to man offense and streamline it to be able to be used against zones - some can, some can't. I just think the more efficient you become the better you can teach what you do, if your pressbreak come from your fastbreak the players will have a better context on which to learn the pressbreak and it will flow much better. Anyway, it's just my opinion.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Envelopes

This is something that I'm going to do for my guys this year and I'll see how it goes. I thought of it for no reason the other day and thought it was kind of cool.

I am going to give each of my players three envelopes. One is going to say "Five Months", another is going to say "25 Years" and the last is going to say "50 Years". The players are going to write down their goals for each time period. What they want in five months from basketball (our team/their personal goals), what they want in twenty five years from their lives (career, family, friends, financially, etc), and finally what they want in fifty years from their lives (career, family, retirement, etc). Along with their goals, they are going to write down some ways they are going to meet their goals in their lives, how they are going to act and what they want to accomplish.

For the five months they are going to talk about what they want from the season as an individual, team, and program. Hopefully we'll talk about working hard, etc.

After they finish writing out they forms, they put them into the envelopes and seal them. Then every time they look at the envelope (daily/weekly/whenever) it should remind them about the goals that are enclosed in it and how they were supposed to be getting there. Hopefully that helps them to focus on their goals.

At the end of the time (5 months, 25 years, 50 years) they should open the envelope and see where they are at and how well they did in achieving their goals.

If the players are underclassmen you could have them fill out extra envelopes for each year that they have left to play. So five months (sr-so-fr), one year and five months (jr-so-fr), two years and five months (so-fr), and three years and five months (fr). This way the player are laying out their aspirations and goals for the following years. It gives them a roadmap to where they want to go.

Hopefully this is something you can use to help your players set their goals for their careers, and more importantly their lives.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

How Does Your DOFT Match Up With What You Want?

The "DOFT" is something I thought of randomly today and decided to share. DOFT is just acronym for the things you work on in practice every day. The letters DOFT stand for:

Transition (both offense and defense)

These are the basic categories anything you do in practice can be put into. The amount of minutes you do for each one is the "score" of that letter. For instance if I spent 50 minutes in practice on fundamentals, my "F-Score" would be a 50. To look at my "F-Score" for a week I would simply add up all the "F-Scores" for the week. I don't have conditioning on there because for me conditioning happens all through practice, I don't condition without a ball. 

I think it is important to look at your DOFT numbers for a given day, week, month, and/or season to see if the number align up with your philosophy. If you are a "defensive coach" yet your O-Scores are much higher than your D-Scores there is probably a gap between your philosophy and execution of that philosophy. 

I also think they are numbers that can be helpful if you are struggling in a given area. Let's say for the last couple of games your offense has not been executing like it should. You go back and look at your O-Scores over the last two weeks and notice that you really haven't been spending much time on team offense the last few weeks and that is the problem. At the same time,  if you may go over the O-Scores, see they are where they should be that gives you two different avenues to explore: 1. your guys just are not executing and you need to may more attention to detail in practice or 2. you are not focusing on the right things in practice. 

You can also use DOFT scores to see what individual teams need. Going back to offense again, maybe mid-season you notice that your teams perform best on offense when their O-Scores are at or above a certain point - and you need to spend that amount of time on offense. It can help you adjust year to year to account for the different personalities of individual teams from year to year. 

Also, when you get your scores over a period of time, you can divide them by total practice time and get the DOFT Ratios. Then you can see what percentage of your time is spend in practice in each area, on average. It again allows you to better align philosophies with your practice execution and planning. 

As with anything on this blog, none of this is going to blow you away and make you say "WOW AMAZING IDEA, CAN'T BELIEVE I EVER COACHED WITHOUT THIS"! That's not what this blog is about. But at the same time, it's something a little different. It's an easy tool you can use to analyze what you are doing in your daily practices and what effect it is having on the court. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Fall Shooting Camps

Been awhile since I posted. School started for us a week and a half ago (wow- it has flown by). I have been working on being a good classroom teacher, which in the end is the important job! Anyway, I'm back and hope to keep posting regularly. 

Many times, coaches have nothing to do in the fall. In the fall we can't work with any of our high school guys in the fall. I take this time to focus in on my middle school group. Every Sunday until the season starts I'm going to host a free shooting camp for my middle school students. While I ran open gyms for the all summer, this is an additional thing I can do with them. It also helps to develop some shooters for the coming years - something every coach wants. One of the reasons I like shooting camps is that there is little to no risk of getting the football players injured during the camp. If it was full contact and guys were playing, kids could get hurt and your workouts could take a negative PR hit. 

Another group that is great to work with during this time is the elementary group. We run free elementary basketball open gyms/workouts on Mondays. It's just a way to get players into the gym, and anytime you can do that you are doing something right!! 

Anytime you can work with your younger kids, I would encourage you to do it. Remember you are not just working with young kids (which is rewarding in itself), you are working with your future varsity guys! Sometimes during the year we get so busy with our group of kids and we completely forget about the younger levels. That is why I ALWAYS try to take this time of year to focus on that part of our program (or whatever program I have been with). It's a vital part to our success at the varsity level. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Using a Combination Defense To Get a Player Rattled

Since I have not posted in a while, I'll throw out a two for one today. I was talking with a basketball friend last night and we were talking about using a box and 1, diamond and 1, etc to rattle a high scoring player.

This is nothing new really, using this defense to shut someone down. But most coaches don't talk about the psychological part of using this defense. If a team has a player that is used to shooting the ball and scoring a lot, they are going to get frustrated when they are not getting the touches they are used to. Some players don't mind, but it drives some players totally INSANE! This can cause them to start to force shots and force the action. So sometimes even if the box and 1, diamond and 1 etc isn't the BEST defense to run against a team, you run it simply to frustrate that type of player that demands the ball. It can lead to a breakdown in team play and good things for your squad!

The "Stick and Three"

Was visiting with a college coach the other day and he told me about a defense he played from time to time last year called the "Stick and Three". This defense was very basic, almost silly, but at the same time, it threw some of the better teams in their conference for a loop.

The basic premise of the Stick and Three is that you match up against their three best players (usually perimeter) and zone with the other two guys in a "stick" formation. The guys guarding the three guys man on man are in all out denial, they don't let them catch. If they cut backdoor, the stick is there to help hopefully. On the stick, one guy plays the top, the other plays the bottom. Ball goes to the wing, the two slide over, ball goes below the FT line extended the high guy on the stick drops to the level of the ball to protect the paint.

This is a GREAT defensive look if your opponent has a couple of players (usually posts) who simply can't shoot worth a lick from the outside and can't really handle the ball. It's also a good thing to throw at a team and make two players who aren't used to doing much carry the load in terms of handling the ball and shooting. The opponent may have a guard who's more of a defensive guy, make him bring the ball up, take some shots, and make some passes. I bet something good comes of that for you.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Taking Time for Yourself

I wrote about something similar in my "Dead Zone Time of the Year" article last year in September.

I think it's important as the summer winds down, and before the season begins that you take some time to do some other things you enjoy. For me, it's fishing, a little hunting, and spending time with the wife and friends. For you it might be different, but I think it's a healthy thing to do, find something else you like and take time for that. Basketball can be very addicting, and takes up a lot of time during the winter and summer. You see many coaches burn out as the years go on, many times because they do not take the time to do other fun things with their time. If it is all basketball, all the time, you likely will burn out at some point. Remember, a coaching career (and building/running a successful program) is a marathon, not a sprint. So take time to slow down, enjoy life, and put basketball into perspective.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The X-Out Improvement Finishing Series

This is something that I did on Monday with my elementary group and open gym and I thought was very beneficial. It is something we will do during the winter season with the high school aged players as well. It's something that should greatly help us in being better around the rim shooters, as we need to be. 

Pete Carril, former Princeton Univ Coach, talked often about having players be able to score in a number of ways around the rim. It's something I'm trying to do with our program here. 

What we did Monday was what I call the "X-Out Improvement Finishing Series". VERY SIMPLE AND BASIC, but I think it's effective in working with kids on their scoring around the basket. What I did was have the players do the drill for one minute, rest for 15 seconds, and do the drill a second time. The goal was to make MORE SHOTS the second time than the first. 

For the drill, place a cone at each elbow. The player that is up starts with the ball at the cone in triple threat. On the coach's signal (as time starts) the player dribbles inside the cone and performs the proper finishing move. After getting the ball out of the net the dribble outside the cone on the opposite elbow, around the cone, and back to the rim to do the same finishing move. The drill runs 30-60 seconds depending on time/space constraints (don't want kids standing around). After the first go round, the players get 10-20 seconds to rest. After that they repeat the drill and the finishing move a second time. The goal the second time is to get MORE MAKES than they did the first time. The emphasis is competing against yourself and improving. That is a major part of why I like it, you are not worrying about anything but bettering yourself. 

The finishing moves I use are:
-Regular layup
-Middle Layup
-Jump Stop Power Up
-Jump Stop, Step Across, Power Up
-Reverse Layup

If you don't have a lot of time/baskets, this can be a great drill for a station with partners. One partner does the drill, one times, they switch. The rest of the players are doing other stuff and only one player isn't moving. 

I may do all of them in a single day, but for reasons of practice/workout time I normally only do 1-3 per day and rotate which ones I do during the week.

Hope this helps. Thoughts? I have a thread open on the X's and O's of Basketball Forum on ideas with finishing moves. If you could help me out that would be great. 

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Using the "Skate Dribble"

The "Skate Dribble" is a move where players push off their outside (non ballside) foot and move sideways, almost in a slide. It's a quick move that starts and stops fast. This is a great move because it makes the defender have to make a decision and the offense can try to take advantage of that decision, whatever it is.

To perform the dribble, the player simply pushes off with the outside foot, while pounding the ball on the same side as the direction you are moving. The player slides his outside foot after his inside foot has planted. The planted foot and slide of the outside foot help to stop the player's momentum so he can read the defense and make a move. It's only a one dribble pound and then you have to make a decision.

Then, it comes time to read the defense. If the defense does not move enough, because the dribbler moved laterally and not North/South, that will open enough of a lane for the player with the ball to drive the lane. The footwork, for me is always pound with the ballside foot (the foot that made the initial step) and attack by stepping first with the outside foot (the sliding foot) to seal the defender with the player's backside.

If the defense makes the slide and overplays the play (why it's important to slide and stop on a dime), the offensive player simply crosses over and attacks the other way. The footwork here is pound, slide, step with the ballside foot as you crossover. So you can cross step and seal off the defender.

This is a move series I have been working on a lot with my guys over the summer and I can already see improvements in how they attack the basket. Hope it can help you guys out as well. If the above description doesn't make sense, please let me know and I will try to better explain it! Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Closeout: When the Defense is Most Vulnerable

I spent my Monday sitting down with a local college coach, and among the many things we talked about was his offensive philosophy. He's a good coach who has been at some Division 1 stops along the way in his coaching career. His comment to me about his offense was that he wanted to make the defense close out as much as possible and then take advantage of the closeouts mistakes. I like that and think it can (and should) be a part of any good offensive philosophy. It's nothing new, but something that I have not personally heard coaches specifically talk to players about often - taking advantage of the defense on the closeout.

Some mistakes the defense is going to make (and you should talk to players about) are closing out:

1. Too loose - this allows you to attack with a shot or a jab fake and drive.

2. Too tight - this allows you to simply blow by the defender or use a shot fake and drive.

3. Too high - going to allow you to attack low.

4. Too low - going to allow you to attack high.

Attacking the closeout defender is something that players should be taught and learn how to do. Hit a couple shots? Know the defender is going to close hard and probably be taken advantage with the shot fake or blow by. Have you driven a few times on this guy? Well, know he is going to close out softer and will likely be more apt to bite on a jab fake.

As always, simple things to think about that could make a big difference for your guys. Some of these things we at times expect players to know, but unfortunately most don't until they are told.

As a coach, how can we work more closeouts into our offenses? Three ways I can think of are:

1. Drive and Kick. The enter DDM or AASAA offensive scheme is predicated on beating people off the closeouts and getting to the basket.

2. Skip Passes. The skip pass is the ultimate way to get a closeout because normally you are making a guy go from help position (many times mid lane) to the opposite side of the court, lots of ground to cover. So if you like the idea of getting closeouts, try to get your guys to throw an occasional skip pass. These will also open up the lane for you as defenders start to cheat them.

Also, while watching a practice a DeLaSalle High School (Mpls. MN) I heard Coach Thorson say to his players: "One good skip pass deserves another". His idea was that if the player does not have a shot or immediate drive on the skip to skip it back because the defense coming to help side may have overplayed to get to help side.

3. Ball Swings. Swinging the ball side-top-side in rapid fashion is a great way to force defenders to move from help to ball in quick fashion. Notice the good dribble drive teams may swing the ball 1-2x probing the defense and waiting for that suspect closeout to occur so they can take advantage of that.

Anyway, there are some thoughts and ideas on taking advantage of closeouts. Hopefully you can find this information helpful!

Monday, July 20, 2009

The "Run Out Series" Drills

I have not shared drills for a while, so I figured I would throw one out there for you!

The "Run Out Series" is something I came up with my season at Bagley HS when practicing with 6 players and 1 basket. I needed something where we could get a lot of "game shots" (which I think are important) in a little bit of space. The best time to beat a defender is on the closeout and I wanted to also have a drill to work on that. So I came up with Run Outs and the Run Out Series

The drill is very simple and probably nothing new. One player starts at the elbow ready to shoot, the rest start in a line under the basket (or two lines if you have 4+ guys). The first guy in line has a ball (and the second if more than three in a line). The player with the ball passes it to the shooter and SPRINTS OUT WITH HIGH HANDS PAST THE SHOOTER AS HE SHOOTS. The runner then sets up to be the next shooter. The shooter gets the ball and passes it to the next guy in line. If there are only two he passes it to the new shooter and runs out at him.

This simulates a defender running out at you when you are trying to shoot, as happens a lot in a game. This shooting drill teaches you to focus on the rim and not let the defender distract you from shooting. I think it really helps our guys develop that shooting touch with a guy in your face.

Some of the points of emphasis are: Play low to high - knees bent ready to shoot on the catch, watch the rim not the defender, proper shooting form, good passes, and bring the ball into your shot pocket.

Then after you do that for a while (5 minutes or so) and want to change, you can have your offensive player shot fake and drive. Instruct your runners to run to the same side of the shooter every time so they don't collide. The shooter shot fakes (ball up, butt down), cross steps, and explodes to the basket for a layup or pull up jumper, your choice.

After you do that for a few minutes, have your player work on the straight blow by. Work on the recognition that the defender is straight up and out of position, and teach them to simply put the ball on the floor and drive the poor closeout.

After executing that, have your players work on the jab fake and shot. Tell them after blowing by, or against good close out defenders, they are going to play the drive. So we use the jab fake to freeze them and allow us to shoot. Instruct your guys to jab at them, get back to balanced and shoot. The runners should play dummy D and freeze on the jab fake leaving enough room for a shot.

What you have to remind your guys is that this is NOT a defensive drill. You are not working on defense here, you are simply working to get your teammates better. You have to run hard and work hard, but at the same time don't translate this to defense! I know some defensive coaches may not run this drill for that very reason, but I don't see it being a huge carry over.

Well, I hope that this is a drill someone finds useful, it's worked very well for me. You can have 6 kids at a basket (2 groups, 1 each side) and get a lot of game like shots in during a short span with this one.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Less is More When Done More Less

Does this statement above make sense?? Probably not, but let me explain it to you as it is one of the important parts of my basketball practice philosophy.

I do not believe in working on one thing, with one drill for a long time in practice. In my humble opinion it is better to work on a skill with a bunch of different short drills than one or two long drill. For instance, you are going to work on shooting for 20 minutes in practice on a given day. Instead of doing one drill for 20 minutes or two drills for 10 minutes each, I would MUCH RATHER have four 5 minute drills to accomplish the same things. I PERSONALLY feel that doing this fights complacency and boredom. I think it does a better job of teaching players to master skills and not simply master drills.

Furthermore, I would rather work on a given skill for a few minutes every day than for a long time for just one or two days. Some coaches like to spend 25 minutes a week on rebounding in one big 25 minute chunk. It is my belief that players will get more out of it if you do a rebounding drill 5 minutes each day for the entire week. Players seem to retain the information better when they are hit with it for a little bit every day.

One downfall of doing this is that initially it takes a little bit longer to teach all the drills. But once players have done the drills once or twice you can snap from one to the next in rapid succession with little downtime in between. The benefits of having a bunch of different drills greatly outweighs the time lost in teaching the drills, in my humble opinion.

I try to incorporate these ideas into practice every day. Keep things short, keep things different, and keep things moving. I think this makes practices and workouts flow better. What are your thoughts on this? Feel free to comment!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Stationary Ballhandling Drills: WHY?!

This will probably be one of the things I post that a lot of people disagree with, but it is how I feel. How many of you spend practice/workout time doing stationary ballhandling? If any of you do, I have to ask: WHY?!

Stationary ballhandling is not an efficient way to learn how to dribble after the 6th grade, in my humble opinion. This is especially true of stationary ballhandling drills where the players do not dribble, but simply pass the ball around their legs or other body parts. Again, great drill for elementary school, but after that there is no purpose. Have you ever seen a player catch the ball and start passing it around his right leg? Have you ever seen a player go to half court and start dribbling figure eight circles? Didn't think so. I mean think about it, how inefficient some of these drills are in teaching kids how to dribble a basketball in a game situation.

I used to be a fan of such drills, but then a number of years back I watched a Forest Larson tape where he made some good points about the uselessness of stationary ballhandling and I agreed what his points. Almost all ballhandling should be game like and on the move. Instead of pounding the ball with their right hand, players should be dribbling around with their right hand. Instead of going around the right leg, players should be working on their between the legs direction change move - dribble, direction change, more dribbles. Players should work on, and get good at, using dribbles that they are going to find themselves using in a game.

The ONLY stationary ballhandling I like to do is with two basketballs. Then you are really working on coordination and ball control skills. It's also much more efficient because you are working both of your hands at once. In a good 5 minutes of two ball stationary, you can accomplish as much, or even more, as someone can do in a 10 minute session with one ball.

Also, the ONLY TIME I COULD EVER SEE DOING ONE BALL STATIONARY DRILLS is if you have no gym space and are doing it for that reason. If that is why you have to do it then I understand.

As always it comes down to taking a look at what we do as coaches and then asking the important question: Why do we do it? I think a lot of us use stationary single ball ballhandling drills for two reasons:

1. We grew up doing them. This is a reason many of us use for doing a lot of what we do, but not a good enough reason to keep doing things! :)

2. They are seen as solid, fundamental drills. I understand where people are coming from on this one. There is something romantic about working hard on these drills. It is also seen as a walk before you run kind of thing. But again, I would rather have playes what I work with doing game situation ballhandling. There is such limited time in each practice and workout, so why not spend time working on game situation ballhandling, ballhandling they can actually use?

Thoughts and feelings on this?

Friday, July 10, 2009

"Taking the Air Out of the Ball"

Coaches often talk about metaphorically "taking the air out of the ball" during a game to slow things down and usually nurse a lead. But what about physically taking the air out of the ball during practice to work with your team on passing and sharing the ball? Have you ever thought about doing this?

I had not until last night when I was filling all of our basketballs with air. This would be a good way to practice in order to teach your guys how to score without dribbling. There are many, many coaches out there who practice their offense with no dribbles, but I think actually taking the air out would be a nice touch as another way to spice up practice. I would call it "dead ball offense" and during a game when I thought we were exhibiting too much individual play I could possibly call the ball "dead", meaning players were not allowed to dribble. Now it's not going to work if you run DDM, but for most offenses it could be interesting.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The "Gonzaga Game"

I was talking with basketball fan and blogger Kevin Alsteens the other night and he was telling me about what Gonzaga does from time to time during their scrimmages.

Coach Few sets an amount of time for scrimmaging and puts a rack of balls on the side of the court. Each time there is a turnover in the scrimmage that ball is "dead". It is put off to the side and another ball is taken off the rack. This continues until there are no more balls on the rack. If there are no balls left and the last ball is "dead" on a turnover, the players run sprints for the rest of the time set aside for scrimmaging.

I think this is a great idea if you want to get your guys to emphasize ball security. It makes sure that each possession is important.

What I think would be a good idea as well is during scrimmaging have a rack of balls for EACH TEAM. The team that runs out of balls first runs while the other watches. I think one rack for both teams may lead the defense to be a little less aggressive because if they cause a turnover, it gets the defense one ball closer to running as well.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Goal Posters

Something I picked up during my time at LaCrosse Central HS under Coach Fergot was having "The Goal" sheets for each game you play. I think that these are great to help keep your team focused during a season. It keeps your guys from thinking about the last game or the next and keeps them thinking about the game currently at hand. 

"The Goal" sheets were simply a piece of 8x11 paper that was laminated. On the paper it had Central vs Opponent (whoever it was) Below it was the Central Logo and below the Central logo was the bold words The Goal: 1-0. It was hung in the locker room where everyone could see it. It was hung almost immediately after the previous game concluded - at least when the players left the locker room at the end of the night. So after each game, win or lose there was a new goal to focus on. If the game was won, and the goal was accomplished, there was another spot in the locker room where the sign was hung to mark the accomplishment of each goal. 

This is a great idea because it narrows the focus of your team. Instead of worrying about being 22-0 on the season, they can worry about being 1-0 22 times. It also helps with a team that's either very successful or very unsuccessful because it makes them focus on the next game and not the season as a whole. 

Monday, June 29, 2009

Whistle or Not In Practice?

This may be a trivial thing, but it's still something to think about. Do you use a whistle in practice? If so why or why not? I remember my first day as a coach, freshmen assistant at LaCrosse Central HS. I bought a brand new whistle and was all excited about it. I'd been waiting 19 years to blow that thing. After the first time I blew it, the guy I was coaching with, Coach Colburn, asked to see the whistle because he wanted to look at it. He then promptly threw it across the gym and said there was no way he was going to listen to it all season! I still laugh when talking about that story.

Ever since that day, I've been a voice guy in practice. I use my voice to start and stop drills and always liked it that way better for some reason. I was watching a Phil Martelli video today (14 Ways to Build Mental and Physical Toughness in Practice) and he said he never uses a whistle because you don't use a whistle in games to communicate with players. It's not like you jump up off the bench and blow your whistle to talk to them about changing defenses or closing out better. You use only your voice in those situations.

I completely agree with this, the kids need to get used to listening for your voice and not a whistle to receive instructions. If they are not used to listening for your voice, they many times will miss what you are saying during a game, especially an exciting one.

On the other hand (to play Devil's Advocate here) I've heard many coaches who say they use a whistle for drills because that is what stops play in a real game. We've all heard the phrase "play till you hear the whistle" and it's one that many of us (including me) go by. So then where is the whistle in practice for me? How can my guys (or other "voice" coaches) get used to playing until the whistle when there isn't a whistle most of the time?? It's hard to just turn it on for a game.

After listening to Coach Martelli's comment about why he does not use a whistle and thinking about whistles versus voices, it actually had the opposite effect for me. I may start to now use a whistle in practice in certian situations, mainly to stop drills. That way my guys can get used to playing until the whistle, especially on competitive drills. Maybe that will be the job of the assistant coach, stopping drills with the whistle so I can still be a "voice coach". This way players can get used to keying on both my voice and the whistle. I may just use it for some drills, or may use it for all.

Hopefully this got you thinking about what you do in practice with your whistle or voice. Think about why you use one or why you don't use one.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Run What You Want, Just Run It Well

I've said several times on this blog that it's not what you run that is important, it's HOW it is run and the players you have that make it work. I was reading the Xs and Os of Basketball forum the other day and one of the posters (Titan) hit it right on the head when he said:

As with any offense or defense, the instruction of that offense and the
execution of said offense can be the difference of whether or not it works. For
example, I probably would not be the best coach to implement the Princeton
offense, but that does not mean it does not work. Each coach can make work what
he/she wants to implement if the instruct it proplerly and get the kids to buy
into it.

Again, this is no amazing advice, but it's advice that all coaches need to hear and take to heart. Run what you want, get the players to buy in, and just believe like heck in what you are doing. If you can do that, everything is going to go well for you, no matter what system you run. There is no magic system.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Making Weaknesses Into Strengths

Most people that know me know that I am an offensive minded coach. I love my four out motion stuff and enjoy working on offensive fundamentals. Defense is something that while I am comfortable with it and can teach, it's definitely not my strong suit.

In light of those well known facts, I've decided to spend my summer learning as much as I can about the defense we are going to run this year. Another thing I am doing is making the commitment to work on our defense in practice more than our offense, because deep down I know that defense wins championships and all successful teams are good at defense.

This is nothing earth shattering or new (as nothing on here is), but again I think it's something that is important to do. I think that all coaches should challenge themselves to work on their weaknesses, and aspects of the game they do not focus on, or maybe don't enjoy. There are some coaches that are great at Xs and Os, but not as much in the player development aspect. They will have great stuff, but many times will not have developed the players to run what they want. Other coaches love player development, but are not as focused on the Xs and Os portion of the game and thus while they may have some skilled players are not as good at putting them in the right spots to be successful. And there is always that guy who runs such a great offense, team scores 70, 80, 90 points a game but the defense is giving up 100 points. Or the guy who's defense holds opponents to 40 points, but the team can only score 30. Now everyone is not at these extremes I've outlined, but if you take an honest look at what you do, there are strengths and weaknesses to your coaching style and I would encourage you to take the time this summer to study up on and work on the less refined parts. No one is great/perfect at everything in coaching, we are all going to be stronger in some facet of the game, but if you really do commit yourself to getting better at your weak points it's going to pay off.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Having a "Program Blog"

The other day I opened up a blog for the program here at South Tama County. The blog will consist of things like rosters, schedules for games and practices, announcements, game recaps, player profiles, and hopefully some player writings about the season.

Something like this is VITAL for any program for a number of reasons. Most importantly, it is a way to keep your players/parents/fans up to date on what is going on in the program. It's helpful for them to have one place to go to get all kinds of news on the team/program and it is a good way to positively promote the program and what we are trying to do. Also, it is a great way to announce any types of schedule changes that occur. Living in the midwest (Iowa), weather in the form of snow, rain, sleet, hail, or tornadoes can change things in a hurry. Having a blog allows you to post things immediately for people to read, which makes things easier and allows people to know more quickly. A public blog is also fun for the players, especially when they get to post their own articles. Of course, I would have to proofread them first, but either way the players are getting themselves out there.

I would greatly encourage every coach that reads this blog to start a blog for your program.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Winning the Mental Game

Hope everyone is doing well, just a quick note. I'm almost finished reading Court Sense:Winning the Mental Game and this is a book I would recommend for every coach that reads this blog, even if you are not a basketball coach. This book, by John Giannini has a ton of different nuances that can help coaches and players both. I have found it extremely helpful in terms of motivation, handling players positively, building relationships with coach-player and player-player as well as helping to run a quality basketball program. It's got a lot of good teaching examples you can use with your team, as well as teaching examples you as a coach can relate to. If you read one book this summer, make it this one!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The First Interview

So today I had my first interview for the local newspaper in town here. It was exciting, but at the same time made me a little nervous. It is my first real interview and I am always cautious about not putting my foot in my mouth. Unfortunately, it happens to everyone sometimes! Luckily for me it's was just a couple of basic questions: where you are from, what style of basketball do you like, and so on. So it was very positive. I know it's pretty mundane for most coaches, but for a new head coach like me it was kind of fun.

I think it is important to get to know, and forge a good relationship with, the local media. They do a great job of covering and publicising the program. If you are respectful, the relationship will be positive and good things will come of it almost every time. The more information that is out there about your basketball program the better, in most cases. I've seen some coaches who work well with the media and keep most of the information about their respective program positive and upbeat. I (and everyone else) has also seen coaches who do not treat the media with respect and it tends to backfire on them.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Burnout in the Summer - Getting Kids to Do it On Their Own

Sometimes you hear people talk about "the good old days" when kids worked hard and didn't have to be pushed to go out and play basketball. They did it on their own. There are often negative comments made that kids are spending too much time on the computer and X-Box and not enough time playing basketball. I PERSONALLY think that kids are playing more STRUCTURED BASKETBALL than ever, and that might be part of the reason for not seeking more of it.

When high school players played back in the "good old days" they did it all on their own. They called their friends up and facilitated things for the most part. You usually hear stories about how "we got the keys from the coach and let ourselves in". Obviously in today's lawsuit happy age you can't get away with that, so now coaches come in and open the gym (many times coaches, like me find they really enjoy it). When coaches are in a gym, many do what they like to do in a gym, coach. And because they are there they want to make sure most of their guys are there. The open gyms don't even begin to touch on all the other "structured" opportunities high school players get every year in the "off season" - 100s of summer camps where there were only a few years ago (if any), the extreme growth AAU, high school summer leagues, etc. So those structured activities have now replaced the non-structured activities and has also allowed players to not have to work at or seek out their own opportunities to play. It is all there for them.

Another side to this is, I personally feel, is some players find basketball less fun because they are being pushed to do it. As an example: when you feel like getting outside and mowing the lawn or doing other housework outside you enjoy it because YOU made the decision to do it. Now imagine that your girlfriend/wife nags you to get out and mow the lawn instead. Suddenly, with someone pushing you and supervising you the task becomes less enjoyable. Sometimes I think that this is what has happened with the summer for some players. Because they are being supervised and pushed it becomes a "chore" instead of something that is fun. I feel that too much of it can become a negative thing.

What is the solution? Go completely away from all structure??? Of course not! The structure is great and it shows with more and more talented players each year. It's what quality programs do. I try to get my guys in the gym for fundamental workouts as much as I can. But I also think you have to have some balance and with the structure and teaching of the open gym also give players time to just play and have fun. Another thing I think is important is to give the players a chance to be leaders and get each other in there. Don't get on the kids that are not in the gym; instead challenge the player's peers to motivate them into the gym. I think doing this makes the situation more enjoyable for all. Also, I never want to force a kid into the gym or make it mandatory. I want kids to get in the gym because they simply want to be there.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Using Your Stud as the Decoy (The Phil Jackson Move)

Since it is the only basketball left on television, and by NBA standards it is great basketball, I watched the Lakers vs. Nuggets game last night on television. One thing that stood out to me at the end, although it didn't work, is how Phil Jackson used Kobe as the decoy to get Fisher a shot at the end to tie the game. This is something that Coach Jackson has done over the course of his career, and done it well. Whether it was using Jordan/Pippen as the decoy for guys like Paxson, Kerr, and Kukoc, or using guys like Kobe to get Roberty Horry open for threes, it seems to be a very present theme in his end game situations in important games. I like that he always has the confidence in his role guys and doesn't try to cram the last shot down the opponent's throat with the superstar, which is what you often see.

Now Coach Jackson is obviously not the only coach that does this, many do. It is a great strategy and one that can be very useful, as long as you have the other pieces. If you need a three and only have one kid that can shoot the three, it's going to be an exercise in futility to run a play to get anyone else a shot. But on the average team, you have a couple of guys that can take that last shot, and I like when it ends in the hands of a role player. Some coaches may argue that you always want your best player to take the last shot, and I see the logic, but at the same time I would rather have an open/good shot with a role player that can make it than take a rushed/forced/poor shot with my superstar.

In light of that thought, I prefer to have a last second set where the first look is for the superstar, but the superstar becomes the decoy if over defended and the set then frees the other player for the last second shot. One of my favorite looks is to have the "shooter" screen for the star and then screen the screener so that the shooter can free himself for that last jumper. Or simply have the screener (who is a good shooter) pop off the screen.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Having a Program Motto

I think that as the head coach of a program it is important to have some type of saying or motto that exemplifies what your program is about. It is not ALL that your program is about, but the big overriding idea of your program. It gives your program an identity and it gives your players a sense of purpose/direction. It shows everyone involved in the program and outside of the program exactly what direction you want to take the program. This motto could come in a wide variety of sayings that cover a bunch of different topics. Every coach is different, and there are a ton of different things you could go with, some I have seen before are as follows:

"The climb is hard, but the view from the top is awesome!"
-This motto shows that the program is about working hard to get to the "top of the mountain" whatever that mountain is for your program - state title, conference title, etc. I do like this one, it's common but was Coach Vix's (Rushford-Peterson Hall of Fame Coach) when his team made their last title run.

"Defense wins championships"
"Have you run your offense today?"
-These sayings tell people that we are all about defense in order to be successful.

"You may never be what you could have been"
-Saw this on a t-shirt once and loved it, says that we are going to work as hard as we can to be the best we can be. Kind of neat but depressing at the same time.

"Pain is weakness leaving the body"
-Typically a football team one, but I have seen some basketball teams use it. Says we are going to be mentally/physically tougher than everyone.

"Runnin, gunnin, and stunnin"
-This motto says we are going to out run and out score our opponent. Typically used if you run an up tempo offense.

-Another I love. Simple but says our program is a family.

"Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing"
-I have seen this one before, but do not like it. What happens when you have this as a program motto and don't have the talent to win? It sends a message you are not meeting your ultimate goal. Also, it sends a message that nothing else, not people - not effort - not excellence - not integrity, matters all that matters is the W and however we have to get it is fine.

But now that I have accepted the job as head coach at South Tama County HS, I have to decide what I need to have for our program motto here at STC. For me it is an important decision because it will impact the next 5, 10, 20, 40 years I am here at STC (until they kick me out anyway). So after much debate, I came up with the following: Be a Champion: every practice, every game, every play, every second, every minute, every day.

I borrowed and modified this saying from my biggest mentor, Coach Fergot from LaCrosse Central HS. I think it says to a T what I want our program to be about. I want our program to be about doing your best every single day in every single thing you do. That is what being a champion is about to me. And we are not going to just play like champions here, we are going to be champions. Not taking the easy way out, not daying a day off, but always doing things to the best of our ability all the time. So this motto sums that up, that we are going to always give our best effort in everything we do as individuals and a program, on and off the basketball court.

Below is something I put together for all the players in our program. They are printed off on 8.5x11 paper and laminated. Each player in the program will get one; I want them to hang it somewhere where they are going to see it every day and think about what it means.

Using Screens

I used to be a HUGE proponent of screening in my motion game. I used to love the pass and screen away look, and probably pass and screened away to death - far too much! As I've learned the game the last few years, I have gotten farther and farther away from setting a lot of screens in the half court setting. 

Now don't get me wrong, I use screens to get my shooter open off some sets, and it's a good and valuable look. But within our motion offense, I would rather focus on things like drive and kick, pass and cut, back cuts, flash cuts, etc. Actions to try to get the ball into the paint and score around the rim. I think these actions push the tempo more and are easier for players to master quickly and get good at. 

One of my biggest problems with having players "read" screens in a motion offense is that most players really struggle with it. They usually resort to using a "straight cut" to the ball because they have ball fixation and don't really know what else to run. It's a hard thing to do, read a defender and decide which of the four possible cuts (straight, curl, back, and flair) to run. 

When I do get to screening within the layers of my motion (varsity level), I teach it with the players having only TWO cut options: the curl cut and the flair cut. The reads become simplified. If you get to the top of the screen and the defender is behind you (trailing) you run a curl cut. If you get to the top of the screen and the defender is sagging in the lane (cheating) you run a flair cut. The screener separates hard accordingly. 

I feel that if the players have two choices it's going to be easier to make a decisive decision and not hesitate. Also, I like the two cuts because it eliminates a straight cut which to me is not the best cut to run. The other two are more aggressive, especially with the screener facing up. 

Anyway, those are my thoughts on using "read" or "motion" screens in your base offense.  I think players benefit highly from learning the other actions first and then being able to perform them. They also benefit from having more limited options on their "read" screens. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Great Coaching Quotes from Desmond Tutu

At a recent foray to Barnes and Noble I picked up a book on clearance about Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the cleric and activist from South Africa. You can always pick up some great coaching advice when you read about world leaders. This book happened to be mainly quotes from Desmond Tutu and it had a few beauties. I try to give my players a note card every day (or every game day) that has a little quote or saying on it to think about. Some of the ones he has I will definitely use and I would like to share them with everyone else.

"When you have a hand and you have only the separate fingers, it is easy for people to break the fingers. But when you put the fingers together it is difficult to break them."

"A time of crisis is not just a time of anxiety and worry. It gives a chance, an opportunity, to choose well or to choose badly."

"My father always used to say, 'Don't raise your voice. Improve your argument.' Good sense does not always lie with the loudest shouters, nor can we say that a large, unruly crowd is always the best arbiter of what is right."

"Differences are not intended to separate or alienate. We are different precisely in order to realize our need of one another."

"We get most upset with those we love the most because they are close to us and we know that they are aware of our weaknesses... If only we could learn to live with our inadequacies, our frailties, our vulnerabilities, we would not need to try so hard to push away those who really know us."

"All of us experience fear, but when we confront and acknowledge it, we are able to turn it into courage. Being courageous does not mean never being scared; it means acting as you know you must even though you are undeniably afraid."

"Arrogance really comes from insecurity, and in the end our feeling that we are bigger than others is really the flip side of our feeling that we are smaller than others."

So there are a handful of my favorite quotes from the book. For three bucks, this book was well worth it as I am putting these quotes to good use this upcoming season!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Notecard Plays

I was at Office Max the other day and while browsing I noticed that they sold notecards that came spiral bound. Immediately I thought about how I could use these in the coaching realm. The first thing I thought of was putting a bunch of quick hitter set plays on them to use in different situations. They would be perfect for the end game situations when you need a basket. For the last shot, I usually like to have a set play that the players know, and we have practiced so we can just take it out of the rim and go. But at the same time these would leave you well prepared for any situation you need a quick score, not just the end of the game. It would allow you to pull a quick set to beat a defense that was defending a certian way, get a basket in a critical situation, etc. None of the plays on the cards could be too involved usually, but would be things that kids could easily remember. I would also categorize the cards by situation so when you need one you can flip to the situation instead of having to browse them and waste time.

You could also organize your notecards by with the plays you currently run, just to help keep your head straight!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Shooting Form Progression

This is a progression that I used every day this year with my freshmen. We started out doing it for ten minutes a day, but as the season went on cut it down to about six minutes. I think it is a great progression and something that should definitely be used at the younger levels and during skill development workouts. What was did was the following:

Wrist Flicks

Start right in front of the rim, maybe a foot out. Put the ball up straight over your head with your wrist cocked and the ball on your finger tips. Then you simply flick the ball into the basket using your wrist. If you are on your own, the goal is to MAKE 30-50 shots. If you are coaching in practice, I did this for 3 minutes at the beginning of the season (out of 10) and then 2 minutes at the end of the season (out of 6).
The purpose is to get kids used to flicking that wrist hard when they shoot. Because it is important we isolate this aspect of the shot and just have them work on it.
Points of Emphasis: Flick the wrist hard, ball on finger tips (not palm), ball should come off middle and index finger last, follow through, and keep fingers straight (don't make a fist).

Shot Builder

The next drill we immediately go to is called the shot builder. The player stands about 3 feet from the front of the rim, puts the ball up on his "shooting U" (the position right before release) and shoots shots with one hand and just the motion of the arm. Now in the progression we are isolating the arm movement and making sure the form there is correct. I like players to MAKE ten shots and take a step back after every ten makes. In practice we did this for 3 minutes at the beginning of the year and 2 minutes toward the end when we were cutting back.
Points of Emphasis: Snap elbow and snap wrist, follow through, hold the follow through until the ball hits the floor (over emphasize it), watch the rim not the ball, look at the same place on the rim each time, and make sure the ball is on your fingertips.

Set Lifts
This is the last part in our short progression for the day. We spent 4 minutes on this in the beginning and 2 at the end of the year as we cut down the time.
The players start about 3 feet in front of the hoop again with their knees bent and the ball in their shot pocket. Players shoot shots where they bring the ball up from their shot pocket and come off their toes (don't jump). Everything you would do in your regular jump shot without the jump. Right now we isolate the actual release of the ball and those mechanics that go with it.
Points of Emphasis: Shoot off your TOES, start the ball in your SHOT POCKET not at your belly button (very common mistake), elbow in, snap elbow and wrist (proper release), watch the rim not the ball, one smooth movement, and ball on your fingertips.

So there it is. Like most of the stuff on this blog, it is by no means special. But it's something that I think you can devote 6 minutes a day to and see results, especially if you are a developmental coach or coach below the varsity level. I would also, as a coach, mandate that players do this during their summer workouts because to be a great shooter you have to have two things: great work ethic and great form.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Spring Time - Random Thoughts

As a high school coach, the spring time is a critical time for coaches and players, and I think it is a time that sets apart successful and unsuccessful teams apart sometimes. What players and coaches do in the spring can set the tone of the summer and the following season. I have some general thoughts on this part of the year as it relates to high school basketball.

AAU Season
This is the time of year that players play AAU or All-Star basketball. There is no problem I see with players going out and playing AAU, especially when they have the potential to play big time basketball and need the exposure. Even if they do not, there is nothing wrong with playing against very good competition. Playing against top competition will always make you better, as long as you are playing hard.
On the other hand, it is important to play other sports, and I always encourage my guys to take up baseball or track. I really think, with most AAU organizations you can do both if you really want to, but have to deal with a few complications. At a small school it is imperative as a coach that you suggest other sports for your players and do not try to force them into being basketball players only. I say this because a kid may pass up chances to do things in baseball. track, or football because he has to chose a sport to focus on. Also, I think all sports end up losing athletes when coaches start demanding students to specialize in one sport. At a bigger school I can see the rationale, but again think they should at least try another sport, especially as freshmen. I think playing multiple sports allows the kids to have fun, have a different coaching style, and not get as burned out on basketball.

Skill Development
One drawback of AAU on the whole is that there is not a lot of skill development going on. Some organizations do concentrate on skill development and do a good job, while others do not/can not. I'm not faulting the AAU coaches for this, however. Some programs pull kids from all over the state, so having practices every day is hard if not impossible. When they do get their little practice time, then they have to put in an offensive/defensive scheme so that they can look at least respectable when they take the court.
So as a coach, remind your players that while playing a ton of games is great, they should not forget about working on the fundamentals that make great players. This doesn't mean they MUST do a rigorous 1-2 hour session every day. But at least going out and shooting/dribbling every once in a while would be good for them! It is illegal to work with your players in the spring here in Minnesota, but just because you can't work with them doesn't mean they are incapable of doing things on their own!

Preventing Burnout
I think guys that play all winter, then switch right to AAU basketball, and then right to summer ball tend to burn out a little bit. I think this becomes a problem, especially when the kid is very driven for a goal such as a college scholarship. As a coach, I try not to even TALK about basketball with my guys during this period. I encourage them to take time off of the game and recharge their batteries. To me that is where playing a spring and fall sport comes in as well. If they do that, it is not basketball all the time for them.
As coaches, I think the spring is a good time to prevent burnout. Go fishing, enjoy the weather, spend time with your family (I know some of you are asking "who??" because you have not seen said people since November.), watch movies, do something besides basketball during this period so that you can come back in the summer fresh and ready to go!

Bettering Yourself as a Coach
With the same breath of "don't burn out" I also say that this time is a time to better yourself as a coach. Spend some time reflecting on last year and what you thought you did well, but also figure out what you could have done better. If you had to do it all over again, what would you do? It is really funny all the little things you actually would do over. Make sure to take the time and write them down so you can refer to them before next season. This will help you avoid repeats of the same mistakes again next season. Also, sit down and figure out what you are going to do next year and what changes you are going to make.
Also take the time to become a student of the game. Buy a new video or two on a topic you are interested and really get absorbed in it. Get some basketball books and start reading. Read a book about basketball not related to coaching directly. Something like "The Miracle of St. Anthony". Talk to other coaches, college and high school to get some new ideas. Some of the best times to contact coaches are after the signing period is over and the "dead period" for watching recruits is on. But I would also talk to all the local coaches that you can to get advice and ideas.

Well there you go. Some random thoughts about the spring. As a coach, you can actually get a lot done with this time of year, but make sure you take advantage of it!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Start Your Own "Playground" Association

I was reading a topic on the X's and O's of Basketball message board (link on the right) about kids not having "basketball sense" because they do not play enough pick up basketball on their own anymore. It may sound strange to some people but this is a very valid point in my opinion. The more you play without structure, the more you learn to free lance and make reads/plays. Along with basketball IQ, kids lose organizational and leadership skills when they don't play pick up because an adult is leading and organizing them. Pick up and playground basketball has been replaced by more structured outlets such as AAU and summer team ball. I do think as a coach it's important to push kids to play unstructured pick up on their own as well as the structured situations. I am not trying to say kids should go And1 and am not saying kids should not play AAU or summer team ball, but should engage in some pick up situations also.

As I got to thinking about the topic, I remembered the genius idea that the Houston High School (MN) basketball coach put together. It was called the HBA for the Houston Basketball Association. Below is an outline of how the program worked.

The league was run by the players. The seniors to be were the "coach/GM" of each team. Each senior had their own team, unless there were not enough kids, then there could be two senior leaders per team. Before the season, all the players that wanted to play signed up for the "draft". The draft was open to basketball and non basketball players entering grades 7-12. It was open to non basketball players so there were enough players to play and were more than 2-3 teams. Each team had 7 players which was enough so that everyone played a lot but also guarded against players not showing up or being injured. If there were a few players that did not sign up to get drafted, but wanted to play, they became "free agents". Free agents still came to all the games and were thrown on teams when players were injured or did not show. Even if everyone showed we usually found the free agents a team and some minutes. By the end of the year, all the free agents had found permanent homes with one team or another. The seniors got copies made of the rosters so everyone had a copy. There was also a team in the league of alumni who wanted to play.

After the draft, the seniors had a meeting and set out all the rules and regulations for the league. They then shared those rules with their individual teams, in a team meeting (very informal). The rules, as I remember them, were:
1. Play full court
2. Play to 21
3. No cherry picking
4. Call own fouls
5. Arguments about fouls equal ejection for the game
6. Home team in dark shirts, away team in white shirts (or go shirts/skins if someone forgot colors)
Those were the ones I can remember. The games themselves were played on the blacktop court outside the school. The seniors set the schedule for who played who, what time, and who was home and away. The seniors got copies of the schedule and gave them to the players on their teams.

Seniors also got to pick the type of offense they ran. And it was interesting how that helped the basketball IQ. I remember a team of all guards who basically ran Grinnell style and another team who had two bigs and ran a slow down high-low type offense. Of course the offenses were extremely simple, and usually became free lance at some point, but at least the thinking was there. They tried to push all man defense, didn't always work, but did for the most part.

We played two nights a week and one game a night. It was funny how the competition grew as the season progressed. They kept an official standings board where they displayed the records and who was where. The last few weeks of the league were playoffs were a champion was crowned. All they won was bragging right but it was worth playing for.

The league was great for us. It made us competitive, taught us how to play, and taught the older guys how to lead. It gave us a chance to just get out, play, and have fun. And most importantly it was player directed - we set it up and ran it because we wanted to. This is something that does not happen enough anymore, in my humble opinion. Kids don't get to just play for the joy of playing. But this was an opportunity for a lot of kids to get that joy. I also think it helped a couple of kids who didn't play basketball before go out, and that is important in a small town.

The only major thing I would do different, maybe, is expand the league to kids in the immediate area so you could have more teams and a little more talent to play against. Have all the kids from your town on a few teams, and then bring a team or two from each of the neighboring towns for variety. I would also have the league run shorter. Ours ran I think from beginning of May through the middle of August and it was too long. I think a two month season would be perfect with the possibility of a second season if enough kids wanted to reup and reshuffle teams.

I would recommend this program to any coach, especially one that coaches in a smaller community.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Playing to Win

First off, I apologize for the break between posts! It was state tournament week last week so I spent four straight days at the Target Center and "The Barn" watching a great high school tournament unfold. I think it is important, as a coach, to be able to truly enjoy this time of year and kind of revert back to being a "fan of the game" after your team has bowed out for the season. This time of year always re energizes me. After the state tournament, I am ready for June and summer workouts!

There was something that happened at this years tournament that was kind of controversial and I wanted to comment on it. When St. Cloud Tech played Hopkins (who was heavily favored to win it all), Tech decided to go with a stall to win the game. Because they were on the Target Center floor, which is an NBA floor, they had everyone at or above top of the key extended and were working a Princeton style backdoor offense to try to get baskets and slow the tempo down. At halftime they went in down 15-16. They came out in the second half and finally lost as Hopkins got a sizable lead that forced Tech to play.

Many people criticized Tech for trying to slow it down to win, commenting on how it was not basketball, and how we needed a shot clock. I totally disagree with these statements. Now, don't get me wrong, I am not the type of coach who loves to slow it down, but Tech was doing what they thought they had to do to win in that situation. So all in all it is the right call. And if Hopkins did not have a 6-9 D1 center who came from the weak side to block many of the backdoor layups, Tech may have had a chance down the stretch. But to me the bottom line is Tech was trying to win the game by slowing it down. How is that different than if a team would have tried to beat Hopkins by playing Grinnell style because they had good shooters and quick guards?? No one would be complaining then. And this is my biggest reason I don't want a shot clock, why favor one style of play over others? I love to get up and down the floor with my teams, but why should my style be favored over someone like Coach King the former Orr coach who won lots of games with a patient slow down offense?? I think as a coach you play the style that you feel will help you win, no matter what style that is!

To the four people that read this blog: Have a great week and enjoy what is left of MARCH MADNESS!!!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Getting Players Recruited

I PERSONALLY believe, as a high school coach, that you have a duty to your players to help them the best you can to play college basketball if that is what they want to do. I've heard stories about high school coaches not returning calls from college coaches, and I think that is crazy stuff. All the great coaches I know are always doing what they can in order to help their guys to the next level. Here are some of my personal ideas on how to help your guys do this. Now none of this is going to wow you, but at the same time I think that you can pick a little something up here and there.

1. Start Early.
I think it is paramount for you to start building interest in a player as quickly as you can. Now usually you can't start when he's a freshmen on the JV team, but I think all of your players on the varsity team can be helped out. I think you can do this in a number of ways. First, I think you can e-mail local college coaches to come take a look at a player during practices or games. Heck you can just tell the coach that you have a few players on your squad that he might have interest in and I am sure he will send an assistant. If you can start the dialogue between coach and player early, there is a better chance that something good will come of it.

2. Be realistic.
Unfortunately, ever kid is not going to the Big 10 to play, regardless of what they/their parents think sometimes! The best thing you can do is be honest with them about their talent level and the level they can play at in college. For some kids, being a role player or bench player at the local community college for two years is about as much as they are going to get. Also, you should try to be honest (and have the recruiting coach be honest) about their level of playing time at the collegiate level. For some kids, their dream may be to play D1 basketball even if they ride the pine. For another kid, he would rather go D2 or D3 and be a three year starter.

3. Send tape. This is a no brainer, but at the same time I think you have to send as much tape as possible. Some coaches like to send highlight tapes, but from what I have heard you are better off sending full game tapes. This is because you can make a highlight tape of a lot of players and make them look great. What coaches want to see is what they do when they are not on the highlight reels, how do they play a full game? So maybe send 1 highlight and then a copy of one of their better overall games.

4. Make a recruiting packet. I don't know if this helps or not, but it is something I would like to do for my guys when I become head coach. I would like to put together a packet with the following information:
*Basic Info Sheet: name, height, weight, address, phone number(s), e-mail, parent/guardian name(s) and contact information, AAU team, choices of major, grades, ACT scores, interests, etc. Stuff to make life easier on the coaching staff so they have some ammo to use when having those opening conversations.
*Stat Sheet: A basic page with their statistics by year and their accomplishments (All-Conference, etc).
*Schedule: I think sending a schedule of our games and practices is helpful because again it makes it less work for the college coach. And the less work he has to do, the more willing he may be to swing over and at least check a guy out.
*Game tape: just like above, at least one game where they played well.
I think the basic reasoning behind doing this is what I stated above. If the college coaching staff has a lot of information on a guy, it is easier to come over to at least watch him play. And it saves time having to have them call/e-mail and get info.

5. Invite coaches to games and practices.
I especially like college coaches coming to practice because I think it raises the level of intensity and also gives a lot of your guys some exposure. If you are at a bigger school an NAIA or D3 coach might come and fall in love with that 6-3 athlete who is your 8th man. They may not see enough of him in a game, but may be able to evaluate him (and everyone) in practice on an equal basis in terms of the time they are watching them.
But either way, as long as you are putting your guys in front of coaches, you are doing what you can!

6. Help player get on an AAU team to get exposed.
Some coaches may cringe when they read this, but there are some AAU programs out there that do a great job of getting kids exposure. Just make sure your guys are spending the summer concentrating on the fundamentals too!

7. Make sure the school fits the player.
This is one that a lot of people don't look at. Does the school have the right major the player wants? Does the school have a history of producing players that are successful after basketball? What is the graduation rate? Do they have a high rate of transfer, if so why? All these are questions that should be asked BEFORE any basketball ones. For basketball ones, does the style fit the player? A guy I played with in middle school went on to be 6-10. He was not the fastest guy in the world, but choose a school that played a very up tempo style. He did not fit in and was not happy.

8. Use your contacts.
Talk to every college coach you know about his thoughts on your guy. What does he need to improve on? What level do you see him going at? If your college contacts can but his name into the hands of other college coaches that is even better!

9. Get the team to camps.
As I said above, anytime you can get your guys in front of college coaches it is a good thing. At many camps, the counselors are coaches who are there to coach and network, many of them are college coaches. I am not a college coach but I worked a D1 camp a couple of summers ago (brought a player of mine there) and ended up seeing a few players there that I liked. I in turn send their names on to some of the college coaches I know. So you never know where the opportunity is going to come from.

10. Have the player contact the coaching staff early and often.
When a player shows the college coaches that he wants to be there, they are often more intrigued. Everyone likes someone better that WANTS to be there. I know a couple college coaches who have taken much harder looks at players because the player was constantly calling and initiating contact with the school. So if your guy is serious about playing at college X he should be contacting the coaches also to get their attention.

Well, there are ten things I think are important. I want to mention that I don't think as a HS coach getting your players to college is a mandatory part of the job, but at the same time I do think that if you really care about your players it is something you will do for them. Once again, the ten things listed above are kind of "yea duh" things, but I posted them because maybe 1 or 2 will be simple things you have not thought of! Thoughts? Other suggestions? Leave a comment or drop me a line!