Friday, July 31, 2015

Notes from the Why We Play Conference

This Tuesday I attended the Minnesota State High School League's "Why We Play" conference at Bethel University. "Why We Play" (@MSHSL_Coaches) is a program that promotes positive coaching and teaching character through athletics. The structure was two whole group sessions with a main speaker, two breakout sessions, and everyone back together for one final session. Below are some of the best ideas that I pulled out from each presentation.

Rod Olson (@CoachOTip)
Coach Olson is currently working with the Pittsburg Pirates developing their coaches. He also works with the Navy Seals and has authored two books on coaching. Coach Olson gave two talks. One was the opening talk on "7 Marks of a Mature Coach" and then gave a talk on what he'd learned during his time with the Navy Seals. Some of the finer points of his talk are below. I am going to buy both of Coach Olson's books and would recommend looking at his material - it's really good!

  • Truth vs. Tradition
    • Coaches stick too much to tradition because they are lazy, scared, or love conformity. 
    • We need to get outside the box more. 
  • Kids now grow up in a different "SCENE"
    • Speed
      • Slow is bad to kids
    • Convenient
      • Hard is bad to kids
    • Entertained
      • Boring is bad to kids
    • Nurturing
      • Risk is bad to kids
    • Entitlement
      • Work is bad
    • So the question for coaches is, based on this "SCENE" how are we going to deal with our kids and teach them that slow, hard work, that is boring and risky is actually a GOOD THING?
  • Quantico Test
    • Give your players a mental and physical test that takes some critical thinking. This will tell you everything you need to know about the make up of your team. The task should include everyone on the team as one group.
      • The SEALs give their trainees a length of rope and tell them they must use to get everyone over the wall. 
    • Give them 10 minutes to plan and 5 minutes to execute. 
    • As they try to complete the task just WATCH who is doing what. 
      • Who's leading and taking initiative? 
      • Who says something isn't working? 
      • Who follows. 
      • Who doesn't care. 
        • This might be the biggest one. If you've got these guys they will hurt your team. 
  • 4 Why Game
    • This is an exercise to help you get a much deeper understanding of your players motivation. 
    • The gist of the exercise is to ask them why they play basketball, and then follow that up with 3 more "why" questions about their answer. 
    • For Example:
      • Q: Why do you play basketball? A: Because it's fun. 
      • Q: Why is it fun? A: Because I'm with my friends. 
      • Q: Why do your friends make it fun? Because they make me feel good. 
      • Q: Why do they make you feel good? Because they pump me up when I do things correctly. 
    • As you can see from the example, you get to the real root of why players are playing. Understanding why they play is essential to motivating your athletes. 
    • Coach Olson shared a story about a football player they had. Dad played in the NFL, brother was a D1 player. The player started out well but they were motivating him by telling him this was going to lead to college, pros, etc and it didn't work. They then found out that he loved basketball and he played football because of his friends. So they started to motivate him using his friends and peer relationships - which worked a lot better. 

My first breakout session was with Coach Rowe. Coach Rowe is the head football coach at ROCORI High School in Cold Spring, MN. Coach Rowe's breakout talk was on how their program develops the whole person. Some of my favorite parts of his talk are below. 
  • Monday Meetings
    • Take 30 min out of practice each Monday for character development. 
    • Intro the theme for the week. 
    • Give a short presentation on the topic. 
    • Breakout session in family groups. 
      • 8 groups for the program. 
      • Group has freshmen through seniors - stay with group all 4 years. 
      • Each group has an activity around the theme of the week.
    • Reference the theme during the week. 
    • His character development program is available for purchase here 
  • Team Building Competitions
    • They play ultimate football every Monday instead of conditioning. 
    • Also have different competitions and you get points for each competition. 
    • They do the team building competitions in their family groups. 
  • Mom's Clinic
    • Do a football clinic for the mom's. 
    • Teach them about football, safety, etc. 
    • Each player writes their mom a letter and tapes it to their locker. The moms then go into the locker room, find their son's locker, and get their letter. 
    • You could do this in basketball with parents to explain your system and why you do it. 
Coach Bartlett is the head football coach at White Bear Lake. He spoke on Building Men for Others in White Bear Lake Football. He uses a lot of the ideas from the book Inside Out Coaching by Joe Ehrmann. Below are some of the things he does in his program to teach character to the players he leads. 
  • Teach the 3 Falsehoods of Masculinity
    1. Athletic Ability
    2. Sexual Conquest
    3. Economic Success
    • They discuss these as a team, coaches/players model it, and the coaches address it throughout the season.
  • They read an excerpt from the book "Season of Life" at their parent meetings.
  • Have a Word of the Week
    • Assistants pick the word (to be involved). 
    • The word has to do with some facet of character development. 
    • The coach introduces the word and talks about what the word means to the team. They then relate the word to real life - especially with a story or example. 
  • Teacher Captain
    • The players select a teacher from the school that embodies the word of the week. 
    • That teacher comes to the game, is on the field for the coin toss, and addresses the team in pre game. 
    • Honor for the teacher. 
  • Reading Program
    • Has the football players volunteer to read with elementary kids. 
  • Community Service
    • In order to get the "bear paw" decal on their helmet, players must do community service. The amount is based on their grade. It must be completed before they get the decal. 
      • Seniors - 12 hours
      • Juniors - 10 hours
      • Sophomores - 8 hours
      • Freshmen - 0 hours - they are new to the program and might not know. 
Mr. Cody and Ms. Redman did a great presentation from "Top 20 Training". They covered a number of "mentality" issues that are helpful for both players and coaches. The best thing I got was their idea of people having "frames". 
  • Each person looks at the world through a different "picture frame" that influences how they see the world. 
  • The frame has see which influences feel which influences do which influences get which influences see. 
    • So what we see effects our feelings, our feelings effect what we do, what we do dictates what what get. The results (get) effect our feelings on a topic. 
  • The most important thing we can do if something isn't going well is change the "see" part. 
    • Easiest to change - how we see things. 
    • Gives the best, and longest lasting results. 
    • "If you can't get out of it, get into it"
    • So ask yourself how you can change your player's "see" on something they are struggling with. 
    • Also ask yourself: how can YOU change your "see" on team/program issues that are driving you nuts? 

I would encourage any Minnesota coach, or out of state coach within driving distance, to attend this clinic. It might be the best/most important clinic that I've ever been a part of!  We all know that working with athletes and teaching more than basketball are the most important part of our jobs - and this is one of the few clinics that address this part. It was well worth my time and I'll be going back next year!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Visit with Coach Rod Briggs

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can play to a set number of scores. 

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Italy U19 Horns Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Australia U19 Overload Break Quick Hitters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 10, 2015

Another Video Highlighting the Importance of Developing Intrinsic Motivation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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