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As the basketball season kicks into full gear, players have and will continue to take on different roles and responsibilities within a team. Whether or not we agree with a given role or the responsibilities we have been assigned, learning opportunities are always present. On a personal level, I have been the best player on teams, a starter while being a 3rd or 4th option, a guy who both plays coming off the bench or was on the fringe of a rotation. I’ve also been someone who didn’t see the floor unless it was a blow-out. Each role taught me something different and has given me incredible perspective and empathy as a coach.
Many strive to be the best player on a team, but often don’t understand what comes with that. External expectations are higher and you’re constantly being watched, critiqued, and analyzed. Your daily habits are crucial and your bad performances are often magnified at a higher level than someone else’s. It’s easy to start making excuses and pointing the finger at other people, but it must be understood that to whom much is given, much is expected. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re in a position where you don’t see the floor, you quickly understand that it’s not about you (it never is, but even more so in this position). My freshman year of college this was me. I came to realize that I needed to be the best practice player I could be so my teammates in front me were challenged each day. That role wasn’t what I expected nor what I wanted at the time, but in reflection, it taught me what it actually means to be a great teammate. In other situations where I was on the fringe of a rotation (some games I played a lot, others very little), I learned to always stay ready- that when an opportunity comes you had better be prepared.
It’s easy for players and parents to lose perspective over the course of a season. Players who don’t currently have the role they desire are often clouded with a poor mindset and given bad messages outside of their teams. Growth opportunities and bigger lessons go out the window. On top of that, no role increases without first being a star in your current role. If you’re a person who isn’t seeing playing time but wants to, then every practice had better be your Super Bowl. Self-pity, lackluster effort, and a selfish mentality has never caught anyone’s attention in a positive manner. We have to look past short-term frustration and shift our focus onto where we can improve, what we can be learned, and ultimately how we can be our best in the situation we are in!
To make your fast faster, make your slow slower. I say this to kids in basketball workouts to emphasize change of pace. The best players in the game of basketball aren’t always sprinting around the court or performing every movement at full speed. Great players understand that going slow & changing tempos can make a quick or full speed burst that much more effective. This is a concept that has meaning in everyday life too.
The urge and way of life for most of us is to always be on the go. We believe there’s no time for slow- busyness & activity consumes our society, but just like in basketball, if we never slow down our “fast” isn’t nearly as effective. If, however, we have the ability to change speeds, and take the time to slow down and really make our slow slower, we can make our fast that much faster and more effective.
One simple example could be taking 15 minutes in the AM and mapping out time blocks or setting specific intentions for your day. By “slowing down” for a brief moment to write out a plan, we inevitably end up having the ability to go faster as we are less likely to fall victim to distractions or procrastination. A coaching example is before I run a practice or a session I take the time to write out a plan, take deep breaths and remind myself of who I want to be as a coach. I’ve learned that when I don’t have a plan and my mind isn’t clear, I can lose patience and in turn, lose my ability to run an effective practice. In other instances, making our slow slower might be putting away our phone for an hour and going for a walk/ performing any type of exercise. It could be having a personal conversation with a loved one or going to bed an hour or two earlier.
The bottom line is when we rush and go through each day and moment of our life in a hurry and only “play at one speed”- we run ourselves thin and never operate with a clear mind. It causes us to be less effective and less productive in each activity we partake in. So if you feel like you’re going 1000 MPH but it’s not adding up to anything, remember: to make your fast faster, make your slow slower.
“When you’re not practicing someone else is getting better.”
“Open Gym= Optional, Skills Workouts= Optional, Playing Time Next Year= Optional.”
“___ % of high school players play college basketball, ___% make 500 shots a day.”
My social media timeline is constantly filled up with quotes similar to this by coaches trying to promote a culture of hard work within their programs. I get it and I’m more than aware that a culture of hard work is vital for team success. However, some of the stuff I often see is a poor attempt to motivate kids that is also factually incorrect. Sadly, the result of these type of tweets does little for a kid/athlete (good or bad), but instead a parent who may not be properly informed is the one who is now motivated to put their kids in more stuff. The basketball, and in general, the sports culture, has become obsessed with “grinding” and the idea of more always being better. There are a lot reasons why this message has proliferated, but a big part of it is that too many people w/ little background in coaching, training, & movement are posting wide-spread content without context. Parents and athletes don’t have a way to filter all of the information. Marketing and the fear of missing out pulls them in and runs them thin.
There isn’t an exact formula for every player, but as I have wrote and posted about before- it’s a blend of hard, smart, and consistent work. Putting in the time and effort- hard & consistent work- will always be an integral part of the formula for achieving something meaningful in our lives. These two are the components most often discussed by coaches or anyone else involved in sport. The part of the formula usually missing is smart. Players need a scheduled day of rest, they need to have time to sleep, vacation, and play another sport if they choose or even have the slightest desire to do so.
This isn’t to say that players use rest as a crutch and take a bunch of random days off when they don’t feel like working, but it is to say that parents, players, and coaches are intentional about building scheduled time off for athletes. Another item that we can help players become more conscious of are their eating habits. They don’t need to be flawless, but limiting soda, fast food, and increasing fruits and vegetables is a good start.
From a movement/ strength & conditioning perspective, the large majority of basketball players don’t need more “resisted-jumping workouts”, long distance running, and large doses of conditioning. If they are playing & practicing frequently, they get plenty of conditioning through sport. In the weight room, they don’t need to isolate their biceps, triceps, do sit-ups, or do multiple sets of bench press. Instead, every basketball player, and to generalize, every athlete, needs to learn how to squat, lunge, hinge, stabilize, & do more pull-ups. When looking into programs or facilities for athletic performance, ask the coaches what a typical program consists of. Ask if they have progressions and regressions for athletes to squat, lunge, and hinge. Ask how many sets of pulling vs. pushing they do in a typical week. These are crucial questions that anyone involved in this realm should be able to provide an answer to. If they can’t or look at you funny, don’t invest a dollar into what they’re selling.
Playing-wise, most players don’t need more time on the court or weekends in the gym- they need better time on the court. Practices in which each player gets ample touches and opportunities to compete, workouts w/ progressions, and individual workouts where players have a plan (and phone away). Almost no kid needs more exposure- ESPECIALLY before they even reach high school. Instead of traveling to 10-15 tournaments during an AAU (or youth) season- play 1 v 1, pickup, lift weights, and jump in a lake as a replacement for a couple of the weekends.
Build a day of rest into schedules or a week (or two) of rest following a season. Sleep a minimum of eight hours a night. Encourage another sport (even if it is recreational). Limit fast food and soda. Less conditioning, running, and workouts that just make you tired as the goal- more workouts that emphasize better quality of movement. More pickup, free play, or organized small-sided games, less watered-down 5 v 5 tournaments w/ $15 admissions. Lastly, and as a bit of an aside from this article, sport is still about joy, keep the enjoyment in the game and in the journey!
We can still work really hard & yet be smart about it.
In the video below we provide visual of some of the skills and concepts that we emphasize in our player development program. This is certainly not an all inclusive list, but some of the skills and concepts you will see in the video include “catching to shoot”, a variety of finishing solutions both off one and two feet, passing w/ one and two hands, change of pace, and an example of a “push crossover”. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to email@example.com.
The primary goal of any offense is to score. Great offenses will create advantages that lead to high-value shots for their players. An offensive advantage can occur when the defense is in rotation, out of position, has a numbers disadvantage, or is mismatched (size or quickness). The offense is in a neutral state when the defense is matched up, in position, and set. We like to say that their “shell” is intact. An offense can be at a disadvantage when the ball is being trapped.
When the offense has an advantage, players make decisive passes or drives until a high value shot has been created. When the offense is neutral, they use an action (cut, screen, penetration, post entry) to “crack the shell” & hopefully create an advantage. If the offense is at a disadvantage, they find the open player to move toward an advantage state.
Some coaches prefer a high volume of sets and/or scripted patterns to generate the shots they want. Our offense is more conceptual in nature where we try to give players core principles, equip them with skills and then empower them to make decisions within the chaos of a game. When players learn to make decisions based on what the defense gives them, offense becomes unpredictable and hard to guard. Every action the defense performs, the offense has a counter.
Key foundations within our conceptual offense include:
- Player Development: There isn’t a more important component of offensive basketball than player development. Without skilled players, regardless of offensive scheme, you’ll always be facing an uphill battle. Every practice we spend a large portion of time developing our players’ skill sets. The overarching mission is to help develop versatile, offensive-minded players who thrive in the chaos of a game. We want players to excel at the things they do a lot (sounds simple, but so much modern player development is spent on things that don’t happen frequently over the course of a game). We also talk about and emphasize being a “joy to play with” frequently. A question we want our players to ask themselves is: “Do other players on the team enjoy playing with me?”
- Space: Having players that are skilled, decisive, and spaced will force tough, “no-win” decisions from the defense. When spacing is lost, the defense is able to guard two people with one defender. A phrase we use often is, “When in doubt, space out!” To us, this means stretching the court higher (toward half-court), wider (toward the sideline), and further away from other teammates.
- Pace: We love to play in transition. Ideally, we are attacking the defense before they get a chance to get set up on every possession. Pace also means that the ball moves quickly (Spurs 0.5 Rule) and that we execute our cuts and movements at a tempo that never allows the defense to relax. A misconception with pace is that we automatically take the first available shot each time down the floor. Again, we want to attack before the defense gets set up, but if the defense is back and in position, we have the ability to flow into continued action to create an advantage.
- Flow: The connection of an offensive possession. Flow is our players’ ability to play without resets or frequent coach interference. Each segment within our offense can seamlessly transition into the next without stoppages. For example, we can flow from transition or a “quick” directly into spacing and attacking through dribble penetration.
- A “quick” is an action that we perform as we are crossing half-court, usually after a make or a dead ball when the defense has their shell intact. It can be a called or it can happen by players initiating the action w/ their movements/decisions. Quicks are designed to be executed with pace to create an advantage that we can attack from.
- Our primary transition offense as well as the offense we flow into is mostly predicated around quick ball movement coupled w/ spacing principles to create defensive closeouts. When we need a change of pace or need to offer a different look to the defense, we do so by playing through the post (or running a “quick”). Generally speaking, fewer and fewer teams work on defending the post & coinciding actions that go along with it. When we enter to the post or we are looking to enter it to the post, the ball slows down- our cuts & actions away from the ball, however, do not. At times, we will get post touches organically through a player cutting & holding their position on a mismatch. Other times we call “Power” and look to isolate a player four around one.
Below is a video that illustrates many of the concepts listed above. Feel free to reach out with any questions you may have: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” The same principle applies to your summer workouts or even a general work-day. If you have an hour set aside to work on your game, take the first 10 minutes to create a plan to execute. Ten minutes of writing out a plan can have a HUGE effect on the quality & intensity of your workout.
- Hard work does things for you. Smart work coupled with hard work does superior things for you. There will be a lot of messages regarding hard work all summer, and that’s important, but it’s smart work that will create improvement. Have a plan. Focus on not just doing a drill or a move, but executing that drill or move with great precision and detail.
- Worry much less about taking 500 shots and worry much more on HOW you’re taking 100 shots.
- Start w/ small changes in your habits. Make them sustainable. Turn your phone on silent before you go to bed. Replace soda, juice, or any sugar-filled drinks w/ water. Do one stretch for one minute before you go to bed. The main point being you don’t need to overhaul your life in one day. Start by making one or two small changes and keeping adding one or two small changes each week. Again, if repeated, it will add up over time.
- Surround yourself with people who have the same vision and the same plan as you. If your current people aren’t on the same page as you, help bring them along or seek out people who have your same vision.
A couple weeks back I was coaching in an AAU tournament and shortly after our game, the official refereeing our game collapsed. When he collapsed, all the courts in the gym stopped. Kids, parents, and coaches who had been competing just seconds before all watched in deep concern as the official was being attended to by gym supervisors. Ambulances were called, the AED was used. It was a very humbling moment- one in which we were all hoping and praying for a fellow human. The paramedics arrived to the gym and took him to the hospital where thankfully, he would be okay.
The night before, for our 9:00 PM game, the same official was refereeing our game. The next day, the day in which he collapsed, he was doing our 5:30 PM game; he’d been doing games all morning and afternoon for the second day straight. I wouldn’t call him the best official we’ve ever had, but knowing how many games in a row he’d done for this tournament, he was doing a fine job. I see these exact circumstances at almost every tournament I go to- a referee doing twelve straight games two days in a row. It never fails that in probably 9 out of the 12 games parents and coaches are razzing them the whole game and in some cases, using completely disrespectful names and words. Especially at younger ages. I see parents coming onto courts in the middle of the game and making threats to officials because their 5th grade kid got fouled and it wasn’t called. After every call that’s made, 75% of the teams’ parents are screaming, kicking the bleachers, or standing up with their arms out in disbelief. I could go on and on here about keeping a little perspective, but I’ll stay to the point.
Not every referee is good and not every referee gives their best effort, but lets keep in mind that in many cases, they are working under circumstances given by tournament directors that are absolutely ridiculous. No matter how good of an official you are, if you do 20+ games in a weekend with people screaming at & harassing you the entire time, your job would suffer. Like us, these officials are human too. Which brings me back around to the official collapsing and the aftermath that surrounded it. Everyone hoped for the best for the man when he collapsed. You could feel everyone in the gym pulling for him & the respect being shown. Why does it take a moment like this for people to acknowledge and respect an official? Just because the guy is wearing a striped shirt and you don’t agree with his judgement doesn’t mean that he, like you and I, can’t fall victim to human moments.
Again, I’m not giving a free pass and saying that officials don’t have to try and do a good job but in almost 90% of all cases (and I have seen a ton of games) they are working with what they know. They are trying. I am asking for all of us to keep some perspective and try to show some respect, decency, and to maybe try thanking an official after a a game- regardless of if you thought they did a good job or not, it’s a thankless, difficult job. A little appreciation could go along way for them- not just as officials, but as people.
Self-Accountability & Chasing Outcomes
Many of you may have watched Wofford vs. Kentucky this past Saturday and saw Fletcher Magee go 0-12 from the 3-pt line en route to a close six point loss for his Wofford team. Two days prior, Magee hit seven 3-pt shots and became the all-time leader for most 3-pointers made in NCAA history.
Magee said this after Wofford’s loss to Kentucky, “I just needed to hit a couple of shots. We had the momentum sometimes and I had a big shot and it ended up not going in, but I’ve got to own up to it and swallow it. I went in there, I prepared like I always prepared. I did everything I’ve always done. I shot them how I always shoot them. They just didn’t go in.”
In a time where his emotions were running wild, he was accountable to himself and his performance. No excuses, no bad-mouthing his coaches, teammates, or the opponent- he simply stated that he wasn’t his best on that day and that he would grow from the experience.
Outside of personal accountability, I thought it was also a great reminder to all of us that no matter what we do to prepare or how hard we work, sometimes we don’t always get a desired result or outcome. Does that mean we shouldn’t prepare as hard? Absolutely not. Does that mean that we shouldn’t care or be disappointed if we don’t get the result we desired? No. However, in our goal-obsessed society, we must remember that putting all of our mental effort into an outcome doesn’t ensure that it will come to life. We have to stop attaching ourselves to outcomes and instead turn our focus to daily commitments and who we are becoming along our journey. Outcomes can help us reflect and give us feedback, but we must remember that an outcome doesn’t always paint the whole picture and it’s certainly not an indicator of who we are.
Anyone on social media has probably seen some sort of opinion on the Tom Izzo “incident” during Michigan State’s first round game against Bradley. To give a quick summary, Izzo approached one of his players at a timeout on the floor, pointing and screaming at him for what appeared to be a lack of effort. Other players nudged Izzo backwards and tried to calm him down. The player came back with his own emotion. It was a heated exchange between Izzo and his player. Shortly after the incident many people took to social media to say that Izzo had gone too far. Others argued that this was him simply holding his player accountable for his actions. They claimed it to be completely appropriate behavior and a part of coaching.
There’s no argument on whether or not Tom Izzo is or isn’t a terrific coach- he is. If I was asked to give a one word answer, “yes or no”, if I had a problem with how he reacted, I would say “no”. Do I think he could have approached the manner in a different way? Probably- but given the circumstances Izzo may have thought this was the best option at that time. I don’t know the context with this player and wasn’t in that particular situation. If I were to challenge something it would be that if we expect players to exercise emotional control, coaches must model that same behavior. However, even with that being said, Izzo has earned the respect of his current and past players and the only people who can truly judge the behavior are the people in the know- very few outside of that locker room are truly in the know. So to me, all of the arguments of whether it was right or wrong is something that the players and the coaches connected to the situation know best. The player accepted responsibility, which tells us a lot.
A bigger topic in all of this is that just because Tom Izzo employs these methods doesn’t mean they’re correct or effective in every situation. People have to understand context. Izzo has built rock solid relationships with his guys and they love him and understand his competitive nature. These are also young men playing on full scholarships. Youth coaches who think they can berate a potential emotionally fragile kid in an environment that is designed to be for fun and development are sorely mistaken. Other methods such as using the bench as a teacher, showing film, or an occasional raising of your voice in a practice setting may be more effective. Outside of that- it’s important to evaluate what type of mistake a player made. If it was a mental or conceptual mistake- try TEACHING and CLEARLY communicating the correction instead of screaming about it. This is an all too common problem in youth sports- screaming and berating conceptual mistakes without correction. In many cases, it’s to cover up the coaches lack of knowledge and ability to actually teach the game. Furthermore, youth coaches who yell and scream all the time because that’s what they perceive coaching to be are doing nothing but turning their players off to them. We need to learn to communicate before resorting to yelling and berating. You can have emotion, but if you’re emotional all the time AND you don’t actually teach and correct- you’re not coaching, you’re not leading, and you’re certainly not helping develop players. So for all of the people who claim that Izzo’s incident is “just coaching and holding someone accountable”- there may be some truth to that, but there is also a whole lot of context that we need and a whole lot more to consider.
Playing w/ a Lead:
I struggle when I watch teams who get a lead early in the second half of a game start playing the clock instead of playing the game. They stop running their typical offense and go to a complete stall where their movements get slow or stagnant. The possessions generally result in forcing up a bad shot with three to five seconds left in the shot clock. It’s not to say that offenses can’t be patient and that they shouldn’t try to hunt a great shot on each possession, but I will never understand teams who are virtually stopping everything they do offensively just to run time off the clock. I do think in these situations that teams who are generally more deliberate have a slight advantage as they are more comfortable running their offense for twenty seconds on a possession, but nonetheless, I see teams of all different styles fall into this trap. The clock becomes their main focus instead of continuing to attack and add to their lead. In too many cases, the energy is sucked out of the players and the mindset turns from being the aggressors to playing not to lose.
I was recently listening to a podcast with the head coach of the Nevada Men’s Basketball team, Eric Musselman. At the time I am writing this, Nevada is 14-0 and ranked #6 in the country in the college basketball rankings. Coach Musselman and his team are starting to garner national attention and many experts believe they are a legitimate Final Four contender. However, Musselman’s coaching journey to this point was anything but smooth. As he told his story, my mind wandered to relatable experiences in my own life as well as situations that many athletes are currently experiencing or will experience in a season or career.
In 2007, Coach Musselman was fired from his second NBA head coaching gig after just one season. After not coaching for three years, he got back into coaching when a NBA D-League team hired him as their head coach. After a couple of good (and unglamorous) seasons in the D-League, he became a college assistant at two different schools before being hired by Nevada as their head coach. Along this journey, Musselman learned. He became a voracious reader and started his own blog on leadership to reflect on things he learned and experienced. When he was an assistant in college, he took notes on things he liked and didn’t like about the program he was a part of. He enhanced his already deep knowledge in player development, X’s and O’s, and scouting reports while learning about the process of recruiting. Musselman embraced his circumstances, learned whatever he could and become a star in whatever role he had. Years later, another opportunity finally came and as evident, he was prepared for it.
With the right approach, times of struggle and moments of uncertainty allow us to grow and learn about ourselves. We’ve all heard phrases or quotes like this before and as cliche as it is, it’s also true.
As a coach, I’m pretty familiar with many of the situations and roles that players are in- I’ve been in most of them. There were times in my career as a player where I was the leader of a team, other times where I was the third or fourth option, a fringe player in the rotation, or a reserve who wasn’t in the rotation at all. Like anyone, I enjoyed being a leader and a go-to option on a team- and also like anyone, there were times I was really frustrated when I was on the back-end of a rotation or wasn’t even in the rotation. Each of those experiences were valuable to me, however, the moments of frustration and difficulty were the ones that really allowed me to grow as an individual- they forced me to practice persistence and resilience. I wasn’t always rewarded in the moment or in the short-term, but in the long-term it made me a better coach and positively contributed to my life in more ways than I probably realize.
Our natural inclination as adults is to not allow kids to struggle. I see and hear different instances of this inclination frequently in athletics. Whether it’s adults playing the blame game and bashing coaches and teammates or even just endorsing a child’s complaints and agreeing with everything they say- we unknowingly take away valuable learning opportunities for the younger generation. Instead, we need to be encouraging them to be a star in whatever role they currently have. To embrace their circumstances and figure out how to make the absolute best of them. We need to guide and help them to take complete ownership of their situation. If it’s something they truly care about, they’ll learn to go the extra mile and put the extra effort forth to bridge the gap of where they are and where they want to be.
Challenging circumstances and moments don’t change for the better when we run from them. They won’t automatically change just by embracing them. Not everyone will turn into a star or end up in the national spotlight, but by attacking moments of challenge with persistence we will unquestionably grow as individuals and become a better version of ourselves.