confidence

Honesty Is The Best Policy

I am a true believer in being honest with the athletes on your team. Other coaches at my school think that I take this a bit far and find my commitment to honesty controversial. The reason that they do not like my stance is because I am very realistic going into games. We have had games where we are playing against teams that are far superior to us in every facet of the game. In these types of games some coaches might be tempted to tell their athletes that they can win if they play well and work hard. I have no problem telling my players that their is a very strong chance that we will lose that game.

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Many might say that I am being pessimistic and showing no trust in my team by telling them that their is a strong likelihood that we will lose. I believe that the opposite is true and players will respect my candor and honesty. By being honest with them and their chances going into a game it gets them to buy in to everything I tell them. When I tell them that harder work in defense in practice will give us a shot to beat a top three team in our league, they know that I am not lying to motivate them.

This is not to say that I don’t set goals for games that seem insurmountable. In these difficult games I lay out goals that I believe are attainable and would show an excellent effort from us. These goals can include the following examples:

  1. Holding opponent to a certain number of points.
  2. Limiting turnovers to a certain number.
  3. Meeting a rebounding goal.
  4. Executing an offensive set successfully a certain number of times.

It may be difficult to tell your teams the truth but in the end it will instill a trust in what you are doing. If you want the trust of your athletes and them to believe what you are teaching, you need to be 100% honest with them.

Footwork

One of the first things that you can do to help improve your athletes skills is to emphasize footwork. In my first few seasons at Ontario, I jumped right into basic skills like ball handling, passing, defense, shooting, and rebounding. These are all great skills but without proper footwork, your teams will not have the building blocks necessary to compete at their best. This past offseason, with all of my athletes including those with years of experience, we committed to spending part of each practice learning and improving our footwork.

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The result of my offseason emphasis has shown on the court and we improved greatly over the summer in virtually every statistical category. Most noticeably, we lowered our number of turnovers per game which I see as a result of our new found understanding of footwork.

Some coaches might wonder how I can spend an entire post talking about footwork as it only applies to one or two aspects of the game. I counter with the fact that footwork plays a key role in every basic fundamental as I will outline below:

Ball Handling- When dribbling the ball at full speed in a game, I am sure that most coaches have told their players to jump stop. Teaching players how to jump stop and pivot will help reduce the number of turnovers on a fast break. Additionally, learning how to jab step and use fakes with footwork will help players become better scorers.

Passing- Many player will turn the ball over because they do not step into passes on the outside. Step right to throw right and step left to throw left. When trying to get a pass into the paint, you need to be able to step through with your opposite foot to protect the ball and create a passing angle.

Shooting- I have coached a lot of players who do not set their feet before they shoot. When working on jump shots I like to teach players to keep a back foot down and step in with their lead foot to power into a shot. Also, footwork on lay-ups (a euro-step is an excellent move to teach starting in high school) also plays a role in player skill development.

Defense- Pushing off the back foot when sliding is a basic technique when discussing footwork but I also point out the fact that you want to teach your athletes to keep their toe pointing forward and not out to the side because you want to use big muscles like glutes and hamstrings to power your slide. Sticking your toe out to the side works the adductors which do not have as much power and ability to provide you with a quick slide.

Rebounding-Using your feet to seal someone on  a box-out is a great technique to teach when rebounding on defense. On offense you can teach a jab and spin to help improve your offensive rebounding as well.

As you can see from the above that using attention to detail when going over footwork will help your teams get better and also further develop the skills of your athletes. I incorporate footwork into every practice and see it as a huge benefit to us.

Lead By Example

If you are going to ask your athletes to do something it truly helps to lead by example. I have learned through experience that if your athletes see you as the hardest working member of the team, it makes it hard for them to question what you are doing or complain. This has been a great area of growth for me over the past couple of years, especially when it comes to strength and conditioning. I first want to preface that although it helps if you have been around the game of basketball, it is not crucial that every coach have played the game of basketball growing up.

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My first couple of seasons at Ontario, I was horribly out of shape and it was difficult to get my athletes to completely commit to our strength and conditioning program. A couple of years ago I committed to fitness for myself and lost over 150 pounds and am now in the greatest shape of my life (shockingly, diet and exercise actually works). Now when we have conditioning before or during practice, I will get out there and do the workouts with my athletes and I no longer get any complaints and notice a guilty look from students who sit out a conditioning workout that I am doing with the team. This is just one example of a way that I have been able to lead by example.

Another great way to lead by example is make sure that you are at the gym before any of your athletes and you are the last one to leave. I make an effort to be in the gym reviewing game film when my athletes arrive and stay in the gym after practice to meet with my assistant coaches. Athletes notice these things and will respect you more if they see that you are committed to working hard and devoting time to the program. Being knowledgeable about your offense and defense will help them respect your knowledge of the game as well. Whenever a question gets brought up about something we are doing on offense or defense, I make an effort to give a solution or answer that has depth and shows that I am in complete understanding of what we are doing, how we need to do it, and what the expected outcome is.

Overall, it’s a great idea to lead by example because you are a role model to these athletes and it will help you be more successful as a coach. I am always open to suggestions so if you have any ideas, suggestions, or questions, please feel free to comment on this post or send me an e-mail.

Who You Surround Yourself With Matters

I used to have a business partner who was a good friend of mine for a number of years. In our business we were extremely successful and I always strived to be as attentive to all of my clients as possible. My partner was brilliant but unfortunately he had a knack for not returning client phone calls and e-mails. Even though I would go above and beyond when dealing with my clients, the lack of customer service that my partner showed toward clients tarnished my reputation as well.

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With coaching, you need to select athletes for your team that will best represent your school. Also, you need to have assistant coaches that share your philosophy of professionalism as well. Nothing can sink a program faster than having an assistant coach who creates a negative image of your program.

A couple of seasons ago I had an assistant coach with my program who had a pretty solid knowledge of the game and he had experience as a head varsity coach. He brought a lot to the table as an assistant coach and his knowledge of the game proved helpful during games. However, this same assistant coach created drama off-the-court by stirring up issues with athletes and he created a very negative image of the program with our administration based on his lack of professionalism. Even though I did my best to be a professional and positive role model, my assistant coach whom I chose to work with our program brought a slightly negative image to what we were doing. In spite of his great knowledge, we had to part ways a couple of years ago and even though I lost someone with a great knowledge of the game, we have a staff and athletes with great values and are looked upon in a positive light by our administration.

With anything in life, you need to surround yourself with people who are positive and work hard. That same business partner that I spoke of in the opening paragraph used to always speak down to me, be disrespectful of my time, and not treat me with the respect that I deserved. In spite of our past friendship and his great education, parting ways with him was the greatest business and life decision that I have ever made. I know have more self-confidence than ever before, am more relaxed, and have achieved more business success than I had ever had with our partnership.

Your athletes on the team will also reflect upon you as a coach. When picking teams, difficult decisions will need to be made sometimes when you have a student who is talented but may reflect poorly upon your school and program. Even if you are winning ball games having a negative image can potentially cost you a job. I am all about teaching and second chances but tread very carefully when working with students who have attitude issues and don’t mesh well with their teammates (I have lived through this mistake on more than one occasion).

This past season I had some of the nicest young ladies on my team. They worked hard in the classroom, had positive attitudes, and  were very supportive of each other on and off the court. My coaching staff was extremely loyal and did an excellent job of helping to build our program. Even though we were not as talented as years past and we finished slightly under .500, it was one of the most relaxing and fun seasons that I have coached in a long time.

 

Know Your Personnel

It is absolutely crucial for you as a coach to know your personnel. When you are game planning and looking at what to do with a specific matchup, you must know the strengths and weaknesses of all of your athletes. In order to make sure to put yourself in a position to succeed you must first know who can help you in certain situations and how they can help you.

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With each of my teams I have a set lineup for different scenarios, including set lineups for each of the following:

  1. Shooters to face against a zone.
  2. Quickness to press.
  3. Size to combat a smaller lineup.
  4. Lockdown defenders when I need a stop.
  5. Ball handlers when I am facing a press.

By knowing the strengths of my athletes, I know who will fit best into each of these lineups. It is important for every player on your team to also know their personnel. If they know what each player can do, they can put that player in position to succeed. By knowing if someone cannot shoot the ball well from the outside, they will not pass the ball to that player deep on the outside at the end of a shot clock. Many other similar scenarios exist.

It is not something that you will figure out in a day either. You need to closely watch your athletes and be aware of what they are doing well and struggling with during practices. It is important to focus on the strengths of each athlete as opposed to their weaknesses. By doing this, you know a way to utilize every plyer on your roster.

Knowing Roles

It is important for coaches and players to all have a role, know their role, embrace their role, and excel at their role. It is easy to sell an athlete on being the leading scorer and taking a majority of shots but you need to have balance on your team. Every time has to have scoring but in order to provide balance to your team, you must have players who can rebound, pass, defend, and bring the ball up the court. Defining roles is all about determining the expertise of each of your athletes and finding a way to cater to their strengths.

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Coaches are no different than athletes when it comes to roles. If every coach is yelling instructions all the time, it will lead to confusion and a lack of efficiency. It is very important to define roles for coaches and I have outlined three roles for me three assistant coaches as follows:

  1. One coach will focus on the defense and report to me on what adjustments need to be made both in terms of personnel and strategy.
  2. One coach will focus on the offense and report to me on what adjustments need to be made both in terms of personnel and strategy.
  3. The other coach will have the same rile but with respect to inbound plays.

By having coaches fill positions much like football coaches who each star in a specific job title, it allows each coach to become an expert in their field and to master one task.

Athletes need to all try and be as strong as they can at every aspect of the game. For example, everyone needs to be the best defender possible. However, only one player can bring the ball up the court, and only one or two players can crash the boards on offense, and finally, only one player can try and be a playmaker on offense.

By defining roles for each player, it allows you to have smooth transition and lots of flow on offense and defense. Roles will also help your team out with having your coaches all on the same page.

 

Playbook

Every year, I give athletes on my team a playbook and encourage them to study it as early as possible. Our boys basketball coach thinks that I am overdoing it by providing these playbooks to our athletes because they likely won’t really put the time into studying it. My response to him is always, “My job is to put these athletes in the best possible position to succeed and that requires me to go above and beyond what other coaches are doing”. At Ontario, the stigma has always been that basketball is not a priority and that these athletes cannot play at an elite level. My attitude is always that I will not treat an athlete at Ontario any differently than I would an athlete at a program competing for a State Championship.

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In the playbooks that I hand out, they come with 5 tabs, labeled as follows:

  1. Administrative
  2. Defense
  3. Offense
  4. Out of Bounds
  5. Press Breaks

Administrative- In this section I have a copy of our team contract for the year, a list of team rules, team goals, and an expectation for each athlete at their position. Other items that fit the needs of your program can go into this section as well.

Defense- This section includes all half-court and full-court defenses that we will be running that season.

Offense- This section includes all offenses against man or zone that we will be running. I always include a transition offense in this section as well.

Out of Bounds- All baseline and sideline out-of-bounds plays are included in this section and I like to include plays for situations that put us at odd angles (ball is tipped out of bounds).

Press Breaks- This section includes my press breaks against man and zone presses.

This level of organization will not only help your players be put into a position to succeed but it will also put you in a position to have an understanding of what plays are available to you and put you in a position as a coach to succeed. It always helps me to keep a play chart with me that shows what we have available and what it will work against.

What you put into your playbook will be different based on the needs of your team and I will be posting about this at a later date.