In any volunteer organization there are rarely enough hands to do the work needed to be done to have the type of organization that people would like to have.  We’d all like to have more while giving less. It’s human nature.
In something like a basketball program where there is annual turnover with graduation and the change in makeup of teams from year to year it’s important to let those involved in this year’s program that the hands holding up last year’s has changed.  To many that are early on in the process the organization is a continuous “they”.  It’s easy to think of what “they” should have done, should do, and should be planning to do.  The hard part is in doing it.  It’s important for those that are embarking on the shared journey to realize that “you are the they you’ve been waiting for.”  There is no one else.  There’s no back up plan.  You are plan A, B, and C.  Many are master delegators, but there’s a big difference in delegation and abdication.    It’s important for us all to know the difference.
ziggy delegation

As coaches we fall in love with the game PLAYING the game, not coaching it. Coaching is a tough spot to be in.  You are the one most responsible for what the team does on the floor with absolutely no ability to touch the basketball.  I believe that the tendency to over-coach comes from our wanting to impact every play.  How can we do this?  By calling the perfect set at the perfect time?  By whatever interactions we deem effective in “influencing” the refs? By distancing ourselves from our players missed shots while taking credit for every make.
The problem with this approach is that we can be so in search of making a difference on EVERY possession that we create players with more questions than answers.  More indecision than commitment.  Balancing putting down the controller and providing direction when needed is developed by feel and I believe the best walk that balance expertly.
We aren’t playing the game anymore, so how can we be the straw that stirs the drink without becoming the stick in the spokes of the wheel?  We are directors; composers; but we aren’t the actors anymore.  The sooner we can convince ourselves of this the better for ourselves and for our players.

I don’t mean this as a pile on for Pitino and company but it’s been a long time coming.  I myself would like a refund for all the Pitino books I’ve bought: Full Court Pressure, Success is a Choice, Lead to Succeed, Rebound Rules 2.0, the One-Day Contract.    That check’s not “walking through that door” though I’m sure. The optimistic side of me still believes that success in coaching is about work, preparation, chemistry, and togetherness.   We’ve learned with each year that passes that while that will separate those with comparable talent; the talent is less comparable at each level due to the illegally stacked deck.  The house usually wins and we know exactly how it’s been stacked.

It’s been said that the French Revolution consumed it’s own children.  Many leaders of the movement including Danton and Robespierre were all executed before it was all said and done. What gave them power is ultimately what took it away.  The arms race for talent has created a system where the incentives of cheating far outweigh the disincentives. As those only limited by the constraints of their own morality were marginalized because they “couldn’t win”, it’s left the game to those without any such boundaries.  Really, what “life lessons” are you going to pass on as leaders of young men when your relationship with those young men began with you breaking the rules?  Be on time??  Really?  Treat women with respect?  Because…why?

The coaches willing to dance with the devil will tell themselves that “everybody cheats”. It makes them feel justified for their own cheating.  The players tell themselves this as well.  It’s not a matter of “if” it’s a matter of “how much?”.  All of this trickles down to the high school level with the recruiters masquerading as coaches, entitlement, and the cheaters clapping for each other. If you want to have a conversation about paying players legally, allowing them to go straight to the league, etc. there are legitimate arguments to be made but those aren’t the rules we’re supposed to be playing by.

They created the monster.  We’ll see how many the FBI have to chew up in order to kill it. I, for one, am glad to see the House of Cards fall.  May something better take it’s place.

cards 2

If the players in your program can consistently say what you are about as a program, you are ahead of most. In the face of the seemingly more urgent issues facing us like: how to break the press, installing our inbound series, monitoring grades, and lining up the ever-evolving calendar it is easy to fail in passing these things on daily.  We all wish to leave a legacy that lasts beyond a single game, season, and career.  We want our players to deeply internalize principles that will improve their lives and all of those that they touch. I believe that while the coaching community has had much more made available to them in the areas of culture and building young people, it is still a fight to teach the values we want to impart.  Most coaches could identify what they want their programs to value if given time and a pen and paper.  It’s another challenge altogether to pass those traits on to our players in a meaningful way.

While at a recent coaching round-table this past weekend a former assistant of mine, Luke Smith (currently at Norcross H.S.), made a comment that really stood out to me.  He discussed how it has been an off-season goal of his to really identify what the values in his program look like in a practical way.  When we say things like “honesty”, how does that come out in a practice or game?  “Unselfishness” is another buzzword that so many rightly want to teach but have you specifically thought of ways it can be modeled, celebrated, and measured in your program?  I have a ways to go in this department and believe that we can all get better at celebrating the right things.  Everyone is going to cheer when our guys put the ball in the hole.  What can we teach that will be of value over the course of a life?  The next step for me is clarify what core behaviors come from our core values along with how I teach and measure them.  Here’s to you having a great season where you leave no doubt that your impact will go far beyond the final buzzer.

If you’d like to reach out to Coach Smith his twitter is: @CoachSmithNHS


A full bucket collects no water. Pretty obvious right?  You can pour it but it will not and can not receive more.  I thought of this simple truth (not the first I know) while working with a player a couple weeks ago.  He thought he already had the move down, but it was missing something.  That little something that makes the difference between a good defender cutting you off or you getting by.  Ya know….the stuff that can decide a ball game?  Since he already knew how to do his version well, he didn’t want to take the extra effort and concentration it would take to do something new and perhaps not as well at first.

There are a few responses you can take here:

  • Keep pouring water in to the bucket hoping it will magically hold more.
  • Yell at/discipline the bucket for not having greater capacity.
  • Explain why what they’re currently doing is limited and how they can expand their bucket’s capacity.
  • Take your water to a different bucket i.e. use your limited energy elsewhere until the bucket is ready.

It’s important to understand why the learner is not learning in order to properly address the problem.  Is it pride, arrogance, fear of failure, they lack the physical ability to do what’s asked, they lack the understanding of how to perform the task, or is it a combination?  I believe this illustration can apply to our own capacity to learn as coaches and for our teams collectively.  Just a simple way to see a lot of issues and discuss them consistently.

Shooting free throws in the clutch is different than knocking them down at the end of the first quarter. Everyone knows that a usually reliable free throw shooter can suddenly psych themselves out and make something they’ve done thousands of times look like something they’re doing for the first. I was recently watching the 30 for 30 on the Orlando Magic. I remember watching Nick Anderson’s infamous trip to the line up 3 in game 1 of the finals. As you may recall he missed both, got the offensive rebound, was fouled, and missed both again. 
The 30 for 30 showed me a part of the game I didn’t understand at that time. Coach Brian Hill instructed Anderson to line up out of bounds defensively taking a delay of game so they could see Houston’s set. Penny said this was a common tactic used and one they’d prepare for. Anderson, still reeling from the misses, wasn’t clear enough in his intent and Houston inbounded to Kenny Smith on a cut across the top. Penny was not ready to defend and allowed their best 3 point shooter to catch the ball and then dribble in to a 3. The last few seconds of this game has a ton to teach on special situations and mental toughness. Here are a few I took:

1. Be “next play no matter the last play”. Orlando still had a great chance to win up 3.  

2. Penny could have been ready to defend had the delay of game not worked.

3. He could have pressured up on Smith forcing a drive or at least a kick to lesser shooter.

4. The whole #FoulOrDefend thing comes to mind.

5. Even in overtime they were tied on another sideline play. They said, we knew Clyde Drexler would get it, we knew he’d drive to the right, yet Clyde gets it and drives to the right. He causes Shaq to challenge the shot allowing Hakeem the tip in to win. Who was on Clyde? Anderson. Was he still in his head about the missed FT’s? No one knows and it would take an extremely strong player mentally to not go back to that moment during every dead ball of the overtime.

The documentary is great, especially if you remember watching those teams as I do. The rest of the story on Nick Anderson is tough. A great player who the next season was telling others to take technical free throws rather than shoot them himself. He needed grace; mostly from himself.

Here’s a youtube link of the game starting with the 1st missed FT

Here’s a good article following up with Anderson 20 years later. Yes it’s been that long…

Your opponent wants to win.  They have the same court, ball, humidity, lighting, refs, fan noise, and all the other factors that you do.  Our ability to avoid beating ourselves is more under our control than how hard our opponent plays, how they execute, and so many other bounces of the game.  Our #1 job is show up ready.  To leave all the extraneous junk that doesn’t affect winning out of bounds when we cross the line.  To make sure that our toughness, our execution, and our focus are good enough to beat the team on the other side all things being equal…and as much as possible, when unequal. As so many great coaches have reminded us; before you can win the game, you have to avoid losing it.

I think this is fairly obvious to all of who coach when we think about our teams.  I believe it’s less so when we think about ourselves.  What are the ways I can “lose” in: my faith, my family, my health, my relationships with my team, my dreams?  I think focusing on avoiding losing with our teams is one of the primary ways we can lose in our lives if we aren’t careful.  To walk in light of both is a balance few seem to attain.  May we all be exceptions.  Most of us have a “to do” list a mile long with our programs.  Don’t forget to have your own “to not do” list when it comes to our personal game in life.

Disclaimer: I’m not writing this because I’ve got it figured out.  I’m writing because I know I need to.

Man on a Wire