I was recently reminded of how connected everything we do with our teams really is. I saw a video of the way that wolves restored Yellowstone National Park after they were introduced. They cut down the deer population which allowed more foliage to grow. This allowed small animals to return to the region. Increased bugs in the foliage allowed birds and other animals to return to the region.  Trees were able to grow to maturity. Otters eventually returned as well changing the very course of the rivers and creeks running through the park. It’s a pretty incredible story and great illustration of how one small thing can lead to a great big thing.

Team building is not all that different. The right thing at the right time can lead to more growth than we could anticipate. It takes wisdom and awareness to know what’s missing. Few would think when asked why there are no longer eagles, otters, birds, and other wildlife in the park that it’s because there aren’t enough wolves. We must make sure our teams have balance as much as we can. Each member is connected to the others for better or worse. To pretend otherwise may mean we overlook the most important ingredients needed. To those coaches starting up their seasons this month…happy hunting.

If you’ve not heard the story, there’s a good video here.

As coaches and leaders, we have to make decisions that aren’t easy. We have to discipline those we lead when called for.  If we want to stand for something and make them better than they would be otherwise we are going to have confront behavior that is not up to the standards we believe in.  At the same time we want to have relationships with them. We want them to know we are on their side and not an enemy.  How can we do it? Divide and conquer. A few thoughts on this:

  1. Divide the person from the behavior.  This is often the most difficult to do.  You may not like someone’s behavior, but you can still like the person.  See them as they could be and love them until they become it as much as in your power to do so. Most relationships are damaged when we fail to see that what they’ve done isn’t all they are.
  2. Divide the person from the situation leading to the behavior. I heard a long time ago that in areas of temptation/struggle it’s easier to trust your steering rather than your brakes.  It’s easier to avoid a bad situation rather than stop once in it.
  3. Divide the person and the false belief.  Many of the behaviors that sabotage young people come out of false beliefs about who they are and what will bring happiness.  If we can come alongside and show them a better way we can address the cause, not just symptom.

See the end you want in the beginning.  You want to see growth occur without burning a bridge to get there.  There will be times they may burn the bridge beyond your ability to prevent it but as much as it on us, we can approach them in a way that respects standards and people. Divide the person from the problem then conquer the problem.




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.