Managing a team with Bill Belichick and Gary Patterson

February 13th, 2015

In an article about succeeding in college football without signing five-star prospects, TCU Head Coach Gary Patterson said that he had learned something from New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick’s management style: Read the rest of this entry »

Coaching the End of the Bench

July 24th, 2012

Playing time is one of the hardest issues of coaching. Last season, I struggled with my commitment to play every player, as it is hard to make that many substitutions in a game and to give players enough time to get comfortable on the court. While there are reasons to play everyone, when I started as a coach, I tended to stick to an eight-person rotation. Read the rest of this entry »

Creating the Caring Climate to Promote Sports Participation

May 2nd, 2012

In competitive athletics, caring appears to have a negative connotation. We are not looking for caring coaches, but competitive coaches who can advance a child’s athletic career. Caring tends to be associated with soft, and everyone knows that the tough teams win. Over and over, I witness coaches screaming at children for mistakes, while parents sit idly by in the stands, shaking their heads up and down because their son did make a bad turnover.  Read the rest of this entry »

Measuring a Coach’s Game Performance

November 19th, 2010

Game coaching is only a small part of the overall job of a coach. However, coaches are measured by results as most people only watch the games, not practices. The effort between games goes unnoticed because its is hidden from view.

One popular measure for a coach’s effectiveness during games is performance during close games, usually games decided by one possession (<3 points) or maybe games decided by five points or less.

Is this a fair measure of a coach? Would Butler’s Brad Stevens be a better coach if Gordon Hayward’s half-court heave found the bottom of the net in the NCAA National Championship Game?

In my research design class, we studied observable score and true score. Essentially, your observable score equals your true score plus the error score. From a coaching standpoint, the error score accounts for lucky shots, unlucky shots, bad calls, off-nights, etc.

In the Butler example, the observable score was a two-point loss. If a coach is measured by performance in one-possession games, Stevens would be 0-1. Is that fair? If Hayward’s shot would have fallen, would it be fair for Coach K to fall 0-1 based on a half-court heave?

It is hard to know how much error there is in a given game. Is it the coach’s fault when a 90% free throw shooter misses two free throws at the end of a loss? What about a missed call or a banked in three-pointer or a shot that rolls in and out? It’s easy to say that it’s a part of the game, and it is, but should a coach’s worth be determined, at least in part, by these situations when the margin of victory and defeat is so small?

When I coached a professional team, we lost several close games on the road with an under-manned team. Ultimately, I was fired. However, I felt being competitive on the road against more talented teams was a sign of good coaching, not bad coaching. We were in the game and one or two plays or one break away from stealing a win.

What if we considered the error score when evaluating a coach’s performance? Rather than decide a coach’s value based on games decided by three points or less, what if we set the error score at five and measured a coach’s record in games decided by more than five points?

Would a coach’s record in games decide by five points or more more accurately reflect a coach’s value than a coach’s record in close games?

By Brian McCormick
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

Parents’ and Players’ Concept of Competitiveness

September 9th, 2010

My friend coached in a local recreation league for seven and eight-year-olds. The league had a try-out day and then the coaches selected their teams. The day after the “draft,” eight players signed up together; the league put them together on one team. As it turned out, they were the “all-stars” from the previous season.

The parents and their coach schemed together to keep the best players together on one team in order to beat the other teams and win the championship trophy. While this may be extreme, this is how adults view competitiveness: generally, we do whatever necessary to give ourselves a competitive advantage.

Children are different. Throughout the summer, I noticed a trend. In any game, like tag, where one player had to choose another player to try and get, nearly every player picked someone of comparable talent. In two weeks of camps with over 200 players, I never saw a talented player go after a weaker player.

Players chose who to go after based on two observable factors:

  • Talent level
  • Social group

Boys generally went after boys, and girls generally went after girls, unless one went after someone from his or her social circle or someone more talented. Lower skilled boys might go after a girl if they socialized at lunch or walked to camp together, while a girl may choose to go after a boy if the other girls were below her skill level, and she needed a challenge. A talented boy would go after a girl if she was similarly talented. Gender appeared to matter less than friendship (generally for lower skilled or less competitive players) and talent level.

Players did not seek the same competitive advantage as parents. When left to make decisions on their own, they picked the just right challenge: an opponent who was similar or slightly better than themselves.

More to the point, when a player struggled, he or she did not switch and go after a lesser player. Instead, he or she showed dogged determination to get the comparable player. Even when I tried to influence a player to go after someone below his or her level because the game was dragging on as everyone waited for him or her to tag someone, players almost never relented. Even when they chose a new opponent, they did not go for the easiest option, but one slightly easier than the original opponent.

While parents and coaches are concerned with winning and losing because they believe that children may lose interest if they lose too much, children are more interested in the social activity of playing, the challenge and the fairness of the activity.

Maybe youth leagues should allow the players to pick the teams, not the parents and coaches!

By Brian McCormick
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

Basketball Coaches Solving the Marshmallow Problem

June 5th, 2010

In this TED talk, Tom Wujec discusses the Marshmallow Problem:

For coaches, I see two important lessons.

First, The Ta-Da Problem. Many coaches use a similar process as the groups that perform poorly. They orient, plan and build, but when they put the marshmallow on top at the very end, everything falls apart.

This happens when coaches and teams spend too much time planning and practicing 5v0 offense or defense. While waiting for a game last week, I watched a youth practice. The girls looked to be about 10 years old. The team spent nearly a half-hour working on 5v0 offense: screen down, screen away.

As they ran through the offense, the players predictably set screens on the wrong side of their teammate (the outside of the player on the block, rather than the inside where a defender should be playing). The screener and cutter often ran past each other rather than actually setting and using the screen. Also, without a defender present, the offense never read the defense and used the screen accordingly; instead, the offense ran from spot to spot.

Of course, in this scenario, the defense is the marshmallow. After 30 minutes of 5v0 offense, the coaches hurriedly added defense for the final few minutes of practice and the offense looked nothing like that which they had just practiced. The game changed completely. Players did not follow the pattern and when they did, they were not open because they did not wait for their screens or read the defense when making their cuts. In effect, the 30 minutes of practice was completely useless in terms of transfer to a 5v5 setting.

The kindergartners in the video would practice 5v5 throughout practice. They might introduce the idea of the screen quickly without defense, but then add defenders. They would struggle, presumably, so the coach would add another piece of instruction or maybe simplify the game. The players would try again. Just as the kindergartners spend their time building prototype after prototype, a more successful approach to developing a team offense with young players is to play against defenders in small-sided games or 5v5 scrimmages.

At this age, players are not going to memorize plays and run them perfectly against defenders in the game without considerable practice against defenders. Moving quickly to 5v5 before players perfectly memorize the plays in a 5v0 seems like a poor approach, just like building a spaghetti structure without first designing a plan. However, just as the trial and error approach works better for the kindergartners, players need to learn to adjust and adapt to mistakes during games, as their execution against defenders will never be perfect.

The second lesson for coaches is the influence of the executive admin with the CEOs. We tend to think of coaches as CEOs. However, in this video, coaches need to be more like the executive admins. The executive admin “have special skills of facilitation” and they “manage the process.” A coach needs the special skills of facilitation to work with his or her players and to bring out their best performances. In a sense, he or she manages this process. While CEOs tend to set forth their expectations and demonstrate their power, the executive admins work to make things work.

As a coach, we are bestowed a position of power. There is no need to prove this position to anyone. Instead, our objective is to assist players in their development and performance. We need to facilitate this development through physical, cognitive, social and psychological pathways.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development

Finishing the Season: Three Approaches to Late-Season Practices

March 13th, 2010

The March 8, 2010 ESPN the Magazine has an article titled “Too Much of a Good Thing” about the Texas Longhorns. In the article, Elena Bergeron compares Rick Barnes’ mid-season strategy to that of some other coaches.

“We think the human body can take only three high-level, hard workouts a week,” Barnes says. In the middle of the Big 12 season, with two or three games a week on the schedule, that means less mandatory practice time and more walk-throughs and shoot-arounds. “There are times during the year when we’re going to be on the floor for more than two hours; other times, for an hour or less.”

Barnes relies heavily on one of the top strength & conditioning coaches in the country – Todd Wright – and numerous graduate students who do research on topics related to basketball and performance enhancement. Few other teams follow this methodology. However, what is most important late in the season – the extra time on the court practicing or having healthy, fresh players? Sometimes, less really is more.

Other coaches are not following Barnes’ methodology:

“Shorthanded Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, who has a seven-man rotation, started two-a-day workouts in February to toughen his squad for a late Big East push. And Villanova’s Jay Wright, who runs an 11-man rotation, says his team is scrimmaging more at this point in the season than in previous years, to give everyone a regular run. Sometimes starters get the day off so Wright can work out his rotational players two-on-two. ‘This season we’re much more concerned with guys who play 10 to 15 minutes and making sure they’re always involved,’ Wright says.”

At the end of my season, I scrimmaged more than ever, as I played 12 players and wanted to keep players in game shape, as most players played less than a half during games. In previous seasons, as the season neared a conclusion, my goal was not to continue teaching new things, but to keep the players fresh and focused for the late-season games.

Different situations require different approaches, and different coaches approach the same situations with a different set of eyes.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

Oklahoma City Playing Fundamental Basketball

February 11th, 2010

Try to guard him by Lorianne DiSabato.

Oklahoma City is 3rd in team defense at the All-Star break, and assistant coach Ron Adams gets much of the credit.

“We don’t really change what we do,” explained Nick Collison. “I’ve been on a lot of teams where game to game we try to change how we’re going to guard the pick-and-roll, whether we’re going to rotate to a certain guy. We do the same thing, but we really work at it. I think a lot of teams try to win with Xs and Os instead getting good at what they do. We do fundamentals all the time – closeouts, for example. It’s almost like basketball camp. I think with a young team that’s a good way to go. We’ve been real solid.”

During my season, I tried to get my team to do a couple things well. We did not adjust to our opponents, scout or change things. We played teams who could not dribble with their eyes up, yet their coach was calling out multiple plays and switching defenses several times. We would beat these teams by 40 points while playing 12 players fairly even minutes. We did not try to win through X’s and O’s, but by being smart and improving each day on basics like passing and catching, lay-ups and containing the dribble. I was amazed that teams would spend 25 minutes in the locker room before games and 10 minutes at half time talking. We never went to the locker room the entire season, and only once did I talk for more than five minutes at half-time. For me, pre-game and half-time was more practice time to work on shooting, passing and lay-ups.

For OKC, Adams runs the defensive portion for head coach Scott Brooks.

“His segment in practice is defense,” added Kevin Durant. “We go over the same things over and over again. It might get boring to us sometimes as players, wanting to do something new, but I think it’s helping us. We want to be perfect at it, even though that’s not possible, and have it become second nature.”

Sometimes the process of improvement becomes repetitive. For players who want to be players and want to improve, they maintain concentration toward the ultimate goal. For more recreational players who simply want to play, the repetitiveness gets frustrating because they do not value the improvement as much as the fun.

On my team, I had a mix of the two. I probably did no more than 12-15 different drills all season. I am not big into variety, and I do not want to waste time explaining the drill’s proper execution.  I eliminate most of the typical drills like three-man weaves and zig-zag drills, and nearly every drill is competitive, some form of small-sided scrimmage. This maintains the concentration of the recreational players, as the game is fun, and the more developmental players, as they improve. However, during those times when I felt compelled to concentrate on one specific thing with a block practice drill, the attention of the recreational players quickly waned. I had to switch groups some times to put a more serious player with a less serious player to keep the recreational player’s concentration. On other occasions, I did not switch the groups and allowed the developmental players to work together and work hard and the recreational players to work together and be more social at a basket away from the harder working players so they were not a distraction.

In this way, it is a matter of adjusting to the varying interests of your team’s players. However, even at the NBA level, successful teams keep the system simple and focus on fundamentals first to raise their level of performance. Before concentrating on your strategy, make sure the players have the basic tools and fundamentals to make use of the X’s and O’s.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

Real Life Costs of Bad Coaching/Teaching

January 10th, 2010

When we speak about good and bad coaches, we generally speak in terms of their competitive performance and ability to develop and maximize their players’ talents. Even at youth levels, we criticize a coach’s zone offense or timeout usage.

In the overall scheme, these competitive flaws (or strengths) are a small piece of a coach’s overall effectiveness. At its foundation, youth sports are an opportunity to motivate and inspire young people into a life of fitness by teaching them how to use their bodies and by giving them confidence to participate in group games.

On the other hand, a poor coach in this respect can lead a young person into a sedentary life.

Billy Strean, a professor in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, says a negative lifelong attitude towards physical activity can be determined by either a good or a bad experience, based on the personal characteristics of the coach or instructor. For example, negative experiences may come from a teacher who has low energy, is unfair and/or someone who embarrasses students.

Youth coaches have a far greater impact on their athletes than most believe, which is why we need to help, guide and nurture those great youth coaches so they continue to make an impact on youth athletes and youth sports. Athletes develop their practice habits, learn their skills and develop a passion for sports during these years (or not). If we want to inspire young people into a life of fitness, and develop more complete players for longer competitive participation, we need more emphasis on educating, assisting and empowering youth coaches.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

Motivating your Bench Players

October 10th, 2009

One tough issue for coaches is utilizing bench players. These players play several pivotal roles:

  • Often, these players form the nucleus of the program’s future, whether they are underclassmen or rookies on a professional team;
  • If a player is injured, someone must step in and step up to maintain the current level of success;
  • Non-starters must challenge the starters in practice to keep the starters (and key reserves) sharp throughout the season.

During my rookie season as a head coach, I had seven solid players, but players 8-10 were unproven. Like many teams, players 8-10 were the youngest players.

Player 8 was a rookie reserve point guard who was more of a shooting guard. Player 9 was 19-years-old and in her fourth year with the team, though she played a total of 36 minutes in the previous season. Player 10 was 17-years-old and in her second year, though she played a total of 32 minutes during the previous season.

The team was somewhere between going for one last play-off run with its core (though we were picked last in the pre-season) and needing a youth movement to build for the future.

Without a guaranteed contract, I needed to win, but I needed to develop the players on the end of the bench, as our 37-year-old starting PG and 41-year-old back-up center planned on retiring sooner, rather than later.

bench 2Unfortunately, at the outset of the season, players 8-10 were in no position, talent-wise to help us, and in some cases, provided mere fodder for our starters in practice. However, I knew our lanky 17-year-old could  be important, as she had the athleticism and length we lacked on the perimeter. I also believed that the neglected 19-year old could help us if she gained confidence, which was hard to come by for a player who had not played a meaningful minute since she was 14. The back-up PG abruptly left the team after four games despite playing her best game because of a contract dispute with management.

At the outset, the young players were excited for a change of coaches, and the potential to play, but their hopes were dashed early in the pre-season. I  was close to losing one, if not both, so I confronted the players.

First, I explained that I generally stick to an eight-man rotation so they needed to be in the top eight to see considerable playing time. However, I said that the rotation could and would fluctuate as the season progressed. I challenged them to be better than the seventh man, and to guard someone ahead of them and not each other during practice. I set goals for each player that were realistic and backed with promises of playing time.

The 17-year-old needed to show that she could be a lock-down defender, which I knew she could be. However, she needed to be effective enough offensively that I could play her without fearing that she would commit a turnover when she touched the ball. This meant playing on better balance, learning to use a jump stop and simply squaring to the basket every time she caught the ball. She never even had to shoot or score to earn minutes, though the more she could offer offensively, the more her playing time would increase. Instead, I gave her a role (defensive stopper) and the motivation to improve to see tangible results (playing time).

Consequently, she showed up at every guard workout that I did with the club’s men’s team to work on her ball handling. She improved and earned playing time, and probably defended the league’s top point guard better than anyone in the league because she matched her length and quickness.

As her confidence and playing time increased due to her defense, her offensive skills improved. She accepted her role and worked on her own to improve her deficiencies, as she understood that would lead to more playing time.

Second, I gave the players a role during games. A popular coaches’ mantra is “A loss is only a loss if you fail to learn from it.” The same goes for a lack of playing time. A player can sulk on the bench or  use the time to prepare for an opportunity to play.

benchI challenged them to watch the players and scout. They assisted our players  by pointing out opponent’s offensive tendencies or an opportunity to be more effective offensively. This kept the players mentally in the game, in case they played, and increased their basketball IQ, as they learned to see the game better, which ultimately helped them when they earned their playing time. In this way, the lack of playing time was not a loss, just a setback from which they learned.

Ultimately, the success of a team in a game or season depends upon play from the bench. At some point, the bench must step up for an injured player or a player in foul trouble. The quality of depth on the bench is pivotal to keep the starters fresh during tight games and throughout the season.

Bench players must be mentally into the game, be made to feel a part of the team, remain motivated and be given attainable goals for which to strive. Every player has a role and in order to have a happy, successful team, players must embrace their roles and feel that they contribute to the team’s overall success.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League