Key Coaching Concepts with Mike Woodson

Earlier this week, Henry Abbott linked to an article by Lang Whitaker about Atlanta’s Head Coach Mike Woodson. The article describes a scene that we rarely see (team meeting at the hotel on the morning of a game), but is an essential aspect of coaching, especially at higher levels.

This team has a chance to do something special if you believe in each other. If you feel like what we’re trying to do on the court isn’t going to work, speak up! I have zero ego as a coach, none. If you think you see something that’s going to work better than what we’re trying to do, speak up! Say something to me!

I take this approach though many coaches will not. I want my players to feel comfortable making decisions and making the play that they think is best. I want to run things that are comfortable for them. I have no problem discussing (arguing) with a player about something and I don’t hold a grudge. That would be silly. Coaching is not about job preservation: it’s about getting the most out of a group of players. Too many coaches seem to make adversaries of their own players.

But what I’m telling you guys is that if you guys will just consistently do what we’re asking you to do on defense, we’ll win games. I don’t give a s— about the offense; you guys can score more than enough points to win games. The offense isn’t the problem. But you have to get stops on defense, and if you’ll listen to what we’re telling you, I promise you’ll get stops. The s— works, okay? The s— works, but you guys just have to have the pride and the heart to buy into it and do what we’re asking you to do every time down the court. …

It’s not the X’s and the O’s, but the Jimmy’s and the Joe’s. I forgot who said that. However, in my league, coaches yell out play after play, but their players cannot shoot, dribble or pass. They play multiple defenses and none works. We run the same offense against man and zone, and it works becuse the players believe that it will work. I hear other teams telling their coach that “this play isn’t working” and they are right; however, it’s generally not the scheme, but the way they run the play. If they bought into the scheme, they would be fine. Seriously, we run a middle pick-and-roll against 2-3-zones and it works. Almost anything works if you have players who believe and players who can pass, shoot and dribble.

After a win against the Mavericks, the following transpires in the locker room:

“Guys, great win,” Woodson rasped. “Remember what I said? You can win playing defense! We struggled with the offense but your defense was terrific.”

“The s— works!” blurted out [rookie Jeff] Teague, cracking up the entire room.

“That’s right, it does, it works,” Woodson said, smiling. “Alright guys, let’s get home. You’ve got tomorrow off, and then we’ll come back in on Monday and get back to work. No more let ups, guys!”

“No excuses!” yelled [Al] Horford.

“No sir, no excuses, guys,” Woodson said. “Oh, and guys, today is Josh Smith’s birthday. Jeff Teague, get up here and sing Happy Birthday, rook.”

For some reasons, coaches often seem to think that humor is bad and that basketball should be a solemn experience. Why? A coach showing a sense of humor is humanizing and players develop a better relationship with the coach than one who stands aloof. It’s basketball. It’s a game. Players and coaches should have fun.

In this excerpt, Woodson shows a willingness to communicate openly with his team without ego, empowers his team to come to him with ideas, creates a sense of belief in their system and uses humor to relate to the players and develop a better bond.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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