At the beginning of the season, I wrote this blog about my philosophy, which listed 21 things that I believe. For better or worse, we stuck with most of them, but the ones that we never corrected or accomplished really hurt our competitive success.
Development over wins: Everyone plays. I played everyone. With the exception of 1-2 games, every eligible player played in every half of every game. Did this lead to development? Probably. Had I shortened the rotation throughout the season, the player who led us in scoring in our final game likely would have been on the outside of the rotation. Would he have improved without playing time? Could he have stepped up in the final game and made 3 3-pointers if he had been on the bench all season? The juxtaposition is that one of our better players played without a lot of confidence in the last 2-3 games. He was nagged by an injury which had reduced his playing time in a couple games, and potentially the reduction in minutes negatively affected his confidence and consequently his performance. I honestly believe that the player who I feel was our best player at the end of the season would not have made the team in many cases and likely would have been relegated to the bench by many coaches, but the practice scoring system ensured playing time and made me notice his effectiveness which was not nearly as obvious as the positive plays of other players.
Random drills: SSGs over more conventional drills. I definitely emphasized small-sided games, and as the season progressed, I tried to change the constraints even more from day to day. I was impressed by a blog on Joe Blogs Madrid where he talked about doing different drills every single day to practice the same skills. I have mixed opinions on this; I hate spending time explaining a drill. I like using a couple basic drills over and over to work on specific skills: 3v3 Cut-Throat, 3v3 Hockey, 4v4 Canada Rules, Tip Transition, and 3v3 3 Stops were probably the most common games this season. I do think the variety that I added late in the season increased motivation and also presented new challenges for players to solve.
Everything has a purpose: No time wasting drills like three-man weaves and zigzags. We never did a time-wasting drill. Everything had a purpose in my mind, and everything was game-related. Over Christmas break, we did a little more conditioning after taking off a week, and these drills were less purposeful than I would like.
Conditioning through the pace and intensity of practice not running sprints. The only real conditioning that we did was during winter break and consisted mainly of increasing the number of transition drills and adding timed full-court lay-up drills.
Reduced feedback: Give players a chance to learn from their mistakes first. I probably did not instruct enough. I definitely gave players an opportunity to learn from mistakes, in games and practices, but I probably should have been more specific, more demanding, and quicker to instruct on a couple things. I have a couple players who see the floor really well and can make some great passes. However, they have a tendency to make the wrong pass. Rather than making a simple left-hand bounce pass off a left-hand dribble, they made the big circular pass, and the defense recovered or deflected the pass. They also tended to make too many baseball-type passes despite my insistence that those are almost always bad passes. I should have been more demanding about using the right foot as a pivot foot in the post, and shooting lay-ups off of two feet. These were things that I mentioned, and we had time to practice, but I generally did not correct players who chose to shoot off of one foot or who pivoted only on their left foot. I should have demanded better execution earlier in the season rather than allowing them the freedom to choose their own ways. When I used to train a lot of players, I forced non-varsity players to do it my way in workouts; I allowed varsity players to make their own choices. In terms of finishing, I demanded certain finishes, unless the player could dunk – if they were going to dunk, I was not particular about where they pointed their shoulders or how many feet they jumped off. I should have stuck to that approach with these players and been more insistent on their use of both feet.
Mistakes of a lack of skill are not punished. When issues finishing became a problem, my assistant coach wanted to add consequences like push-ups to missed shots. I resisted. Maybe I should have listened. Maybe our misses were more a consequence of concentration than anything else. However, I just do not like the idea of punishing a lack of skill. I think it is my job to find a way to improve the skill, and push-ups would help a player with his finishing only if he lacked the upper-body strength to finish.
Mistakes of a lack of understanding are the coaches’ fault. There were a couple times when we made dumb plays in a game. They were my fault. I either did not have enough time to explain what I was asking a player to do or the communication was lost in the game atmosphere. Sometimes it is better simply to do what you do, and not to try and change things in the middle of the game. As an example, we turned over the ball with 15 seconds left in the quarter. I tried to get the attention of one of my players to tell him that if their best player touched the ball, I wanted him to run at him and trap to force the ball out of his hands. Instead, he heard me tell him to run at the ball and trap it, so they inbounded to a different player, he raced across the court to trap, and we essentially played 4v5 and gave up a 3-pointer. He looked at me, and I told him it was my fault, and explained what I had wanted in case it happened again. When players do not understand, I know many coaches who are quick to blame the players. However, as John Wooden said, “You haven’t taught until they have learned.”
Mistakes of lack of effort are punished: the Bench. I used this more as the season progressed. Since I play everyone, minutes are scarce. I also tend to see the good in players, and not always the bad. As the season progressed, I lost patience for not sprinting back on defense and not boxing out. I only took out a player for an offensive rebound if I saw the missed box out; I did not assume that because a player got an offensive rebound, his man failed to box out. However, in situations where I saw the play occur and I saw no box out, I sent a substitute to the table immediately. We made a lot of mistakes, but we lost our last two games primarily due to open three-pointers after offensive rebounds against teams who we should have dominated on the boards. Those are the frustrating plays and the frustrating losses. Again, I probably should have been a little more demanding and quicker with the substitutions from the first game.
Defensively, force them to play 5v5 every possession and limit to one shot. We did not do this nearly well enough. In retrospect, I did not explain the goals of our press well enough. Initially I did, but I allowed the players desire to extend and gamble more than I would like to sway my instructions. I gave them the option of pushing up or playing soft, and they almost always pushed up, but we were often late in rotating or disjointed. I and we got a little overconfident against the bad teams early in the season (I didn’t know they were bad because they had beaten us the previous year, and we only lost by a couple to the best team around), and that fueled our over-aggressiveness, which backfired against better teams and teams that we played multiple times. I should have adhered to my rules for pressing: number one rule is no lay-ups; do not get beat over the top. We spent too much time chasing our opponents and never allowed our half-court defense to set up.
Offensively, disorganize the defense and use the advantage: Try to create 2v1s. We did a pretty good job with this. If nothing else, the players can recite that our goal offensively is to disorganize the defense. Our problem was that we did not finish the 2v1s at a high enough rate. My junior varsity head coach always told us that a 2v1 is like a 1vo and you should finish with a made lay-up every time. Too many times we created a 2v1, but we made a bad pass or a pass that led to a tough catch or we did not get our balance before we shot or we were too patient and allowed the defense to rotate. Especially at the end of the season, we were way too passive, passing up too many good shots.
Simple is better than complex. I definitely stuck to the simple. We only played man defense. We used 4 underneath out-of-bounds plays, and three were options of the same play. We did not have a press break. We had four half-court man plays. We had four zone plays. All of our man sets worked to create an on-ball screen somewhere. Our zone plays tried to flood one zone or get a defender to leave his zone. We did not do anything complex. Maybe we should have. Our most sophisticated or complex skill was our on-ball defense: We trapped the ball and had our posts X or switch men. Despite its relative complexity, it was the skill that we executed the best. Maybe I should have challenged the players a little more with some more sophistication on offense or defense.
There are no positions: Anyone can handle the ball, anyone can post, and anyone can shoot (provided ORB). That was definitely true. I am convinced our best ball handler might be our center. Early in the season, one assistant and some of the players yelled at a couple guys not to dribble and to pass to a guard. I jumped on them and ended that quickly. I think every guy on the team felt comfortable handling the ball and shooting, as our three most post-oriented players took at least one three-point attempt each in our season-ending tournament.
ORB – a good shot is one that is open, within the shooter’s range, and the shooter is on balance. The only qualification to this is time and score, especially late in the game. We actually did a pretty good job with this, all things considered. We had a guard who has range to 22-feet and he made a couple deep threes in the last couple games, and they were good shots. We had a couple guys who tended to take off-balance shots, but rarely did we take a really bad, really forced shot. I yelled at guys to shoot more than I got on them about the shots that they did take.
A quiet gym is a loser’s gym. We never solved this problem, and I think this might be my biggest failure as a coach this season. I talked about this over and over, but I don’t think I attached enough of a consequence. We had a couple guys who were great about talking on defense, but as a whole, we probably need more enthusiasm and more chatter, and that is probably on me, as I tend to be quieter and not a big motivator. As freshman, they probably need a more enthusiastic, livelier coach. This is the biggest area that I want to improve as a coach with the next team that I coach.
Transition offense and defense is the building block for everything else: half-court spacing, zone offenses, press offenses, etc. I talked about this with the guys and I think they started to see that zones are an extension of transition offense and defense and vice versa. Our ball movement really did pick up in the last couple weeks, and part of that was this realization – worry less about whether they are in a 2-3 or a 1-2-2 and attack like it is transition.
WIN – What’s important now. Forget the mistake and focus on the present. This would probably be the second thing that I want to improve. I did not emphasize this enough, and I probably set a bad example worrying about the officials too much. I get frustrated when the officials do not know the rules or act like dicks. Plus, for me, the game is so slow that I am bored at times. Coming back from coaching college and professional basketball, I feel like I see everything. This probably distracted the players at worst, and at best it just undermined what I was trying to get them to do. I need to be better at this and get the players to be better at focusing on the next play, not the last play.
Adjust and adapt. There is no perfect play. Make the best possible play or decision at any given time regardless of situation. We got better at this. Because there is no shot clock here, players are accustomed to trying one thing and if it does not produce a good shot, backing out the ball and setting up something else. We literally had a defensive possession where the other team tried four different plays and took over 90 seconds before they attempted a shot. We shut down their options and they calmly backed out the ball and started over. I did not want my players to do this. If we created a small advantage with an on-ball screen, but not an immediate shot, I wanted them to attack again or move the ball or find the weakness. I stopped the action repeatedly in the last 2-3 weeks to show them how we were already into one of our offenses if we made this cut or set this screen rather than backing out and calling out the play and starting over. Defensively, we need to improve our decision-making and our ability to adjust to teammates. We struggled in this area, which is the primary reason our press was often ineffective.
There is no such thing as a long closeout: Run at a shooter or contain the drive. Know who you are guarding. We limited three-point attempts until the last couple games. All of a sudden, teams who did not shoot three-pointers started bombing threes. I suppose maybe it was our defensive emphasis early in the season to prevent 3-point attempts that limited our opponent’s 3-point shooting because once we switched to a more packed-in defense because nobody was making jump shots, teams started to make a lot of 3s. I suppose we can look at this as something that we did really well without really knowing it, and we never should have changed to play the drive more. Live and learn.
Protect the key. We should have been better here. In our last game, our rotations were late. We had some issues staring at our guy on the weak side of the court. Overall, however, our problems in the key were related to transition and offensive rebounds, not our half-court defense.
Always have to have a shooter (or three) on the floor. We probably did not have three shooters on the team, but I substituted to make sure that we always had a competent shooter on the court. Unfortunately, all of our shooters were somewhat streaky, so I never knew which one was going to get hot from game to game, if any. However, I definitely tried to keep the shooters in the game.
Practices are competitive. Winners and losers. I tracked nearly every drill. Very few drills were not competitive, and most of the non-competitive drills were shooting drills. The top five on my cumulative list from practice started. I only deviated from the practice points twice: Once to start a player who practiced with the sophomore team most of the time, and who was playing harder than anyone in games, and the second time in the last game to start a player who was the only one who had not started on the season (He led us in scoring in the first half, too).
Overall, I adhered to my philosophy fairly closely and got burned by the couple times that I went away from my philosophy (conservative on the press; taking away 3-point attempts). Since I followed through on the philosophy for the most part, now I need to decide if I need to change some things since we were not as successful as I would have liked.
By Brian McCormick, M.S.S., PES
Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League