Five stages of off-season skills development

Zach Weir, Head Boys’ Basketball Coach, Keller HS (TX); angleofapproachbasketball.com

When the season is over and the uniforms are put on the shelf, a new season begins. Fueled by the pain of an early exit for most, off-season is the time when players push themselves to become better athletes who are more skilled and efficient in an effort to develop and grow in their roles on their respective teams. Each player has  an ultimate goal of becoming a better player than they were in the previous season.

Coaches put countless hours into planning, prepping and pushing their kids to reach the next level physically, mentally and emotionally. The goal is to get bigger, stronger and faster but that’s not what this article is about. This is about the process of improving a player’s skill from the ground up. Designing a plan from the smallest detail of how a player catches the ball to where his last dribble is before he uses the skill in game action. 

There are many different avenues that a player can take in terms of skill development, player development, or training. With this training philosophy the skill will be broken down into 5 stages in order for players to better acquire a particular skill and be able to apply it in game. 

“FORM FIRST, PACE SECOND” is the most fundamental philosophy or building block of this 5 stage process to player development. With this philosophy every skill can be broken down to its  smallest details.  Once the movement has been learned other details are added such as angles, defenders, secondary defenders and game pace. The skill of shooting will be used for this article. 

The 5 stages are as follows: 

  • Stage 1: Stationary Learning
  • Stage 2: North and south movement
  • Stage 3: East and West (angles)
  • Stage 4: Scripted Defender
  • Stage 5: Live Play 

 Stage 1 Stationary  

  • In Stage 1 players will learn the skill in a stand still position at a slower speed with no movement involved. With some skills it will be simple to understand and a player can progress from stage 1 rather quickly but others will take more time. While pros still need stage 1, many use as a warm-up, this stage is primarily for players that are at a beginner level. Stage 1 can be great as a warm-up, such variations as form shooting before a training session or dribbling in place to get muscles firing.  Form Shooting in front of a basket is a great example of a Stage 1 drill. (See Attached figure)

Stage 1 Coaching Emphasis

  • Players need to ensure proper footwork and balance is being used at all times.
  • Correct body posture for the skill being learned as well as correct ball placement.
  • During Stage 1 Coaches should be checking for correct form from start to finish of each rep. 
  • When form is correct the emphasis will progress to having a game pace aspect while maintaining the correct form that was learned. 

Stage 2 North and South (straight line) movement 

  • Once a skill is mastered in a stationary manner the player will move on to a north and south direction, straight line down hill or towards the basket. This will allow the player to work on moving, catching, getting his or her feet set and begin applying the skill in a more game like applicable sense but still strict enough movement to keep the body straight and in line with the basket. Again Stage 2 is much like Stage 1 in that many players will advance to the next stage quickly. Box Shooting is an example of a Stage 2 shooting drill. (See Attached figure)

Stage 2 Coaching Emphasis

  • Players want to maintain the form that was learned in Stage 1. 
  • Players will concentrate on the correct footwork on the move and in this example when catching to shoot. 
  • Players want to maintain good balance and body posture. 
  • Coaches keep an eye on hand placement before the catch and stress the importance of catching the ball in a good shooting position. 
  • As the form is learned while moving in Stage 2 then progress to using game pace situations. For example, exploding down hill towards the basket in transition and stopping to shoot. 
  • It is very important to note that while still in stage 2 the player or coach passing the ball is also throwing passes in a straight line and not making the shooter twist or turn his body but staying squared to the basket. 

Stage 3 East and West (angled) movement 

  • Stage 3 is when the mechanics of a skill will begin to breakdown and the muscle memory will begin to be tested. When most skills are taught most players skip straight to stage 3 because it is where more game like situations are presented. For example, a player may not have the correct mechanics to shoot but is thrown into a shooting drill that where players are curling into a jump shot off of a down screen. Stage 3 requires not only disciplined form when shooting but a player is required to find that form after performing a basketball type action or move such as a curl. Cone curl shooting or spot to spot shooting are great examples of a stage 3 drill. (See Attached figure)

Stage 3 Coaching Emphasis

  • Coaches should check the players footwork. In Stage 3 players tend to not get their body posture correctly squared to the basket and that is due to a lack of proper footwork. 
  • Each player will need to have hands in the correct place as to limit any extra that may be caused by the movements in stage 3. 
  • It is very important that the passer is giving the shooter an accurate pass and not causing the shooter to contort or turn his body even more. 
  • Coaches need to emphasize the importance of correct body posture and ball placement. Ensuring that the players keep their shooting form tight and correct. 

Stage 4 Add Scripted defender  

  • In stage 4 we will add a coach or scripted defender to the game actions that we are trying to execute. The possibilities and progressions of this stage are endless and the drills can become quite a bit of fun to coach and learn.  In Stage 4 a coach or player will play defense in a predetermined or scripted manner as to force the player to use the skill being taught. An excellent, yet simple example of a stage 4 shooting drill is cone curl shooting with a defender. (See Attached figure) In Stage 4 the player learning the skill is going to be challenged yet again, and he will get real game pace practice reps working on the skills that he has learned. Getting reps this way will reinforce the skill that is being learned and also giving the player the game like feeling of having a defender. This will give the player confidence to practice the skill and not worry about the defender. 

Stage 4 Coaching Emphasis

  • Reinforce proper footwork, body posture, ball placement and in this case shooting form.
  • Players will need to make sure that their form is tight and their body is in a position to be explosive. 
  • Make sure your shooters keep their eyes on their target and do not get distracted by the defender.
  • Players will also need to work on game pace of the action they are performing while maintaining correct form.
  • Coaches will progress stage 4 with different actions, multiple reads for players, and more defenders. The possibilities in this stage are endless. 

Stage 5 Live Play 

  • Stage 5 is where the skill will be put to the test in live game like situations. Players are put into drills where they will have to determine the correct time to use the skills that they have learned or make an alternative read.  2 v 2 Cone curl shooting is a very simple yet effective Stage 5 drill. Players are put into position to make reads off of a down screen action. 

Stage 5 Coaching Emphasis

  • With more distractions and action going on players will tend to be more timid in fear of making a mistake when live defense is introduced so coaches will need to emphasize game pace, footwork, body posture and quick decisions. 
  • Players will initially tend to change their form during live play so coaches emphasize keeping their correct form. 
  • Players will need to be ready to make a play with correct body posture and hand placement . This will lead to quicker decisions. 

Progressions 

  • These will change depending on skill level, number of players, etc . add scripted defense, add cues, add extra movements, two balls, two consecutive actions.
  • Skill Level- younger players will benefit more from playing small sided games 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 and 4v4 than a ton of 5v5.
  • Scripted defense or defender- ex: working on a baseline drive and finish have the defense closeout to the top side influencing baseline drive
  • Cues- ex:When practicing ball screen defense coach can call different coverages such as switching, hedging, dropping, icing 
  • Ball handling with two balls or shooting with two shots consecutively while repping different actions. 
  • Consecutive actions such as use a ball screen shoot, then relocate and shoot another. 

Coaches put countless hours into planning, prepping and pushing their kids to reach the next level physically, mentally and emotionally. The goal is to get bigger, stronger and faster but that’s not what this article is about. This is about the process of improving a player’s skill from the ground up. Designing a plan from the smallest detail of how a player catches the ball to where his last dribble is before he uses the skill in game action. 

These are a few examples of progressions that can be put into effect when working on a player’s skills within the 5 stages.  Coaches should concentrate on getting a good base of form with each player’s fundamentals and building on each skill from the ground up. With each advancing progression using the philosophy of perfecting a player’s form and pace at each stage. The main focus being form of execution and not simply completing a new drill for a result. Coaches and players alike put countless hours into pushing themselves to reach the next level physically, mentally and emotionally and many times not seeing the fruits of their labor. The process of improving a player’s skill from the ground up, designing a plan within these 5 stages will help players be more successful on the court. 

A Real Discussion About Officiating

“And coaches, remember, that I don’t make mistakes so don’t bother yelling at me tonight.” All three referees and both coaches chuckled. A few minutes later, I toss the ball to start the game. Approximately 5 seconds into the game, I call a hand check against the defense. As I go to the table to report the foul, I’m greeted by the coach saying, “I know you said we weren’t supposed to yell at you, but God damn it, that was a terrible call. This is 4A Marion County basketball, and you’re going to call that ticky tack crap?” At that very moment I had a variety of ways I could have responded. Before I could even contemplate those options, I busted out laughing and said, “Coach, you couldn’t even make it 5 seconds into the game?” 

My name is Derek Linn, and I am an IHSAA licensed referee for basketball and soccer. I started officiating as a summer job at D-One basketball camps when I was 14 and have been hooked ever since. It was a perfect part time job when I was in college, but I really started to take it seriously once I graduated from Franklin College and started teaching math at Whiteland Community High School. 7 years later, I still love driving all over the state to see so many beautiful gymnasiums, get yelled at by so many coaches, and witness so many great Friday night atmospheres. I still get goosebumps when someone hits a big 3-pointer and the crowd erupts so loud that you can’t hear yourself think. That thrill is addicting and every November I start to yearn for it.

I’ve improved quite a bit in my short career thus far. My main focus for improvement the last year or so has been on how to work better with coaches. I’ll be honest, for all the things I love about officiating, having to deal with coaches can really make my night miserable sometimes. Coaches and referees, for the most part, have a good working relationship. We both work near each other, and we tolerate each other. However, I don’t think that either side understands the other (side note: I don’t profess to be the one person who does understand both sides). I realized this lack of understanding when I was on a zoom call with a coach a few weeks ago. I told my wife the call would take about 15 minutes…. An hour and a half later, I told the coach we would pick up where we left off on another call. It was the first time I had ever talked with a varsity coach that wasn’t just a superficial, “Hey, how ya doing?” type of conversation. I learned more in that 90 minutes than I have learned in the 266 varsity games I have officiated.  I also want to point out that I was VERY nervous to initiate this zoom call with a coach. I mean, what if he took offense to something I said or what if he just wanted to complain about my fellow officials? Our inability to understand each other makes it harder for us to go down the path of trying to understand each other. Crazy, right? If we can overcome that fear with a mindset of wanting to improve our craft, I believe we(both coaches and officials) can improve the game of basketball in Indiana.

The main reason why I wanted to speak with the coach was because I was reviewing some game film from last season and I wanted a coach’s viewpoint on how to improve my communication. Before we could even look at the play, this coach was shocked that I was even watching film 4 months after the season was over!?!?! So, let’s address this misconception about referees right away. Referees spend lots of time thinking about the game and how to improve our officiating. Most of the time we spend on the road, officials are talking with each other about how to officiate plays that have happened. We spend most of our time during timeouts and during halftime discussing what adjustments need to be made during the game. After the game, we spend plenty of time breaking down the film to see how many of the plays we got right, which plays we got wrong, and what we need to fix in order to improve those mistakes. Film review is such a powerful tool for officials. I am encouraged that its use in the refereeing community will increase because of the IHSAA’s investment in tools like RefQuest

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “There’s no way ALL officials break down film and try to self-analyze after games.” You’re right, the officials that want to improve are the ones who put in the effort to improve. It’s not 100% of officials that do this, it’s probably not even 25%, but I think the number is growing. It’s the same for coaches too. The coaches who want to get better are the ones reading this website, actively involved in the IBCA, and are constantly learning and improving, among many other things. You can tell the officials that want to improve based on how they present themselves on the court, just as we can tell which coaches work hard at their craft based on how they interact with officials.

I titled this as a “real discussion”, but I’ve tiptoed around the actual third rail topic between coaches and officials. Let’s go ahead and bring it up. Technical fouls. I’ve learned in my short time officiating high school basketball that good calls and bad calls fade away with time, but technical fouls are remembered forever. Those memories reside in a very prominent space near the front of every coach’s brain. (I hope all coaches reading this know that I’m exaggerating for effect…….. But only slightly) I am not even going to try and defend every technical foul because you won’t believe me even if I’m right. I don’t intend to litigate any specific call.  However, I’ll highlight some things that this referee would like coaches to consider that they may not have thought about.

  • When is it okay to yell at another human being? If my coworker shows up late to PLC, do I get to yell at him/her in front of other teachers? Do referees get to yell at coaches when they call a play that doesn’t work out? Can referees yell at coaches and say it’s okay to do so because we are “just fighting for our team”?
  • Did you know that there is a shortage of officials? “It’s true. According to a recent survey by the National Association of Sports Officials, more than 75 percent of all high school officials say “adult behavior” is the primary reason they quit. And 80 percent of all young officials hang up their stripes after just two years of whistle blowing.”
  • Some nights I just don’t have much patience left in my tank. Teaching apathetic teenagers all day, rushing home to pick up my son from daycare, getting dinner ready before I drive across the state to get to the gym an hour before tipoff takes a lot out of me. This doesn’t make it alright for me to make bad calls, but it’s just a reality. Mental fatigue is a really tough thing for officials to battle because we work so many games over a season.
  • Honestly, most refs view technical fouls as just a part of the game. The penalty is two free throws, possession of the ball, and the coach has to sit down the rest of the game. This is not a game altering penalty from most referee’s perspective (unless it’s called in the last minute of a one score game, and techs are almost never called in that situation). How often does the other team get more points from technical free throws than from points off of your own team’s turnovers? Almost never. It’s not nothing, but it’s also not a call that decides the game in the third quarter. We as referees get the impression that coaches view a technical foul as the ultimate disrespect and something used to change the outcome of the game, while referees don’t view it as that big of a deal
  • Lastly, we are taught to give technical fouls only if they meet 3 requirements: Does it fit the situation, does it make the game better, is it defendable by rule. We’re not trying to be disrespectful to you as the coach and we’re not trying to swing the game for one team or the other. We’re thinking about those three questions and if the answer is yes to all of them, then we’re probably going to do it.

If you’ve made it this far into my story, I want to thank you. My love for talking at length about topics other people have only a mild interest in is quite beneficial for teaching Algebra 2, but can make for a bit of a long read. I’ll finish this essay with some refereeing philosophy. Officials can break decisions up based on Art vs. Science. The science of officiating describes the black and white things outlined in the rule book. These things are fairly easy to learn and memorize if you put in an adequate amount of effort. The art of officiating describes the more subjective parts such as when and how you apply those rules on a given night. The art of officiating is very hard to get good at and requires an outstanding Feel For The Game. Let’s take the situation from the beginning of this essay as an example. The science of refereeing tells me that he directed inappropriate language at an official, which by rule, is a flagrant technical foul and that coach should be ejected. However, the art of officiating tells me that he was letting me know that he disagreed with the call in a way that brought about some humor. Because I have a good working relationship already built up with that coach, it was much easier to understand his admittedly twisted sense of humor. I appreciate all of you for wanting to get better at your craft. Self improvement makes you vulnerable, but you’re better for it in the long run. I encourage coaches to seek out referees who they trust and ask them about plays in an atmosphere of productive, constructive criticism. I encourage any referees reading this to do the same in a professional manner. Coaches and referees have a lot more alike than we realize. We have to start having more conversations where we talk with each other instead of talking at each other. We can learn from each other and can make the atmosphere on Friday nights better for everyone.

Our Intangibles

David Welp, Head Boys Basketball Coach at Forest Park High School, Ferdinand, IN

OUR INTANGIBLES

At Forest Park, our basketball program is built on the following three intangibles: TRUST, TOUGHNESS, AND TEAM-FIRST ATTITUDE. We believe that players who have these intangibles will have greater success. The closer players are to these perfect intangibles, the greater chance they have to reach the ceiling. If our players have high trust in each other and the coaching staff, then they are more likely to play with fearlessness and full effort. If they are unselfish and coachable, then the team will come first, meaning they will learn from the coaches and work with teammates, even at the expense of their egos. If they are tough, they are less likely to let problems keep them from fulfilling their potential.

Our coaching staff puts in a lot of time in finding kids who are willing to work and willing to learn. We can then mold players into the pieces needed to win. If we ask our kids to rate what kind of season they want to have from 1–10, they will usually say a 10. But if you ask them how much effort they put into becoming a great player over the summer, it is usually not a 10. High character players are usually the ones most likely to put in the 10 effort, and therefore most likely will achieve the 10 results.  Our job as coaches is to mold our players into high character athletes.  We believe that if these three intangibles are applied, then we will have a team that plays the right way!

INTANGIBLE 1: TRUST

“When building teams, no quality is more important than trust. Trust builds momentum, improves performance, and bonds teammates and coaches. Lack of trust destroys those same things. Trust equals strength and it is real. Trust eliminates fear. Competitive people thrive on trust. Teams need to trust to reach their potential. Players respond to trust with improved effort and attitude.  

When teams get into a tough competitive situation and team trust has been left to chance, there is little hope.

Trust is visible! It can be seen in an ideal teaching/learning environment. Where athletes trust their coaches they also trust their training. Once trust is established the learning process speeds up dramatically. It can be seen in the way players and coaches interact.”

The Impact of Trust by Bruce Brown

I highly recommend this book.  I have learned through the first two years of being the face of a program that trust is the most important factor in a team setting.  I believe trust can make or break your team, and through trust, players will play for each other and play fearlessly. 

The following are the qualities that we aspire to have in our program at Forest Park:

  1. Energy levels and effort are consistently high. We believe our players will play with full effort and complete attention at all times.
  2. There is a collective responsibility. The higher the trust level, the more responsibility is required, given, and embraced.

“In leadership, there are no words more important than trust. Luck favors the team that trusts each other.” 

-Mike Krzyzewski

INTANGIBLE 2: TOUGHNESS (T.P.W.) TOUGH PLAYERS WIN!

At Forest Park, our system requires tough coaches and tough players. Tough players are fundamentally sound and demonstrate positive attitudes (team attitude) which helps teammates succeed. We as coaches must be disciplined, competitive, and have a work ethic second to none. We must be teachers of the game, consistent with our philosophy, and promote our values. Basketball toughness equals T.P.W.!!! I believe tough coaches and tough players believe in the following:

  1. Make No Excuses
    • We do not allow anyone in our program to accept or make excuses.
  2. Take Responsibility for Your Actions
    • Coaches must model poise and self-control. Players will feed off of us and draw confidence from our mental toughness.
    • We teach our players when they make a mistake to recognize it, admit it, and learn from it so that it doesn’t happen again. Finally, forget it so that it doesn’t affect any more plays.
    • Our players must be able to accept both praise and constructive criticism.  We believe CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM is a “COMPLIMENT”. We want our players to say “thank you” when a coach corrects them.
  3. Preparing with a Purpose
    • We take time in every practice to rehearse different pressure situations that arise in games. We must prepare our players for pressure and have a plan for every situation. Players will remain focused under pressure. 
    • We use the phrase “Next Play” when a player makes a mistake and gets them to focus back on mental toughness and what is happening next in the game. 
  4. Fight Off All Temptations that Get in the Way of Our Team Goals:
    • We make a point of emphasis that poor body language, moping, pouting, displays of disgust with officials, and other negative behaviors are training our players for failure. We correct them any time they occur in practice, games, or in the locker room. 

INTANGIBLE 3: TEAM-FIRST ATTITUDE

What does it look like when it comes to being a great teammate?

  1. Interdependence: The true athlete understands and demonstrates a “team-first” attitude. Once they commit to joining our team they are taking an intentional step from independence (it’s all about me) to interdependence (it’s all about us). This athlete intentionally puts the needs of the team ahead of their own in every decision they face.  
  2. Team Ahead of Me: One of the fundamental responsibilities of a successful team leader is to eliminate selfishness. Selfishness on the team level or with any individual players will destroy the team faster than anything else will. A “Team-First” attitude will allow people to accept roles that make others better. Great teams have individual players who each make their unique contributions with roles. Every decision should be based on “What does the team need from me?” or “What can I do for the team?”
  3. Player Roles: We must have people willing to do a variety of things. Every one of our players in our program will have a player role. I meet with each player 3 times throughout the season to discuss player roles. Once before the season, middle of the season, and at the end of the season. This provides the player with an identity to help our team perform optimally.

PLAY THE GAME THE RIGHT WAY

If our players play with these intangibles we will be playing the game the right way. It’s doing all the little things well that helps our team become part of a bigger picture. Our team is built around solid fundamentals and teamwork rather than individual basketball skills. The secret to basketball and life is to just do your job the best of your ability and don’t worry about anything else. Win the next play. We want to put ourselves in the best possible position to have success. That is our focus. That is how championships are won. 

New Coach. Tough Times. No Excuses. Let’s Work.

Kent Chezem, Head Boys Basketball Coach at North Judson-San Pierre High School

I’ve been fortunate enough to be hired as a varsity basketball coach 4 times in my 27 year coaching career, and each job has posed its own set of challenges. On May 19 of this year, I was hired to be the Boys Basketball Coach and Dean of Students at North Judson-San Pierre HS and without a doubt, being hired in the middle of a pandemic has been the biggest challenge so far.  Currently it has been a month since I was named the coach and I have not been able to meet any of our players in person.  We’ve had many Zoom calls and several virtual team meetings, but like every other coach in the state, I’ve been relegated to coaching our team remotely.

When a coach steps into a new job, there are so many things that must be taken care of.  From assessing equipment needs and hiring a coaching staff to selling your house and relocating your family.  Certainly these things are important and must be addressed, but when taking over a basketball program it is imperative to get the program going in the right direction as quickly as possible.  Like they say, you only have one chance to make a first impression. 

The silver lining to the restrictions that we are dealing with this summer is that it has forced me to focus and drill down on what I think is the most important when taking over a new program: creating a winning culture. Our entire program is based on 5 Pillars of Success:

  • Attitude
  • Effort
  • Integrity
  • Unity
  • Servant Leadership

Everything we do in our program has to be built on these 5 pillars and our summer workout program is no exception.

First we coined the phrase, “The Long Blue Line”, to honor the tradition of Bluejay Basketball.  We look back at the Long Blue Line of great players/teams and challenge ourselves to live up to the tradition they have set.  They have set the direction of the Blue Line and we can look back to see how they achieved success,  but we also want to paint our own blue line of excellence.  We named our summer workout program “The Blue Line Battle.”

For the Blue Line Battle, we divided our high school players into 4 teams.  We named them after some of our all-time great players: Team Manns, Team Eckert, Team Standifer, and Team Webb.  Each team has a current player designated as a team leader and they are responsible for motivating their team and tracking their summer workouts.  Our coaching staff came up with a point system that allows players to earn points for shooting, ball-handling, and weight training.  

Two weeks into the Blue Line Battle and it’s apparent that we have integrated our 5 Pillars of Success into our program.  Our kids have great ATTITUDES.  They are working very hard and have been able to adapt whatever equipment they have available to them.  Their EFFORT has been off the charts.  The point values they have turned in so far have even exceeded my expectations.  They have been sending the coaching staff videos of their workouts and holding each other accountable to a high standard of INTEGRITY in charting their points.  They have certainly shown great UNITY as they have found times to meet together as a group to workout.  And most importantly, they are developing SERVANT LEADERSHIP.  Our team leaders found a court in North Judson and spent extra time cleaning it up and pulling weeds, etc… so their teammates would have a place to play.

It has been exciting to see our program get off on the right foot.  I think our kids are excited about basketball and hopefully getting to workout as a team in July.  Our assistant coaches have been active on social media posting videos of our players with the intent of letting the community know how hard our players are working in the off season.  Community support and excitement are trending in the right direction.  Now if we can just continue to paint our own Blue Line.

Coaching: A Family Matter

“I remember being in the Centerville gym watching practices after school and always wanting to shoot on the side basket,” recalls Drew Schauss, thinking back to his dad, Rick Schauss’s practices at Centerville. “I understood when he was talking I better not be making a sound. He was intense and passionate, which I feel has carried over into my coaching style. He loved his players and they knew he would do anything for them.”

Drew and brother Matt Schauss are the head coaches of Logansport and Columbia City respectively. Perhaps it’s not a surprise that both are head coaches, since they remember fondly their childhood when their dad was leading his own program. And living in the gym came with the territory. “We spent countless hours in the gym. Enough where people thought he was forcing us in there, but we loved it.”

And sibling competitive spirit was alive and well in their formative years, too. “1 on 1 games typically turned into fights.” Matt chimes in. “Drew was an early bloomer and I was a late bloomer, so the games were pretty lopsided up until we were both in college. Eventually, we were able to play to get better and work on things rather than find a winner and loser, but it took some time!”

Teammates in high school and then for a year in college were some of the best times for the whole family. Drew says that year when he transferred to play with his brother at Bethel, the two had become the closest they had ever been, and their parents savored each moment. Rick says that “some of my best memories are sitting with my wife at high school, AAU, and college games watching them play the game they love.”

And now Rick has a front row seat to their coaching endeavors. Literally, in the case of Matt, whom Rick helps as a varsity assistant. “I don’t think I encouraged them with a decision to go into coaching. It just seemed like it was a natural progression in their lives. They love sports and basketball especially.”

Sure, a lot of time has passed since Rick was winning games at Hagerstown and Centerville, but much of what led to his success has benefited both sons in their early coaching endeavors. “I think one of my biggest similarities of my dads would be teaching motion offense,” explains Drew. “He loved IU basketball, so how Bob Knight ran their motion is something I am passionate about teaching as a coach. I think a thing we all have in common is keeping the game simple.” While Drew sees the commonality with his Dad’s style on the offensive end, he sees Matt employ his dad’s defensive style a little more, with periodic aggressiveness and trapping. “They both have a really good feel for teaching and implementing that and mixing their defenses up, while I stick to a more traditional packline defense.”

Coaching is a people business. All three coaches mentioned the importance of creating strong relationships with players. From Rick: “I think we all three understand that creating relationships leads to success. The players will see us as role models and respect the work ethic and dedication to them, the sport and the school.”

Relationships. Competitive spirit. Passion. Intensity. Modeled by Dad and now instilled into two sons on the fast track to coaching success in Indiana High School Basketball. “Both are natural leaders and work so well with young people,” Rick concludes. “I would have been proud of them no matter what profession they chose, but still being able to watch them around basketball is awesome.”

Question and Answer with Derrick King

–Derrick King, Head Boys Basketball Coach, Ottawa Hills HS, MI

What made you decide to coach, and how did you get started?
It was kind of on purpose but by accident. As a college basketball player, I was jogging a lake at 5:30 am. I didn’t know my way around the lake so I followed a ladies’ light on her vest to because it was dark. She asked me to run with her, so I said sure. We had a conversation about coaching track, I told her I ran in HS and College but I was currently playing basketball in College. She told me to come to see her in the fall and she needed a sprint coach. I waited until my season was over then I went and found her. She put me in as a coach for track then hired me in the following winter to coach basketball because I stopped playing college ball at the end of my junior season because I had my third child.

What different schools have you coached for?
I coached for: East Grand Rapids High School Grand Rapids Catholic Central High School; Head Varsity Coach at Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills High School. I am going on my 3rd year coaching at Ottawa Hills High School.

What championships/accomplishments/awards have you/your teams won?
East Grand Rapids – 2 Conference Championships, 2 district championships, 1 regional championship, 1 quarterfinal appearance

Ottawa Hills High – District Final appearance this past year but COVID hit

How would you describe your coaching style? How would your players describe you?
My Coaching style is coaching defensive-minded intimidating and very competitive approach, that disrupts opponents with full-court pressing combinations, half-court traps, and very aggressive but disciplined man to man defense. This allows my team to create turnovers that lead easy or minimally contested fast break points.

What experiences did you take from AAU: From running the MBA AAU program and also from coaching with the Indy Heat organization?
– Teaching athletes to stay committed to the process when being recruited – Understand that athletes will leave the program – Communication is key with parents, coaches, players, etc.

How have you developed into a better coach from when you were just starting out?
I most definitely have been developed into a better coach. My attitude towards players and understanding them has improved and building relationships.

What advice would you give to younger coaches?
The advice I would give to younger coaches is to be patient and build relationships with all of your athletes. Relationships both on and off the floor are very crucial to the success of your program.

We as coaches are always trying to get our players to improve at their craft: what are 1 or 2 things you’re hoping to improve during this off season?
My ability to adjust quickly to my opponents. My ability to adapt my offense to the kind of team I have and flexibility to change sooner based on their skill set and size. Lastly, just be better about teaching the why’s behind we are running an offense or specific defense.

Derrick M. King Sr.
Coach, Mentor, Educator, and Leader
derrickking39@gmail.com
“My Passion for Success is Built upon Preparation”

DETOUR AHEAD: SOME HEAD COACHES TAKE THE LONG ROAD

Daniel Crabtree, Head Coach at North Knox High School, Bicknell, IN

As coaches in the highly competitive job market of Indiana High School Basketball, we have each had unique experiences along the way.  Some coaches were fast-tracked to the top at a very young age.

  • Examples: Ryan Haywood was 25 when he was given the reins at his alma mater, Mt. Carmel, Illinois.  Mark Rohrer took over the South Knox Spartans at the ripe age of 23.

Some have bought their time grinding as an assistant at the same school to finally see that loyalty pay off.

  • Examples: Nathan Fleenor, 12-year assistant coach, was selected to take over the Evansville Harrison program he was loyal to all those years.  Rodney Walker, long time Bears assistant, also saw his loyalty pay off when he was promoted as the head coach of Evansville Central.

Others, like myself, have slowly moved up the ranks while working under multiple head coaches to finally land a job at a new school.  The last group are those of you who are still looking to earn your first head coaching job.  Success doesn’t necessarily depend on which road you take, but what you make of your opportunity once you get it.

The majority of head coaches fall into three categories: 

  1. The Star Player: A lot of head coaches were standout high school players, and/or college players. It makes sense because they have obviously been around the game most of their lives and often played under top-level coaches. This helped them build a network and get a foot into the coaching profession. Administrators and hiring committees feel comfortable hiring people they remember watching tear up the court.
  2. The Loyal Assistant: A common and well-respected route to becoming a head coach is to become an assistant, stay at one school, and be very patient. There are many variables that need to come into play. Obviously, this plan doesn’t work if the head coach stays forever, or the hiring committee wants someone with a proven head coaching record.  However, when it works out, those assistants already have a strong rapport with the players. 
  3. The Relative: Several coaches get into the profession because their father, mother, brother, or grandfather were coaches.  Coaching is “in their blood” so to speak.  They have been around the game, in the locker room, and on the sideline most of their lives. We’ve heard the phrase, “it’s all about who you know.”  While this isn’t an absolute, it certainly doesn’t hurt to know the people who are looking to hire. 

What about the rest of us who don’t fall into any of these categories? Maybe my experience can give some hope to those of you who are grinding and doing all the “right” things, but haven’t landed that allusive first head coaching job. 

I am a 2004 graduate of Tecumseh High School in Lynnville, IN.  Basketball was my first love, but a successful playing career wasn’t in the cards for me.  A combination of a reoccurring pelvic dislocation, and all the wrong attributes of size, speed, and athleticism put my basketball dreams on the shelf.  I was a decent distance runner and was a cross-country walk-on at the University of Southern Indiana. 

My basketball coaching career started in 2004 as a 5th and 6th grade B-Team coach at Elberfeld Elementary.  Soon after, I became the head boys’ track coach and boys’ and girls’ cross-country coach at Tecumseh High School.  I’m not sure if the job was even officially posted or how many people would have wanted it. I took the next five years to focus on my head coaching duties. When I returned to basketball, it was to my same position back at Elberfeld Elementary in 2009.  At this point, high school basketball coaching wasn’t even on my radar. 

In the fall of 2010, while at cross-country practice, Kevin Oxley approached me about coaching the freshmen team at Tecumseh.  Coach Oxley must have been extremely desperate to reach out to me, but I will be forever grateful for that job offer.  Tecumseh was coming off a twelve-year streak of Class “A” Sectional Championships that all started with a State Championship in 1999.  I had the opportunity to watch one of the best ever.  I learned how to run an entire program, how to scout, how to be prepared for anything, and how to compete against bigger teams night after night.  My four years as a freshmen coach and varsity assistant at Tecumseh were the building blocks of my coaching foundation. 

In the spring of 2014, I applied for a head basketball coaching job for the first time.  It was a girls’ job attached to a social studies teaching position I desperately wanted.  I finished runner-up for that job, but landed a teaching job at Princeton Community High School a few weeks later.  Princeton didn’t have any coaching openings at the time so I stayed on Tecumseh’s staff that summer.  A few weeks into the school year, Ryan Haywood approached me about an assistant opening.  I accepted, and spent the first year as a varsity assistant and then moved up to the JV spot for the next four years. 

During my time at Princeton, we went from four wins the first two years, to forty wins and a sectional championship the last two years.  Ryan Haywood is one of the best X’s and O’s coaches I have ever been around.  His sideline demeanor is much different than mine, but we worked extremely well together as a staff.  There is no doubt that our success at Princeton made me more desirable as a head coaching candidate.   

From 2014-2019, I applied for ten different head coaching positions and had twelve interviews (four each from two different schools).  I lost count of how many times schools said I was their second choice or that I was a great candidate, but didn’t have head coaching experience. Sometimes the teaching positions didn’t work out as well.  Then, in May of 2019, I had one of the craziest months of my life.  Ryan Haywood was leaving Princeton to become the next head coach of the Loogootee Lions.  I thought, this is it, my best opportunity to become a head coach is right here at Princeton.  Knowing that nothing in this profession is guaranteed, I also applied at a few other schools and was called for an interview at North Knox High School.  

North Knox notified me that I was being strongly considered, but they were waiting on Princeton’s decision.  After a second round of interviews at Princeton, they decided to hire LaMar Brown, a very well-respected assistant from the Bosse High School coaching tree.  I will be honest, upon hearing I didn’t get the Princeton job, I was crushed.  I remember questioning whether or not I would ever be a head coach.  24-48 hours later, North Knox called to offer me their head boys’ basketball position.  Hindsight is 20/20, but as much as I wanted the Princeton job, it wasn’t my perfect fit.  North Knox has been awesome, and is without a doubt a better fit for me than any of the previous jobs I applied for.  

Thank you for taking the time to read about my experiences.  I would like to give some advice to the aspiring head coaches out there:

Be Patient:  It is much easier to say that after you land a job, but it really is great advice.  At one point, I was so consumed with the idea that I had to be a head coach, I was willing to take any job.  Several of the jobs I interviewed for wouldn’t have been great fits for me or my family. 

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others:  After you have been an assistant long enough, you will start to see other area assistants become head coaches.  Sometimes it is difficult to watch younger assistants get jobs, but in the long run, just be happy for them and continue to be the best assistant coach you can be. 

Don’t Hold Grudges:  Whether it was a teaching job or a coaching job, I held grudges when I didn’t get certain positions.  My focus became all about proving people wrong.  In reality, it is just unhealthy to hold in those things.  Now that I am at peace and let everything go, I can look at past situations as great learning experiences.  Each interview prepared me for the next.  All of my experiences have molded me into the coach I am today.  I couldn’t be happier to be a North Knox Warrior!

Put Your Family First:  Be honest with your spouse or significant other.  Talk to your children about your goals and aspirations.  Make sure everyone is on the same page before applying to become a head coach.  It is hard to know how much time you will put in until you are actually in a head coaching position.  Things are a lot more enjoyable if your family is supportive and understanding.  Take time to put them first.  This is something I struggled with as a first year head coach.  My wife, Victoria, has been a rock star with this process.  My sons Calvin and Nathan have been very supportive and understanding as well.  

In closing, I would like to thank Feel for the Game for reaching out to me about sharing my somewhat unique path to becoming a head coach.  Hopefully a few aspiring head coaches can find some things in this article to give them confidence that good things can happen at different speeds for everyone.   Feel free to reach out to me about anything basketball related, from preparing for an interview, to staying positive throughout the process, or what to expect as a first-year head coach. 

Daniel Crabtree

Head Coach of the North Knox Warriors

dcrabtree@nknox.k12.in.us

Sharing “Secrets”?

My call for more coaches to share

–Jeremy Rauch; Head Boys Basketball Coach, Snider HS (IN); Co-Founder, Feel for the Game
Most coaches aren’t even directly trading films–we go around the upcoming opponent by contacting who they’ve recently played. And now we at Feel for the Game are asking coaches to share their whole offensive system?! Or how they scout that gives them their advantage??

In a 2 month span, we already have contributions from over 100 coaches!! So why are we asking coaches to share their ideas, work, etc., and why are so many willing to do so?

Well, here are a few. “small rock” reasons why coaches may be so inclined to share their knowledge with the larger coaching community:

1. Promote self and program

2. The idea that “the good coaches already have (most of) this information, and the ‘bad’ ones won’t know what to do with it.”

3. Or this one: “If they’re worried about us, we’ve already got them beat.”

All are valid. But let me give you a few more reasons why sharing is critical to the coaching world:

Rising Tide Lifts all Ships

We can grow the game. Very little is created brand new anyway; almost everything in the game is some adaptation of something else created years ago. So if I’m sharing with you what works for us, in the back of my mind, I know I have to stay ahead of the curve. I have to think about what the “next step” would be. That challenges the coaches to think ahead, but it can also improve the players, as they need to be prepared for different scenarios within the game. They have to continue to evolve and develop with their skills and their feel. Certainly something that challenges coaches and players alike is good for the game.

Leadership is Influence

Leadership is Influence is a quote that you’ll hear probably daily in the Snider Athletics world. Here is another one: “Life is a series of choices and relationships. Every choice has a consequence, and every relationship has an impact.” I think the idea here is we have a chance to contribute to something larger than ourselves. I mean, isn’t the idea–as team coaches–to buy into the idea of synergy, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts? The opportunity to influence others by the knowledge that we impart is so powerful, so rewarding. And modeling that for our players could be exponentially powerful. After all, we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

Giving is a Blessing

I’m 35 years old. I’ve got a 7 year old and a 5 year old. And watching them Christmas mornings is one of the most special moments of the year. Watching their joy and appreciation is better than any present I could open. Getting is cool. Giving is special. And I think the same idea applies with coaching. We want to give coaches a platform where they can give. So many of us have worked hard on our craft, have climbed that mountain of success and are able to provide insight of possible obstacles, and advice of the best path to people about to make the trek. It’s such a blessing to be able to give–to help in that way–and we want to be a part of that.

If you’d like to contribute in someway to our site, visit feelforthegame.com/contact and send us a quick message!

The Patriot Dozen

Nate Hawkins, Head Coach at Heritage Hills High School, Lincoln City, IN

The Patriot Dozen is a set of standards that will enable a student-athlete to understand, and therefore appreciate, his place in and duty to the Heritage Hills Basketball Program.  The first four will allow the student-athlete to “stay” in the program.  The next four will allow the student-athlete to “play” in the program.  The final four will allow the team the opportunity to “win” in the program.  

The Patriot Dozen

1.  BE RESPONSIBLE: This means be on time to class, practice, and any other team functions.  Participate in class and maintain good behavior in class.  Carry out the execution of our practice and game plans.  Always be accountable for your actions.

2.  BE RESPECTFUL: This means to treat others the way in which you want to be treated.  Establish eye-to-eye contact when dealing with someone (family member, teacher, coach, peer, etc.)

3.  BE HONEST: This means don’t cheat in the classroom.  Don’t cheat your teammates.  And most importantly don’t cheat yourself.  Always tell the truth.  

4.  BE LOYAL: This means to uphold the rules and beliefs of the team.  Don’t succumb to peer pressure or “cliques.”

5.  WORK ETHIC: You must have a commitment to “working hard” and being able to give that level of effort each day.  

6.  PLAY SMART: Players must be willing to learn the game through play, experience, and study.  Then, to the best of your ability, execute the game plan.  

7.  TEAM FIRST: This means being willing to understand and accept that you are a part of something bigger than yourself.  What is best for the team will come first.  

8.  ATTITUDE: This word more than any other word may be able to take you to heights you have never seen before or hold you back to a level of never improving.  This predominately deals with your approach to situations and how you carry yourself.  How you respond to success and/or failure.  

9.  COMMUNICATION: This means being able to listen to the objectives and carry them out.  Communicating on and off the floor is very important in the growth of the team.  

10.  KNOWING AND ACCEPTING ROLES: This means understanding the job in which you have on the team and carrying that job out to the best of your ability; knowing and accepting your role is vital to the success of the team.  

11.  CONFIDENCE: This means stepping onto the floor believing in yourself, your teammates, and the system knowing that you will compete harder than anyone your opponent has faced all year.  This is a very intimidating edge to have over an opponent.  

12.  BE A COMPETITOR: This means standing toe-to-toe with your opponent and digging down inside yourself even when you feel that there is nothing else there.  

PLAY HARD ~ PLAY SMART~ PLAY TOGETHER

Control What You Can Control

Dave Benter, Head Coach at Brownstown Central High School, Brownstown, IN

It’s really simple to win basketball games when you have multiple talented players who are athletic and have the ability to score or create shots for others.  However, at some point you are going to run into teams who are equal or superior to you in talent and you have to be able to be prepared for how you are going to beat those teams.  I think the best teams I have coached in my 22 years at BCHS are the ones that control the simple things. 

I was fortunate to play for a college coach, Mike Beitzel, who was very big on fundamentals and he was great at simplifying the game for our college team.  I still remember him talking about simple parts of the game such as “the team that makes the most lay-ups in a game usually wins.”  At Brownstown, we try to talk a lot about “controlling what we can control.”  Some things a team can control are mental and some are physical.  We as coaches often will talk early in the season about things our team can control, but we have to reiterate these things often throughout the season.  

First, we need to discuss some things you can’t control during a game.  Officiating is one of the first things that comes to mind.  No matter how good an officiating crew is, there is always human error that comes into play, and good players and teams do not let this affect the way they play.  It’s always easy to fall into the trap that an official costs a team a game, but once the film is dissected, there will be many mistakes in the game that one will realize could have changed the outcome of the game regardless of the officiating. 

Next, there are some nights when shots are falling for your team, and there are nights when even the best players don’t shoot particularly well.  We talk with our team about what we have to control to still be able to win on those nights.  If one has been in this profession long enough, he or she has fallen victim to a banked in 3 at the buzzer or a 25% shooter on the other team destroying your scouting report and getting hot. 

Injuries and illness are another aspect a team cannot control.  We often talk about the “next man up” mentality when we have to deal with injuries or illnesses on the team.   These are just a few of the parts of a game that sometimes we feel we cannot control.

I think the following parts of a program and team are what we as coaches can have a great amount of control over.  I hate to simplify things so much, but I think it comes down to defending, rebounding, not turning the ball over, having the right people taking shots at the right places/times, and the chemistry and attitudes of your team and players. 

First, let’s talk about controlling the game from a defensive standpoint.  At Brownstown, we start working with our players on defensive positioning at a very early age. We continue this in high school as we do some sort of shell almost everyday in our practices.  However, most teams once they get in the half court are hard to score against.  Go back and watch all of your films from the season before and see how successful your team was offensively in the half court vs. transition and secondary situations.  Because of this, we spend a large amount of time on transition defense and recoveries/rotations.  At Brownstown, we try to ingrain in our players that if we take transition baskets away and have good recoveries and rotations, then teams will have a hard time scoring against us. 

The next part of the game we feel we can control is the backboard.  For the last four years, we have not been blessed with a lot of size, but we have been able to control the rebounding advantage.  We do not spend a lot of time in practice on rebounding drills, but we do give a lot of reward points in our competitive drills for offensive rebounding.  I believe doing this along with continuing to preach the importance of rebounding helps in this component of the game.  Think about the number of games that you have coached that have come down to one or two possessions, and how having an advantage on the offensive glass can help win those games. 

The third part of the game we feel we need to control is limiting our turnovers and having the right people taking shots.  No matter what pace your team plays, I believe these two facets are crucial.  We categorize our turnovers as “live” ball turnovers or “dead” ball turnovers.  We compare “live” ball turnovers to a “pick six” in football.  They are almost impossible to overcome against good teams.  We also sit down with our team early in the season and have open communication regarding who our best scorers and shooters are and who needs to be taking the largest number of shots.  I think this is crucial for kids understanding what his or her role is and accepting that at the beginning of the season. 

Lastly, controlling your attitude and chemistry is vital.  Players have to want to be coached, and we try to have many short talks with our players in the season and off-season to talk about their roles and what they have to do if they want to change those roles.  

These thoughts all came to a head for our program this past season.  We had less than five points per game returning from the previous season and we as coaches knew that points may be hard to come by for our team.  We really tried to talk about controlling everything that we could throughout the season and not worry about wins and losses early, but try to improve so that we were playing our best basketball of the season by the sectional to give ourselves a chance to become sectional champions.  I believe a lot of offensive skill is God-given talent and the amount of time a player puts into his craft.  However, even if a player is not blessed with God-given talent, if he “controls what he can control,” there will always be a place for him in our Brownstown Central program.