Options for a Personnel-Based Offensive System

It’s hard to believe that the 2020-2021 season will be my 7th year at the helm of a varsity program. I have had stops at West Central, Jac-Cen-Del and now at Randolph Southern.  In those 6 years my Varsity teams have run a variety of different offenses.  Including: 4 out, 5 out, mover blocker, Princeton chin series, and continuity ball screen.  All of these offenses worked well in some aspects and some were more successful than others.  Why all these different offenses I’m sure you ask?  The reason is simple..they fit my personnel.  I always have disliked the question, “what is your offensive system” while you are in the interview process.  My answer is simple, there is no wrong or right way to play the game of basketball, but there are wrong ways to play with your personnel.  At that point, I would explain how I will build an offense that is based on our players strengths and implement that system into our program and that could change yearly.  I’m not sure if that’s the answer people are looking for but that is ultimately my philosophy when it comes to offense.  

I was fortunate to play for Coach Chris Benedict while he was at Columbia City and currently at Bluffton.  Starting in the 7th grade we learned 41 (4 out 1 in) and ran it all throughout my high school career.  So it was only fitting that a 4 out motion offense was my identity as a coach when I first got my program at West Central. I used a lot of the same principles and a few different wrinkles that I had learned throughout the years as an assistant for our offense.  Luckily for me, 4 out fit my personnel those years.  I think back and ask myself “what if it didn’t, would I still have run it?”  Ultimately, I hope I would have adapted and changed but at that time, I thought I knew everything so I may have been too stubborn to adapt and change.  

Like many coaches what we stress offensively is the following:

  • Spacing– Basketball is spacing and spacing is basketball
  • Ball Movement– Don’t let the ball stick.  Move it quickly with a pass, or dribble but use it wisely.  The ball has air in it.  Don’t be an air checker.  
  • Player Movement- After you don’t have the ball, what do you need to be doing?  If you don’t have the ball, what should you be doing?  Setting your man up to come off a screen, moving to screen, spotted up and ready to shoot etc.
  • Shot Selection- We don’t want good shots we want great shots!  Make players understand the better shooters will get more shots.  If a player wants more shots, become a better shooter!

If you have all four of those listed above during a possession more often than not you will get the best shot and possession that you are striving for.

My last year at Jac-Cen-Del I thought the personnel we had needed to have more “structure”.  We were a really young team that had a lot of skilled players that could handle it, pass it, and shoot it but we lacked players that could create for themselves.  For the first time in my career, I thought to myself how about a continuity? Now, my thoughts were exactly the thoughts that I’m certain a lot of coaches have when it comes to continuity offenses.  My biggest 3 concerns were the following.

  • Do we want our kids to be robots?
  • How easy will this be to scout?
  • Will our kids make the read if what I tell them is taken away?
  • Will our kids not like having “freedom”?

Well that year, we implemented the Princeton Chin series and ran it as a continuity.  I was lucky to have a 5 man that was 6’5 who could attack the rim from the top of the key if he popped off of the flare screen and we curled.  If he didn’t attack we dribbled away and the player on the wing made a read, he either back cut or came off a dribble hand off and the process started over.  (I apologize I don’t have my fast draw to show you this as it’s on my school desktop.)  We ran this offense with a lot of success.  My main focus that year was spacing.  We drilled spacing and I’m sure our players were tired of me blowing the whistle and asking “where do you need to be?” 

COACHES TIP: In my short tenure as a coach, I have learned you don’t need to ask a kid “what are you doing?”  You’re going to get an answer you most likely don’t want to hear.  Instead, I now ask them “what should you be doing.”  A majority of the time they know the answer.  I feel this method is a much better way to get your point across and you don’t get a defensive response for your player. 

I really enjoyed what we ran at JCD and the Princeton system.  When coming to Randolph Southern, I was hoping I could implement that system, but  it didn’t fit our personnel at all.  So, I asked myself again what is the best offense to fit this personnel?  I went back to the continuity route and we ran what we called flow or what most coaches call Continuity Ball Screen or European Ball Screen.  This offense gave us spacing, ball movement, and player movement. It also allowed our guards freedom to be in a 2 or 3 man game on one side on the floor with shooters spaced on the other side.  I have attached some clips of our ball screen offense at that bottom of this article for you to check out.

So now that I have run more continuities the last two seasons the question is “Motion vs Continuity?”  My answer remains the same.  Run the offense that fits your personnel.  But for those coaches who are anti continuity, I promise you there are a lot of positives that you can get from a continuity.  My biggest takeaways from running a continuity as opposed to motion are as follows:

  • Players play more confident– When a player knows exactly what they are supposed to do I feel they are more confident.  How many times when coaching motion do you hear a coach yell “MOVE!”?  Then they freeze and do a dance before actually making their move or cut.  I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it a hundred times.  Then the spacing is messed up and it breaks down it seems.  Though, it’s likely to happen in a continuity, I feel it happens much less.  I tell our kids you don’t have to be the best player on the floor, but everytime you take it you can act like you are.  Confidence makes a player.  
  • Roles are much easier to define- One of the hardest things in coaching and for a player to hear is their role.  In a continuity offense you can much easier define and tell players what they can and can’t do.  For instance in our ball screen offense we have players who are strictly rim runners after a screen, we have players who can pop or ghost, and we have players who read how their man guards it and can do both (this is rare btw).  I feel that in a continuity the players roles are more clearly defined and easier to let them know what their strengths are as a player.
  • Designed to your strengths- The game of basketball has so many different offenses and all have their pros and cons.  I have always said there is no wrong way to play the game of basketball, but there is a wrong way to play with your personnel.  You can find almost any type of continuity offense that will fit your personnel.  Whether it be flex, chin, continuity ball screen, kansas hi-low, swing etc..there is an offense out there that will fit what you’re trying to do and your personnel.  
  • Time commitment- Though both take time to master, I have found that motion offense takes a much longer approach to run it exactly how you want.  Teaching players reads of all different options is much longer than the 1 or 2 that they are being asked to do in a continuity.
  • Control and Structure- Basketball games a lot of times are lost by a team as opposed to won by the opposition.  I have adapted the “Keep it Simple Stangland” approach when it comes to coaching.  Sometimes easy is the best option.  You can run 50 different complex sets and offenses but if the learning curve is too hard you will struggle.  Yes we want our players to have freedom and not to play like robots.  But high school kids enjoy structure.  If your offense gets you the shots you want, does it matter what is run.  So at times simple is better.  
  • Spacing- A continuity offense was made to space the floor.  You don’t have to rely on your players to make the correct read in order to make the floor spaced exactly how you would like.  In a continuity, if ran properly the spacing should flow right where it needs to be.  Spacing is basketball and basketball is spacing.  I have always felt if you can space the floor properly any offense that you run will be successful and get you the shots you want.  
  • Sets that flow right into your offense- There are a multitude of different sets that you can run that will flow right into your offense if the set you run is taken away.  Are your players prepared for what will happen if the set breaks down or does not result in a shot?  I like our sets that flow right into our offense so that awkwardness of not knowing what to do is taken away.  

With anything that comes with this game, it’s not always perfect.  There are definitely cons to a continuity system.  The major ones that I feel are:

  • Scoutable- Yes, teams can scout it and know exactly what you are trying to do.  But it doesn’t matter if they know it or not.  Can they stop it?  Two totally different things and the latter is much more difficult.
  • Players must learn multiple positions- I’m sure other coaches hear it all the time.  “I don’t know that spot.” Some continuity offenses 5 players do the same thing, others have 4, and some have 3 etc.  Having players that can run all 5 spots can be a difficult thing.  When you are a team that lacks depth one injury can cause an offense to no longer be an option.  You have to have kids be able to run multiple spots if needed.
  • Freedom- In today’s society most players want freedom. They want space to create.  Does a motion offense allow more freedom?  Absolutely it does.  Does a continuity allow a kid to have freedom?  Yes.  We always tell our players to play basketball not the play.  Take what the defense gives you.  With our continuity ball screen offense, if you can reject the ball screen and get to the rim you better do it.  We will reject ball screens all day if the defense lets us.  
  • Aggressive Defenses- An aggressive and athletic defense can take you out of exactly what you’re trying to do.  You must have counters to take advantage if a defense is taking something away.

Suggestions and takeaways from running a continuity offense:  

  • Shooting drills that get you shots from your offense.  Switching to a ball screen offense I can’t ask a player to be able to pull up off a ball screen if he isn’t repping that shot hundreds of times during the week.  Find where you are getting your shots in your offense and run actions that get you that shot through the flow of your offense.  Be creative and come up with shooting drills that fit your offense.
  • 2 on 2 or 3 on 3 with the main actions that your offense will be running.  We started last fall in September and never played 5 on 5 until October.  We broke down every facet to the offense to make our kids as comfortable as possible.  
  • Details Matter- Every little detail matters.  Whether its spacing, over dribbling, or the ball not moving quick enough etc.  that detail matters.
  • STRESS BE A BASKETBALL PLAYER NOT A ROBOT.  Take what the defense gives you.  Just because a coach tells a player what to do that doesn’t mean it’s right.  Make your players believe the defense is always wrong  and it’s up to the player to take advantage of how the defense is guarding.   
  • It doesn’t have to be your base offense.  Use it when you want to control the clock in late game situations or at the end of the quarter holding for a last shot.  
  • Practice what you preach and stick to it.  Let your players know exactly what you are looking and not looking for.
  • We run 5 out motion in all of our feeder program.  Teach kids how to play, don’t teach plays at a young age.  Feeder programs are for two things: Making kids love the game, and how to play the game.  When they get older then teach them the WHY.  
  • It’s ok if they fail at first.  It’s going to happen and when it does accept it.  Rome wasn’t built in a day but it was built every day.  

I want to thank Feel for the Game for allowing me the opportunity to share my thoughts on this topic.  If you have any questions or want any sets that flow into the Princeton or continuity ball series or shooting drills from these offenses please feel free to contact me at stanglandt@rssc.k12.in.us or on twitter @RS_Rebel_Hoops.  I look forward to sharing and connecting the game with other coaches and feel beyond blessed to be able to teach and coach young men the game of life and basketball.

Below is a highlight video of our ball screen continuity offense from this past season.  

Building A Staff

– Andy Igel, Former Head Coach at Vincennes Rivet HS, Frontier HS, and Eastern Greene High School

When I began my coaching career in 1981, I started as a fifth grade coach and I had no idea the importance of the job I was doing. It all sank in at my first coaching clinic, while attending the annual Basil Mawbey clinic, in the fall of 1981, at Connersville High School. Coach Mawbey talked about the importance of a strong feeder system and that good programs start with coaches teaching fundamentals. He also said the most important thing in building a program was to “surround yourself with good people”. That phrase means many things to people, but the biggest takeaway for me on that Fall day in Connersville was to hire people with high character and the rest will take care of itself.  Obviously there is so much more, but the character of your staff means so much to the direction and culture of your program. 

Before you hire your staff,  you must think about some qualities you want to find in your assistants.  When I hired my staff, I looked for many things that will help our school become a championship contender.  Applicants must have the following key traits, I want them to be loyal, ambitious, tireless, selfless, professional people. I want them to have an open mind and good communication skills, a good feel for the game and a passion for our program. In my 31 years of coaching, I feel fortunate that I, either a part of a staff or as a head coach, was able to put together the right mix of individuals. 

Loyalty-Total buy in of the philosophy of the program, is just as important outside of the gym as it is in the gym. Conflicts with beliefs will happen, but those are taken care of in the coaches office

Ambition-When possible, I think it is important to hire people who have ambition of being a head coach. They will work hard and be sponges for knowledge of the game.

Tireless-Building programs take extensive time. You want to hire people who are not afraid of long hours.

Selfless-The culture and development of players wins championships. No one can be above the program.

Professional-We all represent the school, the community and the program. 

Open mindedness-Everyone must be willing to look at different ways of doing things for the betterment of players and each team.

Communication-All coaches must be able to reach young people, know that the needs of each player could be different, especially in today’s society.

Along with the ideas I have listed above, I want assistant coaches, especially at the high school level that will challenge me as the head coach. I think sometimes we make a mistake hiring someone that has the exact philosophy as the head coach. You gain nothing by hiring a “yes man”. The reason I hire people who would challenge me, is to get me to evaluate what we do and think about “why” we do them. True growth for a coach comes from that process and I believe that should be an ongoing need. Head coaches cannot let their ego get the best of them by believing their way is the only way to do things. Through the years, my assistants have made me look at our program and our beliefs from another set of eyes. 

The next question is “Where do you find these people? I believe you start with your faculty, but be careful to not just hire them for that reason. Many older teachers lack the passion or the energy to help your program. If you are close to a university, reach out to the education department or the basketball programs to find people who have a goal of being a head coach. I have been blessed to find a few assistants in this way. Next step would be to advertise locally through newspapers or by word of mouth. Again, looking  for high character people, who have a passion for the sport and the school.  You can coach them up, much like a player coming out for the first time. Another source I have used is the popular coaching website, “Hickory Husker”,where many coaches subscribe who have contacts. Lastly, former players are invaluable because they understand the program and your expectations.

The three who have started “Feel for the Game”, Coach Jeremy Rauch, Coach Heath Howington, and Coach Nate Cangany all worked for me. They were all diamonds in the rough, and I was very lucky to have found them. They and many other good coaches are the reasons for the success I was fortunate to have as a head coach. As I close, I hope I have given you some things to think about as you choose your staff members. Remember “Surround yourself with good People” and you will be headed in the right direction. If you ever want to discuss building a staff or another topic pertaining to basketball, please call or email me. 812-327-4358/aigel@pcsc.k12.in.us

“Don’t ever underestimate your value as a basketball coach”

The Merger: Cross Town Rivals Unite

Kyle Sears is the coach of the “new” Elkhart High School Lions, a merger of Central and Memorial.  Each school has carried their own identity since Elkhart High School split into the two in the early 1970’s. And each enrolls over 1500 students.   So uniting them into one has its complexities.  “There are mixed feelings about the merger of the two schools from all involved,” Coach Sears says.  “However, there is an excitement as the schools move forward as one as well.  Fans are excited about the possibilities of one school.”

On the basketball court, expectations will certainly be high.  There is already a familiarity among the players, from growing up playing in the close-knit community.  “Not only have the guys played against one another, but they have also played together often. They played on middle school teams together.  They play in open gyms around the city together.  They are already friends.  Most are excited about the opportunity of playing together,” Sears adds.  And Coach is excited too.  “It will take time, but the excitement level is high.”

The merger also means Coach will now have essentially the whole city as his feeder program.  And he’s using this time now to outline his vision for that.  “With being one school and the feeder feeding one school,” Sears explains,  “we will work more closely with the middle schools.  We are also going to work with our first through sixth grades in practices and local leagues.”  While working through the program vision any changes to his system, Sears admits it would be a much more seamless transition in a normal spring.  “The transition to the new position is a little crazy with trying to meet players and parents through virtual meetings or phone calls.  I would much rather have everyone in one place and talk to them all and answer all the questions at once.  However, it is the hand we have all been dealt.  Everyone is going through the same thing.”

The Lions are hoping to have a June to work out some of the kinks. Certainly there will be some things to work out.  The question marks of who will be on the team, in what role will they have, etc. don’t go unrecognized.  Concludes Coach, “We are taking cross-town rivals and trying to mend the fences and move forward.”  

And given the opportunity they have, the palpable excitement in the community, and the pedigree and proven success of Coach Kyle Sears, we anticipate nothing but success for the Elkhart Lions boys basketball program.  From the folks at Feel for the Game, we wish you nothing but the best.  

Weekly Recap

Highlights from the week of April 27

Check out all our recaps here!

More Than a Title: A Look at the Lady Titans Leadership Course

Kyle Brasher, Gibson Southern High School, Fort Branch, IN

Leaders. I think it is safe to say that every coach knows that to have great, championship level teams, they need great player leadership. I reflect back on the idea by Tom Izzo that the best teams are player-led teams. I remember when I was an assistant for the Gibson Southern boys program, we had a season where I thought we had great senior leadership, and I had a fear that after the season, we would really miss out on that leadership. I started to kick around the idea that to keep a steady stream of leadership in our program, our athletes needed to be taught, even shown, what it means and what it looks like to be a leader. That was the first step in the creation of the Lady Titan Leadership Course. 

The second step was reflecting back on how the teams I have always been a part of selected captains. I am sure every coach has been with a team where captains are selected one of two ways. Option 1: Seniors are your automatic captains. Option 2: Players vote on their captains, which ultimately becomes a popularity contest. I wanted to create a system which went against this norm. I believe being a captain should be an honor and a role that players should take seriously. I wanted this system to be one where players were selected, not based on popularity or what grade they were in, but based rather on their commitment to the role and their completion of a required curriculum. 

With those thoughts in the back of my mind, once I was hired as the head coach of Gibson Southern Girls Basketball, I made it a focus to equip as many players in our program as possible with the leadership skills necessary to not only be a captain on their basketball team, but also to be leaders in their lives beyond basketball. Thus, our Lady Titans Leadership Course was born.

The course utilizes readings from some of the leading minds in the industry like Alan Stein, Jay Bilas, Jon Gordon, James Clear, and many others. The readings are centered around topics which will help each girl in the course to learn leadership skills. Each reading is also accompanied by short assignments designed to really get our players engaging with the texts and concepts. This year, we want to put more focus on strong, female leadership, so I am pulling readings from legendary Tennessee coach, Pat Summit. Any player interested in being a captain can apply for the course. They then must show up for 6 sessions before school to have engaging conversations on our topics like “A Self-Aware Captain,” “A Passionate Captain,” or “A Disciplined Captain.” Our final session is a cumulative assignment in which each girl writes a capstone-type piece on why she should be a captain and includes evidence from all of our readings. We then empower all of the girls in the program to vote for their captains based on these capstone pieces without a name on them. We select our captains from this vote. The goal is for all of the girls who take the course, not just the ones who get elected as captains, to come out of it with great leadership skills that could help carry our program to the next level!

In-Game Responsibilities for Assistant Coaches

Great assistant coaches are vital to the success of a team.  Head coaches have the responsibility of hiring a dynamic and well-rounded coaching staff and then giving each assistant coach a role to positively impact their program.  Head coaches are looking for assistants that can make the program better by developing strong relationships with players and the rest of the coaching staff, assisting with player development throughout the program, assisting with scouting and game planning, and assisting on the bench during the game.  When it comes to coaching within the game, every coach on the bench should have a specific role so that your staff can perform in a productive and efficient manner.

For this article, we are going to take a deeper dive into the in-game roles and responsibilities of the Whiteland High School assistant coaches.  Our coaching staff is very fortunate to have five paid assistant coaches and one volunteer assistant coach that all work very hard to build our program.  Although I realize that each coaching job may have different resources and may allow for more or less coaches on staff, my two suggestions on your coaching staff are:

  • Assign every coach on staff a specific role.
    • If coaches have a specific role, they are more likely to feel like a valued member of the program and will work harder to succeed in their role.
  • Evaluate a coach’s strengths and weaknesses before assigning them a role.
    • As coaches, we know that every player is different and we adjust our game plans and systems based on that fact.  It’s also important to realize that every coach is different as well and we should develop a role that fits each individual coach based on their strengths and weaknesses.

Varsity Assistants

In our program, we have two varsity assistant coaches that are responsible for assisting with play calling and adjustments.  Although we want both varsity assistant coaches to be engaged in coaching both sides of the ball, we want one varsity assistant to have a closer eye on the defensive side, while the other varsity assistant is watching the offensive side of the ball a little closer.  The two varsity assistants will have a copy of our game play card because both are actively involved in adjustments that we make in-game from changing offenses/defenses to player personnel decisions.  One of our varsity assistant coaches also has the responsibility of keeping track of player fouls while the other varsity assistant coach keeps track of timeouts.

Junior Varsity Head Coach/Varsity Assistant

We consider our junior varsity head coach to be our third varsity assistant.  Our junior varsity head coach is responsible for keeping our “4 Minute Battle Chart”.  We divide the game up into eight four minute segments.  We have a goal that we want to win every four minute battle throughout a game and we are tracking our success in each of those four minute battles.  Our “4 Minute Battle Chart” is divided into three columns.  The first column shows which segment of the game we are in.  The second column allows our assistant coach to keep track of possessions and evaluate how we are playing in that segment.  The third column is where we write down the names of any player that we played during that segment.  This allows us to see positive and negative trends that happen when we play certain players and certain lineups together.  Our third varsity assistant is also involved in decisions where we are discussing play calling and in-game adjustments.

Freshmen Head Coach

Our Freshmen head coach sits on our bench and helps us track our offensive efficiency in game.  Our freshmen coach has an Offensive Efficiency Chart that has a list of all of our play calls.  When we run a certain play, he will track the outcome of that play on the chart.  The goal of having this offensive efficiency chart is so that we know in game if there is something that we are doing really well or if there is something that we are doing in game that is leading to a lack of efficiency on offense.  We can also use this chart in the fourth quarter of a close game to make sure we keep running sets that have been working well against our opponent.

Freshmen Assistant Coach

Our Freshmen assistant coach helps us track our defensive efficiency in game.  This assistant is in charge of our Defensive Efficiency Chart that has a list of all of our defensive calls that we may use that game.  Our assistant will track the outcome of each possession that we utilize that specific defense.  This helps us in game to track which defense is giving our opponent the most problems.  It also allows us to track runs that our opponent is making and helps us in making timely adjustments on the defensive end.

Volunteer Assistant

We also have a volunteer assistant on the bench.  Our volunteer assistant is responsible for providing in-game statistics.  This is especially helpful when we go into halftime to know certain stats from the first half.  Examples of how we might use stats to make halftime adjustments:

  • A certain player is shooting the ball better than expected so we need to make a defensive adjustment.
  • A team has been beating us on the offensive glass so we should consider using a better rebounding lineup against this opponent.

Assistant Coaches Seating Chart

We have our assistants sitting in the following places on the bench:

  • Varsity Assistant #1 nearest to the scorers table
  • Varsity Assistant #2 next to VA #1
  • Junior Varsity Head Coach/Varsity Assistant #3 next to VA #2
  • Players
  • Freshmen Head Coach
  • Freshmen Assistant Coach
  • Volunteer Assistant Coach
  • Trainer

We have several reasons for making our bench seating chart this way including:

  • We want the three Varsity Assistants to be together so that they can be bouncing information off of each other during the game.  We also want them together so that when the head coach wants to discuss something during the game, he can go to one place and get all of the information or answers needed.
  • We want the other three assistant coaches on the other side of the bench because we don’t want any player to be at the end of the bench where they might lose focus.  We want our players to be surrounded by our staff so we can make sure they stay locked in throughout the game.
  • We want our other three assistant coaches to be seated together so they can bounce information off of each other during the game.  Have you ever tried to keep accurate stats during a game? As the game gets going and teams are flying up and down the court, it becomes tough to follow each and every play.  With these three assistant coaches together, it helps that they can bounce information off of each other.

Additional Roles for Assistant Coaches

There are many in-game responsibilities that you could assign to coaches on your staff. Some other potential in-game responsibilities could include:

  • Kills Chart (3 Defensive Stops in a Row)
  • Shot Chart (Chart shots for your team or the opponents)
  • Hype Man (A coach that sits in the middle of the players to keep them active and engaged)
  • Minutes Chart (Keeping track of the minutes your players are playing)
  • Tracking and Echoing Opponent’s Play Calls
  • Track Special Stats (Paint Touches, Ball Reversals, etc.)
  • …and many more.

Competition Days

Mark Rohrer, Southridge High School, Huntingburg, IN

At some point in time, we have all preached to our players to make practices harder than games.  But, putting together a practice plan to allow for that falls on the coach’s shoulders!  Probably 5–6 years ago we started having “Competition Days” in practices.  Below are some of the details and a sample practice plan from a “Competition Day.”

  • Every single drill has a winning and losing team.  Players receive points to their individual score if their team wins the drill.
  • Players get switched to different teams each drill.  This can be time consuming to create all the different teams, but it is very beneficial so kids are playing with different players each drill.
  • At the end of the practice while players are doing a free throw drill, a coach will count up
    individual points.  We will then announce 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place players.  
  • In preseason practices, we try to do this once a week.  Once games start in December, we will do this probably once every two weeks.  When we get to January and through the rest of the year, we will throw in some of our favorite competitive drills during practices but we don’t necessarily have entire practice long competition days at that point.

    • The entire practice from start to finish is played at an extremely high level as everyone wants to win!
    • Player leadership is heightened.  Many times we see the better players empowering some of the younger guys and JV players as every person is important to win these drills. 
    • When we have our 3 point games and 4 minute games, assistant coaches are assigned a team which gives them a bigger voice in practice.

A Coaching Career: What’s Worked, What’s Changed, Mistakes I’ve Made, Then and Now

Andy Weaver (@weaver_andy) has learned many lessons over the course of his 30 year career. Now, the veteran coach at Plainfield High School offers to share those lessons.

Why this topic:

  • My background:
    •  1989-1990 Carroll (Flora) freshman coach 
    • 1990-1994 Carroll junior varsity coach 
    • 1994-1997 Pioneer varsity coach (3 seasons)
    • 1997-2012 Western varsity coach (15 seasons) 
    • 2012-current Plainfield varsity coach  (8 seasons)
  • Stretches of coaching career where things went well  
    • 2003-2012 (166-67 at Western)  6 sectional championships, 6 conference championships
    • 2017-2020  (66-31 at Plainfield) 1 conference championship 
  • Stretches of coaching career where wins were hard to come by
    •      1998- 2002 (41-65 at Western)  
    •      2013-2016  (22-66  at Plainfield) 

What has worked:

  • Only talk about the next opponent. Scout every opponent. Live scout as many teams as you can but find the team or two in the sectional that you will have to beat and live scout them as much as possible. 
  • How do you have to play to beat the best team in your sectional? 
  • Players or teams that I have enjoyed the most are the ones that have had genuine relationships. 
  • Finding a coaching staff that is on the same page. Not all “yes” guys but “loyal” guys 
  • Have a scouting schedule for your assistant coaches but also know when they need a night off for a family event. 
  • Have each assistant coach know his role. Know each assistant coach’s strengths and weaknesses. Assistant coaches need to be involved in game planning and in the game. 
  • Coaching staff must be loyal to each other. 
  • Build your program from the top down. The sooner you can win at the varsity level the better. If not varsity, then jv and frosh. 
  • Players on the team must know and accept their role. Holding all players accountable has been a key in successful years. 
  • Change a few calls against the best coaches you play. If you call play 1, play 2, play 3 in a game you know they scouted. Have play 1 be different when you play them. Almost script two or three sets like an offensive coordinator in football.  
  • Have a parent you can trust be treasurer of a parent fundraising group. They have to be someone who understands costs like IBCA coaches membership, Gene Milner record books among other things.  
  • If possible, get your parents involved in fundraising. Delegate things like senior banners
  • Have a calendar for players and parents. Communication is key. 
  • Have your immediate family be a part of the team. That can be different for each coach. I have younger kids. They have rode the bus, been at team meals. 
  • Important people: athletic secretary and custodians. Treat them well.  
  • Focus on daily improvement  
  • Make every player feel valued 
  • Players really respond to days off or light days late in the season.  As a player, there’s nothing more energizing than a January or February practice and the coach says “if we get after it, we are going to go hard for 45 minutes, shoot free throws for 15 minutes and go home”.  Those are some of the most productive practices you could have.  Find ways to energize your kids late in the season.  Mix it up.  Totally change practice.  Sometimes we are so regimented, we make it boring.
  • Have something that is a tradition especially come tournament time! 

Mistakes I have made:

  • Not enjoying the moment or the team after a major accomplishment and always thinking or consuming myself with the next game or even that day seeing a score from the top sectional team. 
  • Tend to focus on a few negatives instead of all the positives. Cannot let the couple of negatives consume the conversation in the coaches office. You have to address it and correct it, but then focus on the positives. 
  • Putting constant pressure on yourself even when having a winning team. It is a different type of pressure when losing but do not let it consume you. 
  • Through the years, schools change, players change, and parents change and I think I tried to change instead of being myself.   
  • Played the “star” too many minutes!

What has changed over the last 30 years:

  • What you can do with players in the summer. We used to be able to have open gyms and no summer games. More varsity coaches spent time with middle school teams with things like team camp. In the summer of 2002, varsity teams started playing games. Over the last 16 years, it seems varsity teams are playing more in June than they did when the rule came out. Our emails get flooded with summer opportunities. Kids get to see where they stack up for the upcoming season and what the coaching staff is thinking with a new team with players graduating.  Parents get to see also.  (Not this June though unfortunately.)
  • What you can do with players in the fall. From open gyms to working with one coach and two players to what the rule is now. Do you like the 2 hours twice a week rule? Indiana is known for shooters and now shooting guns that are expensive are not being used. 
  • Strength training and conditioning has improved.  
  • Post play now is used less. The high school game has always been about guard play, but now players do not want to post up. The way the game is called and perhaps the strength of defenders could be attributed to that philosophy. Players struggle finishing post moves. Teams that have a good post player have an advantage. 
  • The loss of playing for your school/community. The average parent will absolutely transfer their kid in a heartbeat if they think the grass is greener rather than accepting their role. 
  • The 5 quarter per night rule is good. Take advantage of that rule, although players/parents sometimes think level is more important than experience.  
  • Changing the length of JV quarters to 7 minutes.
  • Number of guys on free throw lane – less because of physicality.  
  • Officiating from a 2 man to a 3 man crew.
  • Email. Parents will say things in an email that do not have the courage to say to your face. 
  • Social Media. I recommend staying positive if used. 
  • The IHSAA tournament has changed. The average fan does not know who is in your sectional and where it is. 
  • Sectional bye teams used to play each other and now they play a team that has already won a sectional game. No back doors into the championship game.  
  • Elementary basketball. Now youth basketball is not being coached by the elementary PE teacher.  Youth basketball is being coached by a dad in most cases and many high schools are hosting games on Sunday.  High school staffs are now being used to pick teams at a lot of schools  

Things I Wish I Would Have Known Earlier as a Player:

  • What it feels like to be a Senior (The sacrifice for the team).
  • How much time the coaching staff puts in trying to prepare the team for life, practices and games.
  • Your team is only as good as the last player to buy in (weakest link).  You have a “true” team only when every last player has bought in.
  • When you win with a “TEAM”, the victory tastes much sweeter.
  • Team chemistry is the most important thing in the game of basketball.  Without it, championships are hard to come by.
  • That the “TEAM” is not the coaches’ team.  It’s your (players team.)
  • That it can take an entire season to build a “TEAM” and one incident to destroy the chemistry that was built.
  • How you play in practice ultimately affects your performance in the game.
  • If you want to be the best player, you have to be the hardest worker.
  • It doesn’t matter how good you are if you are not mentally tough.
  • That you win games by preparing properly in practice and not just lacing up the sneakers on game night.
  • It’s hard as a coach to sit a player who makes hustle plays consistently and works hard in practice.
  • The importance of ball pressure and jumping to the ball and how to play it properly.
  • Communication is a must to be successful on and off the court.
  • I have a better chance to play if I am a great defender vs. a good shooter.
  • The sooner I realize that everything starts with defense, the better I will be able to prepare myself for the practices and games.
  • The key to becoming a great rebounder is putting forth the effort to go to the glass and ability has little to do with it (rebound sequence).
  • A good team defense is built with the foundation of trust.
  • It’s not who starts the game, it’s who finishes the game- be a finisher.
  • You have to have a great second half warm-up physically to get yourself ready mentally (perceived ability that we are ready to go).
  • That you can control two things in life:
    • Attitude and Effort
    • And more often than not, positive words and actions create positive reactions.

Thoughts from Don Meyer:

  • Playing hard makes up for a multitude of mistakes 
  • The only thing you can guarantee in basketball is that you play hard.
  • Play to win- effort isn’t enough, we need intensity and technique..
  • Get into the now- not last play or the next play- this play.
  • Discipline- doing things right every time- separates average and great players.
  • A great team doesn’t have to have the coach telling them to talk.
  • Breakout years often start with conditioning.
  • Toughness- responding appropriately to the task at hand, it is being focused on the direct correlation between defense and toughness. You can’t have a tough team without defense.
  • Accepting a coach’s criticism is toughness.
  • Toughness- you have to be mentally tough to be physically tough and vice versa.
  • Everyone is going to make loads of mistakes- fight through them.
  • You need a blue collar team to win it- toughness, mental, and physical.
  • A tough team talks loudly.
  • Have you ever seen a great program that doesn’t have great communication?
  • Good teams have 1 or 2 guys that do the dirty jobs. Great teams have all of their guys do the dirty work.
  • Scared teams don’t talk.
  • Every little thing counts, If not, why do it?
  • When closely guarded, do not go toward the ball. Go back-door.
  • Whenever you cut, look for a return pass.
  • When you commit to a cut (or back-door) do not stop and do not come back to the ball.
  • Bad shooters are always open.
  • On offense, move the defense
  • A good player knows what he is good at. He also knows what he is not good at and only does the former.
  • You want to be good at those things that happen a lot.
  • Defense involves three things: courage, energy, intelligence.
  • Whatever you are doing is the most important thing that you’re doing while you’re doing it.
  • Hardly any players play to lose. Only a few play to win.
  • The way you think affects what you see and do.

Thoughts from Travis Daugherty:

  • Coaching is about “comforting the troubled and troubling the comfortable” Identify and Challenge (ruffle feathers) 
  • Pick small daily battles instead of ending up in a war; maintenance: maintaining a garden; Do the dirty work! 
  • Leaders need to be guys willing to fight with you, and guys willing to fight with you need to be leaders. 
  • You have to have a trusting, personal relationship with each player. You have to build that relationship until you have 100% buy in.  I think getting buy in and being able to coach your best players hard is crucial to success.  
  • If your top 8-9 kids buy in and will play for each other, you have a chance.
  • Most coaches think coaching = teaching 
  • Most players think coaching = criticizing  
  • Don’t underestimate the impact that you have as a coach! 
  • Grass isn’t always greener in “that” program. Everyone has challenges/issues. Someone would love to have yours. 

Additional Thoughts:

  • It takes time to install culture at a school. Yes you do need talented and skilled players but you must 100% buy in or you are not going to win.
  • “A life of frustration is inevitable for any coach whose main enjoyment is winning.”- Chuck Noll
  • Joy of coaching: authentic, genuine, honest player relationships.
  • “People don’t want to be part of the process, just the outcome.  But the process is where you figure out who is worth being part of the outcome.”
  • “Teams have their best shot at reaching their potential when they have a culture that relishes in a teammate’s success and doesn’t just feel great and exemplify teamwork when they personally do well.”
  • “Your best players have to unite and inspire the group… otherwise, they’ll divide the group.”

My Old Friend Entropy

A natural law and its application to coaching

Brent Jameson, High School Basketball Coach, Free Agent

This spring I came across a concept I couldn’t get out of my head. Now I must admit that I’m the type of guy who gets really excited by ideas—but this particular concept wasn’t your normal, ‘catch your attention and then forget about it two days later,’ type of concept. It was more of a, ‘I can’t stop thinking about this idea and how much it explains so many different areas of life’ type of idea. So if you haven’t been formally introduced to the concept of entropy, please allow me:

“Everything that comes together falls apart. Everything.The chair I’m sitting on, it was built, and so it will fall apart. I’m going to fall apart, probably before this chair. And you’re going to fall apart. The cells and organs and systems that make you– they came together, grew together, and so must fall apart. The Buddha knew one thing science didn’t prove for millennia after his death: Entropy increases. Things fall apart.” – John Green, Looking for Alaska

Right now you might be thinking, “Wow, thanks bud, just what I needed. A real cheerer-upper.” And I totally get that. I felt that way at first, too. You may also be thinking, “How in the heck does this apply to coaching? Did I click the wrong link?” Or maybe you’re just thinking, “man I need to buy a new chair…” In any event, I’m going to try to make a case that understanding and accepting entropy as a natural law reduces stress and frustration and makes you a better leader of young men and women.

But before we move on, it’s important to gain an understanding of social entropy: 

“We cannot expect anything to stay the way we leave it. To maintain our health, relationships, careers, skills, knowledge, societies, and possessions requires never-ending effort and vigilance. Disorder is not a mistake; it is our default. Order is always artificial and temporary.” -From the article, “Entropy: The Hidden Force That Complicates Life”

As coaches, how often do we get frustrated when we “leave something” only to discover that entropy has taken over? I often tell myself, “geez ‘o peets if we go away from ‘such and such’ for a few practices, all of a sudden we act like we’ve never done it before.” First of all, DUH! Second of all, understanding entropy helps me accept that regressing at something we haven’t practiced in even just a few days is normal and even expected. And it’s certainly not anything to be frustrated about, it’s simply one of nature’s many undeniable laws. We don’t get frustrated at gravity for holding us down (although you may have as a player), so why would we be frustrated with the natural law of entropy? Thirdly, and most importantly, it reminds us that it is certainly not the players’ fault, although that is always a self-soothing cop out. I’m as guilty of this as any other coach and in a moment of weakness have most definitely said, “My goodness, these kids just don’t retain anything. I swear they leave practice and don’t ever think about basketball again. And I guarantee they don’t even watch basketball… they just aren’t basketball kids (rant continues for 20 minutes).” This downward spiral is neither helpful, nor true. But understanding entropy is both of these things.

I often float these types of ideas by my friend and teaching colleague, Adam DePreist (who has wisdom for days). When I shared the concept of entropy with him, his first response was, “sounds like our jump shots are entropic.” See, I told you. Mad wisdom. However, in a follow-up email he got a little more serious.  “According to the article,” DePreist said, “entropy impacts literally everything. Without care and maintenance, everything will succumb to entropy. Therefore, you’re left with a choice. What are you willing to let dissolve into chaos and disorder? My wife and I have resigned ourselves to the reality that we will not have a clean bedroom. It’s not worth the energy to us. However, our children’s homework will always (almost always) be completed. It’s worth the effort to us.” 

He then challenged me to the core. “As a coach,” he asked, “what are you willing to let fall into disorder? Player relationships, parent communication, individual skill work, offensive schemes, defensive schemes, team building exercises, player grades, locker room appearance, social media presence, youth program involvement, scouting, etc.? Within each of those elements of your job, there are subgroups and subgroups within subgroups. It is not reasonable or even feasible for you to be responsible for the care and maintenance of all of those different enterprises,” he continued. “That leaves you with some choices. First, what are you willing to let become your bedroom floor? Just totally abandon if necessary? Secondly, what things are you absolutely NOT willing to relinquish control over? You want total control all of these things.” “Lastly,” he asked, “WHO do you trust to be responsible for the maintenance and care of the items that do not fall in the other two groups?”

I’ve been pondering these questions ever since. I considered sharing my list, but I still have a lot of figuring out left to do. Besides, I’m not sure how helpful it would be anyway. My bedroom floor is going to be different than yours and yours different than the next coach. But maybe if entropy is going to happen one way or another, it does make sense to be thoughtful and intentional about what we allow to succumb to entropy. So maybe next time you’re frustrated with your players or spouse or a certain area of your life, you’ll become aware, smile and think, “that’s just my old friend entropy, and he ain’t changin’, so maybe I need to.”

Week of April 20 Highlights

A video compilation of the recaps from the week.
Check out all our recaps here