As Bob Knight once said, “The key is not the will to win… everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important.” For successful coaches, that preparation comes in the form of countless hours spent in practices, film sessions, putting together scouting reports, and creating game plans. However, it’s the ability to carryover pre-game preparation into game time decision-making that makes the most successful coaches truly elite.
One resource that your coaching staff can use to help successfully carryover your pre-game preparation into successful in-game decision-making is an effective play card. A play card can benefit you on the sidelines in several ways, including:
Here is an example of a play card that we use in our program:
Our Play Card is made up of the following components:
Other additional information that you may want to include in your own play card:
We selected a couple responses from each of the questions posed on Twitter last week
Ryan Varga, SB Washington HS (IN), @whscoachvarga
Ask as many questions as possible! Most aspiring coaches start off as assistants, but there is a huge difference that next seat over. Learn what it takes to run a program from the ground up. Start with the behind the scenes things (fundraisers, administration, parents, etc.). Implementing your philosophies and the x’s and o’s will be the least of your worries!
Daniel Crabtree, North Knox HS (IN), @DCrabtree85
Find a great mentor to coach under. Treat every assistant job like it’s your dream job (even if it’s not). Ask to take on new responsibilities and do things to make the HC’s life easier. I would advise aspiring coaches to take on Frosh or JV jobs because there is no better training than making real time game decisions. When you’re ready to start applying for HC jobs, don’t be picky when it come to applying. Remember, you don’t have to accept every job you apply for. The interview experience is something you will improve upon the more you do it. I personally interviewed for 9 different boys and girls HC jobs before landing a job. Without a doubt, I ended up in the best place for me and my family. Don’t rush it, my 9 years of high school assistant experience under 2 excellent head coaches prepared me for the many challenges and responsibilities I now face. Embrace the journey and steal ideas from great coaches.
Javante Wilson, Indiana Tech University (IN), @Coach_Wilson23
Would you be happy doing it for no money?
Rodney Walker, Evansville Central HS (IN), @rwalkerball
Make sure it is the right time, place, and move for you AND your family. If you don’t have the support of those your closest to, it will be hard to be 100% committed to what you love.
Jimmy Beasley, White River Valley HS (IN), @jimmybeas
Outside the game, he’s your son, not your player. Don’t take the game home.
Should coach every player like he is your kid!
Brandon Allman, Brownstown Central HS (IN), @BrandonAllman22
Make sure to pick loyalty and someone who is dedicated to helping kids.
Look for good people over guys who were just great players. Hire people who are great with kids over basketball knowledge as long as they are willing and eager to learn. Bring in guys who will be loyal and present a unified front within your program. You won’t agree on everything, but they need to voice ideas or concerns to you behind closed doors. Most importantly, look for assistants who put the players and the program above all else.
Lukas Haworth, North Putnam HS (IN), @CoachHaworth
Am I leaving for greener pastures without first watering the lawn I own now?
Make a pros and cons list about that job and why
Coach is a state champion basketball coach, a national champion power lifter, and has 7 children: How does he do it all??
FINDING BALANCE AS A HIGH SCHOOL COACH–Marc Davidson, Blackhawk Christian High School, Fort Wayne, IN
It seems that everyone is trying to find balance– that delicate balance of success at home, and success at work. I struggle to find the perfect balance on a day to day basis; I’m sure this is a struggle for many coaches. Author & speaker Jon Gordon views this dynamic between home and work as being more about rhythm than balance. Gordon points out that there is a rhythm to life, and a season for everything- and we must plan accordingly.
For all of us, there is a time to work and a time to rest. For a coach, there is a time to go out scouting, and a time to go out with your spouse. There is a time to breakdown game film, and a time to be with your children. There is a time to plan tomorrow’s practice, and a time to help your spouse around the house.
This dynamic of home/work can be a “both/and”, instead of an “either/or”. Our challenge as coaches, is to find the rhythm which enables us to be successful on all fronts. I believe that having a “team” approach with your spouse, along with some creative and strategic planning, are a couple keys to success.
Having a “team” approach with your spouse is critical for any coach who is married. I’ve been a head coach for 17 years, and my wife and I know that from November through March, things are a little crazy. So we plan for how we will effectively manage the rhythm of a basketball season. During those in-season months, we have to get more creative and strategic with our family time. For example, our in-season “dates” for the past six years (and likely for many more years to come) have been driving to our sons’ college basketball games on Wednesday or Thursday nights. Our team approach has helped us to see this as a chance to really connect with each other, and we have grown to cherish these times.
For coaches who have children, that presents another challenge. And again, a team approach with your spouse, along with creative and strategic planning during the season, are critical. This past season for example, my 3rd grade son came to nearly all of our varsity practices. This was a simple way for me and my son to connect every day. I’ve also found it helpful to “unplug” when I’m home– put the phone down, put the computer down, and be intentional about connecting with my wife and kids.
25 years of marriage, and 17 years as a head coach, and my wife and I certainly don’t have this all figured out– we are still learning how to dance to the rhythm, so to speak. Legendary Coach John Wooden defines competitive greatness as “being at your best when your best is needed”. Let’s face it, as coaches— our best is needed! Our wives need our best, our children need our best, our players & teams need our best. While we may never find that perfect home/work balance— with a team approach and some creative planning, we can hopefully create a flow and rhythm to our lives which will help us be at our best on all fronts.
Marc Davidson is the varsity basketball coach at Blackhawk Christian School in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He and his wife Lisa have been married for 25 years. God has blessed them with 7 children: Wesley-23, William-21, Frankie-19, Marcus-17, Jimmy-15, Isaiah-9, Jaela-9.
If I had only known. If I had only known that on Friday the 13th of March 2020 would have been the last time I would see my 161 eighth-graders all together at school. I would have had different conversations and expressed many things I typically do to end each year. I miss the kids terribly, but will do my best to make eLearning beneficial for them. I DO know this- I will be a better teacher and coach because of this experience.
I received advice many years ago not to spend so much time on my “side job” of coaching that I neglect my most important job, which is teaching. It is imperative as coaches that we are one of the best teachers in our building. As a basketball coach in Indiana, we are quite possibly the most recognized individual from our school corporation out in the community. Think about that humbling thought for a minute. I take that responsibility very seriously. What shadow am I casting to others and am I being a great representative to all those that are always observing?
Being a great teacher can only help make us a better coach. Being a great teacher can only help us learn to communicate more efficiently and effectively as a coach. Being a great teacher can only help us be organized and disciplined as a coach. Being a great teacher can only help eliminate some of the angles others will try to pursue to push us out of our job as a coach.
I take great pride in the fact that many of those students I am missing have no idea I am the basketball coach. They just know that I love teaching American history and do my best at it. I challenge coaches of all sports to use this time to become a better version of yourself as a human being, family member, teacher, and coach. Not only are your students depending on you, but the future is as well.
–Shaun Busick, Zionsville High School, Zionsville, IN
My varsity coaching career has spanned over 25 years in the state of Indiana, and throughout most of my career I was a die-hard man-to-man defense advocate. However, due to the changing landscape of basketball and the rise of ball screen continuity offenses, I made the switch to zone defense full-time in the Fall of 2012. As a result, I am often asked, “What changed your mind and how is the change going?” This article will attempt to answer those questions, plus give the reader insight into my philosophy moving forward.
I have to start by saying that I had never planned on playing much zone until I saw that our lower-level program at Zionsville Community High School (Zionsville, Indiana) had some very big kids coming through the ranks, and my coaching staff and I weren’t interested in our opponents dragging our bigs outside and putting them into ball screen action. Specifically, I had the son of former Indiana Pacers center Rik Smits (who was 7’4”) coming into the high school in the Fall of 2011. Derrik Smits was 6’8” when he started his freshman year of high school in 2011, and he needed some seasoning on the JV before we would move him up to full-time varsity competition his sophomore year of high school. This gave us time as a Program to start experimenting with zone defense. With my “expertise” being M-M defense, I sought out Hall-of-Fame coach and match-up zone guru Basil Mawbey to teach me all he could about zone defense. Coach Mawbey was not coaching at the time, and fortunately for our Program, Coach Mawbey’s daughter lived in Zionsville, so he spent some time in our town anyway.
After connecting with Coach Mawbey (we had known each other for several years before), we decided that he would come and work with our team during the “summer season” of 2012. We basically turned over the reins of our defense to Coach Mawbey that Summer, and as he ran the defensive portion of our Summer practices, my assistant coaches and I took pages and pages of notes. We also asked a ton of questions throughout the process. At 52-years-old now, I would be lying to you if I told you that most of the stuff we do were things we came up with ourselves. Our coaching staff and I want to be life-long learners. Each of us reads a lot and studies a lot of film – of our team, our opponents and Programs we respect.
Coach Mawbey accompanied us to our various Summer games and tournaments. He became one of our assistant coaches and our “defensive coordinator”. By this time, Smits was going into his sophomore year of high school and was penciled in to be our starting “5”. He was now approaching 6’10” and had developed a great knack of protecting the rim by blocking shots and just being a “presence” in the paint with his great size. He was also a great communicator on the floor, so he became the ideal player to man the middle of the zone. Making this move also prevented opposing coaches to take Derrik to the perimeter in ball screen action. He would stay in the paint defensively on EVERY possession, which is something we had set out to do in the first place.
Initially, the change seemed very tough for our players and coaching staff, but we all stayed committed to becoming the best zone defensive team in the state. This entailed at least 30 to 45-minutes of work on zone breakdown drills and actual game situations every practice. (Note: Our practices are usually around two hours in length, so you can see that this was a pretty big commitment.) Starting two or three sophomores most the 2012-2013 season, we finished 11-10 with a young squad. The 2013-2014 season saw some improvement with our team on the defensive end, as we finished 13-7. Derrik’s senior season (2014-2015) became our “breakthrough” season, as we finished 19-7. Had our starting point guard not gone down late in the season with an injury, we had a legitimate chance of winning the programs first Sectional since the Brad Stevens-led Eagles won the Lebanon Sectional back in 1995.
After Derrik’s senior class graduated, our zone defense continued to evolve and improve. We didn’t have quite the size, but our overall defensive instincts and understanding of the zone improved. By this time, Coach Mawbey had moved on and my staff and I felt much more comfortable teaching our ‘2” match-up. We also added our “1” match-up which is more of a traditional 3-2 or 1-2-2 zone.
The 2015-2016 season saw another 19-win season (19-6), and we made it to our first Sectional final but lost to the Mavericks of McCutcheon and future IU point guard Robert Phinisee. That Mavericks squad went all the way to the State Finals and lost to Romeo Langford and New Albany by 3. We won 18 the next season but lost again to the McCutcheon in the Sectional Championship. Our breakout year came in the 2017-2018 season, when we won the first Sectional at Zionsville since 1995. We went 22-4 and won the always loaded Hoosier Crossroads Conference for the third year in a row. The ‘18-’19 season also saw more championships, as we went 21-6 and won our fourth straight conference title and our second of back-to-back Sectional titles. It should be mentioned that our post players during our run of championships, Hogan Orbaugh (6’9) and Gunnar Vannatta (6’10) were outstanding in the middle of the zone. Those teams were also led by current Purdue guard Isaiah Thompson, who was tremendous at the top of our zone.
This past season after losing three D-I kids (Thompson – Purdue, Nathan Childres – walk-on at IU, and Orbaugh – a walk-on at Louisville), our team stepped up and went 16-10 against a top ten schedule in the state. This included going 6-2 against teams in the IBCA Top 20 Final Poll. Vannatta, now 6’11 and a senior, was the center of this year’s zone and did a great job. Looking to the future, we have class of 2022 big man Isaiah Davis (6’8) and 2023 big man Nick Richart (6’8) ready to man the middle of our zone in the future. Behind them, we have a 6’3 8th grader and a 6’4 7th grader who are beginning to learn the zone concepts we are now teaching throughout our Program.
In conclusion, I am confident that my days of coaching M-M full-time are over. As opposing coaches would probably attest, preparing for our zone is not easy. Our players and coaches have fully bought-in and are committed to becoming the best zone team in the state. Finally, I leave you with this thought about zone defense… If you and I were to sit down and talk offensive philosophy, I can assure you that you could speak for at least an hour on all the things your teams do against M-M. However, once we turned the conversation to zone offense, I can almost assure you that you couldn’t give me more than fifteen-minutes’ worth… Think about that.
(Coach Busick can be reached for questions at firstname.lastname@example.org . I would be glad to speak with you about what we specifically do with our match-up zone defenses.)
After our season concludes, the icing on the cake is to celebrate each team with an end-of-season banquet. This is a way to bring families together and honor those who have dedicated so much time to what we do in the winter.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, most end-of-season banquets have been postponed or canceled. So what can we do as coaches to give our players the recognition they deserve?
Nate VanDuyne (@NateVanDuyne) of Frankfort High School (@Frankfort_BBall) came up with a virtual solution. He created a YouTube video containing highlights and awards for the 2019-2020 campaign.
This is what Coach VanDuyne included:
Here is the video!
“We had a great year from an all-around growth standpoint in our program. The behaviors culturally were much improved from accountability to mistake-response, our skill level and execution improved, and we improved our win total from 3 the previous year to 7. With such an abrupt ending due to the virus it was disappointing because we weren’t able to celebrate the growth we achieved together or give out well-deserved awards. Putting together this video gave some closure to a season that points our program in the right direction and honors those that were a part of it.” – Nate VanDuyne
We would love to see what other coaches are doing in place of end-of-season banquets. Please share!
Admittedly, I was a bit apprehensive about the title of this piece. You’ve all read the books, watched the documentaries, and heard the speeches from those we look up to and seek out for guidance. What could I possibly add to the dialogue? Truth be told, there isn’t much to discover in terms of the traits of winners. All the buzzwords of success are not only true, but they are known…culture, preparation, work-ethic, etc. (in no particular order of course). You know the public perception of champions, but what about all the stuff behind the curtain? It is my hope to provide you not with something new in itself, but simply a different way of looking at what you already know. I’m not sure any particular point is more important than the other, but we certainly believe all were vital to our success. Enjoy!
5 point guards will compete in any game.
We may not win, but we’ll be close. That is how important a great PG is to a program’s success. In high school basketball you don’t need a stud athlete, a 6’8″ bruiser, or even an all-star to be successful, but I guarantee you’ll be hard-pressed to find a state championship team without a true coach on the floor. If there is one player you coach early, often, and hard…make it your point. If you don’t have one, make one. I can tell you from experience the latter is nearly impossible, but it is absolutely worth the effort.
Coach your players, not your system.
Players change every year so why should everything else stay the same? To be clear this was easy to execute in our program. We were a man and motion team. Make no mistake, we had sets and we made use of tactics such as a sinking man to mimic a zone, but we never changed our foundation. We were hard to scout and hard to adjust to because of our players, not our system. Because we were so intent on making sure our roles/responsibilities and strengths/weaknesses were clearly and publicly defined, we were able to overcome a lot of the issues that arise in almost any group of competitive teenage boys. We broke down the intricacies of a game for high school kids and let them play instead of controlling the intricacies of a game that high school kids played. If that makes about zero sense I understand. Try to look at it through the lens of the “give a man a fish” proverb.
In everything I do, whether personally or professionally, I try to utilize the K.I.S.S. philosophy. Basketball, in my opinion, was the most important place to employ the mindset. After all, we are dealing with kids…kids with influences outside of our locker room and outside of our control…a lot of them. Parents, friends, girlfriends, even other coaches are all voices we cannot tame. From the preparation to the execution, we believed in keeping everything as simple and focused as possible. If you are scratching your head wondering how to you might employ this idea as you stare at your 4″ thick binder of UOB plays you put in for the summer, do not worry… a) you certainly aren’t alone, and b) page count in your playbook doesn’t automatically classify you as complicated, especially when your actions are related as most are.
Strength of Schedule (SOS) is the most important statistic.
Understandably not everyone has the ability to create and sustain a brutal SOS. Constraints such as conference schedules, administrator demands, public perception, and even team morale are very real and very convincing arguments not to. If you can overcome those hurdles though…do it. I can directly point to our SOS as the single most impactful contributor to our success. We played anyone, anywhere, and quite literally did not have a care in the world. To be clear, my administrators were supportive of my philosophy, I couldn’t care less what the public thought of me, and we were VERY forthcoming about our mission with respect to SOS with our kids. If you cannot adequately explain away a loss as a learning experience then there is no point to intentionally schedule a loss. Did we schedule games we knew were going to be 30 point losses? Absolutely not…I’m not sure there is a whole heck of a lot to learn there, but you can bet we scheduled games we were pretty sure we wouldn’t win. Crazy? Maybe, but we were a tough out in March and that was our focus.
I often discount the effort needed to be organized as I’ve got serious personal issues along these lines so it comes easy to me. For others, organization is a very tough requirement to meet. It is important to recognize though, if you aren’t organized, you aren’t going to reach any meaningful level of success. Do you need to be obsessed and on the verge of mental breakdowns when you forget your –only pen in the world you can use to write in the score book- pen like me? No chance, but there is a certain baseline of organization required for any position of leadership or you simply will not cut it. I learned organization early on from my completely OCD father and it is a trait I’m honestly thankful he passed along even with all its faults. As I look to my start in coaching, my obsession with organization was only affirmed as an assistant in one of most successful programs in Indiana’s history under the most successful coach. Everyone had a job, everyone knew how to do it, and everyone felt compelled to do it to the absolute best of their ability day in and day out.
It didn’t take me long to understand the reason(s) a place like Bloomington South has 47 guys on the bench and only 6 or so of them are players. Everyone wanted to be part of the well-oiled, finely-tuned, fast-paced, organized machine. They wanted to be part of it because it was simple, it was efficient, it *is just…right.
State Champions, Bloomington South, 2009
State Champions, Marquette Catholic, 2014
As mentioned in our initial post, “X’s and O’s are the easy part. Developing that feel, that’s the tough part.”
As coaches, we have to know which buttons to press on the offensive end. This requires a feel for our playbook, our personnel and our opponent’s tendencies, all while factoring in the time, score and situation. Once we sense these surroundings, we call plays accordingly.
Some teams run a lot of sets. This falls under the execution phase of offense or plays by design. We like running sets on dead ball situations and often times after made baskets. The majority of our set plays will be designed to get our best players the most shots.
Here are a few reasons why we like running sets:
We might put in specific plays to attack each opponent, based on scouting. We also have different series or families of plays which include specific formations that have counters or wrinkles to each. These can be difficult to scout, if play calls are hidden, because they use the same alignment.
These counters can happen on back-to-back possessions. They could also be drawn up during a time out or quarter break as a next layer of a play that was recently executed.
Good coaches can call a set play to get a bucket. Great coaches can compound the previous possession with a counter.
Here is an example of a set play along with its counter:
Here are some more examples of adding counters to your sets. Click on the links to see play diagrams.
Ryan Haywood (@CoachRHaywood) is the head coach at Loogootee High School (@LHSLionsBball2). His teams are consistently well-schooled in running their set plays. Coach Haywood is a next-level thinker on the offensive end. Here is a counter that his team executed to perfection.
I believe in the adage “the best way to make the teams better is to make the players better.” Now certainly our job as coaches is to be able to provide an environment that enhances our players’ strengths will minimizing their weaknesses. But player development has been a critical component to the growth of our program, in season and out. We take a holistic approach when evaluating and developing our players, and we use what we call the 4 pillars to do that.
Pillar 1: Technical Skill. As mentioned in my earlier post, I define this as the mechanics, or ability perform the action. Shooting and passing with proper form. Defending in the appropriate stance. Learning a new move. Note that the technical skill does not necessarily refer exclusively to elementary level skills. NBA players are constantly adding new finishes, new evasion moves, etc. It has more to do with the process of learning. It is scripted. It is slow. It’s performing the technique with accuracy and precision. It is the “what to do” and the “how to do it.”
Pillar 2: Tactical Application. This is the “when” and the “why” to perform the move, take the shot, make the pass, etc. This is the game application. This is where decision making comes into play. Understanding the game. We believe this pillar is of paramount importance in developing players as well as creating high level teams. In fact, it’s essentially the namesake of the site.
Pillar 3: Physiological Ability. This is a player’s ability to perform on the court. Strength. Athleticism. Conditioning. Injury prevention. Injury rehabilitation. Rest. Nutrition. Hydration. Some of this is certainly out of my area of expertise, but we tap into all the resources we have available, and we place things like strength training, yoga, agility, etc. as high priority. We make it important to us as coaches to be involved in all areas to assure our players that it should also be important to them.
Pillar 4: Psychological Aptitude. This has to do with a player’s mental and emotional well being. We are learning more now than ever before the importance of this and how it can affect a player, and thus a team. This pillar is a little more like Pillar 2, in that it is difficult to quantify. Confidence. Motivation. Work ethic. Dispositional hope. Adaptive perfectionism. And many, many other big words that I’m not sure how to measure on the court. But I do know the players’ collective desire to improve, their desire to be coached, and their desire to win and belong to something bigger than themselves set the ceiling for our teams.
These quick summaries are just the tip of the iceberg for all they entail and their impact on player development. Good players are encouraged by the opportunity to become great, and we want to do all we can to help them get there.
Creating opportunities to score is about attacking advantages. Those advantages can be created from a variety of ways: transition, ball screens, off-ball screens, the simplest isolations or the most complex offensive systems. It all comes down to forcing the defense into rotations.
One teaching point we use is the idea of Penetrate-Pass-Pass. The penetrate means penetrate the defense. It can literally be from dribble penetration, but also from a cut or post up. That forces the defense to collapse, and potentially rotate.
The person who created the advantage has the responsibility to recognize who is open from the rotation and have the willingness and ability to put the pass on time/on target to the open player. Most defenses will be in scramble, and often it is not that person who has the best shot, but the “extra pass” will be there. Hence, Penetrate-Pass-Pass.
There might be no better example of an efficient, unselfish offense in college basketball from this season than the Dayton Flyers. They led the country in field goal percentage, were 3rd in assists per game and 8th in A:TO.
Here are just a few clips of P-P-P from the Flyers.