In most of my coaching career I would not allow a mid-range jump shot. I wanted lay-ups, and if I couldn't get the lay-up, then I wanted the free throws that resulted from the effort to get lay-ups. I would also be cool with a rhythmed three coming off a kick-out.
My thinking on such matters could largely be explained by an article I read entitled The Free Throw Game. The article explained the value of certain types of shots as related to each possession. Lay-ups, and-ones, free-throws, and three pointers were the highest rated with each yielding a plus one point per possession. The only shot that was lower than one point per possession was the mid-range shot, and this basically told me that my teams should concentrate on shooting threes, making lay-ups, and getting to the free throw line.
It has taken me quite a while, but I've finally reached a point where I can see some value of the mid-range jump shot. Firstly, because I've watched our girls shooting them off the dribble and see how quickly they can align the shot and pull the ball into the correct shooting pocket with the elbow up and pointing toward the rim. That doesn't happen all the time with threes, even off of kick-outs. Too many kids like to hold the ball at waist level or out in front of their body to begin their shot.
Secondly, there are several times in game where an attacking player gets into a situation where the drive is stopped and there is no passing option. It is a moment that requires that the player shoot the ball, and it is always better from a coaching perspective to be prepared for such moments than it is to just throw up some random bullshit. I've learned that the caveat at such times should be don't throw up random bullshit and not don't shoot the midrange jumper.
Finally, I've watched way too many games not to realize that the truly great players have great mid-range games. They are able to put shots up in traffic that not only add points to the total but also great artistry to an already beautiful game. Coaching with analytics does not have to be boring.
I would add a condition though. Stats don't lie (people do, not stats), and the fact is that attacking the rim will statistically always produce more points than utilizing the mid-range game. This needs to be acknowledged in how teams prepare. In certain situations, the stats change though, and it becomes what has a better chance of scoring when a player is caught in traffic, a hastily thrown up piece of crap, or something that has been practiced?
Practice time is severely limited. So, I would still emphasize daily practice on offensive execution, attacking the rim, shooting rhythmed threes, and free-throws. I would tell players who want to shoot the mid-range shot jumper the same thing that I tell them about shooting threes which is that "you have to earn the right to shoot". That shit ain't guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. I would also mention how much I hate people who shoot just inside the three-point line, and how I would disown my own daughter for doing so.
But if I had a player who wanted to excel and raise his/her game to that next level, I would have tell them to work at shooting pull-up jumpers on on their own using timed pressured drills and requiring the making of consecutive shots.
And more than likely, it would be their number I would call when the game was on the line.
I've been sheltering in place for over forty days. It's truly been an unholy experience. I've got a kid next door who shoots on a portable hoop in his driveway. He got a nice stroke too. His basket doesn't have a net though.
I had one in my garage and gave it to him. He wore it out in no time. I got him a new one. I was thinking that if you want to be a shooter, you need to have a net. You need to hear that twang of perfect shot caused by the stretching of the strings.
I've coached thirty-three years, and in that time, I've seen thousands of great warm-up shooters; kids who can hit every shot they take in the fifteen minutes leading up to a game, but once the ref tosses the ball into the air, forget everything they ever knew about shooting. I figure it's because they learned to shoot with their elbows tucked and with their wrists over their elbows and flapping down as they dip into the cookie jar.
They learned to shoot by the book. Unfortunately for them, you can't read a book during the game. They should have concentrated on aligning the rhythm of the dribble with the music inside of them and with that little p-f-f-t sound that net makes when the ball doesn't hit rim.
I gave the new net to the kid's dad and told him, "Shooter got to hear them strings stretch, Man."
He understood. Must have been a shooter himself back in the day.
Just over ten years ago, the Corcoran High girls basketball team was riding high having just garnered their eleventh section title since 1993. The following year we were placed at the behest of the Competitive Equity model into a higher division despite losing six seniors and four starters from the 2010 championship team.
I believed at the time and still do that a grave injustice was done to our program as we were systematically being denied an fair opportunity to compete in the natural division where our school's population placed us.
After watching the recent Valley championship games, I cannot help but think that the idea of leveling the playing field was never the true intention of Competitive Equity, but that it was used in order to move us into the system that is currently in place, a system that favors the larger urban school districts at the expense of the smaller rural communities.
I remember reading somewhere, possibly in the archives of the minutes of the CIF meetings, that at one point, the idea was being kicked around that smaller schools should/could/might be contented with winning valley championships and not state championships which would/could open up state berths for larger, more deserving schools. (italics are my own)
If this true, it makes it possible to discern where the pressure to change the system originated, not so much from the smaller schools, but from the larger schools who felt that they were being denied an opportunity to compete at state because they felt that they deserved the opportunity more than some lowly rural school district whose only valid claim for getting to state was because they didn't have enough kids in their district.
In any case, we now have the specter of Yosemite Division schools winning section championships in the lowest divisions which were once the safe harbor of the smallest and most vulnerable schools in the section.
What has been lost in translation is why these divisions were created in the first place, and that was probably to guarantee that the teams with smaller populations be given an equal and fair opportunity to compete for state championships too, not so much to see to it that larger schools who didn't fare well against their own divisional bullies, can now drop down and beat up on the smallest kids on the playground.
And if that's the case, why have any divisions at all?
A long time ago I was in a bookstore and came across the great Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi's classic book on zen philosophy and sword fighting techniques The Five Rings. Musashi killed over sixty men in combat and lived a long life, so I assumed he had something to say about gearing up for a fight. I bought the book.
I pulled it off my shelf this morning and found the notes that I had made when I first read the book. I was pleased to find that I made such a good summation of some of the key points as they pertained to basketball and that those key points were still very relevant.
Here are the three key ideas that I got from the book.
1) Never show fear. Never believe that your opponent is smarter than
you, and never put yourself in an inferior position. Let's say, you
back three feet off your man on your close-out on the ball. You
just told your man that you don't think you can guard him. Or, if
you let him walk across the lane into the low post, same thing.
2) Know why you are doing things. Musashi says that a lot of
competitors reveal their lack of strategic knowledge just by
how they dress, carry themselves, or in how even in how they
warm-up. I used to watch what the other teams did during their
warm-up to see if they would reveal a lack of intelligence. I would
see coaches line their whole team around the free throw lane
and have them shoot two free throws and stomp their feet
on makes. That shit don't happen in games, so why do it?
(Which happens to be a another point the master makes,
"Don't do useless things.")
3) Strike through the spirit of your opponent. You have to do
things that unsettle the person or team you are playing against.
On offense, this means you have to strike quickly and figure
out ways to get by your man. On defense, it means to impose
your will on him. Do not let them do things they want to do.
These things apply to team offense and defense as well as individual
play. There are lots of other things he says that make a lot of sense. For example, he emphasizes the fact that a lot of people fail because they divide their life into too many compartments. Musashi says you only have one life and all elements within it need to brought into proper alignment with your ultimate goal and not divided into different goals and wishes.
Another good point he makes is not try to counter your opponent's moves, but to attack first, quicker and harder to knock them off balance.
There is a lot of knowledge contained in a relatively small book.
"In formal logic, a contradiction is the signal of defeat, but in the evolution of real knowledge it marks the first step in progress toward a victory."
Alfred North Whitehead
Our season has started, and, in our first game, it became painfully obvious that some of our girls had not fully internalized the basics of our defensive philosophy. This is usually the case year after year
I have come to the belief that, under stress, young players naturally revert to the way that they have always done things in the past. In large part, it is probably because defensive basketball is so full of contradictions. I ran across the quote above in a book I was just starting to read the morning after we had suffered a very painful, three-point loss in the first round of our very first tournament. For most of our kids, it was also their first collegiate game.
Say, for example, take the command to never lose sight of your own player and then add in the second command to never lose sight of the basketball. This is split brain stuff. It leads to contradictory demands. Or, how about being told to defend your player and not let them score while also being told to make yourself available to help defend another person's player if they drive past your teammate toward the basket?
These are contradictions, and, believe me, there are many, many more. And as Lord Whitehead points out, getting caught on the horns of such contradictions can lead to defeat. In basketball, it usually leads to a player shedding one of his/her responsibilities, or worse sometimes freezes them in the middle where they can't perform either task well.
Lord Whitehead goes further though. He says that learning how to resolve such contradictions is where real progress and learning takes place. In collegiate basketball, it is often the difference between what a player learned in high school and what he/she still needs to learn.
Great basketball defense involves learning how to resolve these contradictions as they come at you relentlessly. It is all about learning to be more of an instinctual player. Repetitive drilling is involved, but it is game pressure and the need to make seemingly impossible things happen quickly that can turn good players into great players.
Lord Whitehead was referring to life in general and what he says makes a great deal of sense. Life, like basketball, is made up of endless contradictions and the failure to resolve the real important ones often leads to much more painful consequences than a three point loss in a basketball tournament. The failure to resolve life with knowledge of our own mortality, for example, can lead to madness and a squandering of the time that we do have at our disposal.
It is the lesson of the Great Myth where the narrative of human life on this planet is often told in terms of where we actually are and where we really want to be. Thought of like this, resolving contradictions is the difference between a life well lived and a life not lived to its fullest.
This makes the lesson in basketball not only about the difference in winning a game or two, or thirty; it is great training for life.
If the process of shooting a basketball involved a whole lot of abstract thinking, Einstein would have been a great player. I think that shooting the basketball well is more religious in nature. It takes great amounts of discipline, learned behavior, self-forgiveness and faith that the shot is going down.
Shooters need to quit thinking so much and get right with the Lord.
I was working at basketball camp for high school aged girls when I noticed how little they listened. These were good kids too, not slackers or kids who didn't respect the coaching; they were kids who would have listened had they known how.
I have seen this happen so many times over the last thirty years that I have detected a pattern. When kids are under pressure to perform they instinctively revert back to what they know best, even if it includes not performing in the way that they were instructed.
The task we had them doing involved opening up when the player you're guarding goes to screen. It was a somewhat complicated drill that involved opening up to the ball so that the screened defender could slide through.
The instructions were prefaced with the statement, "You must always jump in the direction of the pass before you do anything else." This command is basketball #1. It is what the triple threat stance is to offense. It is a developed habit that would be carved into a stone tablet if Moses had been a basketball coach. Yet, judging from the problems we had teaching it, it was easy to determine that it's not being taught.
Boxing out is another such "commandment" skill that is suffering from lack of attention. I have to believe that most coaches think it is something that kids to naturally. Problem is, they don't. What kids do naturally is watch the ball and grab it if it bounces their way.
So the problem, as I see it is, is that kids are suffering from uneven coaching. They get something; they get what their coaches think is important, and all too often, it is not something of primal importance like jumping to the pass, or boxing out.
Driving home, I came up with the idea that maybe we need some standardized testing of sorts. I always told the kids that I coached and taught in English class about this famous Marshmallow Test, where a group of five-year-olds were given a marshmallow and told that if they waited five minutes before eating it they would be given another.
It was a longitudinal study where the kids who participated were tracked over several years. It was determined that the kids who waited were more likely to be happier, contented, and successful. Those to went for the immediate gratification were more likely to be alcoholics, divorced, prone to drug use, and less successful.
So, I got to thinking that maybe we should take a bunch of young athletes and show them a doughnut and tell them, "If you jump to the pass five times in a row, we'll give you the doughnut." Or, "If you box-out five times in a row, you'll get the doughnut."
That way, we can tell them later, with some scientific support, that if they don't jump to the pass every time, they are probably going to end-up an alcoholic, divorced, miserable excuse for a human being.
Just kidding. Really.
Today was our first day of basketball class at COS, and we spent a lot of time making lay-ups. This is one of the most basic skills in the game of basketball, and most of our players have been making them for years, but I already spotted some things we need to work on.
This early in the season, as a coach, you need to say things to the players in a way that serves three purposes. You need to say things that are informative and helps them learn more than they already know about a subject, you need let them know that they don't know everything even if it is about something as simple as making lay-ups, and lastly, you need to let them know that you are not as dumb as you look. Okay, let me restate that; our other coaches are not really dumb looking, just me.
If I could have all of our player's former coaches in the gym with us on the first day, I would show them how to teach basic lay-ups. I'm pretty damn sure this would stir up a lot of resentment and garner a great many angry looks. I would explain to them that it is possible to win championships without know a good lay-up drill. I did it. I won four valley championships without being satisfied that my lay-up drill was any good.
Then, I attended a clinic in Fresno that featured a coach named Pete Sharkey. Peter is a local legend and has traveled the world teaching basketball. He started out with a simple lay-up drill where the player would start on baseline and roll the ball out toward the wing. Then she would run, pick it up, and carry it to the basket.
This is a perfect drill for teaching players to jump off the inside foot and to kick up their outside foot. After they get used to it, then you have have them take one dribble with their outside hand, then two or three. After that, it doesn't take long for them to get the steps right and you can go back to to using the regular dribble up or pass to basket drills.
I think the coaches would be stewing about this time and even making not so subtle remarks under their breath. I would try to mitigate things somewhat by explaining my own lack early of expertise on the subject, but I'm still pretty sure they'd still feel insulted.
I would have to explain why Coach Sharkey's drill was so revelatory to me. You see, it got to a point where I needed all of my girls, not just the good ones, to make weak hand lay-ups, and I needed to teach them how to do it.
Every year, a sizable group of the girls that we recruit are less than confidant in their weak hand lay-ups. I have to assume it is because most of the coaches did like I did and played the weak hand stuff off because it was hard to teach. Yet, players who reach college level basketball should always have confidence in their ability to go to their weak hand.
To get our girl's attention I would use the statement in the title. I would use this provocative challenge to get them to understand that as much as they think they already know, there's always much more that they need to learn.
This is the case about pretty much anything. I've learned over the years that most teenagers are not stupid, but they can be willfully ignorant in that they are in time and place in their lives where they are trying to get the separation from adults that will help them to learn to function on their own. It's not that they don't want to listen, but that they are trying to learn to trust in their own judgment.
They have to know for certain that what you teach will actually help them. Too many adults think that this is true about everything they say, yet it is not usually the case. For example, I myself have sat in way too many grown-up meetings when the vast majority of what I listened to didn't really need to be said. I imagine it's worse for a kid.
The Basket Has a Sweet Spot
It is right under top bar and three inches either side of direct center. The ball falling from directly overhead turns the basket into a circle and increases the size of the basket to where two balls could pass through at once. Putting it in from the side angle turns the basket into a oval shape and lops off as much as a third of the basket.
This means that players need to see the sweet spot, take the ball to the spot, and taught to finish high and soft off of the glass. It sounds easy enough, but its actually hard to do because as I said in a paragraph above teenagers are a lot like glazed pottery and not particularly porous when it comes to soaking up new ideas about things they think they already know. It is up to us as coaches to figure out ways to penetrate the glaze.
Verbal Cues are Important
Stan Kellner was one of the first to come up with a cybernetics program that trained athletes to use their mental abilities to increase athletic performance. One of his principle tools was verbal cues. According to Kellner, every time you run a lay-up drill is a great time to have your players say out loud, "High and Soft" as doing so will remind them to train their eyes on the backboard and to kiss the ball off of that sweet spot. There's also an added benefit in that using verbalization can help block out the negative noise of a hostile crowd and help the player to stay focused on the task at hand, i.e. placing the ball softly off of the sweet spot.
Weak Hand Work Transfers to the Strong Hand
I read an article that talked about the process of transference wherein what is learned from working on the weak side transfers to the dominant side. I have since tried to rediscover the article but have so far failed. I do remember, however, the light bulb that turned on over my head. It was a rule of thumb back then that you worked twice as much with your weak hand as you did with your dominant hand.
But, this article says that once you have the skills needed to perform with your strong hand, it makes sense to spend most, if not all of your skill development time improving your non-dominant hand. After reading the article, whenever we did lay-up drills in practice, full court dribbling, or finishing drills, we did everything on our weak side.
This not only improves your player's non-dominant hand, it also makes them into a more "complete" player, a state that has a synergism of its own. It is no longer a simple equation of 1 + 1 = 2. It becomes more like 1 + 1 = 3. It can mean that their further development become more a case of geometric progression than linear. In other words, they develop faster and better.
It takes a patience to get kids to accept these practices. They think they already know how to make lay-ups. The practices do work however. When we started using them regularly in our skill development, every girl on our team learned to get to the basket with much more confidence in their weaker hand. Now, I only wish I knew as much about shooting free-throws.
We were getting ready to play in our first big game of the season, sitting nervously in the visitor's locker room and trying our best to fully focus on the job before us. The night before, our hotel had developed a water leak in the ceiling above our rooms. The sound of falling water woke up both Coach and I about 4:30 AM, and the water kept pouring out for at least two hours. I put my ear buds in and finally managed to get back to sleep about 6:30. Coach could not sleep and stayed up and watched some basketball coaching videos.
He watched a video that talked about the difference between how fathers and mothers act when their children are being challenged. During the pre-game chalk talk, he attached what he had learned from the video to a story of how his own mother would always put her children's needs ahead of her own. Surprising? Hardly. That is what mother's so often do best, sacrifice for the good of the family.
It was, however, very appropriate for the moment, and I noticed how the player's focus momentarily shifted from paying attention to his words to pulling up memories of their own mothers. That's what makes such stories like that so powerful as teaching tools. When a story is being told the brains of the speaker and the listeners light up in the same area; in other words, they sync together.
The point he made was that the individual player in determining how to develop the right mindset for the game should think in terms of how a mother would think about her children, and learn to make sacrifices for the good of her teammates by putting the needs of others ahead of her own.
Thinking about it later, I felt that he had inadvertently stumbled across something very profound, not only explaining the need for team member to create a service mentality in order to insure the success of the family (team) but maybe in revealing a way that coaches who coach female sports can better reach their players.
Team sports are usually highly competitive, and, until fairly recently, the word competitive was firmly embedded in the list of character traits regarded as being masculine in nature. In fact, as a masculine trait, it biologically appears millions of years before human beings even appeared upon the scene.
The dominant trait of females, on the other hand, was usually felt to be "nurturing". The post-Title Nine world that we inhabit, has not only astronomically increased the numbers of female competing in what were once considered masculine endeavors, it has also greatly increased the numbers of young girls being trained in the ways of masculinity. The question is, has this training in anyway, shape, or form come with a commensurate loss in the nurturing trait?
I think, it is, at least, something that needs to be asked because it leads to a plethora of other questions that would also need to be both formulated and answered. For example, many female coaches feel that girls should only be coached by other females. Is this a valid point? Men coaches have been highly successful in teaching these once "men only" virtues to females.
Or, how about the question, do male players need a female voice to explain their feminine side to them? We now know that such a thing exists, so are we damaging their development in ignoring it? I would postulate that it would not hurt male players to learn about the idea of the "sacrifice of mothers" and how developing the idea of a servant mentality could best serve the needs of their teams.
In addition, it just might be something to help all coaches better address the needs of their players regardless of gender, or, at least, a better understanding of those needs. Say, for instance, instead of always pushing the idea of competing hard and being tough, a coach pays equal attention to the idea of self-sacrifice in creating true team values.
I work at a local Junior College assisting with the Women's basketball program. I recently watched and heard as my head coach did something that I regard as one of the best coaching decisions that I have ever seen. When it happened, I was also amazed at what simple thing it was and how it passed by almost completely unnoticed.
I don't think of any our players understood how what a great thing that just happened, and, in fact, I think that they barely noticed it at all. You might fairly ask, just how great could the decision be if the players didn't even notice it?
It involved talking. The day before, we had ridden the players pretty hard about not talking on defense. I myself am a recent convert to the importance of teaching defensive talking, and, like most new converts, believe in the concept with an almost missionary zeal.
The next day, Coach told the players , "I don't care how you say what you need to say, just say it so that your teammates can all hear and understand it." Simple, yes? I would have to admit that it is also something that would normally pass by without much thought.
Why I even noticed it was because I have been reading the book The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, and the book advances the rather unique idea that it is not so much natural talent that wins team championships but advanced skills learned by making repeated mistakes. I'll state that again, "making repeated mistakes!"
The author points out that myelination, a process of coating the axon of each neuron with a fatty coating called myelin, which protects the neuron and helps it conduct signals more efficiently, is simply put, a better way of learning difficult skills.
As players figure things out by learning from their own mistakes, a substance called myelin creates a thick, protective coating that allows their neural pathways to function more efficiently and greatly increases their ability to respond more quickly and forcefully while performing complicated tasks.
The book goes on to mention a practice currently employed at the highest level of coaching soccer where a player's brain is engaged in making difficult mental decisions at the same time while he is stressed out physically. The practice builds up both the mental and physical endurance of the player allowing him to play harder and smarter for a longer period of time. This extra endurance usually comes into play at time that the player needs it most, at the end of hard fought, highly competitive battles.
After reading the book, I began thinking of ways to create drills to be employed at the end of practice that would help us to create such an endurance advantage. Then, my Coach said the words I quoted above, and it suddenly dawned on me that what he told the players would achieve that goal.
The act of figuring out what you need to say in a game situation is a complex and much needed mental skill. In order to assess the situation and then formulate the words that would tell your team mates what you need for them to do, requires focused mental engagement, and the act of listening and figuring out what your teammate is telling you and determining how you should respond does the same.
In other words, it not only helps the myelination process to occur, but doing it while you are both physically and mentally stressed increases your ability to perform quickly and confidently in tense situations at the end of tough, demanding contests.
Some might question this interpretation and say that talking on defense is not such a new idea. I would counter with the argument that most of what passes for talking on defense nowadays is not really great communication. Many players just automatically repeat what their coaches tell them to say in certain situations usually using rote phrases such as: "Ball! Deny! Got Help! or Open-Up! This means they are usually blathering and not communicating at all.
This is not the same as figuring out things for themselves. Requiring him to access the situation himself and then come up with what he needs to say in order to get his teammates to respond efficiently is probably the best way not only to help the player learn to react more quickly but to increase his endurance and confidence level in tough games.
It is something that also might just help your team win a few more basketball games.