Sunday, November 30, 2008

Practicing on holidays

Coaches have different opinions on whether to hold practice on a holiday.

BOS coach Doc Rivers has "always tried to keep things in perspective."

Says Coach Rivers:

"I look at it as one day. I don’t think one day is going to make or break your season. [Thanksgiving is] always a family day. It has to be. It's the best holiday of the year. The other ones, you do them. But I think Thanksgiving is the single best day of the year as far as I'm concerned because it's about giving, saying thanks, and being with your family."

There was a good story a couple of days ago about a high school in Napa that has a tradition of practicing on Thanksgiving morning. The team's coach invites players' family, alums, and fans to watch practice, which is followed by a brunch.

According to the coach:

It’s about family and trying to make sure that we understand that we’re really, really thankful to be practicing on a day like today. We wanted to make sure that we opened it up to the family, so that they can come on a day like today and watch their kids practice. A lot of our (alumni) come back and we want to open it up for guys that have played football here before to come out.”

And a coach in Columbia, Md., who also holds practice on Thanksgiving Day, to "underscore the significance of the day, asks his players to go home after the Thanksgiving practice and call a relative they have not spoken to in a long time. Who knows, it might be a relative they would have otherwise seen if not for the Thanksgiving practice."

Trusting your players

First-year Dolphins coach Tony Sparano was asked recently what his greatest lesson has been this season:

"You really do have to trust your players out there a little bit. I think you can get so caught up in the X and O part of this thing and the scheme part of it that you forget about trusting your players a little bit with some of these situations. I start to see things on the practice field that I like. I have to trust it in the game. That's probably what I've learned the most."

The essence of "team"

No Umenyiora (injured). No Strahan (retired). No Shockey (traded). No Burress. Five new defensive starters. No players rank at the top of major stat categories.

And somehow the NY Giants aren't just better that last season when they won the Super Bowl (without a single Pro Bowl player), they're 10-1.

As the NY Times puts it: "The more anonymous they become, the better they get. The deeper they dig into their roster, the more they win. The Giants, despite their success, shine without much individual wattage."

Coach Tom Coughlin contends that it comes down to one thing: Team.

“That’s really what the essence of it is. That’s what this thing is all about for me: team."

Based on their comments, Giants players have bought in.

According to LB Antonio Pierce (shown here with Coach Coughlin and assistant Steve Spagnuolo):

“Once you have guys here complaining or being bitter about not getting the ball enough or not making enough plays, that’s what causes the problems. We’ve had that here. We don’t have that here now. That’s why we’re 10-1. I’d rather have 53 guys who play like Pro Bowlers, regardless of whether they get into the Pro Bowl or not. That’s what our team is.

We have 53 stars. Instead of having that one star-power guy, that guy that gets all the attention, all the love, every week reporters have somebody else to talk to, something else to write about. That’s good. That’s good for our whole team, because that means everybody’s shining. And if you’ve got your whole team shining, you can’t have nothing but a good team.”

Says Giants center Shaun O'Hara in this article:

“The one thing I can say about our team right now is whether we’re up 3 or down 3, up 7 or down 7, we have the confidence that we’re going to come back and win the game. A lot of us feel like that because we have done it before.

[After winning a championship] you raise your own standards as well as your team’s standards. You carry yourself differently because you do not allow yourself or your teammates to settle for mediocrity. You expect greatness from everybody. You’re no longer saying: ‘Oh, man, we didn’t get it done. Well, what are you going to do? We’re not perfect.’

Now it’s like, ‘That’s unacceptable.’ We know how good we can be when we play the way we’re supposed to play.”

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Leading by playing with heart

Interesting piece in ESPN The Magazine about PG Brandon Jennings, who went from Oak Hill Academy to playing professionally in Italy.

Jennings' coach in Italy, Jasmin Repesa, who coached the Croatian National Team at this summer's Olympics in Beijing, tossed Jennings from the team's practice for lack of hustle.

According to the ESPN article, the event "proved to be a blessing for Jennings."

Not only did it get his attention, his reaction won him respect in the locker room. Repesa forced him to apologize to the entire team the next morning. By the time the club returned to Rome to prep for preseason games, Jennings was diving for loose balls, pestering his man on D, fighting through screens and moving without the ball. He started pushing the rock upcourt with passes instead of fancy dribbling, nixing the urge to add to his highlight collection.

His foreign teammates started to see a player they liked on the court and enjoyed being around off of it. One day in the weight room, Jennings, not exactly a strongman on the iron, donned a wifebeater and went to work on the bench press. After completing a tough four-set session with 110 pounds, the slight 180-pounder stood tall in the middle of the room, banged his fist to his chest repeatedly and let out a primal scream: "With the heart! With the heart!"

Glancing at one another, his teammates smiled knowingly. "That meant a lot to us," said Rodrigo De La Fuente, Jennings' roommate in Folgaria. "Because he's the point guard, if he leads us by playing with heart, guys will follow that."

As is common in Europe, Coach Repesa "doesn't believe in a set starting five. He'll switch starters by the game; he'll go 10 deep, playing almost everyone at least 15 minutes and hardly anyone over 25."

Says Jennings, who is showing clear signs of maturing:

"Once I saw how Coach did things, I decided to concentrate on running the team. I'm playing defense, learning as much as I can and just trying to win. In the end, this is going to make me better."

With communication comes clarity

In WAS, new Wizards coach Ed Tapscott and GM Ernie Grunfeld have pledged to have open lines of communication so that there are no misunderstandings.

Says Coach Tapscott:

"The theme that you hear resonating in what I've tried to say in the last couple days is, 'Let's get everybody in agreement with what we're doing. Clarity. Avoid confusion. Eliminate confusion. Communicate and talk to each other so we have clarity, we know where we stand with each other. Clarity allows the mind to sort of focus in on the right things."

Being honest with yourself is first step in rebuilding

In his first season as head coach at Texas A&M, former Packers coach Mike Sherman has gone 4-8, including a 49-9 loss to rival Texas on Thanksgiving.

But while the Aggies didn't reach their goal for wins this season, Coach Sherman says his team is further ahead than many sub-.500 teams:

"In spite of the fact that we didn't win and didn't perform well enough throughout the course of this season, I don't think you heard many excuses or finger-pointing or lack of accountability from the players or the coaches. And that's a starting point, because if you're not honest with yourself, you're not honest with your shortcomings."

Understanding the effort and intensity to play good defense

The Lakers aren't the only team in LA concentrating more on defense this season.

At UCLA, Ben Howland's team has spent the last few days of practice "step-sliding on defense, keeping your man in front of you, a lot of box-out drills, help rotation. Just a lot of basics."

According to PG Darren Collison, young players don't always comprehend "the effort and intensity required to play good defense."

Says Collison (pictured here with Coach Howland): "I know I didn't when I was a freshman."

Friday, November 28, 2008

Lakers success starts with defense

Before the Lakers opened training camp, Phil Jackson brought together his staff "and told them he was appointing a defensive coach, something he hadn't done in his previous 18 years of coaching in the NBA."

Longtime assistant Kurt Rambis (pictured here) took on the role of defensive guru as "the Lakers began working on the new defense during training camp and continue(d) to practice it almost every day."

According to the LA Times, "Jackson adjusted Rambis' coaching duties before the season in hopes of establishing this type of success.  He typically gives each of his assistant coaches seven or eight teams to vigorously track throughout the season, but he reduced Rambis' workload to only three teams (Phoenix, Boston and Oklahoma City) to let Rambis concentrate primarily on the Lakers' defense.

Said Coach Rambis, who won four NBA titles as a Laker player:  "I've always enjoyed new opportunities to grow as a coach and the challenges that would come with it."

With the players buying in wholeheartedly, the results have been excellent:

The Lakers (12-1) are third in the league in opponents' shooting percentage (42.2%), sixth in points given up (92.7 a game), and first in point differential (14.3 a game).

The players have eaten it up, finding an appetite for steals (a league-best 10.4 a game) and blocked shots (6.2 a game, sixth-best in the league) that matches their zest for alley-oop dunks and three-on-one breaks.

Says Kobe Bryant:

"The thought process is that you want to win a championship. In order to beat a Boston, you've got to be a better defensive team than Boston.  If you want to hoist that trophy at the end of the year, we've got to be a great defensive team. That's the only way to get it done."

Coach Rambis had "pestered" Coach Jackson to allow him to try something new defensively, but Coach Jackson had resisted, saying, "I come from the old school where you play man [defense], and you have that man and that's your primary goal."

According to the Times article:

"The Lakers now use a lot of zone principles and try to keep the ball on one side of the court. They put pressure on the ballhandler to try to force him to a particular side and then often overload the area by sending an extra defender to stand down near the post, essentially shifting the defense from man-to-man to zone.

Skip passes to the undermanned side can hurt the Lakers, but their defense has been quick to jump into passing lanes and create turnovers.  Crucial to their defensive success is extreme pressure on the ballhandler. Without that pressure, the ballhandler can see the court and find open teammates."

If you're not more talented than somebody, you can outwork them

When Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was in high school one summer, his coach set out a challenge to every player on the team: Take 30,000 jumpers from various spots around the court, charting each one.

Of the guys on his team, only Spoelstra completed the challenge.

According to an article in the Portland paper, "Even as a teenager, Spoelstra's laser-like focus, meticulous attention to detail and extensive notetaking were evident. Those characteristics are part of the reason why legendary coach Pat Riley selected Spoelstra to succeed him as coach of the Miami Heat."

Says Erik's father Jon Spoelstra: "The blessed part is if you're not more talented than somebody, you can outwork them. The curse of it is if you outwork them, you're also going to be giving up something from your life."

From 1995-97, as MIA's video coordinator, Spoelstra spent hours in "The Cave," a tiny office (with no windows) at the Miami Arena, "dedicated to providing Riley (and later, coach Stan Van Gundy) with insights, suggestions and clues for upcoming games through scouting, note-taking and crunching numbers."

"It was almost like my door was locked and I was never let out to see the sunlight," Spoelstra said. "My first year in Miami, I didn't even know it was sunny during the winter."

Chris Wallace, the Heat's director of player personnel at the time, was instrumental in helping Spoelstra get the job in Miami.

"The guy ate, sleep and drank basketball," said Wallace, now Memphis general manager. "He put every last ounce he had to give into the job and learning the NBA game. Erik has learned his craft from the bottom up. You have to have enormous respect for anyone in any occupation that does reach the top the way he did."

Says Pat Riley, who would later promote Coach Spoelstra to assistant coach:

"This is something that developed over 13 years of working with the man and watching him grow and do different things. The one thing I know is that when I'm not around Erik or when Erik is on the road, or he's at home, I know he's working. He's working when I'm not watching and that's what you want in a head coach."

When your team reaches championship level, the separating factor is character

Pulled a book off the shelf at halftime of the Cowboys-Seahawks game yesterday. It was a book I'd picked up 10 or 15 years ago about former Cowboys coach Tom Landry called "The Landry Legend."

I'd highlighted a good quote (on pages 158-159) from Coach Landry about how what he looked for in players changed as his teams improved:

"When I first started coaching I thought mostly of physical ability; quickness, agility, control, strength, and explosiveness.

Then, as we developed into a stronger team, character became more important. The character and competitiveness of a player become the more controlling factors.

When you reach a championship level, what separates you is basically the character on your team. If you have enough character, it'll usually pull you out of tough situations."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Jimmy Patsos' strategy for stopping Stephen Curry

Been thinking about Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos' strategy against Davidson in which he essentially double-teamed Davidson's Stephen Curry the entire game.

The strategy effectively shut down Curry, but left Loyola playing 4-on-3 against a very good Davidson team, which won the game easily, 78-48.

Coach Patsos (pictured here) has come under heavy fire for this. But understand what he was trying to do.

As a coach, you never want to let the opposing team's best player beat your team. The idea is to design a scheme that forces other players to take the bulk of the shots.

I've posted before about having special rules for special players. In the NBA, teams devise schemes that attempt to limit the damage guys like Kobe or LeBron can cause. It's the common strategy of "You might get beat, but at least make someone else on the team beat you."

In the three games leading up to the Loyola game, Curry scored 44, 30, and 39 points. In the game he scored 30, he also had 13 assists. Most would agree that Curry is a special player who deserves special attention.

In this game, Davidson had the better team and better players. But give Coach Patsos some credit. He made a difficult decision, but one that he believed would give his guys the best chance to win.

I didn't see the game, but once Davidson's lead swelled, it seems like it would have made sense to alter the game plan -- mixing up the defenses -- in an attempt to close the gap and get back into the game.

It's critical for a plan to be flexible enough to allow for changes during the heat of battle. Adjusting a game plan doesn't mean scrapping it. There's an old saying:

"It's a bad plan that admits of no modification."

But if before the game you told your team that Curry wouldn't score, it's likely you'd believe you'd have a good chance to win the game.

And, had Loyola shot better than 34% from the field, they may have had a chance to win.

Coach Patsos also got his guys to buy into the strategy. Yes, they lost the game, but they executed a game plan they believed would help them win.

Coach Patsos offered a candid, detailed explanation of the strategy against Loyola:

"The decision to deny Stephen Curry the ball for the entire game was a calculated risk and conscious choice by myself, our staff and our players. We had a tough win the night before vs James Madison and our best defender Tony Lewis is hurt and is out for a week.

The game plan to beat Davidson, a top 25 team with a lottery pick in Stephen Curry, and 6 of 8 players back from an Elite Eight team, was to keep Curry from touching the ball.

If this was last year, we would not have done this because Curry played shooting guard. The decision was based on the fact that he plays point guard now. He is tremendous, not only averaging 35 pts, but also 9 assists per game. This means he accounts for 53 points per game for Davidson.

My young, tired and inexperienced team met with the staff and we all felt this was our best chance to win the game. It was a risk, but we felt it was our only chance to win the game. The players were all for it, they have a say here at Loyola Basketball.

The game started well, and Davidson was forced to use two timeouts to deal with the situation. The lead of 9-4 was an impressive start for our young team. We used a combination of triangle and two, box and one and a full court press to stop Curry.

Unfortunately, we could not make open shots, and committed twenty-one turnovers (mostly unforced). At halftime, I asked the team if they wanted to play straight man to man, or stay with the game plan.

They wanted to stick to the game plan in hopes we could run better offense, make shots and maybe the Davidson players would cool off from the 3 PT line.

In the second half, a seldom-used Davidson freshman made 3 straight 3-pointers -- it was not the Greyhounds' night.

Loyola Basketball tries to WIN every game we play! We played hard until the end, diving for loose balls and running our offense, we just struggled offensively.

In closing, I take responsibility for the loss, however, this was not some self-serving promotional plan. Curry is a great player who controls the game much like Tiny Archibald. He is more dangerous now because he plays the point and can score and pass."

Doing the right things and doing them first

Before Anaheim's game against Colorado the other night, someone had written something on the locker room's white board:

"If you ain't first, you're last."

The team's coaching staff had emphasized the importance of collecting "firsts" during the game.

According to Ducks coach Randy Carlyle (pictured here), whose team has struggled at home this season, "You have to have a good start. You have to get the first shot on goal. You have to draw the first penalty. You have to create the first scoring chance. All those things are important."

Said one Anaheim player after the Ducks beat the Avalanche:

"We wanted to do the right things, and we wanted to do them first."

Learning how to sound calm

Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR's top driver for three consecutive years, "took a Dale Carnegie course early in his racing career. He doesn't say anything within a zip code of controversy. Among NASCAR beat writers he is considered boring and vanilla and robotic."

According to Johnson:

"When I started racing, I didn't have much going for me, other than that I could say all the right things—almost to a fault. I can be freaking out inside, but then I open my mouth and I sound calm. I don't know where this device comes from. It helps me in racing because you never want to lose your cool. At the end of the day, and this is the truth, I'm still just a jackass from El Cajon."

Who wants to look at a leader who's a grouch and a pouter

Many of us will push away from the table this afternoon to watch the Lions game on TV even though Detroit is 0-11 on the season.

After 11 losses in 11 tries, what role does the coach play? According to Detroit coach Rod Marinelli:

"My job is to believe in them, to read them, to encourage them and show them how. That's what I do. I don't bang on them and throw them in the waste can.

My job is to lead these men. I don't look for disaster. I don't look for disease. I don't look for speculation. I look to lift these men up. That's my job.

If I didn't try as hard as I can try, if I didn't come to work ready to go every single day, upbeat and positive, because who wants to look at a leader who's a grouch and a pouter. When things are bad, a leader's supposed to step up and lead from the front. And that's what I'm gonna do."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

An NBA player who practices after a game

It's common to read about young players hanging around the gym as they pursue their goal of playing college ball or reaching the NBA.

But what about a veteran who's played for eight seasons as a pro, 4 in the NBA .

According to the Orange County Register, Sasha Vujacic, whose pro career began in 2001 in Italy, will turn up at the Lakers practice facility at five in the morning, midnight, even after a game.

"At a recent Lakers’ practice, all of his teammates were long gone as Vujacic remained on the court shooting. His overtime workout session kept members of the D-League Los Angeles D-Fenders on the side, waiting to begin their practice."

Says Vujacic:

What I need are a lot of repetitions because I missed the training camp and I’ve got to get back on track. One thing I realized a couple years ago is that if I go there too much it’s not good because you need fresh legs. So, I go through my routine now and get out of there.”

Measuring the objectives that give you a chance to get better

Indiana may have lost to St. Joe's this week at the EA Sports Maui Invitational, but Hoosiers coach Tom Crean is less concerned with wins and more focused on consistent improvement.

After all, his team features eight true freshmen and just one senior.

Said Coach Crean:

"When you're not in a position to win like we weren't in the second half, you have to continue to be able to measure the objectives that you want to get to give you a chance to get better. It was very important that we picked up our activity defensively we went from 13 deflections to 36. It was very important we got to the glass. Our goal was 40 rebounds and we got 29, but it was a tie on the boards.

So from one day to the next, which is the situation that we're in right now, that's the only thing I can really measure. Our guys work, I know that they worked very hard. They work hard, they want to win, they want to compete, and I think our competitiveness for 40 minutes was much better."

If you just stick with it, you can do most things

Mike Holmgrem, who has led three teams to the Super Bowl, is winding down his 17-year head coaching career this season in Seattle, which is 2-9 and losers of four straight.

It's only the third time in 17 seasons that a Holmgren-coached team will likely finish under .500.

Here's an excerpt from a recent story in the Seattle paper that demonstrates Coach Holmgren's persistence in a tough season:

An NFL coach is his franchise's spokesman. He has to explain... the reasons the team that has won four consecutive division titles hasn't won back-to-back games this year.

He also is the man in charge of motivating a locker room full of 53 adults, the one who must persuade them to keep sacrificing for the team's benefit, even as the playoff possibilities are about to flicker out in the autumn wind.

That's why Holmgren stood in front of his team on a Monday earlier this month, one day after a 20-point home loss to Philadelphia, and talked to them about perseverance.

"I told them a little story about my first job in construction," Holmgren said. "I'll tell you, it was just awful. I mean, the hardest thing I've ever done."

Holmgren was 15 and hired to a construction crew building an apartment complex. He was a high-school kid with new work boots who didn't want to let his dad down, so he spent his summer doing a grown man's work around grown men.

"They gave me the worst, as you can imagine," Holmgren said. "And it nearly broke me."

His hands bled and he said he considered quitting at least 25 times. He never followed through on that.

"It taught me a valuable lesson," Holmgren said. "One, I didn't want to disappoint my dad. Two, if you just kind of stick with it, you can do most things. You can kind of get through most things."

It was a crossroads for Holmgren, and he shared the experience with his players to emphasize that while the final two months of this season might not be enough time to save a season, there might be even more at stake.

"Everybody in the room has to make choices when it gets hard," Holmgren said. "You have to make decisions. What decision you make says a lot about you and really says a lot about your future."

A coach's opportunity for fellowship with his players

Every year, games and practices keep a lot of college athletes around the country from spending Thanksgiving with their families.

But University of Georgia assistant Rodney Garner uses the holiday as a platform for team-building, inviting UGA players over to his house for Thanksgiving dinner.

“I do it so they can have a home-cooked meal and be in a home environment,” said Garner, Georgia’s defensive line coach.

Last year, about 60 players came over to Coach Garner's home for "turkey,ham, sweet potatoes, macaroni-and-cheese, black-eyed peas, greens, dressing, cakes and pies."

According to this article, "Garner started his Thanksgiving tradition when coaching at Auburn in the early 1990s, continued it at Tennessee and brought it with him to Georgia a decade ago."

Says Coach Garner:

“It’s fun fellowship. Even though the economy is like it is, we still have so much to be thankful for. [It’s] an opportunity to fellowship with the guys in a positive manner . You know, sometimes I’m not the most positive guy. So they get a chance to see me in a different light. I hope they see that I do have a human side and I do care and I love them.”

Comebacks begin with positive energy

Rick Pitino has a new book out titled "Rebound Rules."

I've not read it yet (though I plan to over the holiday weekend), but found some excerpts online, including this one in which Coach Pitino describes how his UK team came back from a 31-point deficit at LSU in 1994:

"One thing you must do in the face of adversity is to be honest with yourself, and with the people you're trying to lead. Acknowledge the difficult spot you're in and commence digging out of it. Don't point fingers, don't recriminate, and don't make excuses. Stay positive and get to work.

The grand scheme at that very moment wasn't to emerge with a victory at night's end; looking that far ahead would have blurred our focus on the gradual progress that comprises every comeback.

The goal was to get within 20 points as quickly as possible. To do that, we concentrated on three things: using our press to create turnovers, fouling the two shaky free throw shooters LSU had on the floor, and getting high-percentage shots.

All three worked, and the turnaround actually happened faster than expected. In about five minutes of clock time, we'd shockingly chopped the deficit from 31 to 14. Our frantic style of play helped -- speeding up the game and increasing the possessions for both teams gave us more chances to rally.

Stubbornly, we kept whittling away at LSU's lead, as the celebrating crowd turned more and more nervous. Every timeout Tigers' coach Dale Brown called in an attempt to slow our momentum actually raised our spirits. We knew we had them rattled; we knew we had a chance.

Walter McCarty dropped in a three-point shot with 19 seconds left and we took the lead, 96-95, and went on to win 99-95. To this day, it remains the biggest comeback in college basketball history on the road.

The game quickly became known nationwide as the Mardi Gras Miracle. It was certainly memorable, but it was no miracle. It didn't take divine intervention to win that game; it took an unbreakable optimism, and a plan for coming back.

[Comebacks begin] with positive energy on the floor, on the bench, and in the team huddles.

They began with a belief that things would get better if we persevered through adversity, trusted each other and worked together.

They began with a conviction that consistent effort, even against long odds, inevitably would turn the tide. They began with a reliance on the fundamentals that made us a successful team to begin with, and we didn't desert them in a crisis.

They began with a single good play, and a certainty that one good play would lead to another and another and another until the deficit was gone and the game was won.

The most important thing I did in the course of those comebacks was to build my players' self- esteem. Don't tear them down for the mistakes that got the team in those holes to begin with; build them up to the point where they felt capable of making the plays that would result in victory.

There have been times when I've not been as positive with my teams during games. I have succumbed to the frustration of the moment and filled the huddle with negative energy, telling them, 'This is what you deserve because you practiced poorly.'

There certainly is a time for constructive criticism and even an outright tail chewing, but it's generally not when you're trying to rally people to redouble their efforts and perform at a higher level. That deprives your team of the hope that it can come back in adverse situations.

When it comes to team dynamics -- on a basketball court or in a corporate setting -- maintaining a positive atmosphere is crucial. Being relentlessly positive can be the only way to come back and defeat towering negativity.

Nobody goes through life without setbacks and struggles, some of them significant enough to cause you to doubt everything you believe in. You might be fired. You might face serious illness for you or your family. You might have a major financial setback, face an ethical dilemma, or find yourself starting over later in life. You might see a lifetime goal disintegrate, leaving you in a place you never imagined when plotting out your career path.

Will you have a gameplan in place to make your comeback?

You should, because the comeback is a classic American trait: We are a second-chance people. The story of the United States was not written by people who were handed everything. It was written by people reinventing their lives after encountering adversity -- by immigrants and cast-offs from foreign lands who took a leap of faith to make a new start in a new land.

After my job ended with the Celtics, I had to pull myself out of a crater by rediscovering what I call my PHD -- my passion, my hunger, and my drive. I had to quit beating up on myself and elevate the self-esteem that I always have tried to keep so high in my players. It was time for me to coach myself.

As difficult as it was going through those things, I've emerged as a wiser and happier person. I wouldn't wish some of those moments on anyone, but they've been learning experiences that will shape the later stages of my career and my life after basketball.

My perspective now is totally different. Basketball is my passion, but not my life. Helping my players, family members, and friends achieve happiness counts more than the final score of any game.

Being confronted with adversity -- in sports, in business, in any walk of life -- can happen more often than anyone wants to admit. It will test you in ways most of us have never contemplated. Having a plan to deal with it can make your comeback a great one."

A sign that you're focused and concentrating

Why is Ball State the only undefeated team in the nation?

Lots of reasons, but one key is that the Cardinals don't make "dumb penalties."

BSU is the least penalized team in the country, averaging less three than penalties per game.

The second-least penalized team? Penn State with 3.2 flags per game.

According to BSU's center, "It shows we're focused and concentrating."

It also demonstrates how disciplined coach Brady Hoke's team is. Says Coach Hoke:

"When you play smart and you don't have the bad penalties - jumping offsides, motion, formation penalties, those pre-snap penalties - I think that's a big part of [success]."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Willing to pay the price to be great

When Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was drafted in the first round back in 2003, many critics thought it was a mistake.

According to Asomugha, "I remember players talking to [Raiders DB coach] Willie Brown in my presence. Receivers asking, 'Is this who you drafted? I can't believe this is who you drafted.'"

Instead of folding, "Asomugha channeled his anger, frustration and disappointment into a workout regimen that honed his skills and strengthened his resolve."

Today, Asomugha rates as one of the league's top defensive backs. Says Broncos coach Mike Shanahan: "This guy is off the charts. He's as good as it gets."

Willie Brown, Asomugha's position coach who is among the greatest defensive backs to ever play pro football, credits Asomugha's work ethic for his development over the last five seasons.

"He is dedicated, and he's dedicated to be great. I tell all the defensive backs, they should have Nnamdi's work habits. He will do anything you ask, and he is willing to pay the price to be great."

Larry Brown's ideal roster

Good article in SI about what Bobcats coach Larry Brown prefers in terms of personnel.

According to the article, ideally, Coach Brown would like a roster that includes:

-- Three guards, two of them natural points, whom he can play together.

-- Two athletic small forwards, one of whom can swing to power forward, one of whom can swing to two guard.

-- Four long players up front who can shuttle interchangeably between power forward and center.

-- Gutty guys who enjoy playing a singular role, the grizzled vet, the underdog.

-- The ultrasmart player over the ultratalented player.

As you lead so shall you reap

In a story about the recent passing of the great Pete Newell, there was a reference to a book written in 1942 by former Stanford coach Everett Dean (pictured here with his 1942 Stanford team), a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Luckily, I found an original copy on Amazon, which arrived yesterday (in remarkably good condition for a book that's almost 70 years old).

Early in the book, Coach Dean asks 19 of the top coaches of that era to outline their coaching philosophies. Listed below are a two highlights. As you read them, keep in mind these were written in the 1940s, but remain relevant even today.

John Bunn, basketball coach, Springfield College: Several years ago I put in writing my philosophy of coaching. Then I presented seven principles:

1. Have no secrets about coaching.
2. Play the game for fun.
3. Encourage freedom in play.
4. Practice democracy in control.
5. Foster aggressive demeanor.
6. Emphasize team effort.
7. Develop a personal, friendly, reciprocal, and democratic coach-player relationship.

These seven philosophic principles become more important as we see their possibilities.

John Mauer, basketball coach, University of Tennessee:

1. A basketball game is a series of mistakes. The team making the fewest mistakes will be most likely to win.

2. Possession of the ball means control of the game. Do not give it up until you have secured the best offensive opportunity possible.

3. Officiating varies greatly. Be sure that you secure the best men possible and then accept their efforts without criticism.

4. Each team experiences a series of offensive and defensive surges during the course of a close game. When you have your offensive surge, keep it going as long as possible.

5. A strong defense is the "stablizing factor" in your team play. It will enable you to stay within your reach of your opponents and prevent disorganization in your play.

6. Lay the groundwork for your season play in your early practice. Your team play during the season will be determined by how well you have laid this foundation.

7. Team unity depends on proper morale. Cement your team together by developing this morale and spirit.

8. All [players] will respond to a coach that they respect and like. Do your part to make them want to do well for you.

9. Basketball is a great game, worthy of your best efforts at all times. Be a credit to it both as a coach and a man.

10. The vital lessons of how to win and lose, how to conduct yourself under emotional strain, how to retain the respect of your opponents, and how to constantly go forward are a challenge to both the coach and the [players]. "As you lead so shall you reap."

A message of "relentless effort"

"Relentless effort." It's something you hear again and again from U of Florida players and coaches during interviews.

It's a message the UF coaches stress in meetings, practices, and on signs posted in the team's lockerroom.

They hand out awards that recognize players who demonstrated "relentless effort" during a game.

Film sessions include highlights of plays featuring "relentless effort." And in practice, there is a "relentless effort" drill.

On every play, coaches demand their players give "four to six seconds of relentless effort."

From looking around online, it seems Florida coach Urban Meyer began using the "relentless effort" theme in 2006 when he said:

"You call it having relentless effort to be great. From what I was told by Donnie Young [former Gator great offensive linemen on the 1996 national championship team] and some of the players that were on that '96 team, that's what they had. They were so upset when they would fail in practice. They had that relentless effort to be great."

Said the team's strength and conditioning coach: "Our program is based on accountability, self discipline, relentless effort and great attitude."

A sounding board for issues big and small

In CLE, Cavs coach Mike Brown has formed "The Committee," a group of four veteran players who "have semi-regular meetings with the head coach in his office and cover everything from disciplinary matters to travel plans to key strategy decisions."

According to an article in the Cleveland paper, "It's not a democracy, but the group of leaders act as a buffer and a sounding board for issues, big and small."

This season, among the things the group has discussed with Coach Brown is punishment for a player who missed the team bus, team travel arrangements, and practice times.

Says Coach Brown:

"I think the group covers the whole team, from the young guys to the older guys, from the guards to the big men. If I hear there is a concern or I have a concern, I call a Committee meeting."

Dealing with close losses

Every coach will lose his share of close games. But San Diego Chargers coach Norv Turner -- a consummate professional on the field and a genuinely good guy away from it -- has had more than his share of close games.

In his 11 seasons as an NFL head coach with the Redskins, Raiders, and Chargers, Coach Turner has lost 95 games. More than half of those losses (53) have been by a touchdown or less.

Moreover, nearly 30 percent have been by a field goal or less.

In fact, in his team's last four games this season, the Chargers lost to New Orleans (37-32), beat KC (20-19), lost to Pittsburgh (11-10), and lost to Indy (23-20).

According to this article, Coach Turner "puts a lot of stock in his players, in their maturity and their ability to self-motivate. He also doesn't see the need for pregame rambling or premeditated voice-raising. He likes to treat his players as men largely capable of their own motivation."

And he doesn't shirk responsibility for his team's performance:

"I'm the head coach, and I'm responsible for what happens with the ... team. You work hard as a coach to get the most out of your players. Players work hard to get the most out of themselves. You want to put them in a position to be successful, and then you play the game.

You are what you are. There is no overall thing you can look at. Look at each game and break it down – this happened in this game and this happened in this game. You're the head coach; you've got to do it."

Monday, November 24, 2008

No priority is more important than building confidence

One of my former college roommates forwarded me an excellent article that has real relevance for coaches, especially those who are taking over a team or program.

As I read the article, I kept thinking about coaches at all levels who've been hired and achieved success immediately. Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech (pictured here), for example, comes to mind.

According to the authors, one "essential element that must exist before any process change can show significant results." That element is confidence.

"Leaders who inspire confidence find that [players] become partners, and invest time, energy and effort toward the desired end result."

The following is an excerpt from the article [which is here]:

Ultimately, what determines whether a new leader will be able to meet expectations is the motivation and effort of the [team]. While a great reputation may give the new leader a brief advantage, it’s the ability to inspire the willing contribution of [his players] that enable him or her to deliver results rapidly and sustain these results over time.

When people have confidence, they willingly invest their time, effort, and energy toward the end result. New leaders can get better results, and get them more quickly, by making confidence-building a central focus of their transition plan.

But this doesn’t mean they start out with a pep rally. The kind of confidence people need doesn’t come from impassioned speeches or from patting people on the back and letting them know you have faith in them, but from a carefully crafted plan that guides people toward early successes and inspires them to ever higher levels of performance.

As Rosabeth Moss Kanter found in her research for her book, CONFIDENCE, once an organization is on a “winning streak,” it takes relatively little effort to sustain performance. So it makes sense for new leaders to focus their initial efforts on early successes. These successes inspire people in the organization to have confidence in the leader, in each other and in their own ability to win.

So how do new leaders rapidly build confidence?

While every organization is different, and every new leader will face unique circumstances, the good news is that any leader in a new role can rapidly encourage confidence by implementing the five building blocks:

  1. Building trust through frequent, candid, and consistent communication.
  2. Getting buy-in for one overriding and inspiring objective.
  3. Creating a plan with input from the organization.
  4. Ensuring that people are in the right roles.
  5. Achieving early successes that inspire.

COMMUNICATION: As a new leader, know that everything you do communicates something. The messages people get from your early actions impact the confidence they will have in your leadership.

A great way to build credibility and mark the beginning of your leadership is by solving simple problems that get in people’s way.

The best way to determine which small changes will have the biggest impact is to get out and talk to people. When you decide on the changes to make, make them quickly and publicly.

People need to trust your motivations and feel confident that you’ll keep your word. The more exposure they have to you and the more you show interest in their concerns, the more likely you are to build trust.

INSPIRING VISION: Far too many leaders are great at giving specific directions, but neglect to remind everyone on the team of the greater direction and vision of the company.

But offering a strategy without a meaningful goal is like providing a map, pointing out a direction and telling people to “just get started” and you’ll fill them in later on the destination. The journey quickly becomes meaningless, and if the travelers encounter any roadblocks or detours, they’re likely to just give up, since they don’t know the greater purpose.

People are goal-directed organisms. Providing a meaningful objective taps into people’s natural motivation to succeed. As a new leader, you need to rapidly identify your prime objective for the first part of your tenure and get buy-in from all stakeholders. For any goal to inspire team confidence, it must truly be shared by everyone.

When people are confident of the clear, overriding purpose for their activities, they can respond flexibly, rapidly and confidently to unanticipated obstacles, changing circumstances and new

As a leader, you need to take responsibility for keeping people connected to the direction and vision on a regular basis. This keeps people from getting lost in daily activities and losing momentum.

STRATEGIC PLAN: No coach who wants to inspire the confidence of the team is going to suggest they can win without a clear game plan. In the same way, you can’t expect your players to get out on the field without a strategy.

Can the plan change along the way? Of course. But it’s having a plan – a roadmap for action – that inspires players to get out on the field and get started.

It’s important to engage people in developing the strategy. Not only will you gain valuable information, but you’ll increase people’s feeling of ownership in the plan. When people participate in creating a plan, they feel more invested in bringing it to a successful outcome.

Every milestone, program, and initiative needs to move the organization in the direction you want it to go. And everyone in the organization needs to be aware of how his or her role fits into the larger objective.

CLEARLY-DEFINED ROLES: By ensuring that the right people are in the right roles, you, as a leader, can feel more confident in them. Putting people in roles that fit their competencies also increases their self-confidence and the confidence of others on the team.

In order to do this, you need to:

-- Evaluate: See that the right people are in the right jobs. Support those who are, move those who are not.

-- Coach: Guide, critique, and assist people to improve their performance.

-- Build: Encourage and recognize people regularly. Specific encouragement and reward gives your people the courage to stretch, take risks and achieve new levels of performance.

Don’t wait for scheduled meetings, reviews, or ceremonies to give people feedback and recognition. Every interaction you have with your team is an opportunity to energize people and encourage them to move them in the right direction.

EARLY VICTORIES: It’s important that people feel momentum building during the transition period. The best way to accomplish this is to focus people on achieving early wins. It’s important to avoid initial challenges that carry the risk of failure and instead identify goals that can be achieved within a short time frame.

Seeing tangible results boosts motivation and encourages further effort. Leaders need to identify milestones that lead the organization in the direction of the overriding objective. Achieving these milestones constitutes early wins and gives the organization and leadership team something to celebrate. Achieving these early victories builds the leader’s credibility, the organization’s motivation, and the team’s confidence in its own ability to win.

Not only do you need to identify milestones and create a path to achieve them, you also need to celebrate victories, even the small ones, from the very beginning. Celebrating not only creates an atmosphere of recognition and positive energy, it bonds your team members together in the spirit of shared accomplishment. This inspires further confidence in their ability to collaborate and to win.

In any transition, getting the beginning right is critical to achieving the end results you want. As you move into a new leadership position, you’ll have many things to do. You’ll find yourself pulled in multiple directions, needing to respond to multiple stakeholders and outside observers, often at the same time.

Keep in mind, however, that confidence is the driving force enabling you to deliver on expectations. No priority is more important than building that confidence. The sooner you master this, the sooner your strategic plans are likely to deliver on their promise.

Why Derrick Rose will be among the NBA's best for a long time

Here's another reason CHI's Derrick Rose will be a great player for a long time: He not only recognizes when he makes a mistake, but he fully admits it and works to correct it.

When Bulls assistant coach Del Harris approached Rose recently to discuss a missed assignment, Rose quickly acknowledged it, saying: "I know, I know, it was terrible. I can't believe I did that. I should have been over there, and the guy was open, and I missed him."

Said Coach Harris: "He is harder on himself than any coach."

Rose is also eager to learn. After each game, CHI coach Vinny Del Negro has Rose complete a questionnaire. Rose and Coach Del Negro review the completed questionnaires, then file them in a binder until the next time they play that opponent.

According to Coach Del Negro, who learned the technique from Dick Motta:

"Each one has six questions. What offensive sets worked well against this team? What defensive sets were they in? Who did you guard? Was he a post-up player? What was effective and what wasn't? What did you learn about this team, and what did you learn in transition?"

When asked what he learned during a recent loss to Boston, Rose replied:

"They never stopped talking on the court. They were aggressive with everything, always showing emotion. That's not my way. But to be a leader, I've got to do it."

When players become an extension of the coaching staff

With Saturday's loss to rival Ohio State, Rich Rodriguez and his U of Michigan team finished 3-9 in Coach Rodriguez's first season in Ann Arbor.

But according to Coach Rod, the first couple of years are the toughest.

"By the time you get to the third and fourth year, your players become an extension of your staff and they help coach."

The good news is, from listening to Michigan's players, they understand what Coach Rod is trying to build.

Said one UM underclassman:

"Everybody on the team didn't buy in like they're supposed to. We've got a couple guys not going hard, but we'll correct that. Most definitely. It ain't happening on my watch next year."

In praise of the inbounds passer

One of the most overlooked parts of basketball is the inbounds pass. As George Karl pointed out recently, an effective inbounds play/pass can make the difference in a game.

When Coach Karl was asked the other day about Vinny Del Negro, who played for Coach Karl when he coached the Bucks, he praised him for a unique skill:

"He was the best inbounds passer I have ever coached. He won some game for us in Milwaukee making some great plays from the sideline out of bounds."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

If you haven't had your butt beat, then you're not a good coach

Couple of great quotes from Pat Casey, the head baseball coach at Oregon State, in this month's issue of Scholastic Coach.

Coach Casey guided the Beavers to back-to-back College World Series titles in 2006 and 2007 despite losing seven starters, two starting pitchers, and an All-America closer after the '06 championship.

When he took over the OSU baseball program in 1995, the school had only qualified for the College World Series once (in 1952) in nearly 100 years of OSU baseball.

Here are Coach Casey's quotes from this article:

On what coaches can learn from their players:

"The biggest teachers of all are your players. You come to the field everyday trying to learn something from them and their response to you or how they react to it. If you’re not winning you better start looking at what you’re doing. And there are times when the personnel isn’t quite where you want it to be, but a lot of the time it comes down to what you’re doing."

On how failure leads to success:

"I always tell coaches, if you haven’t had your butt beat in this game, then you’re not a good coach. Because if you are a good coach, you’re going get to keep coaching and if you get to keep coaching, then you are going to get beat."

A commitment to finding solutions when confronted with problems

Juan Carlos Osorio has his team in the MLS championship game today after the NY Red Bulls finished the regular season below .500.

He was criticized throughout the season for focusing too much on defense ("negative football") and mishandling his lineups.

Despite the criticism, "Osorio never wavered from his season-long philosophy after the Red Bulls backed into the playoffs. He changed the lineup according to the form of players and individual matchups."

As for his emphasis on defense, Osorio says:

"I've lived in this country for almost 20 years, and I hear about other sports, American football, baseball, basketball. And I've heard the best coaches, the guys that won trophies are those that defensively are sound.

When people say about me that I'm a defensive coach, I take that as a compliment rather than as a criticism. In the well-rooted sports, defense means titles. It wins titles. And I'm very pleased with the way the guys are performing now.''

That consistently, and Coach Osorio's ability to stand up to the criticism, has paid off.

Said one Red Bulls player of his coach: "He always does the same thing, in the good times, in the bad times. And I’m glad it paid off. He has done the job. [Whenever] you think about his passion, his commitment to the team, whatever, he has taken us to a position nobody has taken us before. Full credit to him because he made some decisions that weren’t easy to make."

Coach Osorio, a native of Columbia who began coaching about 10 years ago, is known for his incredible appetite for learning. One former staff member recently described Coach Osorio's love for books:

"I am not talking about one or two books but enough that the equipment manager had to carry an extra bag. He was constantly reading and referencing what the best minds ... had to say about this or another aspect of the game. Constantly learning."

But Osorio does some writing of his own, most of it coming during the games when he can be seen scratching notes onto a notepad. Says Osorio:

"Writing notes allowed me to decide what was the most important thing to tell my players at halftime. It is 15 minutes. The way we break it down, the first five minutes the players can hydrate and have it as their own. The next five minutes I talk so it has to be down to the nitty-gritty and just the most important things. If you don't write things down, I think some of those things get confused, you misplace them or you don't time it well. It's just my way to be very objective."

According to one Red Bulls player, it's part of Osorio's attention to detail:

"He's very, very meticulous. That's evident. He goes over every detail. He tries to exploit every weakness of other teams and tries to improve a weakness our team may have. It's almost a military-type strategic approach to his daily training sessions, his game plans every week. He definitely puts a lot of thought into it.

He plans for every single situation, be it the run of play, deadball situations, they start of game, middle of the game, the end part of the game. he covers all bases. It's a good feeling coming into games knowing you are well prepared."

This level of preparation has been a key to his success, according to a former coach for whom Osorio worked:

"I believe therein lies his strength, when confronted with a problem, immediately looking for solutions, rather than wallowing in the crisis. There is no wonder to me that he overcame so much adversity and finally got it right. It was not by chance but rather his commitment to find solutions when confronted with problems."

The ability to overcame obstacles is the real lesson of the season, says Coach Osorio:

"The most important thing for me is to let the players know that in soccer, like any other sport, it is not about not failing. It’s not about falling. It’s about how many times can you get up and continue working and working hard and working the right way to get results.

And we have gone through very difficult games. We have been at the end of bad scores. But we have always recovered from those games. And that’s the most rewarding thing to me.

I just have to be responsible enough and intelligent enough to make the decisions that we need to do at any game. And if certain players are not performing, not fulfilling those responsibilities, then I have to go and give opportunities to other players."

Loyalty becomes a challenge when things aren't going well

Several years ago, a friend sent me a copy of a book titled "The Football Coaching Bible."  The book's first chapter was written by Grant Teaff, the legendary football coach who spent 20 seasons at Baylor.

Coach Teaff's chapter was called "Responsibilities of a Coach."

He began by outlining a number of "essentials" for all coaches, including be yourself, but be willing to change; be compassionate; be accountable; be self-disciplined; be a role model; communicate; be an encourager; and be honest.

He also dedicated a section to "specific responsibilities for assistant coaches."  Among the responsibilities, his first requirement was to "Be Loyal."

Here is an excerpt from that particular section:

There is a great difference between being loyal and pretending to be loyal.  Loyalty comes from character within and being committed to serving the institution, the head coach, and the system in the capacity in which you were hired.

If you can't be loyal to an institution, a system, or a head coach, you should quietly look for a place where you can exhibit the required loyalty.

Loyalty is not a problem when you're 10-1 or win the championship.  Loyalty becomes a challenge when things are not going well and negativism abounds.   The assistant coach must guard against acts of disloyalty.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The saddest thing in life is wasted talent

If you saw the movie "The Usual Suspects," you remember Chazz Palminteri's character.  He plays the detective who questions Kevin Spacey's character.  [Here's a clip.]

Palminteri is currently doing live theatre performances of “A Bronx Tale,” which chronicles his childhood in the NYC borough.  

At the end of each performance, Palminteri passes out a card to the kids in the audience and asks them to sign it.

The card reads:   “The Saddest Thing in Life is Wasted Talent.”

It's something his Dad told him when Palminteri was a teenager.  "His words were an attempt to steer his son from the more glamorous, more exciting life of the New York wise guy (read mob member) and to the more realistic results of hard work."

Says Palminteri: 

"When I ask the kid to sign the card, I tell him or her to pay attention to schoolwork, to develop his or her talent, and do work that is loved."

As John Maxwell puts it, "Too many talented people who start with an advantage over others lose that advantage because they rest on their talent instead of raising it.  They assume talent will keep them out front."

Here are Maxwell's 13 keys to maximizing talent:

1.  Belief lifts my talent.
2.  Passion energizes my talent.
3.  Initiative activates my talent.
4.  Focus directs my talent.
5.  Preparation positions my talent.
6.  Practice sharpens my talent.
7.  Perseverance sustains my talent.
8.  Courage tests my talent.
9.  Teachability expands my talent.
10. Character protects my talent.
11.  Relationships influence my talent.
12.  Responsibility strengthens my talent.
13.  Teamwork multiplies my talent.

Upgrading the bottom of the roster

Dolphins VP of Football Ops Bill Parcells is almost 70, but don't expect him to hang it up anytime soon.

According to a story in the Palm Beach Post, Parcells is in no hurry to retire because "guys he considers both friends and contemporaries - a group that includes former college basketball coach Bob Knight, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa and horse trainer D. Wayne Lucas - remain active and successful in their respective sports."

"It's like they're all the same people," said CBS Sports reporter Leslie Visser, who has known Parcells since he was an assistant coach in New England in 1980. "They're all extraordinarily successful, and they all (understand) each other's success and what drives them."

These days, Parcells is less interested in the game-day strategy and more interested in building a team. "Part of his genius is the bottom five guys on the roster."

Says Visser: "I've been in his office when [Miami GM] Jeff Ireland has come in and said, 'Green Bay just waived so-and-so,' and they'll talk about it. They're always looking to upgrade that group."

Miami coach Tony Sparano, whom Parcells hired as the team's coach back in January, describes Parcells as a "personnel addict.''

One current Miami player who played for Parcells said that, as a coach, Parcells "made sure everybody was ready. He knew what guys he had to get into their heads and what guys to leave alone before a game. And during the game he was worse. You knew Bill Parcells was the coach, because he let you have it."

Says Sparano, who was on Parcells' staff in Dallas:

"One of his great strengths has always been to poke and probe players. What he likes to do is elicit a response. He can do it in a playful manner, where you almost think he's sarcastic, or he can do it in a serious way.

There are times where he and I might have a conversation on how we might want to get a message to a player. Sometimes I kind of like him to give that message: 'Well, you walk by him and do this.' Having somebody like that around, to be able to do those things with our players, is a tremendous value to us."