A few summers ago I was in a facility in Texas recruiting for my college at a Spring AAU event. This facility housed 10 different courts, all of which had games going on simultaneously. The event itself was taking place across three locations each location with six-plus gyms. As I was walking between courts an individual stopped me to ask a question. His question was, “Is this worth the money?”
This was a unique question. Usually, if a parent stopped me it was to tell me that their kid was playing on a certain court or at a certain time. This individual wasn’t concerned about that, he just wanted to know if it was worth his money. My answer was, “It depends.”
I should have started by saying, I have nothing inherently against AAU. My first coaching opportunity was with an AAU program. Playing AAU can be an amazing and fun opportunity for athletes. One thing parents and players need to understand though is AAU is a business and businesses run to make money. Choosing to participate is going to be costly and only you can decide if the expense is worth it.
Every year I’ve been involved with High School basketball, parents will ask me what I think about their child playing AAU. My answer is always the same as it was for that gentleman, “It depends.” I follow that up with, “What are you looking to get from the experience?”
Reasons why people tell me they are interested in playing AAU (or having their kid play) include all their friends are doing it, I don’t want them to fall behind, I want them to get seen by college coaches, I want them to face tougher competition, and AAU team X has helped this player and that player get into the college they can help mine. Here are some of my thoughts and suggestions connected to each of those reasons.
All my friends are doing it – If your sole reason for participating is social, and you can afford it, absolutely play AAU. It’ll be some of the most fun you have playing. There is much less pressure than in season, you can potentially choose the people you play with, and you get to travel and see places.
I don’t want to fall behind – If the only way you’ll play basketball between the end of season and start of next season is by playing AAU then you should play or you will fall behind. But you can improve your game without ever playing AAU. It will cost you significantly less money and time to just focus on doing skill development in your home gym than it will playing AAU.
I want them to be seen by college coaches – College coaches attend AAU events through the spring and summer. Us at the Division 3 level can attend events at any time of the year. Division 2 and 1 have more restrictions on the times they can be in the gym. Here is something to know though, this is not the only way to be seen.
Before we attended any event we reached out to our coaching network to find out what kids we should be looking at. Then we would attend those kid's games at the event. As I mentioned before, games are going on across multiple courts and multiple facilities. We may watch a single half of a game before moving on to the next court or gym to check out other players.
So some quick math, if I watch one half of your game, presumably 20 minutes and in that half, you play during 10 of those minutes, are you doing anything that stands out? My suggestion is if your goal is to get seen, make sure you have the skillset first. Your time and money is better spent on getting better before you worry about getting seen
I want to face tougher competition - You definitely may face tougher competition at an AAU tournament. Remember though anyone can play AAU that is willing to play so you may also face some teams that are not as talented as what you face during the season. The first AAU team I coached was made up of 12 players who didn't make their school team, whose parents wanted them to get some playing time. Every weekend we went to events and most weekends we got beat handily.
The tougher competition also does not mean better basketball. The style of basketball played at these events is much different than what you will face in season or college. Due to the nature of AAU, there is an offensive focus and the officiating is a lot looser because you have to keep games moving on time. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because you can work on things during AAU you might not get the chance to do during your school season, but it’s important to not transfer bad habits from AAU season into school season.
AAU Team X has helped players XYZ into a college they can help me - AAU programs are businesses and as such, they are smart promoters. They are going to let you know the success their athletes have had. Someone else's success does not guarantee success for you. These programs usually have far more players who have come through and not gotten into college than they have who have gotten in. Yes, these coaches sometimes know college coaches but if you aren’t already talented enough and haven’t built the skills they still aren’t going to be able to get you any more opportunities.
Ultimately my thoughts on whether you should or shouldn’t play come down to this: if you are already a high school-aged varsity level athlete or you are solely playing for the social aspect, go for it. If you are a sub-varsity level player or in middle school or below, your time and money would be better spent focusing on developing your skills first.
“Are you blind?” “You’re missing a good game out there, ref.” “Come on, that was a foul!” “Are you kidding me?” “3 seconds!!!!” “That’s a travel”
These are just a few of the things you’ll hear if you come to any high school basketball game. For the men and women that commit their time to officiate these sports for a measly $65 a game or less this is their norm. No matter the outcome of the game 50% or more of the crowd leaves upset and angry at them. Blaming the refs for their team’s inability to secure victory. It's no wonder leagues are struggling to find people to do the job.
One thing I’ve always found fascinating though is no one thanks the refs when they win. If we are going to say they are the deciding factor in a game, then they deserve as much praise when you win. You can’t just blame them for the bad and not give them credit for the good.
Reading that statement probably made you feel a certain way. You might be saying, “Coach that’s stupid, of course the refs weren’t the reason we won.” And I would agree, they absolutely aren’t, just like they aren’t the reason you lost. It’s time we stop wasting energy on berating officials and put that energy into supporting the athletes. Officials will absolutely miss calls or make a bad call, just like players miss shots and turn the ball over or coaches substitute the wrong person, call the wrong play, and wait too long to call time out. That’s part of being human. But the team that focuses on the controllable is usually the one that sees the best results in the long run.
In our program we constantly remind our athletes of the fact we are in sole control of our destiny. We determine what outcomes we get, no one else. This is an important life mindset. When you take ownership of your success and failures you have control over your life.
I believe this mindset paid off for our team and will continue to pay dividends for the players long into the future.
So how do you adopt this approach? Try these simple things.
One of the things that Maine is known for is their beautiful coast lines and the lighthouses that adorn the shorelines. While these lighthouses have become somewhat of a tourist destination, their original purpose was much greater. The purpose of the lighthouse is to serve as a navigation aid for those at sea. They provide warning to oncoming ships of potential hazards while guiding them through the night and storms safely to shore.
A few years back, I started asking my players “Who is going to be our lighthouse?” Specifically, I brought this up when talking about playing a particularly chaotic pressing team. I wanted to know who was going to be the calm steadying force that would guide us through the storm that was their non stop full court pressure. Since then my definition of a “lighthouse” on the floor has expanded. Here are some of the qualities I now associate with being a lighthouse:
Over the course of the season 8 different players were recognized as the lighthouse of the game. Those who earned the lighthouse ranged from our 2nd team All-Conference players to a swing player who didn’t see more than twenty minutes of floor time on the season. Some days I awarded it, others the assistant coaches did, the team voted a few times, and even once the previous winner awarded it.
What we found is we all started to recognize and appreciate these qualities in ourselves and our teammates. We understood that these qualities had a greater impact on our overall future success than who may have scored the most points or had the most rebounds. In tense moments, I could look at players and simply say “lighthouse”, “come back to shore”, or “don’t get caught in the storm” and they would be reminded of the traits that make us successful.
So to any players reading this, I ask you to think about how you can be a lighthouse for your team? What ways can you be the beacon of light that guides them safely towards where you want them to go?
For the coaches that may be checking it out, how are you at being your teams lighthouse? In the chaos and storm of a game, where is your light guiding them? Also I’m curious, in what ways you instill these or similar traits with your teams?
I was recently speaking with a fellow coach as he was preparing for his upcoming State Championship game. For those who have been a part of any big game in sports, you know it can be a stressful time and there is some pressure associated with being in that position. This is the type of game you’ve spent your life preparing for. It is easy to get lost in that anxiety.
Knowing he may be going through this very inner turmoil, I suggested one simple activity to put everything in perspective. I told him that when he got a chance, I wanted him to sit down and write about all the things he’s grateful for from this season both basketball and non-basketball related. To write down all the accomplishments and things he appreciated about his team. I told him doing this would remind him of how successful a season he had and help remind him that the outcome of the game wouldn’t define him or his players, everything they’d done all season is what would define them.
Later that day I got a text saying, “Damnit coach you didn’t tell me I’d need tissues for this exercise”. I knew the exercise had worked. It is important as coaches and players that we don’t get so lost in the destination that we forget the beauty of the journey. At the end of every season, only one team gets to win their last game but so many more succeed. Don’t wait to appreciate those accomplishments until the season has passed, appreciate them every day.
Unfortunately, my friend’s team was unable to win their game. I had one text to him immediately after the game “Nothing I can say will make you feel better right now, but when you get home reread those things you wrote down and I guarantee that’ll help.” Speaking with him later he said it helped put things back in perspective after the game.
By writing what we are grateful for ahead of time we put ourselves in a position to succeed. We approach the game with a mindset of appreciation for the opportunity. Then if things don’t go our way, we are able to read our own words after to remind us of all the things we have to be grateful for. This simple task could completely change your approach to a game and how you deal with loss following the game.
So next time you have a big game give it a try and let me know how it works for you.
It’s the Monday after February break and all but 10 coaches in Maine are feeling the same way I am, what now? For those of us not in the state games, there is no more basketball to coach. No more video to watch, no more games to scout, no more team building, no more practice planning, no more coaching, it’s just over. While you might think there would be a joy for our newfound free time, I find myself with this completely empty feeling.
My season ended over a week ago this year, but this empty feeling has been the same every year I’ve coached regardless of when the season ends. From mid-November until mid-February basketball and my team consume my life. During those three months, basketball takes priority over relationships, friendships, and family.
I’ve missed vacations, weddings, birthdays among many other things because during those three months I’m committed to giving 100% to the 12 to 15 athletes I get the privilege to guide. I spend countless hours watching film, attending games, planning for upcoming games and practices, checking grades, lamenting challenges with my fellow coaches, organizing dinners, planning team-building activities and securing guest speakers. I do all this under the constant criticism and vitriol from disgruntled parents who love to let me know how they would be doing it, that I’m not being fair, that they don’t like my tone, or I don’t care about their kid.
To be honest, the season is mentally draining. The game itself is enough to exhaust anyone between preparation and mentally replaying every game sleep is a luxury that is challenging to find during the season. As coaches though there is so much more to it than the game. You are working with teenagers who are dealing with life’s challenges. You serve as a mentor, tutor, guidance counselor, reference, and life coach all at once. You carry their burden for them at times and try to be a rock as they navigate their life challenges while oftentimes hiding the challenges you yourself are facing.
As draining as it is, there truly is nothing else I’d rather be doing. Coaching is a calling. I do it because I believe in my athletes' unending potential for success both on and off the court. I want them to know they have someone in their life that believes in what they can accomplish. I live for those “ah-ha” moments when you see the light bulb click in an athlete's head and they “get it”. That moment they accomplish something they didn’t think they could accomplish or mature into the leader you knew existed inside. Those are the moments I live for as a coach.
That is why I sit here in a sort of depression here today. When I’m not coaching who am I? What is my purpose if not to be impacting young people? I don’t get to teach any more life lessons to this group and that’s a sad revelation. For my seniors, who have grown so much in our time together, I never get to coach them again. I know they are all going to be amazing and successful people, but I’d give anything for one more practice.
This is the life of a coach. If history holds true the depression will last until about May, when I can start getting excited about summer basketball and the new season. I’m hoping that being open about it will help this year. Maybe some of my fellow coaches feel the same way today. If so, know you are not alone. I get what you are going through and even though you may be reflecting on the season feeling like you failed because you aren’t one of the ten teams left, let me be the first to tell you, you didn’t fail. You committed to do a thankless job and you did it your best day in and day out. While the detractors may be the loudest voices there are those that appreciate your efforts. And if you need to hear it, let me be the first to say I appreciate all you did this season. Whether our paths crossed or not, I know you impacted more young lives this season than some people will in their lifetime and that’s something to be proud of.
Watch any close game of basketball late in a game and you're sure to find yourself either lauding or second guessing the players or coaches on decisions made. Executing in these late game situations can be the difference between a winning and losing season.
As a coach it is your responsibility to prepare your players for any situation that may arise. With limited practice time and so many possible scenarios it can feel daunting trying to fit in practice on a situation that may only arise once or not even at all in the season. It's my belief that the time spent on these situations is worth it, even if you never come upon that situation during the year.
In our practice's we do at least 2 end game scenarios everyday. Generally I like to throw them in after a drill that included a lot of conditioning to best simulate what it's like in a game. Some of the scenarios go well and some don't but, what it provides is confidence to the team that we are prepared for the situation. It also gives me a chance to let them lead themselves through a scenario and discuss after what other options they may have had. This gives me confidence that I can trust them late in game without having to call a timeout that would allow the other team to set their defense as well.
There are two ways we incorporate the end game scenario into practice.
1.) End game scenario cards (idea stolen from Coach Mike Neighbors) - On a deck of 52 playing cards I wrote a variety of different end of game scenarios. Score could be different, who has ball where, time left, timeouts or none, and fouls. After a drill I'll have a player pick and card and we'll play out that scenario.
2.) Pacers Drill (adapted from a drill shared from the Indiana Pacers)
The Pacers drill is a progressive transition drill going from 2 on 1 to 3 on 2 to 4 on 3 to 5 on 4 then finally 5 on 5. You start with both teams on the baseline. You have one dark team player at the free throw line with two light team players on lane line. Dark team player takes the free throw then defend 2 on 1 back, after shot is put up by light two more darks join in for 3 on 2 the other way so on and so forth until it becomes 5 on 5. We keep track of the points and once it gets to 5 v 5 there is 1 min of game time to be played. The team plays the situation they are in based on points scored during the transition part of drill. This drill does a great job simulating real game situations and forces the teams to adjust on the fly as I don't give them timeouts to work with.
So far on the season we have had 6 games where the game was tied or we were behind in the fourth quarter. So far we are 6-0 in those games. Inevitably, if we continue to be in these positions, we will lose some of these games. But I know that, when in this situation, I can look at my team in the eyes and tell them during a timeout, "We are fine. We have been in this situation before, we practice this situation every day, no team is better prepared to succeed in this position" and have them look back with complete confidence and belief.
What other ways do you incorporate end of game scenarios in your practice?
Last year I was tasked with scouting and coming up with a game plan for our teams game against the number 1 team in the country Whitman. As I watched their games one thing stood out to me, each game there seemed to be small tweaks to the starting lineup. I brushed that off as early season tinkering and thought nothing more of it. When it came game day they once again had a completely different starting lineup than the ones I had seen in previous games. After the game, I asked the coach about why there were so many changes. What he told me changed the way I look at organizing practice.
He said they track hustle stats in practice (tips, steals, deflections, charges, rebounds, and diving on the floor). The individuals who finish with the 5 highest scores at the end of the weeks practice start the game. He said this lead to highly competitive practices and got guys playing at the tempo they wanted all the time.
Back in the head coaches seat this year, I decided to implement this same philosophy. The results have been amazing; practices have been highly competitive and all players, 1-15, are engaged at all times because they know that they have the ability to earn their spot. We are better prepared for games because we practice so hard and its also created a unity among the team to accept that no one person is more important than another. So far we have played 12 games this season, counting preseason games, and each game has had a different starting lineup. To this point we are undefeated but more importantly we have forced more turnovers and rebounded at higher rate than in the previous season.
What would you say if I told you that you, as a coach, are not practicing enough? I don’t mean holding practices for your team, I mean practicing your craft of coaching. That’s right I think we as coaches need to spend more time practicing ourselves. I know your first reaction probably sounded a bit like an Allen Iverson rant but hear me out.
How many hours a week do you ask your athletes to spend on their game in the summer? Most coaches I’ve talked to will say they ask their athlete to work 1-2 hours for a total of 7-14 hours a week during the summer. If we say there are 12 weeks in the summer that would amount to anywhere between 84-168 hours spent developing their game. The question is do you spend an equal amount of time developing yours?
As coaches it is our responsibility to bring our best each and every season to our athletes. If we don’t work on our craft we aren’t holding up our part of the bargain. How can we expect an athlete to spend 100+ hours working on their game if we aren’t willing to do the same?
There are many ways as a coach you can develop your skills. I know many of us have full time jobs in addition to coaching and don’t think we have time to spend on basketball outside of the season. I think it’s our duty to make the time though. Here are some suggestions on how you can improve your skills.
1.) Volunteer at a Camp
Local colleges or other basketball organizations are always looking for volunteers to help out with their camps. Those that don’t need any extra help are often open to having observing coaches as well. You may learn new concepts in the camp or ways to teach things differently but most importantly you will surround yourself with other basketball minds with which you can share ideas.
There are thousands of books on basketball out there. Chances are if you have a coach you look up to he’s written a book or there’s one written about him. There’s book on running practices, developing drills, drawing up plays and more. Anything you need to know is available to you. If books aren’t your thing and you can’t commit to extended reading, commit to reading blogs. I have several listed on my website that I regularly follow if you are looking for ideas where to start.
3.) Listen to Podcast
Ok I couldn’t convince you to read, well how about listening to podcasts? You have to be in the car on your ride to work, so why not use that time to learn something new. Two of my favorite basketball specific Podcasts are Hardwood Hustle and Pure Sweat Basketball but there are many more out there if you are interested.
4.) Go to Clinics
Clinics are a great way to get a lot of information in a short amount of time. They are often held over a single day or a weekend. There are major clinics like Coaching U, PGC/Glazier, and Nike Clinics but also many colleges host their own coaching clinics leading up to the season. Do some research and find one that fits your schedule.
5.) Attend other teams practices
Try and go watch other team’s practices. If you are a high school coach, reach out to your local college and see if you can stop in. It’s been my experience coaches are very open to accommodating high school coaches in this. If you’re in college go observe a team that isn’t in your conference or division. You can always learn something from watching how others approach things
There are many more ways you can continue to grow as a coach but these are the top 5 to me. I challenge you to pick a couple and spend time working on your game this offseason. I would dare say the more time you commit the better your next season will be. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below. Or if you are interested in joining my coaching circle drop me a line with your email. I love having coaching conversations amongst basketball colleagues.
So you’ve just got home after a great few days at a conference. You met some great people and got more information than you could have even hoped for. Now what? How can you make sure that you keep the positive momentum rolling and don’t forget all you’ve learned? This is a question I recently asked myself and here is what I’ve come up with as the most effective way to ensure you get the most of your conference experience and don’t allow all those connections and knowledge to disappear to a shelf in a notebook.
Type Up Notes
The first thing you need to do is retype your notes. I suggest doing this as soon as you get home from the conference. This will allow you to review all your notes while it’s fresh in your mind. If you are like me some of your notes are in short hand and the longer you wait to retype it the more likely you are to forget what you meant by that short hand. All those new plays you got draw them out using FastDraw. If you don’t have FastDraw, just draw them back out by hand in a more legible form. By doing this you will be getting the material in many different ways. You will have heard it, wrote it down once, read it, and wrote it down again for 4 exposures to the material. With each exposure you are more likely to remember it.
After typing it all up, read back through it and create a Top 10. The ten most important nuggets you got from the conference, or the ten things you most want to use going forward. Top 10 lists are easy to remember and are also very easy to share.
Reach Out to People You Met
The next step is to reach out to all the amazing people you met at the conference. Everyone has made connections at the conference, whether it be with the presenters or just other coaches. It is important to continue to cultivate those relationships. Like a fresh seed planted in the ground if you don’t water it, it’ll never grow.
For presenters you connected, I suggest a simple email thanking them for their time, and reminding them about whatever you talked about. Remember these individuals likely spoke with hundreds of people over the course of the weekend if you don’t reach out quickly and are specific about what you chatted about they may not remember you. From there you can continue on the path of working with the presenter going forward.
With the other coaches you met, send them a message including your conference notes. Ask them to take a look perhaps ask if they could share any notes they have. You are helping them by sharing your notes and top 10 and you are further fostering that relationship. I would also consider creating a coaches accountability circle with this group. Everyone shares the actions they plan on taking and then you can check in regularly going forward to see how everyone is doing. This will also give you a group to bounce ideas off of if you are having trouble with implementing something from the conference. It is also good to get people outside of your immediate circle to help hold you accountable. Those closest sometimes are blinded to the truth and someone on the outside is much more likely to be objective with you.
Schedule meeting with important parties to share your knowledge
Now that you’ve got your notes organized, gotten notes from other coaches, and come to a plan it’s time to bring in the parties who will be involved with your changes. This may include your other coaches, the administration of your school, parents and players. Getting all these parties involved early in the process and getting feedback will help strengthen any changes you do make. This is especially true if you are trying to change the overall culture. It is important to get buy in from all these parties as dissent from any one could ground your initiatives before they even take off.
Add all that up and you’ll have had at least 10 exposures to the material within the first few weeks of learning it. Hearing it, writing it down, reading it, rewriting it, scanning it and creating top 10, sharing it with connections made, sharing it with your staff, administration, parents, and players. This ensures that the information becomes ingrained in you and doesn’t get lost.
Develop a Final Plan
After going through all those meetings with the parties involved now it’s time to develop a final plan. What action steps are you going to take and when are you going to take it. Write all these down and once again share them with all involved. Got new plays or offense you are going to adopt? Send it out to players to start reviewing over summer to get a jump on it before the season starts. Going to impart some new team rules to change the culture? Let the parties know now so they aren’t surprised when the season begins. This will be your road map to success.
Have any other suggestions? Please reach out and share with me. Also if you are interested in being a part of a coaching accountability circle let me know. I’d love to work with as many other coaches as I can to make each other better.
What a great first day at the PGC/Glazier Clinic here in Detroit. This is my first PGC coaches clinic and I can already say its already the best clinic I've ever attended. So much knowledge under one roof. If you are a coach reading this who hasn't attended a PGC Clinic get out the the closest one to you ASAP. You will not regret.
Before a quick recap of the day, I want to spend another minute talking about the importance of development. As a coach it is important that we are willing to put in as much time if not more than we ask our athletes to do. So I ask you this, how much did you ask your players to practice this summer? Did you ask them to commit to something as little as 30 minutes a day of either dirbbling or shooting? Maybe you asked them to do an 1 or get up a minimum amount of shots but I'm going to guess you assigned them something. Now ask yourself this, are you spending that same amount of time perfecting your craft? IF the answer is no get on it. There are so many great materials and programs out there to help expand your coaching knowledge.
I was fortunate enough today to spend time with 4 great minds. By volunteering to be a room moderator I got the opportunity to spend a little extra time with each one picking their brain and didn't they all have some phenomenal stories and insight. Day started with Stephanie Zonar. I was particularly interested in what she had to say as she has been the official leadership count for over 60 NCAA basketball programs. As you all know I think the importance of leadership can not be understated. If you want more information about Stephanie check out www.lifebeyondsports.com . Notes from her sessions on the Easiest Method to Better Team Communication an d Three Keys to Building a Winning Team Culture.
Next I got to spend time with Sue Ramsey and let me tell you I'm not sure you can be in the same room with Sue without smiling. She has an infectious loving personality and it made the whole room feel more like home. It was like everyone that walked in the door was walking into her National Championship locker room as part of the team. Sue challenged us all to work on developing our Transformational Purpose statements as coaches and ask ourselves tough questions like, what will my legacy be? Notes from her sessions on 3D Coaching and Untold Elements Behind Winning a National Championship.
TJ Rosene was the next presenter I got to spend time with. Many of you may feel like TJ has been part of your coaching staff all year if you've subscribe to PGC Coaches Circle and listened to his weekly videos. I know for me it felt that way. TJ brings a great energy to the room engaging all who are there to listen. I got to sit in with TJ for 2 quick hitter 25 minute sessions that seemed like they were even shorter due to the energy in the room. TJ shared insight into how to create a great communicating team and mastering late game situations. Notes
Lastly I got to sit in on Rich Czeslawski's session about creating better practice plans. As you may have seen I tend to think I do a pretty good practice plan but Rich opened my eyes to so many more things I could do to improve. This is what's so great about these clinics, even when you think you are pretty good at something you get around people who have different experiences and ideas and you realize there is so much more to learn. Rich did a great job detailing out the process and giving us personal examples and even though we had the last session of the night ending at 10:05 he stuck around talking with us coaches long after, saying he knows he was blessed by the game of basketball to have the opportunities he has had and he wants to give back to the game by helping coaches. Here are his notes.
That's Day 1 in a nutshell. Hope you found this recap and its attached notes helpful in your journey. If you are reading this as an attendee of the current clinic I would love to hear about your experience and see what notes you came up with. If you are reading as a non attendee I hope it convinces you to come to a clinic in the future.
As always leave me a comment or reach out to me on social media to let me know what you think.
State championship winning basketball coach, Chris Woodside, shares his journey of going from varsity boys coach, to becoming a men's college coach, to currently coaching girls varsity basketball as well as life lessons learned on + off the court.