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.
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?
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.
I was recently listening to an episode of the Secret to Success Podcast with Eric Thomas and his cohost CJ and CJ said something that really resonated with me. If you aren’t familiar with Eric Thomas, stop reading the blog now, open another tab and Youtube him. Watch any of his T.G.I.M (Thank god it’s Monday) series or one of his speeches and then come back.
Did you do that? Are you now pumped to finish this blog? Alright, let’s go then.
CJ was talking about what it’s like to be around ET and whether he was always as energetic as he is during his speaking engagements. He would go on to say ET was like a cell phone battery. You see AA batteries are great, they are universal, go in many electronics but as they wear down they don’t give you the same results. We’ve all had that moment with the TV remote where we are hitting it, switching the batteries around or pushing the buttons harder in an effort to change the channel. A cell phone battery in contrast gives you the same production at 100 as it does at 1. Even at 1% you can still do everything on your phone from Facebook to Angry Birds. That battery gives full function until it hits zero.
I thought what a great analogy to use on the court. In practice, how often do you give the same level of energy to each drill? Are you running lines at the same speed at the start of practice as you are at the end? How about your effort, is it the same throughout, or is it more like the AA it comes and goes and as you get more fatigued your effort wanes?
A championship level practice requires players to bring Cell Phone Battery energy every time. By giving that 100% effort regardless of your level of fatigue you are not only pushing yourself to be better you are pushing your team to be better as well. Then when it comes time to perform in a game situation you are better prepared.
Some of the reasons I've heard players choose to take a AA approach: They want to conserve energy for the more difficult drill or timed run they know is coming, they don’t really like that drill, other players on the team are giving low energy so why should they give a lot, among other things. To me these are all excuses. Great players approach each drill with a champion’s mindset of being the best at each drill as possible. They aren’t worried about whether they like the drill or what the next drill will be because they are too focused on “winning” that drill. As for overall energy in practice, don’t let others energy level affect yours. All it takes is one person to start a movement of good energy, take the initiative to be that spark. You, as an athlete, can choose to allow excuses to define your energy level if you are content with being good enough but know that you’ll never be great with that approach.
One of my favorite Eric Thomas quotes is ,”Good enough is the enemy of Greatness.” Don’t settle for good enough.
Take a moment to think back on last season and decide whether or not you were a Cell Phone or AA battery. If I walked into your practice, not knowing you, what would I see?
My challenge to you as you go into off-season training is give each workout that Cell Phone battery energy. Don’t be a AA that only works fully some of the time. Push yourself on each repetition of each drill to do it at your absolute peak ability. Then carry that momentum right into next season. I believe if you do the results will speak for themselves.
As always let me know what you think. What are some ways you can think of to make sure you keep giving that cell phone battery energy?
“I wish my players would talk more.” “I wish we had better teamwork” “Man our team does great until something goes wrong and they just can’t seem to bounce back.” “We don’t have a team leader” “They’ve accepted losing as an inevitability.” Have you ever found yourself saying anything like this? Thinking about your team and just wondering what’s missing. You can see some individual talent and skills but for some reason they just aren’t succeeding in the way you thought they should. If you answer yes to any of that, my next question is, have you done anything to intentionally develop your team’s leadership skills?
If you answered no to that question, don’t worry I don’t think you are alone. I have been involved in the game through playing and coaching for nearly 20 years and none of the teams I played on had leadership specific training and neither did any of the ones I coached or assisted coaching with. Like most of you, I’m sure time is limited. Perhaps you only get 90 to 120 minutes a day to practice with your athletes, 5 maybe sometime 6 days a week during preseason and then once the season begins you only have 2 – 3 days to practice because you are playing games on the other days. That’s not a lot of time to go over offensive sets, defensive sets, rebounding, sideline out of bounds, baseline out of bounds, breaking pressure, applying pressure, late game situations, shooting, dribbling, etc. Trust me I totally get that. It always seems like we could use a little more time to work on something else. Let me ask you this though, what % of the game relates to leadership skills? For the sake of this questions we’ll define leadership skills as the following communication, ability to rebound from adversity, accepting and giving good feedback, accountability and responsibility, empathy, listening, and being a part of something bigger than oneself.
Obviously the abilities to dribble, pass, shoot, and defend along with a person’s athleticism make up a good portion of the success in basketball pie, but how much do you assign to leadership? 10, 20, 30%? With that percentage in mind would it be worth it to spend 30-60 minutes a week trying to develop those skills? For a team who only has five 90 minute practices a week, committing 30 minutes a week towards leadership would be 6.667% of their total time leaving 93.333% for everything else. So I wonder can you afford not to spend that time on leadership.
This past season, I decided I was going to add a leadership development component to our season. Our team had lost all 5 starters from the previous year’s State Championship team and we only had two returning players who played during our payoff run. Over our summer basketball I could tell we were lacking a leader on the team. Speaking with my assistant coach it wasn’t clear who would become that leader either. So we decided the best bet was to work to develop everyone and see who emerged and best case scenario we’d end up with 12 athletes who were all better leaders.
As part of my job I teach leadership skills often. I’ve worked with college students, corporate executives, tissue paper mills employees, grocery store managers, hospital employees and more. I don’t share this to brag but to give you a baseline of understanding about my abilities. Even knowing my own skill and experience in the field I decided to use a program called Lead Em Up. If you are not familiar with it, check out their website www.leademup.com. This was a 12 week program that included leadership topics and relevant games designed to fit the topic and further the growth of your team. It was a financial commitment on my part as our program had no budget for this type of thing, so I paid out of pocket. It was totally worth it.
I could not have asked for better results. Our team grew in leaps and bounds over the year. While our record was much worse than the previous year, what you could see in these athletes is a developed belief in themselves and their teammates. An empathy for their teammates circumstances, an ownership of their success and failures and always focusing on what was next. This was not the same team that I had over summer, this was a group of young athletes growing into men over the course of a year.
I don’t write this blog to sell you on Lead Em Up. That is the program I chose to use and I am thoroughly happy with it and would choose to use it again in the future. I’m writing this to convince you of the value of committing less than 10% of your total time to develop your athletes into leaders. Whether you choose to use Lead Em Up, create your own leadership program, or borrow from someone else the benefits will certainly show on the court but even more importantly they’ll show off it. And isn’t that why we coach anyway? To develop young athletes into future leaders in whatever path they choose once the sport ends.
Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear what your program is doing to develop leadership. Also would love to answer any questions you have about my experience with Lead Em Up.
Your team is up 3 late in the game, and now you have a decision to make, do you foul or don’t you? It’s a question with no universal answer. Ask 100 basketball people and they’ll likely be split 50-50 on what their philosophy is. Today I want to share my philosophy and reasoning behind it in hope it might help you cement your own strategy.
I’ll start by saying I support the Foul side of the argument. The simple reason is this, if you choose not to foul the other team only needs one thing to go right, a made 3, for them to send the game to overtime. If you foul the other team needs at least four things to go right, a made first FT, a perfectly missed second, offensive rebound, and made basket, to send the game into overtime.
Now ask yourself this, how often do athletes practice shooting game winning 3’s? How many days and nights have been spent with that internal clock running down, counting out 3, 2, 1 swish? Think about your own time as an athlete, how often did you do it? I know for me, as an athlete, from the first time I ever picked up a basketball I mentally practiced that shot. I’d never finish a shooting session without putting up a few “game winners”. It is ingrained in our athletes to want to make that big 3 to win a game. You might never have the athleticism to make the highlight reel dunking or having a monster block but anyone can make that highlight reel with a game winner.
On the flip side, how often do athletes practices missing FT’s? How much time is spent working on offensive rebounding a purposely missed FT? I know for my program it’s something we never work on, and as an athlete playing I certainly never practiced missing shots.
Some of the arguments against the fouling philosophy are; fear that an athlete will foul an active shooter, there is now a possibility you could lose in scenario that tip out after second FT miss leads to 3 for other team, and if there’s too much time your team may have to inbound against pressure and hit their out FTs after. My theory on those things are it comes down to practice. If you are going to have a system philosophy that fouling will occur if up 3 late then you need to practice when to foul and how to foul. You need to spend time everyday focusing on securing defensive rebounds off FT’s, and you need to have confidence in your practice and team that they will execute these things when they matter.
My last argument for fouling is very simple, I’ve never seen a team lose when doing it. Now that’s not to say it has never happened. I’m quite sure it has but I don’t believe it’s occurred at the same frequency as a made 3 has. That is something I’ve seen far too many times to want to take my chances with letting it happen.
Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you whether you agree or disagree and why you stand on that side of the discussion.
What are you doing to promote your team culture? If you don’t have an immediate answer, you may want to spend some time this off season coming up with a plan. While it is common for most teams to outline expectations at the beginning of season, building the culture you desire takes constant promotion. Daily reminders to athletes to ensure they are staying on course.
My suggestion today is a simple yet effective tool to celebrate athletes who are displaying the characteristics you want in your culture. Rubber Wrist bands. For less than fifty cents a band you can not only recognize positive culture moments at the time they happen but your athletes will then be wearing a constant reminder of what is expected of them.
Imprint something on them that is meaningful to your program. I used two things this past year, BLUE DEVIL PRIDE and SCHAPE. SCHAPE I borrowed from PGC basketball as the guidelines to what we expected of our team. For those of you unfamiliar with the acronym it stands for Spirit, Communication, Hustle, Approach, Precision, and Enhancement.
Whenever an athlete displayed one of these traits, whether it be in the locker room, bus, practice, school, or game I would make note of it and at the end of practice (or at the next practice in the event it happened outside practice) we would give out our bands. It was a good way to focus on the behaviors and actions we are looking for in our team. Suddenly you began seeing more and more athletes displaying those same behaviors. They also began to take ownership of the process and were handing out their own bands for actions they observed.
What are some things you use in your program? Let me know in comments below
Throughout our lives various mentors in our lives have always been sure to tell us to think before we speak. Whether that person was a parent, grandparent, teacher or some other at some point I’m sure we’ve all heard that phrase. So it seems we are more cognizant of the power of our words and have a pretty good understanding of how to choose our words wisely. But what you may not be aware of it that when it comes to communication, the words we use only make up 7% of what we are communicating to people.
So what determines the other 93% of your communication? Well 38% is the tone you use and 55%, over half of your message, is being communicated by your body language! But no one ever warned us growing up that we needed to watch our body language so how would we know? For many of us we may have never even considered what out body language is communicating to others. I know for me I never was conscious of it until taking my first Communications course in college.
Not sure what I mean when I say body language is communicating a big message? Try this: While watching the NCAA tournament, watch how players react to being subbed out of a game. Are they walking to the bench hunched over, head down? Are they jogging over high-fiving the incoming player and pointing out who they had? Do they interact with other people on the bench on the way by? How about the interaction with the coaches do the make eye contact and listen or are they looking away? What is the story this athlete is telling.
When a call goes against the player what do they do? If they don’t get passed the ball during an offensive possession how do they react? When getting beat on the defensive end? When a teammate gets beat? How about after a mistake by a teammate or themselves? All of these moments our body language is conveying a message.
Then think about yourself. What do you do in those situations? What message is your body language telling your teammates, coach, and those watching. You may think this isn’t very important but the message you are communicating tells people what kind of person you are.
To get you started on the road of improving your body language here are five tips:
There was under a minute left to go in the game and we were down 5 with a baseline out of bound at our hoop. We set up a play that was our go to play for getting a quick 3. As the ball was inbounded it was clear from the sidelines that the other team was prepared for it and they defended it well. The ball swung to the player who was supposed to get the shot out of the play and he was closely guarded by two defenders. He shot the ball anyway, and immediately you could tell he knew he shouldn’t. His hands went right to his head and then head down as the shot missed and the other team got the rebound.
We fouled immediately to send them to the line. The shooter was walking up the court head down in hands, clearly dejected that he had made the mistake, when the captain of our team, the individual who had taken the ball out, ran up from behind gave him a pat on the head and butt and simply said “We got this”.
That confidence and support gave the rest of the team a boost that there was still enough time to win that game. We did end up winning that game, scoring 6 points in the final 30 seconds to send it into overtime and winning in overtime, but it was a simple gesture that sparked the whole thing.
The ability to control ones body language and be cognizant of its power on the message we are trying to deliver is arguably one of the most valuable communication skills one can master. This is especially true on the basketball court. As a player, your body language is often the only thing that is communicating to those in the crowd , your teammates and coach. Focus on telling the story you want.
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.