“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.
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 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.
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.