These blogs are intented to be thoughts by me on topics mainly geared towards Basketball, Teaching and Leadership. If you don't agree with what I think, then express yourself or move on.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Being a Point Guard

No I do not have John Stockton's permission to use his photo.  Honestly, I am hoping he finds out that I am using it without his permission and he gets in touch with me to discuss :)

Obviously, this blog post will be on the topic of the Point Guard position in the game of basketball.  I feel like this is an important topic to discuss because of how the game has evolved and how today's point guards are looked upon for so much more than just bringing the ball down the court without turning it over.  For the sake of not writing a book on the issue, I will keep the topic on three aspects I feel make a point guard the most important individual on ANY team:
1- Thick Skin
2- Always a student of the game
3- GEL

Thick Skin

As a coach, I view the PG position as indispensable as far as consistently winning is concerned.  If the PG is focused and playing well, things go well.  When the PG seems to be distracted or has low energy, things usually go bad.  The PG position in my opinion is the most difficult position to play in the game.  Not only does this individual need to make sure the offense is run correctly during game play but if a teammate does not seem to be on the same page, I am talking to the PG FIRST!  Maybe it's a coaching style thing but the way I look at it, if you can empower your PG to be the "boss" on the floor rather than micro-manage every player from the bench, team accountability goes through the charts (and that is a good thing).  We all know that when players make themselves accountable to one-another, those teams win a lot.  If it's coach dominant, those teams win games but never seem to go as far as their talent should allow them.  The PG will typically be blamed for other players' mistakes.  I've done it during film sessions where it seems like I am only talking to the PGs.  These players constantly are getting battered by me which is why if they are sensitive or soft, I can't use them.  I can't use them because they will not take ownership of the team.  It's all about personality.  You need to have the right character to be a PG.  That individual needs to be able to hear the message and not all the adjectives and volume with which the message is accompanied.

Student of the game

The game is dynamic and fast.  It changes constantly not only during game play but also in it's evolution.  No matter what the offense is, the PG needs to understand it inside and out.  They need to be able to figure out that on play X, player X will most likely be the open guy.  On play Y, player W will get the quality look.  A good coach will already point that out but then the PG needs to actually execute that vision and therefore, needs to understand the coach's logic on an even deeper level.  This is where the small detail of "shadowing the coach" will give the PG a huge leg-up on that deeper understanding.  A good PG will always find himself near his coach as much as possible (without being a stalker).  Not just during the games but also outside of the basketball court.  Whenever the PG is not in the game, he or she should be sitting next to the coach or one of the coaches.  True PG do this without even knowing it sometimes.  They naturally want to hear all the dialogue between coach and other players.  During team meals, they sit as close to the coaches' table as possible.  Again, to catch any little knowledge nugget of what the staff is looking for.  These PG don't ever watch another basketball game to be entertained.  They watch it to notice things.  Things such as how did that player become so wide open?  Why did that PG turn the ball over in that situation? So on and so forth.  Another thing these true PG do is read constantly on the topic of leadership on any platform.


Get Everyone Listening!  True PG are capable of capturing the room's attention.  They just have this ability about them of when they have something to say, every teammate of theirs are fully engaged in that moment.  This does not mean he or she is constantly speaking.  That would be counterproductive.  Rather, this person will rarely address the team (usually the coach's job).  When those losing streaks sneak up on you, players will tend to push and go out of what the team is trying to strategically and tactically accomplish.  Also, when the team is on a winning streak, players will become complacent and take possessions off.  This is where the GEL of a good PG would kick in.  This individual has a gift to keep a group of individuals focused on the goals of the team at all times.

I could go on and on about these three components but keep this in mind; there are not many true PG out there.  In my 20 plus years of doing the coaching thing, I have had the pleasure of coaching only two that had the things I mention.  Daniel Quirion of the University of New Brunswick (coached him in High School, provincial ball and hopefully for the Moncton Miracles this coming 2014-2015 season) and Oliver McNally of Harvard (coached him with the Moncton Miracles).  These two guys did things instinctually and to some extent consciously, that really set them apart.  However, before they are capable of doing all of the things I mention, they must understand how leadership works.  Both of them, not perfectly, did get that.  If you are not sure what I am talking about, please read my take on leadership in this blog :)

Lastly, the true PG not only needs to have these attributes, they also need to be able to run a Pick and Roll, change speeds under physical pressure, run an offense, get in the lane to find open teammates and knock down the occasional three.  I could break down all these things to accompany the attributes but I will spare my readers of that (unless you want me to haha).  My point is the aspiring True PG needs to not only have the skill but also the attributes.  This is why in my opinion, the PG position is the most difficult position to play in the game of basketball.

What do you think?

Monday, 20 January 2014

Quality Feedback

A few days back, I got a chance to watch a number of High School basketball games in my area.  As always, I have great difficulty watching a basketball game for entertainment.  No matter what the level, I am always trying to identify what teams are trying to do and how they are trying to get there.  It is like trying to put a puzzle together without knowing what the big picture is (try it for real, it will redefine the way you think I guarantee it!).  I've seen some great things over the games I saw.  However, I saw one area that very much needs to be addressed;  Quality feedback during game play.

Teaching during game play is a tricky thing to do for coaches.  I have been on all three sides of this part of the game (player, Head Coach and Assistant Coach).  As a player, I constantly craved the feedback even if it meant that I was going to get hit in the face by a flying piece of gum (actually happened....don't think I missed a box out since).  As a HC, I've struggled early in my career to find the right time for the feedback as my primary focus was to coach to win the game.  As an Assistant coach, it was always a question of "how much can I say and when can I say it".  However tricky, it is absolutely essential for maximizing the rate of player development.  Game play feedback is the most powerful moment for a player to learn.  Why is that?  Well, because unlike practices, the player will just about get an immediate opportunity to go and try to do what the coach wants him to do against an opponent that does not know what that thing is.  In practices, everyone hears what the coach wants and so therefore, everyone tries to "cheat" the play or tactic.  Here are my thoughts on how to make this "tricky" essential, less "tricky".
Call it what you want: teachable moment, verbal cues, feedback, talk or whatever.  Bottom line is it needs to happen and it needs to be a part of how the team runs.  The Head Coach is the primary person responsible for player development.  If the player improves, so will the team.  Tactics can only do so much with respect to improving a team.  Your players need to understand inside and out those tactics and their nuances.  So to get there, all hands need to be on deck.  For the Head Coach, I would recommend that you have clearly identified standards toward this topic.  Everyone knows how far they can go.  That includes players when they talk to each other.  But more importantly, the Assistant Coaches.  The Assistant Coach can not ever be the loudest voice out there.  But, if done well, he or she can be invaluable with respect to key aspects of the game.  This is why I absolutely need them to chart something during the game.  Whatever it is needs to be something that you are culturally trying to build in your program (is it clean offense, strong transition play, defensive stops, etc).  That coach needs to have something that the HC does not have.  Far too many times, I see Assistant Coaches sitting benches charting nothing at all.  That bothers me deeply.  When you have all coaches looking at the game, then you are not fully taking advantage of a very important part of player development.   
An HC during game play needs to try, as much as they can, to individually pull players aside and give them quick feedback (10-15 seconds worth of information).  Then get in the huddle and address the team.  A real good HC will instruct an AC about what was said during that one on one, so that the AC can do the follow up part.  Following up is a huge part of feedback.  If there is no follow-up, the player will conclude that the information given was not all that important.  Another great time for the HC to follow up is post game (when everyone is leaving the dressing room) or at the following day's practice.
As for the AC, the charting of whatever information needs to be shared regularly.  Again, the players need to know that what you are looking for is important.  Also, during game play, the AC needs to constantly be pacing the bench and talking to individuals.  Things such as: "next time when you are out there, try to avoid what player X is doing" or as they come out of the game "hey player Y, did you notice that opponent player A really struggles with screens?  Set more for your teammate next time you get out there".  Yes the AC should be communicating to the HC about certain things happening in game play but the focus should be on whatever he or she is charting for the team.  NOTHING annoys a HC more than obvious information "we are not finishing at the rim" or "they are scoring at will on us" or "player X sucks".  Instead, hit the HC with information like "hey based on my charts here, we are really not doing a good job with insert aspect here".  That way, the HC has good stuff to share that is data driven with his players.
Everyone needs to constantly be thinking player development if we truly want to see basketball improve.  Game play player development via constant feedback is essential in this process.