Monday, December 31, 2012


I'm sitting in the office on New Year's Eve and breaking down video of our first Southeastern Conference opponent with we will play this Monday.  I have always enjoyed watching video -- not just to study an opponent (or ourselves) but to learn something.  Of course, the preparation equation is first and foremost the reason we study hours of clips.  And it always reminds me of my favorite quote from "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu -- a book that is torn and tattered but always remains on my desk:

"If you know the enemy and know yourself,
you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. 
If you know yourself but not the enemy,
for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. 
If you know neither the enemy nor yourself,
you will succumb in every battle."


“If you want to have more, you have to become more. Success is not something you pursue. What you pursue will elude you; it can be like trying to chase butterflies. Success is something you attract by the person you become.”

-Jim Rohn

Sunday, December 30, 2012


What I can tell you is this, and I believe it: Roland Hemond -- the most beloved guy still alive in baseball -- once told me, "If you have true chemistry on your team, it will be like tomorrow I added a superstar to your roster -- a twenty-game winner, a top closer, or a 30/30/30 middle-of-the-lineup hitter."

Would that help your team? Oh yeah, it would, and over the years there's not doubt in my mind that chemistry contributes or detracts to that significant of a degree.

From "One Last Strike" by Tony La Russa


When his teams first practiced shooting or dribbling, John Wooden often made his players work without the ball.  "One of the challenges I faced during practice," he wrote in Wooden On Leadership, "was the distraction caused by a player's natural instinct and desire to score baskets or grab rebounds.  Either urge is such a powerful siren song that it's hard to make them pay attention and learn the 'dull' fundamentals that ensure success in scoring and rebounding -- such things as pivoting, hand and arm movement, and routes on plays."  Wooden called the seductive draw of things that recall the drama of performance too directly on intensely "catnip," because they can drive participants to distraction.  While our instincts often tell us to recreate those situations to make practice more useful, he tried to remove them during the learning process.

From "Practice Perfect" by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway and Katie Yezzi


I loved this blog post by Donald Miller...make sure you click here to read the entire's worth the read!

If you share yourself with the world you’re going to be criticized. The world may seem like a nice, safe, warm place, but as soon as you put yourself out there’s a good chance you’ll be a target for criticism.

So how do you survive it? How do you keep putting yourself out there?

Here are a few ideas:

1. Understand that great ideas and works of art get criticized just as much as bad ones. Michelangelo, Mark Twain, Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln were ferociously criticized. Receiving criticism doesn’t mean you’ve done great work, but it doesn’t mean you haven’t, either. Everything out there gets criticized, good or bad.

2. Keep your moral center. Know in your mind and heart whether what you are writing, painting, singing or filming is good for the world. And be able to articulate why. Come back to this when you’re beginning to doubt the importance of your work.

3. Love your enemies. Most criticism is actually good, but the criticism that hurts the most come from people who want to tear you down, personally. The positive side of this kind of criticism is it presents you with a challenge. Can you love somebody who wants to harm you? If you can, it only proves what you’re bringing to the world is revolutionary, and perhaps even divine. Fear and hate are common. For a person to love their enemies, there’s little explanation save the involvement of God.

4. Limit your enemies. It’ll do no good to constantly search the internet for people writing about your new album. I normally read the first several Amazon reviews and that’s about it. I just want to make sure what I wrote is landing well. After that, I see little benefit to reading reviews. If I’m reading reviews, I’m not working on what’s next.

5. Realize there aren’t that many critics. Likely, for every critic you get you’ll encounter a lot of people who needed and received your help. You either encouraged them or inspired them, made them laugh or just offered your art for their comfort. Just keep working for them.

6. Learn from the constructive critics. One of the most encouraging afternoons of my career was going on Rotten Tomatoes and reading through the negative criticism of the film Blue Like Jazz. It was scary at first, but I realized so much of that the critics were saying I felt as I was working on the screenplay. I wanted to go further, but was too scared. The critics affirmed, indeed, I was too scared. The constructive critics can speak the truth and you are somehow encouraged. They can help you become a better artist.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


We came across the great post at the Harvard Business Review.  It is titled Fight the Nine Symptoms of Corporate Decline and written by Rosabeth Moss Kanter.  Click to read the entire post, including her suggestions for overcoming some of these trouble spots -

How do you know a team, company, or country is on the slippery slope of decline and needs a culture shift? I found nine universal warning signs of change-in-the-wrong direction in research for my book Confidence, which compared downward spirals with the momentum of success. The good news is that they are all reversible. Watching out for these behaviors is the first step toward building better habits.

First, the signs that there is more trouble ahead:

Communication decreases. The first seeds are sown when information stops flowing, People avoid conversation and close their doors. Decisions are made in secret. People mistrust official statements. Gossip substitutes for the full facts.

Criticism and blame increase. People are dressed down in public. They make excuses for themselves and point their fingers at someone else. Scapegoats are sacrificed. Self-doubt is masked by attack. External forces are blamed, personal responsibility avoided.

Respect decreases. Constant criticism makes people feel surrounded by a bunch of losers. They feel that low performance is common, and deadwood is tolerated. Everyone expects the worst of everyone else — and says so.

Isolation increases. People retreat into their own corners or subgroups, suspicious of others and unwilling to engage with them. Withdrawing from contact further isolates them, encouraging others to back away too. Silos harden.

Focus turns inward. People become self-absorbed and lose sight of the wider context — customers, constituencies, markets, or the world. What's going on inside becomes more important than any external goal.

Rifts widen and inequities grow. Internal rivalries escalate into gang warfare. A few stars become a privileged elite, claiming disproportionate attention, resources, and opportunities. Power differentials and social distance between groups and levels make collaboration difficult. People hoard resources for their own use. The less there is to go around, the greater the temptation to play favorites or get more for one's own group.

Aspirations diminish. People stop believing that progress is possible. They are willing to settle for mediocrity. They want to minimize risk rather than to look for big improvements. "Defensive pessimism" sets in; that is, lowering expectations to cope with anxiety in risky situations. You might not see absenteeism, but there is "presenteeism," which means the body is there but the mind is absent.

Initiative decreases. Discredited and demoralized, people become paralyzed by anxiety. Believing that nothing will ever change, people go passive, following routines but not taking initiative even on small things, and certainly not seeking innovation or change. Policies and processes are perceived to be ingrained and inevitable, shutting off new ideas.

Negativity spreads. In an emotional chain reaction, pervasive negativity fuels further decline. The culture permits selfishness, greed, mistrust, disrespect, petty turf battles, and excuses instead of action.

Friday, December 28, 2012


Coach Don Meyer once told a story about Larry Bird playing H-O-R-S-E against 10-day contract guys for paychecks.  Coach Meyer said that Bird wins and a rookie walks by his locker to hand his check over. Bird doesn’t want his check and the rookie glances into Bird’s locker. On the top shelf is 5 or 6 uncashed paychecks.

MORAL OF THE STORY: It wasn't about the money for Bird


Big thanks to Stephanie Zonars of Penn State for passing on this blog post via her twitter. It comes from a post at  To read the entire blog on this subject -- and it's worth the read -- click here:

The subject of "culture" is very important to me and my belief in terms of successful programs.  I am actually currently writing a book on that subject.  At Leadership Freak, they talk about the importance of celebrations to create and maintain culture and it's critically important.

As a very small example, let's go the video room with our team.  It is easy -- and yes, necessary, to watch clips of your team making mistakes.  You view it over and over and explain to the players involved and your team, what is wrong, why it is wrong and how you must correct it. But I find it equally important -- maybe more so, that you show clips of good execution -- and show that over and over and tell them why it is important and why it was successful -- and celebrate it -- make them feel good about doing it right!  Don't assume that just because they did something right that they know they did it right!

A favorite Don Meyer phrase is "Catch them doing something right."  This obviously goes towards games but also to practice and even all phases including weight lifting, conditioning, academics and their social life.  Coach Meyer goes on to say that you shouldn't just compliment them on them doing something right but tell them why it was right -- it will help them to store it in their mind to continue to do it correctly.

For instance, a post player goes down to screen to get a teammate open for a shot.  You don't say, "Sally, good screen."  You should say "Sally, good job of getting your back to the ball on that screening angle.  That's why we got that great shot."  Now Sally knows that she did something right and more importantly, she knows how she did it.  And hopefully, her teammates are listening and pick up on it as well.

In the Leadership Freak blog, he goes into detail about celebrating and how it helps create and maintain your culture:

Hate your work environment? Build rather than tear down. Whining reinforces negative environments. Celebrations build and reinforce positive environments.

Celebrations create culture.

Sadly, short-sighted leaders are stingy with positives and free with negatives. All they talk about is:

     1. What went wrong?

     2. What needs to be fixed?

     3. What fell short?

Negative celebrations build negative environments.

Additionally, thoughtless leaders reserve celebrations for “the big stuff.”

Celebrate more; celebrate small.

Celebratory questions:

Ask these questions to colleagues and employees.

      1. What qualities do you respect in those around you?

      2. What do you love about your job?

      3. What’s going right?

Celebration in meetings:

End every meeting with affirmations, congratulations, and recognition.

Saying, “Great job,” keeps everyone doing a great job.

Power tip: Let small celebrations stand on their own. Little negatives at the end drain positives of their power.


Of course I am dedicating this post to Lipscomb head coach Greg Brown who is not only a student of the game but of the show "Seinfeld" as well.  Daniel Coyle, author of the "Talent Code" wrote on his own blog some traits about Jerry Seinfeld that made him a master not just of his domain but of his craft.  The entire blog post is well worth the read:

But here are the four reasons Coyle thinks Seinfeld is successful:

1) Embrace revision and repetition. Realize that nothing is ever completely right on the first try, and probably not on the tenth. (To prepare for his first appearance on the Tonight Show, Seinfeld did two hundred reps of his routine.)

2) Be creative and ruthless in self-testing. Create challenges and seek out obstacles Seinfeld prefers tiny, difficult audiences to large, adoring ones. Because that’s the best way to expose weakness — which is exactly the point, so you can see what’s working, what’s not, and where to go next. They are your lab.

3) Learn from parallel crafts: in the space of this piece, Seinfeld compares his joke-writing process to baseball, high-end car design, samurai, calligraphy, and the art of cricket-cage building. The point is, he’s constantly trying to view his profession through different lenses, in order to understand it more deeply.

4) Be obsessively, monkishly habitual about methods and tools. Design your workspace for simplicity and focus. An unabashed creature of habit, Seinfeld always writes material with a Bic blue clear-barrel pen on yellow legal pad, longhand. This works, because the more you automate the non-meaningful elements of the process, the more you free your brain up to focus on what matters. As Flaubert said, “I am orderly and disciplined with my daily life, so that I may be savage and original with my art.”

Thursday, December 27, 2012


The following is an excerpt of an email I received this afternoon from my friend and mentor Dale Brown.  It comes from an article titled: "Leadership in the New Normal" and it was written by Lt. General Russel L. Honore:

My working definition of leadership is this:  the art and science of influencing others to willingly follow.  The key word is willingly. 

In the working world, people have the choice to follow, sort of. To sort of do what the leader wants, to sort of make an effort to achieve the mission. That’s the worst kind of follower. People who sort of put in an effort not only reduce the chances of success but they require more attention and energy from leadership than they’re worth.

In the New Normal, willingness is everything. That’s because the old command-and-control system just doesn’t work anymore. Napoleon said, “Men are moved by two levers only: fear and self-interest.” True, but fear and self-interest don’t have much staying power. Followers either overcome fear or grow numb to it, and self-interest is tied to the highest bidder.

Fear and self-interest are short-term motivators, and leaders have long-term problems.

Leaders have to live up to the ideals of the organization they lead. When it appears they don’t, nobody will follow them.

If the leader talks about discipline, but doesn’t demonstrate discipline himself, he won’t have followers. Ultimately, people are looking for somebody who is respectable – not just somebody who’s loud.

No great change comes without leadership.

One of my teachers offered a simple though profound lesson in leadership. “I think you can be successful if you do three things.”

“First, learn to do the routine things well.”

“Second, don’t be afraid to take on the impossible.”

“Third, don’t be afraid to act, even if you’re being criticized.”


In a Bear Bryant mood today, inspired by Pat Williams' book "Bear Bryant on Leadership."  We came across this video of Coach Bryant talking to one of his freshmen classes -- speaking of "little things" and "preparation" as being key to get the maximum out of your ability.


"If you went in to talk with Coach Bryant
and he said something, when you went out
the door you didn't have to wonder what he meant. 
It was clear, and he meant it."

-Willie Meadows-
Alabama Equipment Manager 1966-1986

Bum Phillips on the Bear's ability to speak: "He had the unique ability to capture every one's attention and hold it.  He didn't talk too much like so many leaders do.  Coach knew just the right amount.  He had complete confidence in what he was saying, so he wasn't afraid to stop talking and just hesitate and pause.  He didn't yap a lot and that made people listen to him because they felt he had something important to say.  Some leaders just talk too much.  Coach Bryant never did."


Here is short entry in A Season With Majerus. Today we review staff notes where Coach Majerus spoke to the team about defending the UCLA High Post (October 24, 1999):

1. Half man to outside to take away back cut from the wing

2. Bump cut/Destroy route and timing

3. Watch for duck back on inside cut

4. Bump late and long

He closed the team meeting with "It's an honor and privilege to be your coach."


The following is a great list for assistant coaches to help their head coaches.  It comes from John Maxwell's book "360 Degree Leadership."  This is a great book for all to read, especially assistant coaches.  It talks about our ability to lead others no matter where we are in the organizational chain.  As Don Meyer would say, "You may not be the leader but you can be a leader."  Here is a list from Maxwell on things we can do to lighten the load on the primary leader.

1. The one thing that the top leader can never let go of is final responsibility.

2. As an employee, you can do one of two things for your leader. You can make the load lighter, or you can make it heavier.

3. I should mention that motives do matter when it comes to lifting your leader’s load. I’m recommending that you lift up, not suck up.

4. “Those who drink the water must remember those who dug the well.”

5. When you help someone bigger then you, it makes you part of something bigger.

6. Lifting others isn’t meant to be a one-time occurrence. You can’t add value to people by helping them once.

7. It’s not how heavy the load is. It’s how you carry it.

8. From the perspective of the top leader, the question that must be asked is, “Am I better off with them on the team?”

9. The lift you give for the leader often leads to the leader lifting you.

10. Do Your Own Job Well First
“It isn’t hard to be good from time to time in sports. What’s tough is being good every day.”

11. When You Find A Problem, Provide A Solution
“Don’t find a fault; find a remedy.”

12. Tell Leaders What They Need To Hear, Not What They Want To Hear
“Very few big executive want to be surrounded by ‘yes’ men.” -Burton Bigelow

13. Go The Second Mile
“There are no traffic jams on the extra mile.”

14. Stand Up For Your Leader Whenever You Can
“When we are debating an issue, loyalty means giving me your honest opinion, whether you think I’ll like it or not. Disagreement, at this stage, stimulates me. But once a decision has been made, the debate ends. From that point on, loyalty means executing the decision as if it were your own.”

15. Stand In For Your Leader Whenever You Can

16. Ask Your Leader How You Can Lift The Load

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


I've certainly written many blog posts on the subject of "culture."  I'm a big believer in it because I've seen firsthand how powerful it can be.  I think as coaches we would all like to have a certain culture attached to our program -- but do we work daily to create and build upon the culture we desire.  It's like players that would like to improve but don't put the time and energy necessary to achieve the desired results.  Culture -- successful, team driven culture -- is difficult and is something that you must think about daily just as you would your practice plans or recruiting strategies.

In their book "Team Turnarounds," Joe Frontiera and Daniel Leidl talk about just that:

The maintenance of a culture is an ongoing process that requires regular effort.  The effort is worthwhile, though, particularly when you take into account just how much culture dictates behavior, focus, ethic, and results.  Culture is a powerful component of every organization, and to a certain extend it takes on a life of its own.

Leadership and culture are intimately woven together, continually impacting and influencing each other.  But leadership has a greater impact on culture than culture does on leadership, and as the leader of a team, you are a steward of its culture, an ambassador with the responsibility and power to influence and safeguard a culture of excellence.


Monday, December 24, 2012


This will be our last post until after Christmas. Since we started this blog, we have made this our annual Christmas post.  For those that are long-time readers of HoopThoughts, you've seen this each year at this time.  It is a motivational passout that Coach Dale Brown would mail out each December. It speaks to our ability to teach...not teaching subjects (or plays)...but teaching students (and players) -- and there is a big difference.

This year, I'd not only like to dedicate it to all those that teach but specifically to the teachers, administrators, and their families that died in the Newtown, Connecticut shootings.  And I would equally like to dedicate to those teachers and administrators in Newtown that displayed remarkable courage and ingenuity to save so many other lives and must now show even more courage in helping rebuild their school. They exemplify all that is great and special in teachers.

Enjoy and may you all have a wonderful holiday season!

When Tony Campolo was in Chattanooga last week to speak at the annual “Gathering of Men” breakfast, the noted sociologist told a story that begs to be repeated, especially on this day:

It seems that there was a lady named Jean Thompson and when she stood in front of her fifth-grade class on the very first day of school in the fall, she told the children a lie.

Like most teachers, she looked at her pupils and said that she loved them all the same, that she would treat them all alike. And that was impossible because there in front of her, slumped in his seat on the third row, was a boy named Teddy Stoddard.

Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed he didn’t play well with other children, that his clothes were unkept and that he constantly needed a bath. Add to it the fact Teddy was unpleasant.

It got to the point during the first few months that she would actually take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold ‘X’s and then marking the ‘F’ at the top of the paper biggest of all.

Because Teddy was a sullen little boy, nobody else seemed to enjoy him, either.

Now at the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child’s records and--because of things--put Teddy’s off until last. But when she opened his file, she was in for a surprise.

His first-grade teacher had written, “Teddy is a bright, inquisitive child with a ready laugh. He does work neatly and has good manners … he is a joy to be around.”

His second-grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is an excellent student and is well-liked by his classmates--but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness and life at home must be a struggle.”

The third-grade teacher wrote, “Teddy continues to work hard but his mother’s death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best but his father doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends and sometimes sleeps in class. His is tardy and could become a problem.”

By now Mrs. Thompson realized the problem but Christmas was coming fast.

It was all she could do, with the school play and all, until the day before the holidays began and she was suddenly forced to focus on Teddy Stoddard on that last day before the vacation would begin.

Her children brought her presents, all in gay ribbon and bright paper, except for Teddy’s, which was clumsily wrapped in heavy, brown paper of scissored grocery bag. Mrs. Thompson took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents and some of the children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet, with some of the stones missing, and a bottle that was one-quarter full of cologne.

But she stifled the laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and she dabbed some of the perfume behind the other wrist.

At the end of the day, as the other children joyously raced from the room, Teddy Stoddard stayed behind, just long enough to say, “Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my mom used to.”

As soon as Teddy left, Mrs. Thompson knelt at her desk and there, after the last day of school before Christmas, she cried for at least an hour.

And, on that very day, she quit teaching reading and writing and spelling. Instead she began to teach children. And Jean Thompson paid particular attention to one they all called Teddy.

As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded and, on days that there would be an important test, Mrs. Thompson would remember the cologne.

By the end of the year he had become one of the smartest children in the class and … well, he had also become the “pet” of the teacher who had once vowed to love all of her children exactly the same.

A year later she found a note under her door, from Teddy, telling her that of all the teachers he’d had in elementary school, she was his favorite.

Six years went by before she got another note from Teddy. And then he wrote that as he finished high school, third in his class, she was still his favorite teacher of all time.

Four years after that, she got another letter, saying that while things had been tough at times, that he’d stayed in school, had stuck with it, and graduated from college with the highest of honors. He assured Mrs. Thompson she was still his favorite teacher.

Then four more years passed and another letter came.

This time he explained that after he got his bachelor’s degree, he decided to go a little further. That she was still his favorite teacher but now that his name was a little longer. And the letter was signed, “Theodore F. Stoddard, M.D.”

The story doesn’t end there. You see, there was yet another letter that spring. Teddy said that… well, that he’d met his girl and was to be married.

He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago and he was wondering … well, if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit in the pew usually reserved for the mother of the groom.

You’ll have to decide for yourself whether or not she wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing.

But I bet on that special day, Jean Thompson smelled just like … well, just like she smelled many years before on the last day of school before the Christmas Holidays begin.


The following is an amazing excerpt from John Maxwell's equally amazing book "The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth":

I love the word coach.  I read in my friend Kevin Hall's book "Aspire" that the word derives from the horse-drawn coaches that were developed in the town of Kocs during the fifteenth century.  The vehicles were origiannly used to transport royalty, but in time they also carried valuables, mail and common passengers.  As Kevin remarks, "A 'coach' remains something, or someone, who carried a valued person from where they are to where they want to be."  So if you had a coach, you knew you would end up at your desired destination.  In a piece called, "A Coach By Any Other Name," Kevin goes on to describe what it means to be a coach.  He writes:

In other cultures and languages, coaches are known by many different names and titles.

In Japan, a "sensei" is one who has gone father down the path.  In martial arts, it is the designation for master.

In Sanskrit, a "guru" is one with great knowledge and wisdom. "Gu" means darkness and "ru" means light -- a guru takes someone from the darkness into the light.

In Tibet, a "lama" is one with spirituality and authority to teach.  In Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is the highest-ranking teacher.

In Italy, a "maestro" is a master teacher of music.  It is short for 'maestro de cappella," meaning master of the chapel.

In France, a "tutor" is a private teacher.  The term dates to the fourteenth century and refers to one who served as a watchman.

In England, a "guide" is one who knows and show the way.  It denotes the ability to see and point out the better course.

In Greece, a "mentor" is a wise and trusted advisor.  In "The Odyssey," Homer's Mentor was a protective and supportive counselor.

All these words describe the same role: one who goes before and shows the way.

No matter what word you use to describe them, coaches make a difference in others' lives.  They help them grow.  They improve their potential.  They increase their productivity.  They are essential to helping people effect positive change.  As my friend Andy Stanley says in "The Next Generation Leader," "You will never maximize your potential in any area without coaching.  It is impossible.  You may be good.  You may be even better than everyone else.  But without outside input you will never be as good as you could be.  We all do better when somebody is watching and evaluating...Self-evaluation is helpful, but evaluation from someone else is essential.

In my opinion, good coaches share five common characteristics.  They...

Care for the people they coach
Observe their attitudes, behavior and performance
Align them with their strengths for peak performance
Communicate and give feed back about their performance
Help them to improve their lives and performance


Here is another of our posts in A Season With Majerus.  Today we look at Utah's second day of practice (October 16, 1999):

1) Skill (20 minutes)

2) Conversion (10 minutes)

3) Invert - Full Court (10 minutes)
       3 Ball Shooting
          --Wing Feed Big
          --Small coming off down screen
          --Point spacing away

4) Invert Backcut (10 minutes)
       3 Ball Shooting
          --Back cutter
          --Elbow jumper for Big off screen
          --Point screens own for wing that screened big

5) Draw & Kick w/Baseline Drive (5 minutes)

6) Defending the Flash (20 minutes)

7) Draw and Kick w/Middle Drive (5 minutes)

8) Celtic Drill (20 minutes)

9) In-Out Game
       Pass out to Small/Follow Bigs Eyes for Shot
       All Bigs jump hook

10) Build Break
       --Score it/Pass ahead
       --Wing jump shot or drive
       --Throw to big
       --Invert all the way thru to the top

Sunday, December 23, 2012


One of my favorite sites to visit is  I've always admired Coach Raveling -- starting back when I was a very young coach and purchased a motivation cassette of his titled "If It Is To Be, It Is Up To Me" -- a slogan that we had placed on t-shirts for one of my first high school teams.  His book "War On The Boards" is still one of the best on rebounding.  If you haven't had the chance, go visit his sight. 

Recently, Jack Fertig showed up as a guest blogger and penned a great post on the Top 10 Characteristics of a College Assistant Coach.  Coach Fertig, with 30 years of experience as an assistant coach certainly knows what it takes -- here it what he had to say:

At a clinic I attended about three decades ago, I heard a head coach say that his assistants’ jobs were to “make my life easier.” That’s right only so long as your program exists for and revolves around your head coach. Nearly every (other) coach I know feels that the job of every coach is to make your program as successful as it can possibly be.

1 – Loyalty: if you work for a man, work for him (or her). A head coach has many concerns and responsibilities – worrying about whether he (or she) can trust you shouldn’t be one of them.

2 – Recruit: not just sign players but players who can play for your head coach, e.g.
a) does your guy “break players down to build them back up?” Be careful when recruiting a sensitive, spoiled kid.

b) do you use a double low post offense? If so, don’t recruit a high post player.

c) do you run dribble-drive? Make sure you’re recruiting guys who can create their own shot and don’t try to sign a post player who is used to being the focal point of the offense.

d) evaluation is key Forget the rep and the scouting services; no one ought to know whether the kid can play for you better than you.

3 – Don’t be a “yes man.” It might seem as though the head coach wants or needs agreement, but not making suggestions you believe in – even if your head guy feels otherwise just means you can ride with him/her out of town when the pink slip is issued. You can disagree without being disagreeable. Push hard for your beliefs, explain why you feel that way but know when to surrender and be united when a decision is made.

4 – Be as low maintenance as possible. Being self-sufficient frees everyone else to do their jobs. Coaching in college has become such a tenuous position; head coaches are given less time (but more money); ancillary issues only take away from a staff’s effectiveness.

5 – Scouting: on many staffs, the games are split among the assistants. You need to be able to break down opponents’ games to give your team “advance knowledge” of what to expect. The ability to a) understand opponents’ personnel and tendencies and b) be able to pass that information on to your players (or what good is it?) in a short amount of time.

6 – End-of-game situations: thoroughly understanding (quickly) what your team’s philosophy is in the final minutes, depending on the several factors, especially if the game is your scout. It is the one time in a game in which you may have the greatest impact. Most coaches (and many fans) will remember Game 4 of last year’s NBA Finals. Russell Westbrook was having the game of his life with 43 points. He’d scored 17 of the Thunder’s 23 points in the fourth quarter, including 13 in a row. The Thunder were down three with 17 seconds to go but there were only 5 seconds on the Heat’s shot clock so even though the they controlled the tip, just five seconds of good D and the Thunder would have had a chance to tie. Inexplicably, Westbrook intentionally fouled Mario Chalmers. The debate was, “Who’s fault: Westbrook or head coach Scott Brooks?” Sure, Westbrook is an NBA player who ought to know time and score. Yet, he was in that zone players get and, sometimes, that can include a mental lapse. So, was Brooks to blame? As a head coach he was thinking of what three point they needed to run once they got the ball. The mistake was the assistants! At least one of them should have known and relayed the information to Westbrook. If all assistants are going to do is yell and cheer, they may as well have pom-poms.

7 – Be the players’ confidante: with 12-15 players on a team, there’s never enough playing time to go around and it would be a first if every player was satisfied with their minutes. It’s so easy to blame the head coach. The assistant has to be a good listener – to the player, high school coach, parents (or whoever helped with the recruitment process) – but also need to “tell it like it is” – in an empathetic manner. In addition, there are home sick problems, roommate situations, girlfriend/boyfriend issues, whatever. A good assistant solves the problems – gracefully, legally and truthfully – so they seldom, if ever, reach the head coach.

8 – Handle the BS: there are scores of people and groups who “want a piece” of the head coach. Many of them can be dealt with by an assistant but nobody wants to deal with just a #2, 3 or 4. The assistant must be able to take care of such items so the person will be satisfied. The head coach must be able to use the greater majority of the time on the vital items: practice time, recruiting calls or correspondence, media interviews, etc.

9 – Represent your school in a positive, dignified manner: with the invention of the Internet, all bets are off! There’s no such thing as being anonymous. Nowadays, any slip up, be it a confrontation with an obnoxious fan, a humorous but off color email, driving after you’ve had a couple of beers and probably aren’t over the limit (but might be close), trouble in your personal life – anything – makes for a good story or, worse yet, a budding writer’s breakthrough. Your integrity must be above reproach.

10 – Ability to improve players’ performance: many programs have workout guys, strength & conditioning personnel. The game shouldn’t become so specialized that assistants shouldn’t be able to help kids they recruited and have great relationships with get closer to their potential. Make sure they reach their academic potential as well, even if it’s staying in close touch with the academic counselors and tutors.


The following comes from a post on written by Lee Gordon:

Former UCLA Head Basketball Coach John Wooden, the only collegiate coach to win 10 NCAA National Championships, is considered by many to be the greatest coach in the history of all sports. More than a dozen leadership books are based on his teachings, and his admirers include some of today’s most successful coaches, like two-time Super Bowl Champion Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants.

Coughlin and many others employ the techniques taught in Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, a 15-step process designed to foster attributes of true leadership. But if there were a perfect formula for leadership, everyone would follow it. So what do coaches like Nick Saban, Rick Pitino, and Vince Lombardi do that others don’t? What attributes make them not just good, but great? While it’s impossible to say exactly what works, there are four characteristics that nearly all great leaders share.

1. They Get People to “Buy In”
Athletes have to work at things, and coaches must convince others why they should work—fostering a belief within them that their work matters. Whether coach oversees a 12-man basketball squad or a 65-man football roster, each player is an individual, and each has his or her own agenda. A coach must mold the players together and convince them to do things for the good of the team—and not just the really talented guys. In fact, one of the things that made John Wooden such a successful basketball coach was his ability to reach his bench players and get them to perform. Wooden’s teams weren’t just about the five starters. The other seven guys made important contributions—and everyone knew it.

2. They Believe in Themselves
Great coaches are able to win others over to their way of thinking, a feat that wouldn’t be possible if they didn’t truly believe in themselves and possess the confidence that they can get the job done.

Former Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa is a great example. His players almost never saw him rattled, whether the team was leading by eight runs or losing by ten. In an interview with SUCCESS magazine, LaRussa said simply, “My job was to keep our whole staff at a level 10.” No matter what challenges he or his team ran up against, he remained steadfast and undeterred. “Some days you feel like a six because you are distracted,” LaRussa said. “You need to get to a 10.”

3. They Seek Opposing Ideas
Dictators have “yes men,” but great leaders seek differing opinions. Coaches often have mentors or confidants who are willing to tell them “no” and bring them back down to earth. Nick Saban and New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick both have said that their fathers played this role. Other top coaches, like Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer, credits a former coach for his leadership style.

4. They Visualize Success
Don Yaeger is a 7-time New York Times bestselling author and former Sports Illustrated editor who’s spent his career researching greatness and leadership. What he found is summed up in his 16 Characteristics of Greatness—a road map for those who truly want to be successful. He says a key attribute of winning leaders is that they see themselves as winners, all the time.

"The greatest leaders in sports are able to visualize victory even before the game starts," Yaeger says.

But when it comes to success, “seeing” and “believing” are just part of the equation. What great coaches understand is that visualization must be backed up with real world hard work. Preparation only comes through practice, and men like Coach Wooden were willing to put in the work—and convince his players to do the same.

"I spent a lot of time with Coach Wooden,” Yaeger said. “He was never frazzled, and always seemed two steps ahead of everyone.”

“But more than that, [Wooden] was more prepared than anyone else in the room." Yaeger said.


The best coaches are often the best teachers.  They take great pride in the practices -- which are well designed and often take more time to construct than to execute.  It takes time to develop a great practice plan because of the "intentionality" of selecting the drills that are necessary to improve upon the habits of your team.  What is important to the success of your system?  I've always made the comment that while watching video and scouting a team, you could tell what is important to another coach and therefore select what she drills and emphasized in her practices.  One of the first examples that comes to mind would be offensive rebounding by Tennessee under coach Pat Summitt.  No team that I've coached against hit the offensive boards that way a Summitt-coached team did.  Without ever attending a Lady Vol practice I can guarantee that it was something that was worked on in drills...that it was something that was emphasized in whole method play...that it was something that she talked to her team about constantly -- in practice, in the locker room, in timeouts, and the video room.  She was intentional in teaching it and emphasizing.

There are two things that the master teacher does in creating habits. He is "process oriented" -- he knows it is in the details of the specific skills that makes it effective or not effective.  You just don't tell a player to block out.  You teach them the specific footwork, handwork, and timing to successfully blockout.  The second thing a master teacher excels in is in the "emphasis" of what is important.  One of my favorite Don Meyer quotes is that "It isn't what you teach, it's what you emphasize."  Making it important in the mind of your players creates an increased focus for them.

In the book "Practice Perfect," written by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway and Katie Yezzi, they have this to say about the intentionality of practice:

It is more accurate to say that practice makes permanent  IN practice you can master a skill thoroughly or not at all, and what you master can be the correct method of one where you knees are locked.  Either way, what you don is likely to become encoded -- it will be instilled in muscle memory or mental circuitry and become habit -- for better or worse.  Practice all the wrong moves and your team will execute the wrong moves when it's time to perform.  Practice without intentionality and you will perform without much intentionality.  A critical goal of practice, then, should be ensuring that participants encode success -- that they practice getting it right -- whatever "it" might be.  While that may sound obvious, practice that encoded failure is common.  There are a lot of reasons for this, but two seem especially pervasive.  First we can fail to observe our practices carefully and strategically enough to see whether participants are getting things right, and second we can put participants in situations that make failure likely in a mistaken effort to steepen the learning curve. 

Running effective practice requires a systematic attentiveness to particpants' rate of success.  "You haven't taught it until they've learned it," Wooden liked to say, and the best teachers test to see how much students have learned -- a process called "checking for understanding" -- every few seconds.

Practice should be designed so that a participant who fails to succeed at an activity tries it over again.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


One of my favorite followings on twitter is @TomFlickTom is a former NFL quarterback that is now a sought after speaker and an expert on leadership and team building.  His blog is also a frequent stop for me as well.  Here is one of his posts on what makes up a "Legacy Team."

There are seven prerequisites that make up a legacy team.

1. On legacy teams, lifetime friendships are formed. After years pass and the team disbands, one day you could end up eating at a restaurant and see a former teammate across the room—and because of the lifetime friendship that was formed from being legacy teammates, you have deep mutual respect and love for that person.

I was recently at the Orlando International Airport and spotted a former college teammate of mine whom I hadn’t seen in fifteen years. We were across the concourse from each other, and after making eye contact; we made a beeline toward each other and embraced. He happens to be six feet, ve inches tall, weighs 270 pounds, and is black. I’m six feet, three inches tall, weigh 175 pounds, and am white, but all that doesn’t matter. We were legacy teammates at the University of Washington and have a deep mutual respect and enduring love for one another.

2. On a legacy team there is a shared joy of the inner circle, which means it’s selective, restrictive, limited to team members only. You’ll have a hard time explaining your legacy team experience to your spouse, your neighbor, or your friend outside of work. People often say to me, “That sounds pretty exclusive,” and my response is, “Exactly!” That’s exactly what it’s supposed o be – exclusive!

3. On a legacy team there is accountability, personal responsibility, and reliability for the work that needs to be done. Legacy most talented members aren’t your hardest workers.

4. There is a good pride that is alive on a legacy team because teammates understand that the sum is always greater than any individual part. The opposite, of course, is bad pride. Bad pride is false pride and breeds a sense of entitlement—where rules don’t apply to me. Team members with bad pride don’t work hard—they save themselves. Bad pride creates people who are invested when it helps them, and yet you’ll nd they are the ones who criticize quickly and make excuses often. All that matters is what they get out of it. Bad pride is ugly for everyone, and it kills the team.

5. There is a quiet confidence on a legacy team. Great coaches understand this concept and so the first thing they always teach their teams are the concept of quiet con dence, meaning, “We know we’re good but we will show it well; we will walk with class and humility.”

6. The last two characteristics of a legacy team are the lynchpins. Legacy teams are built around the committed. A legacy team allows only the committed on their team. No selective participants allowed. Selective participants are those who form subgroups and cliques and have their own niche. The committed understand that we are all in this canoe together, all rowing in the same direction, with all we have to give. Legacy team members are all-in, going all-out.

7. Lastly, all roles are honored as equal. If you’re a sales executive who is out front and receives the bigger paycheck, remember that those people who work in the o ce, who answer the phones, who do the ful llment work, who are marketing the business, are equally important. NFL quarterbacks get their name in the paper every game because they throw touchdowns and lead their team. But the o ensive linemen, who scrap and ght it out in the trenches to protect the quarterback, are rarely ever mentioned in the paper, yet they’re equally important.

Read his entire "Legacy Teams" post here:


My good friend Bill Martin is known primarily in the LSU circles as a an outstanding SID for LSU women's basketball and LSU football.  But deep down inside he's a baseball man -- loves the game -- and he loves his St. Louis Cardinals.  When he told me I need to jump on  "One Last Strike" by Tony La Russa I didn't hesitate.  I opened it last night and had a hard time putting it down.  Here is just a sample of something I picked up in the first 10 pages of the book.  It's La Russa talking about his philsophy of personalization within his organization and how it helps the improve the chemistry as well as be better received when they are teaching:

For years, what we’d always done as a coaching staff – equipment men to video guys, the strength and fitness coach, public relations people, the director of travel, everybody – was to personalize our relationships with the players. Whoever you were, my coaching and I wanted to establish a relationship with you. Not every player is the same, and not every position they play is the same. Our goal was to create an environment where the ballplayer looked forward to coming to work and knew that a bunch of people were trying to put him and his teammates in the best position to succeed.

You demonstrate that effort in a lot of ways – the strength of the drills, the quality of the facilities, the care and attention paid to every part of the workday – all of it adds up to a big positive.

Whether a guy is on a hot streak or going through a slump, we want him to anticipate coming to the park knowing that he has our full support.

Toward the end of my White Sox years and early in with the A’s, I began to really understand personalization and why it met so well the leadership challenges of professional sports. Every team and every season has its own set of problems. By personalizing, I was creating a pattern of feedback that would address those problems – both big and small – that we faced as a team and as individuals. Together with the coaches, we would find the points that needed attention and craft messages to specific players, groups of players, of the whole team. In the process of personalizing these messages, we’d develop a number of “edges” that would help us compete individually and collectively. These edges ranked from the macro – team chemistry, handling adversity, making players’ families feel welcome at the clubhouse – to more individual issues like physical and mental toughness, feeling comfortable in pressure situations, emphasizing process over results and dealing with distractions. Depending on what needed to be emphasized in a given year, we would hone our relationships with the players to promote these edges as much as possible.

Over the years I kept refining this personalization philosophy and formalizing how I’d apply it to my leadership responsibilities. Before I could ask the players to take personal responsibility, I had to personalize my own efforts. The theory is only powerful if it works in both directions.

At the same time, personalizing with players never meant that everything they did was okay. We didn’t sign any blank checks. You’re kidding yourself if you think you’ll win players’ trust that way. You win them over with your honesty. In fact, one of the ways we’d shot this throughout the season was in how we reacted when they made mistakes. Whatever the problem was, we’d tell them what they’d done – whether it was throwing to the wrong base, making a bad turn, or laying back on a ball – and we’d deal with it as a fact not a judgment. We create an environment that recognized that mistakes would happen and would be corrected.

From "One Last Strike" by Tony La Russa