Coach With A Purpose

I believe coaching is a calling and it provides a unique set of circumstances in which to positively impact the lives of young people.  I believe the best coaches seek out opportunities to teach life through the game because the game is real…and life is real.

The game has no bias, offers no entitlement, and knows no color.  The game rewards hard work, discipline, and teamwork.  But most of all, the game teaches and I believe it’s our job as coaches to pass on these lessons to our players.

The purpose of this blog is to give back.  The coaching profession has and continues to be a blessing to my life and it’s my goal to attempt to share some of my beliefs, philosophies, and thoughts that have been cornerstones during my 25 year tenure as the Head Boys Basketball coach at White Oak High School.

It’s my prayer that you will find something here that will contribute to helping you to be the best coach you can be.

 

Ron Boyett

Boys Basketball Coach

White Oak High School (1992-2016)

Coaching Your Coaches

One of the greatest challenges for a head coach, especially at small schools where coaches are assigned 2 or 3 sports, is the art of coaching your coaches.  It would be nice if all coaches were knowledgeable in all sports but that is just not the case…I was a prime example when I was hired at White Oak.

As fate would have it, I was hired very late in the summer (in fact, 2-a-days had already began) when one of our coaches left for an administrative position.  I was hired and assigned to 9th grade football. Though I had been around football and liked the game, I had very little knowledge of X’s and O’s from a coaching perspective.  Fortunately, I was hired by one of the greatest football minds in the history of Texas High School football, Coach Andy Griffin and we had a great staff at White Oak that I could learn under.  I can remember many days just trying to be able to know my assignment for the next practice and feeling very overwhelmed. When I became the head basketball coach, I promised myself that I would remember those days when I had assistants who were new to the game or to our system.  This was just one of the ways I felt God had prepared me for His mission.

In this entry of Coach With A Purpose, I would like to discuss different ideas and concepts I used as the head coach at White Oak to give our assistants the opportunity to grow as a coach.  

To begin, I believe all coaches should feel an obligation to be the best coach they can be for each sport they are assigned.  As the head basketball coach, I wanted to work as hard during football season as I did during basketball for several reasons…I was paid to coach football, I owed it to our kids, I owed it to our football staff, and above all, I’m accountable to my God and I believe He expects me to do my best at whatever I’m doing. As the head coach, I would do all I was capable of doing to prepare my assistants to be the best they could be. However, I also expected them to do their part even if basketball wasn’t their first love. As long as I had set the proper example, then I could justify holding my assistants to the same level of accountability. However, I couldn’t expect them to do something I wasn’t willing to do myself.

1) Put It On Paper

Shortly after I was named the head basketball coach at White Oak, my first undertaking that summer was to put together a coaches manual. Ironically, for some of the younger readers, this was just about the time that computers were becoming popular so being able to type a manual up on a word processor, save it, and print it was a very cool thing! This manual became the bible of White Oak basketball over the years.  It included philosophy, explanation of all drills, how to teach the drills, all offenses, defenses, staff duties, etc. As far as White Oak basketball went, it had it all. Part of the reason for creating this manual was to have a resource when new coaches came into our program.

However, as much as anything, it was for me.  It made sure I had a philosophy and a road map for our program.  By putting it on paper, you know it’s important, been thought about and organized.  If not, it may just be speculation. Finally, a coaches manual is a way of helping your assistants prepare to be head coaches later in their career should they choose to take that path.  

2) Coaches Video

With the advancement in video over the past couple of years, so much can be done through this medium to help coach your coaches. Another endeavor I undertook shortly after becoming a head coach was to create a shooting video (VHS back in the day) for our coaches that included a break down of how we wanted to teach shooting.  I also used some of our former players to make a video of our drills that we would use in the Junior High since this would many times be some of our more inexperienced coaches.

Later, I would use our off-season players to film our offenses, inbound plays, press breaks, drills, etc.  We would normally do this on the first Saturday after basketball practice had started so we could knock it out in 1 day.  With the use of Hudl, we were able to break this down into clips which corresponded to the script. As much as I could, I would make separate videos for our Junior High and High School staffs in order to concentrate on the areas of emphasis in our program progression.  

The videos allowed our coaches to watch at their convenience and pace as well as freeing me up from constantly going over the same drills. Also, if we hired a new coach late in the year or summer, the video would give them an opportunity to get a jump start on things before the season began if they chose to.

3) Work Basketball Camp

The way our camp was designed (see basketball camp entry) it was a great opportunity for our 7th, 8th, & 9th grade coaches to spend a week working with their kids as well as listening to me teach our skills, drills, and offenses.  I was very fortunate that most of our assistant coaches were always willing to work our camps but I believe it was also important to pay them for their time spent in the summer.

4) Preseason Coaches Meeting

Each year, I would meet with our junior high staff on the Saturday after our football season to go over team selections, practice format, etc. prior to their first practice.  Our high school staff would always meet on the Sunday after the completion of our football season, whenever that happened to be. As long as our coaches were still in football, I didn’t expect them to do anything related to basketball until our football season was over.

Most years, my main assistant in high school basketball would be one of our 9th grade football coaches so that he could come to basketball at the conclusion of the regular season and this was always crucial to allowing basketball to get started even if football was fortunate enough to be in the playoffs.  Being at a school that is successful in multiple sports is truly a blessing but it requires sacrifice by all involved to not allow one sports’ success to hamper another sports’ opportunity for success (I’ll discuss this in a later entry).

In summary, as the head coach at a small school that shares coaches as well as athletes, it was important for me to do all I could to prepare our coaches for basketball season as well as respecting the time they have committed to their other sports.  As many resources as I could give them to use on their own time that didn’t require us to meet as a staff, the better that I believed it was for all involved.

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!

 

Developing An Offensive Philosophy

When I became the head basketball coach at White Oak my first order of business was to change our philosophy of play but not necessarily how we played.  Under my mentor and coach, Coach Dan Noll, White Oak had primarily used a patterned man offense along with zone sets. We played at a moderately fast pace against weaker teams but tended to slow the game down against teams more talented than we were.  Defensively, we would utilize a full court press back to a 2-3 zone against weaker teams and exclusively a 2-3 zone against better teams.

Being one of the smaller schools in our classification, this was a very common philosophy to use and a solid approach to the game.  Our teams at White Oak under Coach Noll were known for playing with great effort. He was one of the best at motivating his teams to compete at a high level and we all would have run through a wall for him and it was this element that I wanted to maximize when I became the head coach at White Oak.  I just wanted to skin the cat a different way.

In this entry of Coach With A Purpose, I’ll be sharing 10 thoughts on building an overall offensive philosophy.  With that being said, I believe it is critical to understand that the most important factor will never be what you do but rather how you do it.  There are very few offensive schemes today that have not already been utilized in some form or fashion.  We may call them something else but I believe there are very few new concepts being developed today…they just may be new to us.  Finally, I heard Paul Westhead speak at a clinic when he was coaching a Loyola Marymount (and his philosophy of fast tempo was becoming popular) and he said “Only 1 thing is for sure about your philosophy…The opposite has worked just as well.”  I thought this was a great way to express that successful offense has a lot more to do with fitting personnel and execution than a particular scheme.

1) Evaluate The Big Picture

Before choosing an offensive philosophy, these are some of the things I considered:

 

1) What type of athlete will I have most often?  Is our greatest physical attribute size, quickness, strength, or effort?

2) How much time do I get with my players? How many gyms do we have access to?

3) In general, how knowledgeable are my assistants?

4) How many players will I share with other sports?

5) How much control do I have over the Jr. High programs and youth programs?

6)  Are my players basketball savvy?

At White Oak, though we obviously had exceptions in our best years, I knew we wouldn’t normally be very tall or exceptionally quick but I felt we had one attribute that we had to take advantage of…our kids would play with extreme effort.  I believed we would play as hard as anyone and harder than most and we would base our entire overall basketball philosophy around this one aspect.

I knew we had access to 4 gyms, I would have my straight basketball players in fall and spring offseason, and I would normally get about half my team from football.  I also ran our Little Dribbler program (3rd-6th grade) so I could pound them with fundamentals before they got to Jr. High and I also had total control of our Jr. High program.  For the most part, my assistant coaches did their role and our players were very coachable and had a good knowledge of the game.

2)  How Fast Do You Want To Play?

Tempo may be one of the most stereotypical aspects of basketball….”athletic” teams press and play fast, “non-athletic” teams play zone and play deliberate.  Obviously, a fast tempo usually favors speed and quickness…until someone gets tired. At this point, I believe a fast tempo favors the toughest team. Depth is also a factor to consider along with conditioning.  Most people also believe it is easier to slow down than speed up. From an offensive perspective, this decision will go a long way in determining your team’s offensive identity and will have a major influence on your practice format.

Obviously, the style of play of the opposition can factor into the tempo of the game as well, but I wanted our teams to play fast in order to make effort and conditioning major factors in the outcome of the game.  This would be one way we would attempt to get high percentage shots. Though I knew in East Texas we would play teams faster and more athletic than us, I felt we would run harder for longer and that slowing the game down negated our greatest asset…great effort.

I also feel that fast tempo teams are much less likely to lose to less talented teams because of the increased number of possessions in a game.  However, much of the overall outcome of these types of upsets is determined on the defensive end of the court.

3)  Teach Shooting      

In East Texas, we played a lot of teams that were quick and fast.  For sure, to consistently compete for district championships and to advance in the playoffs, we had to have an equalizer.  Along with exceptional effort, shooting was that equalizer. Without a doubt, we spent more time on shooting than any other skill.  I began teaching shooting to most of our players in 5th grade Little Dribblers and we continued to work on shooting for at least 20-30 minutes per day at every level of our program.

Good shooting makes the defense cover more of the court thus creating more driving lanes and farther rotations, it makes the 3 pt shot a factor along with covering up for a variety of mistakes or other shortcomings.

Because of our shooting ability, it forced teams that played zone to extend farther than they were accustomed or abandon the zone for man defense.  Consequently, we were able to spend more preparation time on our man offenses.

4. How Will You Get “Easy” Baskets?

In most cases, I believe the team that gets the ball to the paint the most wins.  In a world of analytics and every stat imaginable, I believe paint touches is the most influential statistic in the outcome of most games.  Get’em touches on offense and stop’em on defense!

Whether it is through post up, dribble drive, transition offense, offensive rebounding, or forcing turnovers, I believe all championship teams create ways to get the ball to the paint.  It creates high percentage shots in the paint, high percentage 3 pt shots through drive & kick action or kick outs from offensive rebounding, and increases the opportunity to get to the free throw line as well as creating foul trouble for the opponent.  

At White Oak, our philosophy was to create “easy” opportunities through pressure defense and transition offense which capitalized on our kids effort and through attacking the basket via the dribble since we normally were guard heavy teams.

5) How Will You Get To The FT Line?

One of the common statistics associated with most championship teams is making more free throws than the opponent attempts.  When formulating an offensive philosophy, this will usually center around how you attempt to get the ball in the paint (see above).  For my teams, we often had to make sure we did not become too reliant on the 3 pt shot. I didn’t mind taking 25-30 a game but I wanted them to be the result of inside/out action as much as possible.  

6)  Have A 5 on 5 Plan

At some point and time, all teams have to be able to execute in the half court.  Normally, teams that play at a slower pace see this as an advantage situation over faster paced teams and many times they are correct.  Some of the greatest games played at the State Tournament are the classic chess matches between the transition based teams and the half court based teams where each team tries to force their will upon the other.  With no shot clock, it is usually more common to see a team being slowed down than forced to speed up so having a half court plan of attack is crucial for all.

I believe the answers to the questions in “Evaluate The Big Picture” go the farthest in determining a team’s half court plan.  Whether you choose sets, continuity or motion offenses, ball screen action, or isolation as your preferred half court action it must fit the type of player you have most often and what you and your coaches can teach.  Tweaks will be made each year but I believe the best programs have a general plan of attack in mind.

Initially, I wanted us to be a motion offense team similar to the Coach Knight teams at Indiana.  For my first 15 years or so, we ran a version of this but I scrapped it for a modified version of the flex offense my last 10 years or so.  I determined that the amount of time involved in teaching the motion offense was counterproductive to the shots we were getting. The offseason kids I had year around could run it and I could teach it but it was difficult for my assistants who didn’t spend near as much time with it as I did and was also tougher on our kids that came from football.

Consequently, as much as I would have preferred to run a less restrictive motion offense, our general plan was to use a modified version of the flex offense which still had some “read the defense” components of our motion offense but was simpler to teach.  We used this offense to force our opponents to defend movement, screening, and post play. Our other base half court man offense was our version of the dribble drive offense which we used against pressure. This was more of a spacing offense that incorporated dribble drive opportunities, drive and kick action, and post up opportunities. On dead ball situations we would usually have about 4-5 man sets along with a ball screen series and we mainly used sets against zone defense along with a few set plays.

Because transition offense was such a big part of our offensive attack, we almost exclusively ran our sideline break into our secondary break in transition.  I always wanted our first option to be to score in transition so I felt it needed to be kept as simple as possible to allow for maximum pace. If no shot was available, we would then initiate our half court sets.

7. How Much Is Too Much?

At this point of creating an offensive philosophy, I believe it is critical to be able to discern how much is too much.  Again, seeing the big picture is crucial to answering this question along with considering the experience of your team. I’ve always been a proponent of the “simplicity and execution” philosophy so I always preferred to have carryover from year to year and didn’t worry about surprising or tricking our opponents.  Again, with great effort being a staple of our overall philosophy, I felt the simpler I kept the system, the more intense and aggressive we would play. And above all else I wanted intense and aggressive!

8. When Is Winning Time?

With our style of play, one of the factors that I always had to consider was when it was time to take the foot off the gas when we had a lead and play a more conservative style.  With fast tempo teams, taking the foot off the gas too soon can lead to a “playing not to lose” mentality if you’re not careful. I don’t think more deliberate style teams face this dilemma near as much.  For us, I usually used the 2:00 mark of the 4th quarter as gauge for when we would go into our spread offense. If we had a 6 pt or more lead and we were in the bonus, we would definitely go into our spread offense at 2:00.  If the lead was smaller or the opponent was strong on defense then I might wait closer to the 1:30 mark but by this point, our kids knew if we had the ball and the lead it was winning time.

Besides deciding when to go into your delay game, I would also advise the following: 1) practice these situations at least weekly and have a consistent plan of attack that your kids feel confident in 2) Preach being aggressive in the delay game in order to not play passive.  My selling point was even if we screwed up, the other team still had to score against our defense and that wouldn’t be easy 3) Be confident and in control with your words and body language during these situations as well as timeouts because the players will take their cue from you.  Instead of “Don’t panic” say “Play with poise”. Remind them you’ve prepared for situations like this and for them to do what you’ve practiced.

9)  Have A Catch Up Plan

Just as more deliberate teams may have an advantage when it’s time to slow the game down, fast tempo teams have the advantage when playing catch up.  My “catch up” plan normally involved ball screen action or set plays. I rarely tried to do things that we had not practiced so we tried to have baseline, sideline, half court, and full court plays for situations that could arise.  These situations were a staple during our athletic period shoot around on game days and we also tried to practice these situations in practice. We didn’t practice some of the more rare situations but once or twice but I at least wanted us to be able to line up and have a chance to execute if needed, especially if we did not have a timeout.

Obviously, defense has a lot to do with overcoming a disadvantage situation also so practicing scenarios of being behind in late game situations is paramount.  Knowing when to call timeout, having a code word for “foul”, and practicing fouling should all be a part of the plan.

10) Timeout or No Timeout?

I was always a strong believer in preparation.  Some of my favorite parts of coaching were practice planning, scouting, and practice itself.  I think for this reason I always preferred to “play it out” rather than call timeout with the game on the line and the ball in our hands.  To me, this situation favors the team that is most prepared (and has the best players) and that’s who we set out to be. It’s also much harder for the opponent to change defenses and often removes the element of surprise.

So….with :54 seconds remaining, scored tied, and the 2013 Class 2A State Championship on the line, the White Oak Roughnecks decided to play it out and as the clock approached :08 with thousands of fans rising to their feet in the Frank Erwin Special Events Center, Kris Anderson went to work and the ball dropped cleanly through the net…just like we had practiced.

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!

10 Principles of Effective Leadership

In general, people want and need to be led.  I know there are isolated (no pun intended) examples of people who prefer to be loners and be one with the Earth and such, but for the most part we spend a large portion of our lives in some type of group or team setting.  Whether it be as a family member, as part of a team or other organization, or at work, most of us will find ourselves spending a substantial amount of our time in a group setting of some sort.  And where there are groups, leadership is needed.  

For some, leadership comes to them naturally…it comes to them as a gift from God.  Not earned, just a gift.  In Luke 12:48, the word of God states “to whom much is given, much will be expected” and I believe God was speaking to leaders as much as anyone in this passage of scripture.  Without a doubt, I believe the best leaders, the cream of the crop if you will, have a gift.  But like any other gift, leaders must choose how they are going to use it.  Will it be used positively or negatively?  Will it be used for selfish gain or the good of the whole?  There is a difference between effective leadership and destructive leadership.

Also, I don’t believe leadership is restricted to those whom it may come to more naturally.  You can lead by being a good follower.  For example, everyone can lead by way of being a positive example…being on time, working hard, being respectful, embracing your role, being selfless, etc.  All of these are positive qualities and for many this is their most effective means of leadership.  Where some error is when they try to lead in ways in which they are not effective.  Many times this comes from being placed in position of authority or simply from being told “You have to be a leader!”  We have all witnessed (or been a victim of) fake leadership and simply put…nobody is buying what they’re selling.  It’s much better to be a good follower than a fake leader.               

As the head basketball coach at White Oak High School for 25 years, I was responsible for leading our basketball program. As a teacher for 29 years, I have been responsible for leading the students in which I have been entrusted and, as a faculty member, I hope I have been a positive influence on my colleagues.  In this entry of Coach With A Purpose, I would like to share my 10 Principles of Effective Leadership from the perspective of being the decision maker.  However, many of these leadership principles apply to leading in any capacity.  

PRINCIPLE #1: The leader drives the culture

Leaders drive the culture of any team or organization by setting the standard for what is acceptable or unacceptable.  They are also responsible for establishing the priorities (Core Values) and modeling the expected behavior for everyone under their leadership. Effective leaders are always the primary example of what is expected and should be willing to invest the most.  Their list of duties is always the longest and they never asks those under their leadership to do more than they are willing to do themselves.  Delegating is a necessity for those in charge but it is not a synonym for lazy.  Culture is defined at the top.

PRINCIPLE #2: Heed the advice of others but have the courage to make your own decisions

Leaders have the courage to do what they believe is right regardless of the circumstances.  They have a set of standards that they measure those decisions against while seeking the advice of those they know have a common goal in mind and will tell them the truth as they see it.  Leaders don’t surround themselves with “yes” men or puppets…only the insecure do that.  Leaders surround themselves with people who bring something valuable to the table and can provide wise suggestions for the good of the whole.  Ultimately, a decision must be made and I believe the leader, after consultation with those he trusts, makes that decision…the buck stops with him.

For this reason, I’ve never been a fan of “committees” making decisions.  I believe committees are fine for providing expertise in various areas and input or suggestions but ultimately the leader should make the call.  If the decision turns out to be a good one, the leader credits all involved in the process.  If the decision turns out to be a bad one, the leader takes responsibility.  This style of leadership makes it known where the leader stands while also holding the leader accountable.

PRINCIPLE #3: Value every role on the team or within the organization

Value leads to buy in and everyone wants to know they are valuable.  Leaders understand that everyone with a role in the process has value and they make it a point to make this value known.  Some positions within the team or organization have value that is obvious to everyone and they receive recognition for their accomplishments within the grand scheme of things. Effective leaders go out of their way to make sure those in less obvious positions know they are valuable to the whole.  They take every opportunity to point how their role was instrumental in a positive outcome…as insignificant as some might perceive.  Leaders know there is no such thing as insignificant roles, they value every role, and they establish a culture where everyone respects the role of each contributor.  By establishing this as a priority, people want to buy in to their role because they see the significance and buy in leads to accountability.

PRINCIPLE #4: Leaders build relationships by serving and showing gratitude

Effective leaders look for ways to make it more efficient for others to do their job.  Part of this goes back to driving the culture.  The leader never ask others to do more than they are willing to do themselves.  Leaders are never too good to pick up the mop, wash the jock straps, or drive the bus.  Leaders make the time to show appreciation and gratitude and by seeking ways to serve instead of being served.

In the event the leader has to “call in”, “write up”, or discipline someone, hopefully, this comes after they have taken the opportunity to point out a positive attribute or contribution that person has made to the team or organization.  Sometimes this is very difficult but effective leaders are very creative in finding ways to magnify the value of someone and take it as a challenge to make them feel appreciated. With today’s technology, it is so much easier to show gratitude and appreciation for a job well done.  Shout Outs on twitter, text messages, and believe it or not, old fashioned “tell it to their face” are great ways to express gratitude.

By using this type of leadership style, holding people accountable becomes so much easier because people want to buy in. They know they are valuable and respected and in most cases, if they must be called into account and have any pride at all, they feel guilty for letting down the leader as well as everyone else involved with the team or organization

PRINCIPLE #5: Leaders should inspire

Ultimately, I believe we are each responsible for inspiring ourselves.  However, effective leaders live to inspire others…it’s their gift, it’s what they do.  Seeing the excitement in a kids eyes when he is acknowledged for a job well done, seeing a mentored colleague succeed, or the surprise on the face of a stranger from a random act of kindness, if you live to inspire…THAT FIRES YOUR BUTT UP!!!!

A simple but very effective means of inspiration is personal touch.  Whether it is fist bumps when crossing paths, embracing arms on the bench, or a high five after a great play, there is power in physical touch.  There is also a personal touch to notes or letters.  The written word can be very powerful and can be referred to on numerous occasion or displayed in a prominent area for the purpose of daily inspiration.  Effective leaders understand the inspirational power of personal touch.

Good leaders spend a lot of time working on the perfect plan.  Great leaders spend most of their time inspiring the people who will execute the plan.  Inspired people have accomplished things that mercenaries never even dream about.

PRINCIPLE #6: At times, it has to be lonely at the top

Effective leaders know there has to be a degree of separation between themselves and the people they are responsible for leading.  Relationships have to be built but it can never be at the expense of objectivity, consistency, or accountability.  The culture of a program or organization must reflect a healthy respect for people in positions of authority which makes effective leadership vital to success.  

One of the greatest blessings I had as a head coach was having 3 of my former players be assistants on our staff.  In fact, two of them, Billy Terry (2012 & 2013) and Brett Cloud (2013) were on the bench as assistant coaches when we won our 2 State Championships and words can’t express how much it meant to me to have 2 of my boys there to experience an achievement very few ever get to experience.  As thrilled as I was to have them with me every day, I also had to make a conscience effort to not let my loyalty to them as my former players cloud (again, no pun intended) my objectivity as the head coach.  Ultimately, as far as a basketball staff, my loyalty had to be what was best for our program.  Whereas, outside of those doors, my loyalty would always be to them as 2 of my former players as well as best friends.  Conversely, I know it was difficult or awkward for them at times, as well, but they respected that I had to do what I felt was best for our program.

PRINCIPLE #7: Leaders must believe in accountability

I believe accountability is the deciding factor in determining the success of a program or organization of any type.  All the other elements that lead to a championship or elite culture can be in place but, without accountability, potential cannot be maximized.  

I have saved “accountability” for Principle #7 because I believe effective leadership makes a program or organization much more conducive to accountability when principles 1-6 have been established.  Why is accountability tough?  Because at times, it leads to adversity or confrontation.  That’s why I believe principles 1-6 help with accountability because if these steps have been taken, effective leaders know they have done their part and more. With that being the case, accountability becomes a positive…the leader is just expecting the standard that the culture demands to be met and it’s consistent for everyone.          

However, there are occasions when people refuse to meet the minimum requirements and leaders must be willing to invoke consequences if this becomes a consistent issue.  Not holding someone accountable, many times, is just a way of telling them, “I don’t think you can do it.”  If the expectations are not being met, a leader owes it to that person and the rest of the team members to address the situation and impose consequences if necessary.  Even to the point of having to let someone go.  If a leader is not willing to take these steps, if necessary, there will always be people looking to take advantage of the lack of accountability.  In most cases, once accountability has been established, those types of individuals eliminate themselves.    

PRINCIPLE #8: Leaders must know the pulse of the group they are leading

Without a doubt, it is impossible to reach a high level of success without high expectations.  A select few people are highly motivated and leading them is just a matter of not stymying their creativity or getting in their way. An elite or championship culture is something they will thrive in.  On the other hand, some people have about as much get-up-and-go as a bassett hound and you won’t have to worry about getting out of their way because they ain’t going no where anyway!  

Most people, however, are like a wheel barrow…they are going to go only as far as they are pushed.  That’s where effective leadership comes into play…getting people to do more than they believe they are capable of doing.  In order to do this, leaders have to push, they have to be driven, and they must be demanding…AND IT AIN’T EASY!  As the leader does this, at times, the one’s being led will be getting pushed closer and closer to the breaking point.  It sounds insane but that’s what the best do.  It’s at this crucial point when leaders must feel the pulse for how hard they can push. Push too hard and they break.  Don’t push hard enough and they live in mediocrity.         

To me, the key to knowing the pulse of the team was to watch my toughest kids and see how they were responding.  If they were dragging, we might need to back off a little bit or change things up some way.  The best teams I had would always stay around for a while after practice to work on their skills, play a shooting game, or some NBA style 1 on 1.  On occasion, some would try to dunk but it didn’t take long to figure out that was a waste of time.  As long as they stayed after on their own, I knew they were good to go.  Like I said, our best teams did this.  A few years, not many, the players were straight out the door after workout…it didn’t take long to take that pulse.  

PRINCIPLE #9: Effective leaders accept responsibility for mistakes and deflect the credit for success

As I referenced in principle #2, I believe it is the responsibility of the leader to be the decision maker in order to have accountability throughout the team or organization.  For this reason, I believe two of the most important ingredients in being an effective leader are taking responsibility when the results don’t go your way and deflecting the credit when they do.

As a decision maker, effective leaders exhaust every option for making the best decision possible then pull the trigger.  Once this is done, a leader has to be at peace with the result of that decision…good or bad.  

I’ve been asked many times what it was like to be in the Frank Erwin Center in Austin coaching in the State Championship games.  The most common question refers to our last possession in the 2013 Class 2A State Championship game against Brock when we held the ball for about the last minute of the game before Kris Anderson hit a short floater in the lane to win the game.  People ask, “Wasn’t it risky holding the ball that long?”, “What if Kris had missed?”, and all sorts of questions. Eventually, it usually gets down to this, “Were you nervous? Did you think about calling time out?” and my answer is always “No, I was at peace with the decision and our team trusted Kris to make the right play”.  Now that might sound like the cool answer but it was the truth.  We had practiced that set many times, executed it in games, and we were focused on the task at hand.  When have prepared to the best of your ability, you trust the process and live with the result.  Had Brock stolen the ball or we turned it over, I’m sure there would have been many people questioning our strategy but I’m confident I would have taken responsibility for that decision.  Rest assured though, I’m thankful I didn’t have to put that theory to the test!

In the postgame press conference, I was asked a question about “my” team and I was quick to point out that it was not Ron Boyett’s team, it was White Oak’s team then I preceded to talk about all the different hands that played a part in our team’s success.  I knew what the reporter meant by “my” team, but as the leader of our team, I wanted everyone to know that I understood the investment that it took by so many to achieve that level of success.  Leaders should always give credit to those who toted the load.

PRINCIPLE #10: Pray

I saved the best for last but it should definitely be done first.  As a Christian, I believe God has a purpose for each and every life.  I believe He grants gifts and talents to all His children and that our job is to unwrap those gifts, use them to benefit others, and, ultimately, bring honor and glory to His kingdom.  Like I stated in Principle #1, I believe to a large degree, that leadership is a gift.  But like any gift, it must be put to use to be effective.  That’s where I believe prayer comes into the picture.  

During my tenure as the Head Basketball Coach at White Oak, my conference period was always the period before athletics and this was very beneficial in many ways.  One of those benefits was that it gave me time to pray when I needed to and there was never a time before a meeting with a parent, meeting with my coaches or administration, or meeting with our team that I didn’t go to the Lord in prayer prior to that meeting.  Most of the time it was a simple prayer similar to this, “Father, I humble myself before you and acknowledge that you are the one and only true God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  I ask you now to guide my words and actions, to give me clarity of thought, and that all that is said and done here today will be in accordance to your will.  I’ve come to you in situations like this many times before and you have never let me down and I know you won’t now.  Help me to have peace of mind as I do my best to serve your purpose for my life.  Amen.”

Thanks for reading and Lead With A Purpose!

Non-Negotiables

“Don’t do anything to embarrass yourself, your family, or the team.”

These types of statements are used by many athletic programs as the basis for their standards of behavior.  Though there can be a strong case for these type of generic standards being superior to a list of rules, it would be naive to believe that some coaches also favor the ambiguity of these types of standards for behavior.  The advantage (at least to some coaches) to these types of general statements is the broad range of interpretation and the broad range of enforcement.  They follow the old adage of “don’t back yourself into a corner” or “always leave yourself some wiggle room” when it comes to standards of behavior.  The coaches that subscribe solely to this type of philosophy are attracted to the subjectivity of these types of standards for behavior instead of the the draw the line in the sand type of philosophy of more concrete standards.  

Personally, I always felt these general types of statements were beneficial as long as they were also backed up by a specific set of standards for behavior…your non-negotiables.  Without the inclusion of these non-negotiables, I believe these general types of statements can often be used by coaches who prefer a lower level of accountability…Coaches who don’t want to have to apply rules equally to everyone for whatever reason.  Unfortunately, some coaches are afraid they may be forced to discipline their best player, the school board or administrators son/daughter, or the son/daughter of a booster club member if they have a set of specific behavior standards because if it’s in writing, you may have to enforce it.  Though you probably will not find many coaches who would admit to this type of thinking, I believe we would all be very naive to believe this isn’t the motivation for some generic, subjective standards for behavior.  In my opinion, you can’t build a championship culture without a set of non-negotiable standards.  By non-negotiable, I mean there will be consequences if these standards are violated.

With this being said, because of the lack of flexibility in these standards, they must be well thought out and of the utmost importance to a coach’s belief in what it takes to build the culture the coach wants.  Once these standards are established, it is crucial that all involved with the program understand the expectations and that all will be held accountable.  At White Oak, once football season was complete, our teams never took the court until I had covered our standards of expectations with everyone involved.  Even in years when we had extended football seasons, and we were already feeling squeezed on time, I never made an exception to covering these standards on the first day that we had all of our high school players together for the first time.  Consequently, once I had covered these standards, we would all be held accountable.  Without a doubt, it is the accountability and enforcement of the standards for behavior that create the culture.  Once your non-negotiables are established and all involved know there will be accountability, the decision making becomes much easier…your standards make the decision for you, regardless of circumstances or people involved.  Initially, the enforcement of these standards can lead to confrontational situations until a pattern of consistency and fairness is established and for this reason, coaches must understand they may lose players who do not want to meet the standards.  For this reason, as I stated earlier, a coach must make sure the non-negotiables are well thought out and worth you putting your cleats in the ground.  

At White Oak, our non-negotiables were centered around our 5 program standards of being accountable, responsible, trustworthy, disciplined, and respectful.  These were explained in detail in the blog entry entitled “Measure Up”.  Any violation of the standards are deemed to be unacceptable and subject to consequences.  Below, I have included some of the specific non-negotiables that are incorporated into these standards.  Obviously, these examples do not cover every scenario that may have occurred within our program but they eliminate the subjectivity to many of the most common situations that come up.

                                                                                      White Oak Basketball

                                                                                        Program Standards

  1. BE ACCOUNTABLE – Players are expected to attend all practices and games unless excused.  SAC or school suspension is an unexcused absence.  Repeated unexcused absences or tardies are grounds for suspension and possible dismissal from the team. At minimum,  all athletes are expected to meet the academic requirements of the UIL. Habitual grade problems are grounds for suspension or dismissal from the team.  All players are expected to do their best.
  2. BE RESPONSIBLE –  In order to be considered excused, the coach must be notified of the absence in advance.  Players will be required to make up all practices missed with a maximum of 3 practices for extended illness or injury.  Excused absences will require the player to make up the conditioning missed with a minimum of 3 mavericks.  Unexcused absences will demand the following:  15 Mavericks under time.  Players will not dress for games until unexcused absences are cleared.  Unexcused tardies will depend on circumstances and time missed with a minimum of 3 mavericks.  After school detention is an unexcused tardy and carries a penalty of 5 mavericks.
  3.  BE TRUSTWORTHY – Players are responsible for their school issued equipment.  Non-school issued equipment should not be worn except for undershirts which may be White Oak basketball shirts or a plain white, grey, or maroon t-shirt.  Violations of equipment standards carry a penalty of 3 mavericks.  The locker code is as follows:  (1) all cloth should be hung up  (2) Only shoes in the bottom of locker.  Shoes should be flat.  (3) Personal items , notebooks, ankle braces, etc. should be kept in the top of lockers. Players should maintain the locker code after each practice or game.
  4. BE DISCIPLINED – Discipline problems in the classroom, community, or within the team will not be tolerated.  The first offense will carry a penalty of extra conditioning.  The second offense will be extra conditioning and a one game suspension.  The third offense will be an indefinite suspension or possible dismissal from the team. The student handbook and athletic code of conduct must be adhered to at all times.  Any flagrant technical foul carries a penalty of 8 mavericks for the team.  The coach is the only person that says anything to the officials.
  5. BE RESPECTFUL:  Players should not enter the equipment room or coaches’ office without permission.  All players are required to see their coach after games and workouts before leaving.

STUDENT SIGNATURE  _____________ PARENT SIGNATURE ________________

All practices are “closed” for the purpose of eliminating distractions and securing a teachable atmosphere.  During practice hours, parents should only enter the gym or dressing area in emergency situations.

 

There is no doubt in my mind that during my 25 year tenure at White Oak, there were kids walking the halls that could have helped our team on the court but they did not want to meet the standards for our program.  In fact, I can recall the following words of advice from one of the coaches on our staff (in regards to 2 players who were definitely varsity players as far as talent but were being required to play on the JV for a year) as he passed by me in the hall one day during my 1st year, “If you’d just relax a few of your rules, you’d improve your team.”  I knew what he meant and I’d be lying if I said I was not tempted and questioned whether or not I was doing it the right way.  

Ironically, I was single at the time and spent a lot of time at my parents house.  While describing this scenario with my parents one night, I can remember the words of my mom, “Be who you are and do what you know is right.”  I learned something that night…only consider advice from those that have your best interest at heart.  Her words stay with me to this day.  

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!

 

    

Know The Enemy

As it relates to the game, my job as coach was to help put my players in the best position possible to win.  There are so many factors that ultimately contribute to whether games and championships are won or lost and, as a coach, some of those factors are within our control.  For our program at White Oak, an area that I believe benefitted us greatly was scouting and in this entry of Coach With A Purpose, I will give my thoughts on the benefits of scouting, the things we looked for when scouting, and an example of a scouting report we would give our players during district play and the playoffs.

First of all, I rarely scouted our non-district opponents unless it was during a tournament or close by.  Like most coaches, I would contact coaches who had played these teams for some information or possibly get film on them but we rarely ever did a formal scouting report for a non-district game and this was by design.  

For one reason, in non-district, I wanted to see how our team and players would respond to schemes or situations that we had not prepared for in order to see how we could adapt.  Secondly, once we got to district play, I wanted our players to feel much more prepared than they did during non-district. This was all part of the plan of making non-district as challenging or more challenging than district play.  

Prior to district, I wanted to put our team under duress to see how we would respond and train our team on how to respond.  During district, I wanted our team to have a feeling of knowing they were prepared but if something came up we had not anticipated, they would have the security of knowing they had been trained to adjust on the move during non-district.  

However, when it came to district play and the playoffs, my goal was to leave no stone unturned.  As much as I could, I did the scouting for district on my own because I wanted to see our opponents for myself.  Regardless of the district team, I tried to see each one in person at least once prior to the start of district play if possible.  If not, I would try to acquire film on them.

With the advent of Hudl and Krossover, film swap has become so much more convenient, that I can’t think of a reason to not see an opponent before competing against them.  However, I always preferred to see each team in person if I could because so many more things could be observed. One of the most important advantages of being at the game in person was being able to watch pregame.  During this time, I would watch each player’s shooting stroke, check out their range, and look for any other shooting tendencies such as how well a player shot off the dribble or in a catch & shoot situation.

Another aspect that could be observed better in person was how players interacted amongst themselves, how they interacted with their coach and officials, and their body language on the bench.  So much could be learned about a player’s mental makeup by observing them in pregame, during the game, and after the game. I think it’s much harder to read these types of intangibles when watching a game on film.

Once the playoffs started, I was always fortunate to have assistants who were capable of scouting as well as having coaching colleagues who were willing to help.  An area in which as I was also extremely blessed was to have former players who knew what we looked for in scouting reports and they were always willing to help if I needed them.  During our 2 year run to the State Tournament, several of my former players who either lived in different parts of the state or were attending college around the state scouted for us at various regional tournaments.  Guys like Clay Copeland, Trevor Wait, Ian Story, and Colby Carr all scouted for us during the playoffs and I knew I could always trust their input.

Finally, each coach has to develop a philosophy on who he is going to trade film with and who he is not.  I know some districts have it in their rules to not trade game film of district opponents but I also know not everyone adheres to those rules.  Personally, I was pretty much willing to trade film with anyone as long as I felt like they would return the favor. Rarely did I refuse to help another coach but if I did it was most likely because they had burned me in the past.  

Also, I always felt it was unethical to pass on a film of a game I had received to someone else without permission from the coach who had given me the film.  Personally, I have felt basketball should be more like football once we entered district play and the playoffs and just swap a couple of games. I know some coaches believe this rewards some coaches who are too lazy to scout but in most cases, your opponent is going to get film of your games from someone.  I was always willing to agree to this arrangement if the other coach wanted to swap.

The following is a list of things I would look for myself or when someone was scouting for us.

WHITE OAK BASKETBALL

SCOUTING INFORMATION SHEET

  

*List starters – note height, position, strengths/weaknesses, any individual

tendencies (favors strong hand, etc.)

*List substitutes that are in the regular rotation – same info as starters

*Draw baseline and sideline inbound plays

*Try to pick up offensive patterns or plays if the opponent is playing man

defense

*Draw press break and denote the type of press used against

*If they play zone defense, denote type of zone and where each player

is positioned, denote how post is defended along with strengths

and weaknesses observed

*If they play man defense, denote degree of aggressiveness and whether

or not they deny one pass away, denote how post is defended along

with screens on and off the ball

*If they press, denote man or zone – if zone, put players in position –

look for strengths/weaknesses

*If game is close – denote end of game tendencies – set plays, do they guard

inbound man on last second situation, etc.

The following is an example of a scouting report (names changed or omitted and diagrams omitted) we would give to our players during district and the playoffs.  I would normally allow 30 minutes for each scouting report and during this time our JV would be learning some of our opponents sets and defenses in order to simulate these during practice.

 

FICTITIOUS FICTS

SCOUTING REPORT

PERSONNEL:

#1 – Name – 5’11” – Sr. – Guard – average athlete, scrappy – solid defender – will use him to shadow the best wing player – will try to get into your head with physical and disciplined play – solid ball handler – solid shooter but only shoots if left wide open.

Game plan:  1) regular rules 2) must challenge his outside shot

#2 – Name – 5’10” – Sr. – Guard – plays the point and the wing – intense competitor – emotional leader of team – solid ball handler – drives to pass – very good spot up 3 pt. shooter – excellent on ball defender – moves feet well and plays with a lot of intensity – plays physical.

Game plan: 1) run him off 3 pt. line 2) be ready to help on drive then recover quickly

#3 – Name – 5’9” – Sr. – Guard – average athlete – solid ball handler – good shooter if given open look – will attack basket if given an advantage – solid defender but not as intense as other starters.

Game plan 1) regular rules

#4 – Name – 6’3” – Sr. – Forward – good quickness, explosive jumper, intense competitor – main post up threat – likes to attack the basket – almost always shot fakes when facing the basket – capable mid range shooter and will attack basket from perimeter – solid on both boards – tends to get in foul trouble.

Game plan:  1) deny ball in the post 2) don’t bite on shot fake 3) play drive from perimeter 4) must block him off boards 4) must always think he will shoot it

#5 – Name – 6’3” – Sr. – Guard – good length, solid quickness – best perimeter player – LOVES TO SHOOT – will shoot anytime and from 3 to 4 steps behind the line – solid off the dribble but wants to take jump shots – run a lot of set plays for him – solid defender – very good on boards.

Game plan:  1) no ball side perimeter help off him 2) chase him off all perimeter screens – try to beat him to the spot 3) make him dribble the ball 4) must block him off the boards

#6 – Name – 6’3” – Sr. – Forward – good strength, average quickness – best perimeter shooter of forwards – 2nd best 3 pt. shooter and will look to take 3 pt. shot – will attack basket from perimeter – solid ball handler – solid defender and on both boards.

Game plan:  1) run him off 3 pt. line while keeping leverage 2) must block him off boards.

#7 – Name – 5’11” – Sr. – Guard – LEFT handed – average athlete – solid ball handler but will prefer to drive left – solid 3 pt. shooter.

Game plan:  1) play his left hand

#8 – Name – 5’8” – Sr. – Point Guard – not strong, average quickness – solid ball handler – uses body well – mainly looks to distribute

Game plan:  1) regular rules

The Ficts have a season’s record of ______.  The strength of their team is solid overall fundamentals, offensive execution, great defensive intensity and technique, and playing physical.  Their weaknesses are a heavy dependency on #4 and #5 to score and the ability to create off the dribble with complimentary players, lack of a post game besides #4.

FICTITIOUS OFFENSE

The Ficts will play at a medium pace in the full court and be very patient in the half court except when #4 and #5 have the ball.  The Ficts will run numerous set plays mainly for #4 and #5 and the rest of the team will play off of those 2 players.  They execute their plays with great precision – full speed and with physical screens.

 

Game plan:  1)  recognition of set plays

                      2)  stop ball reversal – dribble and pass

                      3)  know individual strengths

                      4)  make #4 and #5 work to catch the ball and shoot contested shots

                     5)  PHYSICAL BLOCKOUTS and FIGHT FOR THE BALL!

                     6)  Regular ball screen rules

 

Set Play Recognition:

 

                    1) Maryland – pass to #5 on perimeter (off down screen) or flex action

                                            (usually #1 on flex cut)

                    2) Double –  dribble handoff or double post on elbow

                    3) Box 1 –  fake handoff

                    4) Post Screen – switch big/big

 

*When #5 is away from the ball, he will be running off a single screen or stagger.  Screener defenders must protect against the curl and help on lob!

FICTITIOUS DEFENSE

 

The Ficts play a very physical brand of half court man defense.  They are solid individual defenders and play excellent team defense.   They will most likely double the post.  They will use a hard hedge on the ball screens and be very physical with cutters.

 

Game Plan:  1) must not play the entire game 5 on 5

                     2) select good shots – have patience if quick shot is not there.

                     3) must hold our ground on screens

                     4) use “hold” on right block in dead ball situations

Face Guard:  1) use 4 man or spread (move 3 to corner)

                       2)  use “44” (must attack rim)

                       3)  103

FICTITIOUS INBOUND PLAYS

In summary, I believe scouting can give a team a great advantage especially on the defensive end of the court.  By knowing player tendencies and how an offense is initiated, I always felt we would have a great chance to take away what a player or team liked to do best.  If we could make the opponent play to their weaknesses individually and make them run their counters or take them out of their sets completely on offense, then I felt we always had a good chance to win.

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!

 

Tough & Competitive

All coaches play favorites because all coaches have favorite types of players.  As a player, ultimately, you must please the coach because the coach decides who he thinks should play in order to give the team the best chance to win.  Consequently, when a coach has to give one player the benefit of the doubt over another player, I believe most likely the nod will go to the player that he trusts the most and, usually, that will be the type of player he is most comfortable with.  When asked by other coaches for advice, one thing that I always mention is “play the guys you trust”.

Now, hopefully, when coaches say, “I don’t play favorites”, they are referring to not showing partiality to a player based on factors off the court/field because I don’t know any coaches that don’t prefer certain traits from their players.  Some may prefer things related to physical talent such as size or speed while others prefer skill sets such as throwing, catching, hitting, or shooting. Many coaches favor work ethic, intelligence, and strong character traits while others prefer players who may not have the best character or work ethic but they can help the team win.  Obviously, all coaches would prefer to have players with great physical talent and great intangibles but that player rarely ever comes along so coaches have to make decisions about personnel and I believe coaches, naturally, lean toward players that exhibit the traits they admire most…they play who they trust.

For me, my favorite type of player was the one who was tough, physically and mentally, as well as competitive and there were two main reasons for this.  First of all, above all things, we were going to play defense at White Oak and, in my book, tough/competitive players make the best defenders. If you were a poor defender, then you for sure better bring some other outstanding trait to the table or the chances of you getting to play were slim.

Secondly, I always believed a tough/competitive kid could develop skills if he was willing to work hard enough at it.  I believed I was much more likely to teach a tough/competitive kid to shoot than to teach a soft kid that could shoot, how to be tough/competitive.  

Can you teach a player to get tougher and more competitive?  To a certain degree, I believe toughness can be improved, especially mentally, but it takes a conscientious effort by the player, it must be demanded by the coach, and there has to be evidence that the formula works.  If these factors are not present, and even when they are, it will always be a challenge to make players that tend to play soft learn to be tougher. I do believe the players that finished our program all got tougher throughout their 4 years at WOHS.  

Though many believe competitiveness is something you either have or don’t, I think competitiveness can improve when the amount of investment increases.  I do believe the saying, “The more you invest, the harder it is to surrender”, is accurate so to a degree, players can become more competitive. I also believe when players are placed in a more competitive environment, they often times show themselves that they can compete at a higher level.   

To me, the bottom line is this…when the talent level is close to equal, the toughest and most competitive team is going to win.  A talented team that is soft rarely defeats a team that has more talent than them. A tough and competitive team is capable of winning beyond its talent level.  So, if I had to pick between player A who had a better skill set but played soft or player B who had a slightly lesser skill level and was tough/competitive, I was going to choose player B.  Again, if a player was an exceptional shooter, my best ball handler and passer, or possessed some other higher level skill, then this could influence my decision because you have to play to win at the varsity level.  However, if my team was going to go down, I would always prefer to go down with tough/competitive kids. That’s why when I was determining if a player could compete at the varsity level, the first question I would ask myself was, “Can he hold up on the defensive end?”.

One of the best examples I can give of one of my players who learned to play tougher in order to become a better player and to do what was necessary for our team to win was Skylar Sutton. Skylar loved basketball and it showed in his skill level.  He worked tirelessly on becoming an outstanding shooter, ball handler, and passer but for the early part of his career at White Oak, though he was very competitive, he was mainly a finesse, offensive player who liked to play with a lot of flair in his game.  

As a sophomore, Skylar was a varsity prospect.  Offensively, he had the skill set to be a varsity player and that is what most people saw when they watched him play.  My concern was his lack of strength and whether or not he could hold up on the defensive end of the court. Fortunately, Skylar was a great competitor and when I explained to him during our post season conference that he hadn’t proven to me that he should be a varsity player as a sophomore, he was determined to change his game.  I know deep inside, Skylar felt he should have been on the varsity and he used this disappointment to drive him….that’s what great competitors do.

Skylar made a concerted effort to get stronger and dedicated himself to the defensive end of the court.  He valued efficiency over flair and began to take a lot more pride in his defense. In fact, by his senior year, Skylar was our best wing defender.  Many loyal patrons to the State Tournament at the Frank Erwin Special Events Center in Austin will remember the shooting display that Skylar put on during our championship game with Brock in 2013.  However, what will always stand out to me is the toughness that he played with on the defensive end of the court while guarding one of the best guards in Class 2A (now 3A), Tre Ewell of Brock.

During the postgame interview, the announcers wanted to talk about Skylar’s offense but I was determined to highlight his defense because that was the difference in his game.  Fortunately, Skylar didn’t want to just be a shooter, he wanted to be a champion and in order for this to happen, he had to get tougher….and he did.

Though I know he was disappointed and frustrated at times as a sophomore, Skylar Sutton would end up being a 2 year starter on teams that went 74-2 over that span with back to back State Championships and he never knew what it felt like to lose his last game of the season.

So what does tough and competitive look like?  To me, those elements could be identified in the following manner:

                                                                                     Traits of a Roughneck Basketball Player

 

Always exhibits TOUGHNESS:

     *Hard nosed defender

     *First on the floor for loose balls

     *Plays through contact

     *Looks to take charges

     *Refuses to give in to fatigue

     *Always looks for ways to separate himself from opponents

     *Fully engaged during workouts and games

     *Has great concentration and focus

     *Fights through inconvenient or uncomfortable circumstances

     *Distinguishes between pain/soreness & injury..always tries to get up.

     *Embraces the moment – believes in himself and the process

 

Always COMPETES:

     *Plays with great effort and intensity

     *Hard nosed defender

     *Blocks out aggressively and relentlessly pursues the ball

     *First on the floor for loose balls

     *Looks to take charges

     *Finishes the play

     *Plays with desire

     *Aggressive and confident

     *Does his part and a little bit more

     *Fights to the end

     *Hates to lose and loves to win

 

White Oak basketball was built by TOUGH & COMPETITIVE players that played on TOUGH & COMPETITIVE teams.  The pride and tradition of the White Oak basketball program will not be entrusted to “soft” players or “soft” teams. One way or another we will put a TOUGH & COMPETITIVE team on the court that is made up of TOUGH & COMPETITIVE players.       

Without a doubt, I know the players that had the hardest time playing for me were the players that were not tough and competitive by nature. Some responded better than others to improving in these areas and because of this it was always important to me that I convey to them as they left our program, that what took place on the court was never personal.  Though all coaches have players that fit their mold for the type of player they trust to play the most, this is never a reflection on the person.  Some of my players never got to the point of being as tough or competitive as I wanted them to be. However, I have no doubt, for those that are not already, they will go on to be fine husbands and fathers.  Finally, when the time comes that life punches them in the face, I’ll know it’s not the first time they’ve been asked to be tough and to compete.

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!

 

Finish

I always liked having senior laden teams.  Seniors were my comfort zone…they were battle tested, knew our system, and had proven their loyalty to our program.  But most of all, I firmly believed it always meant a little more to you when you know it’s your last time around the block.  “Next year” can be two of the most enabling words a coach or athlete can utter and can set a dangerous precedent for any program.  As the Head Coach, it was my responsibility to make sure that I always stayed in the present and gave each senior class my best effort as well as doing my best to maximum our chances to win that year.  Out of loyalty to our seniors, I never believed in “playing for next year”.

Most years, we had between 2-5 seniors on our team but I had teams with as few as 1 senior and as many as 8.  Whatever the case may have been, the tradition of our program dictated that the primary role of leadership fell upon our seniors and I would expect more of them than the underclassmen.  It was the seniors job to pass on our culture and I knew they all took this responsibility seriously. They never wanted to be the class that didn’t measure up to the expectations of our program.  Without a doubt, I believe it was this part of our culture that helped our program to maintain high expectations despite fluctuations in talent level. When a senior class was passed the torch, they never wanted to let down the ones that had come before them.  The road had been paved for them by their predecessors and it was their job to do the same.

In this entry of Coach With A Purpose, I would like to share a piece that I wrote for our seniors in 2013 and, consequently, to other teams that followed.  I also adapted the wording to apply to my daughter, Haley, as she entered her senior volleyball season and our WOHS volleyball team when they went to state in 2014.  The title of the piece is “FINISH” and I wrote it to our class of 2013 (Kris Anderson, Skylar Sutton, and Levi Yancy) as they were coming off a State Championship year in 2012.  Though we graduated 4 seniors (Caleb Carr, Chadd Johnston, Ian Story, and Jerred Whisenhunt) off the 2012 State Champions, I knew we had a solid nucleus returning with a chance to win it all in 2013.  As we entered the 2013 season, one of my biggest concerns was complacency…the enemy of any champion. I had addressed this in a couple of ways previously, but I felt my seniors needed a jolt if we were going to have a chance to repeat as State Champions.  The following was taped to their lockers the final and most demanding day of Phase I (conditioning phase) of fall offseason in 2013:

                                                                                      FINISH

As an athlete approaches a finish line, whether he realizes it or not, he is making a conscience choice….how is he going to finish?  Some athletes conveniently stroll down the home stretch feeling as if they are entitled to coast to the finish. After all, they have proven their worth in the past and they have the right to rest on past accomplishments.  In a word, he is complacent but, surely, it won’t make much difference if he takes it easy and just cruises across the line. There is a word that describes this athlete…LOSER. He’s lost his edge and he’s out of the game.

On the other hand, some athletes turn the final corner with their ears pinned back focused on the prize that awaits PAST the finish.  He pushes with all his might as he bears down on the finish, leaving nothing to chance. He knows that the prize does not come to him…he must go get it! It is with this attitude that he bursts THROUGH the line.  There is a word that describes this athlete….WINNER. He’s maxed out, given all he’s capable of giving, and he’s finished with no regrets.

There are many “finish” points in life and you are constantly forming habits of how you “finish”.  As you approach your senior year, you approach one of these “finish” points in life. How you “finish” is not based on whether or not you win or lose….every competitor loses at some point in time. How you “finish” is based on your approach…did you go after it or were you complacent and full of excuses? Don’t ever be fooled, there are winners and there are losers, and it has nothing to do with the result! It’s your last time around the block and you have a choice to make…How do you finish?

On our best teams, our seniors embraced this philosophy and left our program with no regrets.  As a senior, that’s how you want to leave it.

In life, that’s how you want to leave it…Finish.

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!

 

Tournament Time

Without a doubt, the most exciting part of high school athletics is the playoffs…. Tournament Time!  For all the pre-season preparation, summer workouts, offseason workouts, non district games and invitational tournaments, and the grind of the district race, the reward for some is a birth in the State Playoffs.  

Obviously, as the number of playoff teams has increased over the years, some of the luster of making the playoffs has been diminished but nonetheless, it’s still the playoffs and the gateway to the State Championship.  Football now crowns 12 State Champions and baseball has gone to a best 2 of 3 format in many cases but basketball has stayed the course…1 State Champion per classification in a single elimination tournament. Play’em all and win or go home!  It’s the pursuit of this goal that has driven thousands of coaches and players for decades and provided lifelong memories for many communities and schools along the way. There’s nothing like it.

In this entry of Coach With A Purpose, I’ll be giving my thoughts for coaching during the playoffs in order to give your team the best chance for success.  Hopefully, these ideas will give you some things to consider as you prepare your team to reach their potential.

1) Warm Up Game

When scheduling, my general rule was to leave room for a warm up game.  However, we did not always choose to play one. If we had been in a very competitive district race, I would often choose not to play a warm up game.  The rationale was to give our team a break from the grind, usually mentally more than physically. In other years, if we had not had many competitive games in district, we would play a warm up game in order to sharpen us heading into the playoffs.

If I was coaching a team that had not been to the playoffs recently or had much success I would strongly consider playing a warm up game in order to simulate the atmosphere and format of a playoff game.  This allows for a trial run on pregame, warmup, and game conditions which I believe is very beneficial especially if several players have been moved up from the sub-varsity teams. Many times this can be a distraction if not handled correctly so a warmup game gives the opportunity for a trial run.

2) Playoff Practices

How long to practice and the format of practice during the playoffs is constantly debated amongst coaches and there are strong opinions on each side of the argument.  Personally, I am more concerned about mental fatigue during this time of the season than I am physical fatigue. Granted, we start to shorten our workouts during the 2nd round of district and during the playoffs but, again, this is as much for mental reasons as physical.  One thing I have learned over the years about the playoffs is no matter how far you advance there is one constant…kids love to play during this time of the year but they don’t necessarily look forward to practice.  For this reason, I always wanted us to get our work done then get off the court. We would still do most of our drill work but we would reduce the number of reps and use the move ups to do all the training for the varsity.

Early in my career, one of the mistakes that I felt I made during workouts was neglecting to continue to do our normal drill work in order to reduce our time on the court.  Looking back, I think this led to slippage in our games. So, my best advice now is to continue the basic drills but limit the reps…get your work done and get off the court.  Often times, on our best teams, the kids would stay on their own to do some individual work or play some on their own. These were the kids who loved the game and these were the teams who excelled the most. There’s no substitute for love.

3) Game Mentality

I believe this is the most important concept to winning in the playoffs…the mental approach.  Throughout our non-district schedule, I would constantly remind our teams how these games were preparing us for our district schedule.  Throughout district play, we would attempt to play each game with the same mentality regardless of our opponent. Many times during our best years, this would lead to very lopsided victories and its fair share of criticism.  We didn’t press inferior teams but we would pick them up ¾ court to not allow them to walk the ball up the court during the first half. During the first round of district, we would play our entire bench roughly half the game in lopsided contests.  In the 2nd round, we would play the starters 2/3 of the time in order to prepare them for the extended minutes they would get in the playoffs.

As the coach, my job was to do what I felt was necessary to give our team the best chance to win regardless of how others felt it should be done.  If other coaches, players, or fans were offended, then I just had to take the criticism. During our run to the State Championship in 2012 and 2013, I know our mentality was one of our greatest strengths and this was developed throughout the season.  Regardless of the circumstances or opponent, we were going to prepare and play with the same mentality. By following this process, we were always in our comfort zone and that’s when teams play their best.

Consequently, during our playoff runs, we kept our routine and procedures as close to the same as possible.  We prepared the same (except for less time on court), we kept our pregame and warmup the same, we dressed the same, and we attempted to play the same.  Our approach was that we prepared every game to play our best and for this reason we didn’t need to change this mentality as we advanced in the playoffs…we trusted the process.

Part of maintaining this consistency was to make sure that, as the head coach, I stayed consistent with my approach.  I wore the same maroon shirt and khaki pants during the state championship games that I did in our district games. I made a conscious effort to keep everything as close to the same as I could.  If I started changing things because of our opponent or the circumstances then I would be sending a message…what we had been doing wasn’t good enough. I wanted to make sure I sent just the opposite message…what we had been doing was good enough, just go play.  

I particularly paid attention to my body language and my words to the team.  I always wanted them to know that I believed in them and trusted our system. That wasn’t hard to do because I did believe those things but I wanted to make sure I didn’t appear nervous or in awe of the circumstances.  As the coach, your team will take their cues from you…verbal and non-verbal, tangible and intangible. Particularly on game day, I wanted them to see me as steady and confident. I believe getting caught up in the hoopla of the playoffs leads to the downfall of many teams and it’s very easy to do.  As the head coach, one of the biggest challenges during the playoffs is to keep your team in the moment and the best way to do this, is to block out the temptation to concentrate on the results and to trust the process. Like many things, this is much easier to say than to do. For those who can, half the battle is already won.

The beauty of the playoffs is that you have to bring it that night, under the given set of circumstances with no second chances.  It’s competition in its purest form. In a society that teaches “everyone gets a trophy”, the playoffs are the truth…there is a winner and a loser. But more than that, there are competitors…those who dare to step into the arena to determine who is the best.

In summary, during my 25 year tenure as a head coach, I coached 7 seasons before ever having the opportunity to coach a playoff team so I know what it’s like to be on the outside looking in and wondering whether or not our teams would ever get over the hump.  Once getting there, I’ve suffered painful losses along the way that stuck with me for years and made me question whether the pain was worth it. Finally, I’ve been blessed to experience what only a few coaches have the opportunity to experience…winning a state championship.  As I reflect back, I know that every step along the way helped to shape me and I hope sharing these experiences will help to shape you to be your best.

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!

Prepare To Win

I believe one of the common traits amongst successful coaches is a love for practice.  Personally, the preparation that went into putting an overall plan together for a season, breaking it down into parts, then working daily to put it into play was one of the most enjoyable aspects of coaching.  I always loved practice and felt that our preparation was definitely one of the keys to our success.

In this entry of Coach With A Purpose, I will outline my thoughts about practice and how it fits into the overall concept of developing a Championship Culture.  

Upon becoming a head coach, one of my first undertakings was to develop a practice plan sheet for each level of our program…middle school, freshman, JV/Var.  These plan sheets fit the objectives for each level (see Program Progression) and developed a plan specifically for that part of our program. The plan sheet was broken into offense, defense, and special situations with the drills we would use for each aspect of these.  For example, each man offense would be broken into the individual and group drills we would use to develop that offense.

By providing a specific plan sheet for each level of our program, these coaches had a constant reminder of the objectives that needed to be accomplished at their level and helped to keep everyone focused on their piece of the puzzle.  

Once the plan sheet was developed, I used this to design each specific practice and it provided a blueprint to make sure that we were staying on track for each phase of our program.  Additionally, I was always a believer in keeping a copy of each practice so that I could reference our workouts at the end of each season if necessary. To this day, I have a copy of every workout for the 25 years I was the head coach at White Oak.

Our normal overall game plan was to play at a fast pace so in order to do this, I felt I needed to design practices that could be conducted at a fast pace.  For this reason, I was never a believer in teaching a bunch of different drills to work on the same skill. I wanted to develop drills specific to our schemes, have our players understand the purpose of the drill, and then be able to perfect the skills the drill was designed to teach.  Once a player got to the varsity level, we should be able to conduct fast paced practices as a result of them being familiar with the drills. I never wanted to waste practice time by constantly teaching new drills that trained the same skills. For some coaches, I know they would be concerned about practice becoming stagnant or becoming bored themselves with the same drills.  I was just always more concerned about efficiency and I think our kids functioned better by knowing the general format of workout along with the expectations of each drill.

In order to keep practice efficient and from becoming stagnant, we incorporated 3 concepts…encouragement, accountability, and competition.

“A quiet gym is a losing gym” is a quote I agree with so one of the aspects we emphasized during practice was to be a good teammate by constantly encouraging one another.  Whether it be through clapping, physical touch (high fives, fist bumps, etc) or verbal communication, we expect our players to be encouraging each other throughout workout.  If I jumped on someone pretty hard for something, then there needed to be 4 or 5 teammates offering this player encouragement afterwards. I know not all coaches agree with this, but my rule during practice/games was that I was the only one allowed to offer negative criticism.  If someone needed a butt chewing then I was more than qualified to deliver it but teammates were to always be positive with each other. I never wanted players chewing out each other.

One of the most common questions I have been asked over the years is, “How do you get those guys to play so hard.”  It’s really very simple…not easy, but simple. For us, it was about demanding a certain level of effort and intensity then refusing to accept anything less . One of the main ways this was accomplished was through our accountability system. We kept a simple chart during each practice with 2 columns “Marks” and “Bank”….a plus/minus system.  There were usually 3 things that would get a mark (negative) on the chart….lack of concentration, lack of effort, or no encouragement. Don’t block out, don’t dive for a loose ball, don’t communicate…that’s unacceptable. When these situations would occur, I would simply say “Give us a mark” and our manager would record it. A mark consisted of a down/back to be done after conditioning at the conclusion of workout. By using this method, we were able to have accountability without having to stop practice.    

Conversely, when players would show extraordinary effort or take a charge in practice, I would tell our manager to “Put one in the bank” which negated one of the marks on the chart.  We used the phrase, “Put one in the bank” because this phrase coincided with making an investment which is something we spoke about often.

Being responsible for having marks put on the chart could make you public enemy #1 so players worked diligently to meet our standard for effort and intensity.  Consequently, taking a charge or doing something else to gain a “bank” always led to cheers and a desire for more. We all need accountability and I believe our plus/minus chart for practice helped to keep our workouts meeting the standard we had set.  Once we started district play, our plus/minus chart would determine conditioning for Mon/Thur workouts so our players knew if we had a good workout they would have limited or no conditioning on those days.

The third area of emphasis for us in order to have an efficient workout was to make it competitive during drill work.  We almost exclusively practiced the JV/Var together. Each varsity player was assigned (they don’t get to choose) a JV partner for drill work and the varsity is split into 2 groups.  When we split up for drill work, varsity Group 1 (along with their JV partner) would start on my end of court and the 2nd varsity group (with JV partner) would work on the other end of the court with our JV coach.  If we were doing a defensive drill, then the 1st varsity group (which was on my end of the court) would be on defense with the JV being their training partner. To make the drill competitive, the varsity would get 1 point for stops and the JV would get 2 or 3 points for baskets.  At the conclusion of the drill, the winners would get a “bank” and the losers would get a “mark” on the plus/minus chart then we would start the score over for the next drill.

On the other end of the court, the JV would be on defense with the varsity being the training group.  However, we didn’t score their end of the court. After Group 1 had completed its defensive drill work, we would switch ends.  We would score our offensive drill work in the same manner except the varsity received 1 point for baskets while the JV will get 2 or 3 points for stops based on the drill. Because of the weighted scoring system (which helps the JV), our drill work was normally very competitive yet we still competed within our teams.  Early in the season, we would do some work with varsity on varsity, especially if some positions were still up for grabs, but I didn’t like to do much of this once we got to district play. I preferred them to be competing together at this point rather than against each other.

As far as having an efficient, fast paced workout, I believe the elements I have mentioned so far were critical for success.  However, none of this would work unless the workout was organized, well thought out, and structured. We didn’t post our workouts before practice, but by the time they got to the varsity, most of our players knew the drills and the format that we used and I believe they liked the structure (not necessarily all the drills!).  

One final element as far as having a fast paced, efficient workout was not having designated water breaks.  Each of our players was issued a water bottle and they took this with them during drill work. Any time they were not in a drill, they could get a drink.  Otherwise, we didn’t take breaks during workout. Inexperienced players learned quickly the value of that water bottle so they learn to keep it close.

As far as the structure of our workouts, I always looked forward to district play so that we had 3 practices per week and 2 games. Tournaments were fun, they served a good purpose early in the year and the kids loved them, but I hated the slippage that could occur during this time of the season.  I believe our workouts during district play allowed us to continue to get better which coincides with peaking at the right time.

Once we entered district play our practice format was generally as follows:  Monday and Thursday would pretty much mirror each other. Our athletic period was the last period of the day so we allowed the first 30 minutes for our varsity scouting report.  During this time, our JV would work on their team offense against our freshman team because they mainly became the scout team for the varsity during the team portion of workout once we started district play.  

After scouting report, we always started with our fundamental period which consisted of dribbling, passing, and shooting drills.  Next, we would go into the our individual and group defensive work followed by our individual and group offensive drills. After all drill work was complete, we would go into the team portion of our workout which was always Varsity vs. JV.  We may work half court set plays for 5 minutes but everything else during our team portion of workout included transition offense and defense. So, for example, the varsity would run an offensive set then transition to defense then run transition offense which put us back on the same end of the court that we started. We would stop the action at this point and players would rotate in.  I would line out the rotation before practice then the players were responsible for rotating themselves in during workout, I didn’t rotate them.

Once we completed the team portion of workout, we would do team conditioning.  Before district play, we would do some form of conditioning after each workout.  Once district play began, we would do team conditioning on Wednesdays. I believe conditioning after workout accomplished 2 things.  First of all, it allowed us to end practice doing something physically demanding as a team. Secondly, it built mental toughness. We finished practice doing something that required no talent, just effort.  It’s was an opportunity to remind ourselves that we were building toughness and that no one would outwork us. There was no doubt in my mind, we gained as much or more mentally from conditioning as we did physically.

For us, Wednesday was a day to get in more shooting and work on special situations or prepare for something we would see later in the year.  For example, in 2013, we worked press break every Wednesday during the district portion of our schedule even though Tatum would be our only district opponent that would press us.  However, if we wanted to get out of our region, we knew we would have to go through Tatum, Kountze, or both and that meant facing relentless full court pressure. Consequently, we did our best to prepare for this situation long before we faced it. Wednesday was also one of our weight lifting days and was usually our shortest workout of the week since we had a game the night before.  

Finally, at the conclusion of workout each day, we would break our huddle with “I Believe” and each player was required to say something encouraging to every teammate before leaving the huddle area.  I believe this was a good way to remind each other that we all have a role in our success and everyone and every role needed to be respected…different roles, same status, shared result!

In summary, there is no doubt in my mind that much of the success we had at White Oak could be attributed to our preparation.  Once we entered district play, we prepared for each opponent specifically, kept working to improve ourselves, and went into each game knowing we had a plan.  No doubt, I was a much bigger fan of practice than my players (which is understandable) and was probably the one guy in the gym that enjoyed practice as much as the games.  I think the words of 2013 alum Levi Yancy summed up the feelings of most of my players when he would say, “The best thing about game day is not having to practice!” For me, the best part about game day was knowing we were prepared.

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!

 

Outside The Lines

On the first day of school each year in my math or history class, I would always see the same look on many faces that sat in the desks in front of me, especially the faces of the girls that I did not know.  The look on their face, many times, said “I’m about to have this maniac as my teacher? This is the guy that screams and yells at the top of his lungs during basketball games. He never sits down. He just rants and raves up and down the sideline!  Is he going to yell at me????”

Many of the kids that I would have in class only knew the guy they had seen at basketball games or at practice when they walked through the gym.  I’ll be the first to admit…that guy is pretty intense! I had coached many of the boys in Junior High athletics so they knew a little more about me, but I could always tell some of the girls were terrified so I would spend the first couple of days going overboard to convince them that I wasn’t going to tell them to get on the line!  Almost yearly, once we were a couple of weeks into class, I would have a student come up to me after class and say, “You’re a lot different in class than I thought you would be.”

In this entry of Coach With A Purpose, I would like to share my thoughts on the role of the coach off the court.  Without a doubt, I believe this is one of the most important and impactful aspects of coaching because it shows there is a distinction between the player and the person. On the court, I had to always do what was best for the team. Off the court, I would do my best to do what was best for the player. In my opinion, when these 2 roles become clouded it is difficult for the coach and the player and it leads to problems for all involved.  

Whether it be the coach that is too loose with players on the court or the coach that is too rigid with players off the court, I believe the effectiveness and impact that a coach can have will suffer.  As a coach, especially a demanding coach, the students must be able to see that you know there is a difference between being on and off the court.

One of the ways that I tried to send this message to my players was to make it mandatory for each player to see me (or their coach) before they left to go home after practices or games.  This was something that I learned from my high school coach, Dan Noll, who was a master of relationships. By having the players come by the office before leaving, there were several things being accomplished.  First of all, if I had to get on a player hard during practice it was an opportunity to let them know before they went home that it was never personal.

Also, on occasion  when a player did not play at all or played very little in a game it gave me an opportunity to get a feel for their understanding of the situation and whether or not I needed to talk with them before they left.  I never wanted them to think them not playing was a reflection on them personally.

Finally, I would have a chance to convey any thoughts that I wanted to leave with them before they went home for the evening, just tell them “good job”, or offer a few tidbits of advice.  Finally, depending on the circumstances, there were times when it would have been easier for both me and the player to just ignore the situation by just going our separate ways but that is not the lesson I wanted our program to teach. We would face each other face to face each day before they left regardless of the circumstances. Easy doesn’t make it right.

When I had one of my players in class, I rarely talked to them about basketball.  I just tried to treat them like any other student when they were in my class. For one reason, I wanted them to know that there was more to me than being their basketball coach.  I was also their classroom teacher and I took that responsibility seriously.

Secondly, I wanted them to know there was more to life than athletics and that I respected their time off the court.  I believe one of the biggest mistakes coaches can make is trying to monopolize the time of their athletes and not respect their time outside of their sport. Without a doubt, all successful programs are demanding and commitment of an athlete’s time to their sport is up towards the top of the list of demands. However, as coaches, I believe we should respect our players time to be a student, time with their family, and just time to be a kid. As I’ve stated in several other entries of Coach With A Purpose, players can always tell if you care for them or care what they can do for you.

Thirdly, I always wanted my players to know that I supported them in their other interests outside of basketball.  Whether they were involved in other sports, band, theatre, FFA, or activities outside of school, I did my best to support them.  Whether it be by attending these events, offering encouragement in the hallways, giving shoutouts on twitter, or a quick text message, there are so many ways to let your players know that you support them.

Finally, I want to share with you what I believe is one of the unique aspects of White Oak High School…the coaches fist bump.  Many years ago I read a book by Coach K at Duke University that talked about using the “fist” as a symbol of unity within their program.  The first was made up of 5 individual parts (fingers) but it was much more effective when clinched than as separate parts. As we adopted this philosophy into our own basketball program, the fist became a symbol for unity…Five As One.  Consequently, when our players would leave after practice or games we would exchange fist bumps instead of shaking hands to symbolize this unity.

Over time, when I would pass my players in the hallways, we would exchange a fist bump as well and other students would see this and I could tell they looked perplexed.  Consequently, we just started to exchange fist bumps as well. As fortune would have it, my classroom in the high school was located by the classrooms of several of our other coaches so as we would stand in the hallways between classes and chat, over the years we started giving fist bumps to all the kids who would pass by us in the hallway.  

Fast forward a decade or so and one of the traditions at WOHS is the kids – all kids – getting a fist bump as they passed the coaches at the end of the hall.  As coaches, we took pride in just offering this small gesture that said “you matter” and it is these 4 minutes between classes that I missed as much as anything when I moved to the Middle School campus.  

In conclusion, there is much wisdom in the saying, “They will never care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  As coaches, we show how much we care by our actions off the court/field and by our actions after a player’s playing days are over.  As much as any other time, coaches show who we are when players take the jersey off.

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!