5 Lemov Inspired Questions for Coaches

Doug Lemov’s book The Coach’s Guide to Teaching was probably one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read about coaching. There’s a lot in the book that I want to immediately apply to the way I coach basketball.

I read the book on my Kindle and highlighted or took a note on over 200 passages in the book. I read through those and typed up seven pages of reflections in a Google Doc. Now, in hopes of facilitating some conversation with you all, I’ve come up with some questions for discussion. I’d also love to hear from you in the comments section about some of what you found most interesting in the book.

Lemov often references videos in his book of coaches and teachers practicing their craft. Those videos are helpfully collected here.

In what I write below, I will often use a phrase such as “Lemov argues,” when what he actually does is quote a lot of teachers and coaches he’s talked to. He also takes the time to situate the idea within scholarship on teaching and how the brain works. For this post, I just say “Lemov” instead of all of the different coaches he quotes.

So, here are the questions I’ve come up with for you that I hope will spark some conversation among us:

  1. What’s your feedback like for players? Is it all over the place? Too much of it? Lemov suggests we focus our feedback and keep it short.
    • Let’s say I’m using a 4v4v4 drill because I want players to make better decisions in our screen and roll action. Specifically, I ask players to watch the roll player (players are often looking at the floor) and to watch to see where the help defenders are positioned. In the past, it would be my tendency to stop play and offer feedback on any number of things I see that I’d like for us to do better including footwork on a catch or the way a defender closes out a shooter. I’ve also been the head coach who wraps up a drill by asking all of the coaches if they’ve got any feedback. Lemov suggests this is too much information to be retained and that feedback should be focused on one area of play.
  2. What are your best drills or games for practice? Lemov suggests we choose core games that can be adapted for emphasis. By modifying restrictions during a game or drill, we can change the emphasis of the drill.
    • I’ve wasted time teaching players a lot of different drills and games. I’ve done this, in part, because I’m always learning activities that I’d like to try, and I believe that using a variety of ways of working on the same concept can help to keep players engaged. What I hope to do instead of teaching players lots of new games is to identify some core games and drills that I use again and again. When I encounter a new drill or game, I need to consider if the time it will take to teach it is worth adding it to practice.
    • So as a basketball coach, what do I mean play with restrictions? An example of a core game that many coaches use is a three-quarter court game that could be run with teams ranging from 3v3 to 5v5. I know when I used to watch Knight’s Indiana teams practice, huge sections of practice were devoted to 4v4v4 done three -quarter court. Let’s say I want to work on screening, and so I say that the offense has to either get a lay up or hit the screener two times before they can shoot. We will always take a lay up if we can get it no matter the restriction. We can play the game make it take it, or we can play the game to stops. We can give an extra point for an offensive rebound, but as we add these restrictions, Lemov suggests that we don’t over complicate the scoring system. Just one restriction for what we most need to teach at this point in the players development. By not having to learn a new game, the players can devote all of their attention (working memory) to the concept we want them to learn.
Appalachian State players talk to campers during a stoppage in play. That’s my kid #85

3. How are you managing / coaching play stoppages? Do you stop practice the right amount? For what reason do you stop? What do you say when you stop practice?

One thing that Lemov suggests that I haven’t done is to use the same word every time to stop and then resume play in practice. That might be “freeze” or “pause” or maybe two whistles. Next, I need to coach the players up that we need them to stop moving so that the situation I stopped practice for can quickly be recreated. What I say needs to be very short, probably less than 45 seconds and then I need to give the players a chance to do what I just talked about. The word to resume play also needs to be the same. Maybe it’s, “Let’s play.”

4.Are you individualizing player development?

Lemov suggests that we have at least one thing for each player we are trying to improve. We’d meet with the player to decide on this one thing. We’d develop a plan for improving the one thing. We’d meet regularly to see if we are “moving the needle” on the one thing. In basketball, we get a lot of reps on something we call a stride stop. For some of our players, this is a very new concept. Others have done hundreds of stride stop. As a classroom teacher, we call this differentiating instruction. Lemov suggests that we consider what each player needs when it comes to skill development.

5. How far in advance do you plan what you will teach to your team? Are you always scrambling to get the next practice plan finished? Have you organized your team (in my case basketball) curriculum?

Lemov suggests that we list the concepts we need to teach our team and then prioritize them. The books suggests students probably need three days of instruction to understand a concept such as something like attacking 2-3 zones or trapping in our man to man defense. After we’ve got a concept in such as attacking odd-front zones, we need to circle back once in awhile to make sure our players retain the concept. Remember that last second cramming we might have done as a student before a big test? That’s not good for our teams. Obviously, there’s probably more that we want to teach our players than we can even get done in an entire season. So by listing all that we want to teach, prioritizing what we will teach when, and then looking at what we can fit into our scheduled practices, we can make more educated decisions on how to spend our practice time.

To wrap up…

I see my questions and commentary above as just an opening to a conversation about Lemov’s thought-provoking book on teaching and coaching. I’d love to hear from you in the comments section about what you are most excited to take from this book to your coaching pedagogy.

Thanks for taking the time to read the post!

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