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!

Basketball Leadership

I took some notes while reading Dick DeVenzio’s book, Running the Show: Basketball Leadership for Coaches and Players. I recommend it to players, coaches, and parents. You can click here to access it on Amazon. Below, you will find a list of things that stood out to me while reading the book.

  1. Play away from the boundary lines of a basketball court. (Today, I’d say we would have the exception of the corner 3)
  2. Scorers should run your defender into the players who are going to make it rough for the defender. 
  3. Play the line game with your team in practice. One whistle means players stop where they are. Two whistles mean for players to sprint to the line the coach is pointing at. If players can explain the problem with one of the points of emphasis, play resumes. If no one can explain the problem, the players run and then coach explains the problem. 

Here are some examples of what a coach might choose to emphasize during the line game: 

  • A shot means 3-2 movement for the offense. Two players back on defense. 
  • Mistake = instant hustle
  • If we lose ball, switch ends fast. 
  • Always see the ball on defense. 
  • Contest all shots.
  • Avoid negative body language
  • No right hand lay ups for the opponent. 
  • If you are on defense and the ball is ahead of you, sprint to catch up with it. 
  1. The coach calls out his or her rating for the shot that is taken in practice. This helps coaches and players to be on the same page when it comes to shot selection.  
  • 10 is perfect shot. There are no perfect shots. 1 is the worst shot you can take. 
  • 9 is an uncontested lay up. 
  • 7 is, I’m ecstatic. We need 7s and above. 
  • A “5” is so-so. You can make these in practice but not against good competition. 
  • A “3” is very low percentage. We can’t have these. 
  1. Most teams can be stopped half the time if you can get 5 defenders in the lane with their hands up. 
  2. A pass to the other team is an especially devastating turnover. 
  3. Assistant coach can keep track of the following: 
  • How many uncontested shots? 
  • How many fast break baskets? 
  • How many right-handed lay ups given up? 
  1. Do most of your coaching in air conditioned rooms. (not on the practice court) This means team and individual meetings when people are calm and thoughtful. 
  2. Lots of good practices over a period of time is the goal. 
  3. Play 10-12 players every game. 
  4. What should the subs do? “Hustle hard, fight for loose balls, sprint up and down the court, keep moving and setting screens constantly, make a lot of body contact, don’t try difficult things with the ball…hustle on defense and go for rebounds.”
  5. Decide your players playing time before the game begins. 
  • He partners players with a sub and tells them when the sub plays each quarter. Example is a 4-2-2 split when it comes to minutes in a quarter. Sub plays the middle 2 minutes. 
  • DeVenzio suggests that you might want to use the above method for the 1st three quarters and make in-game decision for fourth quarter. 

Teams with bad coaching or no coach (as in pick up ball) have these problems:

“No plays. No timing. No group-understanding of roles. No one to keep them from just going out and playing.” These things are the coach’s job. 

13. Take time to teach procedures. What does DeVenzio mean, procedures? 

  • How do you want practice started? 
  • How do you want players to huddle for timeout? 
  • Do you expect eye contact when you are talking? 
  • What do you want them doing before practice starts?
  • Are you okay with them kicking a chair or disrespecting a manager? 
  1. The players who are leaders constantly remind their teammates what to expect and where to be. 
  2. Leaders should use the 6 to 1 ratio. Tell a teammate 6 positive things for every negative comment or suggestion. 
  3. Leadership requires a lot of energy. There is so much to notice and so much to say out loud.  
  4. Spotlight your teammate by saying positive things about them.
  5. Leaders say two names for each minute of practice. “Get back, Joe!” or “Anne, stop the ball.”
  6.  DeVenzio on people who believe change is impossible: 
  • “I’m amazed at how quickly athletes, parents, and people in general seem to conclude that things are as they are and there’s no use trying any longer to change them, even though many of their situations are extremely changeable.”  

Basketball Shot Analysis

The video below can be used as a lesson in how to shoot a basketball. I’m definitely not someone who would claim to know THE way to shoot a basketball. If you are someone who already knows a lot about shooting, there should be some information in the video that could make for an interesting discussion.

Lots of times, a player or coach knows that the shot is messed up, but they don’t really know how to start improving. This video contains some questions that should help a coach or player to analyze a shot. The questions are embedded in the video and there is a link to a Google Doc provided below.

For a blank Google Doc template with the questions for analysis, click here.

For my written commentary on my daughter Charlotte’s shot, click here.

Thanks for checking out the post!

The Perfect Basketball Practice: Part I

The Perfect Basketball Practice: My Beliefs About the Game

Part I

This guy Nate and I were supposed to meet to talk about coaching basketball. I didn’t know him very well, but we would soon be friends. It’s one of the best things about sports, that it delivers friends.  Nate and I live in the mountain town of Boone, North Carolina where I can drive twenty-five miles to the north and be in Tennessee and just a little to the east and enter Virginia. My friends back in Indiana where I’m from often refer to me as being an East Coaster. I don’t think they realize I’m pretty much south and just a little east of Columbus, Ohio, and it’s at least a five-hour drive to the beach from here. I used to live in New Canaan, Connecticut and also New York City. Those are the kinds of places I think of when I think of the East Coast. Nate and I were to meet at a coffee place called The Local Lion right across from Appalachian State University where we were both lecturers. Nate has since moved on to a job with a less flexible schedule, and I try to keep my late afternoons clear for working out my girls and coaching their respective teams. 

I arrived to The Lion first and chose a seat at a wooden table where I could see the door and watch for Nate. It’s a place that serves homemade doughnuts with names like “pumpkin apple cider” and posts videos online in which homemade chocolate glaze can be seen poured over one of their latest creations. I pulled out a notebook I call a daybook. I started calling my notebooks daybooks after I read a book called Write to Learn by Donald Murray. Murray was the first book I ever read about writing that I liked. He used the first person, told stories to illustrate his ideas, and he wrote in a conversational style that was easy to understand.  In Write to Learn, Murray wrote this about his daybook: “anything that will stimulate or record my thinking, anything that will move toward writing goes into the daybook.” When I am feeling a little high falutin, I say that I write down intellectual seeds in my daybook that I hope to grow. For my meeting with Nate, I’d written down a bunch of stuff I thought we might teach the girls. Some of the words and phrases included work on weak hand, pivoting, shooting technique, and jump to the ball. I tend toward the belief that it doesn’t do any good to teach kids a bunch of plays if they can’t dribble or pass. It’s a cliche for coaches to say they want to teach kids to play and not a bunch of plays, but it’s another thing entirely to put teaching the fundamentals into regular practice over a long period of time. Besides that, with only 90 or so minutes twice week, which fundamentals will the coach choose to teach? 

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That’s Nate on the left and me on the right with the team.

Nate arrived and came over to shake my hand. He’s a couple inches taller than me, probably 6’4 or so, and is an incredibly energetic and enthusiastic guy. We each had some experience with coaching basketball. Nate was a manager at Arizona when Lute Olsen was the coach, and he’d been a high school head boys coach in Maryland. I’d been a graduate assistant at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois where I’d played and then over the course of two decades had been a head coach and an assistant for boys and girls in both North Carolina and Indiana. The most impressive highlight I can share about my coaching career was that I was an assistant coach for Vance High School in Charlotte when that team beat a Chris Paul team on its way to the North Carolina 4A state championship. Nate had worked with the fifth graders the year before, and I had started working with girls through the YMCA in Connecticut back when my oldest was a second grader. We’d both learned that all of our high school and college experiences didn’t necessarily translate into planning effective and fun practices for the girls we would coach. After a trip to the counter for coffee and doughnuts, Nate and I sat down to talk.

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Nate’s iPad notes from the day we met to talk hoops.

For Nate’s notes, he came armed with an iPad the size of a standard piece of notebook paper. As I watched him pull out the pen that had come with the device, I remembered about how I’d read Steve Jobs always took a stand against the pen. He’d hold up his hand and wiggle his fingers demonstrating that people are born with natural pens for the iPad. With Jobs having passed away, the pen came to Apple. After some chit chat, we got down to the business at hand. 

“What’s your ideal practice,” Nate asked, “for these kids we are about to start working with?” I loved that Nate sat down ready to fire off questions. It’s certainly my style too, to be constantly asking questions of others and trying to learn. I’m going to use Nate’s question in the coming posts to try and get down some of what I’ve come believe about ideal workouts and practices. 

 

Life Without Sport

It used to be, before the COVID-19 caused lots of cancellations, that my days were full of sport. Some days, I wrote out practice plans for the sixth and eighth grade girls travel teams I coach, strength training plans, or a workout for my girls to be held in the Quinn Center on the campus of Appalachian State University where I teach. Six days a week, I was used to meeting my daughters for a travel team practice or one of our workouts. Many nights, we’d get home after 9:00 p.m. and the girls would still have homework to complete. Days were long. There didn’t seem to be quite enough time for everything.

Peak Basketball, Laura Barry, Bill Torgerson, Boone, North Carolina, Watauga High School

The travel basketball seasons of the two teams I coach were suspended indefinitely.

Every weekend for the foreseeable future was filled with a basketball tournament. Now, even though there are online courses for me to teach and homework for the girls to do via remote learning, the day’s schedule has a lot more free time in it. 

Not only are the sports we participate in cancelled, but so are the ones we are used to watching on television. I am not a passionate fan of a sports team I watch regularly on television, but I do live with two such people. My side of the family is from Indiana, and my mom and dad are Indiana Hoosier basketball fans first, the Big Ten second, and then they come up with connections such as rooting for the team that beat a Big Ten Team in the tournament or perhaps paying attention to a school such as Baylor because Scott Drew is the coach, and he is from Valparaiso, Indiana. With the loss of March Madness, my parents lose one of their favorite times of the year, and I lose the pleasure of hearing my mother shout at the television for the players on TV to rebound. 

While I’m not a big fan of sports teams, I do regularly watch games on television. I am a fan of Golden State Warriors’ Coach Steve Kerr, and the way he has helped his players organically find random double staggered screens in a motion offense I see at least in the same family of the Bob Knight motion offenses I grew up with in Indiana. During the course of this basketball season, I became interested in what Carolina Coach Roy Williams would say after the next loss, and I thought I saw ingredients of possibility that the team might get things turned around for a late winning streak. Following an 81-53 loss to Syracuse in the ACC tournament, the Carolina’s men’s basketball season ended with a sense of closure unavailable to many teams. I think of teams such as Gonzaga who will have to wonder if this year would have finally been the year or all of those high school players and coaches I know whose seasons were cancelled or put on hold after a couple of wins in the state tournament. 

At my house, life is not yet without sport. My daughters and I just completed six days in a row that included a ball handling routine, strength training, and basketball skill workouts on our pretty-narrow but still adequate backyard court.

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Screenshot of Durant in Big 12 Champtionship

When we’re in our little weight room, my girls and I put on House of Highlights, watch one of the fifty or so games I have recorded, or dig into some of the content on ESPN+. Just this week we watched Kevin Durant drop 37 points and snag 10 ten rebounds during an overtime loss versus Kansas during the 2007 Big 12 Conference Championship. That’s what’s on television now. 

I wonder how long my girls and I can keep up the workouts and watch old basketball games without losing enthusiasm for the work. We can definitely make it until next November when we hope middle and high school basketball in North Carolina will resume, but what if there aren’t any sports for the 2020-2021 season? I’ve read about the possibility that new infections of the virus might decline in the summer but make a strong comeback during the fall. For now, I try not to think too far ahead. For both sports and the rest of life, there’s a lot to be said for enjoying each day while keeping in mind what could happen in the coming weeks and months. I try to have a plan for the future while focusing on today and this week. It’s a way of thinking I already tried to operate under before I ever heard of COVID=19. It’s also, by the way, how I think about death. I know death is coming, but rather than dwell on it too much, I try to use that knowledge to keep myself aware of savoring what it is I will do today.