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 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!

Form Shooting Made Competitive

My daughter Charlotte and I have been trying to get her to shoot the basketball with more arc. If she shoots the ball higher, she increases the room the ball has to go through the hoop.

To shoot the ball higher, she needs to make sure her hand is under the ball, and she needs to lift her elbow. She needs to shoot the ball more up and to the hoop than, say, pushing it out and toward the hoop.

Charlotte needs to build some new habits (especially elbow lift), and so we have added a form shooting segment to our daily workouts to try and build a new habit. Research suggests that she needs to focus on the new habit she is trying to build for approximately thirty days. For the form shooting segment of her workouts, we are thinking pretty much only about arc and elbow lift. The downside of form shooting everyday is that it can get pretty boring.

Sometimes, I think players have to get over being bored when the are trying to create a new habit. However, one way to beat boredom is to create a competition. My kids and I came up with the following “game” for form shooting:

  • 5 shots from short, medium, and long for a total of 15 shots
  • 1 point if the ball has high arc (we look for over the top of the backboard or the roofline of our house)
  • 1 point if the ball goes in
  • 1 point if the ball swishes

As soon as we implemented this point system, the girls started making more shots and showing more enthusiasm for their work. As soon as form shooting became a game, the girls’ focus improved.

Fourteen Things to Do in Your Basketball Practice

Perfect Practice Series Part II

basketball practice list of things to do

  1. Greet the players enthusiastically as they enter the practice space. 
  2. Huddle up for (in non coronavirus times) high fives, fist bumps, and talk about what’s important for the day. 
  3. Encourage players to be positive vocally, physically, and with their body language. 
  4. Get loose by starting slow and facilitate or make space for small talk that builds relationships. 
  5. Handle the ball, pass, and catch. Practice these skills on the move. 
  6. Finish fast break layups, offensive rebounds, post moves, and pay extra attention to the weak hand.  
  7. Teach and practice shooting from a set position, on the move, and off the dribble. 
  8. Teach BBHS offensive tools while practicing defensive situations. BBHS stands for Basket cuts, ball screens, handoffs, and screens off the ball. 
  9. Use dummy (non-live) situations into live play. Drill a concept such as playing a switch in a ball screen until it looks like you want it and then call, “live.” Allow for at least one trip down and back of live play. Much of a basketball game is played by converting from one end to the other. 
  10. Offensive 5 on 5 play with restrictions. The offense must meet a restriction before shooting. An example of a restriction might be three good screens off the ball or a post touch before a shot. Players should always get layups when they can. 
  11. Defensive slides into live play. I’ll take one of our defenses such as man to man, a full court zone press, or a 1-3-1 zone and slide versus an offensive pattern until I call, “live.” Again, I try to convert at least one down and back.  
  12. Practice live out of bounds plays with conversions. 
  13. End the practice on a positive note such as a player scoring, a great pass, or a standout hustle play. 
  14. Huddle up for more fist bumps, slaps, and take time to look back on the practice and look ahead to whatever is next.

Fav Basketball Books on Torg Stories Pod

What are your favorite books

about basketball?

The Jordan Rules Sam Smith Pat Conroy Rick Pitino Wooden Sprawlball A Season on the Brink

Torg Fav Basketball Books

Kent Chezem and I list and discuss our favorite hoops books in this episode of the Torg Stories Podcast, March 8, 2020 edition.

In preparing for this pod, I realized that I have read a lot more basketball books than I previously thought, probably at least 100.

I came up with nineteen books I thought were worth mentioning.

First, a commercial. My book, The Coach’s Wife has a lot of basketball in it and is on sale via Amazon for less than ten bucks.

  1. Season on the Brink by John Feinstein. 1986.
  2. The Losing Season by Pat Conroy
  3. Born to Coach by Rick Pitino 
  4. The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith
  5. Sprawlball by Kirk Goldsberry
  6. Wooden, A Coach’s Life by Seth Davis
  7. The 21st Century Basketball Practice by Brian McCormick
  8. Coach Wooden and Me by Kareem  (I met Kareem in the St. John’s locker room at Madison Square Garden)  AND Becoming Kareem by Obstfeld 
  9. When the Game was Ours by Larry Bird and Magic Johnson with Jackie MacMullan (appears on ESPN’s show Around the Horn)
  10. The Legends Club by Feinstein
  11. The Last Amateurs by Feinstein
  12. My Life on a Napkin by Rick Majerus
  13. Sum it Up by Sally Jenkins 
  14. The Last Seasonby Phil Jackson
  15. I just bought Seven Seconds or Less about the Suns by Jack McCallum. 
  16. Lebron INCby Brian Windhorst. He also wrote Return of the King. 
  17. Showtime by Jeff Pearlman
  18. Basketball, A Love Story. 
  19. The Book of Basketballby Bill Simmons

In doing this work, here are the books I’m going to look into reading: 

  1. Geno: In Pursuit of Perfection
  2. Assisted by John Stockton
  3. How Lucky Can You Be (Meyer) by Buster Olney
  4. Bleed Orange about Boheim
  5. The Pistol 
  6. Fab Five 
  7. Boys Among Men by Abrams 
  8. Seven Seconds or Less Jack MaCullum 
  9. Basketball on Paper Dean Oliver 
  10. A Coach’s Life by Dean Smith with John Kilgo and Sally Jenkins

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Which of my favs overlaps with yours?
  2. How did you rank these books?
  3. What do we get out of reading these books?
  4. What are these books about that we can talk about? Three point line. 21st Century Basketball. How would we describe our college basketball practices? How have we departed?
  5. Which of these coaches have we met? How at all, have these books or the coaches influenced us?
  6. I mostly left out technical X and O books like these:
  • Knight and Newell’s pair of books, Tex Winter’s Triangle Offense, Wooten’s Coaching Basketball Successfully, Dean Smith’s Multiple Offenses and Defenses, Tim Grover’s Jump Attack

I counted 42 books on Amazon written by John Feinstein:

  • The Back Roads to March, Where Nobody Knows Your Name (baseball), The First Major, A Good Walk Spoiled, The Legends Club, Season on the Brink, Quarterback, The Last Amateurs, A Season Inside, The Last Dance, The Punch (about the Rockets), Forever’s Team about Duke 78, A March to Madness about ACC

What are your favorites? Which ones are we wrong about? We hope you’ll join the conversation!