I love basketball, although I am only a youth coach, got about 150 games under my belt, and honestly my record over almost 10 years is probably less than 50% of the time our team wins…not great.
Also my love for basketball… is complicated, I don’t win much and the culture of my hometown team is less then ideal. We haven’t had a winning season in more than 30 years. I’m not kidding.
Yet, I’ve read a lot of books, John Wooden, Urban Meyer, Brian McCormick, Jon Gordon, Tim Tebow, are just a few of my favorites. I’ve read “all” the blog articles on coaching sports, especially basketball. I’ve had a lot of beers over this subject. Texts, e-mails… conversations…
So, so this is my manifesto of how to build a basketball program.
Why me? You are probably thinking, you arrogant ass… how dare you…
But I’m like… Why not? I’m inspired to write it, so write this I must. I may not be 100% qualified, but perhaps my knowledge is qualified. I guess that is always up for debate. However these principles I am confident will ALWAYS work when followed and believed in from the top down. Yes, Always.
This is about how we will turn my little community of basketball around for good this time, forever (or at least let’s say the next decade.) A basketball town is not made based on your geography, “We are not a basketball town…” This isn’t a GPS thing, this is a program thing.
Can one unique, blessed, inspired coach that has a commitment to excellence and a microscope on the current team as well as the telescope on the future turn it around? Of course. Obviously. But friends, that is like hoping for a winning lottery ticket. “What we really need is a person with tons of leadership skills, CEO skills, communications skills, and enough basketball knowledge to build a library around with a commitment on the short term, but also an eye for decades to build this program the right way. The kids and parents must all love her/him as well. That person.” Ok… it MIGHT HAPPEN but let’s be real would THAT PERSON come to OUR TOWN… probably NOT!
So what? There is still a path…the 10 commandments of program development. Maybe this post helps us, if not us, maybe some other program. A great program is successful, both in wins, but also in making better people! A person proud of their school, their program for instance is NOT GOING TO SHOOT UP THE SCHOOL. An extreme example for sure, but yet, you are reading this because I assume you agree… sports can and should change the world for the better when done right!
Here’s my manifesto. I’m not super skilled to say this is the right path, I have no degree in this… but I love culture, I love sports… in a way I’ve been thinking and learning about writing this manifesto my whole life… so here we go…
1. Mission & Values
What do you want to be known for. What will you never compromise on?
– hard work – body language – self sacrifice – commitment… just some of the words when thinking about this. You will have to live by this.
Then it makes your hard decisions easy…
Senior doesn’t live up to this… cut him and move the freshman up… tough decisions like that!
Words impact so much. The way we say things.
2. CULTURE IS EVERYTHING
Culture feeds everything. Everything. Every conversation. Every touch point. Culture must and always starts at the top. The example they set. Culture of excellence. Commitment. Fun. It is the what around your why (values and mission.) The leader sets the tone, the rest follow that. Each time out. The way we dress. The way we talk. End of the year banquet.
3. Youth Program are your ROOTS.
Basketball is a skill. Too many programs forget that. It is similar to a musical instrument. You must train, practice all years. You will hear often teams are made in the winter, players made in the offseason. A lack of skill development might work in football, or track, but not in a skilled sport, where thousands of reps are needed for efficiency.
So how does that work?
Kids, that’s what they are, just kids, must…
Love the game. So learning sessions, (never practices, culture, words are powerful) must be fun. If they are fun. If kids love the game… Players WILL practice on their own. Skills!
Linkage. Each year should build off last year so coaches don’t have to waste time going over the same things and two worst cases scenarios happen: confuse the kids with too many plays and waste time going over new systems each year. Each year builds off last year until the crowning moment varsity year. The varsity offense just has more wrinkles. It’s still the same basic frame work they ran in 3rd grade!
Time. Gym space will always be a premium. Each minute at every level must be scripted. Each volunteer coach means well, but I don’t expect them to do this. The youth director …as directed by the varsity coaches (it ALWAYS STARTS FROM THE TOP)… must delegate going to learning sessions to another motivated volunteer, to HELP not control learning sessions.
Learning sessions should focus on:
No lines. Use soccer style coaching, not 1950s style basketball coaching. Dribble, Shoot. Fundamentals. Small sided games. Anything under 4th grade should be 9′ hoops if possible.
Lots of scrimmaging, under coaching guidance! The playing is critical. To learn basketball is jazz music with basic principles, yet creativity, but an active coach, that is always teaching as they go. 3 vs 3. 2 vs 2. 1 vs 1. 5 vs 4.
Also situational, down 6, up 1… etc.
90 minute practice. 45 must be on skills. 30 must be small sided games/scrimmaging. Only 15 miutes on x’s and o’s. So we need to keep it simple!
If the varsity program changes systems based talent use the below. However, If they run a drive and dish, then run that, if they always press, do that… etc!
5 out motion offense, with RULES, not spots! No set plays, besides maybe 2 for when offense bogs down.
Attack to score or pass
Pass & cut
Man 2 Man Defense, again Rules, not spots:
Protect the hoop
Stop the ball
You man ball (clock)
Pregame warmups, jump ball, and most importantly inbound plays should be taught by learning session director to all coaches. Why? TIME. Let the coaches worry about skill development, take the “heavy lifting” off their shoulders. It’s just efficiency. Teach the box inbound, a stack with a drop down, and side teach rocket, and maybe “hail mary.” Attack on inbounds. Later on add a detail. Keep it simple but effective, a well run inbound play leads to success as well up to 60% of scoring can come off of this.
And yes, they should run more complex BUT SIMILAR PLAYS at the varsity level. Imagine, you take a 4th grader to a varsity game, you can say…see that is the play we run! How exciting! Also, it’s a mind thing scientifically. Let’s say it’s a play to win conference, let’s say you ran a component of that since 4th grade, instead of a play you learned two days ago…. odds of you running it 100% effectively, very high!
The learning session director does a unit pre-season, but more importantly sacrificies their time to go to learning sessions at all levels regularly. Generally a volunteer coach will start to obsess about winning and run a 2-3 zone, and a double scree for the best player on offense, work on x’s and o’s and not fundamentals (I have been there!) That does get WINS, but does NOT develop a player.
Remember this is important, promote a youth LEARNING SESSION director. The youth director CAN NOT DO BOTH. They are busy with money, schedules, parent e-mails, equipment, gym schedules and probably have their own team(s) to coach. A learning session director is in charge of learning sessions at all levels and works directly year round with the varsity coach or someone on their staff.
Varsity coach and the culture must be OBSESSSED with the linkage from each year. Youth night, mentor leader program, shirts, using social media, the local news, anything, anything to get people at the games, make basketball cool in your town (if it’s cool and they like it… they will practice on their own, and your best athletes in town will make it a focus.) Jersey night. Halftime recognition, and most importantly touches. The varsity coaches need to know all the kids that play hoops in town, treat them as ONE TEAM… sounds easy and it is and isn’t. It’s a commitment. Pack the gym however you can!
You want basketball players, not kids that play basketball. To do that, they must see leaders in the program they look up to older then them, they must see a path to greatness, they must believe it is cool and fun. They want to be a rock star on the court… show them the path!
Grow your roots, to see the fruit.
4. Shoot. Dribble. Man 2 man D principles. Pass and Cut.
If you can shoot the lights out. Control the ball. Play team man 2 man defense, press like men on fire… and simply pass and cut effectively, you will win lots of games. So we must constantly work on all of that. No one ever had too many good shooter and good dribblers. Shooting can overcome a lack of height/speed.
I love kids that play 4 sports and in our small town it is possible. But if you play the trombone there is no “trombone season” is there? Of course not! Parents and kids in the community must understand this. A commitment must be there to develop skills. This is the only place to actually get better. Fundamentally strong teams can win with any combinations of plays. It has to stay fun and it has to stay competitive. If the culture breeds fun, a growth mindset, and builds a path, they will love basketball if they love basketball they will NATURALLY play in the summer. It won’t be hard… it will be easy. Remember culture is everything! Shoot. Dribble.
Like the New Zealand Blacks, our players have to know this is an honor. You build that by traditions that are part of your culture. Jersey night. End of the year program. Leadership training. Anything that connects the future to the past and the past to the future. It is about the program and maintaining excellence. They are playing for more than them. Or even their year. They play for EVERYONE, the past the future, the community. Pride.
7. Work together.
No varsity coach staff can do it all. No youth director can do it all. Write down volunteer roles and duties. Then delegate and hold them accountable. A parent only has a few kids, sometimes just one. They are 100% in… but only a few years. Don’t make them “invent the wheel” more like plug and play! Have them become a defined piece of the puzzle, in writing for them to fill! Then lead them starting with… CULTURE TRAINING AND TRADITIONS AND LINKAGE!
8. Care more.
Do you know all the kids on your varsity team? Of course… How about on the 8th grade team, how about the 4th grade team? How about your assistant coaches, do they know all the kids in the program? And do you know their names and parents as well? Simply care more. Every one plays a huge role. It’s our job to know EVERYBODY!
9. “All in”
Youth program must be in total sync with varsity program.
Players can and should be cut if they don’t buy in… including summer programs, body language, traditions. Don’t be afraid to play freshman! Find your best 12. I can’t think of one successful program that plays juniors and seniors just because they show up. That’s not near enough, the good news is you will already know this before… since we know all the players early on, and communication, summer programs, and all in atmosphere, it will be obvious to everyone in the basketball community who EARNED a varsity spot!
Remember those first years, coach K, John Wooden, Bob Knight were not immediately successful.
Carving the path is tougher than walking down the path. But it must be done! Celebrate any win culturally or in a real game like the sun rose. Early wins celebrated, at anything, are key!
This is the best part!
The home stretch!
The 10th commandment.
Because of the 9 steps in this framework, anyone that deviates from this gets called out, educated, trained to follow them. If they don’t follow them… they are asked to leave the program. Not emotional. Not hard even. It’s just not in the program’s best interest.
Head coach doesn’t take an interest in the youth sports program? Ask for his resignation.
Youth director doesn’t follow the traditions? Tell him the reasons why… if that doesn’t work… see ya.
Parent, doesn’t seem it necessary to be a good fan, and berates coaches and refs. See ya.
A high school kid doesn’t want to work in the summers… no problem enjoy the beach and time OFF THE COURT during the season.
EVERYONE MUST HOLD EVERYONE ELSE ACCOUNTABLE!
Write down your mission and values. Let everyone know what they are.
Culture is everything.
Grow the roots, the fruits will come. Always grow the roots.
IT HELPS BUT YOU DON’T NEED DIVISION 1 PLAYERS TO BE A COMPETITIVE PROGRAM YEAR AFTER YEAR!
Do NOT COMPROMISE. DO NOT SETTLE. DEMAND EXCELLENCE. OVER COMMUNICATE. AND GET IT DONE. BEING SUCCESSFUL HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH YOUR ZIP CODE! YOU MUST BELIEVE IT IS POSSIBLE, AND GET OTHERS TO BELIEVE AS WELL!
ACCOUNTABILITY! IS A MUST! TALK DIRECT, FAST, WORK TOGETHER!
These are the 10 commandments of a program culture. Nothing secret or magical about this. Just work the plan.
I can’t think of one sports program that has ever failed with these steps in place!