Friday, September 27, 2013

#019 Mentors To Share

I have been very blessed over the course of my career to work with unbelievable people who have become my friends and mentors.  I thought that instead of writing my own words today, I would help you all experience some of the people who have inspired me and continue to be great resources in my life.  I think you will find that all three of these people are the types of individuals who will make you better just by reading their words or being in their presence.  Enjoy!

Dr. Beth Triplett, Vice President of Clarke University
Beth writes a daily leadership blog that not only shares invaluable tools for your life and career, but she will humble you with her ability to speak with conviction and teach with efficiency.  I highly advise you to subscribe to her blog.  #313 is the post that woke me up and made me a believer.  She's also a fantastic speaker and leadership trainer and was a great colleague!

Ms. Debbi O'Reilly, Career Strategist and Founder of
Debbi is the preeminent career counselor and resume writer in the business.  No matter what industry you are in or career path you are on, Debbi will give you confidence and a better understanding of your own experiences and worth than you could have ever imagined.  She'll even let you call her Mom! 

Mr. Michael Miller, Inspirational Speaker and Trainer
Once you meet Michael, you'll quickly bring your A-game because that is all he knows.  Michael changed my career for the better because he refuses to believe there is not more to your personal potential.  I have seen him first hand save a University by teaching the entire community how to live and work in a vibrant and synergistic environment.  If your school or business ever needs a culture change, Michael is your man.  There is no one better when it comes to inspiring and training teams and organizations.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

#018 Why Parents Fail Their Student-Athlete

To start an editorial with that title may seem really gutsy on some levels, but in my experience, 9 out of every 10 parents who have had children in my programs are complete successes when it comes to parenting their student-athlete.  So, when I talk about "parent failure," I'm not talking about parents who are abusive or not present in their child's life and future.  I'm simply talking about the ones who can't stop living for their child.

I had a tumultuous high school and college basketball career.  I had the talent, size (6'1" point guard), work ethic, and drive.  I had a special skill set (court vision, strong handles, ambidextrous, unselfish, aggressive defender), but I lacked physical strength and confidence in myself.  I had a terrible self-worth.  I had loving parents and great family support.  I was encouraged to be my best and set high expectations.  The expectations I set for myself were realistic.  I would have loved to play at the Division I level or in the NBA, but I understood my limitations.  My dream was to be a part of the great legacy of leaders that had went through my outstanding small high school program.  I never cared if I scored a point.  I just wanted to be the captain and leader who made everyone better and kept the team fighting and working to be their best.  Unfortunately, my high school coach did not see me that way.  For whatever reason, he didn't believe in me or try at all to nurture me the way I needed and wanted to be.  What's funny is that I could take a beating.  You could scream and yell at me all day and run me until I turned blue, and I would come back for more.  I didn't need to be pampered or praised.  I needed opportunity and support.  PERIOD.  My high school coach wanted to be the leader of our team.  He wanted players to do as they were told and to follow his direction and his direction alone.  I wanted to be his conduit.  I wanted to be his field general that made sure his game plan was followed.  He wanted me to run the play, control the tempo, and play good defense.  He wanted me to be just another soldier.  At 17, that seemed way below my standards and not much has changed in my mind in over 20 years.

Within that context, my parents were a tremendous success in retrospect.  I had opponent coaches grab me after a game and tell me that I would be their starting point guard and leader if I played for them.  Random people would ask me on Sunday mornings at my parent's restaurant why I wasn't starting and playing more.  They wanted to know what I did wrong.  Everyone seemed to see my potential and abilities except for my high school coach.  My parents knew all of this and heard the same things.  They saw how hard all of this was for me.  They saw me go through great levels of depression and hopelessness.  They never stopped loving me and supporting me and inspiring me.  Because of their great love for me, they could have easily taken the next step and failed me, but they didn't.

You see, my parents didn't pick up the phone and call the Principal.  They didn't write a scathing letter to the School Board.  They didn't run their mouths off to their friends and neighbors.  They didn't say terrible things about the coach behind his back.  And, they never approached the coach with their disapproval of how I was being treated.

What they did was tell me to "buck up" and continue to work hard to be better and prove my worth.  They advised me to communicate with the coach and to ask questions and for direction.  They didn't allow me to quit on myself or my teammates.  They made me finish what I started with integrity and courage.  I definitely failed myself by believing more in my head coach than I did in myself, but my parents never failed me.

Most parents cannot see past the moment in front of them.  They see a hurt child and immediately try and fix the hurt.  Parents today are so focused on their child not failing (and hurting) that they end up doing exactly what they try so hard to avoid.  They strip their child of independence, confidence, personal growth, courage, and self-worth.  Instead of teaching their child to overcome their fear of the dark, they allow them to sleep with the lights on.  Instead of teaching their child how to properly and honestly value themselves, they strip their child of any potential growth by not allowing them to experience the bad that needs to come to better appreciate the good.

Well, my child is young for their age.  He doesn't handle confrontation well.  She's not comfortable talking to the coach.

Excuses, excuses, excuses.  They might as well say:

I have failed my child for so long that I have to keep doing it, or they will stop loving me.

The only way you can truly fail your child when it comes to sports is by not allowing them to fail, learn, and grow.  Failure is the only constant in sports.  Bill Russell failed.  Michael Jordan failed.  Phil Jackson failed.  Vince Lombardi failed.  They succeeded because the failure taught them the way to significance. 

I never achieved my potential as a player.  My college coach ended up treating me the same way as my high school coach, and I began to accept that it was me, not them.  As a veteran coach and parent some 20 years later, I know that is only partly true.  If it was me, it was because I played for the wrong people at the wrong time and at the wrong place.  I made choices that I have to own.  I cannot point a finger at someone else and say, "You failed me."  That's terribly unfair when I know that I personally didn't do enough for myself.

So, Mom and Dad, please don't ever stop loving your kids.  Don't ever make excuses for the confidence you have in them and love you have for them.  But, if you are making excuses for them, you have stopped loving them.  You have started to live for them.  The only way to encounter life is by embracing the good and the bad.  When you take the bad-half away from your kid, you have eliminated the part of their life that will allow them to learn perseverance, determination, courage and self-respect.

Do you know a single human being who you look up to who doesn't have those 4 characteristics? 

Just remember that the next time you think about picking up the phone and complaining about a coach or to a coach.  The coach just might be absolutely terrible at what he or she does, but that doesn't mean you and your child have to become terrible at what you do.

Success can be the only option if you go through failure to get there!   Have a great day!

Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

#017 Spacing 101

“Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow - that is patience.”  Unknown

For all you high school coaches out there, please accept my apology for lumping you all together.  I know for certain that some of the most innovative coaches out there are at the high school level.  With that said, I unfortunately keep finding myself in high school gyms where I continue to see an epidemic of poorly taught spacing principles.  I'd like to tell you that it is the girls' game or boys' game only, but I see it on both sides.  This is what coaches often tell me:

Coach, my players are just not strong enough to make that skip pass.  That is why I have the weak-side players stand at least one full step inside the three point make that pass shorter.

For those of you who played for me, you know that my ears bleed profusely whenever I hear anything close to those sentiments.  I usually just nod my head in agreement because I am honestly afraid of coming off condescendingly with any question I might ask.  For instance:

Coach, do you do any daily drills to help improve technique and strength for those passes?

Coach, doesn't that make it easier for the defense to steal those passes?

You know...that type of question.  I was a high school coach at one time, so I get what a lot of these coaches are going through.  They teach all day and then have maybe two hours with a group of kids they don't get very much time with outside of practice.  Instead of working on ways to improve player skills, they often develop ways to work around their deficiencies.  I can't blame them.  Well, yes I can, but I'm empathetic to a point.  If you are reading this or passing it on to a high school coach, I encourage you to raise your expectations of yourself and your players.  To be a great coach or a great team, expectations should never be tempered.  You may have to live with disappointments for a while, but you should never lessen what you expect of each other.

Spacing?  It is truly like punctuation for a writer.  If there are no periods, capitalization, or commas in a paragraph, how do you ever know when something begins or ends?  Spacing is like that in basketball.

Let's say you are playing against a standard 2-3 zone where the four perimeter defenders extend to a step inside the three-point line in the shape of a rhombus...a rectangle with two points further apart than the other two points.  Would it be smart to put 4 offensive players on the perimeter just outside the three-point line in the same position as the 4 defenders?  No, of course not.  The key to beating a zone is making the parts of the zone work to space on the floor that is not necessarily their responsibility.  That's why most offenses attack a 2-3 zone with a 1-man or 3-man front splitting those top two defenders.

The same concepts work against man-to-man.  The tighter the 5 offensive players are together and the closer they all are to the rim, the less space the defense has to cover.  When the 5 offensive players are at or inside the three-point line, there is also less room to screen, cut, and make reactionary decisions and makes the defense have to work a lot less to cover that ground.

Here's some quick principles to teach during your first week of practice:

1.  22 Foot Rule:  All perimeter players should start at least a full step outside of the three point line to begin any offense, and when they finish screening or cutting through, they should always end up back outside to that space.  The only reason they would stay inside the arc is if they screened a big out or they play in an offense (say the Flex) where they may screen a post out to become the post.

2.  The Corners Are Your Friend:  The corners are the hardest spot on the floor to guard for any defense.  Players should know how to flare, drift, or simply stay in the corners in order to open up driving lanes and drives and kicks for their teammates.  If a defender is in help-side while guarding the corner, that close out on a kick or skip pass is the furthest close-out on the floor for them to make.  Use the corners, and your offense will become more efficient.

3.  Break the Man-Me-Rim line:  Most defensive players are taught at a young age to always keep themselves between the person they are guarding and the rim.  Whether you have the ball in your hands or are playing off the ball, you should always be conscious of where your defender is in-relation to you and the rim.  A good offensive player will always be trying to get the defender to either move outside of that line or to move themselves away from that line.  When you see a great ball-handler make a great move that breaks a defenders ankles, you see the offensive player all of a sudden have a direct line to the rim.  Whatever you are teaching offensively, make sure your players grasp that concept. 

I've got a lot of simple drills to help you with teaching all of this.  Please e-mail me if I can help.

Just like the three counter post move series, teaching these three simple offensive spacing components will change your team's efficiency and make lesser skilled players that much more dynamic and capable.  Spacing=Time=Opportunity

Just don't let me catch you teaching your weak-side players to stand inside the arc...unless you want to see me bleed from the ears.  Yes, I am talking to you youth (7-8-9-10 year old) coaches, too.

Make offense fun!  Make sure you have fun!  Space will make that all so-much easier.

Have a great day!

Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

#016 The Evolution of Post Play, Part 2

In Part I of the Evolution of Post Play, I examined the greatness of Olajuwon, McHale, Jordan and now Bryant in regard to their ability to control and off-balance a defender with their footwork in the post.  For about the past 10 years, I have worked tirelessly to convince young players that "post play" can happen anywhere on the floor.  It is not necessarily defined by a ball entry to the right block or left block.  Post play, in the modern definition, is the use of a basketball move with the ball-handler catching the ball with his or her back to the basket.  I would assume that the player in the NBA, today, who gets the most touches with his back to the basket is NOT Dwight Howard or the Gasol brothers or any other true center.  I would guess that it is Paul Pierce followed closely by Kobe Bryant.

If you have watched a Celtics game in the last 10+ years (and soon to be Nets game), you will often see Paul Pierce coming up the floor from the baseline to catch the ball on the perimeter (outside the three-point arc) with his back to the basket.  If you think about it, it may seem odd that you would want a great scorer like Paul Pierce to catch the ball moving away from the basket with his back to the basket and the defender directly between him the basket.  In a two-dimensional world, that type of offensive entry just doesn't make sense.  In reality, it is the most innovative and creative and productive entry point in the Doc Rivers' designed Celtics offense.

Let's slow the play down and break down the specifics.  Above, I spoke of two-dimensional basketball.  What?  You know, imagine drawing a court on a piece of paper and drawing up a play.  That's two-dimensional.  Wherever the line is drawn, the player or ball is moving in that direction.  We don't know how the player caught the ball.  We don't know what they did when they caught it.  And, we are entirely unsure of how the defender is playing the now-ball-handler.  This is where most coaching begins and ends.  Run here.  Throw there.  Screen over there, etc.  Think back to your youth basketball or high school playing days.  Did your coach teach you how to catch the ball?  Did he or she teach you to catch it on a jump stop or right pivot or left pivot or curl or flare?  Probably to some levels, but they probably didn't teach you to be a journalist in doing so.  What?

You remember junior high language arts when the teacher spoke about the journalistic questions OR critical questions OR interview questions:  what, how, why, when, where.  As a coach, it is imperative that you are answering all of these questions while you are teaching a drill, a play, and especially, a fundamental.

What is Paul Pierce doing?  He's catching the ball.

How is Paul Pierce doing it?  He's catching with a jump stop with his back to the basket.

Why is Paul Pierce doing that?  He doesn't want the defender to know which way he is going to go.

When is Paul Pierce doing this?  Any time he wants to get his defender off-balance.

Where is Paul Pierce doing this?  Any where on the floor when his defender is on his back or trailing.

Coach, for crying out loud!  The angels were singing in your last blog after the phrase "back-pivot."  You haven't used that phrase once today.  You are correct!  I couldn't talk about back-pivots until I got your mind wrapped around learning in a three-dimensional way.  Instead of thinking about post moves on a piece of paper, you are now watching with the angels from above the floor.  Now that you are thinking about the game from that perspective, you have already become a better teacher or player.

Now imagine that Pierce has caught the ball 25-feet from the rim with his back to the basket and the defender on him and directly between Paul and the basket.  Paul has now given himself a 360 degree opportunity to beat his man or drive into his man or back-down his man.  He may not be on the block or mid-post, but he will be using a post move to beat his man.  The majority of the time, Pierce will use a back-pivot (heal of foot moving toward the basket/defender) to open up and face his defender.  In doing so, he automatically backs up his defender creating space for himself.  As you could see in the Olajuwon/Jordan/McHale/Bryant clips on YouTube, that back-pivot (or reverse pivot) is just the starting point to the possibilities a respective post player can use.  The back-pivot can turn into an immediate front pivot jumper like Jordan and Bryant use a lot.  It can turn into a full-square-up to the basket for a jumper that Mr. Tim Duncan, and Jack Sikma before him, made famous.  It can turn into a front pivot, pump-fake, up-and-under (or Slipper Eel) that Kevin McHale used to dominate.  Or, you can use all of the above to get the defender completely off-balance like Olajuwon and Jordan used ultimately to make them un-guardable one-on-one.

So, how do we teach it?  We start with a simple post-series foundation.  You shouldn't teach post-moves like they are separate tools in a tool box. 

I'm going to use the hammer on this play, and the next play, I'll throw the old screw-driver at 'em.

Post moves should be taught as counter moves as you would learn in a Tae Kwon Do or Karate or Boxing class. 

If the defender does this, I do that.  If the defender does that, I do this.

My great frustration with high school coaches is that they tend to teach one or two post moves to a player and that's it:  drop-step and up-and-under.  They rarely teach them why, how, or when, so when they get to college, coaches often have to start over from scratch because the player has no idea why they were taught it, how to use it, or when to use it.

Instead of starting with the drop-step, start with the back-pivot with the baseline foot being the pivot foot (the foot that stays down).  Limit your players to open up this way as they are first learning, so they learn that there is more to post play than just memorizing the footwork.  When you open up (on the block) with the high foot as the pivot, the post-player will only see baseline out-of-bounds, then the side of the back-board, and then their defender.  When you open up with your baseline foot as the pivot, the post player sees the passer, the help defender, the perimeter teammates, the skip pass, and any double-team from any point on the floor.  Grab a pillow.  Pretend you are on the block and try it.  One way, you are absolutely blind.  The other, you own the floor because you see everyone and everything.

Now, teach your player to open up on that back-pivot with a "violent sweep":  low, balanced, and aggressive showing your defender that you can and will attack without taking a dribble or picking up your pivot.  Now that you have backed up your defender, you are ready to read and react using your counter moves:

1.  The defender jumps back giving you space:  Jump shot or bank shot (Tim Duncan-style)
2.  The defender jumps baseline to protect the easy basket:  Step back through with that same swing foot looking to power dribble to the middle of the floor for a power hook (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar-style)
3.  The defender slides to the middle to take away the power dribble middle:  Drop-step off of the power dribble pinning the defender away from the rim for an easy lay-up or dunk (Shaq O'Neal-style)

Give me an hour with any post player aged 12+, and I'll show them how to be a master of post offense.  Any kid with a basic skill set and playing experience can learn these three counter-moves off the initial back-pivot and become the most dominant offensive player on the floor.  Watch a Division I or NBA game, and you will see these three moves lead to 90% of post scores.

And, as I explained in-full about Paul Pierce above, this doesn't only work on the blocks and 8-feet from the basket.  Try these 3 moves off the back-pivot from 25-feet, and you will see that they are just as valuable and functional.

Like most things that evolve, they do not get more complicated.  They get more efficient.  Post play should be something that all coaches take great pride in teaching because it will make all of your players more capable, more confident, and more skilled.  Even as a point guard like I was, these moves would have made me twice the player.  What's frustrating is that I had the greatest point guard of all-time, Magic Johnson, on TV demonstrating this every game I watched.  I didn't really pay attention to what made him so skillful.  Yes, he was big, but it was his footwork, ball-fakes, and eyes that made the defense clueless to what he was thinking or about to do.  Just watch those clips of Jordan and Olajuwon and McHale.  You can see on their defender's faces how utterly lost and hopeless they were.

I hope this helps you get excited about teaching the post and watching a bit more closely at where post play is happening the next time you watch basketball on TV. 

I hope you all start evolving today!  Have great day!

Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary

Saturday, September 21, 2013

#015 The "Dream" Is Back: The Evolution of Post Play, Part 1

It seems that you can't go 3 articles on any of the basketball blogs and NBA websites these days without someone referring to a player working with Hakeem Olajuwon or asking the question about why they haven't worked with the Dream.

What I cannot understand is why it has taken so long.  Post play from the youth level through AAU and into small and big college has become near obsolete.  Coaches either have no idea how to integrate a post player or they have simply given up trying to teach bigs how to play big.  I have watched too many high school practices lately where the post player on the floor looks like the skinny, nerdy kid at the dance who nobody is talking to and everyone wishes would just get out of the way.

If you are a true post or a "stretch" post, there is a good chance that you will feel like you are not being utilized like you should, and you will probably spend most of your career with people asking you why your coach doesn't use you more.

The problem doesn't necessarily fall on the respective coach's shoulders.  Most big kids are already given unrealistic expectations.  People assume that because they are taller than everyone else that they are tough, confident, and unskilled.  What a terrible perception for any kid to absorb or defend!  Moreover, the perception can be just the opposite for all three characteristics.  The more big teenagers I work with, the more I see soft, afraid-of-contact but highly skilled clay to mold.  The big kids today, and as far as I can remember, dream of shooting three-pointers and breaking ankles off killer cross-overs.  They want to be seen as the skilled kid just like the guards who float below them.

This is why almost 10 years after his retirement, Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon () is as popular as ever.  Hakeem was the big kid all other big kids dream they could be.  He had incomparable footwork, fantastic handles and body control, and he could flat out knock down 15-20 foot jumpers in his sleep.  In his prime he was un-guardable one-on-one, but almost impossible to trap, because he could beat you from so many different spots on the floor.  This is why you are seeing everyone from true centers like Dwight Howard and big guards like LeBron and Carmelo reaching out to the master of the "shake" to improve their overall game.  It is why I also believe Dwight Howard signing with Houston was the smartest thing he ever did.

It is that drive by these superstars to be less one dimensional that I hope will be the beginning of coaches growing their own knowledge of "post" play and opening their minds to the possibilities that have always been there for utilizing their bigs.  I was blessed some 15 years ago to have Coach Thad Matta, the Head Coach at Ohio State and his then Assistant Coach, John Groce, the Head Coach at the University of Illinois, while they were at Butler come to my high school gym to recruit my long, talented twins who were playing for me at the time.  Both coaches were kind enough to stay after my practice and work with me two-on-one teaching the foundation of the post education they had learned from their mentors that went all the way back to the great Pete Newell and Red Auerbach, who had a hand in developing another of the great footwork masters, Kevin McHale (.)  Yes, Dwight Howard's new coach!

What is truly sad about the state of post play in today's youth game is that these lessons have been right in front of coach's eyes for decades.  As good as McHale and Olajuwon were in their hay-day, I still consider the best post player of all-time to be...drum roll please...Michael Jordan (

Yes, I said it, and I believe it.  Go to YouTube and watch the Michael Jordan compilations.  Look where he is catching the ball over and over again.  Yes, you got it, mid-post with his back to the basket. Isn't that post play? Oh, he wasn't 6'11" and 250 lbs?  Charles Barkley is 6'4".  Was he a shooting guard?  Michael Jordan, like Olajuwon, showed all of us coaches our utter failure by limiting the expectations of our players because of the hole we put them into because of their size. The older Jordan became, the less he could out-jump and out-soar the younger players.  When most leapers begin writing their retirement speeches when their legs begin to go, Michael Jordan began putting the exclamation mark on the greatest offensive scoring career of all-time by becoming a great post player.

Okay, so why are Olajuwon and Jordan (in my eyes) at the top of the mountain in regard to the best "basketball" players of all-time?  It's easy.  They are the only two players during my life-time who you could not label, define, or pigeon-hole into a category.  To call Olajuwon a center or Jordan a shooting guard is like calling the Mona Lisa a painting.  She is and they were so much more.

Now you are asking, and you should be if you are a coach who is trying to develop young players, "When are you going to tell us what exactly to teach our post players besides 'Be like the Dream and Mike?'"  Great question!  It all starts with a little thing called the back-pivot.  [Can you hear the angels singing?]  Yes, the back-pivot!  In Part II of this discussion, I will hit you over the head with the basic fundamentals you should be giving ALL of your kids on a daily basis that will make them grow exponentially as players and love you for changing their potential growth path.  And yes, the back-pivot will be the foundation of that conversation.  Just ask Kobe Bryant ( ).  He is one of the few superstars in the last 15 years who really studied what made Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon great, and he simply followed their lead.  This is why Kobe should choose one person and one person only to present him to the Hall of Fame:  Phil Jackson.

Talk to you soon.  Have a great day!
Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary

Thursday, September 19, 2013

#014 Significance over Success

"The mediocre teacher tells
The good teacher explains
The superior teacher demonstrates
The great teacher inspires"
by William Arthur Ward

A few posts back I talked about the book Good to Great.  I mentioned in that post that I would probably refer to it fairly often because of the uniqueness of the research and conclusions the author makes.  Today I want to talk about the concept the author, Jim Collins, developed in the book about the Level 5 Leader.

Because the book delved into what made good companies become long-lasting sustainable companies great, they looked closely at the leadership in all of the Fortune 500 companies they researched.  It was truly eye-opening and quite educational for me to read about the examples of the leadership and why those companies became great because of those leaders.

The anecdotes that truly blew me away were about the leaders who left their prospering company they built for one reason or another, and even in their absence, the company continued to sustain a high level of growth and prosperity.  Here lies the difference between what Jim Collins defined as the Level 4 and Level 5 leaders.  A Level 4 leader was 100% hands on, "jump on my back," "let's get this done" worker.  A Level 4 Leader's company does very well and prospers under that person's leadership.  Sounds pretty good, right?

Here lies the rub...a Level 5 Leader hires the right people and directs them on how to be great even in their absence.  Think about that from a teacher's or coach's perspective.  Are you the leader who drives their players/students into greatness or do you teach them how to be great?

A long time ago, I listened to a brilliant University executive (and I wish I could remember her name - sorry) speak about the difference between success and significance.  I clearly remember her telling us (I worked under at Saint Louis University) that she wanted us to remove the word success from our vocabulary.  I can't remember the metaphor she used, but I know that over the past 15 years I have used a similar metaphor for my teams:

Anyone can walk into a gym, throw the ball in the air and put it through the hoop.  That person will feel a sense of success because they accomplished a simple goal.  Significance is knowing how to put that ball in the hoop over and over again and knowing how and why it is going in or not going in.

You may have also heard this concept in just about any church in the world.  It goes something like this:

Give a man a fish, and he won't be hungry for a day.  Teach a man to fish, and he will never be hungry.

As teachers, we have a responsibility to focus our energies on significant learning.  It is a tough world/environment/generation for this type of leadership because most kids want the quick confirmation and award.  They cram for tests to get a good grade instead of studying the material to own the knowledge.  I've coached many a player who simply did not want to learn how to shoot the ball properly or get down in the defensive stance every possession or simply let their athleticism and instincts rule the outcome of their play.  It was my great challenge as their teacher/leader to help them learn how to learn.  Some accepted it with open arms.  Some spurned my teachings like the plague.  In the end, most of my players learned that when they worked to accomplish significance, that the game all of a sudden became easy.  Muscle memory and routine allowed them to soar to heights they never thought they were capable of.

As you go about your business of teaching, coaching, parenting, etc., think about being significant.  I know I can be flat out terrible at remembering that advice at times because I want to win as much as the next person.  Over the years, I have learned to accept losing when I see growth in the group and the individuals. 

We may have lost the game, but we made strides to win the big game down the road.

It will be the hardest lesson you will learn as a teacher or coach, but when you buy into choosing to be a Level 5 Leader over a Level 4 Leader, you will find yourself becoming a great student as well.

Good luck with your team or family or life.  I wish you an immensity of significance!
Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

#013 The System

I thought it was time to start getting to some real sports talk, so let's start with a subject that I know pretty well.  If you followed my teams at Whitfield or Maryville or La Verne, you know that FAST is the name of the game...FASTBREAK that is.

I probably wasn't 10 or 11 before I fell in love with the coaching philosophies of Paul Westhead.  What's ironic is that my favorite Fastbreak point guard of all-time, Magic Johnson, did not care for him as a coach (he was Magic's first coach with the Lakers), but there is no arguing that his teams are fun to watch, and he gets the absolute max energy and commitment out of his players.  I truly became enamored with his Loyola Marymount teams in the late 80's and then watched him try the system at the NBA level to little success.  When Greg "Cadillac" Anderson is your go-to big (Coach loved him by the way), you are probably in trouble from the get-go.  What he did have with the Denver Nuggets that would have encouraged me to go for it, too, was a guy by the name of Chris Jackson (or later Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf ).  Abdul-Rauf was simply the best D1 college scoring guard I have ever seen.  He was lightning quick, had a perfect jumper, and could dominate a game in a dozen different ways.  When it comes to pure college scorers, he only ranks second to Pete Maravich in my eyes (Michael Jordan hadn't become his Airness until he got to the NBA).  Unfortunately, Abdul-Rauf's political and religious growth was greatly affecting his playing ability when he connected with Coach Westhead.  Neither of their true potential ever saw the light of day in the NBA.

But I digress.  My love for the system probably peaked after playing against it in college versus Grinnell College and Coach Dave Arseneault's version of the system.  Coach Arseneault was able to take marginal athletes and make them look like Olympians with their ability to create pace, speed, and pressure for 40 minutes.  The Grinnell system, like the Westhead system, is powerful because it relies on 5 players working in symmetry.  The 5 players on the floor rely on each other to make up for each other's weaknesses by focusing on their respective strengths and the strengths of the system.

Okay, so what is the system?  Most novice observers call it "run and gun" or "run and shoot," but that would be greatly underappreciating the depth of training, preparation, and fundamentals that go into executing it properly.  To truly understand the system, you have to accept that it is far from simply an offensive strategy where you shoot it as quickly as you can and everyone has a green light.  My teams that have struggled with the system could not get passed that very basic definition.  They failed to understand that there were basic characteristics and values of the system that had to be followed for it to work:

1.  Outlet/Route running.  I probably watch 25-30 high school practices per year, and before the majority of those practices, I ask the Head Coach about his or her offensive and defensive systems and philosophies.  Most coaches tell me that they "like to run."  My excitement for that phrase is quickly subdued when I watch that team scrimmage and run drills and there is ZERO emphasis on getting the ball out of bounds, and I see ZERO attempt at players running hard lanes to their basket's end-line.  The key to true fast-break basketball is teaching your players how to get the ball out of the net or off the rim, out-of-bounds, and up the floor.  Like a true Westheadian, I believe in a single player being responsible for getting the ball out of the net and getting out of bounds to inbound the ball as quickly as possible.  We practice the fundamentals of this daily.  You simply cannot call yourself a fast-breaking team if you disregard the seconds you lose by not knowing how to get the ball out of bounds to your lead guard as quickly as possible.

2.  Pace of the game.  If both teams are not being forced to attack the rim as quickly as possible each and every possession, the system breaks down.  Most college teams average about 70 offensive possessions per game.  With the system, it is imperative that you are averaging over 100 possessions per game.  Why?  The big-picture goal is to completely take your opponent out of their comfort zone and force them to play faster and deeper into their bench than they ever practice or prepare for.  For example, if you are a runner who every day runs 3 miles.  You run the same route every day.  You run at the same pace, and you like the fact that you have become very physically adept at that 3-mile run. Then all of a sudden, someone tells you that you have to run 4 miles today, and you have to run that 4 miles in the same amount of time that you ran the 3 longer and faster.  How would your body handle that?  The pace of the system makes a confident, well-conditioned athlete doubt everything they have been doing and what they've been taught because it is SOOO much harder to play against than what they see in practice every day of the week.  So, Coach, this means you have to put that 85 page playbook in a drawer and focus on your kids sprinting great routes and your point guards getting the ball out of their hands to your scorers faster and faster.  Oh yeah, you have to press the whole time too.  We will hit that in multiple blogs down the road.

3.  Offensive rebounding.  Westhead puts emphasis on the concept of offensive rebounding, but nobody teaches it like Dave Arsenault.  Coach Arsenault expects his teams to earn an offensive rebound for every 3 missed shots.  So, if you get your 100 shots up and make 40 of them, he expects his teams to get at least 20 offensive rebounds off the 60 misses.  This does a lot of things for your team, but it accomplishes two very important objectives that allows your team to prosper as a "run and gun" team:

First off, if you are going to shoot as many 3's as a Grinnell team shoots, you are losing 10-15% off your shooting percentage in relationship to a team who plays solid half-court in and out basketball.  Grinnell may take 75 three-pointers in a game compared to the national average of 20.  I read and hear a lot of coaches talk about that being too many bad shots, long rebounds for the defense, and not playing the odds.  Coach Arsenault believes, and so do I, that long rebounds should work in the offenses favor.  What do defenses do when long shots go up?  They follow the ball, of course.  Therefore, a long rebound tends to go over the defense's heads.  A team that religiously practices going after those rebounds and even having 3-4 players focused on going after those long rebounds will tend to have the advantage.  

Secondly, if you are not one of the 3-point shooters, and you want to score, offensive rebounding is the way to have a major impact on the team and in every game.  If you know who is going to shoot it and when, you have the jump on the person whose job it is to block you out.  Laziness, apathy, and a lack of preparation will quickly find you on the bench or off the team when running the system.  Rebounders must be taught to embrace their roles.  On the flip-side, my shooters traditionally shoot at a higher and higher clip as the season and their respective careers progress because they gain confidence in knowing 1.  It is their job to shoot, 2. It is 4 other guys jobs and passions to get the rebound when they miss, and 3.  The more shots they get, the hotter they get as the game progresses.

There was a great article on the correlation between offensive rebounding and transition defense that helps solidify this idea even at the professional level.  You can find that here:  "Was Doc Wrong?"

Okay, so why isn't every coach in the country doing this and having success with it?  Well, I have heard Coach Westhead say it a hundred times, "you are either going to win a lot or get fired if you run the system."  Most coaches simply don't like the sound of that.  What's truly hard about the system is getting your players to genuinely buy in.  If your shooters won't get out and sprint and shoot it when they're open each and every time they are open, no matter how many times they have missed that game, you will lose.  If your point guard refuses to push the ball, attack the rim, and pass the ball up the floor each and every possession, you will lose.  If your 3-4-5 refuse to attack the offensive glass with a reckless abandon, you will lose.  Scary!  However, when you get these groups to buy into their roles, watch out.  You end up breaking lots of records and winning championships and having more fun playing basketball than you ever could have imagined.  Also, once kids do buy in, they never want to go back to playing any other way.

If you want more details about the system or a push of confidence to go for it, let me know.  I'd love talking you through my philosophies and the philosophies of some of the great coaches under this umbrella of "run and gun."  Whatever you do, don't call me and tell me you don't have the talent, depth, or support.  Unless you only have 5 players on your roster and a boss who is dictating to you how your team needs to play, you have enough to make it happen.  And when you do, the support will come in groves!

Have a great day!
Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary

Friday, September 13, 2013

#012 This Is Water

Most of you who take the time out of your busy schedules to read what I have to write are doing so because you are the type of person who makes the valiant choice to be better, and if not better, at least more aware.  I'm far from a fountain of information or wisdom.  However, my thoughts that I put into this blog are more times than not the effect of the wisdom someone has graciously presented to me.

My good friend, Todd Wallace, a man and coach of great wisdom, texted me earlier today to listen to a graduation speech given by author David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College in 1995 entitled "This Is Water." 

I found this speech to be enlightening, quite profound, and very entertaining.  So, I thought I would share the wisdom someone shared with me with all of you.

For those of you feeling a little lost in the monotony and frustrations of life, I hope that this brings you to some perspective and opens your eyes to your personal possibilities, if not the challenges of those around you are facing.  For you teachers and coaches, there are parables, anecdotes, metaphors galore in the speech that will be very valuable lessons for your students and players depending on your choice to use them and how to use them.  I think you will also find that these words are a great reminder about how and why to find joy in what you do and better appreciate those around you.  I hope you all find something valuable in his words.

I wish you all a great weekend.  I hope you all choose to not allow your "default settings" to keep you from being happy!
Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

#011 Cubs Talk: Chicago Regrets, Part 2

I’m the last person on the planet to judge a manager based on their playing career.  I was a mediocre high school and college basketball player at best, so I’m glad none of my previous institutions looked at my career stats before they offered me a head coaching job.  I just might have been forced to become a full-time writer years ago if they did.

Even three of the great MLB managers of my lifetime, Tony La Russa (career .199 BA), Tommy Lasorda (career .071 BA), and Sparky Anderson (career .218 BA), were subpar major league players.  However, as I have watched these young Cubs the past three seasons, I am beginning to wonder who Theo Epstein handed the keys over to in regards to nurturing his young core and hopeful rocks of the club for the next 15 years:  Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo.

It is imperative that we take a closer look at the experience the present coaching staff has, but let’s first take a look at who Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo have proven themselves to be.

Starlin Castro was a career .310 minor league hitter before the Cubs made him their starting shortstop in 2010.  Below is his Minor League line, his 2010-12 Major League line, and then his 2013 year line when management decided he should hit for more power and walk more (yes, the italics is foreshadowing):


Anthony Rizzo was a career .303 minor league hitter before the Cubs brought him up to man first base in 2012.  Below are his comparisons versus his present campaign:


Is it just coincidence that two proven young hitters have simply fallen off the table this year?  You might say that there is no one hitting around them, and teams have the freedom to not pitch to them.  When in fact, the Cubs are ranked 3rd in the majors in doubles, 8th in home runs, and 7th in the NL in slugging percentage (ahead of the Pirates and Reds) when their two supposedly best players are having down years.  If Castro and Rizzo were batting .270+ and the bullpen wasn’t giving away games like candy at Halloween, what could have this year become?

I am to the point where I don’t think it is coincidence at all.  There is not one proven former hitter sitting on the Cubs bench this year.  In fact, I’d be willing to bet that the Cubs may have one of the worst groups of former hitters managing the day-to-day hitting of any team in the majors.  Let’s look at the three in charge of hitting:

Dale Sveum, Manager
Major League Career:  .236 BA over 12 seasons with a 227 BB / 657 SO ratio

James Rowson, Hitting Coach
Minor League Career:  .204 BA over 4 seasons with a 56 BB / 201 SO ratio
He never made the big leagues.

Rob Deer, Asst. Hitting Coach
Major League Career:  .180 BA over 11 seasons with a 575 BB / 1409 SO ratio
Oh yeah, he led the NL in strikeouts in 4 different seasons.

Should these three truly be teaching great young hitters about the rigors of handling 600 at bats over a 162 schedule?  I am a believer in the Epstein plan.  I can see it working.  Baez, Soler, Almora, Bryant, Vogelbach and Ott.  Put that group with Castro, Rizzo, Lake and Castillo, and Cubs’ fans could be partying in 2015 like it’s 1984.  However, and much to my chagrin, I cannot imagine this group coming close to reaching their respective or collective potential with the coaching and teaching staff above.  The off-season might be too late to bring in someone who will let these kids use their natural talent and get back on the growth trajectory they were on before this year.

I love the plan, Theo.  I just think you gave the keys to the wrong guys to drive the bus.

Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary