Coaching isn’t yelling

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The Coach’s Speech

Coaches say a lot of things. Practice to practice, coaches often say the same thing over and over in slightly different ways, hoping the subtle changes help someone new understand the message.  Read more

Changing the instruction to foster understanding

Last spring, when I took a jiujitsu class, one of the first moves that we learned was an americana. For some reason, I never quite got the submission. I knew cognitively how and when to try the submission, and I had numerous opportunities to try it, but I always made a mistake in its execution. My procedural knowledge was lacking. When given time to think about it in a non-competitive setting, I could explain the hold, but when I needed to put that knowledge into practice in a time-stressed, competitive environment, the knowledge escaped me. Read more

Jiujitsu and Specificity of Language

Note: This article originally appeared in Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter 5.2.

I took an introductory jiujitsu class this week. Jiujitsu is unlike anything that I have done previously. However, the initial learning curve was made steeper because of unspecific language. Several times, my more experienced partner or the instructor said “put this leg there” or “that arm there.” As a novice trying to imitate an expert’s one or two demonstrations to get a position, the unspecific language made the learning more complex. Which leg is “that one,” my right or my left? When an athlete is confused, “that” or “this” does not simplify the action. When instructing, coaches should use language that is as accurate and specific as possible. Read more

Why all the Yelling and Screaming?

On a repeat episode of the Daily Show last night, the guest was famed chef Mario Battali. The discussion moved to Gordon Ramsey and chefs who use their outside voice, and Battali said:

“Typically, chefs who yell at their cooks are expressing their own self-loathing for not having prepared their staff properly.”

Same is true with basketball coaches and players.

By Brian McCormick
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development, Developing Basketball Intelligence and several other books for coaches.

You or We: The Power of Language

On TV last weekend, the cameras went into a coach’s huddle and captured his comments. He was frustrated with his team, as he had called the timeout to stop the opponent’s run. He said:

“When WE move the ball from side to side, WE get great shots. However, when YOU hold the ball on one side, YOU take bad shots.”

That might not be verbatim. I was not listening until I heard the difference between the WE and YOU. When there was a positive result, the coach was involved; when there was a negative result, the coach absolved himself of responsibility.

Few people notice the difference between the WE and the YOU, but the difference says a lot about a coach’s attitude. Whether or not the coach approves of the offensive stagnation, the team is the team, and the players and coaches need to stick together for the good and the bad possessions. When bad possessions turn into YOUs, dissension builds between teammates and coaches, as YOUs start the blame game. A team needs to work together and accept responsibility as one, and that starts with the coach, his attitude and his language.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

The Blame Game: Coaching and Players

On Slam, Clay Kallam wrote about C. Vivian Stringer and the struggles of the Rutgers University’s Women’s Basketball team this season. While I do not follow Rutgers closely, I have followed the stories because of two popular and well-publicized Southern California players, Jasmine Dixon (now at UCLA) and Nikki Speed.

Kallam criticizes Stringer (and by extension other coaches as well) for several things:

  1. Lack of offensive development.
  2. Over-training
  3. Lack of fun.

Recently, Stringer called out Speed for her play, questioning her decision-making:

“You don’t pass the ball and just move it around the outside,” Stringer said. “You (penetrate), you get into the gaps and you find people … and deliver the pass that they need. That’s what point guards do.”

This is nothing new for Stringer. Last year, she publicly called out Kia Vaughn and suggested that she needed a sports psychologist because she fumbled some passes.

While Kallam points out three valid concerns, I see a major issue which faces all coaches: communication and instruction. From the comments, Speed seems like a shell of her former self:

“They ask why I’m not as aggressive,” Speed said of the questions posed by those who know her game best. “My father has told me that to be passive can also be seen as a way of being selfish. Right now, I have no idea how to answer that. I’m just trying to get comfortable, and at the same time I’m trying to please Coach Stringer. But I think that’s hurting our team.”

In Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter 4.9, I write about the two types of perfectionism: maladaptive and adaptive. Being scared to make a mistake and worrying about pleasing the coach is an example of maladaptive perfectionism, and this hurts one’s performance, as is clearly evident in Speed’s play.

Speed did not forget how to play basketball when she matriculated to Rutgers. She was, after all, a McDonald’s All-American and part of the #1 ranked recruiting class in the country. However, there is a breakdown in communication between Stringer and Speed, as Speed appears lost and without confidence after nearly two years under Stringer’s tutelage.

On different web sites, forum posters have suggested that Speed’s inability to handle Stringer’s coaching style is an indictment of Speed as a player and the club system that developed her skills through her formative years. More than one poster has pointed to Stringer’s 800 wins as evidence of her superlative coaching while suggesting that today’s players are soft.

I disagree. I see many coaches (not Stringer specifically) who ask more and more of their players, but do not demand the same development from themselves. I see coaches who ask players to change their style of play or change their learning styles, but they fail to examine their own coaching style.

Speed is not the only formerly top-ranked player struggling at Rutgers and two players from the heralded recruiting class have transferred. Is it Speed’s lack of toughness and maturity or is there a deeper problem that stems from the coach and effects all the players?

I am not there every day, so I am just inferring based on comments and the part of the story that has been reported and discussed frequently. However, I see similar situations on smaller levels at the high school and college levels.

As Kallam writes:

There are a lot of justified criticisms of the way girls’ basketball players are developed, but one positive that comes from the emphasis on tournaments and games is young players are exposed to a lot more athleticism at a younger age than ever before. That means they learn, at an earlier age, how to deal with pressure, what kinds of ballhandling skills they need to have to overcome an athletic defender, and getting through a doubleteam is much more mental than physical.

As an extension, players have been exposed to more coaches and trainers. They have more opinions about coaching styles because they have seen many different approaches. While players may or may not be more intelligent on the court in decisive moments, they have deeper experiences than many of a previous generation. When their coach fails to evolve or make adjustments, many players lose respect for their coach.

Adults are quick to blame problems on this generation of spoiled, lazy children, but that is such a lazy response. If a coach has a trying year or struggles to reach a player (and not every player responds the same way to every coach, which is why players need to do more research before choosing a team), we blame the players for whatever we perceive they are lacking.

However, what about a critical introspection? Has the coach adjusted his or her style to meet the learning style of her players? Has he or she precisely communicated his or her goals to the players? Has the coach set high expectations and held the players’ accountable? Is the coach instructing the skills or just criticizing a lack of skills?

Last year, I responded to Stringer’s outburst. She criticized Kadijah Rushdan, saying:

“(When) things get anxious, she’s going to shoot it or she’s going to just turn it over. So it teaches me to not put her in a crucial situation. It’s not going to happen.”

I responded:

Rather than punishing her, why not examine the mistakes? I have never watched Rushdan play, but can infer several things from Stringer’s comment:

  1. Rushdan lacks confidence with the ball in her hands.
  2. Her lack of confidence in her technical ability narrows her vision.
  3. When she feels pressure, she takes the first available option rather than having the confidence to search for the best option.

What is the answer? Well, it is not bashing the player in the media. Her problem is confidence: how is questioning her publicly going to make her a more confident player?

She likely needs a better understanding of her role and her team’s offensive philosophy, and she needs to develop her technical skills under pressure so the pressure does not affect her during games, and she can maintain a broad-external attention and see the whole court and make the best decision.

By giving her opportunities to develop her ball handling (1v2 drill,for instance) and passing under presure (drills like Volleyball Passing2v2 Gael Passing and others from Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development), her confidence with the ball should improve.

If not, maybe she plays with a fear of failure because she gets taken out of the game every time she makes a mistake. Or, maybe she is not aggressive with her pivot foot and cannot withstand pressure to keep her head up and see the floor. These are common problems, which coaches need to address through practice, and the actual problem dictates the response. However, bashing an unconfident player publicly is not going to increase her confidence and motivate the player to improve.

I see this with a player that I know. Her coach blames every loss and every mistake on her even though she is the best player in the conference and significantly better than her teammates. The coach thinks that because the player is a physically talented player that she can handle the harsh criticism. However, the criticism is unfair and leaves the player questioning her talent. When she questions herself, she underperforms, and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy with more mistakes leading to worse performance and results.

The player does not need punishment or more harsh words. She needs to have her confidence re-stored so she can perform optimally. She needs to feel that her coach trusts her to make plays. In a word, she needs her coach to communicate with her rather than yelling at her.

It is so easy to blame the players. However, players generally want to improve and play better. Nobody intentionally plays poorly. Nobody intentionally misses shots or throws the ball out of bounds.

These players need more instruction so they can meet their coaches’ high expectations and they need better communication from their coaches to inspire their efforts rather than hindering their confidence.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

Coaching & Leadership

In an article titled “Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership” in the Harvard Business Review, Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis introduce the idea of mirror neurons and their effect on leadership and communication.

When we consciously or unconsciously detect someone else’s emotions through their actions, our mirror neurons reproduce those emotions. Collectively, these neurons create an instant sense of shared experience.

Why do some coaches seem to get players to play hard while others do not, even though they appear to say the same things? It may be due to the way the coaches communicate, not the message.

In a recent study, our colleague Marie Dasborough observed two groups: One received negative performance feedback accompanied by positive emotional signals—namely, nods and smiles; the other was given positive feedback that was delivered critically, with frowns and narrowed eyes. In subsequent interviews conducted to compare the emotional states of the two groups, the people who had received positive feedback accompanied by negative emotional signals reported feeling worse about their performance than did the participants who had received good-natured negative feedback. In effect, the delivery was more important than the message itself.

According to this research, the followers reflect the leaders. When a coach is excited and pumped up for practice, the players are more likely to be excited about practice. When the coach looks tired and disinterested, the players are likely to have less energy and enthusiasm.

The article continues:

And everybody knows that when people feel better, they perform better. So, if leaders hope to get the best out of their people, they should continue to be demanding but in ways that foster a positive mood in their teams. The old carrot-and-stick approach alone doesn’t make neural sense; traditional incentive systems are simply not enough to get the best performance from followers.

What happens when a coach feels that his players are not listening or playing hard? He grows frustrated. Maybe he makes the team run or he threatens the team with some form of physical punishment. Is that the best way to get players to perform better?

I know a team that has lost two games this year because they are shooting under 50% from the free throw line and left more than 10 points on the board in the two games. After the last loss, the team shot free throws and sprinted after every miss. This is a common teaching tool. But, what does it teach?

Are the players missing on purpose? Should they be punished for a lack of skill? If there is a physical or mental error at the free throw line, is running sprints going to improve the performance or correct the error?

Most coaches assume that being a hard-ass or instilling discipline is a job requirement. This goes along with the popular command-style of coaching as well as the “my way or the highway” philosophy. However, is there a better way to motivate and inspire players to their best performance?

Top-performing leaders elicited laughter from their subordinates three times as often, on average, as did mid-performing leaders. Being in a good mood, other research finds, helps people take in information effectively and respond nimbly and creatively. In other words, laughter is serious business.

Eliciting laughter may not be the best protocol throughout practice, especially depending on the circumstances (don’t want to make fun of a player). However, the ideas differ little between an office place and a basketball court.

Leading effectively is, in other words, less about mastering situations—or even mastering social skill sets—than about developing a genuine interest in and talent for fostering positive feelings in the people whose cooperation and support you need.

Players respond to coaches who trust them and show interest in them. They respond to coaches who show enthusiasm for practice or the sport. They appreciate coaches who show their humanity rather than acting as if they are beyond reproach or unable to error. Players respond when a coach’s actions match his words.

Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

John Speraw and Coaching for the Player’s Perspective

I attended a U.C. Irvine men’s volleyball practice this week. UCI’s Head Coach, John Speraw, was an assistant coach on the gold medal-winning USA Men’s Volleyball Team, and he coaches differently than most coaches to whom I have been exposed. Read more

  • What Is A Playmaker?

    Who decided that a point guard has to be small? More importantly, what is a point guard? We expect a point guard to be a leader and have a high basketball I.Q. Why don’t we expect or challenge all players to develop this game awareness? Why rely on only one player? Read more →
  • The PBDL Concept

    English soccer academies wait until players are 11 to play full 11v11 soccer; in Italy, youth basketball players participate in skill-oriented clinics at 6-years-old, but start competitive games at 12. In the United States, kids play 5v5 full court games and compete for national championships when they are 8-years-old.

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  • Starting A PBDL

    The PBDL emphasizes learning and development. Presently, players and parents have numerous recreation options - leagues based on fun and equal participation, typically for beginners - and numerous competitive opportunities - teams focused on strategy, game preparation and winning. There are few true development leagues - until now.

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