Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Lessons from the recording studio

Last Sunday I had a "first" in my life. I've always enjoyed playing music and have played in bands throughout my life, but I'd never recorded before. A friend of mine in my graduate classes, Tim Miler, is a songwriter and asked me to play on his new album. I agreed and I can now say that I was a professional recording artist!

The session itself was intense! The pressure in the studio was tremendous.
I was a nervous wreck but excited at the same time. I'd played live on a number of occasions, but this was different. It is permanent and will be what people (hopefully) listen to again and again.

Here are some things that translated into my approach to coaching:

- Chemistry matters. Though the tension was thick, the other guys in the band and I are close enough that we were able to focus on our performance and each other to find a groove. Our teams are no different that way. Cancers on the team, no matter how talented, will more than likely bring the entire team down.

- Rehearse in the same environment you perform. This is difficult because studio time costs money, but can be simulated. We didn't do this and I had no idea what to expect. Needless to say, when I put on the headphones I entered a different world and got nervous. I used to think that with my teams it didn't matter where we practiced because the hoop is still 10 feet, the freethrow line is still 15 feet away, and the ball still bounces. This experience has changed my view. Put me in the environment, or at least simulate it as best as possible.

- Own up to mistakes, correct them, and move on. Because of the time factor, there isn't room to plod through mistakes. If you make a mistake you stop, tell everyone it was your fault, apologize, and take it from the top. This is one area where recording is like your drills in practice. No sense in doing it incorrectly. Admit it and correct it. If the mistakes keep happening, move on, try something else, and come back to it at a later time.

- Playing live, a quick recovery from mistakes is critical. Concerts and games are very similar. If you make a mistake playing in front of an audience, you just keep plugging away like it didn't happen. Often times I will come back with more intensity and focus. Our players need to be taught the same thing. Coach K has the perfect saying for this with "next play". That moment is over and you can't get it back. What are you going to do next?

- When its time to move on, play to strengths and find some success. One of the songs had a drum fill I just couldn't get. After the third take, Tim decided to come back to that song later. My strength as a drummer is funk music. Tim wrote a song in the style of Earth, Wind, and Fire meets George Clinton. He quickly chose that song to record next. It was easy for me to find the groove and we nailed it in one take. It felt really good. I saw success and the chemistry between all of us improved. We went back to the previous song and nailed it in one take. I think we can all see how this translates into our coaching both in practice and games.

- Time is precious. The studio charges by the hour and it is not cheap. Every take, every time the record button is turned on, you have to be right on it. Games are the same way. The clock is working against you and every possession is important.

- If the songwriter is confident, the band members will follow. My nerves were crazy in the studio. My palms were so sweaty that one of my sticks slipped out of my hand and hit the bass player in the head (no joke). I got rattled after that. Tim, who wrote all the songs and this is his album, was great. He called for a break, reassured me that I knew the material and told me I was a very good drummer. He essentially called a timeout, refocused my attention, and encouraged me. Pretty good coaching on his part!

- Properly channeled emotion is a powerful tool. Tim wrote a song in an early 80's punk style. It required me to play like Keith Moon from The Who (younger audience and non-rock lovers, just know he was a beast on the drums) only considerably faster. The first take was horrible! I got angry, threw my sticks down, and about kicked over my kit (would've been VERY "rock-n-roll" in concert, but not in the studio - plus I can't afford to replace my kit). The engineer, a drummer as well, called me into the booth and told me to put it in the drums. He told me, "It is an angry song so take out your frustrations on the drum heads." I did and the second take was right on the money. We can do this with our players too. Flip the script on them when they get a bad call or turn the ball over.

- Have fun! Remember that we do this because we enjoy it. Remind your players of this. Remind yourself. It is a joyous thing to be able to play and to share with others!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Postseason Evaluations

I recently received an email from Coach Mike Petrino at Central Catholic High School in Portland, Oregon asking about postseason evaluations. I am thankful that Coach Petrino asked because this has allowed me an opportunity to explore as well. I, like Coach Petrino, am always looking for ways to improve.

I think the most common thing we do as coaches at the end of the season is meet individually with our players. While I definitely can agree that meeting is important, it is even more critical that we use this time constructively towards improving our programs. It is a time to find the holes to plug to keep the ship afloat.

I have mentioned Tom Oswald previously in posts. I worked for Tom at Texas Lutheran and consider him one of my biggest mentors. Tom was a very organized and analytic coach. His postseason evaluations were not just with players, but with his coaching staff as well. He would ask questions that would lead the player (or coach, in my case) to discover, on their own, the areas that Tom felt that particular individual needed to work on. It was also an open forum for the player to evaluate the coaching staff as well.

In my case, I had never been in a situation like that as a coach. Tom knew what he wanted out of me, but wanted me to verbalize it myself. I never felt pressured into answering a certain way, but I always ended up saying the things Tom wanted me to improve upon. He also shared with me the responses that the players had when he asked them about me. It was a great learning opportunity for me to grow as a coach!

I also had the tremendous opportunity to work for Kevin Eastman, who is also a big mentor, during his time at Washington State. When he would meet with players after the season he wanted to make sure that the players were on the same page and headed in the same direction as the staff. He also wanted to see what the players thoughts were about the program in general and how they felt about each other. The following are things that he would ask of every player:

- What are the 3 most important things we stress on 1) Offense, 2) Defense, 3) Academics, 4) the type of players we want.
- Rank each player from best to worst in the areas of hardest worker, best leader, etc.
- What is good about the program? What is bad? What needs improvement?
- If we had an unlimited budget, what would you love to see in our program? Nothing is off limits.

If you want to quantify production, I don't think there is a better tool than Danny Miles' efficiency rating. In a recent phone conversation with Coach Miles, I asked him if he used the efficiency rating scores in his postseason evaluations. The answer was a resounding, "YES!" He said that often players would come to him after the season wanting to improve their rating in order to gain more minutes the following year. At that time, Coach Miles would break down the formula and show the player his deficiencies. In that same conversation, the player was shown how he can improve his overall rating within his game and playing to his individual strengths.

I think Coach Eastman's comment was probably the most important part of postseason evaluations: "The biggest thing I can tell you is that the coach has to be honest with the players but in a way that it is received and acted upon properly."

I would love to hear how other coaches evaluate their respective teams. If you have other thoughts and ideas on postseason evaluations, please comment.

Cornell - An Exercise In Team Unity

I think it is safe to say that we are now familiar with the "Cinderellas" of the NCAA Division-I national tournament now. Having spent three years at low/mid major schools, I have a tremendous amount of respect, love, and admiration for teams like Northern Iowa and Saint Mary's. Being that I coach at the Division-III level without athletic grants-in-aid (or what is most commonly referred to as scholarships, even though they are not based on academic merit) I have even more appreciation for Cornell getting to the Sweet 16 due to the fact they are operating under those same stipulations with considerably stricter academic standards.

One of my favorite things about this Cornell squad is their unity. Watching them last week was a source of joy. They seem to truly enjoy being together and playing together. They move with a sense of purpose, of which most of the time that purpose seems to be helping their teammate. Whether it is setting a good screen to get a teammate open or rotating on the weakside of the floor defensively, these guys are there for each other. This ultimately leads to a well-oiled machine that is wonderfully efficient; they are shooting almost 60% from the field and 45% from beyond the arc in their two tournament games.

It is not just on the basketball court either. These young men are tight off the floor as well. In David Fox's article for Yahoo! Sports, he describes how much fun the team has together and their inside jokes. A quick read, but just a lot of fun: Cornell laughing all the way to the Sweet 16. Another great article on how well these players get along off the floor is from The New York Times', Pete Thamel: Cornell Counts on Closeness Against Kentucky. It is my sincere hope that once I have the opportunity to coach my own team, that I can foster an environment like the one Steve Donohue and his staff have created.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I Could Beat Mike Tyson In His Prime!

I think we can all agree that Mike Tyson, in his prime, was one of the most dominant boxers of all time. I have never been in the boxing ring, am far from being in fighting shape, and still could beat the late-eighties Tyson in the ring. This story doesn't hinge on Tyson himself. Change the name to Muhammad Ali or George Foreman or any other boxer and it would be the same.

The rules of the fight are this:
- Tyson cannot use his fists. He can only strike with open hands boxing style.

- I can use my fists.

Tyson would be tremendously stronger than I am but he isn't going to have the same power behind his punches. He would get his shots in on me, but they wouldn't have the same explosive results as his fists would have. His shots might hurt, but they would be very easy to recover from. Granted, he could knock me down with a roundhouse or a hook, but it would be highly unlikely that I would get knocked out. Tyson might jam, sprain, or break some fingers in the process.

In the other corner (to use boxing terminology), I would be packing a considerable more dangerous punch. I would be balling my fists and delivering powerful blows... at least as powerful as I can. The damage I would be able to induce would be dramatically different than Tyson. The likelihood that I could beat Tyson is heavily weighted to my advantage.

Consider our respective hands as representations of your basketball team. If they play as individuals, separate, and as individuals there just isn't as much power behind their play. They may get their shots in and make runs, but in the long run there are tremendous odds that they will break and get beat.

If they come together, tight, and with a common goal they will deliver strong blows to their opponent. They will be a fore to be reckoned with; a dangerous combination of efficiency and power. Working together, they will have the ability to knock down their opponent and keep them down.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Is your hut on fire?

The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him. Every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming.. Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect him from the elements, and to store his few possessions. One day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, with smoke rolling up to the sky. He felt the worst had happened, and everything was lost. He was stunned with disbelief, grief, and anger. He cried out, "God! How could you do this to me?" Early the next day, he was awakened by the sound of a ship approaching the island! It had come to rescue him! "How did you know I was here?" asked the weary man of his rescuers. "We saw your smoke signal," they replied.

The Moral of This Story:
It's easy to get discouraged when things are going bad, but we shouldn't lose heart, because God is at work in our lives, even in the midst of our pain and suffering. Remember that the next time your little hut seems to be burning to the ground. It just may be a smoke signal that summons the Grace of God.

Life Lessons vs Philosophy?

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably already know what a huge fan of Rick Reilly I am. He has some amazing insights into the world of athletics as well as a tremendous wit. Today's ESPN article from Rick Reilly was very poignant in regards to sportsmanship and the role of a coach.

The article can be found HERE. In it he talks about the #1 team in high school basketball, Houston's Yates High School.

I love to win. I don't think there is a coach alive who doesn't. I love winning in a convincing fashion even more. You know the wins; your players play hard, they execute with precision, the five players on the floor working together like a fine Swiss timepiece. I love being able to walk out of the gym feeling like the team really accomplished something together.

The flip side of this is I have some compassion. I know what it feels like to be on the other end. I even feel guilty at times after a 25+ point win. Some of you reading this may feel like that is showing a sign of weakness, but is it really? By running up scores, what is that truly teaching players?

Most coaches say that athletics is a tool to teach their players about life. Do we really want to teach our players that life is about degrading others? That life is about kicking a man when he is down?

I remember watching one of my wife's games a few years ago. She was in her first year as a head coach having taken over a very down program. Her team was playing one of the best teams in the conference. The opposing team was up by 60 some odd points with less than 5 minutes to go, pressing and had 3 starters still in the game. I watched the players on my wife's team and their body language after the game had finally come to an end. Those poor girls couldn't hold their head and shoulders up with the help of an industrial crane.

While I believe that coaches should not sacrifice their philosophy, I truly believe that character is more important than any gameplan or style of play.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Defending the Low Post

- Sprint in transition. If you can beat your opponent down the floor, you've already put yourself in good position.
- Anticipate. Think one step ahead of the play.
- Chuck cutters. No free cuts through the paint. Meet at the midline in a stance with a forearm to the chest.

3/4 DENY - Ball above the FT line
- In the line. Deny elbow, shoulder, and hip should be in the passing lane line.
- No direct passes to the post. Must force a tough lob.
- Strong arm bar (See picture to the left). Too often players want to wrap around and grab the offensive player at his hips.
- Create separation. Contact benefits the offensive player. Do not allow the offense to get into the torso, ribs, hip, and thigh. Much harder to seal offensively.

FULL FRONT - Ball below the FT line
- Knock down elbows. Attack the offensive player's elbow with a quick, swift downward sweep with defender's elbow.
- Step through with the back foot. Get shoulder lower than the offensive player. Shoot hip through.
- Gain ground. Stay low in stance and keep feet driving. Very similar to a running back on a dive play.
- Dominate the lead foot. If the lead foot is high, step over the high foot and walk higher toward the FT line. If the lead foot is low, step over the low foot and walk toward the baseline.
- Hand up with elbows at 90 degree angle. Can make a play on the lob pass. Won't hold this way. Use the triceps as antennas to feel the offensive player trying to get around. Should not ever have to turn head until the offense gives up the strong side block going away from the play.

- Throw hips forward
- Roll off shoulders. Use the offensive player's momentum against him. More than likely, the offense is going to be pushing to gain position. If the defense rolls, the offense will continue past the block taking him out of position.
- Keep rolling. If the offense tries to seal on ball reversal and the defense does not get all the way around on the first roll, continue to roll off. It is very difficult to seal and catch a continuously moving player.

- Give a 1/2 step. Again, contact benefits the offense. Must create separation. Quick hop straight back.
- Stance and arm bar. Do not give up ground. On the 1/2 step, the arm bar must maintain the offense's distance from the basket.
- Arch up. On the shot or after the offense picks up his dribble. Stay in stance. Gain back the 1/2 step. Lead and make contact with chest. Arms straight up behind ears.

I've had the pleasure of working for two fantastic post play teachers, Ray Giacoletti at Eastern Washington and now an assistant at Gonzaga and Tom Oswald at Texas Lutheran. This is a combination of both men's philosophies on how to defend the low post. I am hoping that in the near future I can post video of exactly how this looks. If you would like to know more, please feel free to contact me.