A Proven Four Step Process to Eliminate Parent-Coach Conflict

September 16th, 2012

A wise, successful coach once explained to me that one of the greatest challenges coaches face is that players’ think they are twice as good as they really are, and worse, parents think their kids are 5 times as good as reality.

One primary source of the problem is that until recently there has been no good way to objectively show players and parents what you know as a coach – mainly that most player’s skills are deficient, they aren’t practicing enough, and other kids have moved passed them for a limited number of roster spots and minutes.   Compounding the problem is that choosing who plays and who doesn’t becomes a personal assessment of a parent’s child and affects the collective family dreams that they have shared for years.  Worse, if it’s perceived that this is your opinion that prevents that family dream from becoming reality, you get caught in an unwinnable battle – one based on opinion rather than fact.    The risks are significant because you know that if the parent is not on your side, the player will hear negative comments every night at the dinner table and bring the family’s frustration back to your team, your locker room, and your practices.  The frustration that builds from the perception of biased opinion increases the risk that there will be a cancerous undercurrent of dissatisfaction from the players who aren’t playing as much as they believe they should be.  This can lead to unnecessary losses, miserable seasons, and in the worst cases, early coaching exits from potentially great programs simply because coaches are not supported by the parents in the program.

We have seen many of our 94Fifty customers effectively manage these relationships with a four step process that transforms opinion to fact, turns subjective assessment to objective diagnostic, and evolves the coaches role into that of the expert at all times with any player/parent rather than just the expert when a player gets all the playing time during a 19-1 season.    As a coach, you know that some years you won’t win every game, and that is when the critics (parents) start to snipe.   Here are some ideas you can implement to eliminate the sniping forever while building those long-lasting parent/player relationships that makes coaching so rewarding.

1)      Create Evaluation criteria for earning the chance, not the guarantee, for playing time:   Creating a combination of objective and subjective criteria that creates a series of gradually increasing gates that each player should pass through is important.   These criteria should include a combination of Height, Ball-handling and Shooting Skill, Athleticism, On-court IQ, Heart, Competitive Desire, Game Performance, and Leadership.

This list gives the coach a series of objective and subjective criteria that all players and parents can see.  You should consider making all of the criteria visible, but you should strongly consider making skill and height the first criteria that any player must pass to move on to further evaluation.  Skill alone should not equal playing time, but it should be the first factor that every parent and player understands as your baseline.  If a player is not working on skill, then he/she is hurting or eliminating the opportunity to get minutes.   Let your parents know that you will be screening players by skill as the first screen for making the team and for making playing decisions.   Our products are designed to help make this process exceptionally objective, so those interested should simply visit our website at www.94Fifty.com/features.   But for those programs that don’t have 94Fifty, consider developing a series of skill evaluations that lead to objective criteria.

Don’t forget or ignore that height is an important criteria in your screening process – our statistics show that the combination of height and ball-handling skill can accurately predict a player’s ability to play at higher levels over 90% of the time.    When you add shooting skill the predictive level increases to over 95%.    Whether parents like to hear it or not, height is a factor.  Players that are tall and skilled are extremely valuable.  Players that are shorter have to possess a higher level of skill (particularly ball-handling) to be on the court.  Players and parents need to recognize that if a player lacks height, then practice needs to be increased on skill work, and if a player does possess some height, that height is not sufficient on its own to guarantee playing time.

2)      Set Up and a Mandatory Pre-Season First Screen (if rules allow it) – It’s important to measure early for skill and to do it objectively.   At 94Fifty, we believe measurement brings accountability, and accountability drives rapid improvement.  Our most successful customers use 94Fifty products as a way to quantify skill in a standard way that cannot be questioned.  It’s designed to be completely objective.  Parents can’t argue that their 6’-2” tweener should be a point guard when his/her 94Fifty ball-handling score puts them as the 8th best ball-handler on the team, or that their under-sized center should be chucking more threes when he/she can’t shoot accurately or quickly enough.    We help you measure every aspect of these skills so that your players see their weaknesses, and more importantly, so their parents can see it and understand that decisions are not just based on your opinion.    Nothing is more sobering than seeing objective data, and the first 94Fifty skill testing session sets a level playing field for player – coach – parent.    Measure everyone in your program for ball-handling and your varsity players for shooting and ball-handling.   We recommend doing this in September or October or at least a month before practice/tryouts begin.

3)      Establish Ongoing Objective Evaluations – Our most successful programs instill a culture of constant measurement and improvement and use objective testing to see who has the desire to work hard.    During pre-season or tryouts, it’s important to make these results visible to your players.   Don’t just use the testing as a way to screen for which players make the cut – use it as a way to explain and help guide for future success.   If you have to make a tough cut, or send someone back to JV, or defer a promotion of a sophomore to varsity despite lofty expectations, use the data to help explain what steps need to be taken to earn the right to play more at higher levels.     If the skills are great, but the player’s height is not, explain the issue in that way.   If the skills and height are correct, but the desire is missing (which you will see with 94Fifty historical tracking if they aren’t practicing), then explain that concern to the parent in an objective way.    If a player is making the cut but still competing for playing time, then explain to the parents/player that the player will still have to show the other subjective skills to earn the right to play.  Always reinforce that the skill development is an important first step.   The key here is that when you start with objective data, and follow up with another set or ongoing sets of objective data, you have now established yourself as a coach that uses unbiased criteria to make decisions, even if some of those decisions are more subjective.    You have built credibility and trust for the parent and player – which leads to the final step.

4)      Never Relinquish Your Coaches Intuition, Just Make the Decision Process Visible. Once skills have been established and used as the initial screen and established as objective criteria, you obviously have a number of other factors that are more subjective in nature.   When you can, we recommend that you measure and record whenever possible.  Try to track, or have your managers track things in practice (hustle plays, + – stats in scrimmages, athleticism factors, etc).  This all helps to set the stage for a productive discussion with a player when they approach you to ask what can be done to get more playing time; likewise, it is equally helpful to avoid emotional outbursts when a parent calls you to demand playing time.   Whether you set rules with parents early in the season outlining who is allowed to ask about playing time (or not), by using objective evidence to support your more subjective decisions, you will help to set the tone that you have thought through your player decisions and that those decisions are well-reasoned.    But at the end of the day it is your choice as the coach to make the decision.

At 94Fifty, we have a number of high school and college coaches who are employees and advisers that share their collective experience with us, and we have coaches all over the world contributing their experiences to help us see successful communication strategies.   In the end, we have seen a common theme that by using measurable skill criteria as an initial and ongoing screen, coaches can set the right tone for the rest of the decisions that follow, whether they are subjective in nature or not.

Turkish Basketball – Early Surprise of the 2012 Olympics

May 8th, 2012

One of 94Fifty’s best customers and distributors is the Guler family in Turkey.  Sinan Guler, who plays on Anadolu Efes, one of the top Turkish professional teams, was kind enough to provide some detail behind the surprising absence of the Turkish team from the 2012 Olympics.

I have to first say how genuinely confused and shocked I was to learn that Turkey had not made the Olympics this year.  With all of the travel and heads-down work that comes with running a global company, it is sometimes difficult (and at times embarrassing) to keep up to speed with all aspects of the global basketball world.  I can empathize with how disappointed basketball fans in Turkey must be that the team did not meet the lofty expectations that were no doubt created after their impressive finish in the 2010 World Championships.   After hearing a first-hand account from Sinan, it is clear that the disappointment still lingers.

What follows are some thoughts from a completely independent basketball observer (although obviously skewed towards events in U.S. basketball), who appreciates great basketball and great skill wherever I see it regardless of where that talent comes from across the globe.

First, my expectations for Turkey in the 2012 Olympics were very high.  They earned that expectation not only from their fans but also from fans across the globe.  I fully expected them to compete this year for a place on the medal podium, with a very real chance to take the Gold medal along with Argentina, the U.S., France, Spain, Lithuania, Slovenia, Serbia and a handful of other countries that have a legitimate shot in any given year to compete for a medal.     But the very fact that Turkey has earned that expectation speaks volumes for what is happening with Turkish basketball.   These same expectations were not a reality just 10 or 15 years ago.

This leads to my second observation that has stuck with me since the 2010 Worlds.  I was impressed with what appears to be a very cohesive basketball structure within the Turkish basketball federation. You could see the output of that structure with the performance of their national team.   Their team had depth at all positions.  They were long, athletic and all very skilled.   Their Bigs could face the basketball or play the traditional post with equal confidence.  Their guards could shoot and had command of the floor and were not bothered by pressure, particularly confident against the American defenders, which is not an easy task.  The entire team could pass and rebound well.   All of these traits from any basketball observer would be obvious signs of a strong feeder system and national structure that understands how to develop the skill necessary in its players to compete on a global stage.

But there was one more subtle but very important observation that might only be obvious to those that have spent time developing talent:   I could see that the players, coaches, and fans had a Passion for the game.   Coming from a state like Indiana – where passion for basketball exceeds logical bounds – it was obvious to me that Turkey, as a country, has a passion for basketball that will drive its success.  You can see this similar passion in countries like Lithuania and Slovenia.    But Turkey, as a country,  has it – and that passion, combined with their basketball organization structure, are the elements that build international powers in any sport.

These observations made it all the more surprising to me not to see Turkey in the Olympics this year.  As I mentioned, my expectations after the World Championships were to see them compete at every major international tournament.   But as a former player who understands the perils of the game following the big game, there is probably a very simple and common explanation:  a giant, inevitable, country-wide letdown from hosting the Worlds and coming so close to winning it.

Think about it.

You just host the World Championships, knock off nearly all of the top teams in the world in front of your own passionate, screaming fans for more than 3 weeks, and finish just short of taking home the Gold.  Everyone is euphoric, and you relax, just a bit, to enjoy it.   The entire Turkish Basketball structure lowers the intensity level to savor the moment.  And that is precisely when teams get bit – because now you are a marked team.   Others have now set you squarely in their sites to take you down, and now within 12 months you have to get every player, coach, and team member mentally ready to defend those expectations against the very teams who have just raised their intensity against you.   I can tell you from personal experience that it is an extremely difficult task.   It is the same reason why it can be so hard to win an NBA title, or any title, two years in a row, because it only takes a slight decrease in the mental focus and intensity to make the difference at a championship level.  Everyone wants to claim that they beat you, and while your own game comes down just a bit, their game has gone up.

I am almost certain that is what has happened here – because there is just too much exceptional basketball structure in place to explain it any other way.     This I know – while the people of Turkey must be disappointed in their 2012 absence – they have set a more permanent expectation in my mind – they can rest assured that the World has taken notice and that the international conclusion is that this was an anomaly, and our expectations are that in the years to come, Turkey will be a common contender for a seat at the podium.

Boys Town High School Produces a First For 94Fifty

April 18th, 2012

At the NABC convention in New Orleans earlier this month, Tom Krehbiel, a 94Fifty customer from Omaha Nebraska came to our booth, shakes my hand and thanks us for helping him to win the state title this year.    Obviously, I wanted to share their story with the world.  It is a great one for many reasons, some of which have nothing to do with basketball.   (But doesn’t everything, at some point, have to do with basketball?)

Boys Town high school goes 27-1 as the highest scoring team in the state.

Coach Tom Krehbiel understands a thing or two about player psychology and motivation.  For the past 10 years as the varsity boys basketball coach at Boys Town High School in Omaha, Nebraska, he has seen his share of great athletes that had raw potential but failed to put it all together on the court.

Boys Town is a unique opportunity for its full-time students.  Many of Krehbiel’s players are sent to Boys Town as a last resort, arriving from torn or dysfunctional family backgrounds or run-ins with the law.   Until they arrive on campus, structure is more often than not a foreign concept, and communicating the importance of new practice habits is a particular coaching challenge.  Before they reach Krehbiel, most of his players have never had any formal coaching. The nature of the mission for Boys Town means that he has no feeder system to develop young talent, so he has to develop team chemistry, discipline and skill quickly.  In most years, these hurdles would result in competitive teams that weren’t quite polished enough to take home the title.

“I was ready to buy a NOAH system, and then I learned about 94Fifty”

At the end of the 2010-2011 season, Coach Krehbiel recognized that he had to try something new.  He had just finished a solid 20-6 campaign but lost in the state tournament because his teams couldn’t shoot the ball.  Opposing teams would pack in their zone defenses, limiting the athletic advantages his teams would bring by slowing the game down and making every possession a struggle.
While the Cowboys averaged a respectable 60 points per game in 2010-2011, they shot only 29.4% from three point range.   Krehbiel’s two returning senior starters shot 19% and 32% respectively as juniors.   He knew his team was at risk of another season facing packed in zones and a disappointing early exit from the tournament.   That’s when he decided to make 94Fifty a key tool for his off-season skill development strategy.

“The 94Fifty motion sensor basketballs and software are amazingly accurate in measuring shooting and ball-handling skills.  It gave me the ability to assess all the skills of my players – ball-handling and shooting – in a very objective and precise way.  I looked at the NOAH system, but I just thought that we needed something that could measure and monitor all skills like shot speed, shot arc, and ball-handling.  My players like how 94Fifty creates game like, high-intensity skill tests that force them to hone their skills in order to score well.  It provides immediate feedback, precise diagnostics, and personalized recommended drills based on the weaknesses that it sees. “

“More than anything, 94Fifty changed our workout culture.”

Beginning in June of 2011, he selected four key players for the upcoming year to work on their skills – two new sophomores with promise and his two returning starters.  He knew that this group brought experience and talent, but had some serious deficiencies that needed attention.  Like many young players today, they liked to play pick up games, or goof around in open gym, but he needed a way to change how they approached their personal practice time.   Once 94Fifty arrived, he quickly tested his players shooting mechanics and ball-handling skills and used the information to get their attention.

“My players were motivated by being able to compare their own skills to college level skills.  It drove them to practice harder and the right way.  It’s not some gimmick – it forced them to practice their skills in real-time, game like, competitive environments.  The instant scoring was a key feature that drove intensity. “

For their shooting issues, 94Fifty was able to identify the shot arc and shot speed deficiencies for all 4 players, and then recommend drills to help correct the issues.

“The shooting improvement was profound.  My players quickly learned to appreciate not only the importance of practicing the right mechanics, but also to shoot quickly while maintaining those mechanics.   The system is so accurate in analyzing weaknesses and so objective that kids listen to the feedback I give them.  The workouts that the system suggested were outstanding; personalizing the drills for each player’s needs.   My players locked onto those drills and improved dramatically in just a matter of a couple of months.”
Krehbiel would use 94Fifty every two weeks to re-test the skill-development progress of his players.  For each test, he would put his players through a series of short, game speed shooting and ball-handling drills measured by the motion sensors in the balls so that his players could see their own improvements and make any necessary adjustments.   “It’s was important for my players to see their improvements and progress in shorter time intervals and it kept them motivated to continue to work on the little details that make a huge difference.”

94Fifty Delivers Championship Results

The results of Krehbiel’s decision to choose 94Fifty were profound.  The Cowboys captured the Nebraska C-1 state title while going 27-1.  They led the state in scoring at over 75 points per game, up from 60 per game the previous year.  Each of the four players using 94Fifty shot greater than 40% from three point range, shooting over 350 threes for the season.   His two returning seniors, who had shot 19% and 32% from the previous year, shot 40% and 45% respectively from the three this year.    Both are now heading off to play college basketball.

“Once we demonstrated to ourselves and to our opponents that we had multiple three point threats, teams couldn’t pack in their zones anymore.   My players actually got excited to see a zone because they had the confidence in their shooting mechanics to knock it down.”  Krehbiel also credits his player’s understanding of shot speed for knocking down a key shot during the state title game, where one of his 94Fifty seniors drained a big three from the corner in the final minutes with a defender closing fast.  “A year before, he never gets that shot off because he couldn’t shoot quickly enough,” added Krehbiel, who was named Coach of the Year.  The Cowboys won the state title Game 58-55.

While there are many factors that impact a championship teams’ success, Krehbiel is quick to point out where 94Fifty had the greatest impact.  “More than anything, it helped me to communicate ways to improve with these players that produced results.  It changed the workout culture of my entire team.”

For a school with the unique challenges and mission of Boys Town, the skills and discipline retained by their players about the benefits of focus, dedication, and persistence will last a lifetime.

The Hawthorne Effect

November 10th, 2011

It has been a while since I had time to write a blog post, but I found this excerpt in a 2009 article about the evolution of the Nike + running shoe product.

The article describes a well-known behavior in sociology called the Hawthorne effect, and it is an extremely compelling tidbit about human nature that applies directly to 94Fifty and how we bring value to coaches and players.   Little did we know that basketball and manufacturing had so much in common…

“In the mid-1920s at Western Electric’s manufacturing plant in Cicero, Illinois, the management began an experiment. The lighting in an area occupied by one set of workers was increased so there was better illumination to help them see the telephone relays they were building. Perhaps not surprisingly, workers who had more light were able to assemble relays faster.

Other changes were then made: Employees were given rest breaks. Their productivity increased. They were allowed to work shorter hours. Again, they were more efficient during those hours.

But then something weird happened. The lighting was cut back to normal … and productivity still went up. In fact, just about every change the company made had only one effect: increased worker productivity. After months of tinkering, the work conditions were returned to the original state, and workers built more relays than they did in the exact same circumstances at the start of the experiment.

What was happening? Why was it that no matter what the Hawthorne plant managers did, the workers just performed better? Researchers puzzled over the results, and some still doubt the details of the experiment’s protocols. But the study gave rise to what’s known in sociology as the Hawthorne effect.

The gist of the idea is that people change their behavior—often for the better—when they are being observed (which is why it’s sometimes called the observer effect). Those workers at Western Electric didn’t build more relays because there was more or less light or because they had more or fewer breaks. The Hawthorne effect posits that they built more relays simply because they knew someone was keeping track of how many relays they built.”

Bolds and Underlines added for effect.    What we see everyday with 94Fifty is that what gets measured, gets improved.   It turns out that this is really not a novel concept when it comes to human behavior.

Keep practicing!

CIF-SS Recap

March 9th, 2011

Some thoughts on the outstanding talent and excellent games we saw in Anaheim this past week.

Mater Dei Girls – very very good. Possibly the best high school girls’ team I have ever seen.   No doubt the top team in the country.

Long Beach Poly Boys – very very good.  Could beat any team in the country.  As good as any of the best teams I saw during my 10 years in Indianapolis (Think Greg Oden and Mike Conley on the same team, or Jared Jeffries and Sean May).

It is becoming more obvious to us that the ability to train your muscles to receive and repeat very hard bounces, with high force applied to the ball, is a ball-handling skill that must be developed.  We will be reporting average force as part of our metrics moving forward on ball-handling skill tests.

Young players still need to grasp the importance of shot speed.  We witnessed some very good, accurate shooters, that simply shot the ball too slowly to be successful in college.  Young players need to realize that they need to practice at game speed when working on their shooting.  Any shot speed above .80 seconds from catch to release is in the zone of being too slow unless the player is 6’6” or taller for boys or 5’11”+ for girls.   Height can provide additional shot time, but only if the defender is smaller.  Speed plus accuracy is never bad.  In Cali, we saw a lot of accuracy, but only a few really quick release speeds.

I really like the talent pool and quality of coaching that I saw during the action.  It was as good as it gets anywhere in the country.  The primary disappointment was the fan support.   The most fans I saw at any game maybe topped 4,000.  In most games it was between 2,000-3,000.   Being  from the Indiana, this was less than what I was accustomed to seeing.    The level of play was excellent and these players deserved to play to a full house.   Or at least ¾ full house.!

Overall a great week.  Congrats again to our champions and to all of the CIF-SS team champions.  Good luck this coming week at states.

Now – On to Houston for the Men’s Final Four at the end of the month!

Southern Cal Proves Its Got Game.

March 7th, 2011

Wow.   What a week in Cali.   We sent a full team to Southern California to determine the top skilled players in the CIF-SS (Cali speak for California Interscholastic Federation – Southern Section, we will stick with CIF-SS).  We left Cali having named Senior Dylan Garrity (Edison High School, Huntington Beach, CA, 20.5 ppg in 2010 – 11) and Junior Kari Korver (Valley Christian H.S., Cerritos, CA, 25.6 ppg in 2010-11) as the inaugural skill champions in all of SoCal.  At first glance, naming a champion only for CIF-SS may sound a bit smallish, since it’s only the Southern Section, and not all of California.   But realize that California is an enormous state, and the CIF-SS is the largest of the nine athletic sections.  With 580 high schools in the Southern Section alone, this would make it the 8th largest state.   It’s a big deal.

For those that haven’t been reading our recent posts (what gives?) – 94Fifty was asked to help add a new element to the 2011 edition of the Southern Section finals, and the result was the first ever skill championships of its kind in the world.   Nearly 80 contestants from across the region competed, most of them nominated as the MVP from their respective leagues. We saw some outstanding skills on display.   In addition, 22 games were played over the course of the 5 day event, giving us the opportunity to watch some fantastic basketball.   What basketball junkie could ask for more?!

For the competition, there were two rounds to determine the overall champion, and we named the top ball-handler and shooter for boys and girls after the preliminary round.  The first round of the competition involved our advanced ball-handling drills and a 10-shot shooting competition, where we awarded the majority of points based on the accuracy percentage (80%=80 points) and a bonus for shot release speed – the faster the release the more bonus points a player would receive.  Each player shot from 18 ft, but after each shot the players were required to turn and run to a spot 10 feet behind the shooting location, then return to catch and shoot off the move for their next shot.   We combined the ball-handling scores and shooting scores into a final score to select the top 5 boys and girls to compete in the final round.

After the preliminary rounds, our ball-handling champions were clear.   Gary Mathews from Whittier High School (20.6 ppg in 2010-2011) popped an 81.66 score in the advanced ball-handling to take the boys title, while Tyler Kim from Marlborough High School (16.2 ppg in 2010-11) recorded an 82.10 to easily take the girls ball-handling crown.    On the shooting side, Junior to be Max McCoy (14.9 ppg, Royal High School, Simi Valley) hit 80% of his 18ft shots to earn 80 points on accuracy, and had a lightning fast .697 shot speed to earn 20 bonus points to squeak by a fine shooting performance from Mitch Marmelstern (St. Margaret’s, 20.9 ppg).     On the girls’ side, Kari Korver hit 80% of her shots with an impressive .657 shot speed to cruise to a victory.   Korver also performed well on her ball-handling and advanced to the final round at the top of the leader board as did Tyler Kim and Riki Murakami (Redondo Union, HS).   For the Boys division, Max McCoy joined Garrity with Marmelstern and Carl Cooper to compete for the overall skills title.

In the final round players performed the same set of ball-handling drills, but had each player shoot 20 shots instead of 10.  Korver dialed up her skills and popped an 80+ on the ball-handling to take a surprising lead over Tyler Kim, who recorded a 75 during the finals heading into the shooting round.  While on the boys side, Garrity took the early lead on the ball-handling with a 74.15.    During the shooting segment, Tyler Kim bounced right back by hitting 16 out of 20 of her shots with an impressive .76 release speed, giving her 85 points and what looked like enough to win it.   Korver responded by starting out hot, hitting 9 of her first 11, but hit a cold spot to finish with 13 out of 20 but a much quicker .68 shot release.   The difference in shot speed gave her 20 bonus points to Kim’s 5, closing the gap enough to give her the 165 to 160 victory and the girls’ title. Our scoring worked as planned, rewarding the shooters for a faster release combined with accuracy.  We want shooters to be fast and accurate, and while both had very good release time, Korver was more likely to get her shot off in a game situation.

For the boys, McCoy shot well in the finals, hitting 13 out of 20 and again with lightning release speed of .639 to get 20 bonus points and a total of 85 shooting points.  But it was not enough to overcome a very accurate 18 out of 20 shooting display by Garrity in the final round, despite his release speed of .982 seconds.  The 90% accuracy gave him 90 total points.  More importantly, Garrity’s ballhandling lead of 74.51, ahead of Carl Cooper’s (Arrowhead HS) 68.88 and McCoy’s 67.66 gave him an overall final round score of 164.51, well ahead of the pack.

Overall – it was a great event and every player came to win.  We could see the focus and the intensity by every player, which is what we love about this game.   Congratulations again to all the finalists and the 2011 champions.

The Secret to Playing Your Best Basketball

February 17th, 2011

Surprise!  The answer to this question will not be to do more drills, practice more, play more games, or to play against better competition.  These are all important, but none of them are the most important thing to know.   Now that I have your attention, read on.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with many promising young players who possess loads of skill and potential.  I’ve also seen a few of those same players struggle mightily in game situations – seemingly unable to match their skill potential to game production.  Sometimes, the on-court struggle becomes so bad that the player finds themselves riding the pine, only to play more awful every time they see the court.

This scenario is also one of the most widely asked questions I get from coaches – that possessing skill does not necessarily guarantee success on the court or in a game.  This question is usually followed up with the quote “I have this one player who is a gym rat and can do all the drills, but….”  You can guess the rest.  The scenario they point out can be very true.   It doesn’t make logical sense to extrapolate that to all basketball players – more skill generally means better production.   But…there is a common cause for this particular situation, and today’s post provides a secret to any player to escape this scenario should they encounter it.  And guess what – most of you have a high probability of encountering it as you continue to play against better and better competition.

The Cause:

The primary cause of mental lock up – which prevents a player from playing “free” of distractions during a game, with perfect focus, and amazing production, is a disconnect between a player’s expectations of themselves and the team’s needs to win.

Let me be more precise.   Every time I see a player struggle over a long period of time, when their skill says they should not be struggling,  EVERY TIME, it is due to the player entering a season or a game with a pre-set expectation of what should happen.   For example – a player thinks that they are a 25 point per game scorer before the season begins, but during the first three games, they score only 5, 10 and 8 points.  Soon, the player starts to panic.  He or she hears the voices – from a parent, from friends, from imaginary scouts in the gym.   “What’s wrong ?”  “Why aren’t you scoring more – you should be scoring more”   “Your not going to earn your scholarship, all conference, etc”

Then, the spiral starts to happen.  The player starts to compete with other players on the team – who might be scoring more, fearful that another player is going to get that scholarship, or get noticed.  Now, instead of playing to beat the other team, the player starts to try to beat their own teammates in games.  They begin to press their game, almost as if in a panic.  Now, in an attempt to do even more,  they take chances on defense, and get burned.  They make more turnovers, their shot gets a little stiff and stops going in, and the basket shrinks so that it looks like it’s only 2 inches in diameter.   Now, the coach starts to look at the stat sheet and notices that the player who was supposed to be a top contributor is shooting only 20% from the field and turning it over 6 times a game.  Worse – they are making mistakes on defense and bringing the team down.  The coach has no choice but to find other players who might be less skilled but more focused, and bench time ensues.   Now the player starts to blame the coach for the struggles, and the coach senses this and gives up on the player – relegating the player to mop up minutes.   Sound familiar?  Have you seen this happen?   I have – it happened to me once.  It’s a very frustrating cycle that can spiral into a complete collapse of confidence and a miserable basketball experience.  I don’t wish is on anyone, but I see it happen all too often.  Thankfully, there is a simple, powerful cure to stop this cycle.

The Cure:

When I see players enter this cycle, and I hear the blame moving towards teammates or coaches – I dedicate an entire session to talking about the only thing that matters.   If players can grasp the only thing that matters, and understand the importance of it, then the player magically starts to play free again within a matter of a few games,   finally matching their potential.  The secret has nothing to do with physical skill.

What is the only thing that matters?   Focusing on the rim more?  Nope.   Playing better defense?  Not really.   More practice time?  Not even close.      The only thing that matters, and the only thing a player should focus on during a game is the scoreboard.   More importantly, focus on the score.   At every point in the game the player should only ask themselves questions surrounding the score.   Are we winning?  Are we winning by enough?  What can I do to help us win.     Period.   That is it.   Think of nothing else.

When you put all of your energy into a simple goal that says I am going to do whatever it takes to win – then what happens is that you free your mind to focus on only one thing.  And the more focus your mind has will have a direct effect on how well you make decisions (fewer turnovers, better defense) how confidently you make them ( better shooting, penetration)  and how well your energy transfers to your teammates (better chemistry).      Magically, your coach starts to notice your production and his or her confidence builds in you.  You get more playing time, and start to produce even more, and soon, your team is on a winning streak.

In the end, the best players ever in the game knew this secret.   They were winners, and focused everything on winning.  Period.   Don’t believe me?   Ask Bill Russell -he was just awarded the Medal of Freedom this week for being one of the greatest winners of all time.   Funny thing – he wasn’t much of a scorer.  He seemed to do everything in his power and to his skill to win.  And he won at every level.  I guarantee you that Bill Russell focused his mind on winning games.   There are countless examples I could site, but Ill spare you the reading time.

The answer, the secret, may seem too simple, but clearing the voices from your head is very tough.  And the best way to do it is to focus.  By far the most effective, productive, focus point for you mind that will lead to wild success for you is to focus it on the scoreboard, and to always ask yourself what do I need to be doing right now to win this game.

Number 1…

February 9th, 2011

Number 1…

This has turned out to be good number for 94Fifty so far this season, at least in the State of Ohio. Two 94Fifty customers currently share the distinction of being ranked number 1. Ohio State currently has a lock on the Men’s college scene, still undefeated, looking strong, and ranked No. 1 nationally. Meanwhile, Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller boys team, (See my previous blog post from December)is 17-0 and ranked No.1 in the Ohio high school large school division.

Full disclosure – our system did not create either team’s success. That came from the respective coaching staffs and the player’s commitment to excellence. But the fact that both programs have purchased 94Fifty tells you something about their goals of staying at the top. The great programs never stop looking for ways to get better.

Congrats to both teams and good luck for the rest of the season.

Kinetic Shooting Energy Part IV.b – the Finish.

January 29th, 2011

In the last post we left off with a description of Up and Outs, which is a simple drill you can do to get the timing of the lift of your core muscles in sync with the upward lift of the ball and its rotation into a shooting position.   If you do the drill correctly, your hands are always placed correctly on the ball, the shooting elbow is always in, and you are low, knees bent, before you receive the ball for the next shot.

But what about the part when you shoot?   How do you release the energy into the ball so that it does what you want it to do – which is go in the basket?   Great question.

A player can do everything we have discussed to this point correctly, and so much to a shot’s mechanics can go right just about to when the ball is released, then the wheels can fly off the truck if this last part is missing.    Here is what you MUST know.

1)       The ball must be in the power point of your shooting hand when you shoot

2)      Your shooting elbow should NOT flare out, but don’t tuck it in too far to the body.

3)      We strongly recommend shooting from the eyebrow, going up and out at about 50 degrees

4)      You Must generate power from your ONE wrist to provide touch and backspin to the ball

5)      You MUST follow through to the rim – pointing to your target after the ball is released

If you can execute these last five steps, then the Up (ball rotating up to the eyebrow with the hands cocked back, ready to release) and Out (the release angle and follow through) will be complete and correct.    Let’s discuss.

Remember – the final release ultimately should be a ONE handed shot . The off-hand, or balance hand, should be used for just that – to balance the ball in the shooting hand.  DO NOT use the off-hand thumb to add power to the ball.   “Thumbers” as we call them, generate power from the off-hand and this can many times (not all the time) cause misses to the left or right, low backspin, or sidespin.   But as Reggie Miller (a famous thumber) would quickly point out, thumbing the ball does not always mean that you will miss.   He had an ridiculous use of both hands on his shot, but the results spoke for themselves.) Still, so that you learn to effectively bring all that leg power to the right spot and to maximize accuracy, we recommend you learn to release the shot without thumbing.

When you can maintain the ball in the power point of your shooting hand (see previous post titled Part IV.a) then the power you generated from your legs and transferred through the core will be waiting for you to release it through the wrist.  So it’s very important when you practice to get used to how that feels, because if you are not used to it, it will feel very weird at first.

But now that you have the ball at your eyebrow with your elbow in line with the basket, and the off-hand balancing the ball but not thumbing it, the release towards the rim can begin.   With the ball in the power point, you have maximum control and power ready and waiting at your disposal.  Now – all that work to get the ball to the rim is worth it because you have harnessed it to this one point in time.

As your wrist starts to move out towards your target, the goal is to snap the wrist towards the target at an approximately 50 degree angle.  We say approximate because that release arc can change depending on your height or distance to the rim, but generally a 50 degree release will give the ball a chance to enter the basket at 45 degrees, its optimal entry arc.   When you snap the wrist, the off-hand should have left the ball at this point, and the very last finger to touch the ball is the index finger, and it should be pointing straight at the target.  (The front of the rim.)   Pointing anywhere else indicates a shooter with weak wrists.   We know that excellent shooters can generate about 135 spins per minute onto the ball, so if your wrists are too weak to do this, spend time doing some Flicker work against the backboard.   Stand straight up, isolate your wrists high, and just flick the ball up with your wrists, emphasizing the release point to the target.   After awhile you will feel your wrist muscles start to hurt and this should tell you that you are doing the drill correctly.   I credit my college scholarship to this drill, so it is a very good one to do every day.

Ok – that’s it.  Pretty simple right?   Just take a ball, chuck it up there, and in it goes.    What the kinetic shooting series should highlight, if nothing else, is that shooting is an EXTREMELY complex series of movements that require as much timing, coordination, and repetition to become proficient.   Anyone can be a great shooter, but to do so you must be prepared to commit to many repetitions of the correct way to shoot.

In the coming weeks and months we will be leveraging the use of video more on some of our posts so that you will be able to see some of these concepts.   In the meantime, do your best to stay disciplined and focused during your shooting workouts.  Remember, the three point line is not your friend if you don’t have your mechanics right, and the risk that you will learn to shoot incorrectly is very high.   Stay close, stay focused, create little games that keep your attention on the right mechanics, and happy shooting!

Guest Contribution: Dribbles from Coach Burson

January 21st, 2011

I’d like to welcome Coach Jim Burson this week as a guest contributor to the 94Fifty Blog.   He has graciously agreed to provide a consistent flow of ideas to our site so that our viewers don’t just have to read my stuff week after week.  We think you will find his insights to be very good reading.  Coach B was the past President of the NABC and brings an enormous amount of basketball knowledge our forum.  He is perhaps best known for being featured by Sports Illustrated as the only coach outside of the Princeton system to have deciphered the Princeton motion offense.  In basketball terms, its equivalent to deciphering the Rosetta stone.      With that – a warm welcome to Coach B’s first of many blog contributions.

The Daily Dozen

“We become what we repeatedly do.”                       -Aristotle

How important is teaching the fundamentals of the game? Fundamentals are the basis for all of your coaching. That’s how important it is.

I coached at the Division III level for nearly forty years and won over 540 games in my career, and at this level, my fundamentals development program was essential. In other words, the players needed to get better each practice, each day and each year.

I developed the Basic Daily Dozen Dribbling Drills and the Basic Daily Dozen Passing Drills. We did all these plus form shooting every day before practice. Repetition was the key – at least, I thought it was. The truth was and remains today:  players have to want to get better themselves regardless of what their coach or personal skill trainer tells them to do.

And that was my most compelling job – to get the players to want to do the drills – those endless, repetitive drills.

My own experience with the power of drill work was pretty compelling. I started my son Jay on the Daily Dozen Drills when he was just 6 years old. He did them for years, even before he knew how to play the game.

One summer, I spoke at Coach Charlie Huggins’ camp, and I brought Jay along. I spoke at noon, and Jay wanted to play in the pick-up games that began that evening around 9:00 PM. Jay was a skinny high school freshman, 5 feet 4 inches and 125 pounds. His head accounted for half that weight.  But even then he had averaged 19 points a game his Freshman year in high school and thought he was a superstar. I tried to tell him that he wasn’t ready to play with the college players. I admired his courage, but doubted his intelligence.

Finally, at about 10:30 PM after someone had called “last game,” Jay was picked to play. He took one shot and it was blocked; the ball was stolen from him twice and his team was beaten 10-2.

We headed home. Jay pouted, showing a full case of Lower Lip Syndrome, and complained all the way about getting fouled. We arrived home around midnight. As my wife asked me how our day had gone, the light went on over the patio at the back of the house and we heard the distinctive sound of a bouncing basketball.

I ran outside and there was Jay, practicing. I asked him what he was doing. He replied, “For nearly ten years I’ve done the Daily Dozen Drills because you told me to. Tonight I’m doing them for me. Next year I’m going back to Huggins’ camp ready to play.

The next year Jay led the nation in scoring, averaging 40.1 points per game as a high school sophomore, and he still was only about 5’10 and maybe 140 pounds, and went on to become a an all Big 10 guard at Ohio State where he still holds multiple season and career records to this day.  Jay had two things that led to his success – he could handle the ball without thinking about it, and he had a very accurate, lightning fast release.  Both skills developed through repetition.

You don’t have to wait and hope for a “eureka moment” like Jay’s.  This game is about repetition, and improvement can begin as soon as a player decides that he or she wants it.  It helps even more if you can measure those results, (which is why I like 94Fifty so much). Committing to the repetitive drills can make any player, regardless of athletic skills, become a fantastic player.  And as I have seen both in my own home and with my many college teams, you are never too young or too old to develop a high level of muscle memory skills.  It just takes your commitment to be the best you can.

We become what we repeatedly do.