Some insights from former Lakers, Rockets, and Bucks Head Coach Del Harris
Before You Start
- Be sure you have a mission statement that is current with your current thinking and then stay committed to that statement. Be sure your staff and players understand.
- Make sure your philosophy of coaching, of defense, of offense and of dealing with players and other constituents is clear-cut and understood by yourself and staff.
- Leave a paper trail. Keep copies of important communications with all relevant parties. Notes, dates and times of any significant meeting with players, media, etc can be of value.
- Be sure you have a plan for the first day, week and rough copy for first month of your practices.
- Be sure any staff is up to date on current trends in conditioning, nutrition, etc. These change.
- Be sure to read current books and old standards on leadership, management skills, time management, significant biographies of important people and successful coaches in any sport. You must continue to grow mentally and spiritually.
- Revise your drill book (you have one don’t you?) to add any new concepts you have picked up and to discard needless ones.
- The best drills are the ones you make up that teach specifically the exercise you are trying to teach/correct.
- Your drill book should be divided into categories such as: warmup, shooting, fundamentals of offense/defense, fast break buildups for offense and transition defense, half court offense, post offense/defense, trap drills, defense shell drills, situation drills for 1-1, 2-2 and 3-3, game ending situations drills, etc.
- Be sure to be clear on all basic defense issues such as you initial and backup coverages relative to pick and roll defense, low post defense, and methods of rotation to cover breakdowns.
- Make sure your coaches and players understand the concepts of switching on defense such as which teammates will be able to switch with each other on their own as needed or desired unless the game plan or a timeout changes it—have switching partners which normally means that equal size players will switch with one another as needed.
- Know that the concept of switching to keep your bigger players inside and your smaller ones outside is often very productive, i.e. “Bigs in, Littles out”. Thus you would not switch a big man out off of a downpick or pindown for a small player.
- Unselfish play—team unity—team attitude
- Running game
- Half court game
- Pressing team—running team
- Physical team
- 3-pt team
- Zone team
- Ball and player movement team, etc.
- Be sure you have a helpful game card with you at all times such as quarterbacks have on their sleeve or arm.
- A good game card will not only have all your play calls, but will have categories that will get you a post up as needed and that tell you what plays you have that will get each position (1 through 5) a shot when you want one of those players to have the ball.
- On the back of the card of on a special situations card you can have in your pocket or an assistant will keep be sure to have plays already diagrammed that are for special late game situations such as: when you need a 3 pointer, or a quick 2, or you have differing amounts of time on the clock to get a shot.
- Be smart on what you chart and have accountable chart keepers. A possession chart can tell you the pace and momentum of the game because it will tell you how many possessions you have had at every time interval and once you know your best pace, you can tell if you are dictating or if the opponent is.
- Momentum is revealed by a possession chart in that it shows how many times you and your opponent have scored or failed to score in the most recent possessions.
- Other charted items may be the fast break game on both sides of the ball, the low post game (scores allowed/how traps have worked, etc), the pick and roll game (percentage of scores/stops), deflections, penetrations allowed, uncontested shots allowed, and whatever else you deem to be of real value.
- Prove you are valuable and success will happen for you. Forget about the entitlements.
- Be careful of the player who insists he is all about winning, but doesn’t work like a winner. He is usually happy when things are going his way, whether the team is or not.
- The team that will accept we over me (we/me) as a group has a chance to achieve all they are capable of.
- There is no “I” in team but there is “ME” but it tears up TEAM to get it. META spells disaster for the team; it says that the “ME Trumps All” the rest of the team.
- Doc Rivers: Try to keep the “chemistry guy” on your team. Doc moves the lockers around occasionally to keep the right people together or separated as needs be.
- Del Harris: Speak to players often, but more on the conversational level than any other. Get to know them and then prove that you care about them.
- Del Harris: The Caring-Trust-Loyalty Dynamic is of utmost importance to a successful organization. First show you do care consistently. Caring leads to trust. Trust breeds loyalty and loyalty is of true value.
- Jerry Sloan coaches with the idea that he wants to be a friend of his player/s 20 years down the road. Now you know he is not a softie, but he cares and his players know it. They trust him and are loyal to him and they just find a way to win every year. That is true coaching.
- You need a “closer” in every business, someone who can seal the deal often. Know who yours are. This is not an equal opportunity situation. Be able to run your stuff to get the ball to the “closer” in need situations.
- Do not underestimate the value of a player who can inbound the ball in pressure situations. Lack of this ability will beat you in the close games. The chances are you will have no more than two of these, if you actually have anyone. Develop one.
- Every team wants to win the championship. Talk about it on the first day, and then forget the talk until you are playing for it. Your goals must become closer at hand and the main one is to get better every day/game. That is the path to championships, not talk.
- Most of your players will be role players. Most will think they are key players. As coach you must laud the roles you assign; make them be understood and appreciated. Without the dedicated role players you cannot succeed.
- Have simple goals for your role players. Just 1 or 2 stats per quarter can add up to being the difference—a steal, a rebound, a free throw, a deflection, an assist, etc. Just a little goes a long way.
- Check it out—NBA teams seldom have more than 3 players who are more than role players—ones who produce consistently across the stat sheet and make others better. The 80+ percent are role players.
- Coaches who talk too much in practice can kill the team’s ability/need to communicate. Coaches who chatter too much give the appearance of working hard but actually stifle the players in developing their own skills of communication.
- Simplify your teaching and communication. This will reduce confusion. An athlete that is not decisive and confident in what he is to do will be hesitant and a hesitant athlete will fail.
- NBA asst. coach Brendan Suhr (Daly disciple): you must coach each player differently. It’s about their strengths and needs, not yours. Read books: Strength Finders and Strength Finder 2.0.
- Identify your leaders and lieutenants. You must connect early with them and get them to understand and promulgate your mission and goals for the team.
Your team will reflect what you emphasize. Take your pick, but only about 4 or 5 will be the limit as to what they will attach themselves to, so choose wisely.
As you go along:
Del Harris: There are five levels of communication with players—use each one less than the one before it as you go down the levels.
1. Conversational level—you have the give and take whereby you get to know the player and he learns you as well. You demonstrate you care. Use this the most.
2. Encouragement level—voice is animated and enthusiastic. Use it as much as you can, but it has to be a result of real achievement, not just blowing smoke. But the worst person to be with is the one you simply cannot please. Be real.
3. Instructional level—voice is slightly animated as you attempt to pass on teaching points that may help your player get better, or that may help him understand the team concept. Use often, but mostly in practice or in certain 1-1 situations.
4. Correctional level—voice increases somewhat in urgency, but this is not to be confused with screaming. Naturally, this is used on important issues in practices and games to help eliminate errors. Use it as needed,
but if it overwhelms the encouragement level, the team will tune you out sooner than later.
5. “Go Nuts” level—yes, there is a place for letting them know that they have crossed the line in terms of lack of effort or execution or attitude, etc. They must know you really care about certain issues. But, of course you
must maintain control here, as it should be a purposeful act. Overdo this level and you will lose your team by Christmas unless you are winning every game.
Click here for a more detailed article written by Coach Harris on the Five Levels of Communication
Click here to read part two of the article