Basketball Coaching Mistakes Part 2

This post is the second part of an article that Washington women’s coach working on to detail his move from assistant coach to head coach. The article is entitled “418 Mistakes Later” and he is still adding to it.

I know that he is much harder on himself than he should be, but the points he makes are lessons to consider for all coaches, not just head coaches.

Here is a link to the first part of the article:

Coaching Mistakes We All Make Part 1

If you would like to be included on his weekly newsletter mailing list, please let me know and I will send your email address to him to add.

I WAS AFRAID TO DO WHAT I THOUGHT BEST

For 14 years as an assistant coach, I never had a bad idea exposed. Although many of my suggestions were unsuccessful, there was never one time I was asked to comment on it by a reporter. My name was never attached on a message board when one of my scouts wasn’t spot on or when my breakdowns didn’t actually prepare us for the big game. But the second you move into that new chair in the new office, that all changes.

Now all eyes are on you. It’s your call. And that’s scary.

I allowed that fear to keep me from trying some things. I think we all have our mentors that we bounce ideas off of. Problem with that practice is that those people usually care deeply for us but have no actual knowledge of our situation. They offer great advice based on similar experiences they might have encountered. They are there to talk us out of bad ideas and into better ones. But at some point, to be successful, you have to trust YOU!!

I spent my first three or four months on the job too worried that what we were doing around our program was the “way it should look.” I’d seen Gary Blair lead teams to the Final Four. I’d seen Kathy McConnell-Miller resurrect a once dormant program into a tournament team. Witness Coach Gardner battle in the nation’s toughest conference with less than most had. And then sit next to Kevin McGuff lead a small, mid-major to within a lay-up of the Final 4 before moving to Washington to start our rebuild. I knew what IT looked like. But it wasn’t my plan. I was just a part of it. Those first 120 days were a continually situation of me asking myself, “What would (insert one of their names) do in this situation?” And each and every time it was usually a combination of what I thought I should do and what I thought they would do. None of the decisions led to disaster and many of them were successful to some extent.

It really had more to do with having the guts to do something that I thought one of them would do differently.

I was worried that I would try something that would so drastically fail that one of them would call me up in disbelief and disappointment that I had not learned better from them. I didn’t want to let them down. I didn’t want to be that “rookie’ coach that was in over his head. I didn’t want to be that first-year coach that people were making fun of around the profession.

It finally came to a head for me on a plane ride home from Christmas break with my family. Our team was off to an okay start. 8-4 overall but the problem was, we weren’t getting better.

We had a depleted roster due to some injuries and for the first two months of the season our practices were disjointed. Three of our players had injuries that allowed them to practice for 20-30 minutes and still be available for games. Another couple needed extra days off all together. While we were able to field a team come game time, we weren’t improving as a team and my healthy players were actually digressing…

For the first time as a head coach, I made a decision without consulting anyone. I came up with a plan and implemented it.

Since we were entering PAC12 play, our calendar was set. Our routine could be defined for the remainder of the season.

I mapped out this weekly plan:

Monday: OFF day. Take care of studies and ‘life’. If you have no training room stipulations you can workout out voluntarily, but if you have modifications you spend any extra time in re-hab not on the court

Tuesday: SKILL DAY. Players with no injuries worked with position coaches on Skill. Players with injuries again spent the day in the training room receiving treatment.

Wednesday: PRACTICE. If you couldn’t practice full this day (after two off days) then you would be unavailable for the games that weekend.

Thursday: PREP DAY 1… we prepared for our Friday opponent. Scouting, film, walk thru, shooting, offensive breakdowns.
Friday: GAME 1

Saturday: PREP DAY 2… same as Thursday but possibly lighter and maybe in sweats

Sunday: GAME 2

We would follow this plan the rest of the season. Once I implemented it with my team, I finally shared it with some of my confidants. They told me I was crazy, it was a bad message to send, I might get fired if word got out, and some that I can’t share in PG format!!

Now I was more scared than before. It was like the scene from Moneyball when Brad Pitt tells the Jonah Hill character, “This had better work!!!”

From the implementation, we saw improvement. The uninjured players said they felt better than all year because we had focused on their skills, we had maximized our time together as a team, and they felt fresh.

A couple of weeks in, we went on the road and won for the first time in PAC 12 history at USC and at UCLA. We came home and lost a close game to #12 Cal before upsetting #3 Stanford. Needless to say the ‘believe in’ and turned to ‘buy-in’.

We saw reduced injuries and need for re-hab.

We saw more energy in games than our opponents.

We saw more concentration and execution of the scout than when had spent more court time covering.

We saw a spike in our team GPA with extra time available for study.

We saw a surge of team togetherness.

Needless to say, it helped salvage our season that ended with 20 wins and a trip to Final 8 of the WNIT.

More importantly it taught me a lesson to trust my instincts. What I learned was that all those experiences of watching other coaches do their things what was the most important was they did what THEY believed in. It was them knowing their team better than any-one. It was them listening to the input, looking at all the information, and trusting themselves to do what is best.

That BIG decision made it much easier to pull the string on less high profile, but equally as important decisions.

It’s your team. You will be held accountable for the actions of your team. So, you better do what YOU think is best and that YOU can put your head on the pillow at night feeling good about.

I EXHAUSTED DAILY DECISION ENERGY ON STUFF THAT DIDN’T AFFECT WINNING

Ever wonder why the POTUS (President of the United States) doesn’t choose his daily suit and tie? It’s not because we are wasting tax payer dollars on needless things. It’s not because he is fashion challenged. It IS because it has been proven that we only have so much ability and energy to make decisions. That energy can be diminished and ultimately exhausted on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis. When you consider the sheer number of important decisions a day the POTUS makes, then you see why simply taking away the task of deciding which tie matches which suit and goes better with the back ground of the set and won’t offend someone watching and, and, and… you quickly see why taking this decision away can pay big dividends as the President is deciding whether to give the “GO” order to attack Bin Laden!! Okay, maybe I have watched Zero Dark Thirty one too many times.

When making the move from assistant coach to head coach you will quickly realize you also go from making suggestions to making decisions. I am sure making suggestions would eventually become exhaustive, but I never reached that number as an assistant!!! I could suggest this and that and another and another and so on and so on and… never got tired of it.

When you are on the other end of those suggestions, people are looking to you for decisions. Correctly making them can mean the difference in the success of your first year and ultimately your success going forward. YOU ARE BEING PAID TO BE RIGHT… Great advice I got from Vic Schaefer at the Final 4 when he spoke about the transition. When you need to be RIGHT, you will find yourself agonizing over every detail and every decision you must make.
So, what do you do about it?

First… Let go of some of the “what tie am I wearing decisions”… in other words delegate decisions to don’t affect winning to other people on your staff you TRUST. You hired em, so let ‘em work. Does what travel suit you order from Nike really affect winning? Does where/when you eat a meal on off days affect winning? Does where you put recruiting files in the office really affect winning? Does the background color of your business card really affect winning? Even if you think some of those do affect winning, then educate someone on your staff what you want and let them make the decisions. This allows you to have a clear head when you get that call from across campus that a player is in academic distress or if you have to choose a tournament to play in over Christmas break.

Second… Understand you need to make decisions that DO affecting winning are made at your energy peak. We can all look back on bad decisions we’ve made. I would bet the vast majority of them were made when you weren’t at your best in one way or another… sad, depressed, discouraged, angry… On the flip side, the best decisions probably were made when you were in a “good place.”

Third… Learn what affects winning and what doesn’t. This is the hard part because experience is a great teacher. But it’s a must do. You have to understand that because YOU think it is important, your players and your staff may not. And in the grand scheme that makes a difference. Your pulse on your program will be your greatest guide. This is where this mistake overlaps with some we have previously discussed about listening to advice and being afraid to do your own thing. Use your energy determining this more than choosing your tie or your pre-game meal locale.

Papa Neighbors always told me to makes decisions about myself with my head and decisions about others with my heart. That advice is always part of my checklist when dealing with discipline issues that arise.

There is also a great book by the popular author, Malcom Gladwell, title BLINK. Highly recommend it to anyone in a decision making position. It will teach you how to ‘thin slice’ and ‘chunk’ which in turn helps you BE RIGHT more often than you are wrong without the exhausting agonizing that we put ourselves through during the process.

This is not to say there aren’t days you’re going to finally crawl into bed exhausted. We all know that is part of being a coach. What I am trying to say is that you won’t crawl in there exhausted from making decisions.

In the first 100 days on the job, everyone will naturally be looking to you to make decisions. As the new Head of the program everyone will be aiming to please you and do things in a manner you approve of. The quicker you delegate duties and responsibilities to others, the quicker you can point everyone in the proper direction.

I made various people HEAD COACHES in area’s of responsibility. I then made a table which I distributed to everyone connected to our program with a COMMUNICATION CARD. For example, I put Adia Barnes in charge of community service. From that point on, every time someone reached out to our campus for a player to read to an elementary school, Adia was contacted. She reached out to our players. She arranged for them to participate. It didn’t take more than a month of people reaching out to me and me referring them to their table of duties to know who to contact.

The little extra work on the front end is worth it.

If I had to do it all over again, that table and card would have been in effect from Day 1 instead of day 201!!

I obviously continued making some bad decisions throughout the year, but it wasn’t because I had exhausted my energy.

I STOPPED CONFRONTING THINGS THAT NEEDED TO BE CONFRONTED

This one occurred as a result of combining other mistakes… getting out of shape, exhausting my daily decision making energy on meaningless stuff, trying to do too much stuff. Those mistakes left me exhausted when issues that needed to be confronted arose. I had wasted my energy on things that didn’t matter that I simply ignored areas that needed the most attention.

Some examples to help explain… poor body language during practice, staff missing “deadlines” on things that needed to be done, off the court actions that threatened our standards, cliques forming on team as result of long season together, sleeping/eating habits, studying hall and class absences… etc.

I would be have exhausted my natural body allotment of energy on things that didn’t matter by noon and a matter come up after lunch that I didn’t confront but should have.

It takes A LOT of energy to consistently CONFRONT. It is emotionally draining to talk to players about roles and role acceptance. It is excruciating to talk about and explain playing time. Many coaches simply refuse to do it as a result. And I believe that is a huge mistake too for coaches to make and could write up another full piece on that, but it’s NOT one of the mistakes I made last year. I learned that one back as a high school head coach. You HAVE to talk to players (and their parent’s) about playing time.

Back to topic…

When you stop confronting, you start allowing—Papa Neighbors.

Heard it said many times at clinics by many great coaches… you are either coaching it, or tolerating it!!

And if your players think you are tolerating the wrong things, you will lose them. You will lose your GOOD ONES. They see you allowing a player to exhibit poor habits, you lose their respect and run the danger of them doing it as well.

Feed your Eagles, starve your turkeys… another Papa Neighbors illustration right there. If you feed your “turkeys” you lose your EAGLES and none of us as coaches can afford to lose our few EAGLES.

So, you better keep your energy up. You do this by conserving your energy in wasteful areas and having the experience to know what to confront and what to tolerate.

You have to know what you will tolerate and what you won’t… Know Your No’s… That was a great topic that Kevin Eastman once covered. You need to make your list out. You need to KNOW your NO’s… How can you expect your players to know if you don’t even know yourself!!

You can’t take Pat Summits Daily Dozen, or Coach K’s Gold Standards, or Bob Knight’s this, or Geno’s that. It HAS to be yours.

You are the person that knows you best. And you should also be the person that knows your team better than anyone.
Get the list… Confront any of your NO’s

Keep your energy up by staying in shape, eating/sleeping the best you can as a coach, use your decision making energy wisely, and delegate things that don’t pertain directly to winning and losing.

This mistake probably cost us a couple of games and without a doubt led to me not having our team peaked at the right time. I won’t go into a ton of detail in this written piece, but grab me at a Clinic or the Final 4 and we can talk about it in more depth.

Of all the mistakes we have covered so far, this is the one that I HAVE NOT MADE in YEAR 2!!

I still don’t eat like I should all the time. I am in better shape but not great shape. I still am afraid to try some things. I still don’t always delegate well.

BUT… I DO CONFRONT!!!

A book that really helped me was CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS by Paterson-Grenny-McMillian-Switzer.

To read part 3, click here

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2 comments for “Basketball Coaching Mistakes Part 2

  1. Kristy Hutson
    August 29, 2015 at 5:25 pm

    I would like to receive this newsletter. Thank you!

  2. Grant
    January 1, 2016 at 11:38 pm

    Please forward my email to Coach Neighbors so I can receive his newsletters. Thanks.

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