This article was written and submitted by retired High School Coach Dave Millhollin.
I have included more information about his coaching career at the end of the article.
Caoch Millhollin has contributed several insightful articles to the site. You can find links to more of them at the bottom of this post under the “Related Posts” tab.
If you would like to contact Coach Millhollin, email me and I will put you in touch with him.
Playing with Purpose on purpose (Part 2) “Advanced Purpose”
Teaching basketball language and vocabulary
There are three kinds of basketball language; “regular basketball language”, this language includes formal and slang basketball terms and is used by commentators, coaches, players, social media and on the playground. Most players understand this language fairly well by the time you will get them as high school or college players.
The second language is “the language of your opposition”, here your players only really need to know what certain words the opposition might use to describe a strategy or tactic they might use such words as “Bronco” meaning flex, or “23” meaning 2-3 zone, or “fist” pick and roll, etc.
By knowing your oppositions’ vocabularies, your team can intercept verbal cues in order to counter opposing tactics and strategies.
The third language is “your team’s language”; the language of your program. This is the most important language you can teach and most coaches don’t realize how important this one can be. As you teach the elements of your program, based on your Purpose and goals, you can develop a vocabulary and language unique to your team. For example: regarding the concept of “matching up”, we used two different phrases/words to communicate that idea; “divide up” and “meba” (which is short for Amoeba). In this case nobody else we ever played used these words, for our opposition it was a different language, for our guys they understood what those words meant and for some reason, our guys did a better job of “matching up” quickly and effectively using our language.
As your team learns the language, coaches should use that language not just in teaching and communicating your programs stuff but also when discussing the stuff opposing teams run as well; you describe their stuff in your language. For example: if your half-court trap is called “2red” and the team you are playing runs a 1-2-2 half court trap, you would refer to it as “12red” on a scouting report.
Pre-game goals and scouting reports
Before every game our coaching staff prepares scouting reports, these reports contain the following things for our players to understand:
- Paragraph describing an overall profile of our opponent
- List of opponent offenses and press breaks
- List of opponent defenses and presses
- Inbounds plays (if significant)
- Breakdown of each of their important players
- Your offensive keys and goals (what you have to do offensively to win)
- Your defensive keys and goals (what you have to do defensively to win)
- A list of what offenses you are going to open the game with
- A list of what defenses you are going to open the game with
- A brief motivational message at the bottom of the page
If possible, we would hand out our pre-game goals and scouting reports the before the game so players had a chance to go over it prior to our game day pre game meeting.
Teaching the philosophy and style of play of your opponents
Taking the time to explain your opponents’ style of play and the philosophy behind those styles of play is a very important part of playing with purpose. As you teach each style and philosophy, it is crucial that you also teach the strengths and weaknesses of each style of play with comparisons to your team’s style and philosophy. This process makes it much easier for your team to understand your keys to success against each of your opponents.
For athletic teams that like to score from defensive pressure into offensive transition and from offensive rebounds; we used to use the phrase; “Take their legs away”. Our players understood that this meant that if we took shots that are difficult for opponents to fast break from and if we played great contain defense; helping on drives allowing only poor quality mid-range shots and blocked out for every defensive rebound; we would have a good chance of winning, (even though our opponent may be much more athletic than us).
A big part of teaching the philosophy and style of play of our opponents, we came up with “Categories”, examples such as:
- Athletic teams that like to press, drive, fast break and crash the offensive boards
- Methodical, (mostly “suburban teams”) that execute half-court offense well and have good offensive and defensive fundamentals
- Teams with one or two dominant scorers
- Zone teams
- Teams with one or more big men that like to pound it inside
- Perimeter oriented teams
Our players would learn the essential keys we must execute in order to be successful against any of the teams on our schedule.
For pre-season games, especially tournaments; we would quickly develop a “categorical profile” of each opponent as we developed our scouting reports, for league and playoffs, we would develop more comprehensive and detailed scouting reports.
At tournaments or if we took out team to scout a pre-season opponent (or by the use of film) we would divide the team into two groups. For bracketed tournaments we would have one group focus on one team and the other group focus on the other team. Each group would be assigned a leader to coordinate the group and the groups would sit separately with their binders out and have scouting report paper to take notes on and for diagram purposes.
At half time they would compare notes and put the teams into categories. Then they would talk about our “keys for success” against those teams.
Single games where we were scouting only one of the teams playing; one group would scout the team’s offense and the other group would scout their defense, then after the game we get pizza and discuss what we observed and come up with our “keys”
We found this process to be quite intimidating and impressive to our opponents; a group of guys dressed in team gear coming into the gym, sitting in an organized manner with binders out evaluating the game in an organized “PURPOSFUL” manner; no headphones or earbuds on, no cell phones out, no goofing around with great chemistry and focus.
Coaches who take the time to comprehensively teach this stuff can create teams that understand their opponents’ philosophies and styles of play better than opponents themselves do.
Prioritizing skills and concept teaching over scouting and film
I’ve just covered quite a bit of information on pre-game scouting preparation and I believe it is very important; it’s a coaching protocol that pre-occupies many coaches and puts a huge emphasis on scouting, film breakdown, scout teams and “scout recognition” execution.
While I believe these things are important and should be addressed; my background as a player and coach has been much more pre-occupied by fundamental skills and concept teaching with an emphasis understanding the various ways the game is played then developing a particular style of play most conducive to success with our teams (this style will differ some depending on our players any given season).
That being said, I believe coaches should spend most of their time teaching their players how to play and how to play against all different kinds of situations and circumstances. Teams, players and coaches should be able to adjust to every circumstance their opponents throw at them and adapt without having to spend countless hours ahead of time breaking down film, going over scouting reports and conducting walk throughs.
This “balanced approach” is the one I took during my coaching career and all my coaching role models and mentors from the time I played to throughout my coaching career had similar priorities.
Stay tuned for Part 3; Communication, Control, Coaching to Win and Credibility (in progress).
© Dave Millhollin
About the author of this article, Coach Dave Millhollin In fourteen years at Ponderosa High School, Coach Dave’s teams won 260 games (.665). From 2000 through 2009 Ponderosa won 207 games over a ten year stretch which included four SVC Conference Championships and two CIF Section final four appearances. Over his 27 year Boys Varsity Coaching career, Coach Dave posted 391 wins, produced 20 college basketball players and was named SVC Coach of the Year four times. At Ponderosa, Coach Dave’s teams were #1 in California in team defense five times and in 2008 Ponderosa was the top defensive team in the Nation among shot clock states. Over Coach Millhollin’s last five seasons (2005-6 through 2009-2010; 136 games) Ponderosa averaged a composite 50% total field goal percentage, 58% two point field goal percentage and 32% three point field goal percentage. Since retiring from High School coaching in 2010, Coach Dave has been actively involved in coaching Jr High level School and AAU teams as well as and running instructional basketball clinics from the primary grades through the College level.