Coaching: motivational considerations

Determining the pulse of your team is a critical component to effective coaching. Keeping in mind that the pulse of your team will vary throughout the year. Your team might be riding high after a big win or struggling with their confidence after a tough loss. As such, your motivational tactics should vary as well. A good rule of thumb is to challenge your team with difficult tasks during the peaks, but to present readily attainable goals during the valleys. Our goals have associated “carrots” or “consequences.” Each drill has a time limit and a standard of efficiency. Achieving the gold standard results in a “carrot” (e.g. early water break) or a “consequence” (e.g. one minute plank). Always keep your feedback real, such as: “Your actions are not in line with your goals. State champs don’t just go through the motions. You either need to change your goals or change your actions.” And then there are the lulls of the season whereby your team is flat for no explainable reason. That’s the toughest gauge of all. You may need to light a fire under them (i.e. take a charge drill) or build in a random fun activity (i.e. half court shot for a Gatorade) to enhance mood/energy levels. At the end of the day, your players want to compete, have fun, and maximize their potential. Provide the kind of environment and type of feedback that best meets those needs.

Tips on Building A Positive Team Culture

We as a coaching staff strive to build a positive team culture through a process called S.M.A.R.T: steady, model, all-inclusive, respect and tradition. Creating a positive team culture requires a steady diet of actions/activities that strengthen relationships and build player confidence. Reward and praise your players for acts of stellar leadership, teamwork, and unselfish play. Moreover, integrate fun activities such as community service, team dinners, or bowling night for the players to further bond off the court. It is equally important to model a positive culture amongst your coaching staff. Always present a united front with shared responsibilities and mutual ownership of the program. Being all-inclusive highlights the idea of taking the necessary steps to ensure that every team member feels equally valued. Player roles must be clearly defined, explicitly communicated, and equally applauded. Respect yourself, each other, and your opponents. We as a staff can make our point without making an enemy. We believe in teaching life lessons such as discipline within our team dynamic. In our program, character always comes first. Tradition can be built or built upon. The prevailing vibe of your team should scream pride. Players must play for each other and for the name that is across their jersey. Positive team culture precedes a championships.

Team Field Trip to Diamond Head during tourney in Oahu, Hawaii.






Circle of Hope
Circle of Hope
Postive Team Chemistry Precedes Championships
Postive Team Chemistry Precedes Championships

Strategies to Counter Defensive Pressure

There are two areas in which coaches can prepare their teams to counter defensive pressure: (1) drilling certain fundamentals and (2) integrating pressure release schemes within your system. Individual defensive pressure can be thwarted through mastering ball skill fundamentals. In particular, executing ball handling drills and passing routines with heavy ball pressure and contact. Be sure the players are equally skilled with both hands by getting reps of ball skills on both sides of the floor. A simple but effective passing technique is to always have your players “fake a pass to make a pass.” The receiver of the pass must likewise create a lead with a v-cut and he/she should always meet the pass with two hands.

As defensive pressure relates to a trapping double team, drill the options of attacking two defenders. A dribble “crab-out” into a pass or into turning the corner on the slower defender are both effective ways to handle a perimeter double team. If trapped in a dead-ball situation, drill the skill of chinning the basketball to split the double-team with a step-through pass. If a post is doubled at the low block, teammates should communicate “double” and the post player should skip pass to the weak-side diagonal wing.

Another way coaches can help their team counter defensive pressure is to incorporate schemes or strategies to relieve pressure. For example, creating an offensive situation in which there is on-ball action of a post setting an on-ball for a guard (“big on small” on-ball screen). A systematic pressure release also involves back cuts. A general rule is to utilize a dribble entry whereby offensive player dribbles at their teammate on the wing, triggering a back cut. In addition, within your press breakers integrate a ball reversal trailer commonly dubbed a “point forward.” This post player has size and decision making skills to see and pass over traffic and/or the handles to attack the pressure off the bounce. Coaches should also remind their players to avoid dribbling into corners and picking up their dribble. This is an automatic trapping read for defenses. We also teach our players to avoid “two-point turnovers.” For example, when trapped and no alternative for a pressure release, the lesser of two evils is to take the five count. We never want to force a pass that’s an automatic two points for our opponent. Remember to regularly drill the ball skills and incorporate offensive schemes to effectively handle defensive pressure – the ball is golden…value it!

Monarchs' Heleyna Hill receiving a pressure release screen from Taylor Todd.
Monarchs’ Heleyna Hill receiving a pressure release screen from her teammate Taylor Todd.

Defensive Blueprint for Success

Our defense is designed around three concepts:  (1) the capability to adjust,  (2) effective variation, and (3) player investment.  We believe that those three aforementioned characteristics are the keys to having a successful defensive system.  Regardless of our personnel, we will play a variety of defenses.  Our personnel however, will dictate the differences in zone looks or pressing schemes.  For example, we will play a 1-3-1 zone for a long and athletic lineup, but run a 2-3 zone if our personnel’s lateral mobility is limited or we want to protect the foul prone player.

The capability to adjust translates in one of two ways.  It can be as simple as changing schemes with the same personnel.  It is crucial to be able to do make this from the bench without having to burn a timeout.  For example, change from player to a half-court zone trap off a free throw attempt. The other adjustment alternative is to substitute off the bench and run the same player-to-player scheme with different personnel.  Perhaps your subs are better suited for a full court player-to-player scheme, because they apply greater defensive pressure with their length and quickness.

Effective variation affords us the latitude in options when needing to make critical game adjustments.  Variation could be something as simple as giving different looks on defending an on-ball screens or something more complicated such as switching defenses based on made or missed baskets.  A benefit of effective variation is greater offensive efficiency.  Working on changing defenses in practice improves your team’s ability to pick up reads and different schemes.  On game day, we rarely come across a defensive scheme that we have not drilled against in practice.

Player investment implies that your defensive system is one that your players believe in and want to execute.  You are what you emphasize.  So if one of our players takes a charge in a game, they get to dictate their minutes for that quarter.  Defense that creates offense is fun, fast, and free.  In turn, we will always have a full-court pressure package to increase tempo and create some easy transition baskets.  Offense is fun and it sells tickets, but it’s defense that wins championships.

Lauren Mewes for the Monarchs contesting the jumper in route to the CIF State Championship
Lauren Mewes for the Monarchs contesting the jumper in route to the CIF State Championship

Face-up Footwork Drill

For our players, footwork tends to be the fundamental that develops the most rust in the offseason.  “Two-ball circle shooting” is a drill we do to teach and/or streamline our players’ face-up footwork.  It is a progressive drill of varied shots, while incorporating an array of stationary ball fakes.  It is executed with 4 players and 2 basketballs, each taking a turn passing and then shooting.  Our progression is as follows:

1) One-foot lay-up (proper hand).

2) Power slide lay-up (one bounce and finish off two feet).

3) Catch and shoot from low block (inside pivot foot and finish off the glass).

4) Catch and shoot off a two-foot jump stop from the elbow.

Our progression continues with stationary ball fakes from the elbow. Our players will catch the ball with a two-foot jump stop, and start each move from a triple threat position:

5) Fake shot drive (direct and crossover).

6) Rocker step or jab and go.

7) Fake drive shot.

8) Step back moves.

When attacking the basket, our players will alternate their finishes with lay-ups, mid-range jumpers, and floaters. “Two-ball circle shooting” will improve your players’ footwork and enhance their scoring versatility.

Basketball Conditioning Drills

In the gym, we design our conditioning activities to be done with a basketball. For each of those drills, we have established gold standards of “efficiency and time.” Standards should be adjusted for fitness and proficiency levels. Here are a few of our favorites: (1) “Elbow lay-ups” entails one player dribbling back and forth from the “elbow” to rim. Our gold standard is for one player to make six lay-ups in 30 seconds. (2) “Skip pass 3’s” are done with 6 players (3 players on opposite wings/baseline extended) and four basketballs. In succession, a player will throw a skip pass to a teammate and then receive a pass for a 3-point attempt. Players should follow their shot and go to the other side. Pattern repeats. 2.5 minutes with a goal mark of 50 3-point made baskets. Program record is 75 made 3’s in 2.5 minutes. (3) “Sidelines” is dribbling the ball from sideline-to-sideline 10 times (alternating the “touch-foot” on each line) in 39 seconds or less.

In the weight room, a fun and challenging conditioning workout is “5-by-50.” Please note that this routine is designed high school players with a solid strength training foundation. “5-by-50” is five different exercises of 50 reps per exercise. It’s executed with proper technique and players compete for time. It consists of: 50 box jumps (20-24”), 50 kettlebell swings, 50 knees-to-elbows (hanging from a bar), wall balls (14-20lbs), and 50 burpees. Happy planning and never miss a chance to incorporate conditioning.

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Monarchs strength training in the weight room to enhance performance and reduce the risk of injury.

Coaching Feedback Tips

In a team setting, you are what you emphasize. With our team, we emphasize teamwork and unselfish play through praise and rewards. When communicating with your team, choose your words wisely. Effective feedback is vital to your team’s success. Feedback should be more frequent early in learning process, but reduced as your team becomes more skilled in their execution.

We as a staff provide feedback in the form of a “sandwich.” Give one correction “sandwiched” with two different “kudos.” Be equally mindful about the type and timing of your feedback. For player/team achievement, feedback from coaches that is positive and prescriptive will foster motivation and increase your team’s learning curve. Prescriptive feedback should be geared towards performance enhancement adjustments. “Freeze your finish” is an example of prescriptive feedback.

Pausing before feedback affords your team time to internally process their actions and manage their own corrections. Learning is more effective with delayed feedback because your player can incorporate both intrinsic and extrinsic feedback. We like to pose questions as feedback to increase self –analysis and spark corrective communication amongst teammates.

Lastly, consider the concept of “bandwidth feedback.” Allow your team to experience setbacks within a pre-determined margin for error window. Avoid stopping team play after every turnover. Perhaps only address those turnovers from poor decisions, and reserve comment for a mishandled pass. Bandwidth feedback will decrease their coaching dependency and strengthen their own error management. The ultimate goals of feedback are empowerment and promoting self-sufficiency.

Feedback At Its Finest: Player-Coach Dialogue
Feedback At Its Finest: Player-Coach Dialogue



What To Look For In a Player

When it comes to evaluating players, coachability is the first and foremost observation. Some view coachability as having a good attitude and working hard, but that’s the price of admission at the gym door. For us, coachability is a player’s capacity to quickly digest feedback and make the immediate correction. Without coachability, a player’s skill set will remain static. We believe that coachability is paramount to a player’s potential for development.

As for specific skills, we look for players who are equally capable with both hands in the areas of passing, ball handling, and varied rim finishes. We value a player’s ability to create separation off the bounce for an uncontested shot or to set-up a teammate for an open look. Shooting mechanics, footwork, and their ability to set-up and read screens are vital skills as well. We cherish players who exhibit stellar leadership skills that are evident in their communication, unselfish play (such as making the extra pass or setting a great screen), and holding teammates accountable to standards of excellence. We as a staff absolutely treasure lock-down defenders and rebounders. Rebounds are possessions and possessions/defense win ball games. In addition, a player’s innate talents such as exceptional length, noticeable quickness, and good hands are definite checks in the plus column. While coachability, skill, and talent is the bulk of the evaluation process, never ignore a player’s willingness and capability to fill a team role. Teams are most successful when each player clearly understands and buys into their role.

Amanda Lovely - Skilled, Talented & Coachable
Amanda Lovely – Skilled, Talented & Coachable