Basketball Coaching: Setting Expectations With What You Can’t Live Without

When I first started coaching I wanted to work on everything with players. There were so many ways to not only improve current skills but to teach new ones and I wanted to do it all at once. Little surprise, that this wasn’t the most effective way to coach and get the most out of your players. Just like learning in every other aspect, you need to build upon improvements and focus on process more so than the results.

4 wins in our first 2 years definitely led to a steep learning curve for us to evaluate how we were teaching skills, soliciting buy-in from the team and overall setting the right expectations with our team and individual players.

What we realized is that our day to day was fine in most respects, we were positive, we worked on the right things and ultimately helped our players get better. What we were missing is a focus to what that day to day leads to. What are the simple rules that every player knows is important to the team that can help them determine how they should respond on the court?

We needed an identity but not only an identity but one that was easily memorable and repeatable.

Forming an Identity: What You Can Live With and What Can You Live Without

And it really clicked when I was reading the Mike Neighbors newsletter (which I highly recommend) and came across thoughts from former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy. The axiom that got me was his thoughts on communicating with his team two things:

  • 2-3 things that he could live with (basically, any area of the game that was acceptable in the team identity)
  • 2-3 things that he can’t live without (basically, areas of the game that were atrocities against the team)

For me, this simplifies communication in a terrific way and ties into other philosophies I’ve read in business and elsewhere. Much like the Hedgehog concept from Good to Great, that focuses on simple statements that help employees to make better decisions by understanding the core goals of the business, the two determinations above can help to direct the team in how they play and compete.

Our Identity at Saugus

I’d like to preface and say that your identity definitely will adjust and grow with your personnel and what you learn over the season but there has to be consistency to what you preach and expect.

What We Can’t Live Without

  • Defensive Aggressiveness and Effort: We press, play zone, man up and want to keep the team on their toes and we expect players to know their spots and give full effort. While this may seem simple we also focus on playing multiple defenses which requires players to be in tune with the game and teammates to be in the right position.
  • Own Transition on both sides: We want to run whenever we get the chance. On steals, misses, makes, doesn’t matter. Push it up and see what we have. We also don’t want to give up transition buckets, so we stress 2-back each and every time with our guards.
  • Team Positive Energy: Everyone on the team whether on the court or the bench needs to be positive and is important. Two of our seniors this past year were two of the most important players on our team without stepping on the court very much due to their energy and positivity in cheering on their teammates. It’s a big deal and we preach it every day with the team and individually.

What We Can Live With

  • Turnovers in Transition: While we want to improve here obviously, we’re fine with a turnover trying to make a play in transition. It’s the cost of doing business and the way we see it those turnovers typically are out of bounds and let us get set up on defense.
  • “Keep Shooting”: We never harp about missed shots especially in game. For our level, getting up more shots usually is a good sign for winning a game and we want players to remain aggressive. Watching tape is to show potential extra passes that were available.

All of this leads to two main things. We want to play fast and we want to play aggressive. If we can do that while being overwhelmingly positive across the team, that’s the ingredients for success.

What can you live with and can’t live without for your team?


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