Dave Clay on Film, Expectations, and Tracking Practice Data

I recently sat down with the head coach of the Newburyport boys basketball program Dave Clay. I asked Coach Clay about film, dealing with the expectations of returning players, and tracking their shots at practice.

Staying Positive with Film

Dave Clay told me that he likes to focus the film on mostly positive plays. He said the ratio is roughly five positive plays for everyone one negative play. Human nature is to focus on the negative. That is why the information coming from the news is slanted the way it is. Coach Clay’s communication strategy here is that players generally know when they mess up. Therefore, there is no need to beat a dead horse or make players unnecessarily hesitant in the future. Instead he will show a play where five players box out, and in his way communicate to the team that this type of play can become an expectation for every play. It conveys the same message that a film of a missed box out would: we can box out.

Most of the time the team will watch certain clips or segments of games together, but occasionally Coach Clay asks players to watch on their own. One instance in which he will give film “homework” is when Newburyport is playing an opponent for a second time. Coach Clay will tell his players to watch for tendencies of the player that they would expect to be matched up against. Players return to their coach with simple nuggets such as “he only goes right.” It is this simple stuff that is most important though. To do it in practice and lecture to players would not make the learning experience as sticky. And as a result of services such as Krossover and HUDL, coaches can know that their players are doing their homework or not.

Dealing with Expectations

Brad Stevens talked about not skipping steps with the media recently. He is referring to the fact that the team is getting praise for being a favorite after back to back Eastern Conference Finals runs and dealing with expectations. Coach Clay’s team at Newburyport had a very good season last year and returns most of their roster from that team this season. I asked him what steps he does not want to skip. And he started listing fundamentals.

Box outs, passing, screening, etc. At the beginning of the season, he did not want to waste time with intricate sets that ask a player to do three different things in the span of ten seconds. He elaborated a little on what he meant by working on “passing.”

Four on Four Passing

Coach Clay sees a pattern at the start of a very young season of players throwing lollipops as opposed to crisp passes. There are also tendencies to make the hero pass that they see on YouTube instead of the easy pass. To drill the concepts he wants, he has players play four on four inside of part of the volleyball court (600 square feet if you do not have a volleyball court line).

There are four rules. First, if you commit a turnover you must do some type of penalty (lap, five push-ups, etc.). Second, while that person is out, the defense now must play three on four. Third, there is no passing back to the person who just threw you the pass. Coach Clay said it forces more movement from all players and forces the offense to think harder in the chaos all around them. Fourth, the game is played to 60 passes. Team that gets there first, wins.

Inviting Players to Set Fundamentally Sound Screens

The aforementioned passing drill creates an easy incentive for players to screen. After they give the ball up, they cannot get it back. And yet, Dave Clay explained, players often still need the explicit teaching of setting a screen away.

Coach Clay believes that players often go through the motion of setting a screen. In his words not setting a good screen is selfish. If they were better incentivized (either with the carrot or the stick), it could lead players to reflect on the value of screening. One thing we talked about was giving players an assist for a good screen. It is a stat that traditionally is not kept in the same way a steal, rebound, or assist would be and yet it influences how all of those things are done.

I was not much of a Karate Kid fan growing up, but I am familiar with the wax on and wax off metaphor. Returning players on good teams are instantly going to want to push ahead to results based ideas like the post-season or a revenge game. As tempting as it is to let them go in this direction, a coach cannot let players skip steps. Fundamentals are not always like riding a bike. For a team to meet its desired results, the most basic skills are the first place to start.

Tracking Individual Data at Practices

My brother was Dave Clay’s JV coach last year, so I had the opportunity to drive up to Newburyport for a practice one night. Coach Clay had the players work on a series of game shots in what he called “Partner Shooting.”

Players all had a partner for the week and over a period of about five minutes, they worked on an array of moves that pertained to their offense. This included reverse lay-ups, floaters, pull-ups, euro-step lay ups, free throws, and other shots. When it was completed, players went to Coach Clay with their individual scores. He took that data and put it into a spreadsheet and posted it in the locker room.

After ten days, Coach Clay would reset scores so that players could feel like they had a fresh start. The first place player would get to miss five sprints, second place, three sprints, etc. There were other incentives he used such as food. There are many benefits to charting information at practice, but one of them for Coach Clay is that the data helped dictate and justify playing time.

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