• Jack Fleming

Coaching: Hacking Away at the Unessential


As basketball coaches in the information age, we are in a constant state of information overwhelm. I could find myself on Twitter watching Liam Flynn’s videos or reading articles from Coach Mac or Pick and Pop for hours on end in search for the newest sideline out of bounds play to save my team. Then I thought to myself, I have just spent so much time researching a part of the game that probably occurs 5 out of 90 offensive possessions per game!


Especially as a younger coach like myself it’s easy to be seduced by the newest basketball trend in Europe when I should just be refining my ability to teach shooting. I’m not coaching professionals, I am coaching 15 year old boys! There are seemingly infinite options in the world of basketball, which might seem like a good thing. At a certain point, more choice becomes negative.


Steve Jobs the founder and creator of Apple said “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clear to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because if you get there, you can move mountains.”


How to Move the Needle

This made me consider the “Pareto Principle” or the 80/20 rule, the rule suggests that 20 percent of your activities will account for 80% of your results. The application of this concept to coaching caught my thought process, so if I get ten things done at practice — two of those items will turn out to be worth more than the other eight items put together. It made me feel rather misguided when I reflect on my team last season and think about the 3–5 sets I put in across the season that we barely ever ran, or the whirlwind of garbage I might waffle on about after a game. Chuck Daly said “an economy of words is wise after a game.”


It’s what Cal Newport calls the craftsmen mindset in So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Craftsmen often spend years as apprentices to a master and spend years improving the basics. They then become journeyman, where they add their own signature style and specialties to create work with little nuances. That’s when they finally attain mastery.


They don’t get distracted by the latest fad or jump from one interest to another. Spending time on a singular focus helps them get the important things done.


The examples in basketball are many, even at the highest levels:

  • Jerry Sloan famous Head Coach of the Utah Jazz had 7 plays, that was it.

  • Jim Boheim has played 2–3 zone full time since 1996, after 28 years he finally realised if they played zone all the time and didn’t waste time playing man-to-man and put some wrinkles in the zone, that our defence would be better.

  • Australian Boomers Head Coach Andrej Lemanis does not have a zone offence, he believes in staying in your man to man offence because it keeps an attack mindset and allows you to do something you practice consistently.

  • Hubie Brown’s philosophy on teaching free throws: shoot 2 and rotate, for 20 minutes. We don’t do it any other way.


Loyola Marymount University coach Mike Dunlap said “When we do less, we can do more.“ While providing deep thought into this I decided, before spending countless hours of time diving into new concepts I would try and hack away at the unessential parts of my coaching first. Curiosity and thirst for knowledge tells me I will still stay in tune with trends, but as Jordan Peterson says in 12 Rules For Life “Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world.”


Food for Thought

Here are some questions that can help you hack away at the unessential, again proceed to the level that you coach at. Brad Stevens simplicity is relative to the level of his players and the amount of practice time, compared to myself which is entirely different. See these questions through the lens of your values and philosophy as a coach.

(1) Who are the 2–3 players on your team that will move the needle in terms of success on your team?

  • Are you coaching from the bottom up or the top down? Stan Van Gundy would allocate one assistant coach to Andre Drummond during every practice, because he knew that if his best player was constantly being coached their team would move forward.


(2) What are the shots that your team will shoot most often in the game?

  • For my team I hope it to be lay ups and shots in the paint, therefore this upcoming season I will intend to drill contested finishes more during player development than mid range shooting.

(3) What is your BASE defence that will move the needle for your team?

  • If you play man to man 85% of the time, why do you dedicate 15 minutes of practice to your 1–3–1 zone?

  • I intend to have some wrinkles within my full court man to man concepts, and spend no time on pressing this upcoming season.

(4) Are you spending enough time on defensive/offensive transition?

  • For every possession in the half court, there has been a period of ‘conversion’ defence or offence as Bob Knight refers to it. Knight was big on starting your 5v5 from ¾ court to work on these conversion concepts.

  • I intend to spend less time playing 5v5 half court and play off a missed shot or an unpredictable start point that works on our conversion.

  • If the game is 33% offence, 33% defence and 33% conversion should we spend relative time on this within our practice?


(5) What is your BASE way of defending ball screens?

  • Across the season last year my team had probably 3 ways to defend the ball screen, far too many and mistakes happened it’s because the paradox of choice put is in a place of indecision.

  • Next season: one way with one wrinkle.

(6) What is the most important skill — offensively and defensively?

  • Shooting and individual perimeter defence, for me. This comes first in practice.

(7) What are you taking away from your team next season?

  • Drops ball screen coverage, 2–3 offensive sets, only discuss 1–2 points in timeouts, post game discussions.

(8) What are your staple drills/for your staple values?

  • Variety is great but it can waste time, Ralph Miller had 6 drills. Within that he had different series that could work on different concepts.

Here are my staple drills for my staple value, I do enjoy variety in practice but think I can stick to drills within a 3–4 week block to value practice time.


Taking Care of the Ball

Crocs Ball Handling, 3v3 Tight space Passing and 25 Pass Drill.

Moving the Ball (Half Court)

- 3v2 Spurs Drill, 4v0/3 Extra Pass Drill, 5v4 Fizdale Drill

Moving the Ball (Full Court)

- 2v1+1 Cotter Drill, 4v4 Tip Drill, 3v3 Cotter Drill

High Quality Shots

  • DeMatha 1v1 Finishing, DHO 1v1

- Apply emphasis within drills: spurs drill lay ups or 3’s only

- Through scoring: 3 for a lay up/free throw, 2 for a 3, 1 for a mid range

- Validate practice with free throws

No Transition Baskets

- Italian 3v3, 5v4+1 Van Gundy Drill, Circle the Wagon

No Blow By’s

- Snakepit 1v1, Chest Bump 1v1

No Second Shots

- Opportunity to play second shots in EVERY DRILL.

- Play multiple scores in 1v1 defence.


“It’s not the daily increase but the daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.” — Bruce Lee

Until you become certain about what you’re doing with your team, you will be continually thrown by the paradox of choice.


Are you building something people can see if they come and watch your practice?

What will your team master this season?


What garbage will you remove? What noise will you eliminate to keep things simple and helpful?


What is on your NOT TO DO list for your team in 2019?



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