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  • Jack Fleming

Mike Mackay - The ABCD's of a Debrief

Mike Mackay is the Women's Performance Manager for Basketball Canada, with over 30 years coaching experience as a developer and in different sports. He is the Pat Hunt of Australian basketball to Canada and a tremendous influence in the game. Mike has a desire for Canada Women's basketball to be the best in the world, he truly speaks from the heart and simplifies complex concepts for his coaches to understand.

After Action Reviews (AAR's) or debriefs have been around in many forms in all patterns of sport, business, public service whenever there is a group of people involved trying to solve a problem. A common one is:

  1. What happened?

  2. What went well?

  3. What could be improved?

  4. What do we plan on doing next time?

The debrief is often a glossed over process, which is only gone on in depth based upon the coaches emotional state, when we have a bit of extra time or when we suffer from a hurtful loss.

But it can be one of the powerful team builders and developers of critical thinking skills, players who can better make decisions.

How would you start a debrief?

The following is what I have experienced with my team, not to say this is correct but just my way of doing things.

  1. Split your group into small groups of 3-4 and ask them to unpack a particular concept or focus for the session.

  2. Give them 30-60 seconds, we usually go with 1 minute as this is how long timeouts are.

  3. Quickly select 1 person to conclude on the groups discussion, for me I usually like to select those who don't talk much or are working on their confidence in front of groups.

  4. Go through the ABCD's (listed below).

  5. Try to aim for player first, player last - versus a coaches 10 minute rerun on anything players have said.

But a simple practice done consistently over time has the power to develop critical thinkers. While this might not come originally from Mike, I was first introduced by this concept that when somebody reflects upon learning there is an opportunity for others to:

Agree - does anybody agree with what has been said?

Build - does anybody want to build, add detail to what has been said?

Challenge - does anybody want to challenge, and offer a different perspective?

Deeper - does anybody want to elaborate, on how this could impact us in the future?

We do not improve just from experience alone, but from the interpretation of our experiences and how they subtle impact future performance. The primacy and recency effect would suggest that we remember what happens first and last, and often forget what happens in the middle. Tying the bow on a concept or session helps to engrain some reflections and enhance that recency effect.

When could you do this debrief?

- At the close of a session or game.

- While everybody is grabbing a drink between concepts or drills.

- At the close of a video session.

Paint a Picture

The aim of the debrief is to allow the athlete to summarise their reflections in their own words

The struggle will be at the beginning things like 'talk was good', using the ABCD's can help to enhance these reflections. Also asking athletes to paint a picture by showing us what you mean, really unpacks the detail and checks their understanding. It can be a great compass for future practices.

It Starts Ugly

Just like shooting, it can be a new skill. It can be slow, silent and awkward at the beginning. So some will not speak at all, some will ramble on about irrelevant things and some will go into specific detail. But taking the time to wade through those experiences, if you are relentless in improving at it, the results can be amazing.

"Remind me what are we reviewing" was one of my common lines when a player started talking about rebounding when they were reviewing defensive rotation. Reminded me of my own poorly executed timeouts, talking about everything.

What is the point and the aim?

For me, the aim is to improve our ability as a group to problem solve and engage in dialogue efficiently. Ric Charlesworth's reflections on a critical loss in the Olympics was that they didn't effectively use 'dead time', he hadn't created an environment where on dead balls players felt safe to effectively solve issues that are out of the coaches hands.

The aim is this, Jordan and Rodman solving the problem without the help of the coach.

The aim is not to have long form conversations constantly, but solve problems concisely and in the moment so our team can be as adaptive and flexible as possible.

Thank you Mike Mackay for sharing your thoughts on the ABCD's of a debrief it has been instrumental in my own coaching.


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