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  • Jack Fleming

Top 40 Lessons I Learned in 2018

I hope for my top 40 lessons to be an encouragement for you to try and do your own, as an opportunity to reflect and learn from your lessons in the past year. It has been a wonderful year, only made by those brilliant people and coaches who I’m grateful to have in my life.

This is not a collection of “favourite quotes” but an enjoyable time to actually reflect on how much I did learn this year! My top 40 lessons is divided into four appropriate categories — offence, defence, leadership and personal development.

Starting this blog has given me so many new learning opportunities from other coaches, and I am grateful to share information as not an expert but a student of the game. Enjoy my top 40 year 2018!


1. Clarity of LANGUAGE is the best way to ingrain learning.

With my new team I have made it a focal point to have a clear name for every action, footwork and technique in order to be a greater communicator.

Creating a glossary for my group has also been an effective reference tool for the athletes and also assistant coaches. It has helped my reduce the amount of words I need to use when coaching.

2. There must be optimal challenge in skill development.

Form shooting is not always an optimal challenge for shooters, however form shooting on one leg is. Or making 3 swishes in a row, or with one eye closed.

3. Spacing is the most important thing on offence.

Something I have not always taught well, and it has cost my teams in the past. I have used “home spots” as a base for my boys this season as well as the 4pt line, stealing the term from the 76ers which has helped.

4. If you’re going to take a ‘games approach’ part of the learning process is recreating the scenario, and teaching.

Rolling the balls out is not really coaching. Feedback is best in the context of the game, immediately so they can implement. I am continually trying to improve the balance between too much flexibility and rigidity.

5. You cannot skip steps — foundations.

Catch to shoot, stride stops above the 45 and jump stops in the corner, eyes to the rim on every catch and 0.5 second decisions.

I’m understanding that teaching these offensive foundations, or whatever you value, must come before any offensive action. Persistently addressing the basics.

6. The 45 Cut is DEADLY.

Where the ability to stop dribble penetration has been a priority, I have watched how effective the 45 cut is and hope to use it more and more in the next 12 months.

7. NBA Analytics don’t always add up to your level.

I have previously over emphasised the kick out 3, and sometimes it has caused my team to forget about lay ups. Best shot in the game and always will be.

8. The ball screen does not suit everybody.

Not everybody is Kyrie Irving, you might have a great athlete who is far better off a “Get” action or a “Dribble flip” where they don’t have to set up. I learned this the hard way trying to fit players into something they’re not (yet).

9. Your bigs will stop running if they don’t get rewarded.

Coaching in a tournament a months ago I challenged my big to sprint his lane and he said “well if I never see the ball what is the point?” Great point.

10. Every team needs a hungry scorer, somebody who loves getting buckets.

Something I wish to eye for in selection and encourage that player to embellish that role in the future.


11. Denial Defence is far more effective than I thought!

Recently our club has initiated a ‘pressure defence’ playing up the line and in passing lanes, something I was skeptical about. It has provided more accountability on the ball, shortened closeouts and disrupted ball movement quite effectively. Being wrong is a great thing.

12. If you are too loud at practice your players won’t talk.

Often I come into practice too excited, then am too loud and don’t give the athletes an opportunity to use their voice. I have noticed this on film.

13. If you players can’t articulate what you emphasise, you got nothing.

When Mike Dunlap said this at a coaches round table, it hit pretty hard. It created some accountability for me to evaluate my coaching philosophy, and provide more clarity.

14. Switching is short term effective, but there is a trade off of accountability.

Once it becomes an option, players will take the path of least resistance. If I had my time again I would introduce switching defence a little later.

15. Coaching hand pressure is one of my priorities.

When I listen to myself at practice, I have realised this is the one thing that is always repeated.

16. If you cannot “guard your yard” it doesn’t matter what defence you are in.

A poor individual defender in press, zone, man is a bottleneck to a successful defence. If you are constantly in rotation, you are in trouble. I realised this is critical to have the right defenders on the floor at the end of a game.

17. Every team needs an elite perimeter defender.

They might not do anything else, but if they can stop the best player at the tournament it might win you a title.

18. Boxing out is not as important as “hitting” early and hard with your forearm, and driving the offence back.

I do not believe the box out is dead, but am leaning towards the techniques of the modern game have changed. If you think I am completely wrong, I would love to have a conversation about it please message me on Twitter.

19. Keep track of fouls.

I almost got a player fouled out at U16 Australian Junior Championship’s when I wasn’t paying attention when tracking fouls. Mistake noted!

20. Have an adjustment philosophy

12 months ago when a particular defence or scheme was unsuccessful I probably would’ve just changed immediately. I have learned to try this philosophy from Kevin Eastman instead:

  1. More effort might be required.

  2. Better technique.

  3. Sub them out and try somebody else.

  4. Shit this ain’t working, now change it.


21. Know your audience — who are you talking to?

The way you coach, the language you use is different in different contexts. I have previously been “too intense” in the wrong context.

22. Continue to think and act differently even when you win.

I have tried to take more ownership of the result through reflecting after every game, whereas previously I might have just tried to forget about the result or celebrate it. I have tried to ask these questions:

  1. What worked well?

  2. What needs to be better?

  3. How does this shape the next few practices?

23. Communication should be concise, circumspect and continual.

After filming practice I realised I said “alright” at the end of almost every sentence. That is a HARD habit to break, I think I will ask my players to call me out on next year for some accountability.

24. The clarity of the message starts with the clarity with your staff.

When things went wrong last season it was because I didn’t communicate well enough with my assistants first.

25. Your phone is a great tool, use it!

Most recently I have started messaging my players clips of NBA film, and having a “first correct response wins” games with small rewards such as a Mars Bar.

26. How you do anything is how you do everything.

This is easier said than done, but as a leader something I hope to do by example.

27. Authenticity is the most difficult thing as a young coach.

Constantly asking myself “who am I” as a coach is a difficult question, with a fluid answer. One to continue pondering.

28. I am a long way off becoming a great leader.


29. There is no growth in the comfort zone, and there is no comfort in the growth zone.

The greatest growth came at the Basketball Australia Performance Coaches Course, when we were forced to have uncomfortable conversations. I hope to continue to lean into those conversations in the future.

30. I coach better when I don’t talk to officials.

It ruins my focus, and can have a negative impact on my players. I screwed this up multiple times and paid the price.


31. Don’t take advice from a virgin sex therapist.

Listen to those who have been there and done that, or are in the arena.

32. Balance your life with PLUS, MINUS & EQUALS.

The quality of our life is a reflection of the quality of people we surround ourself with. Mixed martial artist Frank Shamrock said we should surround ourselves with 3 types of people. I believe this year I have been fortunate to be surrounded by far more “plus” people than ever before.

  1. Plus — Someone far better than you who force you to play up a level.

  2. Minus — Someone younger you can teach.

  3. Equal — someone at your level so you can challenge each other.

33. Full IMMERSION is the best way to learn,

I learned the most when I went into Guy Molloy and Dean Vickerman’s practice, because context provides clarity and you don’t get that when reading or watching clinics.

34. Sleep, Exercise, Reading & Nutrition are keystone habits.

Keystone habits lead to the development of multiple good habits. They start a chain effect in your life that produces a number of positive outcomes. Before anything, master these.

I coach at my best when I get optimal sleep, exercise in the morning and eat the right foods.

35. Play the LONG GAME.

I have grown to get away from thinking too much about my timeline of my ambition, and enjoy the journey of become better each day. If I continue to grow a little, how much impact could I have in 40 years?

36. Life gives to the giver and takes from the taker.

This year I held my first “Coaches Mastermind” at my house, with just 5 other coaches and the quality of conversations were outstanding. I wish to grow this into an event in future, let me know if you would be interested in being involved.

I was unbelievably nervous when I sent out this event that nobody would attend, but the rewards and feelings of fulfilment from providing a platform to share was like nothing I expected.

37. The 10 minute walk is a game changer

Especially for my creative thinking. Something I try to do 2–3 times a day now because the benefits have been amazing.

I encourage you to try it.

38. People are surprisingly generous if you reach out and ask.

The responses from coaches I have e-mailed, tweeted and asked for their knowledge or time has been incredible.

If you want to go into any program, you would be surprised how much access they will provide if you have the courage to ask the question.

39. Get a mentor.

What took you 10 years on your own could have taken five with proper direction. The more I ask for help from those ahead of me provides an opportunity to save me from many mistakes, and buys speed.

If there were 3 things I would look for in a mentor it would be:

  1. They have been where you want to go.

  2. They are somebody you deeply don’t want to disappoint.

  3. They share your morals and ethics.

40. All the knowledge is worthless if you keep it to yourself

The reason I started a blog was not because I think I’m an expert, but because I wanted to start conversations and share what I have learned from others.

You have something to share, something to give. But it’s not valuable if you don’t get it out of your head and give it away.

So, which lessons “popped” out at you?

Message me on Twitter @jackfleming1 or e-mail me at I would love to know.

And, if you have a second, I would love to know what you want to see more and less of from Jack Fleming on this blog in 2019. Your feedback is priceless, thank you!

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