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  • Jack Fleming

Top 40 Lessons I Learned in 2020

Well what a year.. here are my top 40 lessons of 2020. I encourage you to do your own, it is the article I look forward to writing the most every year. It has been a crazy year, with a lot less practical basketball lessons on the court but maybe some more important ones about life and relationships.

This is not a collection of “favourite quotes” but an enjoyable time to actually reflect on how much I did learn this year! Some are more theoretical than normal, because didn't get to coach too many games this year. My top 40 lessons is divided into five categories — offence, defence, lockdown, leadership and self improvement.

Starting this blog has given me so many new learning opportunities from other coaches, and I am grateful to share even more information and meet new people along the way. This is my 3rd "Top 40 Lessons" and if you would like to read the last couple I will link them below.


1. You can't adapt to an environment you don't inhabit.

I'm not against 'on air' work, but to say you did a 90 minute 'skills session' and there was no perception or decision to me is not skill work. That is 1/3 of the skill, the execution.

2. Decision making is a whole lot easier if you can shoot and have a weak hand finish.

If I didn't build a culture of error in my practice first, players will always revert back to old habits when competing. They naturally want to win and impress. If you don't build the psychological safety to miss a contest weak hand lay up or an open shot, it's hard for growth to occur.

3. P&R - It's not about the speed, it's about the read.

Damian Cotter - hesitate, evaluate, separate. Dirk Bauermann talked about making a 'pre-snap read' the ball handler having vision of the coverage before coming off the screen.

4. The best shots, versus the best teams comes opposite the ball.

Post player seeing through the elbow. Point guard in transition seeing the weak side skip.

5. If your point guard isn't a general, it can be a hard life.

Organising a team is something I value in a point guard, or else your offence can become a zoo.

6. Corner patience is a 5 million dollar skill.

Running to the dead corner, standing there with your hands ready and sometimes knocking down a shot when the ball comes. Ask the Houston Rockets. If you don't sell and reward the value of that to your players it can get lost.

7. Terminology is about consistency, not what's hot right now.

It's great that you've heard a catchy new term, but will you use it every single practice you are on that topic. If not, forget it for now.

The most confusing thing for a player is to have a coach speaking Chinese one week then Italian the next.

8. I miss drawing up plays on the whiteboard in real time.

There's nothing like the real game.

9. Stand for something

I come back to a similar version of this every year, but you have to know what's most important to your group. To my U14's it was "Me first for us" being ready to shoot/score on every catch/drive/cut because I felt it was best for their confidence, mindset and long term development.

10. Watch the Billy Donovan clinic on offensive philosophy.

It's on the Basketball Super Summit Virtual Clinic, just watch it.


11. It's hard to get better defensively on Zoom.

That's all I've got.

12. You are not what you say, but what you do.

Paul Goriss with his Canberra Capitals did shell drill most days, even in the WNBL bubble. He doesn't have to rant and rave about defending and rebounding, it's what they spend time on.

13. Do one thing and execute it better than everybody else.. used to be what I believed in.

I still believe in simplicity, but there's value in showing and trying different ways of doing things.

1. It explains why, helps your players understand the strengths and weaknesses of each coverage and gives context.

2. It helps your offence play against different types of teams.

3. It tests your teams communication and gives them flexibility come playoffs where a subtle change might be needed.

Throughout a season on defending pin downs you might show the lock and trail, shoot the gap and the curl switch at practice. But you know in games the expectation is 80% of the time you are locking and trailing and in emergencies we curl switch.

14. Free throw block outs.... should be in your special situations practice package.

This might be the most infuriating way to lose a game, or lose your chance to win the game.

  1. Are you sending a guard in to box the shooter or is it your third man?

  2. Are you pinching with two the best offensive rebounder?

  3. Do your players cheat up the lane as far as possible as the free throw is being shot?

15. The zone can defend the 3pt line as well, sometimes better than man.

Loved watching the use of the length in the zone in the NBA playoffs.


16. The power of changing your environment.

It's dangerous when where you eat becomes where you work which becomes where you exercise. Your brain gets confused too.

Don't undervalue why segmenting where you work, where you relax, where you exercise helps you focus on what you are doing.

17. The strength of the flame is the function of how much oil you have.

The best knowledge workers train, sprint, rest and re-assess. Do you have designated rest time in your day?

  1. A shut off time for your work day.

  2. 5-10 minute walks or stretch sessions between sitting on the computer.

  3. Not watching/reading extremely stimulating things before bed that will have your mind racing.

18. Balance consuming with thinking and expressing ideas.

Sucking down 5 podcasts and half a book a day was counterproductive. As I started writing more articles, having discussion zooms, journalling and creating my learning became far more valuable.

"Sit at the feet of history's greatest thinkers. Read their best arguments, the best alternatives, let those collide, let those collisions lay roots. On those roots you'll grow trees where you get unshakable intellectual confidence about how to approach your life." - Cal Newport

19. Have a plan for your day.

The biggest challenge was having too much time, and deciding I would just let the day run course. That resulted in a lot of coffee and social media and not much else.

In a world of uncertainty, creating routines reduces anxiety and gives you mental clarity.

20. Happiness is not an external venture.

Everything you've convinced you cannot be happy without is a nightmare. When the best part of your day is with nothing but yourself, you realise the world has very little to offer you.

It doesn't mean you shouldn't chase, but if it was to be all taken away there's nothing holding me back from internal peace.

21. I had to remind myself to reach out and reach back for social interaction.

While my partner had already done about 732 zooms with her girl friends, the boys we just stuck to the group text or if the stars aligned jumped on a few times. Women are often much better at building up their multiple connections in social circles than men. Generalisation, yes I know.

There's no shame or weakness in going out of your way to socialise, especially when also it's a necessity to check in on everybody.

22. Permission-less leverage is a double edged sword.

There is amazing access you get to brilliant minds on social media, however it's also a platform for anybody to preach their garbage.

Use wisely.


23.The leader you work under could be the future you.

Choose wisely. Find a company you'd be proud to work under and grow from. That's from David Salyers, Chief Marketing Officer at Chick-fil-A.

24. We love to put a title on what we don't understand.

What does this irritation tell me about myself?

It's nothing more than my pre-conceived expectations of what should be, it's time to let that go and not judge.

25. Beware of the hidden messages we send to our players.

Ask a question and then don't listen to the answer = questions are about me expressing my knowledge than you thinking and learning.

We're not just going to sit in a zone = zone is a lazy defence.

After we win we celebrate and move on, after we lose we watch film and dig into the detail = the outcome determines our process.

26. The parents have more impact on the consistent messages than you.

Aim to educate, create a partnership and a shared understanding.

27. Hanlon's Razor

Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence. People don't care about hurting your feelings that much, they just might not be that good at what they do yet.

28. The problem with communication is when people assume it took place.

People just want to know what is going on. One of the biggest frustrations heard during Covid, the unknowing around what is happening. Don't underestimate a quick update even if it doesn't seem like much to you.

29. Maslow's hierarchy before Bloom's taxonomy.

Upon returning, making sure there is time for social interaction at practice and feelings of safety before you get to the nitty gritty of learning. It is the thing the athletes have missed the most, more than competing or improving. Being a part of something they belong to, shared experience.

30. Until you find your value in the person you are, rather than your achievements, you won't scratch the surface of your potential as a coach and a leader.

Calling Up written by my good friend JP Nerbun.

Self Improvement

31. Curiosity beats cleverness every time.

I need to stop giving so much advice and start listening to what's already inside of them.

32. You gotta pay to play.

If you don't bet on yourself, who will? Sometimes you have to do it before you have it, or before you're earning what you want.

You're doing work for an unknown payoff in the future. I'm scared every time I do it, it doesn't get easier. But I try to remember this picture of Jeff Bezos.

33. If you're really going for it, you'll probably mess it up along the way.

Bill Belichick - the failures of Cleveland were the foundations of his future success.

34. If you can't be happy with a cup of coffee you won't be happy with a yacht.

Enjoy now, it's all you have.

35. Prove to yourself you can follow through on something that's hard.

Until you start doing it for yourself, you'll never develop the confidence you want.

I enjoyed some 24 hour fasting this year about once every 2 weeks.

36. Keep asking - how do I get beautifully paid to do what I love?

To make an original contribution you have to be irrationally obsessed with something. The only way you can do that is to love it, where work is play. "Become the best in the world at what you do, keep redefining that until it is true." - Naval Ravikant

37. Develop a deep and meaningful purpose statement.

"My purpose is to coach and lead, read and write, create and innovate in complete presence, with selfless love in the service of others."

It's a kind reminder it's not always about you, and if you don't do what you're uniquely made for then who will?

38. Discipline by subtraction

I always do better when I am doing less.

Less food choices, less complex workouts, less drills in the practice plan, less jobs on the go.

Less commitments, less options, less excuses.

Chase 5 rabbits, you catch one.

39. The only person you can truly change is yourself.

You can't force your change or expectations onto somebody else, I've found life to be better not getting bothered by influencing others. They are where they are, they're ready when they're ready.

40. There are amazing beautiful people from all over the globe who love the game just as much as you do.

I'm so grateful to form meaningful relationships with people from all corners of the world, who are trying to make a difference. Get out of your own backyard and experience somebody with an outside view, it will elevate your perspective and expand your relationship circle.

Final Thoughts

People not things, in the end that is what truly matters.

I feel so fortunate to have gone through 2020, and hope that you do too. This blog has been something I have grown to love doing, and smile when I think that other people see the value in it too. Here's to more lessons in 2021, more uncomfortable moments, challenge and growth.

Thank you to everybody who reads, and what was the big lesson that popped out at you?

Enjoy - Jack

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