Some Structure Required

I left our practice a few days ago demoralized.  I know that we as coaches need to remain positive, have a clear vision for how our team can be successful, and constantly strive to create an atmosphere in which the team and each of our players can reach their potential – but, I gotta’ tell you, sometimes that’s really tough!  With a team lacking playing experience, we are faced with trying to reign in an unhealthy attitude of players thinking of themselves first. Continue reading


Game Adjustments in Basketball With the O.O.D.A. Loop

fighterpilot-620x360I bristle when I hear comments comparing any game or sport to an act of war or fighting on a battlefield. We’re playing a sport, for fun and competition, but it’s not life and death and we shouldn’t cheapen the acts of valor of those fighting for our freedom and security. However, there are many lessons from the military that have direct correlations to competition on the basketball floor and can help players and coaches develop.  One specific lesson comes from an unsung military strategist, John Boyd, who in the early 60’s revolutionized the art of aerial combat and the training of fighter pilots to deal with the uncertainty of all that can happen in pressurized situations.  His explanation of how humans react, called the OODA. Loop, has been employed by military strategists throughout the world, but has also been adapted in athletics and the fast-paced world of business and finance.
Read Tracy Hightower’s article Boyd’s OODA Loop and How We Use It and Brett McKay’s article How to Master the OODA Loop to gain a deeper understanding, but in a quick summary, the OODA loop describes a process of thinking and decision-making that deals with uncertainty and provides a competitive edge.  We all react to situations, but we do so according to four steps:

  • Observe
  • Orient
  • Decide
  • Act

Our brains take us through these steps in micro-seconds, but how quickly and how efficiently we react often determines our success.  When we understand that process, coaches and players can develop through practice, ways to improve efficiency, especially in reacting to the unexpected.


Getty Images / Streeter Lecka

Getty Images / Streeter Lecka

Let’s consider the OODA loop from a coach’s perspective, but it can easily be applied to players as well. Regardless of how well you plan and prepare for a specific game, something unexpected will occur at some point in any game. Expect the unexpected.  An opponent may completely change from the tendencies you scouted.  A non-shooter suddenly becomes a “hot” shooter.  Officials may call the game completely different from what you’ve experienced in recent games.   All of these, however, make the game great. Coaches who quickly and efficiently move through the steps of the loop, often gain an upper hand.

Observe:  Have an open mind without judging or predetermining your response.  Too often, coaches go into games with judgement, rather than observation.  When coaches only look for what they expect to see, adjustments happen more slowly.   Coaches and players who simply judge outcomes are more likely to blame circumstances and will fail to find solutions and make quick adjustments.

Orient:   Adjustments to consider, come from coaches drawing on their experience and understanding of their team.  The more time you spend in expanding your knowledge prior to the need for adjustments, the more resources you can use.  And sometimes, it means doing something different.  In Duke’s championship run last year, traditional man to man proponent Mike Krzyzewski switched to a 2-3 zone to beat Louisville in January.  He observed his team allowing too many points in the paint and recognized that UL was a poor shooting team and through his experience as a coach, was able to orient and adjust well to changing circumstances.

Decide:  Once you make sense of what you observe and relate it to the present, a coach must decide to act, but that can often be risky and prevents many of us from making adjustments.  It’s “easier” to play through it and often times, change may not be what’s needed.  However, when called for, decision is better than indecision.  Roy Williams took heat the other night for not calling a timeout during the final possession of their nail-biter with Duke.  Williams “decided” to let his team play out the possession on their own, which is how he usually plays it.  The Tar Heels looked indecisive (see this story from and could have benefited from regrouping, but when Williams went through the loop, his decision was to stick with what he’s done.  It may have cost them the game. Here’s an overblown discussion, with a few good points, on ESPN:

Act:  Even worse than indecision is a failure to act.  Frequently during the course of a game, players and coaches proceed through the OODA loop only to stand by and do nothing – think of players having trouble inbounding the ball.  They observe and orient as teammates and defenders move, make a corresponding decision, but fail to pass the ball. Even if you fail when you act, you gain an opportunity to grow and learn.

Decisions in the heat of competition are essential to the game.  Coaches and players who are trained through practice become more effective at making adjustments.  The more times you can teach and practice the process, the more effective you’ll be!

LIFE & FAITH – The Word

For the Christian life, the OODA loop is an effective process to practice implementing God’s Word in our lives in the ever-changing and pressure-filled world in which we live. It’s not enough to just read or hear God’s word; we need to proceed through the loop.  James encourages us:

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.   (James 1:22)

If applying God’s Word to your life is difficult or empty for you, you may have a OODA problem.  Far too many times, when we observe by reading or hearing, we start with what we want to hear, rather than by listening and observing what GOD wants us to hear.  And too many times we lack enough background and understanding to orient our lives to apply it to every day circumstances.  Furthermore, far too many of us avoid making any kind of decisions about what we hear and read – we leave it to others to explain to us or even worse, we mindlessly follow non-threatening traditions.  And lastly, rather than acting on God’s Word, we play it safe and simply continue doing what we always do.

I’m not saying that one needs to live life like a fighter-pilot in the heat of a dog fight or, for that matter, a college basketball coach in the final possessions of the game, however, each of us will have those moments where we either process God’s word and act on it, or we don’t.  Maybe applying the steps of the OODA loop is a good idea after all.


Making the Most of the New 30 Second Shot Clock

(Photo: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

(Photo: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

Changes are coming to college basketball this season.  And while shortening the shot clock by five seconds doesn’t seem like that big of deal, many basketball observers have been calling for the change in hopes that it will have dramatic impact on the game.  While many will debate how it will affect the game (see USA Today), as a coach I need to be more pragmatic and be prepared to make adjustments so that our team effectively responds to the new rule. Many will simply ignore the change and some will complain, but by taking a responsible, planned approach, I hope to have our team prepared to make the most out of the new rule. And as I’ve prepared and considered the reduction in time, I found myself considering how we can better respond as the shot clocks of our lives are exhausted.

Basketball – Adjustments To Make

As the season approaches, I tend to make a lot of lists.  It helps me stay organized as I juggle the caps of different jobs.  When I first heard college basketball was officially shortening the shot clock, I didn’t think much of it. After all, we’re an uptempo team and we preach getting good shots as early as we can in any possession and rarely over the last few years have we had shot clock violations. However, early in the summer I devoted a page in my notebook for considering how we can and should address the change, at least from an offensive standpoint.  Here’s what I plan to address and drill with our team throughout preseason practices:

Dirk Nowitzki, Basketballprofi,Arena Trier ,D 29.7. 2004

Dirk Nowitzki, Basketballprofi,Arena Trier ,D 29.7. 2004

  1. Zone Offense – Some teams will believe they can shrink the clock by playing more zone in an attempt to force time-consuming offense.  It will be helpful to have our team prepared with quick-hitting sets and actions to use against zones, which in general we don’t see very often.
  2. Under 7 Actions – In anticipation of having more urgent situations in the final seconds, I want our team prepared to do more than clear out, set a ball screen or isolate a post player. ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla, who I think is one of the best analysts in the business, suggests that this is an area we can improve by watching the European game, and I agree.  Developing plans for the end of the clock is an element we will add to our offense this year.
  3. Develop More Playmakers – As the clock winds down, good defenses can take away your best playmaker.  We want to have mulitple guys on the floor who can create shots for themselves and their teammates as the clock winds down.  Playing “positionless” basketball will become more of a necessity.

    Attacking Pressure – Teams, even traditional man to man teams like Michigan State, will be utilizing more “slow down” pressure defenses (see NBC Sports).  Having a plan to attack presses quickly will become more important.  We’ll work more on scoring or flowing out of our press break.

  5. Understand Efficiency – I don’t want the shot clock to simply speed our team up and give them free rein to take quick shots.  It will be important to help our players see when we are being most effective in our offense.  Fraschilla breaks a possession into 7-16- 7, or seven seconds of transition flow, sixteen seconds of structured offense, and the final seven seconds of conclusion.  I want our team to understand when we are at our best. If you’re into stats, has a good summary from the NBA a few years ago breaking down how teams do with the 24 second clock. Golden State has been every effective in the first part of possessions, while teams like the Spurs tend to be better in the second part.  I want our team to quickly assess and learn what will work best for us.  From there, we’ll adjust accordingly.

LIFE – The Parent Clock

There’s no more important shot clock in my life right now than the parent clock.  We have our oldest graduating from college this year, our second graduating from high school, and the youngest not far behind.  The clock is ticking.  Have I made the most of the possession that I have with my kids before turning them loose in the world?  I feel the urgency of the clock as we prepare them for life on their own.  There certainly are the practical skills like handling money, social skills, and wearing clean underwear, but I focus a lot on spiritual skills and developing an awareness of the word we live in.  Even though my son will move on from college, I found these points from 8 Ways to Ruin Your Life in College are the things I need to address before the clock expires!

FAITH – Number Our Days

As I consider the shot clock, Psalm 90:12 has been running in my brain like a commercial jingle:

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

The shot clock WILL expire.  How are you spending your time?  Are you ready for the buzzer to sound?  That’s reality.  You can ignore it and just chuck up shots or you can develop a plan to use the time you have.  As I make another list, here are five of my adjustments:

  1. Spend more time in God’s word.
  2. Pray what’s truly on my heart, not what I think is supposed to be.
  3. Unconditionally love my wife and family.
  4. Intentionally show God’s love every day.
  5. Find good in everything and everyone that God has created.

For me, that’s a start.  You’ve got next!