Sunday, February 24, 2013


Does the end of the season always come as a shock to you?  I feel like a car in the driveway, revving it's engine ready to head out on the highway, but with no place to go.  Gearing down will be hard, wondering what to do with the extra time in my day, but I'm sure there will be plenty to fill the void.  There always is.

One thing I know will keep me busy is an old habit that I've repeated after every season for 35 years, what the education professors call "reflective teaching."  I cannot recommend this process highly enough, feeling that it has had more to do with whatever success I've enjoyed in coaching than any other single thing (except recruiting great players).  It started for me back in 1978, when I bought a stenographer's notepad and for several weeks jotted down thoughts about the season past, and ideas for making things better in the future.  Did the offense work?  How about practice structure?  Did I get the most out of our personnel?   Etc, etc, etc. 

The odd thing is that I've found this to be the most satisfying part of the entire year, this process of learning from the past and considering the future.  Even after a third of a century, the game is still fresh and exciting, and I still take joy in contemplating how to be a better coach. Eventually, such contemplations led me to a small college in Iowa, and a thin little paperback called The Running Game: A Formula for Success, a book which changed my coaching life.

So what have I learned from this season, this novel experience of teaching the System from scratch?  Here are a few random thoughts that are going into my notebook this spring:
  • The System is, more than anything else, about effort.  Offensive rebounding and forcing turnovers makes it work, and those "skills" are entirely effort based.  If you can coach effort, you can coach the System.
  • Grinnell's offense is not the only one that will work in the Grinnell System, but it does place an emphasis on roles more than any other.  And the more players stay within their assigned roles, the better they will execute.
  • Along those lines, an "equal opportunity" offense may seem good for team morale, but will lead to situations where kids try to do things they aren't suited for.  So whatever offense you use, make sure players understand and accept their roles.
  • The ultimate key to System success is what goes on in practice, and having a consistent general framework for practice keeps coaches organized and players improving.
  • The practice framework I like the most right now is the following:  PERIOD 1- SKILLS (4-line warmup and fundamentals, followed by a layup drill, a three-point shooting drill, and stretching);  PERIOD 2- SKELETON (6 line shooting, or some version of 5/0 offense, or walking through defensive assignments 5/5.  I'd also include breakdown drills in this period)  PERIOD 3- SCRIMMAGE (Live 5/5 situations such as offense after a rebound, steal, score, or dead ball, or defense after a rebound, score, dead ball, or vs. a spread-delay game.  Master these situations, and you master the System).  And last but not least...
  • If you want to win a popularity contest, don't coach the System.

My final thought, and the last piece of System advice I'll inflict on you, my coaching friends, comes from our wise teacher Will Shakespeare, words he has Polonius speak to his son Laertes:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

                           (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3)


  1. Thanks so much for all your wisdom and thoughts throughout the season. They were put to great use, and you have changed the way I and others think about basketball for the foreseeable future.

  2. Thanks Jordan... it was fun to think outloud with you and other readers this season. Good luck to you in the future!

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    1. Thanks for writing this blog, it help me a lot. I am going to start using the reflective teaching process starting tonight....

  4. Hope it was beneficial Kevin... I think we all think and reflect on our coaching, but by writing down the random thoughts, ideas, areas you'd want to change, etc you start the next season that much farther ahead. Good luck to you and your teams in the future!

  5. My season is just beginning (just finished tryouts last weeks) and its been a pleasure to follow you here from Tiger Ball! The experience, the nuggets of knowledge and insight have been valuable, not only from a System perspective but from a Coaching stand point as well. I hope we can read more from you in the future and a sincerest thanks for writing.

    1. My pleasure, Rob! I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I did writing the blog. As for more writings in the future...who knows? Good luck with your team!