Letters to live by: Acronyms and initialisms to help coaches communicate From Bart Flener, contributing writer

You may have heard the phrase “words to live by,” used when someone says something particularly profound. But when it comes to communication in our basketball program, we like to use the phrase “letters to live by.”

I have often said that it’s much easier to miscommunicate than it is to communicate effectively. Add the intensity of a heated athletic contest to other variables that adversely affect communication, and you’re apt to have student-athletes who are unlikely to do what you need them to do at any given moment. It’s not because they’re ignoring you — they probably did not receive or process your intended message.

Due to the need for timely, efficient and effective communication, we instituted a system of acronyms and initialisms as vital teaching tools in our program. An acronym is often a series of letter abbreviations pronounced as a word, like NASA or OSHA. An initialism is a set of letters that are pronounced separately such as FBI or NCAA.

I want to share our most common acronyms and initialisms (AIs) for those who might consider incorporating them into their teaching strategies or developing some of their own. We don’t distinguish between them, but we have a system in which we introduce and practice using them, and then we emphasize them at the appropriate times, reviewing them as necessary.

Introducing AIs

Every industry is known for specific abbreviations and terminology that only those in that industry seem to recognize. The education field is no different.

At any school across the country, you might hear someone say “The PBIS committee has decided that Johnny might be tested for GT based on his RTI placement scores from MAP.” That can be an efficient means of communication, but if the participants are not familiar with those abbreviations, it’s ineffective.

Our first goal is to introduce our AIs to our players in an educational setting, usually a classroom or film room at our school. Whenever possible, we use video to introduce a concept or situation in which we are going to institute an AI. For example, my most-used AI over the years has been “DOC” — dead on catch. It means that if a tremendous shooter catches the ball, we immediately approach him as if he has already used his dribble, which would make him “dead” in our terminology. We would much rather have a player drive on us than give up an uncontested jump shot. We close out with hands high and crowd the player as quickly as possible, making it almost impossible for him to find a clean shot.

In introducing “DOC,” we would show film of a player shooting over the top of a defender whose hands are down. We recently taught our players that a particularly good shooter on the other team is not only “DOC,” but they must be run off the line (ROL) when they catch it behind or near the 3-point line.

Practicing AIs

As we prepare for rebounding drills, we emphasize our principles of “HFG,” — hit, find, get. It’s our strategy for securing defensive rebounds any time the opponent shoots the basketball. During early season practices, we ask our players to verbalize the different stages during the process by saying the words, which internalizes the steps in the process.

Our next step is to emphasize AIs during practices, scrimmages and games, reinforcing them in our student-athletes’ minds. Continuing with the “HFG” theme, we ask players to communicate with their teammates about this concept. When our point guard huddles his teammates before an opponent’s free throw, you might hear “HFG” as part of the discussion. That way, before an opponent shoots a free throw, everyone is on the same page.

For emphasis, we might even break the huddle with a chant of “HFG!” if we are struggling to keep an opponent off the glass or if we know that the upcoming possession could determine the outcome of the game.

During practice, our coaches teach AIs on a consistent basis. When a loose ball occurs, one or more coaches shout “FTF!” (first to floor) to remind players that the first person to get on the floor is oftentimes the one who secures the possession.

Reviewing AIs

The last thing we want is our players trying to process the meaning of our AIs in the heat of battle. We sometimes assume that teaching something once is enough, but that’s not the case. We all need reminders of things from time to time, and our players are no different.

We use the film room to review AIs. Referring to “HFG,” we might ask a player to describe themselves or a random game sequence in which someone failed to do one of the three steps and it cost them a rebound. For “DOC,” we might show a sequence of game film in which the opponent’s best shooters takes an uncontested 3-pointer in a situation where our player could have challenged the shot. We would ask the players if that’s in conjunction with what we taught.

Using your own AIs is important because only you truly know what you emphasize the most and what terminology you prefer. AIs are an incredibly useful tool in not only basketball but any sport where communication is essential to success.

Valuable AIs for basketball coaches

Here are some of his most commons acronyms and initialisms (AIs) and how they’re used.

  • DOC (dead on catch).
  • FTF (first to floor).
  • HFG (hit, find, get).
  • NBL (nothing but layups).
  • GBG (get back guy). Used for the designated player who must retreat once a shot is attempted.
  • OYB (own your box). Taking space around you with the ball.
  • TBS (team before self).
  • HBO (hard box out) As in, “Be an HBO, not an EBO (easy box out).
  • CTC (control the controllables).
  • STH (shoulder to hip). For going off of a ball screen for your point guard.

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