Change the Game with the Winning Edge From Coach Dick Luther, assistant coach UW-Whitewater

“Change the Game” doesn’t mean changing basketball. It means to change the team’s game within the game itself.

The “Winning Edge” is kindness, caring, and teaching the right way with positive attitudes are all investments that NEVER fail.

Rebuilding within basketball programs start with the power of attitude from the top down. The top must show more with daily respect, work ethic, values, and supply leaderships with caring and teaching. Players want to be coached and coaches need to be coach players. This carry-over will be priceless, will set a tone, will be followed, and create a much-needed winning edge.

High-level attitude for athletes and coaches includes:

  • Responsibility
  • Commitment
  • Accountability
  • Focus
  • A mind-set to constantly improve
winning edge
Photo: Jamie Williams / Creative Commons

In my many years of coaching basketball, I have seen a huge decline in attitudes, coachability, focus, bench conduct, coach’s practice and game conduct, poor language by adults and students along with lack of basic good conduct. This can all change at with the coach’s leadership becoming the driving force with the power of attitude. it will take some time, but the teaching of respect will lead the way. Bad language is a major problem and should be addressed and stopped.

High-level leadership promoting the power of attitude will be a major undertaking but the rewards will be amazing and long-lasting. This is the challenge from the top down.

High-level leadership teaching includes:

  • Success happens with a positive mind-set attitude
  • Giving thanks is a winning power attitude
  • This winning positive attitude is like wildfire…it spreads
  • Life’s organization with the focus achieves goals — for positive people
  • Great attitudes always build and rebuild trust.

We can all teach and coach better sharing “life lessons” with values and positive attitudes that will last a lifetime.

Teach the Game

I believe that we as coaches must improve our teaching of the game. Often we assume our players know the game. We cannot assume anything. We must teach from the opening team meeting until the last game we play. Then, as evaluations and spring ball is going on, we can still teach through social media, e-mails, and texts to name a few. This teaching, called the “Winning Edge” is really a basketball class and must continue throughout the game and beyond the scoreboard to help all of our players.

“Teach the Game” will include the following:

  • Team Commitment
  • Prepare to Win
  • The Culture of Practice
  • Fundamentals for Success

Team commitment is a vital part fo all basketball programs. Commitments deal with time, team rules, coachability, language, and training among others.

  1. The value of time has been lost. Set the tone with this value with your team on a daily basis. Every detail is huge — all of them matter! Here is where leadership with the program will help with schooling the entire team to value time. For the most part, accountability must be taught these days.
  2. Goal-setting is about coaching. Goal-setting with team rules is a huge part of the leadership set by the coaching staff. The head coach and assistant coaches are in charge. Team and individual discipline must be understood by everyone. Set the tone with your program with rules and time. Carrying out these rules consistently is called leadership.
  3. Coachability is really a new commitment in today’s world. The coaches are in charge and the players are in charge of playing the game. Only coaches are hired to develop and execute the program.
  4. Unacceptable language has become a major problem today. It is pretty simple — proper language with coaches and players is a must!
  5. Training is so simple — champions train!

Prepare to Win, with the theme “win the day,” is the daily message with winning programs. First and foremost are academic studies. Studies and class attendance both come before basketball. Basketball practice begins in the locker room by preparing mentally for the day’s work. Don’t wait for the game to outwork your opponent. Outworking opponents begins with team meetings, scouting meetings, in the locker room, and on the court. Player’s notebooks and playbooks can become their diary of the program for players and staff. Focus starts when the players step onto the practice floor. “Win the day” in practice is for two hours with everyone’s attention and worth ethic. Shoot-arounds, pre-game shooting, and pre-game warmups are all extended practices. Hitting the weight room is practice. This is all about the “winning edge.” Everyone connected with the team can be a leader and a captain by preparing to win.

The Culture of Practice is quiet easy with focus, attitude, preparation, and effort, which becomes #TeamFocus, #TeamAttitude, #TeamPreparation, and #TeamEffort. This is everyone’s responsibility. Preparation for every practice is the lesson plan for coaches to “win the day.” Time spent with a purpose, planning for each and every practice should take time and be a valuable lesson for everyone. Change-up with practice is refreshing for the entire program. The culture of this daily work should be an attitude to get better every day with the entire squad. The role of every player must support the program, support fellow players, support the coaching staff, and improve their own game on a daily basis in order to move up the ladder. Practice like a “championship team” every day. Working to out-practice every opponent on the schedule is number one!

The Fundamentals of Success is teaching the game. We, as coaches, must not assume anything. Repetition in teaching fundamentals is essential. Fundamentals are the cornerstones of basketball. Successful systems have five valuable traits:

  1. Clear — All directions and information must be totally clear to all players
  2. Repetition — Repeat fundamentals until skills are understood and learned
  3. Strong — Teaching toughness, commitment, accountability, and caring wins with all
  4. Goals — Set realistic goals for coaches and players
  5. Duration — Solid programs with great teachers last

Many times, we all assume our players know the game. Trust in your teaching with the fundamentals from basics to the more advanced stages. In other words, teach the basics — stance, footwork, movement, pivots, pass/catch, and shooting. Hall of Fame NFL coach Vince Lombardi did not assume anything! Free throw percentages, for the most part, go down each year. In practice, teach free throws in game situations and with a high degree of focus (it is not a break). As we all move up the fundamental chart, our teaching might include defensive wall-up techniques (and the wall can move), a cushion on defense, weak-side defense with seeing everything, setting and receiving proper screens, dribble moves, and post moves. These are just a few examples that we can’t assume they know and they all must be taught. Building on teaching the basics to the advanced fundamentals will help the entire team understand and continue to improve. Positive communication can be a highlight of everyone’s day — communicate more often. A thank-you goes a long way! There is a time and place to give something back to the players for the hard work they are doing day-in and day-out. Have a “fun drill” to end a practice. It might be a contest, a shoot-out, or free throw ladder. Pete Newell always ended his big man camps with a “shoot to win” contest. The NBA players loved it. Legendary UCLA head coach John Wooden always wanted to end practice on a happy note which has worked out so well for many other coaches.

» Related: Managing Uncertainty in Basketball

Basketball is a great game — one that offers many skills. It requires dedication to achieve those skills of the game. A team and coaches working together, stressing positive values like effort, pride, sportsmanship, discipline, and the sacrifice of one’s personal goals for that of the team will be a rewarding experience for both coaches and players alike. Competition is a word often misunderstood. Competition done with values and a purpose will help all players understand the game. The coach who cares is the coach who wins.

The lives of the players may be shaped in a positive direction for many years, possibly forever. Coaching is a great profession. have fun and “let’s teach basketball!”





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