How “Process Praise” Makes You More Resilient


Psychologist Angela Duckworth and her research team did a series of experiments in which they observed and measured how different types of praise had a positive or negative effect on a child’s motivation and resilience in tackling difficult challenges. What they found was that the children who received “process praise” (i.e. praising the things within the child’s control: hard work, perseverance, diligence, strategies, focus, etc) were more likely to develop a resilient approach towards difficult challenges later in life.

In one study they evaluated the type of praise mothers gave their young children. Duckworth then followed those children’s progress and checked in with them five years later. They found that the type of praise children were given as toddlers had a huge impact on their attitude towards facing challenges later on in life. The children who received process praise when they were young were more motivated learners and ended up doing better in math and reading compared to their peers who were praised for their talent or innate abilities.

As coaches and teachers, the principle of process praise is powerful as we try to help our team’s develop a toughness that will enable them to deal with the inevitable challenges of life. When we make it clear to our teams that a commitment to the process is the only key to success, we are giving them the tools to be successful both on the court and in life. By praising the process we are implicitly preaching the gospel of hard work, diligence, and focus as the antidote to the challenges that we all face.

Begin today to help your team develop the mental toughness it needs to push through the ups and downs both on the basketball court and in life. Praise the process and watch your team attack the challenges in front of them with tenacity!

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Engineering Hope

Leaders have the unique job of trying to inspire people work to create a preferred future that is different than the one they currently live. A preferred future a vision of “what could be” is the emotional firepower that puts the “why” behind every “what”. Good leaders know how to paint a profound picture of hope in the minds of their teams so they are spurred onto greater acts of love, service and creativity.

Inspiration is a fickle thing. We have all experienced the emotional high that comes after a team retreat, the casting of a new vision, or the discussion of new strategic objectives. We are pumped and ready to go after stuff like this because the vision is fresh in our minds and our objectives are clear. 

The problem comes when the circumstances of life cause us to inevitably lose our fervor. Life has a way of clouding our vision and throwing roadblocks in our path that cause us to lose sight of the bigger picture.

This is exactly the point where a good leader needs to step in. A good leader understands that one of the most powerful weapons they have to keep their team from getting discouraged is the use of “memory”.

Leveraging Memory

A leader’s job is to use the past to inspire the present. Good leaders will leverage their past successes to help their team overcome current challenges. Remembering past acts of courage, resilience, and toughness will give their team an emotional boost to power through whatever roadblock they find in their way. 

Memory is powerful because it reminds us who we are and gives us the strength to become who we were created to be. It reminds us that difficult circumstances won’t last and it gives us the strength to strive towards a vision of “what could be.”

Leaders need to use memory as a powerful weapon to combat the challenges that can cloud your team’s vision and discourage them from working towards their mission. Every leader believes they are tasked with leading their team to greater things, to a preferred future where they will impact lives and work towards a better future. But they can’t get there without using the memories and successes of the past to connect them to their work in the present.

Moving Forward

Whenever our emotional compasses start to go haywire, we need to remember where we’ve come from so we can figure out how to start moving forward. It is the leader’s job to recall and remind the people that follow them the victories they’ve had in the past so they can confidently march towards where they want to go in the future. Remembering where we’ve been is crucial to knowing where we want want to go. 

Allow the victories of yesterday to become the fuel for where you’ll go tomorrow. 

Do you want to build transformational leaders on your team? Click the link below.

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You can Inspire People to Change: Here’s How

In last two weeks, I’ve written about two of the foundational building blocks of transformational leadership: The Habit of Continuous Growth and Leading on Mission
A natural outgrowth of these two leadership principles is the subject for our third post. In this week’s post, I want to talk about a dynamic tool that can take your leadership to the next level. 
Once you gain a deeper understanding of this concept, you will never look at world the same way again. When you harness this concept’s incredible power, it will change the way you coach, teach, and relate to your players at a fundamental level.
Before we get to that, let me deepen our understanding of transformational leadership by adding some critical information to our last two posts.


The Roots of Transformational Leadership

Are you rooted in what is most important?
Let’s take a quick look back at the roots of transformational leadership.
Our first, post dealt with the key ingredient of becoming a transformational leader. We know that transformational leadership is only possible when the leader fully commits themselves to the daily process of growth.
But we should be careful to distinguish the purpose of this growth; this is not growth simply for the sake of personal improvement.
In America, the personal growth movement has dominated our concept of personal development. Our public consciousness has been shaped by the belief that helping ourselves become “better people” is the quickest way to a happy and fulfilling life.
The cultural phenomenon of new year’s resolutions has painted us a sanitized picture of life, in which “my happiness” is both the subject and the objective of the tapestry of our lives. I believe we were created for more. Our lives were designed to paint a robust picture of life where other people are the subject of our painting. We exist to inspire change in the world around us. At its core, personal development should be other centered.
This faulty belief system assumes that my happiness is a function of becoming “the best version of myself” so that I become a happier person.
Transformational leadership takes that idea and flips it on its head.
Because only when a Leader understands that growth is not a self-help exercise, but a responsibility do we see change start to happen. The best leaders become saturated with the reality that:
Our Growth is for Others


Our second post, explored the difference between transformational and transactional leadership.
I boiled the difference between these two types of leaders to a simple principle:
Mission drives Transformation.
When purpose (or mission) is the unifying and driving force for your team, transformation becomes possible.
Leading through mission is the engine that drives your team to achieve their dreams. Humans are wired to rally around a common purpose and cause, which is what makes leading through mission/purpose so effective. It speaks to the core of our nature while transforming your team in a number of other practical ways.
Now onto this week’s topic:
 All effective Leaders are deeply rooted in the right things.
When a leaders has deep roots, they can extend the branches of their own influence over a greater area. The deeper the roots,  the greater the influence. 
Influence is everything within leadership. Why?
Because influence gives you the ability to inspire people to change.
Inspiring change is the holy grail of all great leadership!
Moving someone from a place where they don’t want to be to a place they couldn’t reach on their own is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It is the buried treasure, a four leaf clover, the holy grail of leadership!
All great leaders are constantly searching for recipe that will bring about change. But change is really, really, difficult to bring about. It is hard to get people to get out of their comfort zone and into a better place. But the good news is that change is contagious:
When we see someone else change we become inspired.
Marketers understand this better than anyone! The majority of TV programming is based around this simple concept – from housing and weight loss shows, to talent competitions and cooking shows, transformation is addictive. 
We love to watch people change. We love to watch people change for the better and for the worse. It doesn’t really matter which direction their lives turn, as long as the characters end up someplace different than where they started.
Good leaders facilitate change, but great leaders inspire change. The fulcrum on which all transformational leadership rests, is the ability to push the people around them to new levels of influence.
A leader takes someone to a place they could never go themselves. 
The concept of changing behavior is multifaceted and complex, but there is one concept that disproportionally controls a large portion of that behavior. This powerful concept, is one of the most influential ideas in behavioral psychology, with wide-reaching implications and the potential for inspiring huge change in your life. 
Are you ready to find out what it is?
Great. Let’s dive in.

Understanding Habits

In his widely popular book, Charles Duhigg breaks down one of the most fundamental aspects of human behavior: our habits.
Duhigg cites several sources that estimate about 40 percent of our daily actions are the result of our unconscious habits. Every habit follows a predictable three part sequence: the cue, the routine, and the reward
Every habit is initiated by a cue, which can be almost anything. A time of day, a person, a smell, an emotion, an object, etc. The cue is like a starting whistle for a track and field athlete. Once your brain here’s the whistle, your mind automically starts to initiate the habit. And once the habit is set in motion, it is nearly impossible to stop.
When the cue initializes the habit, the next step in the process is the routine – this is what we most commonly associate with the idea of habit. Routines can be good or bad, productive or destructive, but the routine represents the actual performing of the action (at this stage our brain goes on autopilot, I’ll explain more about this concept in a second). 
Finally, there is the reward. Like the cue, a reward can take many different shapes and sizes – it could be a feeling, a food, an emotion, an object, etc. The reward gives us a sense of accomplishment and begins to develop a neurological craving which engrains the habit.
Predictably, every single one of our habits follows this routine. Our brain organizes our actions into these predictable patterns called ‘habits’ for three specific reasons.
1. So we Don’t Need to Relearn Tasks
It would be extremely frustrating if we had to relearn simple skills. Imagine if you went on vacation for three weeks and had to relearn how to drive when you returned back home. Habits encode these behaviors in our brains so we don’t have to relearn basic tasks.
2. To Save Effort
Our brains are constantly looking for ways to increase efficiency and cut out clutter. Habits are a great way to do that.
When scientists look at the brain activity of mice that have been conditioned to perform a habit, they notice a spike in brain activity during the “cue” and reward” phase, but during the actual “routine” part of the habit loop brain activity drops off dramatically.
It’s like our brain goes on autopilot. When the activity in our brain drops during the “routine” phase, this is our brains attempt to maximize efficiency so that we have a greater amount of working memory to focus on more immediate tasks. 
3. To Increase Capacity
The notion of “chunking” has become a predominant theory for many psychologists in understanding how our brains organize large amounts of information. Chunking is our brain’s attempt to organize large amounts of information into “chunks” of related material that we can make sense of.
As we look for patterns to emerge from the vast amounts of seemingly unrelated pieces of information that our brain receives every day, our ability to group this data is what allows up to increase our memories capacity.
Chunking is a popular technique with world class “memory athletes’ who use chunking to memorize sequences of hundreds or even thousands of random names or numbers for competition. Chunking helps their brain group these swaths of unrelated data into a coherent pattern. Think of chunking as a brain’s sophisticated filling system. For a fascinating look into how chunking helps us store more information check this out.

Now that we have a basic understanding of how habits work, the question becomes:

how does this understanding lead to transformational change in the people we lead?

Inspiring Change Through Habits

Habits are incredibly powerful, but habits don’t inspire change on their own. Habits are an important ingredient in the recipe of change, but they need to be used in a specific environment to be most effective.

When you bake a cake, flour is an crucial ingredient, but you can’t bake a cake with flour alone. You need to mix the ingredients so that they compliment each other. Habits operate in the same way.

Here are the ingredients you need to leverage the power of habits to inspire change in your life and for your team.


Don’t Create, Replace

In his book, Duhigg talks about the “golden rule” of habit change which is:

If we keep the same cue and the same reward, a new routine can be inserted.

Because our brain uses habits to maximize our efficiency, once a habit is created, it can not be destroyed (this is why you don’t have to relearn how to ride a bike every Spring after the snow thaws). Since habits can’t be destroyed, the easiest way to change our habits is to keep the same cue and reward but insert a more beneficial routine.

Why go through the difficulty of creating a new habit when you can easily replace an old one?

Our brains were designed to maximize our productivity, go ahead and use it.



Researchers have found that simply identifying the habit loop (Cue-Routine-Reward) is not enough to inspire lasting change in someone’s life. Understanding the subsequent parts of a habit can help you change a harmful behavior, but researches have found that the times when people are most vulnerable to returning to their old habits is during a time of stress or disappointment in their life.

Why do people who are on a path to escaping their harmful addiction revert to their old ways during a time of difficulty?


The answer is simple: they don’t believe they can change.

Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous help people overcome addictive behavior by bulking up people’s belief. 7 steps of their 12 steps process mention a belief in God or some kind of higher power. There are countless addicts who have joined AA without any kind of prior belief in God (and even ardent atheists), but who came away from their experience in the program as changed people.

What researchers have found is that AA’s emphasis on a higher power gives people the framework on which to construct a belief that, change is possible.

When temptation arrives to revert to old habits, belief is the steady hand on the steering wheel that keeps us driving on the straight and narrow. Belief gives us the power to believe that our future can and will be different.



If Belief is the flour in our recipe, then Community is the sugar. You can’t have one without the other. To change our habits we first need to believe that we can change, but this belief is most effective within the context of a group. 

In a group context, our belief grows from an intellectual hope in the future, to a walking, breathing, talking example that change is possible.

Our belief puts on skin.

The function of belief is to give us hope during times of hopelessness. And the inspiration for change is most powerful when we can talk and touch it in the form of our teammates, coworkers, or friends.


Strengthen with Stories

Once we have identified the habit loop, start telling yourself the right kind of stories. Find the people within your community who have changed for the better and highlight their accomplishments. Track your own progress and share your successes with people in your life.

Start constructing a narrative for yourself (or your team) that praises the accomplishments of what you set out to accomplish. Giving yourself/your team concrete examples of positive change will keep your belief tank filled with fuel. If you find yourself running out of gas, stop for a minute and refill your tank with stories of change and transformation. You’ll be glad you did.


Growth Exercise

Team Application

Let me first start by saying that this post had two purposes: first to give you a better understanding of habits, and second to better equip you to inspire change within your life and in the life of your team.

As I’ve written about in the past, the greatest gift a leader can give their team is a daily commitment to the habit of continuous growth. Changing your personal habits is one of the most effective ways you can become, “a leader worth following“.

I hope that you use your understanding of habits to ignite change in your personal life – and although we could all think of a dozen habits we’d like to change I would challenge you to get into the habit of reading every single day, there is nothing more transformational for a leader.

In addition to your personal habits, one of the easiest ways to build a culture of excellence on a basketball team is to encourage the leaders of your team build virtuous habits that set a precedent of excellence.


Let me illustrate with a quick personal story:

When I first arrived at the College of William and Mary as a freshman in 2008, the culture of our basketball program wasn’t great. The senior leaders on our team were not hard workers or great leaders. They set an example of apathy and selfishness in their actions on and off the court. They rarely put in extra work outside of the mandated practice time and we didn’t have a culture that valued continuous growth.

Over the next few 4 years, I saw that culture start to change. In terms of wins and losses, my college career could have been considered a failure (we only had 1 winning season in 4 years, and we only won 6 games my senior year).

But one of the things I’m most proud of is the legacy my class was able to leave in how we started to develop a culture that valued extra work and continuous improvement. Today, our program is more successful than it has ever been and there is an incredible culture of work and commitment to growth.

Undoubtedly there are countless factors that have contributed to their success, but I am proud that our class was able to contribute to that success in a small way.


Exercise for Your Team

  • Identify Your Leaders
  • Get them to buy into specific habits (think about the cue-routine-reward habit loop) that will trickle down to the rest of the team – an example could be a specific routine before practice starts.
  • Integrate these Habits into the fabric of your team
  • Identify and Praise the change you see in players (ex. if your habit is getting extra shots up, then showcase how people have improved their shooting percentages)



Here are some more ways to connect with Arete Hoops:


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The LifeBlood of Leadership


The world needs transformational leaders.


But guess what the world doesn’t need anymore of?


Transactional leaders.


See the difference between a transactional leader and a transformational leader is striking. Here are few of the of the things that characterize transactional leadership:


• Transactional leadership emphasizes achieving results at all costs.


Transactional leadership is less about long term growth and more about instant gratification.


A transactional leader uses manipulation to leverage those around them to advance their personal gains.


In the business world, transactional leadership could be ignoring moral and ethical standards in favor of boosting profits (think the recent Volkswagen Emissions Scandal). 


In athletics, this could be the coach that is committed to winning at all costs. Cheating, verbal abuse, and intimidation become normalized in the name of getting “results”


Transactional leadership is short sighted, because the focus is solely on producing measurable results in the form of profits, wins, or success (often at the expense of the people involved).


Transformational leadership is different.


A transformational leader takes the longview.


They hold the belief that success in the short run might be possible as a result of using manipulation and coercion to drive results; but sustained excellence is only possible by playing the long-game.


If I had to boil down what distinguishes these two types of leaders to one simple difference it would be this:


Transformational leaders lead through mission and purpose, while transactional leaders lead through coercion.


Put a different way, the more committed a leader is to their core purpose the more transformational they will be in their leadership.


And transformational leadership changes lives.


The Utility of Leading through Mission

Ok, so you might be thinking…


‘I understand the difference between transformational leadership and transactional leadership, but isn’t this just a matter of preference? What if I can get results through manipulation and coercion? Isn’t that the point of leadership anyways, to produce results?’


here’s the reality:


The only way to achieve sustained excellence over the longterm is by leading through mission.


Don’t believe me? Here are a few examples:


In Jim Collins book, Built to Last (a great read if you’re interested) he takes a look at some of the most respected and successful companies in the USA. What he found was that the companies that consistently outperformed their competitors and remained at the pinnacle of their industries were the companies that were driven by a specific purpose.


To quote Collins,


“Organizations driven by purpose and values outperformed the market 15:1 and comparison companies 6:1”  


Industry leaders like Southwest Airlines, Procter and Gamble, IBM, BMW, and many more were identified as companies that were driven by purpose rather than profit. They emphasized mission rather than results. 


And you know what happened?


They outpaced their competitors in nearly every measurable metric and consistently gave higher returns to their stockholders. In the long run, these companies actually ended up with higher profits when compared to other companies that primarily focused on making money. 


This is the great irony about transformational leadership.


When leaders focus on their mission and purpose, they transform teams, organizations, and businesses; and the measurable results tend to follow.




When leaders focus on what results they achieve (i.e. profits, wins, points) they can often resort to manipulation, dishonesty, and transactional behaviors: and ultimately are less successful over the long term.



Why is this case?

I believe that we are designed to function in a specific way (there is also a lot of science to back this up, if you want to read more about how our brains are wired to relate to purpose driven movements, check out Simon Sinek’s book), 


In short, we are most attracted to leaders, companies, and teams that operate from a deep sense of purpose and mission. And it is those types of leaders, companies, and teams that ultimately are the most successful. 


But practically speaking why are they the most successful? 


Here are 7 reasons why purpose driven leadership is successful over the long haul:



1. Increases Clarity

One of my favorite authors on leadership Andy Stanley has always said that:


“The clearest message always wins”


This is a simple, yet incredibly powerful characteristic of leaders that lead on mission. Mission and purpose provide clarity, and clarity always speaks the loudest and communicates the clearest.


The clearer and more specific you are with your team, the more quickly you can rally your players around a central concept or idea.


It’s hard to internalize complicated concepts, but anyone can get behind a simple statement of purpose.



2. Builds Trust

People that share common values trust each other more implicitly than those who only share a goal of producing a “result”.


When employees or team members are fighting together for a common purpose that they all believe in they start to trust each other. The greatest “team building” activity that any leader can accomplish, must center around the stated common purpose of that team.



3. Direction through Storms

Inevitably, a time will come when your team will need to navigate through some difficulties.  Here’s a great question to think about:


As the leader, what will you lean on to help you navigate through the storms?

If you can return to a central purpose, you will be able to get through the tough times because you know what your foundation is built upon.



4. Cuts out the Crap

The most dangerous thing to any leader is distraction. 


Distraction gets you off mission.


Distraction makes you race down rabbit trails.


Distraction makes you lose focus and dilutes your effectiveness.


Don’t get distracted. Cut out the crap and focus on your mission. You and your team will be glad you did.



5. Gives you Flexibility

Simon Sinek said in his book, Why:


“Operating from ‘why’ gives you the flexibility and freedom to change the what and how.”


Leading through mission gives you great flexibility in how you execute your statement of purpose.


In his book, Sinek goes on to give the example of the railroad companies that built the first transcontinental railroad in the 1860’s. Many of them went out of business as cars and other means of transportation were developed. Why did this happen? Because their mission was too narrow. There stated purpose probably centered around simply, “building railroads”.


But what if their mission was, “to move people”. If their mission was to move people, then they could have changed the what and how while still staying true to their mission.



6. Increases Productivity

Consider this quote from Steven Covey:


“Most people say their main fault is a lack of discipline. On deeper thought, I believe that is not the case. The basic problem is that their priorities have not become deeply planted in their hearts and minds”


All of us are in a constant struggle against ourselves. We are always fighting against our impulses to take the path of the least resistance.


We crave the easy way out! The bad news is that the easy way out, is always the least productive.


As Covey adeptly pointed out, our problem is not from a lack of willpower or discipline. We all desire to lead with excellence and produce at a high level, but discipline for disciplines sake is never enough.




When the roots of our discipline are deeply connected to our purpose, our productivity will skyrocket. Productivity grows out of discipline and discipline is grounded in our purpose.



7. Ignites Momentum and Drives Movements

Mission ignites momentum and drives movements. Movements inspire people to join in a cause that is greater than a single person or organization. They envision a future that ‘ought to be’ and exist to turn that vision into a reality. 


Teams that are organized around a common system of values and vision are able to create dynamic communities that are committed to a greater cause. These communities (or Tribes) are the vehicles for transformational change.  


Growth Exercise

Transformational Behaviors


Mission is the lifeblood of transformational leadership and becoming a transformational leader doesn’t happen on accident. Great leaders work hard to keep first things first and keep everything else secondary.


When a leader leverages their purpose to maximize their effectiveness they change from simply being transactional to becoming transformational.


And transformational leaders should identify the specific behaviors that help push their team to new levels of performance. 


Here are two questions to help you think through what the transformational behaviors might look like for your team. 


1. How are you reinforcing the values of your mission?

Leading through mission requires that the values of your mission be constantly and habitually reinforced.  



Your basketball team might have a mission to be, 


“the toughest team in the country”


If that is the stated mission, what are some creative ways that you are reinforcing the value of toughness. Do you recognize it at practice? In the film room? To you make a point of recognizing players when they make tough plays? Do you have any kind of visual reminders in the locker room?


2. How are you personally living out the mission?

For example, say your team’s purpose is 


to inspire others through selflessness, encouragement, and care for each other

As the leader, what are the ways that you are actively living out this purpose statement? What are the ways that you are inspiring your team through encouragement? Selflessness? Care for your players?



More from Arete Hoops

I am passionate about giving the world transformational leaders by inspiring and developing coaches, athletes, and influencers.

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Tweet at us@AreteHoops

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10 Insanely Practical Tips for Your Next Basketball Tryout

Tryouts can be an intimidating and scary time for everyone involved! There is an inherent pressure in having to "tryout" for a team that can cause players to be nervous and not perform to their capacity.

As much as coaches want to admit that they are completely fair and unbaised, the reality is that coaches are human! They are easily influenced by what they see.

Why is this the case?

Coaches often make judgments about the work ethic, attitude, and intangibles of a player in only the first few times they see someone.

You only get one chance at a first impression!

But here's the good news:

That is why this entire post exists. To help you (or someone you know) in your next basketball tryout. Drawing the expertise from players and coaches that have participated in hundreds of tryout settings, I will give you 10 Insanely Practical Tips that you can use for your next tryout.

Get ahead of game by leveraging the wealth of knowledge in this post so that your next basketball tryout is the best tryout of your life!

Before we get started, here are a few of the players and coaches that imparted wisdom from their experiences in order to help you! I will quote them throughout the length of the entire piece. 

Keaton NankivilPower Forward - VEF

Keaton is in his 5th year as a pro having spent 4 years at the University of Wisconsin before he started his pro career. He spent 3 years in first league Germany, 1 year in Spanish ACB, and currently plays for the top league in Russia. Off the court, Keaton loves exploring different cultures while grooming his incredible beard.

Quinn McDowellArete Hoops

As the author of Arete Hoops and this post I wanted to share some of the things that have helped me in tryout situations in the last several years. Tryouts can be scary, I know because I've been there! But you can approach every tryout with confidence if you have the right mindset. As I have played in Australia, Spain, the D-League, and Latvia I have learned a ton through this journey.

Adam KadoAssitant Coach - Cal State San Marcos

Adam Kado played his college ball at Fresno Pacific  after which he played professionally in Germany for Hanover Korbjager. Since then he has taken an assistant coaching job for the Cal State San Marcos with the hopes of possibly continuing his own playing career in the future. To read more about his journey click here.

Kayla McDowellPower Forward - Missouri University

Kayla McDowell (yes we are related!) finished her successful prep career to accept a scholarship from the University of Missouri. She had a successful freshman year before suffering a season ending injury in her second season. She and the Lady Tigers have returned for the coming season with hopes of making the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006.

Lee RobertsPower Forward - Libertad Sunchales

Lee Roberts was part of an undefeated National Championship Team at Findlay University that went on to win a National Championship in 2009. Since then he has carved out a successful pro career as one of the most successful international players in Argentina. Last year he was voted to the All Star Team. You can read more about his journey here.

Blake SrdarevCoach/Development Officer - Mandurah Magic

Blake has been involved with athletics for the majority of his life as both a player and a coach. He currently works for one of the most well respected clubs in Perth, AU. His love for the game and passion to help players improve is what makes him a respected coach and talent evaluator. Follow him and the Mandurah Magic Basketball Club on Facebook here.


1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Preparation is the key to confidence, and confidence is critical to performance.

Simply put:

If you want to perform you best your must prepare to perform your best.

How exactly should you prepare to perform your best? Here are 3 areas that you can focus on as you think about the best way to prepare for your next tryout.

Understand the Culture

Every program (and more importantly, every coach!) has a specific culture that is unique and different. Your job before you head into the tryout is to understand the culture and adapt your approach accordingly.

For example, when I was in middle school my local school team put a huge emphasis on discipline and commitment to the system. They had a coach that ran the flex offense and preached hard nose defense.

How did this change my approach?

Because I understood the culture, I knew that the coaches loved players that cut hard on offense, stayed within the team structure, and played their butt off on defense. I mentally prepared to focus on doing those things well as I went into that tryout.

Practice Your Strengths

As tryouts draw near and you get into the gym, focus on getting really good at doing the things you do well.

What does this mean?

If your a shooter, get a bunch of shots up from spots on the floor that you think you might get during the tryout. If you are a distributer, then focus on ball-handling and making reads to get your teammates open.

Grab a Partner

Many times, you will know a bunch of the other players who are going to be trying out for the team. As you start to train for the tryout, grab a couple of the other players and work out together.

You will start to build a familiarity and repoire with possible teammates which could be a huge advantage as you go into a tryout setting. The more comfortable you are the better you will play. Make sure and grab a partner before your next tryout.

Although getting your body ready for a tryout is important, mental preparation can be just as important. Here's what Kayla had to say:

Think through teams you have played on in the past. Who did you enjoy playing with the most and why? What are the characteristics that make a player great? Visualize being a great teammate, see yourself diving for loose balls, giving high fives, and crashing the boards every posession. When you make the things you can control a priority things have a way of working themselves out for the best.

Continuing on the theme of mental preparation: the last piece of advice in terms of mental preparation comes from Adam Kado. Here's what he had to say about being mentally tough heading into pressure filled situations: 

"I prepared myself so hard mentally and physically I finally reached a mindset that I wasn't scared anymore and I finally put it all together. If you can ever do something once, you can always do it again. If you can make 10 shots in a row in practice you can do it in the game. Its all mental."

2. Come in Shape

The biggest first impression you can make on a coach, is what kind of shape you are in. The very first initial judgment that every coach makes happens within the first 5 seconds after they lay eyes on you. Every coach can immediately see your physical condition!!! Come in shape and make a good first impression (check out this killer 10 minute conditioning drill that I came up with for Stack Mag).

Fair or unfair, these snap judgments are made by every coach because it is easy to see the shape of your body on a basketball court. Coaches are influenced in a visual way just as much as the rest of us, and basketball is different than sports like Football where you wear a lot of pads and it can be difficult to see exactly what type of shape you are in. Here's what Keaton had to say on the subject:

Prepare Your Body and Your Game- Leading up to a tryout get yourself in the best shape possible and advance your individual skills as much as possible. It will make any challenge that comes up in the tryout easier and give you the extra confidence that you have done the work to be ready (Keaton Nankivil).

A Quick Story:

Every year, NBA teams spend millions of dollars and thousands of man hours evaluating players in preparation for the NBA Draft. Of all the things that these teams evaluate, guess what one thing they instantly notice about a player?

That's right, their PHYSICAL CONDITION. ​

Here is a scout's opinion about lottery pick Jahlil Okafor (featured in a Grantland piece):

"Now I’ve heard, if you were to ask the Duke people, and they were to be honest with you, there’s not a great love for the game. Not like you’d think. Not a great passion. He’ll be there, and do the right things. But it’s like Jared Sullinger: I want to play, but I don’t want to lose weight. I don’t want to really get in shape. I want to do enough, but I’m not going to do extra. And that is concerning."

Finally, here is what Coach Srdarev said about coming into tryouts in shape: 

Come into try outs looking and feeling good, the off season is the best chance to make ground on other players, if your serious about making the team be serious about how you prepare in the off season. You can control where you sit in the pecking order of the team with hard work, discipline and good planning.

3. Listen to Repeated Things

Every coach has their tendencies, pet-peeves, and things they emphasize. It's your job to learn what these things are and DO THEM! I'll let you in on a not-so-secret secret:

Coaches ALWAYS Repeat the Things that are MOST IMPORTANT to THEM!!!

It doesn't matter what your last coach thought was important, it only matters what THIS coach thinks is important. With every new situation comes a new opportunity to impress a coach by becoming really good at the things that matter to THEM the most.

For example. If a coach LOVES to press and play high pressure defense, he probably HATES whenever the ball isn't pressured. If you have never played in that type of defensive system, it might not be natural to learn to play like that:

But guess what???

Your number one job as a player is to make yourself a valuable part of the team! The only way to do this is to study and learn what your coach (who controls the playing time) thinks is valuable. It is up to you to learn to adjust and adapt to whatever system you find yourself in.


4. Sweat the Small Stuff

Without fail, every player will head into the tryout with the pressure of "having to make shots" to make sure the coach notices me. In reality there is nothing worse that you can focus on than 'having to make shots' when heading into a tryout situation.

(Credit: Tim Berger)

Here's the key:

Emphasize the little things that you can control and don't worry about how many points you score or shots you make. Obviously making shots is great, but coaches are always looking for so much more than that! Most coaches can tell which players are good shooters despite how many shots you make in a tryout setting.

Stress the importance of the little things like: focus, hustle, defense, team play, and communication. Focusing on these things will take pressure off and will help you get into a better flow of the tryout. Here's what Keaton had to say about sweating the small stuff:

Whether it’s individual drills or team games, paying attention to details shows that you are listening and able to do what a coach says. Coaches always look for players who are aware, adaptable and coachable (keaton).

5. Communicate Well

Communicating on the court is important, but how you communicate with your coaches can also play a key role in their perception of you.

Obviously no one likes the player who tries to suck up to the coach, but there is a way to respectfully communicate with your selectors so they have a positive image of who you are as a person and player. Here are a few practical suggestions on how you can communicate with coaches during a tryout:

1. A Hand Shake Greeting

There will undoubtedly come a time when you run into one of your coaches before or after a training session and will be tempted to look the other way and escape the awkwardness. Coaches notice this kind of stuff. Don't be scared. Don't be intimidated. Go up to your coach, look them in the eye, and give them a handshake and a  greeting. This shows maturity and builds trust as a player who can handle being an adult.

2. Take Advantage of Feedback

Coaches will often give players a chance to receive feedback during/after the evaluation process. They might give you office hours or a time to meet before or after a session; always take advantage of this opportunity. Listen to their feedback and try to improve your game accordingly. This does not mean, that every time you see a coach you are asking for an evaluation. Be smart, be available, and be coachable in the appropriate context.

3. Talk to Former Players

Former players can be a good source of information on how to best approach your next tryout. They can give you key insights into how to communicate with your coach and what they like/dislike. But bear in mind that not every player had a good experience with your coach in the past, so be careful not to put so much stock into these types of conversations depending on who you are talking with. is what Coach Srdarev had to say about communicating with coaches. 

If you're unsure of something ask questions, allow yourself to be challenged mentally. Often when athletes understand why they are doing something they do it better and get more out if it. I love it when players ask why do we set this screen on that angle or what is the best read if my defender behaves in a certain way. It's team building, learning and shows that you are coachable and that you care (Blake).

6. Make the "RIGHT" Mistakes

Every single coach I've ever had has emphasized not making the same mistake twice!


Because when you make the same mistake twice, this shows the coach that you are either....





None of these are good things! Whenever the coach is correcting someone else, don't drift off in a daydream...Listen, learn, and remember not to make that same mistake whenever you find yourself in a similar situation. Doing this will show that you are attentive, smart, and totally interested in everything the coach has to say!


7. Win the Effort Battles

Hard work is always the best way to impress a coach. Dive after a loose ball, be first in all the sprints. And be vocal, show interest in being apart of the team, like you already belong.

Your goal is to be the most energetic and encouraging player every time you step on the floor. Think about it....

You are only on the floor for about 2 hours

Go into every session with the goal of being completely focused for that period of time and look for opportunities to do ALL the LITTLE THINGS WELL, like:

  • Talking on Defense!
  • Encouraging Teammates
  • Eye Contact with Coaches
  • First to Loose Balls
  • Remembering Plays
  • Competing!
  • Maximum Effort!

(Chris Russell/Dispatch Photo)

Obviously no one likes the player who does these things just because they know coach is watching! Be GENUINE in your care for your teammates and your passion for the game. Don't do it to show off, but because you have a desire to see your team succeed!

The great thing about the Effort Battles is that they are completely in your control! Here's what Kayla had to say about concentrating on the things you can control:

Control the things you can control! You may not be the best player at the tryout but you can be the hardest worker, have the best attitude, and treat everyone with respect (Kayla).

Keaton had a similar line of thought:

There are very few players who can make a team based on talent alone. Every team needs players that hustle and play hard, and in most cases doing this will make you stand out against other players (Keaton).

Need flexible yet effective offensive sets for the coming season? Click here.


8. Don't Worry about SCORING

So many players get caught up with how many shots they make or points they score during a tryout, THIS IS A HUGE MISTAKE!

When you put pressure on yourself to score the ball, you lose concentration on doing other things well. Sure, if you happen to make every shot you take, that will make an impression on the coach, but guess what? This type of offensive performance rarely happens in a tryout setting. 

The things that speak the loudest to coaches are your approach to the game, being a good teammate, and bringing energy every time you hit the floor. Our experts had a lot to say on this topic:

Know what skill is your best and showcase it. Highlight your best ability within the context of the game to show a coach which certain skill you can contribute more than other players. And remember that can mean much more than scoring (Blake).

It can be hard to stand out in a tryout when you are nervous, don't know anyone, and are playing with strangers. Look for ways to stand out. Be an energy giver, make great eye contact with everyone who speaks, sprint from drill to drill (Kayla).

9. Play to Your Strengths

This point builds directly on the last point about not worrying about scoring. When you're in a tryout setting the quickest way that you can get cut is to try and 'do too much'. Coaches are looking for pieces to build a great team. So highlight your strengths and show your coach that your skills can be a crucial part of that puzzle.

Highlight your strengths and minimize your weaknesses as you play. Be a great teammate and show that you can work within the context of a group. Do what you do well! But play with confidence. This doesn't mean that you should be scared to take shots, or that you always need to defer to other players. Not at all. Use your skills to make the coaches notice your strengths.

Once again this seemed to be a common theme among our contributors. 

Assert yourself as a vital member of the team, maybe your skill set is even with another player trying out, leadership could be the thing that pushes you over the edge for selection. Stand out to coaches and team mates as a great team member (Blake).
Coaches hate when a player tries to do too much! Stay within your game, if you're a shooter then shoot, if you're a rebounder then rebound (Lee).

10. Learn and Grow

The number one factor in your success as a basketball player is how you use circumstances to grow as a player. Whether that means that you make the team or get cut from the team it is your job to become a better player despite the outcome. 

What happens if you get cut?

(for a great resource on this topic, click here)

Learn from your experience. Figure out what you need to do to improve and get better. If you really want to become a good basketball player, you have to look at every situation as a growth opportunity. When you approach a tryout with this mindset, you know that you will BE OK despite the outcome.


Because when every situation is an opportunity for growth then NO OUTCOME CAN BE A FAILURE!!!

A Final Story:

Steph Curry's younger brother Seth Curry is a great example of the type of person who embodies this growth mindset. Like his brother, Seth was under recruited out of high school. He didn't have a list of top schools lining up to sign him. But instead of pouting, Seth got to work. He ended up playing for Liberty University where he led the nation in scoring as a freshman.

After the success of his freshman year he transferred to Duke where he averaged 17ppg as a Senior, but ultimately was not selected in the NBA draft the following Spring. Not to be discouraged, Seth fought against the stigma that he would never be as good as his brother or his Dad (NBA great Dell Curry). He dominated the NBA D-League, he would fly from SF to LA just to attend early morning workouts, and he met every criticism of his game with determination and work ethic. 

Finally, after sitting on the sidelines watching his brother win the MVP and a World Championship last season, Seth got his chance this Summer in the NBA Summer League. He dominated the league, scoring 24ppg which brought in multiple NBA contract offers. He opted to sign with the Sacramento Kings.

His dream of making an NBA roster has been realized, but he knows that the work is not over yet. To read the full story of Seth's journey click here.

More Resources:

I hope you enjoyed this Post! Here are some additional resources to help you with your next tryout! Also, if you enjoyed what you read, click here to join our mailing list or click the graphic below to grab some free PDF's. No Spam, just quality content to your inbox every few weeks. I hope you join the Family.

Thank for reading and leave me a comment below about your tryout experience and what has worked for you!

Basketball for Coaches (Coach Mac) - Expert Tryout Advice

BasketballHQ - 10 Tryout Tips

Coaching Toolbox - Selecting Your Team

Coach's Clipboard - Coaching Tips for Tryout Evaluations

Better Basketball Coaching - Tryout Drills 

Break Through Basketball - 8 Tryout Tips

Head Start Basketball - What Coaches Look For

Stronger Team (Alan Stein) - 11 Tips to Make Your Basketball Team

Pro Skills Basketball - 5 Steps to Prepare for Tryouts

Inspirational Basketball - 7 Tryout Tips