What Spartan Battle Shields Can Teach Us About Leadership

Spartan fighting forces were notorious for developing some of the fiercest and most effective soldiers in the ancient world. The Spartan army routinely beat the odds by defeating opponents with much larger armies and much better military equipment. Their unique organizational tactics, uncompromising culture, and fearlessness allowed them achieve seemingly impossible feats in the face of overwhelming odds.

The aspis was a circular shield with a slight curvature, a wooden or leather laminated support underneath, and a bronze covering on the exterior. Each warrior was expected to protect their shield with their life. The shield was more than just another piece of military equipment, it was a deeply symbolic part of a Spartan solider’s identity. Spartan women are said to have sent their sons off to war with a stern reminder:

“Return with your shield or on it.”

The importance placed on the shield was not primarily connected to a soldier’s personal well-being, but to the greater good of the entire fighting force. The size and shape of the aspis allowed a soldier to protect the blind spots of his fellow companions in the heat of battle. Each soldier would cover for the man next to him which in turn would allow the man next to them the freedom and confidence to fight with bravery—because they were not worried about protecting their own blindspot.

As one Spartan King said regarding the importance of the shield, “because the latter [other armors] they put on for their own protection, but the shield for the common good of the whole line.”

Every great team must have their own shield to protect themselves (and their team) against hostile influences that want to destroy them. Just as the Spartans used their shields to ward off approaching enemies, effective leaders equip their teams with the necessary tools to protect the interests of the group at all cost.

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Why Discipline Matters

This past Monday I wrote a piece on two landmark experiments that fundamentally shaped how we think about the concepts of willpower and self-discipline (check it out here). 


The infamous Marshmallow Experiment proved that our ability to delay immediate gratification in favor of a future good is a massive predictor of success. When we sacrifice present indulgence for future gains, we become happier, more productive people in the long-run.


The second study was based on Roy Baumeister’s chocolate and radish experiment which permanently altered the idea of how we use willpower to make disciplined decisions. Before Roy’s 1996 experiment, willpower was thought of as a skill.  


Instead, Baumeister found that our willpower is more analogous to a muscle. When you lift weights your muscles become tired and fatigued; willpower works the same way. Our willpower can become fatigued when we have to make a series of difficult decisions. Willpower depletion makes it difficult to maintain a high level of discipline.


Armed with this new understanding of the inner workings of willpower and self-discipline, let’s turn to the difficult task of applying this understanding in the context of our teams. 


To get a better idea of exactly how leaders can use this information to transform their teams, I’ve outlined the basic challenge that nearly every leader faces.


Basic Leadership Challenge (as it relates to discipline)

  • Teams are groups of individuals


  • Individuals often struggle with self-discipline


  • A lack of self-discipline is the root of many team problems


  • The most effective teams are a cohesive group of disciplined individuals


  • A disciplined culture is essential for success


Solution: Improve personal self-discipline that spills over to the larger team and creates a culture of discipline within the team.


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The game of basketball is all about decision making. Every coach I’ve ever played has preached the virtue of discipline. The disciplined teams are able to remain steady through the choppy waters of competition.


We are going to explore the specific strategies that you can use to positively influence your team’s ability to make self-disciplined decisions in critical situations. 


Here’s exactly what we’ll explore today:


  • The Positive Effects of Discipline
  • Specific Strategies to Combat Willpower Depletion
  • Growth Exercise: Learning from Starbucks


The Powerful Effects of Discipline

Truth be told, the power of discipline simply can not be overstated. Discipline is the structural integrity of every great organization. The skyscrapers of success are always supported by the nuts and bolts of discipline and without discipline those building simply cannot stand.


Here’s what legendary leadership author Jim Collins had to say in a recent interview about the importance of discipline:


“A great company is marked by a culture of discipline. A self-disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and who take disciplined action. And when you begin to lose a culture of discipline, that is when you really start to fall.”


Discipline sustains, propels, and drives great teams to both take disciplined action and engage in disciplined thought. Creating a culture of discipline is more than a philosophical idea. Discipline has real, tangible, long-term benefits that are invaluable in creating a culture of sustained excellence.


Here are 5 specific ways that discipline can tangibly change your team:

1 – Productivity

  • A disciplined team is a highly productive team. Think about how discipline could affect each one of your basketball practices. The more your team stays disciplined in their execution, the less time the coach needs to stop practice to correct mistakes. The less time you have to stop practice, the more time you have to work on other parts of the game.


2 – Genuine Relationships

  • Teams build trust when they know their teammate is going to be disciplined in performing their role. Discipline breeds responsibility, responsibility builds trust, and trust is the foundation for great relationships.   


3 – Mission Focused

  • Disciplined people don’t sweat the small stuff so they can focus on the important issues. They keep first things first.


Here’s a golden nuggets of truth from one of my favorite authors C.S. Lewis:

“Put first things first and second things are thrown in. Put second things first and you lose both first and second things.”


4 – Culture Creators 

  • Disciplined individuals create a culture of discipline because they become the example for others to follow. Discipline is like the common cold, it spreads quickly and is difficult to stop.


5 – Future Growth 

  • In the long run, disciplined people are infinitely more valuable because of who they are going to become in the future. Disciplined people stay committed to their personal growth, and increase their future contributions to the team because of who they are going to become in the future.


Discipline has the power to transform your team, but creating a culture of discipline is difficult. We are going to look at some specific strategies that every leader can use to preemptively combat a lack of discipline. 


Specific Strategies to Combat Willpower Depletion

Willpower is the gas tank that fuels our self discipline. But we learned from Monday’s piece that certain activities can quickly deplete our willpower.


Based on scientific research (much of which is present in Duhigg’s book the Power of Habit), here are 3 specific strategies to fight willpower depletion and maintain self-discipline.


1. Pre-commitment

As the field of research dealing with willpower and discipline has expanded, researchers have looked at people from all walks of life to give them clues about what factors could influence our willpower. 


In one experiment, scientists from Scotland took a group of elderly people who were recovering from recent hip or knee replacements. They wanted test the notion of “pre-commitment” as it relates to maintaining discipline in a given task.


Some of the participants in the study were given journals while others were left to approach their rehab in whatever way they felt was best. The participants with the journals, were told to write down specific strategies for how they would deal with the inevitable difficulties associated with their rehab.


One of the biggest problems that affects elderly people recovering from a major surgery, is their ability to overcome the pain and inconvenience that comes with having a knee or hip replacement at an old age. Staying consistent with rehabilitation is often a difficult and strenuous task. 


After the journals had been passed out, researchers found that the participants who wrote down specific strategies for dealing with difficult problems had a much higher rate of recovery. 


For example, one participant knew that every time he stood up from the sofa he would inevitably experience a shooting pain down the front of his knee. This pain would cause him to be tempted to sit back down immediately – it was important that he moved around the house during the day instead of sitting down, movement was key in his recovery process. His strategy for dealing with his “couch scenario” was to immediately take a step forward away from the couch. 


Researchers learned that the participants who simply committed beforehand to a specific series of actions were more likely to follow through. Rather than relying on your willpower to help you make decisions in the heat of the moment, making the decision ahead of time greatly increases your chance for success. A pre-commitment to stay disciplined during a specific circumstance gives you a greater chance of keeping your willpower muscle strong because you have already done the hard work of making the decision.


2. Eliminate the Decision

Making difficult mental decisions taxes your willpower muscles. But if you can eliminate the conscious act of making the decision yourself, you have a better chance of staying disciplined. Here are two effective ways to take the decision-making load off your shoulders.


Turn Your Decision into a Habit

Our brains naturally create habits in an attempt to maximize mental efficiency by turning off the conscious decision-making parts of our brain and putting our mind on autopilot. The less decisions you have to make, the stronger your willpower will be.


Turn whatever behavior you are trying to change into a habit by creating a cue, routine, reward loop for that action (more on that here).


Group it

Teams of people can help avoid “willpower depletion” by spreading the decision-making responsibilities across a number of people. When others share the burden of making tough choices, you will be better equipped to tackle the difficult challenges of life. 


3. Frame the Decision

Our natural learning process is rooted in our ability to relate something that is unfamiliar to something that we understand. Often this is best done using pictures or analogies.


In Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit he talks about how Starbucks framed their customer service protocol using the simple acrostic, LATTE (Listen, Acknowledge, Take-Action, Thank, Explain). 


This was brilliant for two reasons.


First, they used the concept of pre-commitment by identifying the exact inflection points that every Starbucks employee deals with when they encounter a difficult customer. They gave their employees a detailed roadmap with specific checkpoints that could be easily followed whenever they were dealing with a customer service issue.


Second, they framed the acronym into a concept everyone was familiar with: a coffee drink. The coffee drink acronym wrapped a boring customer service mandate into a easily digestible morsel of information. This simple, yet powerful tool helped reinforce a culture of customer service in a way that is easy to conceptualize and remember. 


Growth Exercise 

Learning from Starbucks

You can use the same process Starbucks created to implement its customer service policy within your basketball team. There are hundreds of different scenarios that you could address – these literally could be anything, whether in practice, games, individual workouts, weight room sessions – so feel free to explore the possibilities of giving your team an easy to follow roadmap through these inevitable points of resistance. 


Part 1 – Pick a Situation

Ex. The opposing team goes on a scoring run during the game.


Part 2 – Identify the Inflection Points

Think of this as identifying the checkpoints in the emotional journey going on inside your players heads – just as Starbucks could predict what types of problems their employees would face, you need to identify these same inflection points for your players.

  • They start scoring
  • The game feels like its getting away
  • You can feel frustration or disappointment
  • Panic can set in


Part 3 – Use a word picture as a Pre-Commitment

This can be an acrostic, an analogy, a metaphor, a word picture, really anything that is easy to remember and conveys your central message. 

Ex. Whenever the other team goes on a run, remember to simply BALL


B – back to basics (return to the fundamentals)

A – attack on D (raise the energy level on defense to shift the momentum of the game)

L – link together (don’t try to change the game by yourself, stay together)

L – light a fire (inspire your teammates through great energy and focus)




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The 5 Ways Golden State is Changing the Game of Basketball

The Golden State Warriors had one of the best seasons in NBA history. In doing so they have the rest of the basketball world pondering where the game of basketball is heading.

They are only 1 of 3 teams to finish the season with 83 wins. Steve Kerr became the first rookie head coach to win a championship since Pat Riley, and Steph Curry joined the group of 20 Regular Season MVP’s (out of a possible 55) who went on to win the NBA title.]

A few numbers to put their season in context. The Warriors finished first in Defensive and second in Offensive rating (per basketball-reference.com) as well as leading the NBA in pace (estimated number of possessions per 48 minutes).

They are changing the narrative of what we consider valuable on the basketball floor.

They have ushered in a new era of how we think about the game of basketball and how coaches, players, and fans will approach the game in the coming years.

The game is changing, don’t get left behind.

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1. The Ball has Energy

The Warriors led the league in regular season assists per game at 27.4 (per NBA stats). In the first half of game 6 of the NBA Finals every single one of their ten field goals had come off an assist. The Warriors repeatedly would pass up good shots to get great shots, and the fact that their core group of players has been together for the last few years has allowed them to create the chemistry that is hard to defend against. What you get is a beautiful symphony of ball and player movement that puts the defense on their heels and makes them nearly impossible to guard.

The numbers back this idea up. Per SportsVu tracking data there was no one better than the Warriors at not only sharing the ball, but sharing the ball in a way that would lead directly to baskets. No one created more points from assists per 48 min than the Warriors did this season. They scored 58.3 pts/48min directly from an assist; the Spurs were second at 57.8pts/48min. A quick note, there was a huge gap after the Spurs and Warriors: the Wizards sat in third place almost a full 3pts/game lower at 55.9pts/48min off an assist.

The idea that the “Ball has Energy” has come into vogue in the NBA in the past couple of seasons. Greg Popovich in the Spurs have pioneered the revolution of playing team basketball where everybody touches the ball and everybody’s a part of the offense, and the Warriors have carried the torch of basketball selflessness to new heights in the 2015 season.

The idea that the ball has energy simply means that players will play a little bit harder when they touch the ball. They feel a part of the game plan and just touching the ball whether it’s on a pass, setting a screen, or just swinging the ball on the perimeter, will help them get into a rhythm. No one likes to just stand in the corner waiting for something to happen.

Kyle Korver of the Atlanta Hawks was a great example of how this principle has helped teams: he said in an interview that the Hawks have used him in a way that he’s never been used in his career before. He went on to talk about how many teams often just thought of him as a shooter and would just tell him to stand in the corner. This season they have him moving and touching the ball a lot more on offense. He is searching for his shot which helps him get into a great rhythm and also creates great spacing for his teammates because he such a lethal weapon from the outside.


2. “Positionless” Basketball

From the time young players start learning the game, the idea of “positions” is engrained in every kids psyche. The Warriors are destroying that notion, one small-ball lineup at a time. Guards guarding centers and centers guarding wing-players have become commonplace for the Warriors. In the two most critical points of their season the Warriors resorted to unorthodox methods to change the momentum of a series.

Just recently in the NBA Finals Steve Kerr heeded the advice of video coordinator Nick U’Ren who suggested that they replace Bogut in the starting lineup with Andre Iguodala (read more about that here). The Warriors made the change so that their starting lineup didn’t feature anyone taller than 6’7”. This change completely flipped the momentum of the series and allowed them to beat the Cavs in three straight games en route to their first championship win in 40 years.

The second instance happened in the Western Conference Semis the Warriors were down 2-1 to the Memphis Grizzlies and were getting beaten up by the tandom of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Alvin Gentry suggested that they move Andrew Bogut off of Gasol and put him on non-shooter Tony Allen. Bogut essentially ignored Tony Allen on the perimeter which allowed him to sag and give help on Gasol and Randolph inside. This put the smaller Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green cross-matched with the two bigger players of Gasol and Randolph.

But this is where the Warriors are changing the narrative of how teams think about traditional defense. The Warriors are not so concerned with “matchup” problems as they are with taking away your team’s strengths and pouncing on your weaknesses. The Warriors trust Barnes (a small forward) to be able to guard Randolph just well enough to make it hard for him to get an easy post catch and to battle him on the boards. Positions are less important than using personnel in a way that maximizes your team’s strengths (for the warriors this means quickness and flexibility on both offense and defense).

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The Warriors have made a living out of mining players from the draft and in free-agency that are multi-dimensional and fit into their style of play. Guys like Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, and Klay Thompson are becoming the new face of basketball. Players that can defend multiple positions, make plays in transition, and have the flexibility to give their team a cacophony of options on both sides of the floor.


3. “Talent” Redefined

The Warriors are showing everyone how the game of basketball is starting to trend towards smart, flexible, and intelligent players who can read the game and make intelligent basketball decisions on the fly. They have shown us that “super teams” (i.e. LeBron’s Miami Heat) are not the only way to make it to the top of the basketball mountain.

Steph Curry is undoubtedly a superstar, but his supporting cast this year was comprised of A- and B/B+ talent that complimented each other in nuanced ways that allowed the sum of the parts to be greater than the whole.

How is my defender playing me? Is my teammate getting ready to make a cut? If so how should I space out to help them score more easily? These are the kinds of questions of that you can see Warrior players ask themselves as they learn to play their role in the symphony that is the Warriors offense.



In the classical sense of the word, “talent” is becoming less associated with guys like Allen Iverson, and more relatable to players like Draymond Green. Talent no longer strictly means just the ability to go 1 on 1 or score 40 points in a game. In a smarter, more fluid NBA the cream of the crop are guys that can evolve.

The players that more closely resemble a swiss army life compared to a machete are the players that will thrive in todays league. A guy that can go out and get 8pts and 8assists one night while guarding the opposing team’s 2 guard, then turn around the next night and get 14pts and 10rebounds while guarding the opposing team’s center are the talented players in this new NBA.


4. Pace, Space, and Jumpers

The Mike D’antoni teams of the mid 2000’s ushered in the Pace and Space era with their “7 seconds or less” offensive philosophy. Steve Nash was the maestro of those explosive Sun’s teams that steamrolled their way through the regular seasons. The big knock on that style of play was that you couldn’t play that style and still win in the playoffs. The Suns never made to the NBA finals despite having the best regular season records in multiple playoff runs. The critics claimed that up-tempo basketball (and jumpshooting teams) can’t win in the playoffs when the game slows down, the play becomes more physical, and there are less possessions per 48 min (check out our video about the “offensive basketball revolution”.

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The Warriors have destroyed both of those notions in this playoff run. During the regular season the Warriors led the league in PACE (simply the number of possessions per 48 min) of play at 100.69 and they took the 4th most three point attempts per game with 27. So the Warriors played the fastest and were in the top 5 of the league in long range shots (an interesting side note, the Cleveland Cavs were second in the NBA in 3-point attempts during the regular season; so the both teams in the NBA Finals both ranked in the top 5 of the league in 3-point attempts).


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Kerr’s uptempo offense (which Kerr admits is influenced by D’antoni’s philosophy) gives players the freedom to take shots early in the offense, to take quick threes, and to make plays in space. Building on the idea of “positionless basketball”, you will often see Draymond Green push the fast-break and either go coast-to-coast or penetrate and kick to open shooters. Even the Warriors most “natural” center Andrew Bogut will play 15+ feet away from the basket either looking for cutting teammates or initiating dribble handoffs.


5. A Leadership Revolution

The notion of the how modern NBA players demonstrate leadership qualities is slowly beginning to change when we look at teams like Golden State. The Warriors best player Steph Curry was just voted the NBA’s MVP and the most popular athlete with the millennial generation. Steph is not your typical superstar. He’s soft-spoken, a family man, involved with a ton of charitable work, humble, not physically imposing, and avoids the typical bravado and chest-bumping that have characterized superstars in the the NBA.

Curry leads by example and empowers his teammates to become the best players they can be. Andre Iguodala won this years finals MVP in large part because Curry opened up opportunities for him on the offensive end. The Cavs trapped Curry on nearly every pick and roll which allowed him teammates to play 4 on 3 behind the trap. Iguodala shot 40% from three for the series in large part because he got wide open shots as a result of Curry bending the defense.


Curry is not the only player on the Warriors to embrace this servant model of leadership. I recently wrote about on the humility of Steve Kerr (willing to take the advice of a video coordinator) and the selflessness of Andre Iguodala (he didn’t start a game until Game 4 of the Finals) probably saved the Warriors season. You can even point to guy like Andrew Bogut who was pulled from the starting lineup in Game 4 of the Finals and didn’t see the floor at all the last three games (after starting all year) as a great example of a guy who was bought into the success of the team. Not once did you hear him complain or gripe about Kerr’s decision.

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Shaka Smart Leadership

VCU Coach Shaka Smart on the Importance of Commitment

 “We talk to our guys all the time about the difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in something, you do it when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you do it all the time, even when you lost that feeling that you originally had when you you made the original commitment.”


– Shaka Smart


I read a recent interview with VCU’s coach Shaka Smart where he pulls back the veil on what makes his program so successful. It is great stuff and his wisdom extends beyond the court and into the life of a team. 

Below are a few of his main points, if you want to read the whole interview click here.  


Players show Commitment to the Team when they Choose to do the Right thing

Players must embrace a commitment to excellence by choosing to do the right thing every single day. The ability to which they are able to make disciplined choices in their everyday lives shows the amount of care and concern they have for their teammates. Many times players think that the decisions they make are merely personal choices: this couldn’t be further from the truth. 

The essence of being a great teammate is the ability to develop your own personal habits in a way that benefits the group. One of the incredible yet challenging realities of playing basketball at the collegiate or high school level is that athletics is not your only responsibility. Academics, campus functions, social engagements, and college life are all part of the fabric of an athletes life. You have to learn to balance your responsibilities so that you become a part of the greater mission of your team. Pulling your own weight does not just mean playing hard in practice or giving your best effort in workouts: it extends much further than that and goes to the core of your character. 

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Coaches are Conductors First and Tacticians Second

The number one job of the coach is to get every single player playing in harmony together. Just like the conductor of an orchestra, a coach’s primary concern is to get everyone playing the same notes in unison. How the notes (i.e. basketball plays) are arranged or even the quality of the music is secondary to the reality that if everyone can’t play their individual instruments together, then the music will sound horrible.

VCU vs VUU exhibition

In basketball terms, getting everyone in your program on the same page is more important than any strategy or X and O’s. Each player brings a unique set of talents and abilities to the team, and the coaches job is to leverage that for the good of the group. You could have the world’s most clever plays and intricate systems, but if everyone on the team isn’t playing together then you have no chance to be successful. Author Jon Gordon recently said that,

“Team beats talent when talent isn’t a team.”

This is so true.


Help your Players Play with Freedom

One of Shaka’s biggest mottos is “play with a clear mind”. It is a coaches job to help players block out distractions and clear their mind of anything that will hold them back from performing at their best. The emphasis is to live in the moment and don’t allow the memories of the past or the worries of the future to affect your performance in the present. Nothing is more important than the task at hand. If everyone can embody a spirit of “nowness” (simply meaning that you are locked into the present task with incredible focus), then our team has a chance to be successful every night.

Embracing a championship spirit means collective buy-in from everyone involved. If you can do that then you have a chance to win a lot of games. At the core of this mindset is a humility to approach every opponent with respect, but a confidence that comes from knowing that your teammates and coaches have your back regardless. If you can find this mindset as a player you will be able to play without fear. 


Lead Well. Pursue Excellence. Change your Team.

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Princeton 4-Corner Set

Teaching Offense

Teaching offense to can be a difficult task (especially with younger teams). Coaches often have many different aspects to take into consideration when trying to teach players how to play on the offensive end. Even coaches at the highest level in the NBA can struggle to find the right balance on the offensive end depending on the type of personnel they are given. It can be a tricky task to maximize your players talent, while teaching your players to work together in a cohesive way.

To address youth coaches specifically, I believe that you should desire to accomplish several different things on the offensive end: you want to help their players learn the fundamentals, work together, and make the offensive end of the floor fun.

In my estimation, these offense sets accomplish several different things: they give your team great spacing, they allow every member of the team to touch the ball, and these sets help players learn to make reads depending on where their teammates are how the defense is playing them.

When teaching offensive principles here are three key points that I think every coach needs to take into consideration when trying to help young players learn how to play offense the right way.

1. The Ball has Energy

This statement has come into vogue in the NBA in the past couple of seasons. Greg Popovich in the Spurs have pioneered the revolution of playing team basketball where everybody touches the ball and everybody's a part of the offense. The idea that the ball has energy simply means that players will play a little bit harder when they touch the ball. They feel a part of the game plan and just touching the ball whether it's on a pass, setting a screen, or just swinging the ball on the perimeter, will help them get into a rhythm. No one likes to just stand in the corner waiting for something to happen.

"When players touch the ball, they become bought into the success of the team because they feel like they are important."

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Recently Kyle Korver of the Atlanta Hawks talked about this principle: he said in an interview that the Hawks have used him in a way that he's never been used in his career before. He went on to talk about how many teams often just thought of him as a shooter and would just tell him to stand in the corner. This season they have him moving and touching the ball a lot more on offense. He is searching for his shot which helps him get into a great rhythm and also creates great spacing for his teammates because he such a lethal weapon from the outside.

Recently Kyle Korver of the Atlanta Hawks talked about this principle: he said in an interview that the Hawks have used him in a way that he's never been used in his career before. He went on to talk about how many teams often just thought of him as a shooter and would just tell him to stand in the corner. This season they have him moving and touching the ball a lot more on offense. He is searching for his shot which helps him get into a great rhythm and also creates great spacing for his teammates because he such a lethal weapon from the outside.

2. Don’t Pigeonhole players

This happens a lot at the youth level and usually it's nobody's fault. Especially when coaches have bigger players they automatically relegate them to standing inside of the paint. The only problem with this is is that young kids often grow at different rates and you never know how tall a kid is going to become. The much more important principle is to help kids develop the skills that are transferable at any position. Regardless of how tall a player becomes or what position they play when they become older, the skills of ball-handling, passing, and shooting our valued at any position in at any level of play.

Find creative ways to help players develop the skills in a game situation. This is not to say that you can't teach post moves or the skills that are required by big men. I only intend to stress the point that basketball players with skills are much more valuable than basketball players without skills. In their long-term development learning these types of skills are much more valuable down the road.

3. Learn to make basketball decisions

How is my defender playing me? Is my teammate getting ready to make a cut? If so how should I space out to help them score more easily? These are the kinds of questions of player should be able to answer you have a good understanding of the game. There also the kind of questions that you have to ask yourself when helping kids learn this offensive set.

It is so easy as a coach of younger players to turn players into robots by controlling their movements on offense. Understandably so, it is often difficult when you have players of different skill levels to get them to make basketball decisions in accord with other teammates. The great youth coaches in my estimation are the ones who give their players a structure in which they learn how to make basketball decisions. This is a difficult and arduous process, but as players develop, one of the greatest skills that you can have is an understanding of the game and how to fit in with teammates.


I think these sets accomplish these three goals. The few options I've given you in these sets are only the tip of the iceberg. One of the greatest things about these sets are that they can be customized in a million different ways depending on your team. My college team use many of these similar movements and I've benefited as a player in learning how to move off the ball and make great reads. I hope that you find them helpful. 

Want to Download this Entire Post as a PDF to use for your team? No Problem. Just send me an email at aretehoops@gmail.com with "4-Corner Sets" in the subject line.

4-Corners Set

You start with 4 corners spread typically with two of your guards up top and with your center somewhere in the middle (it usually helps if they start somewhere below the free-throw line so they can break up towards the top of the key and catch the ball around the three-point line). This can also be a great teaching point on how to get open to receive a pass. One of the great things about this set is that the positions are so interchangeable. Also your "Big man” will handle the ball and be able to make decisions to initiate your offense.

After the center catches the ball in the middle of the floor the two guards will cut down the lane on their respective sides and out to the corner. Meanwhile the two players in the corner will fill to the wings so that now we have five out. From here you really have a ton of different options, which is one of the reasons why I love this set so much. I will walk you through a few of the different options that I think could be good for your team but feel free to experiment with anything that you think you can take advantage of.

Option 1 - dribble at back door: C can pick a side and will start dribbling at the offense of players defender on the wing. You would be surprised at how many easy layups you can get off the simple action. The key is for the wing player to stay spaced and for the ball handler to dribble at the defender of their teammate.

Option 2 - Handoff: now instead of going back door the wing player can set their defender up to receive a handoff. If the defender doesn't know if the offensive player is going to cut back door or receive a handoff this can be a difficult action to defend. Meanwhile on the opposite side the two other players should execute a down screen. This will do two things: it will either distract their defenders giving the wing player an easy path to the rim, or their defenders will give too much help and will give an opening on the opposite side for a shot or a drive.

Option 3 - Backdoor + Pick and Roll: if we imagine the wing player has cut back door, the player in the corner can now lift and receive a handoff or get a pass and then execute a pick and roll. The entire side is now clear for a pick and roll while the other three players execute a gate screen for the player on the opposite side.

Option 4 - Pick + Roll and Flare: now back to the beginning when the center has the ball in the middle of the floor. Instead of dribbling at the wing player they can now pass the ball and execute a pick and roll. The backside movement on this option is especially dangerous. Player in the opposite corner will run out and set a flare screen on the wing players man. In this graphic PG defender will likely be paying attention to the ball screen action on the opposite side. Most likely they will be open on the flare screen for a shot or with space to drive to the rim