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.

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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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The Arete Manifesto – Why we Exist

The Arete Manifesto 

What is Arete Hoops? Who are we? What do we stand for? Why do we exist? Why should you care about what we have to say?

Put simply, Arete Hoops believes basketball can change your life because it has changed ours. We think basketball and sports have serious power: they have the ability to transform you, shape you, and mold you into a better basketball player and person. We want to give anyone who will listen the chance to consider these ideas because we want to give everyone a chance to make their dreams come true.

Our approach to basketball is a philosophy, a specific set of ideals. We have crafted this ideology through personal experience, by making observations in our lives, and building on the ideas of thinkers who express these ideas much better than we do.

Our Mission is Simple: We think the world can be changed through the game of basketball. We know there are coaches and players who want to make a difference. We know leaders are powerful. We want to question the status quo. We want to think differently. We want to consider the traditional ideas of how to approach the game of basketball and take the path less traveled.

If you choose to read it, this is the Arete Hoops philosophy; our manifesto, the good stuff, the nuts and bolts of what we believe. We hope these ideas resonate with you and ultimately help change you for the better. We hope you make a decision to abandon a life of mediocrity and start walking the path of excellence. If you have the desire to…

  • Walk the path less traveled
  • Commit yourself to an uncommon standard of excellence
  • Develop your leadership capability
  • Question the status quo
  • Approach the game of basketball differently
  • Make a Difference


Then take 5 minutes and consider these ideas and make a determination for yourself. Download the PDF below to get started.

The Path of Excellence is open to anyone who decides to take it…will you start your journey today???


The Arete Manifesto

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NBA Shooting Secrets

The majority of this content was originally produced for Stack. You can find the article here.


If we think about the greatest shooters in NBA history,names like Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki, Rick Barry, Ray Allen, Steve Nash and Steph Curry immediately come to mind. What all of these great shooters have incommon might surprise you. The secrets of all great NBA  shooters has less to dowith the mechanics of how to shoot andmore to do with how they approach their craft.

Although I believe that adopting a traditional shooting stylegives you the best chance to make shots, there are countless examples of great shooters who have unorthodox shooting styles. Players like Larry Bird and Michael Reddwere great shooters yet their technique differed from more traditional shooterslike Steve Nash and Steph Curry. The common denominator among these players wastheir ability to make shots; ultimately the goal for any shooter is to see theball go through the hoop regardless of how it looks. The secrets of all great NBA shooters, from George Gervin to Larry Bird to Steve Nash can be boiled downto three simple truths.



Consistency is the most valuable attribute any shooter can possess. It allows for a player to release the ball the same way each and everytime they shoot. During thousands of hours of practice and millions of practice shots, great shooters develop habits that give them a consistent shooting motion each and every time. Ultimately, consistency is more valuable than perfect shooting technique because consistency eliminates the extra variablesthat cause us to miss.

Think about what its like to shoot in game…shooters already have to deal with distracting variables that interrupt their timing, focus, and shooting rhythm. Fatigue, defensive pressure, and hostile crowds can play a role in causing a shooter to miss shots and lose their rhythm. But if a shooter also has to account for increased variability in their shooting motion, this adds another potential distraction to the mix. Shooters make shots when they rely on the consistency they have developed in practice; when they have to adjust their technique in the midst of a game, their chances of making shots decreases.

The great shooters shoot the same shot; each and every time they release the ball. Their mechanics (even if not technically perfect) are consistent from their feet to their upper body. This kind of consistency allows great shooters to make minor adjustments to their shot if they feel something is off. Instead of having to switch between alternating shooting styles, great shooters know instinctively how to make small changes because of the consistency they have developed in practice.


Key Points

  • Consistency is developed through 1000’s of hours of practice
  • It is more valuable than “perfect” technique
  • Consistency eliminates in game distractions
  • Shoot the same shot every time

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All great shooters have great rhythm. Perhaps the most stunning modern example of shooting rhythm is Steph Curry. He is a great case study for the importance of rhythm when shooting the basketball. The rhythm for Steph Curry’s jumper starts with his feet and moves to his upper body in one seamless motion. The foundation for his shot starts when his feet act as aspringboard for the rest of his shot. The energy that he generates from his feet – Steph uses both a two-footed and 1-2 foundation – allows him to generate enough power to get his shot off against more athletic defenders. He always quickly drives his feet into the floor before rising up to release the ball. This highlight the importance of gaining your rhythm from your lower body and allowing that momentum to feed into your shot.

Whether shooting off the dribble or from a standing position, the foundation of Curry’s shot gives him the rhythm and timing to be a great shooter. His feet start the momentum and he finishes his shot with a high release and a quick flick of the wrist. These aspects give him the ability to make shots from anywhere on the floor and rarely have to take shots where he is out of rhythm.


Key Points

  • Great shooting starts with your feet
  • Your foundation powers your shot 
  • Your feet act as a springboard and allow for solid mechanics in your upper body




The best shooters have a special mindset when it comes to shooting the basketball. The greatest shooters have a unique ability to block out the negative and focus on the next shot. This can be a difficult exercise because many of us are hardwired to think more about our mistakes than our successes. However, great shooters are able to maintain their confidence despite the number of shots they have missed. Great shooters develop an inner confidence and arrogance about their abilities that allow them to concentrate during a difficult stretch.

Kobe Bryant is someone who embodies this type of mindset when he was recently quoted as saying that..

“I’d rather go 0-30 before I wouldgo 0-9. 0-9 means you beat yourself, you psyched yourself out of the game…theonly reason is because you’ve just now lost confidence in yourself.” 

Admittedly, Kobe’s shot selection is not always the greatest, and I’m not suggesting that players should shoot 30 shots when their having an off night, but this mindset rings true for great shooters. Whether you are 0-5 or 10-10, great shooters  trust in their training and believe that no matter what the next shot is going in.

Key Points

  • Confidence comes from practice
  • Shooters always believe the next shot is going in
  • A shooting mindset allows you to concentrate and focus on the next shot

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Building Culture

Building Culture

 (the majority of this content was originally created for our friends at Basketball Coaches Weekly


The word “culture” has become a buzzword in basketball circles as coaches across the country try to help their teams forge a winning identity. The idea of creating or building a team culture can become a cliché if we fail to appreciate the importance of the concept. Put simply, your team lives and dies by the culture it creates. Talented teams without healthy culture can easily lose to less-talented groups with great culture. The benefits of culture are obvious; togetherness, selflessness, chemistry, and continuity are just a few of the intangibles that allow your team to perform at high level.

What can get lost in discussions about how to build culture are practical suggestions on how to promote healthy culture on your team. I want to focus on the challenges that high school and college teams face. This is not to dismiss the NBA (although the forming of the USA national team with NBA stars like Lebron James and Kevin Durant is an interesting case study itself) but chemistry at the professional level has some significant differences. 

For college and high school teams the players in the program are spread across three a number of years and seniors graduate as the new crop of incoming freshman arrive. For high school coaches these players are also spread across multiple levels of teams. Consider the following suggestions that could help your program build and sustain a healthy culture for years to come.


Create Collective Buy-In

Coaches will often (and should) have a list of “core-identity” values that are consistent from year-to-year – i.e. selflessness, hard work, toughness, excellence etc. However, to ensure that these values infiltrate themselves into the culture of your team, you will need 100% buy-in from your best leaders. Your leaders must take ownership of these values or they will be in danger of becoming another mute talking point. One great way to do this is to meet with your leaders before the season and have them come up with a list of standards that reflect the core values (these can and should be extremely practical). For example, if one of your core values is toughness, then a corresponding standard could be “no offensive rebounds”. Now, during practice your leaders can enforce this standard – for example making everyone who misses a box-out do 10 pushups etc. Remember coaches create rules but only players can enforce standards. Once you come up with a list of standards get creative how you choose to communicate it with the team and make sure to ask for buy-in from everyone – ex. you could create a poster with the list of standards and have everyone on the team sign it.


Create Mentor Relationships

The best way to ensure consistent culture is to encourage great relationships. It is natural for teams to segment into their own age groups/ability levels, but anything you can do to encourage cross-pollination between teams will go a long way in building sustainable culture.This process starts with your older players.

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In high school for example, on girls teams it might be as simple as assigning a “little-buddy” for whom you can buy gifts or encourage by decorating their locker etc. For guys, you might assign a “buddy” but you would also want to create some kind of competitive environment where that relationship could flourish – i.e. hold a shooting competition before or after practice, or a dodge-ball tournament. In addition to these personal relationships little stuff like having the varsity team form a tunnel and high-five the JV team as they exit the locker room can go a long way to meld three individual teams into an entire program.

Time and again we see some of the most successful college teams are the ones that have the strongest core of seniors. The media tends to focus on the high profile “one and done” players that play one year and move to the NBA, but many of the programs that are successful year in and year out have strong development of their players. One of the greatest legacies a senior class can have is to know they have raised up the next generation of leaders to continue the tradition where they left off.


Create Memories

Memories resulting from shared experience are a powerful way to build culture. Not only do shared experiences bring teams closer together, but also begin to build a tradition in your program as stories get passed down from one generation to the next. The type of activities could vary as widely as taking a camping trip, planning an amazing race around campus, reserving a bowling alley, or having a pie-eating contest after practice. How you implement this idea can largely depend on the personality of your team and its type of leadership. Be sure that you study your team and understand how to accomplish this without coming across as corny or forced. Creating memories (particularly ones outside the basketball court) allow for nuanced relationships to develop which creates a stronger team and more dynamic culture.

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The Kobe Leadership Dynamic


The recent article in ESPN the Magazine (by Henry Abbott) on Kobe Bryant’s destructive patterns of leadership bringsPeek-behind-the-banners to light many interesting questions. Abbott obtained quotes from several NBA agents, players, and insiders that described the toxic leadership dynamic of Kobe Bryant. One agent described Bryant as the unmovable object that has inhibited the growth of teammates and stagnated the organization. By comparing Bryant to a “big rock in your front yard” the agent was essentially saying that Bryant has forced everyone in the Lakers organization adjust to him and his way of doing things. Bryant as the ‘immovable object’ necessitates that everyone else circumvent their position to comply with his needs, instead of using his leverage to empower and inspire others.

Abbott interviewed another agent who sited Bryant as the primary reason many of his clients wouldn’t entertain the idea of playing for the Lakers. The players worried that Bryant would use his influence to pin the blame on them if the team started to lose games. Kobe has created a culture of fear in where his teammates must pay homage to King Bryant or suffer the consequences. The tools of public humiliation and alienation are used to control the proletariat from veering outside of their prescribed zones of operation.

In contrast to the Bryant leadership style, I want to suggest that great leaders have the ability to accomplish three specific things as a direct result of their influence.


Great Leaders Draw People to Themselveskobe-bryant-shaq

By definition, a leader is someone who other people are willing to follow. Great leadership at its most foundational level has the ability to attract a group of talented individuals to accomplish a shared goal. Bryant has been a toxic repellent that many players have avoided like the plague. Instead of enticing talent to join him in Los Angeles, his demanding personality and me-first attitude has made the Lakers an unattractive destination for possible free agents.


Great Leaders Accentuate the Talents of Others

I-think-itd-be-nice-toBryant has made it clear that he is uninterested in developing the talents of his teammates as evidenced by the mass exodus of talented players – particularly big men who require guards to give them the ball in the post – in the last several years. According to Basketball-Reference Bryant has hoisted the 4th most shots in NBA history (24,416 attempts at a pedestrian 45%), and will easily move into 2nd position (surpassing Karl Malone and Michael Jordan) if he stays healthy this season.

Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum are just a few examples of players who have left under the inauspicious dynamic of a Bryant dominated system. Steve Nash a renowned teammate, leader, and well-respected point guard was unable to mask his frustration in an interview with Zach Lowe.

Leaders accentuate the talents of their teammates by helping them surpass the limits of their abilities. The mark of leadership is always measured by the growth of people around them.


 Great Leaders Create a Community of Trust

In contrast to creating a community of trust, Bryant has fostered a community of fear and compliance. Bryant is the ruler of his kingdom and would deal harshly with any teammate who dared challenged his reign.Anyone-who-could

Teammates would learn to fear Bryant or risk being squashed by one of the most powerful players in the NBA. The ideas of open dialogue, communal trust, and transparency were replaced by marching orders to accept Bryant and his standards or face the consequences. Great leaders earn the respect and trust of their followers by submitting themselves to the same standards they enforce on others. They understand that double standards, favouritism, and hypocrisy cripple healthy team dynamics and glorify the individual instead of the group. Trust is the most valuable currency a leader can have, and without it the community crumbles.

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