CT ATTACK - Coach's Corner

Coach's Corner

THE READ AND REACT™ STORY

02-23-12

I know that the phrase "thinking outside of the box" is overused and worn out. Critics will tell me that there's "nothing new under the sun" when it comes to basketball. Well, I'm not talking about a new way to shoot the ball, or dribbling with your elbows, or playing defense on all fours. I'm not talking about a new way to use ball screens or a different twist on the last hybrid of offense. I'm talking about a new approach to developing players, teams, and even coaches.

In order to understand the advantages of The Read and React Offensive System™ (from here on abbreviated R&R), we need to agree on the nature of the problems that the R&R System is meant to solve. The frustrations with these unsolved problems are what led me to develop the R&R Offense:

MY FRUSTRATIONS WITH THE TRADITIONAL SYSTEM

When my playing career ended nearly thirty years ago, I entered the coaching field, and I had a very simple goal: Continue to enjoy this great game, while teaching others how to play it. Pretty lame, huh? No Hollywood director's going to make a movie out of that! It goes without saying that I wanted to win; I wanted to win every game and championship possible. But I wanted that "Road to the Championship" to include the day-to-day joy of teaching kids how to play the game.

NOT ENOUGH TIME TO TEACH THE GAME

I found out quickly that I could teach math to anyone at any time of year, but when it came to high school and college basketball in America, it was ILLEGAL to teach before a certain date. Oh sure, I could work with at most two players at a time. No one else could be in the gym; no one could even LOOK in the gym! Teaching basketball to youngsters "out of season" is like treating those under quarantine for the Ebola virus! So if I wanted to teach 12 players per day, then at 2 per hour, I would spend an extra 6 hours per day after school, without a bite to eat. That puts me home at about 11:00 pm, and starving nonetheless. And people wonder why coaches dress funny!

So when can I begin coaching my team? Oh wow, three weeks before the first game, how generous! Of course, with tryouts included, that means I'll have about twelve or thirteen practice days before we begin to tally those Ws and Ls that will determine whether I have a job next year or not. Of course, when I was hired, an administrator assured me that wins and losses were not a factor in my employment. Yeah, right, this was the same suit that told me my summers would be free!

And so, every season began the same way: Begin with the fundamentals and as my guys master them, move into the principles that allow them to play as an orchestrated team. But with about 5 days of practice left, DESPERATE REALIZATION would set in. Not only has there NOT been nearly enough time for my players to come close to grasping the fundamentals and all the intricate principles of the game, they also can't break a press, get the ball in-bounds, run a primary fast break, secondary fast break, man offense or zone offense. Not only that, when I explain the multiple defenses that we're going to run based on keys, my players give me the same bewildered look as a cow looking at a new gate!

So, with only five practice days left before our first game against our powerhouse cross-town rivals that our girls coach scheduled because she's loaded with talent and will surely win, I resort to what my high school coach did: I drop all pretenses of teaching the game and drill my players to run plays like a bunch of little robots. And sure enough, my players became very good at running plays, but not learning how to play. Once we got into post-season tournament play, all of my tricky plays were scouted and you can imagine the rest. When little Johnny can't pass from point A to point B, he passes to anyone (hopefully with the same color jersey) who uses his 1-on-5 skills to force up a shot. I then pray that my football players, who are just now getting used to a ROUND ball, can rebound some of the misses and put them back in.

Do I sound like I was frustrated? I needed the summers "off" in order to recover and convince myself that I could do a better job the next year. But every spring I was even more motivated to go to every coaching clinic my 1975 Ford Maverick could get me to. I would take copious notes on the 15 set plays and quick-hitters of the current NCAA champion who used them to win with his 15 former high school All-Americans that he had hand-picked to fit his now famous "Fabulous Fifteen Set Plays." I was sure that little Johnny and teammates back home could run this championship offense with its 100 counters to trapping, helping, rotating MAN-to-MAN defenses! Of course, the next year, 19 of my 20 opponents would run zone…

MOST PLAYS DON'T WORK ANYWAY (OR HOW I REACHED MY TURNING POINT)

In the mid-to-late-90's, three incidents came together to create a turning point in my thinking.

  1. After a rather average season, my assistant coach asked me if I was happy. I replied, "Not particularly." He asked what I would do differently if I could scrap our entire program and start all over. I said that I would teach our kids how to play the entire game by principle. He then asked, "Why don't you do it?" The honest answer was: I didn't know how. I had a lot of pieces, a lot of 2-man and 3-man principles, but not the entire thing. The whole thing seemed like a pretty tall order: to create a seamless offensive system that would encompass transition offense, man-to-man offense, and zone offense without contradiction, and without being limited to only one "set" (5-Out or 4-Out or 3-Out), and without needing a certain type of players, or players ideal for a particular style of play. (Stay tuned, the Read and React does it!)
  2. Using the previous season's videotapes, I charted all the points we scored from free throws, offensive rebounds, fast breaks, set plays, broken plays, etc., and found an unsettlingly ratio. 80% of our points came from broken plays, transition, and other PRINCIPLED basketball. We only scored the way our set plays were designed about 20% of the time. But in practice, the ratio was the opposite: we spent 80% of our offensive time on set plays and less than 20% of the time on PRINCIPLED basketball. I had to ask myself why I was spending 80% of our time on only 20% of our point production?
  3. At about the same time, I experienced some success with a team built around six players who played together from 7th grade to 12th grade. We went to the Final 4 their last two years. Were they talented? Yes, but not to the extent you might think. Only two went on to play on the college level. Their real talent was their coordinated effort. They "knew" each other. They moved like a school of fish. Was I responsible for this? Had I suddenly become a coaching genius? No. Our success was due mostly to the fact that they had played together for six years. In fact, each year they were in the program was characterized by fewer plays and more principles.

WHY DON'T THESE PLAYERS KNOW MORE WHEN THEY GET TO MY LEVEL?

Why do the players entering my program have such an incomplete set of skills? Why don't they know more? Why do I have to start all over with every new player?

Let's step back and take a look at the big picture: In the USA, there is no unifying system of teaching the game of basketball to players from the youth up. And because of that, a 10-year-old might have 10 or more different coaches by the time he or she is 18. This can create at least four problems. And I can speak confidently about these problems because I've done each one at some point in my career. Here they are:

  1. Each coach might teach different things that don't build on each other from year to year, and sometimes the things taught might even contradict each other.
  2. Some coaches teach too much too early and overwhelm the kids. The players become "Jack of all trades and masters of none."
  3. Some teach only what was taught to them by their former coaches. This would be just fine if their former coaches were great teachers of the game. But what if they weren't? A poor technique might be passed on from generation to generation just because "it's what my coach taught me."
  4. Most of the time, each coach starts over and tries to teach the game from the ground up. But with time limitations, each coach can only get so far. Therefore, the player only develops so far.

So, instead of each coach at each level starting over and teaching the game from the ground up, I have a VISION of coaches, at each level, standing on the shoulders of those before them, using the Read and React System.

But before we get too deeply into my vision, we have to admit that part of the problem is not simply a matter of what's been going on in the past. Another part of the problem is that most of the youth coaches in our country are simply parents who see a void and want to help. So, what do they teach? Where's their curriculum? I really feel for these "parent-coaches" facing this impossible situation: "Here's a ball, 12 kids, two goals and you've got one hour, twice per week. Teach them how to play right now, because games will begin in a couple of weeks." What an impossible task!

Can you imagine if we tried to run a school this way? Give a group of first graders to someone who's NOT a trained teacher, has NO curriculum and can only teach ONCE per week for only a few months? How could we expect the kids to get to the second grade? And if they do, second grade starts over with a different system! It's no wonder that even at our highest levels of basketball, you see 4 players standing and watching a teammate play 1-on-1 until he or she forces up a shot against 3 defenders. That's what they were doing on the playground in the 1st grade, and that's what they're still doing in the pros.

You see, under our current system, as each player gets a year older, it usually means a change of teams, a change of coaches, and therefore, a change of systems. But what if all parties involved were teaching the game via the same basketball system? What if this system had layers of skills and levels of game principles that coincided with the players' age or years of experience in the system? Imagine what would happen if each coach at each level were on the same page, using the same terminology: Each coach would not have to start over. He or she could pick up where the previous coach left off and add the next layer of skills and principles. In this manner, we could truly stand on each other's shoulders and our players would reach new heights.

And can you imagine what the coaches at higher levels could do when they apply their knowledge of the game to players brought up through this type of system? I know for a FACT that we don't see what many college and pro coaches have up their sleeves because the players they inherit or recruit have a mish-mash of incomplete skills, habits, fundamentals and game principles. The coaches are forced to try to catch players up or fill in missing gaps in their games or their fundamentals. Many times the coach must settle on an offense that can best be defined by what their players CAN'T do!

THE SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEMS: THE READ AND REACT OFFENSIVE SYSTEM

I have a solution to these problems, the Read and React Offense.  At high levels, the entire Read and React Offense could be taught to players in a single season; it would be a complete offense to counter anything that any defense could do. Yet, on the other hand, the system could also be taught to our youth; a layer at a time; a year at a time. And even with only a few layers of the R&R installed, a youth team would have an offense that has been proven to work in real games!

Can you imagine what our basketball games would look like in a few years if all organizations that deal with different age levels began to teach R&R to all of their teams? The 10 year olds get the first 2 layers, the 11 year olds add the next layer, so forth and so on. The players would have an entire season to "cook" the skills and principles of that particular year until they become "habits of play." By the time a player was age 15 or 16, R&R would not be an offense. It would simply be "offense"; how players play anytime and anywhere!

And I propose to you that with this system, any coach can teach any group of players to play offense by principle only. While developing this system, I had to ask myself, am I being unreasonable? I don't think so, and here's why: players are expected to know how to play 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 by principle, but not 5-on-5. Why is that? And we expect our teams to play DEFENSE by principle. So why not OFFENSE?

There's a certain amount of chaos in the game: it's what makes the game exciting and unpredictable. Can we train our players for it? If not, then how do coaches get players who "just know how to play"; who have "basketball savvy" or a "high basketball I.Q." If you're a coach at the college or higher level, then you just recruit them. But if you're coaching below the college level, then you wait and hope. For the most part, that makes us opportunists and not teachers.

I believe that most coaches want to develop their players to have "that high basketball I.Q." The R&R System will teach your players how to play and develop their basketball I.Q. No longer will you have to wait or hope that you accidentally get some players with basketball savvy.

IS THIS ANOTHER MOTION OFFENSE?

Motion offenses are principled offenses, but they demand both a high basketball I.Q. and a complete set of skills from all of the players in order to run it. In the traditional type of motion or principled offense, the players without the ball have an almost infinite amount of options depending on where they are, what the ball is doing, and what the situation is. Most players suffer paralysis by analysis and do nothing. Other players do too much at the wrong time or in the wrong situation, and create a turnover.

The R&R System removes the complicated decision making process from the movement of the players without the ball. Each player has one and only one reaction to what the player with the ball does. Let me say it another way: each player without the ball READS the teammate with ball and REACTS accordingly with ONE predetermined movement. This means that the entire offense is built upon very simple, very teachable "2-player reads and reactions." And in the Read and React System's 17 layers, these SIMPLE 2-man reads create the opportunities for every aspect of good offense. To name just a few the R&R's 2 man habits create: single screens, back screens, and double and triple staggered screens; give and gos; dribble handoffs, European 3s, dribble penetration, and whatever type of post game you want to play!

ADVANTAGES OF BUILDING AN OFFENSE IN THIS MANNER

These 2-player Reads and Reactions that make up the offense are taught through a series of drills. These drills (that come with the DVD set, even down to the detail of how to rotate through each drill) can be run by as few as two players with one coach. What good is that? These drills can make up your entire pre-season or off-season workouts. Not only will your players be getting in the needed reps for shooting, dribbling, passing, screening, etc., but you'll be building your offense at the same time. In this manner you can have 90% of you man-to-man and zone offense engrained in your players before season begins!

These 2-player Reads and Reactions must become HABITS in order for the offense to work. HABITS do not require thinking. They require repetition. The advantage is obvious: ANYONE can be taught a HABIT with enough drill and repetition. And once something is habit, a player is fast. If little Johnny has to think, he'll never react in time to take advantage of the situation. But with the R&R HABITS ingrained by the R&R DRILLS, Johnny will immediately "read and react."

Once these habits are instilled in your players, the R&R Offense will never require the players to break those habits as the system is developed to higher and higher levels. If your players learn these habits at age 10, they'll be the same habits needed for the offense when they're 20 years old!

The glue that ties these 2-player Reads and Reactions together into a coordinated 5-player offense are contained in a few simple rules described as LAYERS in the offense. These layers build upon each other, which means:

  1. New layers will not contradict previous layers.
  2. The sum of the layers together is greater than each layer in itself. This means we're building coordination of the whole offensive game, not just teaching individualized parts that are independent of each other.
  3. Each new habit of each new layer fits with the previous habits learned by your players. It's a logical progression so it's easy to explain "why" to your players. When players understand the WHY, good things happen.
  4. A team can begin to play together and experience success with as few as the first three layers of the 17-layered system. In other words, mastery of the whole is not required in order to see immediate success.
  5. A player who has mastered the first three layers (as an example) can still play with a teammate who's mastered the first five layers. The less-developed player will not hinder the abilities of the more developed player. Now your team is no longer only as strong as your weakest link.

WHAT WILL YOU HAVE WHEN YOUR TEAM HAS SUCCESSFULLY LEARNED THE R&R SYSTEM?

  1. You'll have a framework out of which you can customize the R&R to the strengths of your personnel. If you have a strong inside game, then play 4-out 1-in or 3-out 2-in. On the other hand, if 5 guards are your best players, then no problem, play 5-out.
  2.  No opponent can scout you successfully again.
  3. You'll have an offense that only gets better with time.
  4. Your defense will be better than ever because they can't "play the play" during practice ever again! They must honestly defend each moment in practice.
  5. You'll have an offense that allows players to naturally hide their weaknesses and play to their strengths.
  6. You'll have a framework out of which you can customize the R&R to your philosophy. The Read and React will accommodate any style of play. If you like set plays, then run them. Look at it this way:  If your play doesn't work (and we know how many times that happens in a game), then your players aren't lost. They can take advantage of whatever opportunity is there, or whatever the defense has taken away, and still play together in a coordinated 5-player attack, using their Read and React principles.

To conclude, the Read and React Offensive System can be both your "Offense" and your "System." The coaches already using it will tell you that the reason they like it is the same reason the players like it: "In the final analysis, its just basketball."  Players have a chance to "be all that they can be", and coaches will have the time, methods, drills, and structure to teach the game we love:  basketball.

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