Merry Christmas to everyone but those who only test others.
The best love a test.
So test yourself.
I went to the dentist this week. Like any sane person, I dislike the experience. We took pictures, did an exam and measured things. We discovered I need some dental work. The dentist tested my dental health.
Do you know what I did? I committed to better brushing and flossing habits. I knew I had some cavities, but the act of testing myself led to better habits, fewer blind spots and greater inspiration.
By this point you are familiar with and probably like the wargame concept. Most coaches will default to wargaming as just a way of judging and evaluating their players.
But what you want to do is wargame yourself first.
See if you can find yourself in this story.
A few years ago there were raging wildfires across the state of California. As the brave firefighters attempted to save homes and lives, the fires were so out of control it led to the highest death toll caused forest fires in the history of the state. The staggering loss of life of these brave firefighters resulted in an investigation.
That investigation uncovered something that is both sad and informative.
Most of the firefighters that died were caught fleeing a fire that was out of control. They were running away as fast as they could. The staggering discovery is they were found dead, with their tools in their hands. Chainsaws, axes, pounds and pounds of gear on their belts and strapped to their body. One would think when running for their lives, they would drop their heavy tools and flee.
Unfortunately, we develop a connection to the tools of our trade the same way those firefighters did. We hold onto our tools because they are familiar, they’ve worked for us before, they are a part of our identity.
Coach, don’t die with the same tools in your hands you’ve used for the last 30, 10, 5 or even 1 year. Be willing to drop the tools if there’s a better way.
Test your tools. Wargame your own opinions about players, what systems work and how you play. If you think Jaxon is your best Racker in the Race and Space offense, test it, track weekly wins as you rotate lineups. Does his team win more than other players at that spot?
If your team under-achieves, it will most likely be because you adhered to a faulty assumption. We fail more because of a faulty assumptions than any other mistake. What do you think you do well? Test it. What do your assistants have a different perspective on? Test it. Does a player suggest that a certain line up will work well together? Test it.
Your willingness to test yourself will ensure you improve. Your unwillingness guarantees you stagnate. Wargames are for data. Make sure you’re actually collecting it and observing. In wargames, limit your coaching. Use the data you collect. Use what you see to provide more coaching in sandbox time on the areas you see that need improvement.
I promised you I would give you a specific example of wargaming yourself, your team and your system.
Here is exactly how I would do this in a practice plan:
Start with your Vitamins.
This is your everydays, things that make you better at what you care about the most, skills that you know are non-negotiables in your program. You must spend a lot of time simplifying your vitamins so that players can do them without thinking about them, so that players can do them without you needing you to organize them, so that players can bring more precision and spirit to them.
Right after your vitamins, I would go straight into a wargame. And I like FIBA 3x3 as a great wargame. Teach them the rules, let them play a series of games. Switch up the teams frequently to evaluate who plays well together. Keep track of wins as you rotate players through teams so you know whose team wins no matter who is on their team and who loses no matter who is on their team - that is great data for you.
On FIBA 3x3 wargame you get to get more combinations, more teams, quicker games. You get to get more touches in a shorter period of time. I’d play it for 5 minutes to 7 points by 1’s and 2’s with a 12 second shot clock and DeVenzio out of bounds. That means it is the defense’s ball every time it goes out. That way you don’t spend any time arguing about it and it forces the O to value the ball.
After the wargame, go into sandbox time. Probably plan your sandbox time around reads and shooting - the most important skills on the offensive side of the ball.
Reads are the filters through which we determine our skills. If we have great skills, but execute those moves at the wrong times they’re going to be ineffective. Most coaches spend too much time on skills and not enough time on reads. The game is overtrained and under taught. Reads are how you teach the game. We want to make sure in our sandbox time we’re exploring reads.
Then, we layer in skills within the reads because a player only needs a skill based on the amount of reads they’re going to be making in games. That will put your player development on steroids. So we do some read training, make some attack training and advantage games - ones where reads are a little easier and more obvious than they would be in a game. That allows us to really explore and get in the sandbox. I’d probably do a sandbox around a skinny as well.
A skinny is where we’re in a really small space training technique (shout out to Molly Miller at Grand Canyon for the phrase). We do it in a skinny, small space away from the rim so we’re not distracted by the make or the miss and we can really focus in on the technique. A skinny we do for a very short period of time so we can bring great energy, effort and focus to it.
A skinny we might do much slower than we do the actual thing - that’s called perfect practice. We want to make sure we do something absolutely perfect, as slow as needed for it to be done perfect so we establish these neural pathways. It’s a part of what Daniel Coyle called in his book “The Talent Code”, developing the myelin sheath. It’s a part of the deliberate practice- correcting mistakes, doing it slow and perfectly, then going back and adding speed. So a skinny would be part of sandbox time where we do things slow, where we really get skinny on a skill.
And then after that I would go back into another wargame. You could go back into the same wargame, which I like to do - go right back to FIBA 3x3 for a short period of time and evaluate who improved the most, evaluate who is applying the most, players can evaluate themselves on how their game has changed and they feel a sense of accomplishment when they inevitably get better after the sandbox time.
That is how I would both simplify practice planning, as well as specifically utilize a progression within practice of what we call a game sandwich. A wargame sandwich - wargame on the front and back end with some gluten free bread with some nice vegetarian ingredients for sandbox time in the middle. Hey if you’re a carnivore I respect that - go ahead and get some meat and cheese up in there :)