David Blatt on Coaching Basketball

David Blatt is one of the most successful American coaches in European basketball history and is the former head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. He spoke at the Basketball Canada Super Clinic and these are the notes.

  • You can do more with less if you do it the right way.
  • Use the game to pass something on that is positive across cultures.
  • He spoke about the number of great people he has met since he began playing and coaching basketball and that it goes full circle many times throughout life.
  • Peers are the best teachers to learn from (Strategy, people, ways people learn and how to teach).

“Don’t be afraid to share what you know even if you think it’s not high level.” – David Blatt

The Rules to be a Part of Anything Worthwhile

  • Know what is expected of you – from the players, administration and assistant coaches.
  • Your players need to see you in a way that makes them believe you can help them. 
  • He coaching philosophy is explained in his four pillars:

David Blatt

What/Who is a coach?

He began with a story about his mom making him work with autistic children on Saturdays. She was a school teacher. He said at first he wanted to stay home and watch Saturday morning cartoons. One day he helped a kid write his own name. He made the connection to how important it was what his mom did every day. This put his life in perspective.

A coach is a…teacher, leader, parent, psychologist, sociologist, anthropologist, criminologist, human being

  1. Leader – Help people get to different levels.
  2. Parent – They are kids, they need us.
  3. Psychologist – Know how their minds work – study it.
  4. Sociologist – Know how society around the kids work.
  5. Anthropologist – Know where they come from.
  6. Criminologist – Players will cut corners, sneak behind your back. We must decide what the line is and if they crossed it.
  7. Human being – Sense of compassion and ethics. Let them see your heart and find theirs.

Help Players Move Forward

  • There is a place for toughness and a place to be a hard ass.
  • Show and share passion:

“Need to bring juice every day and players need to see and feel your passion.” – David Blatt

  • Find leaders within team – have more than one leader
  • He wants to know who is the hardest worker and the verbal leader. He wants them on the same page with the best player, if the best player is neither.
  • Teach to go further – “Excellence starts on the doorstop of your limitations.” For your players and you. Surround yourself with good people.

No Excuses

  • He showed this clip and discussed the concept of the “reasons not to, can’t do, won’t do.”
  • He suggested we live in an excuse society at all levels.
  • As coaches we need to find a way to get our players beyond excuses.

“Usually he who believes and reaches, achieves and receives.” – David Blatt

Love Matters

  • Love is what is behind everything.
  • Can you help others and raise yourself up?
  • If you love what you do, you will never work another day in your life.
  • Team is family, and family is love.
  • Every assistant coach that had worked with him had become a head coach somewhere in their career. It is important to give to those coaches that work with you.
  • We need to be there for our athletes no matter what the circumstances.

Fundamentals are Everything

  • Everyone has the opportunity to be taught fundamentals.
  • It is skills over talent, until you get to a certain level.
  • The fundamentals set the ground work for everything going forward – Passing, dribbling and shooting.
  • Process over outcome.
  • Need to teach players how to guard and team principles.
  • Want kids to love the game.
  • Help kids along path that also helps them. Be realistic with their dreams.

Stories He Shared

  • Steve Nash touched teammates each game and practice to make connections.
  • Told a story about attitude referring to an individual that every morning they woke up they would say “It’s Show Time!”
  • “The Art of War”: Play to win, not to conquer. You don’t have to beat a team by 40 if you can win by less. Don’t be ugly or disrespectful.
  • Tristan Thompson – He was a great teammate. When he got a offensive rebound and went back up he would get blocked 14% of the time. Coaches worked with him on catching rebound and immediately kicking it out and re-posting. He embraced it and was all about helping the team and getting better.
  • Gave example of Steph Curry coming out of Davidson. Steph perfected ways to impact the game his own way because there is only going to be one Michael Jordan.

Blatt’s 3 Things You Need to Win in Europe:

  1. A left handed player – Most defenses force you here. If you have 1 you are okay, 2 you are great and 3 or more watch out!
  2. A Croatian – They know how to play.
  3. Have a coach – Help them play.

Ideas on Shooting

  1. Technique
  2. Reps – Practice game speed and game shots.
  3. Confidence
  4. Touch – Some players are just born with it.

“Perfect your skills and make that your motto.” – David Blatt

Keep the Bigger Picture in Mind

  • Make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
  • Where do we all benefit and win? 
  • What do you do with a superstar in a contract year? Money doesn’t lead, it follows.

Differences Between FIBA and the NBA

  1. Length of Game
  • NBA has so many timeouts a game, it is out of control. 60% of your time you are working on ATO’s and sideline inbounds. Each timeout feels like it is 4 hours and 57 minutes.
  • In FIBA during a timeout you are saying 2 things to fix and you are lucky if you have time for a 3rd.
  • In FIBA you have a 40 minute game and a shorter season so you can’t take possessions off, waste plays or lack intensity.
  • In FIBA you are lucky to get up to 80 games.
  • Use substitutions as tactical advantages for match-ups, to control pace and stop run.
  • FIBA uses more tactical fouls also to stop layups.
  1. Distractions
  • FIBA is about the game itself. The NBA is about everything around the game.
  • The NBA is a business and you must recognize that and work within it.
  • The personalities are different in each league.
  • In Europe you can cut or fire players more easily.
  • The NBA is a player’s game.
  • In the NBA you could have a player signed with guaranteed money for 4 years. You had better hope he is a good guy because if not you will be fired before he is.
  1. Officiating
  • In FIBA referees are from all different countries and language barriers can be a challenge.
  • Walking into some FIBA games you knew you were losing because of the officials and the country you were in.

Tactical Decisions to Consider

  • Offense – Find sets that you use against both man and zone because you want to have flow constantly.
  • Have Multiple Defenses – If played right it will be man-to-man anyways. To play it right it requires constant re-positioning, boxing out, bumping and talking.
  • Match-Up Zone – Confuses coaches.
  • Have Switching Defense
  • Trap When Needed
  • Use Delay Presses
  • Tactical Fouling – Stop sure shots and the fast break.
  • Substitute for advantages and momentum changes.

Story About the Olympics

He use the example of when he took over as Russian National Team Coach in 2007 to support how much he values tactics. The old coach had the team practicing 3x per day. Blatt changed it to 2x per day, and sometimes only once a day. He also told the players they did not have to play for National Team if they did not want to. He wanted only those that wanted to be there. He gave the players that stayed the guarantee that if you play I will help you get better, and that he will follow his four pillars of coaching. 

In the Olympic qualifier quarter final they beat France. In the semi-final they beat Lithuania. In the final they played Spain. Russia was a 18-point underdog. In the pre-game he reminded his players of the four pillars and reminded himself to coach smart, and not to his ego. They were down 34-9 at half. He told the team to get close and that will put the pressure on Spain. Down the stretch they went to a 3-2 match-up zone and switched big in and little out. If their 4 man went out, they went with him because he was a shooter. They trapped Pau Gasol in the post. They ended up winning with a last second shot. They played Spain again at the Olympics, got up 32-19 at half, but got complacent and lost. They ended up winning the bronze medal vs. Argentina. He said he got complacent in the build-up to Olympics because of winning early and didn’t make adjustments or changes. It is a lesson he will never forget.

Questions from the Audience

  1. Do you have any advice to young coaches?
  • You have to study. Watch people, practices and make coaching part of your legacy. Never give up. You will get hit in the head a few times (fired). Learn from it and get better.
  1. How do you deal with struggles? For example getting fired by the Cavaliers?
  • Believe in yourself and that goes back to outworking other coaches.

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