My All-Time Favorite Inbound Play Doesn’t Always Work

I have never put in a play, a defensive scheme, or a practice drill that I did not believe was the solution. Once I implemented an idea, I believed it would work.

That positive belief is undoubtedly a good thing. I put a lot of thought into whatever our team does so it is important to believe in my decisions. The problem is that I am sometimes too stubborn in my belief. The great play on paper doesn’t actually work on the floor. The perfect defensive game plan doesn’t stop our opponent’s best player from scoring. The ideal practice drill doesn’t improve our player’s execution in a game.

Deciding when to change or abandon an idea is part of the art and science of coaching. Holding onto an idea that doesn’t work can be detrimental to success.

Many factors go into deciding to change or abandon an idea. Feedback from analytics, assistants and players can all remove some of the bias you may bring to the decision. Since it was your decision to implement the idea in the first place you will probably be more invested emotionally in seeing the idea work. One of my improvements as a coach is that I am way faster in changing or abandoning an idea now than I was when I first started coaching.

By no means is that process easy. I am stubborn in my belief. My solutions don’t always lead to the desired result but I always think they should.

So how does this relate to my favorite inbound play?

This play gets lay-ups. It creates open shots. It has reads. And it is safe, as the main action happens after the ball has been inbounded. In my mind it is perfect.

But from team to team it doesn’t always work. I have had teams that have been completely unable to run it despite my belief in how perfect it is.

I have tried to run this play year after year. When it doesn’t work, I have tried to get it to work. I put different players in the cutter position. I switch the screener. I switch the passer. I have even run it out of different set ups.

Despite all those changes I still sometimes cannot get it to work. At first I thought it was the players’ execution of the play. I mean c’mon, it is my favourite inbound play; how can it not work with every team I coach?

The reality is it just doesn’t always come together for certain teams. There is a timing and deception to the play. Some players and teams just don’t get the execution down. They are better suited to execute different inbound plays. The play’s failures has taught me that being stubborn is not a positive coaching trait. Being flexible is. Being able to change something when it is not working is.


The main reason is because we waste a lot of hours in practice trying to get things to work. Drills, plays, schemes all take up practice time. The art and science of coaching is to determine if what you are spending time developing in practice actually is translating into game success. If I spend considerable practice time on an inbound play that doesn’t seem to click with my team, then I am taking away from spending time on the things that we will actually use in a game.

This is hard to do because my pride as a coach is involved. I put a lot of thought into each idea I implement. If it isn’t working my natural instinct is to stick with it because I have seen it work in the past or I really believe it will work now.

Moving on is difficult but necessary.

A coach’s ego can turn attachment towards an idea into something bad. We put time into figuring out what will work and then we are disappointed when it doesn’t. If you’re being stubborn, you might need to pay attention to what’s really not working.

Every day of coaching we are involved in making decisions, so why are we sometimes too stubborn?

  1. Coaches perceive themselves as experts and it simply doesn’t occur to them that they might be wrong.
  2. Coaches often assume they know enough about a subject already and don’t seek more answers.
  3. Something worked for a coach in the past and assume it will work again.
  4. Each situation in coaching is unique and requires different solutions because we are dealing with human beings who are unpredictable.

Since we know why we are stubborn, now let’s focus on learning how to be less stubborn, and thus more willing to abandon that inbound play that isn’t working.

  1. Develop self-awareness. It is important to become aware of our own patterns and tendencies.
  2. Spend more time evaluating the feedback. Assistant coaches, players, video, and statistics can all gives a coach necessary feedback to evaluate.
  3. Be open-minded. Having a fixed mindset can be detrimental to progress.
  4. Do a cost-benefit analysis. Determine if what you are coaching is leading to the desired outcome.

The bottom line is, don’t be afraid to abandon an idea if it is not working. Coaches succeed through trial and error like all great learners. And part of that process is the rewarding part about coaching because when you find something that is successful, you know how much effort it took to get it to work.

How do you evaluate if what you are coaching is actually working in games?

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