Sharing The Thinking With Your Players

Read this quote today by Luke Walton (Head Coach, Los Angeles Lakers) on building a winning culture and developing basketball IQ:

" succeed as a team and a coaching staff when you can give your players more and more freedom. And even though that may look like you’re doing less coaching, that means that they’re taking ownership for what they’re doing."

Let’s Go Deeper…

I agree with the basic premise of the quote; yet, I think we can go deeper.

Think about replacing freedom with responsibility. As the saying goes, ‘with freedom comes responsibility’. (I don’t think Luke will be upset. Let me explain…)

Freedom is vague. Responsibility implies accountability. And accountabilities lead into specific actions that are observable and measurable.

It’s widely accepted that a core component of coaching is teaching. Yet, how do we measure the progress of the team in learning?

Me? By continually working to create a clear(-er) picture of what the process and outcomes of learning look, sound, and feel like.

Shifting The ‘Thinking’ To Your Players

One of the ways you can measure the growth of your team is by continually assessing how much of the cognitive work (i.e. the thinking) that your players are doing versus you and your coaching staff. Effective teacher-coaches fight for a culture of learning by gradually shifting – or, better said, sharing! – the cognitive load with their players.

The more and more your players begin to occupy the same cognitive domain as you, the better your team will be.

Let me give some specific examples:

  • How active are your players during ‘dead ball time’ (e.g. timeouts, free throws, between periods, stoppages, etc.) giving their teammates reminders before their needed? Are those reminders timely and relevant to the next action or two? Do they complement or build on your train of thought?
  • Do your players demonstrate an awareness of time-and-score – especially if you play with a shot clock – and communicate what type of shot is needed in difference scenarios?
  • Do your players have a sense of where the team is getting quality shots *and* what actions create those shots?
  • Do your players understand that fouls are ‘weapons’ and not to be used indiscriminately? The first foul is just as important as the last.
  • Do your players problem solve under pressure?
  • Have your players started to demonstrate the ability to adapt individually or collectively to counter the strategy or tactics of the opposition? Can they make in-game adjustments?
  • Do your players ‘react or respond’ to calls by the officials? How well do they adjust to how the game is being officiated?
  • Is your voice the one that dominates in practices? Or, is there instructive communication that’s player-driven (i.e. rather than chatter – e.g. “C’mon!”, “Ball, Ball, Ball!”, “We’re good”, etc).
  • How well do they hold themselves and one another accountable to the team’s standards – both on and off the court?
  • How well do your players anticipate the next action by the opponent? Anticipation is a reflection of vision, interpretation of actions, and agile thinking.

The ability to think the game is a teachable skill. What jumps out to me from Walton’s quote is that this a stated intention of giving ownership of the team’s success to the ones that have the most control over it: the players.


What other examples are there of players demonstrating a high basketball IQ? How do you shift ‘the thinking’ to your players and teach them to take responsibility for the team’s success?