Power of “Optional”

If you think about it… Basketball is “optional”, especially in middle school and high school. As far as I can tell, no one is ‘required’ to play basketball. Just like no one is ‘required’ to go to college or earn an above average living from a career they enjoy. Almost every great experience or achievement is ‘optional’.

We each get to choose what optional things we want in our life and what optional activities we are willing to put in to our life to get exceptional rewards! As I heard on the Pure Sweat podcast (paraphrasing a bit), “Winning is earned by what you do in the unseen hours.”

Great = Optional

As Jim Collins pointed out in his book, Good to Great, “Good is the enemy of Great.” The reason we have so few things that are great is because what we have is generally “good”. Most people are ready to settle for “good enough” and never discover that they could have achieved something great.

It is very simple. If you want to be great at anything, you have to do things that average people don’t do. You have to do the ‘optional things’. In basketball, if you want to be an all-state player, you need to work on your shot and your athletic ability (assuming those are areas that will make you successful). In school, the optional things could include an extra study session every night or finding a new way to study that is more effective.

Optional is not easy… or hard

Doing extra things, optional things, can be hard. It might involve working harder, getting up earlier than your competition and putting in longer hours. That might be hard… or not. You might actually find ways to enjoy the optional activities. Many athletes are proud of the hours they put in and it gives them a sense of confidence that they would not have otherwise.

Optional can be easy. Press the easy button.On the other hand, optional things could actually BE easy. Finding a new way of doing something can almost instantly take your performance to a new level.  Reading on your topic of interest, while perhaps mentally taxing, can be a physically relaxing activity that can give you an advantage over the competition.

Referring back to Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great, one of the counter-intuitive findings that he came up with, and documented with a number of stories in his book, is that it isn’t really harder to go for great than it is to settle for “good”. Are there some different activities? Sure. Do great teams do things different from good teams? Sure. But does it have to be harder? Definitely not.

Quick Mental Training Tip…

Whether something is easy or hard, good or bad… is your choice. You get to define the meaning of everything in your life. A person’s definition of ‘reality’ can be very subjective so why not choose the meaning that gives you the best results. If you want it to be easy, make it easy. If you want to challenge yourself with something hard, make it hard. You get to choose.

Bottom Line…

The optional effort is what makes you stand out. As I’ve said in another article, Hustle is a way to stand out… and Hustle is clearly ‘optional’. What other activities do you need to do to get what you want? By doing the ‘optional’, you are setting yourself from the pack, from the ‘average’ results and shooting for something better. How far are you willing to go? Your limits are just an illusion set up by other people. You can do more than you even imagine!

Basketball Court Awareness – KIM games

Court Awareness,sometimes called “situational awareness”, is a critical skill if you want to be a top player on a highly successful team. In simplest terms, it is being aware of what is going on around you. At the next level, you are aware of what each observation means and what might happen next.

It can also be a very helpful skill in other areas of life. In fact, some of the exercises that will be presented below, are based on articles from military blogs explaining how awareness can be applied in battle and other situations.

Basketball Court Awareness…

Learning from the Master

The short video below shows how one of the best passers of all time uses a highly developed court awareness to make some amazing passes. There are some passes where he is looking at the recipient of his pass but there are many more where he is either looking away or anticipates where his team mate will be to accept his pass (and usually score).

What does Court Awareness mean for basketball players?

Court Awareness, at its peak, means that you are aware of all the players on the court… where they are, where they are moving, who has the ball, where they are looking and even what they might be saying. It extends to knowing the current score as well as how much time is on the clock as well. If your state has a shot clock, court awareness includes knowing how much time is left whether you are on offense or defense.

Seems like alot of information to process all at once, doesn’t it? The good news is that your court awareness can be developed over time… if you put in the effort to improve.

How to improve your court awareness

One way that you can build your court awareness skills is through a game call K.I.M.  Some say that it is an acronym for Keep In Memory. Others say that it refers to “Kim’s game” from an old movie (see video below).

Either way, KIM is a way to improve your ability to take a “mental snapshot” and then access it at a later time. In basketball, this “snapshot” is constantly changing (e.g. locations of players) but since you can’t always see 100% of the court or all the players, having a picture in your mind that you can refer to is of immense value.

KIM Game # 1 – Team Challenge

[FREEZE] Stop play and have all players close their eyes. Ask questions of each player to identify locations of other players on their team as well as the opposition. Team with most answers correct wins.

KIM Game # 2 – Snapshot. Questions.

Take a mental picture of something. Examples could be a billboard (if you are driving), a bulletin board (in a school) or a scene from a particular perspective. Have each person answer questions based on their brief glimpse or “snapshot” of the scene or item(s).

KIM Game # 3 – What’s Different?

I got this exercise from professional speaker and World Champion of Public Speaking, Craig Valentine. He uses this as part of his speeches to help audience members recognize changes. He starts by asking audience members to pair up and designate one as the “observer” and one as the “changer”.

He then asks the “changer” to think of 6 things they could change. Craig quickly stops the exercise before it goes too far and he lets the audience know that 6 things is probably too much. He gives the changers a different goal… change one thing.

Next the pairs of audience members turn away from each other and the “changer” changes 1 thing about their clothing or personal “look”, e.g. hair style, location of watch or other items.

After instructing the pairs to turn back toward each other, Craig asks the question, “What’s missing or changed?”. Most observers can pick out the one change.  He then repeats the exercise with two changes … and again the observer usually recognizes the changes.

What’s the moral of this story?

If you start small, you can learn to observe the changes and your ability to see relative changes can be expanded with practice.

The same thing applies to Court Awareness. By using these exercises along with ideas you develop yourself, players will train their brains to be more aware of the location of other players, where they are moving as well as other factors that are part of the game.

Please post your Court Awareness drill ideas in the comments below. We would also love to hear how it has improved the performance of your team.



The Talent Mirage

When we see someone who performs at a high level, whether it is in music or sports or academically, we assume that a good part of their abilities are the result of talent, something they were born with. That’s the Talent Mirage.

Talent Mirage - skill pyramid
Coach Wheeler’s Skills Pyramid

We fail to recognize the amount of hard work and learning that it took to develop the skills that we see. That’s why Talent is a Mirage. It is something we see… that is not there. Talent is simply the [often highly polished] skills acquired over time based on hard work and learning.

Aren’t some people born with “talent”?

We are all born with differences but it would be delusion to call it “inborn talent”. For example, maybe our parents have developed skills in certain areas so we are exposed to something before someone else. That’s not talent… it’s environment.

What about someone who is born to tall parents and are likely to become tall? That is certainly a difference… but it doesn’t guarantee that this tall person will be good at basketball. A tall person who doesn’t develop a love of the game and a strong work ethic won’t amount to much of a player. On the other hand, a small or shorter person who loves the game and puts in the effort to develop their body to its highest potential while also learning skills to become a better basketball player can be highly successful.  It isn’t the cards we are dealt, it is how we play them. Talent is a mirage.

Attitude is more important than “Talent”

If you buy into the idea that “Talent” is just skills developed over time, then the key to putting in the time is ATTITUDE. Skill building is fueled by attitude. The hard work becomes FUN … with the right attitude. A player with the right attitude is coachable and can pick up ideas that will make them a better player.

A key part of “Attitude” is the ability to be okay being “bad”. One of my favorite quotes is by football coach and legendary business leader, A.L.Williams, who said…

“Remember, before you can be great, you’ve got to be good.

Before you can be good, you’ve got to be bad.

But before you can even be bad, you’ve got to try.”

― Art Williams, All You Can Do is All You Can Do

If you are going to build your “pyramid of skills” that will lead to what society calls “Talent”, you will have to get used to being bad at something before you are good at it.  This is also related to the Growth vs. Fixed Mindset which I learned about through Carol Dweck’s book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success“.

Growth = Skills Mindset
Fixed = Talent Mindset

In short, the Growth Mindset, according to Dweck’s book, is when someone see any challenge as an opportunity for growth. If they fail, the growth mindset says that they have not learned how to succeed or have not put in the work to develop the skills necessary to succeed. In other words, someone with the Growth mindset doesn’t let failure stop them. They continue to build their skills until they win.

Contrast that with the Fixed Mindset. Someone with a fixed (or “Talent”) mindset goes into every challenge with the assumption that they either have the talent to succeed or they don’t. If they fail, they conclude that they don’t have the talent for that activity and should not do it in the future. As you can imagine, the world of possibilities get smaller and smaller for someone with the “Talent mindset”.

Unfortunately, this Fixed / Talent mindset is often reinforced even when someone is successful… by friends, family or coaches who see the success as a result of “talent”. The question I have for you is … “If you are trying to get across a desert, would you drink the water pointed out by someone who sees a mirage?” The Talent Mirage is a trap. Don’t get sucked into believing in Talent. You may have Skills … and you will need more skills if you are going to compete at the highest levels.

Why do so many people
believe in the Talent Mirage?

Most often, it is a case of mis-matched timelines. If a 6th grader was playing against Michael Jordan, the timeline mismatch would be obvious. When players of the same age compete, it is almost impossible to see how much time (and hard work) each athlete has put into building their skills. It is easy to attribute this difference in skill levels to “talent”, especially if one player has certain physical gifts that seem to give them an advantage. Don’t get trapped by the Talent Mirage.

“[Everything] is made, not born.”
– Seth Godin, Marketing Legend & Thought Leader
as heard on the Tim Ferriss podcast.

Don’t you want “Talented” players on your team?

YES… keeping in mind what that really means. We want players who have developed valuable skills and can perform at a high level. We also believe that players can be developed… given enough time and effort (with the right mindset / attitude). So, as coaches, our job is to recognize the skills that a player has while encouraging them to work hard to add other skills which will make them even more successful.

Bottom Line for you and I …

Take the first step on the skills pyramidDon’t use the Talent Mirage as an excuse for not putting in the effort to develop the skills that will allow you to compete at the highest levels. Don’t worry if you can’t see or even imagine all the skills you will need to become successful. Start where you are and keep working hard to improve… step by step. Someday someone will say “You are so Talented.” When that happens, just smile and say “Thank You”… knowing that you put in the effort over time to get where you are. Remember… Talent is a Mirage.


HUSTLE – It sets you apart.

At the InviteOnly 2017 PreSeason Basketball Camp held last weekend at Keene State College, I gave a brief impromptu “speech” about the topic of “Hustle” and how it can set you apart from other players trying out for your team.

Based on the reception of that speech about the importance of hustling, I figured it might be a good topic for a post on this blog as well. Clearly Hustling is tied to your mental toughness because, for most players, it does come naturally… at first. Once you start to hustle, you will find that it will become easier. You will have to think about it at first but eventually it will become automatic. You just have to make the decision to start NOW!

What is “Hustle”?

Hustling is the act of “not waiting for things to happen” but rather doing whatever it takes to “make things happen”. It is all about increasing the pace that you do things.

Why does Hustle matter?

Hustling is visible. It tells your team mates that what you are doing is important and can’t wait. It tells your coach that you are enthusiastic about being on the team and, to a certain extent, that you are a hard worker. As a player who hustles, it is clear that you are putting in an extra effort… and coaches love to see that.

Hustling builds confidence. You might not notice it, but as you are hustling, you are getting results FASTER than others. It is like you are winning a race against people who don’t even know that there is a race going on. With time, your “hustle habit” will give you confidence both in the areas where you develop skills as well as areas you have not even tried. Why? Because you will know that HUSTLE WORKS.

Hustling gives you a head start. You arrive early while others show up at the last minute. Since you have more time to become accustomed to whatever situation you find yourself in, you have more time to take [a better] action. All because you hustled while others took their own sweet time. Why do you think that “the early bird gets the worm”?

Where should I be Hustling?

You should hustle in any area of your life that you want to achieve superior results. People who hustle in business get more done and make more money. People who hustle in school get better grades and get into better colleges. People who hustle in relationships show how important these relationships are to them.

What is important to you?

hustle NOWWant to improve your chances of making the team?
Start Hustling.

Want to improve the likelihood that you will get more minutes in the game?
Start Hustling.

If something is important to you… You should be hustling.
The time to Hustle is NOW.


4 Part Basketball Year

The one basketball season ends and another basketball year begins. If you are only playing and working on your game during the “official school season” than you are missing out.  Below are the 4 sections / timelines that make up the “4 part basketball year” plus the off-season.  Let’s start with the day after your school season ends…

Off Season (Spring/Summer/Fall)

  • Spring AAU
  • Summer League
  • Fall AAU
  • Open gym(s) at school
  • Pickup games
  • Weight Training

Once practices can start, the season is officially ON !  Below are the parts of the season along with the focus area for each time period.

1st Quarter- Pre-Season – before first game

  • Tryouts
  • Practices / Conditioning
  • Learn techniques and formations
  • Scrimmages
  • Keep it simple / Learn The Basics


2nd Quarter – First Encounters (1st Half of Season)

  • Play first round of home/away games
  • Find out what works vs. competition (adapt as needed)
  • Fine tune & Accelerate “The Basics”
  • Continue conditioning / strength gains
  • Gauge the competition (Strengths & Weaknesses)


3rd Quarter – Revenge/Payback time (2nd Half of Season)

  • Must get better (the competition isn’t standing still)
  • Prep for playoffs
  • Keep conditioning / Make it Fun !
  • Maintain FOCUS. Stay sharp.
  • Take breaks when needed to maintain energy.
  • Cold & Flu season… rest to recover quicker.


4th Quarter – Win or Go Home (Playoffs)

  • Perform at your best.
  • Few “Easy Wins”… even lower seeds are playing hard.
  • Have a few surprises up your sleeve.
  • High level of Mental Toughness / Facing The Challenges
Why use “4 Part Basketball Year”?

Breaking up the season into “chucks”, each with a different area of focus and specific “feel”, helps your team fight the boredom of a long season. It also breaks up the grind of weeks of conditioning and keeps players fresh.

A physical test in each quarter, either as part of a game or practice, can be a good milestone to show progress when compared with tests earlier in the season.  I like to have some standard tests for evaluating players and it is good to come back to them in each section of the season to show players that they are indeed getting better.

Bottom line…

Looking at the overall season as a “4 part basketball year” helps your planning efforts as a coach. It should also make the year more enjoyable and more successful for your players. The outline above is just a starting point. Feel free to add your own components to each section and use the outline as a planning tool for this year as well as years to come. If you see something that doesn’t belong, please leave us a comment below. Even if you disagree, your comments and ideas will be helping us get better.

Greatest Of All Time – Basketball Coaches

When you think of basketball coaches, who do you think are the Greatest Of All Time?

Recently, I was listening to a podcast by Tony Robbins where he published his interview (from 30 years ago) with the Legendary Coach John Wooden. This interview (which I will talk about more in a separate post on this blog) had some great content and it got me thinking about other coaches (living or past) who might have interviews (or books) out there that I can learn from.

Greatest of all time basketball coach John WoodenI can still remember reading Coach Wooden’s book, “They Call Me Coach” back when I was in middle school or high school and I hope that I have lived up to at least some of the principles he taught. Wouldn’t it be great to learn from basketball coaches we consider the Greatest of all time?

Greatest of all Time Basketball Coaches

Below is my Top Ten list (with a couple extras) of basketball coaches I consider the Greatest of all time (not necessarily in any particular order) …

  1. John Wooden, UCLA’s “Wizard of Westwood”
  2. Dean Smith, North Carolina Tarheels
  3. Coach K, Duke Blue Devils
  4. Red Auerbach, Boston Celtics
  5. Phil Jackson, Chicago Bulls & LA Lakers
  6. Geno Auriemma, UConn Women’s Basketball
  7. Pat Summit, Tennessee Women’s Basketball
  8. Bobby Knight, Indiana
  9. Hubie Brown, NBA
  10. Rick Pitino, Providence College, Kentucky, Louisville
  11. Larry Brown, NBA
  12. Greg Popovich, NBA’s San Antonio Spurs
  13. Morgan Wooten, Dematha High School, Washington, DC
  14. Bob Hurley,Sr., St. Anthony High School, New Jersey (28 State titles)
  15. Dave Wheeler, Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative (WLC) High School… [just kidding]. (I added this to see if you were paying attention!)
More to come…

As I explore the coaching concepts of each of these great coaches, I will be posting articles on this blog so you can pick up ideas that you might want to add to your coaching toolkit! Be sure to sign up for our email notification list so you will get an email when new articles are added to this blog. (You can unsubscribe at any time… but why would you?)

Who did I miss?

Who else can we learn from, especially as it relates to “building a winning mindset”? What does your list of basketball coaches who are the Greatest of all time look like? Please leave a comment below and let us know who is on your list of basketball coaches considered the “Greatest Of All Time”.


Ball-First M2M Defense & The Play that Beat UConn WBB 2017

This article is about the play that prevented UConn Women’s Basketball Team’s 111 game winning streak from going to 112… and a type of basketball defense (Ball-First M2M) that would have changed the outcome.

I teach “Ball-First Man-2-Man Trapping Defense” and the loss of the UConn Women’s 2017 Final Four game to Mississippi State provides an opportunity to take a look into some of the principles of BFM2M. Let’s start by checking out the video of the last play Mississippi State used to beat UConn in the 2017 Final Four…

The reason that Mississippi State’s Morgan William was able to get off her jumpshot was due to a mixup on the defensive coverage by UConn. Morgan William is probably the smallest player on the floor so if even one of the UConn players had been closer to her, the shot would certainly have been blocked or at least been a lower percentage. As you see in the video of the last play, there were a bunch of UConn players defending, swapping coverage as Mississippi State players moved around at the top of the key.

Here is where the breakdown occurred and where UConn lost… as Morgan Williams begins to drive, #11 Kia Nurse (who was covering another player too) jumps up to take Morgan. Morgan starts to drive and (this is where BALL FIRST M2M comes in) #12 Soniya Chong, who is now covering MS player #00, waves at the ball handler instead of coming over to trap and stop the drive. If you watch the play further, Kia Nurse backs away from Morgan William, probably under the assumption that #15 Gabby Williams would stop her.

Ordinarily that is a pretty good assumption since Gabby Williams is one of the most athletic players for UConn, but Morgan William has too much speed and momentum so Gabby is unable to get to her in time to stop the shot.

How would it change with Ball-First M2M defense?

Kia Nurse would have continued to aggressively defend the ball (Rule#1-The Ball is our first priority). By staying with the offensive player, Kia would have provided a “wall” of sorts so Morgan could not easily change direction.

Next, Soniya Chong would have jumped into the path of Morgan and placed her body so that she and Kia would create a trap. This is a difficult move if a player has never done it before because without a strong focus on a particular part of the play, it can go wrong quickly.

Players who use Ball-First M2M know that the key to this move is to keep your eyes on the ball. You know that the driver cannot change direction since that would bring them into your other defender and the ball would be open for a possible steal.

By focusing on the ball, you also are able to anticipate a pass to the player you are “leaving” (and intercept a pass if it is thrown). If the offense dribbles into the trap or tries to “plow through” the approaching defender (who is focusing on the basketball) needs to be ready to grab the ball (probably at waist or chest height) and rip it way from them. Other offensive players, usually the taller ones, may try to bring the ball over their head as they step through the trap… which is another reason all players need to keep an eye on the ball.

No one scores without the ball. Every time the ball leaves a player's hand there is an opportunity for a steal. - Coach Dave Wheeler

I know what I have described is a lot to expect from someone who has not used Ball-First M2M and hasn’t developed the skills of where to look (hint: Ball-First) and where they need to put their body to stop a driving offensive player. Ball-First M2M is not an overnight fix, especially since you need ALL the players on the defensive team to understand the approach so they can deal with 2nd and 3rd options. It can be, however, highly effective.

Bottom Line…

Even though I am a long-time fan of UConn WBB, I have to give credit to Mississippi State. They played a tough game. I also appreciate the effort put in by UConn.

It is unfair to focus on one play as the reason they lost since there were countless opportunities to get another basket earlier in the game. Every player and every coach knows that just one more made shot or an offensive rebound or a defensive stop and there would never have been an overtime period. I give credit to all the players, coaches and parents who helped both teams get to this game. Few people have even the smallest sliver of a glimpse into all the preparation and hard work that is put in at this level of basketball.


Having said that, the reason for this article is to show how Ball-First M2M defense can work at the highest levels. There is much more to Ball-First Man-to-Man defense that I have not mentioned in this article… most importantly, traps in other areas of the court. Those aspects will have to wait for another article. If you want to be sent a brief email when new articles are published for this blog, be sure to sign up for our email notification service. As always, your comments are encouraged and appreciated.

Proper Pace – Effort

Here is one of my favorite coaching tips from Coach Geno Auriemma. It is about a way that he shows players the proper pace they should be using on the basketball court and the amount of effort / focus that he expects.

Effort is critically important to a player’s development. If a player doesn’t stretch outside their comfort zone, they won’t become one of the players that win.

Coach Wheeler “It’s about Effort”

I use “up & backs” as a key part of the conditioning program for my teams. Basketball is a game of acceleration and getting from one point to another. It is also about putting out bursts of effort and recovering quickly.

Most people don’t realize that the key part of the up/back drill is how long it takes for a player to be ready to do it again. The best players can do multiple runs with minimal rest but the drill must push players so they put out their best effort both while running and when they set their “restart threshold”.

Through years of trial, I now use a “sorting technique” where the 1st 5 players who are ready and step up to the line are moved to their right side of the line. The rest of the team waits until they are done (usually 10 seconds) before they run. Anyone from either group who finishes in less than 10 seconds can “step up” to run with the top 5. This process quickly shows who is in shape and who is willing to put in the extra effort.  Maybe I will offer $100 like Coach Auriemma next time…

Preseason Basketball Camp 2017-Keene NH

Coach Dave Wheeler, in association with InviteOnlyBasketball.com and Parisi Speed School of NH, will be conducting a one-day preseason basketball camp on Saturday Nov.11th, 2017.

The camp, for boys in grades 7-11 (Ages 13-17), will be held at Keene State College’s Spaulding Gymnasium where the Owls play their home games.

For more information and to apply for an invitation to the basketball camp, please visit www.InviteOnlyBasketball.com !