Cognitive Biases in Coaching: Action Bias Pitfalls

*Originally posted on the Blog by Radius Athletics’ Randy Sherman.

A tendency toward action bias can at times lead basketball coaches and players astray, undermining short and long term progress.

Coaches are hard workers. One does not ascend the coaching ladder of success without long hours and commitment to the job. There is even a term assigned to this phenomenon – grinding.

But is all of this “grinding” necessary? Or does much of it come from a tendency humans have towards action bias? Coaches and players alike can succumb to the pitfalls of a cognitive bias called action bias, but being aware of them may help.

First, let’s define action bias.

1. The tendency to think that value can only be realized through action.
2. The tendency to act as opposed to practice restraint — when both are reasonable options (Sturm, 2017).

Simply put, it is the belief that doing something is better than doing nothing. On the surface, this seems like a no-brainer. After all, we are taught from the beginning of our athletic careers to believe work, work and more work are how champions are made.

We are conditioned to “play hard” from tipoff to buzzer and never quit giving maximum effort until the whistle blows. Sports are not a domain that favors inaction. But should this always be the case?

  • Is another long and/or intense workout better than a day of rest?
  • Is playing in another offseason league or tournament going to help? Or may it hurt?
  • Is another page, diagram or chart added to the already lengthy scouting report better than making it more succinct?
  • Is watching another hour of film late into the night better than spending time with family or getting more rest?
  • Is seeking more and more knowledge of the game from clinics, YouTube and social media vital? Or does the bevy of conflicting information out there just confuse us more?
  • Is adding another offense or defense, set or quick-hitter the answer? Or would we be better served by getting better at what we have already introduced?
  • Is playing harder always the answer? Or is lack of knowledge and skill the issue?

After failures and losses, coaches and players have a tendency toward action bias. After all, we lost. We must do something or change something, right?

We tend to think that teams or coaches who are doing the most stuff are creating the most value. But is this true? Many times it is the coach that does not make knee-jerk changes that benefits most in the long run. The answer is sometimes “no” – you do not have to do something. Just because no wholesale changes are instituted does not mean coaching and teaching is not taking place.

There are things we do as coaches which stem from a fear of missing out (FOMO). Another coach is working harder with his/her team than I am. Another coach is learning some new play or concept that I am missing out on. Often these fears prompt us toward unproductive busyness. Perhaps the state or national governing body imposes rules on you where you cannot work with your players during long stretches of the year. The idleness feels uncomfortable and you embark on some tasks to make it feel as if you are at least doing something to gain an edge.

In their article in the Harvard Business Review, Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats write about “unproductive busyness.” The authors note the pitfalls of action bias and how we have a predisposition to act often without fully understanding the issue especially when faced with a complex task. And fielding a good basketball team is certainly a complex task!

They even cite an example from sport.

Consider the case of professional soccer goalies who need to defend against penalty kicks. What is the most effective strategy for stopping the ball? Most of us think that if we were in their shoes, we would be better off jumping to the right or to the left. As it turns out, staying in the center is best. Research has found that goalkeepers who dive to the right stop the ball 12.6% of the time and those who dive to the left do only a little better: They stop the ball 14.2% of the time. But goalies who don’t move do the best of all: They have a 33.3% chance of stopping the ball.

Nonetheless, goalies stay in the center only 6.3% of the time. Why? Because it looks and feels better to have missed the ball by diving (an action) in the wrong direction than to have the ignominy of watching the ball go sailing by and never to have moved.

Consider a couple more examples from sport where action bias may play a part. Dallas Mavericks guard J.J. Barea shared his early impressions of Dallas rookie guard Luka Dončić, of Slovenia and Real Madrid.

“You can tell it in one pickup game, the difference between a college player and a player who has had pro experience. In college, coaches just say, ‘Play hard, play hard.’ Over there [in Europe], you’ve got to know how to play — especially when you have the ball in his hands the whole time.”

Barea knows that more effort and action (playing hard) is not as valuable as playing smart and possessing basketball knowledge. Action does not outweigh knowhow.

Another example, the Houston Rockets faced a ton of criticism from coaches for their style of play. Often the Rockets space three stationary players around a single spread ball screen. While not aesthetically pleasing to some, the Rockets had the most efficient offense in the NBA. They do not do a lot of the cutting, moving and screening (action) that many deem “good offense” yet they are highly productive.

While watching the Rockets one may feel compelled to offer the age-old command that parents and coaches echo from the stands and sideline (MOVE! MOVE!) but why? Action bias, perhaps? We have a mental image (shaped by action bias perhaps) of what “good offense” looks like, but it’s hard to say the Rockets don’t have one. Spacing and positioning work for the Rockets. They are able to construct good spacing, penetrate the defense and find good shots without the action many think is mandatory.

In his book Game Changer, Fergus Connolly discusses what he calls the Paradox of Fitness. In soccer for example there is a tendency to applaud distance covered and praise a team for covering many miles during a match. A team is said to be “robbed” when they have a higher work rate yet lose the match. The paradox would say they’ve lost sight of how a match is won – by scoring more goals than your opponent. Not (necessarily) by outrunning them.

It may sound counterintuitive in coaching circles, but sometimes doing nothing is doing something. This is not an essay in defense of laziness. Winning takes what it takes, but it does not take more than it takes.

How does a coach avoid the pitfalls of action bias? Take a pause and think. Ask yourselves and your staff some questions. Does this new task move us forward or move me forward professionally? Does this task clarify or confuse? Is this task vital? Am I taking this on to look busy or look like I am addressing a need rather than actually addressing a need?

The great John Wooden famously said, “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” The most accomplished basketball coach of all time recognized the pitfalls of action bias. Will you?

Continue the conversation:

For unbiased help with practice planning and examination of your process please reach out and join the Radius Athletics community for basketball coaches!

Any questions, contact Randy! Sign up here for a twice-monthly newsletter for basketball coaches!

Cognitive Biases in Coaching: The Impact Of Optimism Bias

*Originally posted on the Blog by Radius Athletics’ Randy Sherman.

Optimism Bias can lead to unrealistic expectations, disappointment and emotional turmoil for coaches who do not guard against it.

There are numerous cognitive biases – or mistakes in reasoning – humans are susceptible to. Coaches can and do fall prey to these biases as well. One such bias is the optimism bias and failure to guard against it can lead to unrealistic expectations and disappointment.

The optimism bias is defined as the difference between a person’s expectation and the outcome that follows (Sharot 2011). While coaches (and other leaders) may view themselves as rational and logical, there is research to suggest they are overly optimistic. All humans can fall prey to this. Ask a newlywed the percent chance their marriage will end in divorce and they will likely respond with “0%”  despite the fact that divorce rates are much higher.

Further, ask the same newlywed of the percent chance that a friend’s marriage will end in divorce and they will likely respond with a much higher estimation. We are better able to estimate the probable outcomes of others than our own probable outcomes.

A closer look at Optimism Bias

Take a look at the graphic below. Can you accurately categorize your team on this continuum? Seems easy enough as you, better than anyone, know what it does well and what it does not do well.


Optimism bias would suggest that you cannot. Being passionate about a team (your own) can make you think that team will be more successful than they can reasonably expect to be. Optimism bias would also suggest you are much better able to place a rival team or a team from your conference in the correct category than your own. So why the disconnect?

In her book The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Braincognitive neuroscientist Tali Sharot offers an explanation. We experience the optimism bias more when we think the events are under our direct control and influence. In other words, we believe we have the unique skills and ability to change the outcome. Examples: I will not get a divorce, because I am a good husband/wife; I will not have a wreck, because I am a good driver; I will not have a bad team because I am a good coach. There is an illusion of invulnerability which can lead to disappointment.

It is easy to see how optimism bias can lead a coach to have unrealistic expectations. If your perception of your program is off by a category (or more) you will be in turmoil when your team performs to what may be its actual ability. Your optimism led to anguish when a more realistic expectation would have led to a degree of satisfaction.

Without a sudden infusion of talent, even the best coach will have a hard time getting his or her team to rise more than one of the above categories in a given season. If your team is average you will not “coach” your way to elite in a season. Without the sudden infusion of better quality talent, coaches should not expect to skip steps on this continuum. The climb up this continuum is often gradual.

How else Optimism Bias shows up

Optimism bias can be reflected in tactical decisions as well. An offense that does not build in safeguards is not accounting for the fact that their opponent will disrupt it. Practicing in perfect world conditions reflects an unwarranted optimism that perfect world conditions will exist in competition. They won’t. It is better to prepare your team for the inevitable chaos than to cling to the optimistic belief that things will go perfect.

In his book Black Box Thinking author Matthew Syed offers a helpful exercise that could guard against optimism bias – the pre-mortem. A post-mortem is looking back at possible causes for an unfavorable outcome after the fact. What went wrong? How can we prevent it from happening again?

A pre-mortem is different and takes some imagination. Let’s say you and your staff were considering a shift in defensive playing style and you are excited about all the positives this shift could bring. You decide just before practices begin that you are going to implement this defensive change. Do a pre-mortem. Gather your staff and imagine that the season is over and this defensive idea was an abject failure. Why did it fail? How did teams attack this? List these things.

Imagine you are in a post-season meeting discussing how and why this defensive shift failed. The answers will make you aware of the tradeoffs of the shift and reveal the most important areas of emphasis to make it work. Don’t go into it assuming it will be great without considering the possibility it will not be.

Optimism bias can lead to short term thinking for the head coach in his/her first year in charge. First, it is much easier for the new coach to see the flaws in their predecessor than themselves. Again, optimism bias is strongest when we believe we have control.

Second, a high school coach taking over an underperforming varsity TEAM may optimistically believe they can win a bunch of games with some quick fixes and heavy-handed X’s and O’s. They fail to take a PROGRAM > TEAM approach. In essence they believe they can coach their varsity TEAM up more than one of these levels. The better usage of their time would have been to lay the foundation for their PROGRAM by installing a long-term system even though it may not have been the best thing for the varsity TEAM in the short term. No matter how hard you try, you will not win until you are good. Too many coaches are optimistic about their ability to guide their team to wins before they are good.

Be optimistic, but realistic

Optimism is not all bad. Without optimism entrepreneurs would not take risks and innovation would cease. Optimism motivates us to pursue goals. If we expect good things to happen we are more likely to be happy. Coaches should absolutely dream big about the heights their teams and programs can reach. But they should be more realistic (and less optimistic) about the timeline. Improvement without a sudden upgrade in talent takes time. Much like your friend who is always late because they are overly optimistic about traffic conditions, things tend to take more time than we estimate.

The purpose of this essay is not to be a downer. Sports offer a few examples of over-achievement for sure. The purpose of this essay is to help coaches steer clear of emotion turmoil. Stay out of your emotions and deal better with the realities of your coaching situation. Stay in the moment and resist the urge to skip steps in the process – something coaches always ask players to do.

Research has shown that optimism bias is difficult to avoid even when a mound of evidence is presented. Showing someone cancer rates does not cause them to adjust their estimation of the likelihood of getting cancer. As coaches we want to reflect belief to our players. It feels foreign to accept unfavorable outcomes and you should not stop seeking to improve. Dream big and aim high, but stay realistic about the time and investment it will take to get to your desired destination and set realistic goals along the way. Stay away from the emotional and hyperbolic roller coaster by detaching from optimism bias. Find a mentor or friend to self-scout your team. These are all action steps to help you avoid the impact of optimism bias.

Continue the conversation:

For unbiased help with practice planning and examination of your process please reach out and join the Radius Athletics community for basketball coaches!

Any questions, contact Randy! Sign up here for a twice-monthly newsletter for basketball coaches!

Cognitive Biases in Coaching: Identifying Survivorship Bias

*Originally posted on the Blog by Radius Athletics’ Randy Sherman.

Next in a series on Cognitive Biases and how they can impact our decision making as basketball coaches. Here’s how Survivorship Bias works.

Identifying Survivorship Bias in coaching

One of the common Cognitive Biases coaches display is the “Survivorship Bias.” An example of this bias is demonstrated in the tweet below.

First, Coach Miller is one of my favorite follows on Twitter and none of what is written here is meant to slight or insult his views. He shares great information that we all can benefit from.

His tweet is in reference to the University of Virginia Men’s Basketball team and their vaunted Pack Line defense. The tweet references information from Synergy Sports data where the Cavaliers lead the NCAA in defensive points per possession. As most NCAA Men’s Basketball fans know, UVA has been at or near the top of these metrics since the arrival of Head Coach Tony Bennett in Charlottesville.

Coach Miller’s tweet and the general perception that “if the best team does this so too should you” is an example of Survivorship Bias. Yes, Virginia employs the Pack Line defense. And yes, they lead the nation in defensive PPP. But what is the causation?

Survivorship Bias points out that we tend to focus on the “surviving” example of something and neglect other methods or other inferior examples.

  • Is Virginia the only team that runs Pack Line defense?
  • What of the dozens and dozens of NCAA teams that also run Pack Line defense but are not ranked number one?
  • If Syracuse were leading the nation in the same category, should we all make the move to 2-3 Zone?
  • Would Virginia still lead the nation in defense if they ran 1-3-1, a junk defense or pressure man-to-man?
  • Is a team at or near the bottom of the defensive rankings also a Pack Line team?
  • Does leading this category translate to winning more games or championships?

Misconceptions and blind spots

The Survivorship Bias misconception is that by focusing on the one surviving example, the most successful example, you too will be successful.

“Hey if the best defensive team does this, it must work, right?”

With a blind spot toward Survivorship Bias, all the other examples of teams that run Pack Line but not as well as UVA become invisible. Therefore the differences as to why Virginia’s Pack Line is superior to all the other Pack Line defenses in the NCAA becomes invisible as well.

Coping with Survivorship Bias

Coaches can guard against this bias by simply being aware it exists. Rare is the coach that does not second guess his/her methods and Survivorship Bias is a big culprit in the tendency to question oneself.

Coaches feel as if they are doing something different than what the best examples do, then they must be wrong. This can be true of any defense, offense, practice strategy or even more minor details (Kansas has assigned seating on the team bus, so it must be the way to go!).

We have all been guilty of Survivorship Bias – both expressing it and falling victim to it. Resisting the urge to compare is difficult even for the most successful coaches.

How have you fallen victim to Survivorship Bias?

How can awareness of this bias help you make better decisions as basketball coach?

Continue the conversation:

For unbiased help with practice planning and examination of your process please reach out and join the Radius Athletics community for basketball coaches!

Any questions, contact Randy! Sign up here for a twice-monthly newsletter for basketball coaches!

Cognitive Biases in Coaching: Avoiding Outcome Bias

*Originally posted on the Blog by Radius Athletics’ Randy Sherman.

Cognitive Bias In Coaching: Thoughts on avoiding the pitfalls of Outcome Bias for basketball coaches, teams and players. 

“But Coach, I made it…”

The above phrase is one that many coaches have heard before. The lessons of shot selection are often lost on players after a favorable outcome follows a subpar decision. This is one example of a common cognitive bias called Outcome Bias.

By definition, Outcome Bias is the tendency to judge a decision based on its eventual outcome instead of the quality of the decision at the time it was made. Here are two classic examples:

  • Just because you experience a great windfall at a Las Vegas casino, does not mean gambling is a good monetary decision.
  • A more extreme example: a drunk driver. When one leaves a bar after a night of drinking, he/she knows it is a bad decision to get behind the wheel. However, if they make it home and their drunk driving does not harm themselves or others, they’re more likely to do it again in the future.

In both scenarios, a favorable result followed a poor decision. In spite of the poor decision making, the gambler and the motorist found a favorable outcome.

Examples of Outcome Bias in basketball

It is easy to see how shot selection in basketball can fall prey to Outcome Bias. Even ill-advised shots sometimes find the bottom of the net and great shots are often missed. Players who have made ill-advised shots in the past do not see them as poor decisions because of the favorable outcomes they have experienced.

Coaches however, have a different motivation – efficiency. They want the most favorable shot for the team and often have to teach some hard lessons made harder by Outcome Bias inherent in players. Many coaches use a shot selection grading system where they grade the shot decision independent of outcome as a means of overcoming Outcome Bias. Shots are give a grade based on quality criteria. There is no “curve” added to the grade if the shot goes in.

Another way to evaluate shot selection is to note the “advantage state” of the offense relative to the defense when the shot is attempted. In the diagram below, the offense and the defense are in a neutral advantage state. The defense is organized and their matchups are set. The offensive players are all being guarded. Neither the offense nor the defense has an advantage at this point.


If Player 1 were to dribble in place or jab step a few times while doing nothing to disorganize the defense, then launch a contested shot, that would grade as a bad shot…even if it went in. Discourage shots against a neutral defense. Instead, seek “Big Advantage” shots as diagrammed in the example below.


A better shot can be found after employing elements to shift the defense. Ball screens, off-ball screens, handoffs and penetration actions will disorganize the defense to create advantages for the offense. In the above example, Player 1 uses penetration to collapse the defense thus creating a Big Advantage shot for the offense. Player 4 catches with space against a recovering defense. Accumulate as many Big Advantage shots as you can.

Granted, it is a luxury to have a player or players who can make tough shots for that is often what quality opponents force you to take. Guard against players unnecessarily taking Neutral Advantage shots as they decrease long-term efficiency of the offense.

A Big Advantage shot is good even if it misses and a Neutral Advantage shot is frowned upon, even if it goes in. Develop a “NATO” mindset where NATO means “Not Attached To Outcome.”

Coaches too are guilty

After a win in which a team surrendered 40 points, a coach may be quick to praise their defense. The outcome in terms of the final tally was favorable, but are you certain it was to the credit of your defense? Or did the opponent miss multiple Big Advantage shots? Perhaps it was your offense that “held” them to 40 points.

It is quite possible that the favorable outcome you perceived materialized in spite of bad defensive decisions. It is perilous to simply accept the favorable outcome without examining the decisions. Perhaps your decision to play a certain defense or employ a certain defensive concept was not the reason for the favorable outcome. You surrendered multiple Big Advantage shots to your opponent and they did not fall.

Are “we” winning or are “they” losing? And to what degree?

Are our favorable outcomes a byproduct of our successes or their mistakes? And to what degree?

Via Twitter or email, readers and coaches share with me plays that they are in love with. “We score on this one all the time!” is a phrase often repeated. When looking at a play or offense, a beneficial litmus test is whether or not the play or offense is dependent upon a defensive mistake.

Coaches may get a favorable outcome from a play, offense or set and be blind to its inadequacies. Maybe It “works” against inferior opponents or when the defense bungles an assignment leading the coach to believe it is of quality. Or it is quite possible that a successful offensive outcomes is the result of bad opponents. It may also be possible that your offense is bad but your players are good. This is dangerous because eventually you will likely meet a team with equal or superior talent.

Instead, ask yourself if the play, set or offense will “work” even if the defense does exactly what they’re coached to do. Design matters. And designing an offense based on reads and decisions takes into account your opponent doing exactly what they are coached to do and still being wrong. Good offense uses its opponents’ defensive concepts against them.

Analyze all decisions and outcomes

Humans are all guilty of cognitive biases such as Outcome Bias. Being aware of them is the first step to avoiding them and lessening their impact. While most organizations, teams and coaches are diligent about examining failures (unfavorable outcomes) they often accept favorable outcomes and move on.

Begin by separating decisions from outcomes and striving for the best decisions within your program. Take a “Devil’s Advocate” approach and look at your outcomes while seeking to poke holes in them. Make sure you are not blindly attributing favorable outcomes to your process.

Continue the conversation:

For unbiased help with practice planning and examination of your process please reach out and join the Radius Athletics community for basketball coaches!

Any questions, contact Randy! Sign up here for a twice-monthly newsletter for basketball coaches!

Cognitive Biases in Coaching: Defeating Choice-Supportive Bias

*Originally posted on the Blog by Radius Athletics’ Randy Sherman.

Coaches: Is Choice-Supportive Bias plaguing your ability to make good decisions and move on from bad ones? Here’s how to spot and defeat it.

As coaches, we have all made decisions that we have come to regret. During preseason planning you may be excited about an offense, defense or lineup you have selected. You spend early season practices preparing your team to carry out the strategies you chose.

Then the season commences and you put those decisions in the marketplace. You begin to receive feedback and the immediate results are… not good. What you do at this moment could be influenced by a cognitive bias called Choice-Supportive Bias.

Do you stick with the decision? How long? Do you defend the decision? How vigorously? Do you downplay how poor the decision is beginning to look? What is holding you back from admitting the decision was bad? These are the questions that go into defeating Choice-Supportive Bias.

#HoopsForum Discussion on Defeating Choice-Supportive Biases in Coaching

Choice-Supportive Bias in coaching

Choice-Supportive Bias is the tendency for a decision-maker to defend his/her own decision or to later rate it better than it was simply because he/she made it. When coaches defend a decision in the face of rising evidence that the decision was bad, that is Choice-Supportive Bias. When coaches exaggerate how good a decision was or downplay how bad it was, that is Choice-Supportive Bias.

The crux of this cognitive bias is what inhibits us from moving on. Why do we stick to a strategy that is not working? Why do we continue to give minutes to a player(s) that is proving to be ineffective? As coaches, we often tie our self-esteem to our decision-making ability. When a decision goes bad, it feels like a reflection on our judgement and intelligence – and no one likes to have either of those questioned. Admitting you were wrong is hard.

In efficient organizations there is no room for this, however. Protecting the ego of the decision-maker takes away from progress. Strong organizations pivot away from bad decisions before weak ones do.

Other examples

We coach in an age where data and performance quality measures are easier to obtain than ever before. Your decision feedback is often immediate and empirical. If you feel a decision “wasn’t that bad” you have tools in place to put that assertion to the test.

A real world example: we have all experienced buyer’s remorse. Perhaps you purchase an automobile, home or an expensive item like a set of golf clubs. You later begin to feel that you were the victim of some slick salesmanship and a seed of doubt about the decision begins to grow. You may have made an impulse buy you regret. What do you do? Typically we begin to justify the decision. We do all sorts of mental gymnastics and come up with talking points that make our decision sound like it was perfect. Those purchases too are decisions and when our decisions are tied to our self-esteem, Choice-Supportive Bias helps us “make it right.”

Coaches must take this a step further. Self-scout your team to evaluate whether the decisions you have made which seem to be working out favorably actually are.

How to identify and defeat

Coaching staffs should look at positive results with a bit of skepticism. It is easy to take positive results at face value and move on. Is our compact zone defense “working?” Or is it working because our opponents cannot shoot? What will become of it when we face an opponent who can?

It takes a trained coaching eye to discern whether a coaching decision goes wrong as a result of lack of skill or if it went wrong because it was a bad strategy. When building a basketball program, there is a certain amount of insistence a coach must exhibit. At times, the coach must be the most stubborn person in the room.

You will not win until you are good – but when our skill is where it needs to be and our effort level is where it needs to be and the strategy still goes wrong, it’s time to question its viability.

If you have overly defended a past decision just to protect your self-esteem or to save face, that is Choice-Supportive Bias. If you have tried to boost your self-esteem by exaggerating the value of a past decision, you are not only guilty of revisionist history but also Choice-Supportive Bias. Someone on staff needs the professional freedom to tell the decision-maker they are not being objective and their tendency to cling to decision a bit too long is damaging the progress of the program.

Continue the conversation:

For unbiased help with practice planning and examination of your process please reach out and join the Radius Athletics community for basketball coaches!

Any questions, contact Randy! Sign up here for a twice-monthly newsletter for basketball coaches!

Contesting Shots Matters and Here’s Why

Earlier this season I listened to Eric Mussleman speak to his team on the importance of contesting shots.  He referenced the 2015-16 NBA season to explain why the distance of your closeout on a shot makes all the difference.  He said that defensive FG% was lower as shots were contested closer.  You can hear him talk to his team in the YouTube video at the end of this post.  

Sometimes it’s difficult to compare NBA analytics with lower levels because of the type of athlete, the longer 3-point arc, etc., but I thought that this statistic could be applied at any level because of it’s nature.  We decided to make it a point of emphasis with our team defense and it has been instrumental in our success.  We play Pack-Line defense, so closeouts are an important aspect of what we do.  Early on in the season we struggled to contest shots, but noticed we gave ourselves a chance when we did.  We kept working on closeouts every day and determined this could be the single most important statistic that we track.


Over our last 13 games we have a record of 10-3.  Our defensive FG% is directly related to our W/L record and has proven to be a key factor in our success.  Here’s what I mean:


0-2 feet contests – 35/137 (25.5%) 

2-4 feet contests – 39/101 (38.2%)

4+ feet contests – 9/12 (75.0%)


0-2 feet contests – 32/125 (25.6%)

2-4 feet contests – 23/76 (30.3%)

4+ feet contests – 4/7 (57.1%)


0-2 feet contests – 3/12 (25.0%)

2-4 feet contests – 16/35 (45.7%)

4+ feet contests – 5/5 (100%)

You can see the difference between our wins and losses.  In our wins, we consistently contested shots 0-2 feet more often that any other distance.  We made teams uncomfortable shooting the basketball.  In our losses, we failed to consistently contest shots 0-2 feet and allowed teams to get comfortable shooting unguarded shots.  We have found that contesting/not contesting shots is a huge stat for us. I believe that contesting shots is extremely valuable at the college level.  The more our players see the proof of how contesting shots directly impacts our success, the more seriously we take it. 

Here is an example of what I use to track contested shots during games.  I will make my best judgment on the distance of the closeout and then go back and watch film to determine the accuracy.  If we have mostly 0-2 feet closeouts, we find that we win most of our games.  If the majority are in the 2-4 or 4+ column, we find that we typically are playing from behind.
Here is an example of what I use to track contested shots during games.  I will make my best judgment on the distance of the closeout and then go back and watch film to determine the accuracy.  If we have mostly 0-2 feet closeouts, we find that we win most of our games.  If the majority are in the 2-4 or 4+ column, we find that we typically are playing from behind.

If you would like to discuss in more detail how we track this or see more examples of its impact, please reach out to me at

*Written by Andrew Wingreen and originally posted on

NCAA Tournament Trends: Ghost Screens and Gap Creation

Watch the full episode of #HoopsForum: NCAA Tournament Xs & Os Trends

Looking for ideas to improve your basketball playbook? This year’s NCAA Tournament teams offered a variety of ideas to help your half court offense, zone offense, and special situations.

Ghost Screens

The darling of this year’s tournament wasn’t in fact a team. It was the ghost screen.

For those who may not be familiar with the term, ghost screens are modified ball screens. However, instead of actually setting a screen for the ball-handler, the screener sprints away from the ball-handler. One of two things usually happens – either a gap is created for the ballhandler to drive or the screener’s defender helps on the ball-handler, leaving the screener open for a shot.

Gap creation off the Ghost Screen

The Gonzaga Bulldogs took things a set further by following the ghost screen with a ball screen to create further confusion for the defense.

Gonzaga’s ghost screen followed by a ball screen

Gap Creation

The late Chuck Daly once said, “Spacing is offense and offense is spacing.” Teams are are starting to truly understand what it means to manipulate space in order to exploit defenses.

Whether it’s a double gap or a triple game, teams are creating one-on-one situations and then forcing help defenders to choose whether to give help or let their teammate attempt to stop the ball handler from scoring.

A triple gap for 2 forces x3 to choose whether to help or stay on a corner shooter

Check out the full episode of #HoopsForum (scroll up) for more plays from this year’s March Madness. And be sure to watch live episodes of #HoopsForum, streaming every Friday on YouTube and Twitter.

If you’re interested in more of the best plays from the 2021 NCAA Tournament, check my latest playbook

Other Resources

  • Become Patreon member of A Quick Timeout to receive playbooks, mini-clinics, coaching courses, and more!
  • Watch exclusive content and original videos from Coach Tony Miller on YouTube.

Building Your Basketball Playbook: Inverted Offense

Flip the traditional setup – Inverted Offense posts up a guard, running actions above to create huge advantages and tough covers.

While attending the NABC Coaches Convention a few years back, I was intrigued when I saw the session titled, “The Analytical Edge: Underutilized Strategies to Increase Win Percentage,” presented by Frank Dehel of Dribble Handoff.

As I listened to his presentation, one of his main topics in particular got my attention – Inverted Offense.

While the term may not be familiar to you, you’ve seen the base action done for years. Look familiar…?

Reasons To Invert Your Offense

In order for your inverted action to be effective, Dehel tells us a couple things need to happen:

  1. Your guards must win 1-on-1 matchups. Ask most coaches, and they’ll tell you they don’t spend much time having their guards, especially their point guard, practice post defense. A point guard with the moves and ability to dribble, pass, and score in the post is immediately at a huge advantage.
  2. Height and weight differential matters. According to Dehel, his analysis showed that guards who were at least 6’3” tended to have the most success. Even if you don’t have tall guards, your guard may have a weight/strength advantage. There might be times during a game where you can create a mismatch for that guard against a smaller and/or weaker guard.

Some of you are thinking, “Ok, so what? The post up PPP (points per possession) still doesn’t make it worth for us to try any inverted actions.” You’re right – the numbers say shots in the paint off post ups are typically inefficient. However, Dehl’s research found FGAs coming from a pass out of the post yield a +.25 PPP than a FGA in the post. As a matter of fact, shots from a post pass yielded an even higher PPP than a couple of our favorite types of shots.

Adjusted PPP
 YearShots off ScreensSpot-UpShot from Post Pass
*Statistics from

Translation: You need more sets and strategies to get FGAs off post passes.

Here are some ideas to get you started…

Team USA – Horns Inverted Offense

Team USA horns inverted offense

This Horns set from Team USA’s women’s squad is the perfect example of an opportunity to post a guard, then make the defense pay when perimeter defenders are caught turning to find the ball. In today’s game, many teams are putting four or five shooters on the floor at a time. It only takes one defender turning to find the ball for an open 3PA (see Frame 3).

Villanova Wildcats – Fake Handoff to Inverted Offense

Villanova fake handoff to inverted offense

The Villanova Wildcats action above shows the “inverted” portion of the offense by not only posting Jalen Brunson but with the forward screening on the perimeter (something typically done along the baseline to get a guard open).

Utah Jazz – Inverted Offense

Jazz inverted offense

For years, we’ve seen offenses create mismatches in the post by using guard-to-forward screens. Two more possibilities:

  1. Use a forward-to-guard screen for the guard to get into the post.
  2. Use that same guard-to-forward screening principle to get a perimeter shot for the forward (see Jazz play above).

Should I Invert My Offense?

Entirely? Of course not. You may not even feel you have the personnel to try posting any of your guards. But the numbers say passing out of the post for perimeter shot opportunities is advantageous enough to add to your playbook.

If you need more ideas, feel free to connect with me on Twitter @tonywmiller, and I’d be happy to help.

Building Your Basketball Playbook: Multiple Actions

There is incredible value in running sets with multiple actions, and the options are nearly endless – here’s a few to get you started.

For those who read the companion blog post on plays with consecutive actions, you may have already begun tweaking your playbook to include a few more of these types of sets. Before you get too far into finalizing things, here’s one more suggestion…

What are Multiple Actions?

When you first started reading about consecutive actions, you may have thought it was just another way of referring to multiple actions – two or more actions occurring on the floor at the same time.

Consecutive actions are actions that happen back to back, designed to force a few defenders into navigating a difficult sequence.

Multiple actions are actions that occur at the same exact time, designed to force every defender on the floor to guard something.

Multiple Action - Double Pin Downs - Powered by FastModel Sports

Most of you have coached multiple actions for years. A quick look through the FastModel playbank, and you’ll find hundreds of great plays with those types of actions – double back screensdouble cross screensmover-blocker offense, etc.

Coaching Multiple Actions

If used well, multiple actions force all five defenders to guard an action at the same time, which can create great scoring opportunities for the offense.

Typically, a multiple action will involve some sort of screen, so it’s important to prepare your offensive players to read two scenarios:

  • If the defense switches, you may end up with a mismatch somewhere on the floor.
  • If the screen defender shows, you may have a slip to the rim for an easy two.

Simple enough, but could it be possible to make multiple actions even harder to guard?

Next Level Multiple Actions (with Consecutive Actions)

A lot of coaches quit reading this article about 3 paragraphs ago because they already know about multiple actions. But because you stuck with it, I’m going to give you a tip that will give those coaches’ teams major problems.

Here it is: When possible, combine your multiple actions with consecutive actions.

Let’s look at two examples: (click on the diagram to download it to FastDraw or email to a coaching friend)

One of the reasons we love a stagger screen is because it’s actually a consecutive action (two screens back-to-back) that forces the defense to either switch, or show and recover. Pair it with a DHO (or in the example below, a fake DHO) and you take away all help defenders from guarding the strong side of the floor. The result? An uncontested layup at the rim.

Multiple Action - Horns - Powered by FastModel Sports

The combination of consecutive actions with multiple actions are great for OB situations. While a screen-rescreen is happening on one side of the floor with the 5 and 2, 4 is giving 3 a back screen on the opposite side of the floor. And there are even more scoring opportunities than just a shot for 2; 5 might be open on a slip to the basket, 3 could screen for 5 (as pictured) for a lob at the front of the rim, or 4 could be open for a short corner jumper if x4 shows on 3. If the defense switches everything, you should have mismatches all over the court!

Multiple Actions - BLOB - Powered by FastModel Sports

Just like with consecutive actions, the combinations for multiple actions are almost limitless. It’s just up to you to find the best actions to fit with your personnel and system.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments section or on Twitter about which consecutive actions have worked for your team!

Building Your Basketball Playbook: Consecutive Actions

String together consecutive actions to creates advantages by forcing the defense to make back-to-back quick decisions.

During my second year as a college assistant coach, we had a Division I point guard transfer into our small program. His skill in the pick and roll was quickly apparent, not just to our staff, but also to our opponents. In just the first few games, the typical high ball screen became less and less effective as teams would adjust their defense to force our ball handler to give up the basketball.

In an early season classic, I remember our head coach adding a Horns set for our stretch 4.

Bob Jones University - Double Screen to Flare Screen Horns - Powered by FastModel Sports

We ran that play in the invitational’s first game. It worked. (Though, we still lost the game. After all, you can’t run the same set every possession.) More importantly, we were on to something. I didn’t know the term “consecutive action” at the time, but that’s exactly what we had created with the Horns set – a play with back-to-back actions that created a brief advantage for the offense.

Consecutive actions aren’t new. You probably, right now, have a set or two in your playbook with some sort of consecutive action – a dribble handoff to a ball screen, a floppy set (stagger followed by a pin down), or maybe a flex action (cross screen to down screen).

So if this strategy isn’t new, and if everyone already runs consecutive actions, why do they seem to work so well?

Defending Consecutive Actions

  • Many defensive players fail to communicate.

Coaches understand how difficult it can be getting players to communicate with each other on the court. Talking though individual defensive assignments is tough enough. Having to talk through two actions back-to-back can be especially challenging, even for veteran teams.

  • Many teams practice defending only one action at a time.

The coach says, “Put three minutes on the clock. Let’s work on switching the DHO.” Once that three minutes is up, “Put three more up. Now ball screen defense.” Even coaches who use small-sided games typically don’t force their defenses to guard two actions in a row.

What does this mean for you as a coach? First, make sure you’re teaching your players what, when, and how to communicate on the defensive end. Second, purposefully incorporate more consecutive actions into your practice, especially into 3-on-3, 4-on-4, and 5-on-5.

Coaching Consecutive Actions

Even though your team will be guarding consecutive actions well now, it doesn’t mean your opponents will be. As you begin to design your plays to include more consecutive actions, here are some ideas to get you started.

A simple flex action (cross screen to a down screen) from the Indiana Pacers results in a potential open shot or drive from the wing.

Indiana Pacers - Flex Quick Hitter - Powered by FastModel Sports

Screening for screeners is a commonly used consecutive action. In this Wedge PNR from the Boston Celtics, a screen is set for Al Horford who immediately goes and sets a ball screen for Kyrie Irving.

Boston Celtics - Wedge PNR - Powered by FastModel Sports

The combinations for consecutive actions are almost limitless. It’s just up to you to find the best actions to fit with your personnel and system.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments section or on Twitter about which consecutive actions have worked for your team!

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