Tips For Lean Coaching

By Randy Sherman

Lean Coaching: Three tips for trimming away the excess that may exist in your coaching style

In some recent reading on non-basketball subjects, I ran across the descriptive term lean. The term lean was used as a complimentary descriptor for an author’s writing style.

To have a lean writing style means the author is not wordy. The author avoids several words where one word or phrase will do. There is no excess. Every scene in the novel moves the story forward and nothing is there just for show. In short, every word tells.

Also, think of the word lean versus the word skinny. To describe someone as lean means they are muscular with little fat. It carries a connotation of strength. It’s a positive. Skinny hints of weakness and inadequacy. To be lean is desirable; to be skinny is not.

How can we apply this word lean to our coaching style? How can we make our teams and programs more lean? Below are a few tips.

Eliminate Redundancy

Coaches often accumulate clutter and the biggest contributor to clutter is redundancy. To become more lean in your coaching attack redundancy.

How many closeout drills, for example, do you really need? You do not need numerous drills to teach or rep the same skill.  You just need one good one. Often the redundant drills are not something better, they are just something different.

Better yet, devise ways to teach multiple skills within one drill. These “Swiss Army Knife” drills can improve your leanness by giving you one drill to teach multiple skills. They are one tool that serves many purposes and such drills help you reduce redundancy and clutter.

Coaches often add things thinking they will use them “some day” and that “some day” never or rarely comes. Furthermore, they probably already have a drill or play similar to the one they feel compelled to add.

Like the rarely used exercise bike in your spare bedroom or many of the items hanging in your closet, that “some day” never comes and you would be better served ridding yourself of the items.

Think of a team of soldiers heading into maneuvers in a mountainous region. As they pack the gear they will have to carry they are strategic about what they take. This is not the time for luxuries and the tools the soldier takes are only what he/she needs. No solider would want to tote multiple tools that do the same thing. The soldier seeks leanness for their trip as extras will weigh them down.

As the season nears, where are some areas you can reduce and eliminate areas of redundancy and clutter?

Shut Up

As the lean writer makes every word tell, so too does the lean coach. The lean writer seeks to avoid written wordiness and the lean coach avoids verbal jabber.

Strive for precision in your coaching interjections. Instead of shouting a constant barrage of generic commands (Move! Hustle!) like the fans in the stands, provide your players with specific coaching points at a time where they can listen and absorb the information.

Put a constraint on yourself. An in-game tip, stay out of live play by accepting the #SeamlessChallenge!


Same goes for practice. Record yourself in practice and listen for low-value coaching interjections versus specific and high-value coaching interjections. Are your instructions precise? How much practice time is lost on long-winded explanations? Are you coaching in paragraphs or bullet points?

In basic Economics, things that exist in surplus lose value. Make sure this does not happen with your words.

Improve Focus

Becoming lean requires extreme focus. Filtering or blocking out the bevy of information coaches are bombarded with is the new coaching superpower. The coach who cannot do this runs the risk of bloating. How do we do this?

In a recent conversation with a group of coaches, we created these questions to help focus and prioritize basketball skills and improve the leanness of your teaching.

  1. How do we want to play?
  2. What skill and abilities are needed for us to play this way optimally?
  3. What are our technical standards for each of those skills?

These focusing questions should be answered in order. Start with Question #1 and the answer to that will help you identify the priority skills in Question #2. Then spell out the technical details of each of those priority skills. Getting lean starts with answering Question #1. Different offense and defenses place different values on certain skills.

A household who wants to avoid clutter must be intentional about such things as shopping and spending habits. They must question themselves before making a purchase. Gluttonous behavior allows clutter to creep in.

Likewise, the answers to the above questions become a barrier that keeps unwanted coaching clutter from creeping in. This is who we are. These are the skills we need to be who we are. This is how we teach those skills. To deviate from these things moves us toward “fat” and away from lean.

Next Steps

As the new season approaches take these steps to move toward leanness:

  • Gather your staff and have a “Deletion Party” – talk about what your program needs to stop doing or do less of. Instead of gathering to talk about what you intend to add, gather and decide what you are going to subtract.
  • Identify redundancy and eliminate it. Keep only the high-value activities
  • Improve Focus: Get an answer to the three questions found in the “Improve Focus” section above for both sides of the ball. Make no more plans beyond answering those
  • Engage your players: Ask your players what we do that seems silly, unnecessary or redundant
  • Have everything you need, but nothing more!

Continue the conversation:

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Randy Sherman is the owner and founder of Radius Athletics - a basketball coaching consulting firm - where he consults with basketball coaches at all levels on coaching philosophy, practice planning, Xs & Os and teaching a conceptual style of basketball. While a head basketball coach at the the interscholastic level, Sherman's teams won 197 games in nine seasons.
March 21, 2019 – Hartford, CT, USA – Villanova head coach Jay Wright looks on during action against St. Mary’s in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at XL Center in Hartford, Conn., on Thursday, March 21, 2019. Villanova advanced, 61-57. (Credit Image: © Brad Horrigan/Hartford Courant/TNS via ZUMA Wire)

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