“It’s a make or miss league.”

It’s a common cliche’ used to describe the NBA. You hear a lot of coaches at all levels going to something similar – “We got the shots we wanted, we just couldn’t make any,” or “We just gotta make some shots.”

I’m not really a fan of that mentality. I guess technically it is true – if you make shots, you are going to be pretty good, and if you don’t make any you are going to struggle. But it’s sort of a given isn’t it? It’s like saying “We’ve got to score more points than our opponent if we want to win.” We all understand it, and we all try and coach our teams to get the shots we can make, and keep our opponents from getting the shots they can make.

The reason I don’t like the phrase, or the approach it represents, is I think it’s a cop-out for coaches to make themselves feel better. The inference by saying we “just needed to make some more shots,” is that the game plan was good, the guys were ready to go, we executed what we wanted, we just didn’t make enough shots. There’s a little bit of the I-coached-good-they-played-bad mentality in that approach. It’s comfort food for coaches. There’s really nothing else we could have done, right? We got good shots, they just didn’t go in, and sometimes that happens. It’s a make or miss league, right?

Going to the “we didn’t make enough shots” approach to evaluating your team makes you feel better and takes the responsibility off of you as a coach. It’s not like it’s mean-spirited or you are attacking your players. It’s just a way of rationalizing your approach and feeling comfortable with what you did as a coach. It’s a lot harder to say “man, we didn’t get good looks at all, our offense is really bad.” That approach requires some self-reflection and a lot of work.

Of course make or miss matters. But it’s not something you can really control. As a coach, you need to focus on the things you can control. There are times where you execute well and get great looks, and the ball just won’t go in. There are other times when you make a lot of tough shots. I happens, although I would submit it doesn’t happen very often. Rarely do we execute really well on offense and struggle to score. Likewise, when we play great defense and force tough shots, we usually don’t give up a lot of points. I would ay that 90% of the time, the team that gets the better looks at the basket wins the game.

My job as a coach is to take make or miss out of the equation. We want to work on executing as a team on both offense and defense, but we have to be good enough to overcome those nights when we can’t hit the side of a barn. That is what we prepare for every day. We’ve all had those nights where everything goes in, we knock down 15 3s and we win by 25. On those nights, you don’t really need to do much as a coach. The nights you need to really prepare for are the nights where you can’t make shots and you have to find a way to win.

Our teams always used the phrase “Win Anyway” to define our no excuses mentality. We can’t get a shot to go down? Win anyway. We are struggling to finish inside? Win anyway. At RIC we beat Iona in an exhibition game with 30 turnovers. We won the Little East Championship game one year on the road with 25 turnovers. We won an NCAA Tournament game scoring 1 point in the final 13 minuets of the game to get to the Sweet 16. We won another LEC title shooting 34% from the field. My job as a head coach wasn’t to prepare my team to win when they were playing really well. That was easy. My job was to prepare my team to win no matter what happened.

I’d never go to the make or miss excuse for winning or losing a game. To me, that was something you couldn’t really control as a coach. That was basketball. Sometimes the ball goes in, other times it doesn’t. Every league, every level, every game is a make or miss deal. your job as a coach is to handle what you can control, and prepare your team to win regardless of whether the ball is going in or not

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