Basketball’s Greatest Defender Ever

The greatest defender the game has ever seen.

A perfect shadow anticipating, even dictating, every move an offender has to offer. The most intimidating force ever to hit the hardwood? FEAR.

The more I train and coach young players, the more I’m convinced that this four-letter “F” word is the single greatest defender in not only basketball, but in all of sports & life. Players with fear are battling a continuous double-team, making it extremely difficult to make plays.

 You’ve no doubt seen them. The Fearful often catch standing straight up and regurgitate the ball as soon as they get it, most often east-west passes on the perimeter; whereas, the Fearless catch shot-ready in a quadruple threat, always looking to attack north-south via dribble or pass. The Fearful often watch the ball in flight and avoid contact on box outs. The Fearless go head-hunting to locate a potential “crasher” before said crasher gets a head of steam toward an offensive rebound 
 The examples could go on and on. The $64 million question, then, is how can we help players shake this paralyzing foe? I know one thing for sure: I’d be at least $64 million richer if I developed a pill that erased FEAR! By no means do I profess to be an expert, but I do have some suggestions:

1) Coach to Correct. “Take care of the ball!” We’ve probably all yelled this at one time or another. While ball security is crucial to the overall success of the team, this remark simply points out the obvious to an already dejected player who just turned it over on a lazy perimeter bounce pass. There is nothing corrective in this statement, and furthermore, it fuels Fear. Instead, “Chest passes on the perimeter!” is a corrective telling a player how to do it right….rather than simply telling them they did it wrong. More examples with corrective alternatives:


Non-Corrective (Corrective)

A. “We need a stop!” (“Early help and recover!”)

B. “We’re getting killed on the boards!” (“Locate!” – as in, go find your player to box out)

C. “Wings gotta get open!” (“Time your V cuts!”)

D. “Stop penetration!” (“Close out with high hands & squeaky feet!”)


2) Lengthen the Leash. When a player makes an error, I’m cognizant of not “yanking” him/her immediately. I like to allow a possession or two before a substitution. Often times, the player finds redemption before coming out. I don’t want anyone playing on eggshells, worried about making a mistake. I’d rather they focus on making a play. A short leash, in my opinion, is the biggest Fear Monger of them all. “Next Play!” is a mantra for every team I coach. I tell my kids to focus on the next play at hand, not the play that just happened (good or bad!). I constantly reinforce that they’re always “one play away from a new emotion”. A player might throw a bad pass, but hustle back and get a deflection during the transition. Kids need to experience the emotional roller coaster that is basketball, but they’ll never be able to with a short leash. 

3) Encourage to Build Confidence. “You got this.” “I believe in you.” “You’ll get the next one.” “You deserve success.” “You’re an amazing kid.” “I love watching you play.” Remember that pill I mentioned earlier? The Fear Eraser? Encouraging statements are the closest alternative. Please don’t mistake this with the “everybody gets a trophy” approach with warm fuzzies. These statements, when made timely and sincerely, can literally change a kid’s life. These statements inspire. Inspiration is one of the greatest, longest-lasting “Fear Erasers” we can offer our players. Because in my opinion, it leads to the greatest attribute any person can possess: confidence. Would you rather build a culture of FEARLESS wolves or FEARFUL sheep? 

4) Preparation. Janesville Craig Boy’s HS Basketball Coach, Bob Suter, was (and remains to this day) a meticulous planner. Long before Hudl, Coach Suter spent hundreds of hours and thousands of miles scouting teams and assembling detailed handouts beginning in the late 80’s. His scouting reports were works of art: player tendencies, offensive and defensive schemes…all in there. His practice plans were laser-focused, always equipped with a scout team. As one of his players for three years, I can’t recall a time where I was surprised at what the opposition threw at us. 1-3-1 half-court trap? Check. Flex offense? Check. Triangle and two? Check. The better you prepare your players for battle, the better chance they have of playing with more confidence, and LESS FEAR.

No doubt about it.

Fear is a real defensive presence on the court. It not only inhibits fluid decision-making and player/team development, but it quite frankly can zap the FUN out of the game. As coaches, we must find ways to equip our players with tools necessary to attack the greatest defender the game has ever seen: FEAR.