We all have so much to be thankful for as we look back at another year's past. I am thankful for being given the opportunity to teach and coach at what I consider the best place on earth.

I hope you are all having as much fun coaching basketball as I am having this season. For me, just having the chance to call the shots has been exhilarating enough. After an early stint as a head coach 7 years ago, and then assisting in various capacities at various levels for the past 7 years -- to be finally back at the helm this time around feels so much better. I often look back at that first stint and obviously I was too young and inexperienced, but I really needed to get my butt kicked (for lack of a better expression), then go and observe some other coaches (some better than others) do their thing, before knowing how to and how not to do things.

Do I still have doubts about the decisions that I make as a head coach now? Absolutely, but I make the decisions having experienced so much more this time around. As for how our team is doing so far this season? We're still inconsistent, but we've certainly had our moments. Such as the game-tying-send-it-to-OT then win it in OT win on the road, against Steve Nash's old high school coach to boot. And then there was the 30 point come from behind almost win (lost by 2 points with the ref calling an illegal screen on our game-tying possession) last week. It hasn't all been sunshine and roses though, for example I've also had to deal with multiple discipline issues with players on the team, academic and social. But overall, it's been a fantastic ride, and I'm not only looking forward to how we finish in March, when it counts -- but most importantly how these boys develop into the fine upstanding men that I know they can be.

I want to wish all the readers a very happy holidays. And for you coaches out there, be sure to thank your family members for putting up with our random mood swings, grumpy misdemeanor after losing, and for just being there when we need you. May all of your coaching dreams come true in 2012.

P.S. A big shout out to my current mentor, head varsity coach and athletic director, Rich Goulet who notched his 1000th career win last week.

I was watching the Lakers vs Bulls last night and one of the key plays at the end of the game came on an offensive rebound by Luol Deng who got an and1 play to bring the Bulls to within 1 with less than a minute to go in the game.

It was a weird bounce as Deng shot a 3ptr and the ball came right back at him.

I went back and looked at the highlights and replay of the play and I could see why the Lakers couldn't come up with the ball.

Kobe is trying to leak out for the run out off of the defensive rebound. Problem is, Deng is the one that comes up with the ball and then the Bulls are essentially playing 5 on 4 with Kobe way out of position.

As a run and gun team, you have to weight the pros and cons of leaking out vs rebounding down. I got the idea mostly from  Billy Donovan's DVD on Transition Offense and decided that for our team, leaking out on a long wing or top shot was worth it as our halfcourt offense isn't very good and we needed something to get easy baskets. The idea is that the majority (80%) of rebounds go to the weak side, so we will leak out against the shooter and the rebounder will look for the easy lob off the run out. It's been tremendous for us and it has caused offenses to adjust as they need to send less players to the offensive glass and send someone back to cover the deep pass.

However, be aware, this is a gamble. Because if the offense comes up with the rebound, you are playing with 4 defenders against their 5. For us, it's usually a gamble we're willing to live with. But, on at least one occasion this season so far, we have adjusted to have our guards rebound down instead of leaking out. It's an adjustment we will make game to game depending on whether we need more rebounding help.

Winning the Mental Match

I know this is a blog that is supposed to talk about the X's and O's, but I don't think as a coach you can ever dismiss the fact that games are won and lost mentally just as much as they are physically.

The team that I coach is 3-1 so far and this past weekend we went up against the #3 ranked team. We were inconsistent most of the first half but managed to even up the score at halftime. We came out flat to start the 3rd and couldn't execute down the stretch when it mattered the most. In other words, our team choked and couldn't close out the game.

I recently read a terrific book the other day that talks about sports psychology from the perspective of performance anxiety. I usually don't read these kinds of books, because I find them mostly to be pretentious and written by people who call themselves doctors but have no real world experience working with athletes. This book is different. It is called "Tennis: Winning the Mental Match" and it is written by Dr. Allen Fox. Although it is written specifically with Tennis in mind, many of it's tenets and arguments can be directly applied to just about any sport where high competition is involved.

There are 14 chapters, but the 3 main points of emphasis that I took away from it are:

1. Sport matches are inherently emotional affairs. And how you manage your emotions will largely determine your success in the game.
2. You must accept the fact that there are things that are out of your control. Stress comes largely from the attempt to control the uncontrollable.
3. Never do anything that doesn't help you win. Eliminate all the unnecessary elements of your game which cloud your objective and maintain an efficiency of purpose.

I'd say right now that our team is having the hardest time with the first point. We are an emotional group, and we wear our emotions on our sleeves. It's good to be emotionally involved, because it means that our players really care about the team, about what we are doing, and about where we want to go. But we are susceptible to wild swings in our play as a result. We are too high with the highs, and too low with the lows. We have to get to a place where we can just "play ball".

"Control is an illusion you infantile egomaniac" as so famously quoted from the movie Days of Thunder. As players, and as coaches, it's sometimes hard to accept that there are things that you can't control. That even if you played a perfect game, you may still lose. You can't control the refs, you can't control the slippery floors, and you can't control the heckler in row 2 who keeps taunting you. As mentioned, you just have to "play ball".

Finally, there is something to be said for being able to concentrate on the task at hand. Teams that are easily distracted by a bad call, or something said by an opponent will have a have a hard time when "the game is on the line" because they are no longer focused on the goal -- to win the game. Everything is a distraction unless it has a hand in the singular goal of winning the game.

With most of you still early in your seasons, it is a good time to sit back and think about the mental state of your players, and of yourself. Do they have all of their emotions in check? How have your players reacted in certain situations so far this season? Are they stressed before/during big games? What distractions can you eliminate from their game to help them have better clarity?