What’s in a Name?

The NBA recently announced that it is considering allowing the members of the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets to wear “nickname jerseys” during one (or more) of their games together.

No more James, Wade, Garnett or Pierce. Instead “King James”, “Flash”, “Big Ticket” and “The Truth” will be worn.

Kobe Bryant told ESPN’s, business insider, Darren Rovell that “I think it gives players a great opportunity to frame their brand by picking a name that tells their story or further communicates what they represent.”

From the NBA’s point-of-view, the nickname jerseys could help sell more jerseys, create a buzz around the new Heat-Nets rivalry and further market their stars. 

Star power has been a staple of Commissioner David Stern’s NBA, since he took over the league in 1984.

Now this apparently.

This may do all of the aforementioned things for the NBA, but from a coach’s standpoint, this is a nightmare.

First, this attempts to even further support the NBA notion that it is a star league and the stars run their organizations.

Secondly, it creates an even large schism between stars and non-stars in the game. How do you ask? Well, who decides who gets nicknames? I mean James and Wade have notable nicknames, geez, I guess even Mario Chalmers is called “Super Mario.” But what about Udonis Haslem? Norris Cole? Shane Battier? They don’t have nicknames so they should not get a nickname jersey.

Honestly, can you imagine Battier, one of the most revered players in Duke basketball history having one of these jerseys? , Battier played for Coach K, the USA Basketball Head Coach, is the personification of team sports and team building. Battier learned from the best in team sports. Battier’s game is centered around hitting clutch 3pt shots, grabbing some rebounds and taking charges for his team. The notion of Battier with a nickname jersey is, quite frankly, comical.

Nickname jersey’s would not happen in the NCAA or high school basketball. It would be a money issue for the cost of jerseys for some programs and the fact that most players are not good enough to have a nickname. Not to mention, college or high school players are not mature enough to handle them. Especially, if some players had nicknames while others did not. Or maybe all NCAA players would have to have a nickname jersey because it would be seen as an extra benefit if one player did and another didn’t.

I mean just think of the nicknames the athletic department of Bethune Cookman could come up with for their 14th man!

Most coaches cringe at the nickname jersey idea, including NBA coaches. The jerseys seem to focus on the “I” of the player and not the “we” of the team, something that all basketball coaches, especially NBA coaches battle with constantly.

However, with the marketing research done and the buzz already out there and fans (i.e. kids and 45 year old “men” who still wear jerseys) are lining up to buy the new Ray Allen a.k.a. “Shuttlesworth” jersey, I am sure this will be an idea that will not only occur but will most likely take over the entire league at some point.

I can’t wait to get my O.J. Mayo, MIlwaukee Bucks jersey…I hope he doesn’t use the nickname “The Juice”. That one has already been taken.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo

When the Absurd Becomes the Norm

“All progress requires change, but not all change is progress.” — Dr. Josiah “Mort” Briggs, URI Emeritus, Professor of History

Dr. Briggs made this statement during a lecture in his “History of Science” course that I took. I am not sure why, but this always stuck with me. I remember jotting these words of wisdom in my notebook, but it has resonated in my mind ever since, ingrained for all time.

I am confident that it rings true in life and applies to sports as well.

I’ll give you an example. Anyone who has watched a lick of baseball in the last few years has noticed one dramatic change in philosophy: “The shift”.

How many times have you seen this recently?

Even tonight in the Boston Red Sox game vs. the Baltimore Orioles, the O’s shifted the entire infield (3rd baseman was almost behind 2nd base) for Stephen Drew with 2 outs and a runner on third base. Drew was batting .247, 12 HR, 62 RBI headed into this at-bat. What were the Orioles doing? Drew coudn’t be shift worthy with those numbers, right?

Don’t let the numbers fool you. Drew had an exceptionally better average with 2-outs and runners in scoring position. Drew walked, but if managers are doing it, it must have some value. Although I do not have the stats to represent the hard facts, I am positive there is validity to this defensive strategy.

More importantly, this is a paradigm shift in baseball. It is even more for remarkable for baseball where change is not something that comes easy for fans, teams or the MLB powers that be.

Previously, only the likes of Barry Bonds or David Ortiz would be respected (or feared) enough to totally change a team’s defensive alignment. Now this is not the case. Instead, the infield shift is being used as a tool to get any and all out. Whether you are a Hall-of-Famer or bat .247 (no disrespect meant Mr. Drew).

Even NESN play-by-play commentator Don Orsillo noted that regarding the teams using the shift, “it used to be one guy, now it’s like five guys in every order.” It seems as though it may only increase.

The question is, is this change progress?

In this case, I think it is. If it gets batters out…why not? Sure pitchers have to pitch differently (slower or inside to induce players to pull the ball to the shift) and certain infielders have to get adjusted to their new spot on the field, but if it works…why not?

This could be a huge boost for the defensive aspect of the game. The result in the long run could also be that maybe hitters will adjust (i.e. go the opposite way) after seeing shifts for an extended period of time. Only time will tell.

More importantly, “the shift” has proved that baseball managers who are notoriously “old school” have made the leap to develop new ways to get batters out. Kudos to them for a little outside-the-box thinking and not letting baseball’s unwritten rules get in the way of getting hitters out.

Rhode Island College Men’s Basketball Coach, Bob Walsh, held a Leadership Academy this summer where he challenged coaches to “challenge conventional basketball strategy and theory.” It was a weekend full of ideas, sharing and radical thoughts.

I don’t think any MLB managers were at Coach Walsh’s Dynamic Leadership Academy, but I think they are starting to get the message.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo

Support Stats: How to Create a “Championship Culture” Through Emphasis

Great coaches effectively communicate with their teams so that they players know how the coaching staff envisions the team to play. As the season progresses, teams further their strengths and start to lessen their weaknesses to grow as a team. However, creating a “Championship Culture” is more that just wins and losses. 

To create a “Championship Culture” players need to know what the coach thinks is imperative and do their best on a daily basis to carry out this vision.

So it is simple. The coaching staff communicates their vision and players execute the plan. Every player knows what their coach thinks is really important….don’t they?

Think about your experiences as a player or coach. Have you ever been a part of a team where an aspect of the game was discussed in a half time talk. film session or in practice on an occasional basis, but then expected of each member of the team each and every possession?

Most have.

It seems that if a particular aspect of the game is such an important factor for the coaching staff to expect his/her team to execute, then it should be constantly reinforced throughout the season.

Not only should it be reinforced for the duration of the season but It should be reinforced on several different levels: During practice, during competition, post game and film sessions.

How is this done? Through constant emphasis in your terminology, time allocation and the use of unique stats, exclusive to your program, to support your coaching philosophy.

1. During practice – Be sure to compete in areas that your find the most important to your program’s success (i.e. rebounding) and develop creative means to gauge your prowess in this area. For instance, if rebounding is the most important statistic for the coaching staff, do not just rely on total rebounds or rebounding margin for evaluating how good of a rebounding team you are. Have your coaching staff come up with “support stats”. These stats could be total blockouts, offensive rebounds given up, balls kept alive, etc. and constantly make sure your team knows that these are just as, if not more important than the player who grabs the rebound. In addition, have the forethought to realize that if your team in shooting great from the field on a particular night, then there obviously will not be many offensive rebounding opportunities for them. Creating a group of useful, creative and logical support stats will prove to your team that you find these stats to be of the utmost importance and will help to create a certain culture based upon whatever the coaching staff emphasizes. In this case the importance of rebounding correlates to a culture based on toughness and the importance of winning the battle on the glass on each possession.

2. During competition – Continually evaluate with your team how the “game within the game” is going. During timeouts, have support stats ready to present to your team. Assistant coaches and managers are invaluable in this area. Again using the important support stats that you use during practice (i.e., short rebounds, long rebounds, block outs, 50/50 rebounds) all help to paint a picture for your team and to emphasize the importance of rebounding. Touch on this area during your halftime talk as well and/or even have players grade the rebounding performance at the half to keep them aware and focused on rebounding. Keeping the players involved and accountable at all times is key to create your culture.

3. Post game – Emphasizing rebounding to the team during the post game talk and with the media. No matter how we try to keep our players away from the media, they will inevitably read/hear the coach’s quotes. What better way to use the media to your advantage and emphasize the culture of the program by letting them see your support stats in print or hear it on the radio. It makes the emphasis even more real for them because it is tangible and reiterates to them that the support stats must be important if the coach discussed them with the media.

4. Film session – Watch and discuss numerous examples of great, good and poor examples of support stats. Be careful to not dwell on the negative aspects of the support stats, as coaches sometimes do. This can have a unintended consequence and create a culture of fear or negativity around the program. Showing the techniques on film from games or practices is very important because as the saying goes, “the film doesn’t lie.” Being direct, honest, and hopefully positive can allow players to make strides in improving.

Lastly, use support stats to reward players who are being productive. Come up with positive rewards or recognition for players who are helping to create the culture you wish to instill in the program. You will be surprised how much fun the players can have with “owning” the culture and before you know it, they will begin to emphasize to each other the aspect(s) you have deemed as important.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo