Your Culture Needs to Be ‘Orca’ Strong

Usually when coaches talk about “culture” they are describing their philosophy and what their program represents.

However, it’s not just sports teams or even human society that has strong culture.

Virginia Morell’s article on orcas ( gave me a new perspective on what a strong culture is truly built on.

The variety of resident, transient and offshore Orca is a testament to how their culture spans the entire ocean and now well adapted they are in all types of climates.

A National Geographic “The Whale that Ate Jaws” documentary even analyzes how orcas most likely have deduced tonic immobility in sharks and stingrays, that have allow orcas to kill expand their diet.

The orcas’ communication within their groups/pods, adaptability to their surroundings and ability to learn/be coached is a great lesson for coaches to share.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo




The Case for…Chip Kelly – Melissa Jacobs

This recent Sports Illustrated article by Melissa Jacobs, makes a case for Chip Kelly being the right hire for the San Francisco 49ers. I think it is at least a logical argument for hiring a coach who seemed to not have the necessary personality to connect with his players during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Although having the necessary tactical skills are very important, nothing is as important as treating players with respect and getting to know them on a personal level, in my opinion. X’s and O’s can be learned, personality and caring can not.

Although the 49ers do need a whole system transformation in order to get the necessary production out of Colin Kaepernick, it will be interesting to see if Kelly can make the changes necessary or if the 49ers should have went with an “Unusual Hire” (see “Taking a (Calculated) Risk in Hiring”) to fill its head coaching vacancy

The Case for…Chip Kelly- Sports Illustrated – Jan. 25, 2016 – Melissa Jacobs

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo


Hoop Dirt Article: Game Planning for Mother Nature (2-10-14)

With the impending weather that the Northeast is expecting and the Mid-Atlantic has already experienced, here is an article entitled “Game Planning for Mother Nature” that I wrote for / in February of 2014.

Hopefully these tips will help coaches navigate around delays, cancellations and other unexpected happenings when harsh winter weather strikes.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo


Taking a (Calculated) Risk in Hiring

“The Unusual Hire” is a recent piece by Jon Wertheim and Sam Sommers, concerning the Cleveland Browns hiring of Paul DePodesta, of the New York Mets, as the Chief Strategy Officer (see article: The Unusual Hire – Sports Illustrated – 1-18-16 – L. Jon Wertheim )

The premise is that franchises usually don’t think outside the box when hiring coaches and upper management.

Why? Wertheim and Sommers believe that “conformity feels safer. Stick within the parameters of generally expected behavior, and the consequences of falling short are mitigated.”

Basically, if owner’s/administrators hire the safe person, they don’t risk as much professionally and personally. The “CYB” (Cover Your Butt) leadership style, allows so-called leaders to say “they looked good on paper,” “they were an alumni, I figured they could get everyone on board,” and “they came highly recommended from a good friend.” They essentially have built in excuses and can retain their job in the process.

These are all convenient (and maybe lazy) but surely safe reasons for hiring a candidate. None of these practices however, ensure future success or mean the candidate selected was actually the best fit or most qualified.

I know as a young head coach, I regularly scratched my head when recycled coaches had the benefit of earning their 3rd or 4th jobs with only marginal records and I could barely eek out an interview despite my resume. It can be a very disheartening and frustrating experience for coaches and drives many of them away from pursuing their career goals.

Maybe hires like DePodesta, if successful, will spark some renewed creativity in the interview/hiring process, where hires are based solely on merit and leadership skills.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo

Finding the Positive: Why Coaches ‘Spin’

I recently I went to watch a practice of a program and head coach that I highly respect.

I arrived at practice just as the team was entering the floor and began to take notice of their body language immediately.

As I watched practice unfold, it was clear to me that the head coach was in charge of the practice and it was organized. The assistants also did a nice job meshing with the team, owning certain drills and staying on task. In addition, I noticed that the team was pretty loose, got to work (even when the coaches were not present) and competed throughout the entire practice. There was a level of respect for the coaches, each other and had a focus in the scouting report portion of the practice. More importantly, they were enjoying themselves and seemed to be genuinely having fun.

After the practice, as the players made their way out of the main entrance where we were chatting, they were all smiles and seemed energized. Many came to say hello to me and they were excited about a student development lecture that had just taken place for them (to fill up some of the free time that the had because school was not in session yet).

All in all, I think the atmosphere was very friendly and outgoing.

The coach and I spoke about a variety of topics, most notably how they were “right there” and did not feel as though their record reflected their actual reality. The coach mentioned how as coaches we get associated with our teams and that people taper their interactions with us based upon the performance of teams. For instance, if the team is struggling the general sentiment is “how are you doing, okay?”, or if the team is doing well the greeting is usually “Things are going well!”.

One thing we agreed upon is that especially when your team is doing subpar, we as head coaches feel the need to “spin” the conversation. As the coach said “I feel like I am constantly spinning it to land on a positive truth.” I responded with, “It’s almost like we are politicians to a certain extent.”

It’s true that coaches are many things. Coaches, trainers, psychologists, custodians, van drivers, father figure/mother figure, academic counselor, nutritionist, etc. The most important thing that we may be though is an optimist.

Being a optimist is imperative for coaches concerning:

1. Your program’s vision

2. Your team’s progress (in the current season)

3. Your career path

4. Most importantly, your current (and former) student-athletes state of being

Not only do we have our emotions to juggle, but we have a responsibility of balancing the desires, hopes and dreams of our administration’s, coaching staff’s and student-athlete’s as well.

Therefore, the head coach feeling that they are “right there” was accurate in my opinion, because I saw her student-athletes respond to them in a positive manner, despite a record they all wish was better. The head coach had a true pulse of their program.

However, even if they weren’t “right there” and were not capable of competing each and every practice and game, the head coach still is right because they are being a optimist for their team — although they just may be inaccurate of the reality.

If a coach has to be more patient, then they have to be more patient. If a coach has to allow more freedom, then they have to allow freedom. If they have to pull in the reins, then they have to pull in the reins.

The point is that a head coach is whatever their team needs them to be. It is up to the head coach to figure out what exactly that is.

Spin it coach, spin it.

(FYI – You aren’t spinning…It’s real!)

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo






Fast Draw – Warm Up Drill & Box and 1 Set

Check out this warm up drill to work on getting your team loose and running the floor/converting early in practice. Coaches can add a consecutive makes element (i.e. “perfection”) and/or time to complete the drill efficiently.

This is the Box and 1 action I have used during my tenure at Penn State Beaver to get my best shooter a look or create a “2 on 1”.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo

Fast Draw – SP&R/BLOB Sets

Here are a few sets to add to your playbook:

Ave Box STS Curl/Slip

This box set was used by Ave Maria’s Head Coach, John Lamanna, against Dalton State in the 2nd Half. The screen the screen action, augmented to the ball side versus the baseline side, as typically run, is a crafty wrinkle for any BLOB package.


Push Up – SP&R Cross Pin Action–SP-R-Cross-Pin-Action

Duquesne WBB is off to a 16-1 start including 15 in a row under Head Coach Dan Burt. This is a side pick and roll set they used against last year’s Women’s Elite 8, Dayton Flyers. Notice how the switch that the cross creates, makes the defender late on the quick pin down that ensues.