To Win More Basketball Games, You Need to be Great at 3 Things!

Let me share something I learned by attending dozens of coaching clinics, reading countless books, and constantly studying the game of basketball. All of those experiences have indicated that a basketball team can ONLY be great at 3 things!

Yet, few coaches heed this concept. In fact, I believe this SINGLE CONCEPT is what holds most coaches back!

The truth is that your team can NOT be great at man defense, zone defense, fast break transition, motion offense, breaking presses, rebounding, passing, taking care of the ball, ballhandling, shooting, scoring in the post, pressing, and so on.
At best, you will be POOR to MEDIOCRE in all those areas. There just isn't enough time in the day. It's not possible to be good in all those areas, even for professional NBA teams.

However, this is exactly what most coaches do. They try to do WAY too much. They try to be good at everything. Well, that simply does not work. There's a common saying in coaching...

     "The coach who emphasizes everything, teaches nothing!"

It seems that almost all the successful high school, college, and NBA coaches have figured out this secret. They know they can only be great at a few things and they must develop an "identity" for their team.

Duke is great at M2M defense, offensive transition, and communication. The Celtics are great at M2M defense, rebounding, and teamwork. North Carolina is great at scoring, fast breaks, and pressure defense.

Think about it...

Would you rather be MEDIOCRE in 10 different aspects of basketball - or would you rather be GREAT in 3 or 4 areas?

I firmly believe that you must choose 3 or 4 things that you will be great at. Then you focus on those 3 areas and do what ever it takes to be great. In other words, you focus on the critical few, versus the trivial many.

This will give your team an identity. This will give you, as a coach, more focus. This will give your players a clearer understanding of what you want from them. This will cause other teams to adjust to you, instead of you adjusting to them.

What 3 things should you focus on?

To give you some ideas, my "3 things" are usually (but not always)...
  1. GREAT man to man defense.
  2. GREAT team rebounding.
  3. GREAT half court offense that is methodical and takes high percentage shots.
Also, I usually put some emphasis on a fourth thing - taking care of the ball. This is something that is emphasized in #3 (half court offense). Keeping turnovers low and winning the possession game is important and that's why I put "low turnovers" as the 4th most important thing. We don't want to lose sight of taking care of the ball. But much of that comes in our half court offensive execution and our patience to not force things.

This is my personal philosophy for basketball coaching. But you must choose your own three things. Ask yourself the following questions...
  • To be successful and win games, what does my team need to be great at?
  • What are my players' strengths?
  • What are my strengths? Am I very knowledgeable in a certain area (like defense)?
Personally, I chose defense, rebounding, and half court offense because I'm very knowledgeable in those areas. But I also know those are things that winning teams do! Hey, this game is simple. If you score more points than your opponent, then you win. And how do you score more points than your opponent?

Two of the easiest ways to do that are....
  1. Shoot a higher percentage.
  2. Or take more shots than your opponent.
All three of "the things" that we focus on have a huge impact on getting more shots and shooting percentage.

90% (or more) of our practice is spent on rebounding, M2M defense, and half court offense. In particular, we do motion offense with emphasis on low turnovers and offensive fundamentals.

We do almost ZERO work on fast break offense, pressing, zone defense, and so on. We very lightly cover those things, so we're ready for those games situations. But very little time is spent on it. Our team has an identity and the players know what is expected of them.

Our players know that if they win the battle on the boards, get stops on defense, and take high percentage shots -- then we have a VERY good chance at winning. With that said, we rarely discuss winning. Instead we discuss what it takes to be successful in basketball and life.

Youth Teams

Youth teams can have identities too, but if your "3 things" are pressing, zone defense, and fast break offense - then you are RUINING your players' futures!

A youth coaches TOP priorities should be player development and having fun.

To develop players you run motion offense, man defense, and teach TONS of fundamentals.

Also, winning should be VERY VERY LOW on your priority list. Your priority should be to develop those young players. To do that, you may sacrifice a few wins at first.


At this point, you might be thinking... "What about the intangibles?"

The three things above are simply "tactical" things for you to work on. I believe you can still emphasize a few intangible things (in addition to the 3 tactical things above).

For example, you could stress teamwork, doing the right thing, unselfishness, hard work, being proactive, responsibility, timeliness, competing, and so on.

Intangibles are important too. Just don't try to emphasize too many things.


Now go ahead and choose your 3 or 4 tactical areas to focus on. Overcome your fear of skimming over the other trivial stuff. Don't be afraid to make some changes.

Once you start emphasizing the right things and narrow your focus, I promise that you'll be much better off.

Do you have any questions or comments for this article? Let us know by leaving your comments...


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Jeff says:
4/23/2021 at 6:07:54 PM

don't focus on defence more offence so your can space out quicker,


raymond says:
1/4/2019 at 11:15:18 PM

My 5th grade travel team we're all in rec last year and played in town . This year all of the teams we play are bigger and taller than us.. I focus onM2M, half court offense, and rebounds. Since most of the team play a 2-3 zone we run a basic 1-3-1 offense but they still have a hard time shooting because of the uphill climb.. what should I do?

  1 reply  

Jeff says:
1/5/2019 at 8:35:14 AM

Raymond - Be patient. It will get better. It sounds like you're focusing on the right things with young kids. I would just add "skill development" to that list.

There isn't a lot you can do at this age... zones force outside shots and kids this age aren't strong enough to shoot with proper technique at this age.

Keep teaching fundamental concepts to beat the zone:
- pass fakes
- ball reversals
- cutting into gaps
- etc

To keep spirits up, focus on the process and celebrate small accomplishments... maybe regarding rebounds or defensive stats.

If you keep hammering on the fundamentals, your players will take off in a couple years and leave these teams focusing on winning with zone defenses behind.

  1 person liked this.  

Coach M says:
7/24/2018 at 10:35:19 AM

When is it okay to start focusing on the "press, zone defense, and fast break offense".

What is the definition of a youth team?

Most kids will never play past High School, is a high school coach still supposed to be training their players for college ball (which most will never play).

Should college coaches be training them for the next level and not running "Press, Zone, and fast breaks?

Everyone always talks about RUINING their players futures so I'm just curious when that 'Future' finally comes.


  1 reply  

Jeff says:
7/24/2018 at 4:48:34 PM

Right or wrong I always see varsity basketball in high school as the future you are preparing players for. That's when I think you really try to win and players learn lessons from that winning mindset... whether they get playing time or not... you learn from it. Players also learn what it really means to be part of a team -- the varsity high season is long enough and there are enough practices (every day after school) where it can really turn into something meaningful. Plus there is the state tournament you are preparing for... the is the true end goal... win state tournament.

I just think varsity basketball is set up in a way to really learn a lot of lessons from the winning mindset, putting the team team first, and kids are old enough to learn life lessons from that type of structure.

I guess that ideally kids are given a chance to develop and learn from youth basketball... and then they also get a change to learn it means to be on a team where the primary goals is to win games and win a state tournament.

At younger ages, it's not you are trying to lose... but development is prioritized above winning. Winning is your secondary goal at the youth level.

That is just my opinion.


Coach C. says:
6/30/2018 at 12:42:51 AM

Thank you for all the great information. It really helped me to put our team identity together. I had some of the same areas you talked about focusing on been good at. Can’t wait to give our team our areas of focus this season. I will write the areas on the white board every pregame, and check postgame see how we did. Thank you!!


Coach Lee says:
4/30/2018 at 10:22:01 AM

What if you have a smaller team? Mostly a team of guards who shoot well.

  1 reply  

Jeff Haefner says:
4/30/2018 at 8:25:37 PM

From an offensive standpoint... you could spread things out, shoot 3s, and open things up for drives to the basket.

You could emphasize defensive pressure, uptempo basketball, disrupting the other team. You have to assess your teams strengths, your comfort and strengths as a coach, and come up with your emphasis points.

I suggest you take advantage of each players strengths and put them in position to use their strengths as often as they can. Don Kelbick often tells players... "If you want to get better, do what you do well and do that more than anything else." Pretty simple concept but effective.


Ayush pardeshi says:
12/15/2017 at 5:31:18 AM

Hello my name is Ayush!!!
I m very happy that I found this website...
First in my team there were no players who can play well but now they are playing awesome...
Because I have tell them to read this and they follow this and sew now they.....are players
But I have one question my opponents are focussing on traping and fast break?what should I do???

  1 reply  

Jeff says:
12/15/2017 at 3:09:51 PM

To break the press keep spacing and give the passer good options. Here are a couple resources to help with beating a press and traps:


Anthony BRIGGS says:
10/16/2017 at 6:04:02 PM

This was a great read something i definitely needed to hear..i currently just got placed as head coach for my middle..signed up for asst just to learn the rules and ect..well things kinda change fast and i was stressing out..i coach 5-6 & 7-8 yr old but this is gonna b a totally different task being there''''s no returning players or players that even played AAU or rec..but after reading this i think there in for a super surprise this yr..thanks alot


Jeff kneler says:
1/24/2017 at 7:27:19 PM

After about 10 years of coaching I have seen a pattern in girls AAU and HS basketball. First get to 39 points will win 95% of the time.
Check it out.. you'll see its right.


jony says:
1/21/2017 at 4:38:55 PM

I agree to incapie only in some aspects of the game, but these must be changed throughout the years to develop players and not half full player.


barbie says:
3/31/2015 at 11:38:00 AM

thanks, i learn a lot from these articles and comments, I am a wheel chair basketball coach for a team that is inclusive, however i can take some of the ideas and make them work for my players


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