Lessons from other sports for MLB

What MLB should learn from other Professional Sports

The biggest mistake all Sports Science programs make

Reverse Engineer Sports Science to win – Learn from CSI


Ironically, the most common error that most sports have made in sports science is the easiest to address and it’s something baseball can easily learn from.

When the sports science trend exploded there was a rush to invest in technology. The logic most adopted was forgivingly understandable: buy technology, invest in sports science, test and measure as much as possible. When errors or outliers were found – especially low numbers such as speed, strength – work harder to improve them.

“The forgivingly understandable error”

However, this was a completely erroneous approach based on one simple oversight – you can’t measure everything, let alone everything that truly matters. Simply increasing numbers doesn’t always make players better either – everything is related.

Teams soon realized a few fundamental challenges.

  • They were measuring too much data and hadn’t planned for it
  • Many teams didn’t know what data was actually important and what wasn’t
  • They realized they were measuring largely physical metrics only
  • Many teams had now more data collection to do but hadn’t man power to do it
  • Worse still, many hadn’t the inhouse expertise to interpret the data
  • Often because these developments evolved without coach involvement initially, getting their buy-in later was much more difficult and many coaches ignored sports science.
  • Seeing the trend there was flood by technology companies to sell every kind of product to organizations that hadn’t the inhouse expertise to distinguish marketing from truth.

As you can see, this has led to confusion, vast sums misspent and varied results across the leagues.

I’ve seen this same mistake in every sport from NFL, NCAA, International rugby, Premier League soccer and the NBA. It all sounds fine in theory – but in the real world of the bullpen, where results matter, a pragmatic approach is needed to win.

The proper approach that teams are only starting to realize, is to work backwards. Yes, backwards. Rather than starting with the data, start the coaches experience first to identify the mistake or issue to be fixed. In other words, use what I refer to as “the CSI approach”. Start with the issue to be corrected, investigate and collect data on the specific issue and use specific technology and expertise to assess the evidence. This is an infinitely more effective approach than throwing technology at everything.

“Start with the evidence and work backwards”

Start with the manager and coaches. Let’s be honest, they know the sport best, they can identify the issues best and this is where sports science starts to work. The biggest benefit though is that starting with the coach means they are on board from the beginning. Start with the game, start with the coach and player and work backwards to solve the problem.

Be clinical too, don’t not start by testing everything. First of all it’s impossible to assess everything. Not everything that can be tested is important.

Secondly, every player is unique, especially at the elite level, so there is no such thing as normative or ‘average’ data.

Thirdly, using the ‘CSI’ approach always means that humans are directing technology, technology is not driving humans.

So what should your MLB organization do to ensure your sport science program succeeds?

  • Do not measure everything – Measure only what is important
  • Start with the game, the coaches to identify the issues to be fixed
  • Ensure you have independent expertise inhouse or on call to make sure you’re not sold a myth
  • Do not measure physical metrics only, psychological skill, and game intelligence metrics must be all combined into a holistic database
  • Make sure you have the sports science expertise before the technology to operate and interpret the data
  • There must be coach and manager buy-in for any chance of long term sustained success
  • Identify a pathway, short- and long-term results, do not fire and forget.
  • Always remember ‘The CSI Approach’ work with the evidence first, not the data.




The Right MLB Sports Science Program



Many years ago, I learned a valuable lesson while with a Tier 1 special operations commander. I used the word ’best’ once too often for his liking. The commander abruptly explained to me that they didn’t want the ‘best candidate’, they wanted the ‘right’ candidate. This is a critical lesson when it comes to sports science and winning.

Within any sport, you will often hear that a team has “the best” strength and conditioning program, or “the best” medical team, “the best” sports science program. While these programs may well be doing great new things, it’s a misnomer to say that a team is the best unless the team wins.

“We want the right Sports Science Program,

Not the best Sports Science Program”

As the commander was informing me, winning teams don’t have the best of any of these specialties but rather the ‘right’ ones. And if we are going to proclaim someone to have the best this or that, surely, it’s the one that is part of the club who wins the championship at the end of the season? After all, that’s all that counts.

Many teams can claim to have the best sports science program, but if they lose, does it matter? This is one of many misguided perspectives in sports, not just baseball.

In this article I’ll explain what the ‘right’ sports science model looks like.

What exactly is Sports Science?

There’s lots of confusion in sport, but there is certainly more confusion about sports science than anything else. Having overseen the first full time sports science in team sport in the world I know first-hand how the industry has developed over the years.

I’d love to say it’s been plain sailing, but one of the reasons I’ve been fortunate is that I’ve arguably learned from more mistakes than anyone else – this is why I refer to it as Performance Science.

Firstly – lets clarify what exactly sports science is and is not. Most teams who implement sports science programs, at best, copy ideas from sport and academia. Good teams adopt the best messages from experts in other domains too, such as military, research organizations, but the really smart organizations know what to look for from each. It’s not who you learn from it’s what and how you learn from them.

“Learn Principles, not techniques, from the appropriate domain”

For example, it’s best to learn about skill acquisition and skill development from highly skilled sports such as archery or soccer, but learning strength and conditioning is best from sports like rugby.

The second aspect of exploiting knowledge from other domains is how you learn – some teams simply copy techniques, but the best teams learn the principles. Principles transfer, but techniques don’t always transfer from sport to sport. Knowing the principles allows you to adopt and adapt for baseball.



Knowing what to learn from who and translating the principles allow the best teams manage players, CBA restrictions and roster management successfully.


A good sports science program is focused on the players and possibly the performance staff, but a truly effective program is holistic improving the effectiveness of the coaching staff, complete roster, development programs and senior management efficiency.


Why a Sports Science Program Works

When you look across the horizon of sports and really investigate the best programs there are two things you’ll notice. The first is that they have a holistic program – information (not just data) is shared across all departments.

“Adopt a holistic program that starts with person health & welfare”

Secondly the player health and welfare is prioritized to maximize player health and lengthen their career.

Proper use of monitoring and tracking can allow the organization maximize performance, but only if the technologies and protocols are based on science and practical for that culture and organization.

Surprisingly, these are the two biggest challenges that professional teams face.

Many teams don’t have a solid scientific basis for certain technologies or they are over sold on the actual benefits of some technologies – which is sadly very common in pro sport.

The second biggest challenge is knowing how to adopt the technology for the environment. This can be a combination of factors such as understanding the player mentality, getting buy-in and ensuring the technology and monitoring is as uninvasive as possible.


How does Sports Science Work?

Having established why sports science can work and how it works, the final question is “What options do you have to establish your own program?” While there are a number of ways organizations can build very successful programs, there are two broad approaches – but both come with cautions.


Slowing building a sports science program with a young sports scientist, interns and expert consultants can work very well. It’s success can be sustainable and help develop the inhouse talent also. It avoids the higher costs of expert knowledge and additional salaries from the start. Yes, results are not immediate but the advantage is that it’s gradual. An evolution, not a revolution. Another advantage of this approach is that it suits developing or rebuilding organizations. The slower growing team with a young sports scientist or intern program ‘grows’ with the organization.


“Decide on an Evolution or Revolution”


The more aggressive approach is to hire expertise and address the problem directly. This does come with costs and expense, but it can lead to a more immediate result. Hiring expertise helps the team get a start on the opposition.


Your first steps …


Before you begin building a sports science program, be clear to have the focus squarely on building the ‘right’ sports science program.

  • Learn from all domains, not just baseball or academia.
  • Establish good habits of learning the principles from the other domains not only the techniques so you apply them to your sport and your environment.
  • Understand that sports science is for everybody, coaches, front office and staff not just players.
  • Develop a holistic program that extends far beyond simply the physical elements.
  • Balance short term improvements with long term player career extension.
  • The priority should always begin with person health and welfare.
  • Finally, with all the factors considered, finance and expertise – decide on the pathway, evolution or revolution?



What All Team Sports Have In Common

What All Team Sports Have In Common

The Foundation of All Team Sports

We all have played different team sports at some stage– but have you ever thought of what they all basically have in common?

Take any live game – a local kids game, collegiate or professional. The first thing we need to condition ourselves to do is not to follow the ball – as is normally presented to us on television. Rather look at the movements, the reactions, the reasons for movement. It’s here you start to see the basic principles that underline all team sports.

There are four basic principle common to all sports – from your kids playing in the backyard right up to playing in a championship final with millions of dollars on the line.

Let’s start at the beginning……

The Macro Principle Of Structure (Formation)

All plays start with original positioning from kickoff/ tip-off or a restart. So in football it’s the formations, in rugby this could be a line- out, in football a kickoff, in basketball an inbounds play after a timeout, and in soccer a free kick or corner.

To play the correct role in each structural situation, players need to be aware of where they are in relation to teammates, opponents, and the ball.

They must also know where they are on the pitch, court, or field before the ball goes live. In an offensive situation, positional structures exist to create a scoring opportunity; in a defensive situation, to prevent one. If there is a breakdown, players need to re-adjust fast in relation to positioning of players, opponents and team mates, ball and place on the field. This is referred to as The Macro Principle Of Structure or the formation.

The Macro Principle Of Ball (Target) Circulation

Now, watching the game and focus on the movement of the players and the movement of the ball. Ignore colors and teams and observe those two things only: ball and player movement in response to this. Sometimes it helps to watch at double speed from a high-up view that shows the whole court or field. You will see that the movement of the ball influences the movement of both teams.

This influence is noticed most in games where there is zone defense (for example in basketball).
The Macro Principle Of Player Circulation (Movement)

The next thing you’ll notice, especially if the ball slows or becomes stationary, is how the players move in relation to each other. Defenders will try to fill space or track a man, whereas attackers will move into space to accept the ball.

By moving to a different point on the field, an offensive player not only puts pressure on the defender but also creates space for the other players on his or her team. What is most interesting is when players move anticipating actions of others.

Player circulation often includes elements of deception or misdirection to confuse the defense and obscure the true intention of the attacking move. It also creates too many possibilities for defenders to choose among, impairing their decision-making.

The Macro Principle Of Relationship (Sequence And Timing)

The final element to look at is relationship or timing. This is the sequence or order in which events happen and the timing with which they occur. Effective attacking or offensive play will demonstrate good initial positioning, smooth player circulation to accept the ball and move into space, and precise ball circulation to exploit it.

The best teams and players do this with effortless timing and in an order that befuddles and breaks down even the most potent defenses. This seems almost pre-programmed and like a dance when observed from a distance, but as we will see, it is far more complex.

The best players do not try move as much as possible but rather as much as is necessary—a highly efficient skill that makes the team appear to be playing effortlessly and with the precision of a Swiss watch.

Cohesion Of Principles

When you see these four macro principles come together in synch at every level, from kids on the street to the highest level of any sport, you witness an orchestra of almost telepathic non-verbal communication – basic skills executed at incredibly high speed and skill.

The sequencing of players’ actions appears to create and close space almost at will. The positioning, timing, and constant movement are on par with those of any world-class orchestra.


Solving Problems in Performance

The 5 Most Common Approaches
To Solving Problems in Performance

There is a very old military saying that “The plan never survives first contact with the enemy”. In other words, the plan is important but the ability to react, adapt and problem-solve is arguably more important.

How good you are at problem-solving is critical, but equally important is asking – “Are you solving the right problem?”.

Generally performance teams in both sport and business fall into one of five groups. Here, I’ll share a simplified model of how I assess problem solving in professional sports teams.

1) Not Accurate. Not Precise.
Are you simply ticking boxes? Do you test random things with little real direction? Do you have a battery of tests that are done, but really the data is not collected at the right time, or not with precision. In other words, useless data? The end result is you’re doing lots of things, but it’s not really making a difference or impacting the bottom line or score board.

“The Shotgun approach”

2) Accurate. Not Precise.
In this case you have a good understanding of performance, and perhaps a very good Game Model and Athlete Model. However, you’re knowledge or precision in problem solving is not sufficient. An example might be a preponderance of player cramping. Your players cramp quite often in games. You identify the issue correctly and attack the problem by throwing a number of solutions at it – hydration, lactate testing, FMS etc. However you are not precise enough to look at biochemical imbalances and dietary habits. Very close, but still not, sadly, solving the problem. Figured the problem out, but not smart enough approach.

“Absence of Knowledge”

3) Not Accurate. Precise.
You are doing some testing, assessments really well, however you’re solving the wrong problem. Let’s say for example, your S&C program is excellent. You monitor and test with great care and detail, analyze the results well. The team play well, but you appear to make mistakes late in games. The coaching reaction is more fitness work, when upon a closer look the real issue is more related to psychological errors – but you have no methodology for psychological profiling. This is being accurate, but not precise.

“Incomplete Solutions”

4) Clueless.
I hope you’re not in this group, but unfortunately this group is more common than we’d like to admit. These teams may or may not have any serious intention of getting better, or if they do have neither addressed the problem properly nor identified the source.


5) Accurate. Precise.
These teams have a very good game model, player model and clear SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures), even if not in name. These teams address problems logically, holistically using a clustered system of skills. They will constantly review without fear or favor, finding the best solutions and most of all doing it efficiently.

“Refined Holistic Problem Solvers”

In the competitive worlds of sport and business we can plan, but we have to be able to adapt and solve problems. You are problem solver.

Remember this scene from the iconic movie Pulp Fiction?

[The doorbell rings]
“You’re Jimmie, right? This is your house?”

“Yeah.” – Jimmie

[Harvey Keitel puts his hand out]
“I’m Winston Wolf, I solve problems.”

In this business, it’s your job to solve problems. How are you doing?

Images adapted from Nate Silver’s awesome book – ‘The Signal and the Noise”

Death of a Strength Coach

Death of a Strength Coach

It’s time for a change

Over the past few months consulting and mentoring coaches across many sports one topic has come up repeatedly. It didn’t matter if it was MLB, NFL college or tactical, the same fundamental challenge remains – the role of the traditional Strength Coach doesn’t exist anymore.

One coach put it best “I spend more time as a ‘therapist’ in the weight room than our psychologist does”

Another “I am the therapist. I’m the one the guys feel most comfortable opening up to.”

Another professional strength coach said: “I am also a manual therapist and when I’m working on guys, we chat about the psychological challenges almost every time.”

This does certainly not mean that the strength coach is more important than any other role, it means that they have greater influence than simply counting reps or writing programs.

Everything is Psychological
First of all, everything is psychological. No matter whether you are the receptionist or caterer, you have an impact on everyone’s psychological well being. For more on this see the excellent book “The Power of the Other” by Dr. Henry Cloud. Thanks to my good friend Mike Sanders for the recommendation.

It’s not just psychology – as a nutritionist you can put the best plans you want in place, but the strength coach also impacts and influences your area too. With the strength coach support, the players will buy-in, but without it the challenge gets harder.

Another strength coach said recently: “Almost every day a guy will walk in and hand me a supplement and tell me the nutritionist told me to take this, what do you think?”

The converse works too. A psychologist or nutritionist who doesn’t support or isn’t aware in detail what the aims of the strength staff are cannot support the player properly.

The Renaissance Answer
The solution has been staring us in the face for a long time. Everyone in the program is in reality a ‘performance coach’ with a senior responsibility for a certain area. The days of very specific titles and isolated roles for successful teams is long dead. Specialization is ironically the biggest disadvantage.

The model I’m helping many teams transition to currently, is based around a holistic unified performance staff with the focus on – performing. Within that model each ‘Performance Coach’ has a primary and secondary role. Yes for a strength coach, primary responsibility may be Strength & Conditioning, but they also may have secondary or tertiary responsibilities for nutrition, welfare, recovery, lifestyle. All performance staff are included, psychologists, nutritionists, athletic trainers, rehab specialists, reconditioning experts or whatever specialist title is now in vogue.

Naturally the human reaction is insecurity or fear of losing influence or control of your area. However, this is a completely wrong mindset to adopt. You’re not giving up control, you’re multiplying your effectiveness in each area and you’re creating a cohesive message in every area. Your whole performance staff are now force multipliers for your unified message.

Death of the Performance Director
Finally, the management of this system is not based on a model of ‘management’. There is no omnipotent unquestioned Performance Director role. These roles are served by one or more Performance Facilitator(s). The responsibilities of the Performance Facilitator are to facilitate the performance coaches to do their job to the best possible standard. This can be done by one or more people who work together to facilitate for their performance coaching staff. The performance coaches are the experts, they are at the cutting edge, as a Performance Facilitator it’s your role to serve and help them find the best way to achieve the overall performance goals.

Continuous Professional Development
One last key element of this model is an underlying professional development system. This is based on a matrix where the key skillsets, not taught in university, the coaches need are taught. Based on a system of reading, activity, presentation and follow-up action-based processes in the field, the performance coaches develop their skills to be more effective. There is a false natural assumption that once a staff is hired everything is fine. If something goes wrong organizations simply fire or replace coaches. Nothing is more foolish. The initial and constant reaction should be developing staff. This can only be done with a coach development pathway and continuous professional development system.

To learn more visit www.fergusconnolly.com or www.59lessons.com

Audit, Benchmark or Red-Team?

Audit, Benchmark or Red-Team?

You don’t know what you don’t know

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”

– This is known as the “There are known knowns” quote from the United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in February 2002.

At first this quote was met with much mirth, but on later reflection the quote, while perhaps confusing at first is very profound. In sport and business all performance teams know there are things they can improve on, but many also recognize there are things they don’t know they have to improve on. Consulting with teams and organizations, I often get asked about how best to approach this. How do you get better when you don’t know where or how to?

Generally, there are three options I’ve used each specific to the level and requirements of the team and situation Auditing, Benchmarking and Red-Teaming.

Auditing is the most common of the three, where one or a number of experienced people from outside the organization spend time assessing the performance of the group. This can take anywhere from weeks to months, either continuously or intermittently.

The downsides of auditing is that it can be confrontational in nature, but it doesn’t have to be. The reporting and possible improvements can be very valuable for the team. Of course everything is dependent on those brought in and the quality of the auditing process. The most successful

Benchmarking is usually done my people from outside the organization also, but it can be done with sub-departments by performance directors. Most often the approach is done by presenting the best-in-class examples of performance standards and practices to the staff and as a group they compare and contrast.
This is a very useful and slightly more detailed process, but it provides the staff with a great insight into identifying possible short-comings and gaps in knowledge and operational procedures. The value here is really in the process itself. The skill of the moderator can make or break a benchmarking process.

Red Teaming 
Red Teaming is done internally. In this case the perspective is taken by certain members of the performance team that they are looking for weaknesses. They adopt a very constructively critical view of the performance and operations of the group, looking for weaknesses and ways to improve.
Again moderating is critical, but as a process it’s one of the best ways to continuously improve the organization or department. Red-Teaming is perfect for all aspects of an organization, but very effective for isolated departments like senior leadership, marketing, sports science, or analysis.

Recruiting & Hiring
The process can very helpful in recruiting and headhunting. Some organizations beset with politics, one-upmanship, and personal agendas generate cultures where individuals crave status, titles to fulfill selfish ambitions – but done correctly these processes put the focus on tasks and responsibilities, not on roles and titles.

Recruiting staff on their ability to do tasks responsibly, not on their job titles or to fill roles. Auditing, Benchmarking and Red Teaming can help create teams of generalists who have a broad range of responsibilities and who are committed to success. This way, it doesn’t matter what someone’s title or role is, and people won’t pursue status. Instead, they will work together across the numerous areas needed to coach the team, help it perform well, keep players healthy, and run the business side of the operation.

The best advice I can give teams looking to improve is not to ask what you want to improve – because often, as the Rumsfeld quote outlines we don’t know, rather ask what is it we don’t know we don’t know?

  • Choose the expertise and experience of the consultants carefully
  • Ensure you have actionables from the reporting process, not simply observations
  • Have at least one follow-up visit scheduled before you begin the process as part of it
  • Be sure to have the focus on the systems, not people.
  • And remember the goal is to improve, not find fault with individuals, so focus on tasks, not roles.

To see more visit http://fergusconnolly.com/

Talk Soon,



Sports Science doesn’t answer questions

Sports Science doesn’t answer questions. It allows you ask better questions.

We all love to make predictions. It doesn’t matter if it’s sport “Warriors will win easily tonight, they’ve too much talent” or life “They’re a perfect couple, they’ll be married within the month”. Of course in business and sport we apply the same thought processes. What’s perhaps more interesting, is that we also tend to listen more to statements that are absolutes. People who take absolute stands on certain questions tend to be more appealing, whereas those who provide fewer clear answers are less appealing.

The Tetlock Phenomenon
In 2005 Philip Tetlock provided an interesting insight in his book “Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?”. Based on many studies and years of research, Tetlock proposed that people who make prediction such as experts on television or get quoted in newspaper articles are essentially no better than the rest of us. However there is important point – they are rarely held accountable, unlike those of us who’s job rely on results, based on these decisions.

The truth is that we all yearn for certainty in business, life and sport. This is why we also love to align ourselves with people or things that present a decision or solution stated with certainty.

These natural human urges have for the past 15 years fed the explosion in science and technology in sport. Fueled by marketing budgets, anecdotes and movies such as ‘Moneyball’, the perception was created that sports science and sports technology would provide a path to the land of certainty.

The False Promise
Only now is the sports community slowly realizing that this was a false promise. I say slowly, because in many cases there has been huge investment in technology, people and science projects. No one wants to admit they have been wrong. No one wants to go back to the boss and admit the investment they begged for a few years ago hasn’t delivered what they thought it would.

This is not to say sports science doesn’t work. It will not deliver you to the promised land of certainty, but it can help, when used properly. Sports science and Technology won’t answer performance questions. Sports Science does two things. Firstly, it with test or assessment results it allows you ask better questions. Which allow you solve partial problems. Secondly it gives you something invaluable and underrated – insight.

Understanding this is critical to making your sports science program work properly and effectively.

Use your Dashboard
There is one final aspect to bear in mind. Science and technology are like the dashboard of your car. They provide signals and indications – confirmations if you will – that what you are doing is correct. They are necessary, but there’s a reason self-driving cars haven’t been perfected yet.

Imagine you are driving your car home from work. You have driven this route many times. On the 10 or 15-minute drive you will probably never look at your GPS, your speedometer or fuel gauge. You know where traffic lights are, you know upcoming corners and traffic hazards. You are familiar with the drive, you ‘know’ instinctively the speed you’re traveling at is safe. Your brain registers the frequency of passing stationary objects like trees. You drive in the gray.

On a new route, you’ve never driven before you’ll use more analytical feedback. You will use your GPS, you’ll check your speed and fuel gauge more often. You will still rely on instinct, but you will combine it with quantitative data.

But you are always in control. Sport is a people business. Sports Science and Technology are your dashboard, but you are the decision-making element always in control.

To make your sports science program effective don’t look for certainty, use science and technology to make YOU better at making decisions.

“59 Lessons – Learning from the World’s Elite Coaches, Athletes and Special Forces”
Visit here to find out more: www.59lessons.com


All Team Sports Tactical Principles are based on 4 basic foundations.

In my upcoming book “Game Changer” I explore tactical concepts—and they all start here:

  1. Location/Positioning
  2. Man Circulation/Movement
  3. Ball Circulation/ Movement
  4. Relationship, Timing/Sequencing

These are the most important tactical understandings for team sports coaches.

Next time you watch any children’s playground, NFL, Soccer or NBA game, you will see these universal principles in action at all age groups.

Every time there is an engagement in team sport or combat these are the 4 key principles at play in unison. These also form the basis for all improvement and player development. They are the basis of what we refer to colloquially as ‘game sense.’


1. Location and Positioning

Before and during any interaction in any team game there is the foundation principle of location – where are you? Where are you in relation to the field sidelines? Team mates, opposition? In CQB Close Quarter Combat, the same principle applies, where are the walls? Point man? Enemy combatants? Of course in some sports, such as football, this is predetermined or a lined-out in rugby, but the player must still have the understanding of where they relationally are in space.

Why? Once the ball is snapped, passed, thrown—and play resumes, it’s too late – all movement by the player is now being processed cognitively in relation to this last understood location. They can’t look at the opponent and the side line at the same time, they can’t check for depth and width as they track the player and ball.

Players who don’t have good sense of this are the ones who (under or over estimate field width), get caught on the outside by the winger or receiver or underestmate how far away the side line was. The actual position of course depends on the context—defending? attacking? or transitioning?

As a coach, as you help players develop, this is the first area they need to critique – positioning before the engagement even begins.


2. Man Circulation and Movement

As play begins, a player moves—with an assigned goal and task to complete—in respect of the other players and their identity.

All player development and game correction needs to be based with this in mind. ‘Were you too close or too far away from your team mate?’ ‘How close should you be on defense?’ Where are you in relation to your cover?

This relational movement is seen easier in small sided games, in children games or in short basketball plays, where you can see the movement as a totality.

Defensively the movement will tend to be reactionary, closer so to be able to provide close support, whereas offensively the distances are greater and proactive, (generally speaking).

Again, should players be accused of tactical naivety, is it poor positioning awareness? Or an inability to move properly in relation to team mates? Perhaps it’s ball circulation?


3. Ball Circulation and Movement

How the ball in any game is moved or allowed move, determines the movement of the opponent.

Offensively, you move your opponent around the court or field by moving the ball, you can move them a lot or a little, compress them or stretch them. Defensively you direct the opponent to areas you want to by how you position and move your players.

There is nothing worse than seeing teams who hand initiative to the opposition when not in possession. In fact you probably have more control over the game without the ball as you have one more man free.

Developing a players tactical ability with the ball in hand is important so that they can exercise proper control over the game, but also know their limits of influence.


4. Relationship, Timing and Sequencing

Finally there is the timing of these. How they move, and in what order is as how it is done. Again, watch any short period of play in basketball. The sequence of movement is critical. This is the most complex to develop, because you have to play the game and it is dependent on the game sense of the player.

Why are these concepts so important? 

Any and all practice must replicate the game scenarios you face and want to improve (otherwise why even practice?).

These four foundations form the basis for identifying the areas of focus and improvement of game sense in your players. Is the player making tactical errors, are they not aware of their positioning? Which we can address and fix by using more frequent breaks to allow them practice self-locating.

Perhaps they are not moving properly in relation to team mates on defense or not close enough as they move to offense? Which we can develop by changing numbers or making uneven numbers for the small sided games in practice or 7v7?

Or is it simply a timing issue, where the player hasn’t played the game enough? Perhaps the team preparation is still in the dark ages trying to periodize according to archaic methods used in Olympic sports? Perhaps the teams have been simply lifting and running with no game play to develop among other things, game timing sense.

Either way, we can use these 4 foundations to begin to teach tactical ability and intelligence in players and build our model on this.

Game Changer is available for preorder here on Amazon.com.

The 3 answers

People have asked me about the “3 answers” poster mentioned in Paul Kimmage’s (excellently) written article.

Here’s the background story.

Many years ago in the U.S. I was given a book as a gift by a coach I was pestering for information. I was a little more than 19 at the time. Many of the details in the book made little sense to me. It was about a sport knew nothing about—college football (life goes at you fast!).

Amazingly, the manner in which the stories were told and the skill of the writer were so enthralling the fact it was about a game I had never seen never mattered—the sign of a great writer.

The book, written by John Feinstein, is A Civil War: Army Vs. Navy a Year Inside College Football’s Purest Rivalry.

In it, he tells many stories, but one of which is the tale of Ryan Bucchianeri, a first year place kicker who takes a kick in dead time at the end of game. Feinstein tells the story of … well why not just let Feinstein tell the story!

“The time out ended. Bucchianeri lined up. The snap was perfect, the hold was good. Bucchianeri swung his leg through the ball and it sailed over the arms of the flailing Cadets. But as soon as it came off his foot, he knew something was wrong. The ball didn’t hook as much as he had thought it would and it sailed 18 inches to the right of the near goal post.
Wide right.Those two words seemed to follow him off the field, up the tunnel, through the locker room and onto the team bus. Those two words would become his legacy, a larger-than-life one, because, when he was called on to explain them during a press conference that lasted less than five minutes, he unwittingly made himself into a hero.As a plebe, a midshipman is allowed three answers when addressing an upperclassman:

“Yes, sir.”

“No, sir.”

“No excuse, sir.”

The last is a critical part of training at the academy. If someone else spatters mud on your boots, you do not explain that to an upperclassman when he demands to know why they’re muddy. You simply say — you must say, “No excuse, sir.” No one else is responsible for your failures. And so, when the media offered Bucchianeri excuses: the wet field, the angle, the pressure, perhaps even the hold or the snap, he kept shaking his head and saying—in essence, “No excuse, sir.”

“I missed the kick,” he said repeatedly. “I did my best. I tried. I missed the kick.”

In an era when athletes blame everyone and everything for their failures, Bucchianeri’s simple “No excuse, sir” became national news.” 

[Here’s a link to a longer piece]

The lesson is simple—no one else is to blame. In life, if you want to be a Game Changer, you get it done or you do not.

You can have all the excuses you like, but in reality, none of those matter.

You can blame someone else, you can b*tch, moan and look for sympathy.

Be certain of this—you’ll be approached by weak-minded people who will want to give misery company.

They can come in the form of so-called friends, bandwagon jumpers, lazy journalists, hypocritical former coaches, or Twitter fans—all people who haven’t done anything themselves and more importantly whose own success is not on the line.

Most of all—know this truth—nothing they can say can change those 3 answers.

If you want to get anything done, you need to avoid and protect yourself from those kinds of people. They don’t matter. Ignore them.

Get the win.

The truth hurts, but get over it.


Donncha O’Callaghan is an Irish International and former Munster rugby player who is still playing at 52 years of age now with Worcester Warriors in England. Most people only know him for his practical jokes and constant grin, but working with him in Munster over 2 years, he is one of the people I’ve a special respect for, and learned a huge amount from.

He told me of a time when he was dropped from the Munster team and a player came to him to suggest he was being harshly and unfairly treated by a coach. Donncha had one response to the teammate: “Get away from me” he growled through gritted teeth.

Donncha wasn’t interested in sympathy or misery from anyone. He wasn’t blaming anyone. He knew that was weakness. He was getting busy working harder at fixing what the coach told him he wasn’t getting right.

The mindset that makes Ryan, Donncha and other Game Changers has only 3 answers:

“Yes, sir.”

“No, sir.”

“No excuse, sir.”

Be ruthless. Get after it.

No excuses.

P.S. Donncha is really only 38 years young!

Don’t coach them better

Over the next few weeks I’d like share some of the principles and topics from my upcoming book GameChanger.

It ‘might’ satisfy the emails I’m getting from people and teams looking for advance copies, especially now the NBA season is over (for most). 

Some regard coaching as the process of getting an athlete to do something, by telling or showing them how to do it. One secret I’ve focused on for years is getting an athlete to do something without having to instruct them at all.

How can get an athlete or tactical operator to do something without interacting with them?

First of all, some of you will ask, “Why bother? Whats the point?”

The point is, the point of all coaching—train athlete instinct and make yourself invisible and irrelevant.

As Dan Pfaff told me best years ago, “Good teachers make themselves irrelevant.” He’s right, the most insecure coaches want the player to rely on them.

  • A golfer about to make a critical putt.
  • An NBA center making a free throw to edge ahead in the final quarter.
  • The QB in the pocket with time on a final drive.
  • The point man in a CQB (Close Quarter Battle) facing a loaded gun

All that matters in these moments is instinct.

Act without thinkingIf you can get players to act; develop habits and instinct without thinking you develop seamless operators.

While waiting to catch a plane in Schipol airport, Amsterdam, over 10 years ago, I made a quick stop to the mens room. No one wants to be in a window seat on a long haul flight needing to go to the rest room.

I’ve never expected a restroom visit to provide a learning moment.
On the inside of the urinal there was what seemed like a small fly, which I instinctively tried to move. It slowly dawned on me that it was not a fly. I thought at first it was a mark or crack, then I thought perhaps it was a manufacturing logo that looked like a fly.

What I was actually looking at was a detailed image of a fly, the invention of Aad Kieboom economist who helped Schipol airport reduce splashback and misdirected waterworks from male restroom users. It has since been adopted by many restrooms – you can even buy them here if you feel so inclined.

Don’t coach

Aad Kieboom ‘coaches’ millions unconsciously each day to do something he wants, how can we—it’s actually our job?

We know team sports athletes drink too much sugar. What about if you thought about how you stock your Gatorade or Powerade fridges?

If you want to reduce the volume of high-sugar drinking, what would happen if you placed water at eye level and G2 on the row above and below and Gatorade in the bottom rows only? Try it and watch how you will slowly impact sugar intake unconsciously.

There’s many other ways to impact your make your players better without ‘coaching’ them (directly) on the field also.

Play the one-side dominant player on the other wing of the field putting him on his ‘weak’ side, put the player who is lazier on the lower numbered team or matched against the best player, and so on.

The main benefit is that you allow the player to use his slow thinking energy for stuff that actually needs high cognitive energy.

Remember, you don’t have to hear your own voice to coach.

GameChanger by Fergus Connolly & Phil White is out September 2017.