The Lombardi Rules for Winning Basketball
By Dave Stricklin
Like many coaches I am a self-
proclaimed X"s and O's junkie. I
can sit for hours and draw out
offensive and defensive sets on
the back of napkins and
envelopes and any other
available scrap of paper.
However, as much as I love X's
and O's, I'm even more
interested in coaching
philosophies and have studied
coaches in nearly every
One of my favorite coaches to
study has been the legendary
Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay
Packers. Lombardi's coaching philosophy was not only extremely
successful in the National Football League but contains many aspects
that can easily be applied to coaching basketball as well.
Here are several ideas taken from Lombardi's coaching philosophy and how I think
they can help your team:
Play to Your Strengths. To me this has two meanings. One, be who you are and
don't try to be anyone else. Not Calipari. Not Self. Not Pitino. Not Knight. Not
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Secondly, gear your offenses and defenses around the specific skill sets of your
players. Unless you can recruit to fill specific needs, don't just plug players into
your favorite offensive sets and hope they can be successful.
Outwork Everybody. This also accomplishes two things. First of all, hard work
gives you the opportunity to improve quickness, to be better prepared, and to be
more productive among other things. But hard work also provides an
unmatchable confidence that comes with knowing that you deserve to be
successful. The more you and your players have invested the harder it is to
surrender when faced with adversity.
Keep Things Simple. Lombardi's Packers only had a handful of offensive plays and
none were overly complicated. There were no laminated cards or flip over wrist
bands listing dozens of plays with multiple options. Likewise, Lombardi didn't
have a phone book size file of team rules. However, the few that he did have were
constantly and passionately enforced. It was nearly impossible to misunderstand
or to be confused and so everyone was on the page. Does this accurately describe
Stay Focused on the Fundamentals. As soon as things start to go wrong on either
end of the court, many coaches immediately start adding new plays, entire
offenses, and stunts on defenses tot eh team playbook. In reality it's usually not
the plays that need improving, it's the players!
Most of the time (but not always of course) the team with the best players usually
wins. Want better players? Then focus on improving the shooting, passing,
dribbling, and fundamental defensive skill sets of each of your athletes. You'll be
amazed at how much more efficient your struggling offense will be once your
players are "better."
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Chase Perfection. Several former Green Bay players have gone on record
discussing how they would run one rather simple offensive play dozens of times in
a single practice until every individual player executed his assignment flawlessly.
Over and over and over again - not a single mistake was ever overlooked or
The games were the exact same. Mistakes that weren't tolerated in a loss weren't
tolerated in a win, regardless of the score. No team or individual has ever come
even close to perfection accidently. Your only chance of ever reaching perfection is
to actively and constantly chase it.
Run to Win. Obviously Vince Lombardi believed in running the football and the
Packer sweep became as famous as it was efficient. Paul Westhead, Roy Williams,
Mike D'Antoni and many others have all won hundreds of games because of their
team's ability to run the basketball.
However, even if you're not a huge proponent of transition basketball, "running"
still has a major place in today's game. One of Lombardi's favorite sayings was
"Fatigue makes cowards of us all." Simply put, if your team is not in great shape
then your players will not be able to consistently dominate "crunch time," the last
five to seven minutes of the game. They just won't have what it takes mentally or
If you want to read more about Vince Lombardi's coaching philosophy check out
What it Takes to be #1, written by his son Vince Lombardi Jr.
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