How Many Passes?

Remember those early scenes in Hoosiers when Coach Norman Dale drills his Hickory High team in his offensive philosophy?

“How many passes?” he implores.


And several scenes later, “How many times are we gonna pass off? How many?”


And then just before their first game, “Guys, remember what we worked on in practice. I wanna see it on the court! How many times are we gonna pass before we shoot? How many?


And then early in the game, Rade, the team’s self-centered hothead, challenges Dale, jacking up several long jumpers without once passing the ball. Dale immediately benches him and even after losing another player to fouls, refuses to reinsert him, content to finish the game with only four players on the floor.

It’s the film’s defining moment because it reveals Coach Dale’s character – his insistence on team work and discipline and selflessness, his belief that there’s a “right way” to play the game that is more important than the outcome. At that point we’re not sure why, but for Norman Dale, this is his last chance, the end of the line. He’s willing to lose the game, infuriate his team and its fans, and risk his job, all for principle. If he retreats now, he knows he will lose everything.

Twenty-nine years since its debut I’m not surprised by the film’s enduring fascination. It’s got everything – the David versus Goliath story line, the celebration of small town virtues, the quiet insistence on integrity, second chances, and the possibility of redemption no matter the depth of personal failing.

But I’m forever amused by how much importance Hoosiers’ fans continue to place on coach Dale’s dictum: four passes. Continue reading…

Time Trumps Territory

In competitive sports, coaches and players seek to control two elements fundamental to many games – time and space.

By time, I mean a range of things from the pace or tempo of play to the concepts of timing and rhythm as players attempt to harmonize their movements with one another and with the various time limits inherent in games governed by a clock.

As we shall see, basketball is fundamentally a game of time. The elimination of the jump ball after made baskets and free throws in the late 1930’s transformed basketball into a game of continuous action with teams converting from offense to defense and back again in near seamless fashion. In basketball we don’t “conquer and hold territory” – instead we “pass through it.” It’s a game of transition.

Understanding this reality affects how you “see” the game and consequently how you coach or play it. In fact, one’s ability to manage time most often determines who wins and who loses.

Truly, time trumps territory is the first law of basketball.

Click here to read Basketball’s First Law