Top Dawg - Bricks and Bones

As we discussed how to implement a recognition and rewards program for our basketball team, we felt comfortable with two assistant coaches and I, we could use the stats one assistant already kept to get much of the information. We have another assistant coach who is very in tune with the intangibles necessary to be successful. We decided to put his perceptions and talents to use by putting him in charge of tracking effort plays, acts of leadership, teamwork, and sportsmanship along with some on court lapses in help defense, contesting shots, or block outs. I was then going to compile their data and add it to some information I’d gather on academics (semester grades occur mid-season), co-curriculars, and attendance.


Once we knew what we could commit to measuring we thought it would be valuable to also prioritize and determine which actions best reflect the values we wanted to build, while also taking steps to solve some problems we were having. We discussed the type of student-athletes we have, the kind of people we wanted them to become, and how we wanted to complete on the court.


Our ultimate goal is to try to motivate players to become Triple-Impact Competitors. Positive Coaching Alliance defines these as players who can impact the game in three different ways. They can work hard to Make Themselves Better, Make Their Teammates Better, and Make the Game They Play In Better. THAT will make our program better…and, hopefully, our school better.


Even though we were giving players + or – points, “Plus/Minus” is a common stat used more and more in basketball metrics, so we didn’t want to call the program that. Our school mascot is the Husky, so we chose “Top Dawg” as the name of the program. Remembering Pitino’s "Bricks and Saves". we wanted to come up with something just as sticky. We thought dogs like to chase sticks but didn’t want to be cliché with “Stick and Stones”. Huskies also like Bones, so we blended it all and settled on “Bricks and Bones”.

Bricks and Bones

This is not an exhaustive list of what we’d like to measure, nor is it the definitive list of what you should measure. It does reflect who we want to become and how we’d like to play. It reflects what we value – and that’s what you should pay attention to in your program.


The final piece of the program would be to determine how we were going to acknowledge the players for their efforts. I wanted something more than just posting the chart or some sort of leaderboard. I spoke to some football coaches whose players really got into the helmet sticker awards “ceremony” and enjoyed cheering for their teammates as much as receiving stickers. I was really sold on some sort of tangible award.


I mentioned that my assistant, who teaches at our Junior High, is really perceptive regarding intangibles, how “kids these days” feel, and what they like. We started talking about things that activate the senses. I was pretty sure that things they could taste or smell would be temporary, and maybe the impact would be temporary. We were much more sold on trying to find things they can see, touch, and hear.


Actually, I suppose we did start with something you can taste too. Each player received a 32oz sports drink. After finishing the drink the bottle is labeled with the players name and number and becomes the container that holds the “Bricks and Bones” awards. The tokens we settled on were nuts, bolts, washers, nails, paper clips, and beads.


We divided our “Bones” into five different categories. Every category had a different “award” to be placed into the player’s bottle. The “Bones” awards are in parentheses after each category. Each action has a different value placed on it, so use small, medium, and large sizes of each.

Commitment: Practice Attendance, Free Throw Party, Gun Club (Washers)

Game Actions: Deflections, Blocks, Effort Plays, Paint Touches, Assists, Steals, Offensive Rebounds, Offensive Efficiency (simplified to 1 pt/FGA, RBPs (Really Big Plays) (Nails)

Intangibles: Extra Vocal, Enthusiasm, Teamwork, Leadership, Sportsmanship. (Nuts)

Team Achievements: Team Goals (5/9), Team Milestones (Coaches Decision), Team Wins (Bolts)

Outside the Lines: Community Service, Co-Curricular Activity, Exemplary Discipline, Grade Points. (Paper Clips)

Our “Bricks” (undesired actions) also fit into the same categories. There were fewer of them, probably working with the whole Magic Ratio concept. We also chose to use a single item, multi-colored beads, to identify all these undesired action because they really would show up among all the metal “Bones”.

Missed Practice, Turnovers, Late Help, No Blockout, Missed Assignment, Mental Lapse, Missed Contesting Shot, Slow in Transition, Direct Drives, Lost Composure, Grade of D, N on Report Card, Grade of F (Colored Beads)

Here is the chart one of the assistants uses on the bench. After the game I take the game stats from another assistant and enter them before we total the Bricks and Bones and distribute the awards.


The day of the first game, as we were getting ready to begin the program, we felt we had an opportunity to address some other issue that many others may face. Our players needed to communicate a bit more, we would like them to speak to each other more positively, and we’d like them to appreciate each other’s efforts.


I went and bought a big bag of Marbles and after our post-game I handed each player a marble. They were instructed to give their marble away to a teammate…AND tell them why. This was like their individual player of the game. They’ve been given away for exceptional overall play, a really big play, outstanding team spirit, or keeping their cool under duress. This has become a favorite part of the program and players asked, “Where’s our marbles” after a game where I left the bag of marbles in my office.


Game after game, the bottles filled up, they got heavier, the variety of “Bricks and Bones” was visible, and the players could shake them as noisemakers in celebration. It became much more interactive than posting a chart or a leaderboard.


Next season, we are looking to starting this at the beginning of the season, extend the “Top Dawg” program to off-season workouts, practice performance and track results, similar to the Competitive Cauldron, during our portion of the practice, called the Fundamental Factory that was the basis for my DVD of the same name. The “Factory” is the part of practice where we “build our game” and is a series of drills where results very easily could be measured.


The Top Dawg Program requires some coordination and effort to record the Bricks and Bones. I saw progress during the time we used it this season and I’m looking forward to seeing the fruits of those increased efforts next year. You might get what you emphasize, probably more of what you allow, players will pay more attention to what you measure and I think they buy into what you reward.

Part 1: You Get What You Emphasize? Part 2: You Get What You Reward!

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