You Get What You Reward

In my second year as the Boys’ Basketball Coach at Fairmont Prep Academy we are in the process of trying to establish a particular kind of culture and were having some trouble getting certain players to commit to things we felt were important. Some of this was the players not understanding yet, some was parental influence, and some was a lingering culture from before our arrival.

We did institute a post-season award program that might be a little different and went to some non-traditional awards that recognized our values.

“The season ends and everyone tries to evaluate the year’s performance. Statistics are analyzed, honors are given, teams go to their banquets and trophies are handed out. This is where I sometimes struggle. After a year of preaching that every player must play their role, a team is only as good as its weakest link, and every player is valuable…we then hold ceremonies to announce who is “most valuable.”

Rather than the typical Most Outstanding, Best This-or-That, or Most Valuable we settled on

Catalyst Award: Outstanding Commitment & Effort

Synergy Award: Exemplary Teamwork

Altruist Award: Superior Character in Competition

Apex Award: Triple Impact Competitor

We felt that this was a good first step to establish how we felt about what values were important, but we still needed to see more change. It wasn’t enough to talk about Commitment and Effort, Teamwork, Character. What do those things look like? How are they quantified? I went back to my thought that players pay more attention to what is measured. So we went back to the drawing board.

We came to realize we have a number of high academic students from families that may have much of an athletic background. It had become easy for both parties, especially those that didn’t get much playing time, to emphasize other activities at the expense of basketball. It’s our belief you can do both, that’s why I feel sports is “co-curricular”, not just extra-curricular. We not only had to coach, and motivate, the players, but also to train the families on the value of the total and committed involvement from all players in the program.

We already did some typical game stats using an iPad App called MaxStats that automatically uploads results to We also valued some non-traditional game performance stats that we tracked that were in line with the effort goals we need to reach in order to gain some desired results. We have compiled these onto our Team Goals results for quite some time and have never lost when we have met any five of the nine Team Goals.


You would think with that carrot dangling it would be an easy sell to get players to do the right thing when it means the difference between winning and losing. You would think the pursuit of winning would be a good enough a reward. But like Bobby Knight once said, “The key is not the will to win… everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important.”

If we can measure process oriented actions it will draw attention to the aspects of the game you need to get the desired result. We talk a lot about “doing your work early”. If a defender is in the proper location and in stance, they rarely will have to make a long recovery and be late on help, a closeout, or to contest a shot. If players are shot ready on the catch, they’re more likely to get open shots….and make them! The details in the process assist in gaining the desired result.

While some of our Team Goals are straight forward and lead to either points for us or stops of our opponents, others are efforts that will hopefully lead to additional positive results. For example, the number of “Paint Touches”, or times we get the ball into the key and close to the basket puts pressure on the defense and opens up our perimeter game. It also could create situations where we get fouled and go to the line to shoot free throws. Our goal to “Make More Free Throws than the Opponent Shoots” speaks to the number of times we get fouled, the percentage we shoot, and the desire to eliminate unnecessary fouling when we play defense so we don’t put the opponent on the line.

Another thing we strive to do is hold our opponents to 40% field goal shooting. Players make more uncontested shots than they do when the defense gets a hand up. An effort goal we track is to Contest 90% of all shots.  Hopefully, meeting this effort goal will enable us to meet the more result oriented field goal percentage goal.

After some long conversations I realized that I tell coaches all the time “you get what you measure and reward” and we were not doing enough of that. The WORST thing to do is to NOT do what you KNOW you SHOULD do. So we just had to decide WHAT we were going to measure and HOW we were going to implement a more extensive motivation, recognition and reward program.

We asked ourselves a number of questions. What is important to us? In-season and out-of-season. On and off the court. Academics. CO-curricular. What do we want players in our program to value?  What could we measure? What should we measure? What were we willing to commit to, given staffing and circumstances? We initially came up with these (and since some have been added)

Top Dawg

We then realized we also wanted to measure some of the negative actions we wanted to discourage too. In addition to turnovers, we also already charted uncontested shots and missed blockouts. We added to that Direct Drives, Late Help, and Slow in Transition among others. We felt we wanted concrete and objective data to back up our subjective analysis (although some of our metrics are still up to the coaches’ subjective discretion)

In first grade students will do anything for a sticker. Then, for some reason, teachers and coaches feel it is ineffective (or not cool enough) anymore to use as a motivational tool. But I watch college football and once again, I see helmet stickers everywhere. At all levels and in many different academic, business, and athletic settings we see charts, leaderboards, and other subtle motivational techniques to encourage desired performance.

There is plenty of research out there that supports the value of these “targeted symbolic rewards. Plenty of schools, organizations, business, and teams have adopted some form of their use. If some of the best and most respected use this as a method of motivation – it’s worth a try.

I’m not a big bulky-watch guy, so I was given a Nike Fuel band that not only tells time, but measures steps and calories used. It recharges via USB on your computer and uploads the data to a NikePlus website  that tracks your data, charts your progress, compares you with others in your age category, and…rewards you with little badges, videos, and when you move enough on a given day and go to check the time… another targeted-symbolic reward.


As we discussed how to implement the program 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 “Brick 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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