Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

11.19.21Luke Gromer on Coaching the Decision, Not the Outcome

Coach the decision, not the outcome


One of the most important and challenging aspects of coaching young people, is coaching them to focus on things that will cause them to succeed over the long run and ignoring the pressing distractions of the short run.

It’s a topic I wrote about a bit in The Coach’s Guide to Teaching. A developing athlete, I tried to point out, has to understand the difference between what he or she tried to do and how it worked out. And the coach’s job is to help identify the signal (the right decision) amidst the noise (all of the distractions of the immediate game).

So my ears pricked up when Luke Gromer started talking about giving feedback that was “Not Attached to Outcome” at one of his recent book clubs. (Luke offers a variety of great content for coaches on his site, Cutting Edge Coaching, including book clubs for Coach’s Guide to Teaching, I’m humbled to say). His topic was a exercise he’d picked up from the crew over at PGC Basketball. It emphasized shot selection–the decision–as much as shot outcome–whether it went in.  It was a competitive game (4v4 say) in which points were based on shot selection, often regardless of whether the shot went in.

Here’s a video of Luke at the book club describing the game and how to use it.

Some key points:

  • There’s a numerical scale of shot quality. The players learn it and get quizzed on it. This causes them to understand the tactical priorities. Lay-up=good. Uncontested three=good; off-balance mid-range jumper=bad. The scoring system internalizes the game model.
  • But of course what matters is not just the game but how you use it, so I love Luke’s notes about creating psychological safety: “We tell them. We’re not going to take you out of the game if you miss a nine.” What matters is the decision- playing the game right. That’s what you’re most accountable for.
  • Loved Luke’s point about the necessity of self-discipline for coaches. “If a kid takes a seven [ie the shot we want him to take] I can’t pout with my body language. If a kid misses a breakaway lay up I have to think: That’s a nine!”


It’s all gold so make sure to listen to the clip. Also Luke has promised to send some video of the actual game so watch this space for an update.

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