David Breslaw on How to Find the Right Coaching Job and Helping Players Overcome Mental Fatigue

Richard Montgomery High School Head Coach David Breslaw | Photo Credit: prephoops.com

Richard Montgomery High School Head Coach David Breslaw | Photo Credit: prephoops.com

Tristan: All right. Welcome in everybody. We are excited to be joined by Coach David Breslaw . He is the head coach at Richard Montgomery High School, has been the head coach there for some time now. Took over after a brief stint there at BCC. An RM grad, yourself, down there at Montgomery County, Maryland. Know you folks made a decent run into the 4A State Championship playoff this year. Coach, tell us a little bit about that. Tell us a little bit about yourself here, your transition into coaching here from college, and what this whole process has been like. Just give us a little background on yourself here.

David: I always foresaw myself as eventually going to be a coach in high school. It was always my high hopes I'd coach at my alma mater. I'm lucky enough to have that opportunity. Now going into college, I had some opportunities to play. Then chose not to go that route. I always made sure to stay close to some high school games, and was able to always attend some games wherever I was at. Eventually when the opportunity presented itself at Richard Montgomery, where I also teach history, I jumped on that. Definitely was able to profit and be able to coach some great players. We've had a good amount of success over the past couple of years.

Tristan: I'd say so, yeah. By my calculations over an 800 win percentage, creeping towards that 900 realm. Like we said you, you've set a couple of records there. The school wins record there now, is a 25 for you guys?

David: 24 in a 22 game season with playoffs.

Tristan: There it is.

David: Yeah.

If you’re not challenging yourself, if you’re not pushing yourself to be uncomfortable with the speed you’re playing at, I really think you’re wasting your time.

Tristan: Now you actually went to school out there at the University of Pittsburgh, and even when you were out there, you were attending high school games and doing a little scouting yourself, and maybe prep then and shadowing some coaches out there. Tell us what that was like.

David: Oh, I always kept track of who was on some of the top teams. I was lucky enough to, at University of Pittsburgh, there used to be a school shutdown now, it's called Schenley High School. Back in late nineties they were nationally ranked. That was a quicker walk then to some of my classes to go to Schenley high school. That was always a great atmosphere out there. I wish I could remember some of those players. They used to come out to University of Pittsburgh, come out to our gym and play with us and give all the college kids run for their money. I'd go out there, which was again like right around the corner, and I'd go out to Beaver and see some of those games they have. They have a strong tradition out there, and also out to upper St. Clair and Fox Chapel. There's a lot of good teams out there. There was a lot of good coaches back then. Always trying to keep up with everything.

Craig: Yeah. Talking about your coaching journey, did you start out as an assistant coach or work your way up from youth teams into high school?

David: Right. Even student teaching, I was student teaching at North Gate High School in Bellevue. I was able to hang out with the basketball team a little bit up there, even though I graduate classes to attend. Then after that, I mean really there wasn't a year I wasn't coaching. Even my first year, I was teaching in Montgomery County. I was a little hesitant. I was a little overwhelmed, I think, with teaching., I remember there was a newspaper article pop or not newspaper article, but like an advertisement in the Washington Post popped up, just for a little private school. I was hesitant. My brother who also has been my assistant coach in the past, he was like, "What are you thinking?" He's like, "You need to need to contact them. You need to contact everybody." My younger brother, he kind of like guided me to a lot of connections and just pursuing a lot of opportunities that I had available to me. I coached it a little private school, Hebrew Academy. Then I had a friend who was coaching varsity. He was a state finalist coach and he's successful coaching. Montgomery County's name is Damon Pagram. I was friends with him, my brother was like, "Why aren't you coaching with him?" So I've learned a ton from him and. Then dominoes just fell from there.

Craig: You're having a ton of success. Let's dig into that a little bit, and how you approach coaching, and how you approach your team. Let's talk skills development. That's what the Hustle app really is all about. Let's say your at kind of the beginning of the season or you're just beginning working with your players after an off season. You know, how do you approach the start of the season? Are there any kind of drills or exercises you prefer to get your team ready to play?

David: Yeah, one of the first things I like to do is do a lot of no dribble games, to just answer it as literally as, as possible. I want it to be known that we're going to share the ball. That definitely is a good starting point for that. We'll play like three-on-three no dribble, four-on-four no dribble, five-on-five no dribble. Eventually from there am I give them a dribble. While the kids, in the beginning they don't like it, and they might not like it towards the end, they definitely learned to appreciate it. I don't let them really progress to the one dribble or the two dribble, whatever we're going to do after that until we've proven that we've exhausted the benefits of that drill. That's just the first thing that comes to mind.

Coach Breslaw

Coach Breslaw

Tristan: Yeah. You focus on building that culture of selflessness in a way.

David: Yeah, absolutely, and also toughness. There's several other drills that we tend to do at the beginning of the season that are a little tougher. We definitely have to figure out who's even going to be on the team. I think that's a big thing. We see a lot of private schools. I'm always jealous because the first day of the season, everyone's always asking, it's not just the a private schools, but everyone's always asking everywhere, "You excited about the first day of practice?" I'm not because I got cut kids. I got to tell kids they can't play basketball. It's like the worst day of the season. It's like the worst couple of days of the season. I have to be certain that they're even convinced that they don't deserve to be on the team. I want that to be a mutual understanding. Of course sometimes that's not the case, but I got to make it obvious really belongs on team or not. So there's several other drills that we do.

Craig: Well actually before we go into that, let's talk about that a little bit more. Say one of our listeners has been cut from the team. They tried out, they didn't quite make it. What are some things that they can do in the off-season to prepare themselves for the next try, the next round.

David: Yeah. I even tell a lot of the same stuff to the players who are on the team who we get in a... We'll do like 6:00 AM workouts. Anybody who wants to work at 6:00 AM, that's like the only time we can get the gym. We live in a heavily populated area where our public school system, or the gym use is owned by the community and it's run by an outside agency. Just getting our gym is an issue for us to even like have workouts. There's all kinds of regulations on whether or not we're even allowed to have workouts at certain times of the year. 6:00 AM is always open. I see my players in there and, and they say they want to work out. They'll show up at like 6:00 AM, if they're lucky, they're getting up early enough. Then I give him the ball and I'm like, "Do you want a workout from me? Or are you going to handle this on your own?" I got to to see what they're all about. Then of course, all you see is them just shooting the ball, and getting a rebound. They're working on their threes or they say whatever they're working on. Then I'm like, "I'm not going to open up the gym. This is what you're going to be doing." This is the same thing I'd tell anybody who was cut. "I want to see... If you're not sweating, I mean, let's just start there. If you're not sweating off of your individual workout, if you're not challenging yourself, if you're not pushing yourself to be uncomfortable with the speed you're playing at, I really think you're wasting your time. Whoever's opening that gym, you're probably wasting their time too." The first thing that comes to my mind when I'm talking about a guy trying to prepare himself, play at whatever level they're at is just pushing yourself full-court, and just-going full court. If you want to take those jump shots, do with full-court and do it as fast as possible. Just dribbling up and down. I think one of the biggest things is using your imagination. It's imagining that the toughest defender you've ever played against is guarding you. You have to try to find a way to get past them. If you can't imagine that defense in front of you, if you can imagine the intensity that you need to bring, to get uncomfortable to get to the point where you are comfortable, then I can't see yourself really progressing to improve yourself.

Craig: Coach, thanks for sharing that with us. That's Really good insights there. Let's say you're working through the season. How do you adjust your coaching technique based on what the team's giving you, or based on the skills of the players that you've got? Is there a difference in strategy depending on what the team's giving you?

David: Yeah. Right now I'm working on what we're doing for this next team. We just finished our season about a month ago, and I'm already, with my assistant coach, ironing out all the details of how we're going to do things different next year. We're not going to be as big. We're graduating just two seniors, but they were 6'9" and 6'6".

Tristan: Wow.

David: Yeah. We're going to be smaller. We're not going to be small, but we're going to be smaller next year, and we're going to be a lot faster. We were really like pack-line oriented this past actually couple of years. We've been pack line for the past three years. We've been very methodical offensively, I feel, for the past a couple of years. This team ,with the amount of talent that I have and the amount of guys I want to use off the bench, we're definitely not going to be able to go that route. I'm not going be able to go pack line and run down the shot clock down to single digits. Then look down the bench and see eight guys that deserve playing time, and they're just sitting there while my team is running an offense for 25 seconds. I'm not looking forward to that kind of situation. We're re-working lot of things too. We're almost coming full circle from about four years ago, we had a similar team. Now we're going to back to more of that fast-paced offense, and a lot of pressing. We're definitely changing everything, really, coming this next year, despite the fact that we had a really successful season this past year.

Coach Breslaw providing on-the-court instruction to his players. | Photo Credit: prephoops.com

Coach Breslaw providing on-the-court instruction to his players. | Photo Credit: prephoops.com

Tristan: Exactly. Yeah. You graduate two 6'5" plus guys in high school, that's definitely going to take a little bit of a toll. Hey, with comes a little bit more speed, a little change in the strategy. What do you know, before you know it, you were back in the postseason mix again. Real quick before I get to my next question, you mentioned a term there that some of our folks may or may not be familiar with. Can you just give us a quick overview on the pack-line defense and what you mean there?

David: Sure. We have an alum who, who his name's Ryan Kruger. He's in the G League. It's Fort Wayne Drive. He got a lot of the alumni from our school. We have a lot of coaches out there, and it's funny because we were talking basketball. We had like a little chalk talk and he was like, "Pack line is not the most unique defense." He's like, "Pack line is just defense. It's just what we play in the NBA. It's just what pack line is." I saw what he was saying, and it is very true. It's traditional defense, however there are some points that I think that separate it from what many schools do around the country. I think the first thing that comes to mind is you're not denying one pass away. Certainly that's not going to be the case always in the NBA. You're not denying one pass away. You're in what we call the gap, or what everyone calls the gap. You're not guarding the ball. Your one pass away, but you're looking at the ball. The whole thing on your mind is, "This guy's about to drive. If he drives to my side, I'm blocking that off. " I think that's the first thing to think about with the pack lines. You're not denying ball side. You're going to stop the next guy from driving. From there, everything kind of turns into just traditional defense.

Tristan: Yeah, just the one step ahead approach at all times, there.

David: Yep.

Tristan: We talked about that, instilling that strategy there is we get a season going. How do you adjust throughout the season? What changes in your preparation versus a couple of wins under your belt versus a couple of perhaps losses under your belt? We know that your program hasn't experienced that too much in recent past here, but what changes if anything?

David: Yeah. Well, I mean first of all, it sounds kind of silly, but our definition of a loss, and that's one of the biggest things I want to get across to our guys throughout the season. Our definition of a loss is not in the win-loss column. We'll win a game and we'll call that a loss. It depends on if we've accomplished what we wanted to do. If we lost a game, we might not call that a loss either. I mean, we play like... There's some teams in DC that are just insane. We're a public school. We don't have a recruiting budget, a travel budget, a sponsorship. We're going to play like a DeMatha Summer League. We're going to play DeMatha or like a Bishop O'Connell. For those that know, you just check the national rankings. We're going to play those teams and, and we're going to lose. We were lucky enough to play, last summer we played DeMatha. We played them and they were missing most almost... I think there are missing every starter and we actually got a win out of that. We might play them this summer, and we might lose by 30 that might be a win. If we did what we set out to do, we'll call that a win. We had one loss during the regular season this past year to a rival, Galesburg, who we were able to beat a couple times also this season. We lost by 20, and offensively that was a loss. Offensively, that was certainly lost. We held them at 55 points, and that was, I think, their lowest of the season. We went in. W we lost that game knowing that we were going to play them in the playoffs. We said, "Hey, we can do this job on defense. We're going to be okay, because we're not going to do as bad on offense." Our definition of a loss is definitely a big part of that answer to your question. Moving beyond that, we're always preparing for the strongest action from the other teams. We'd certainly, definitely want to know how they're guarding pick and roll. That's probably one of the first things that we want to figure out is how to guard the pick and roll, and also had to guard handoffs. This year and next year, hand offs are a big part of our offense. If they're going to be switching on handoffs, then those couple of days before the game, we're really going to a really talk about what are we going to do when they switch on hand offs. If they don't switch on hand offs than, than everyone's really happy.

Tristan: Yeah, really.

David: Yeah. That's the first thing that comes to mind from that question. Then, on that, of course we want to know if they're going to play zone and what kind of zones. I'd love to come up with an offense that you can just say, "We're going to run that offense against any zone," if it's a two-three, or three-two. But I don't think... I've seen some coaches try to do that. I don't think those really exist. If they do, I can't wait until I find out that offense. That's a big part too. If they're going to play zone, then of course we have to prep for that. We spend most of our time prepping for man. Lucky enough, we've been great shooters past couple of years and we haven't seen seen too much zone. Teams realized they're not going to be able to stay in the game to see if they're going to leave us open.

Tristan: Now let's say we're getting into the season here. We're midway through, maybe a skid of what you would consider a loss. Let's say you do hit that skid and there's something that needs to change there. Tell us about that process in terms of identifying what that change needs to be, and then implementing that change into the players based on their skillsets and you knowing what their educational skills are.

David: Yeah. I'm trying to think of maybe a good example, but just the processes certainly written out for us, and that's: We're going to identify the problem. We're going to identify the action that we need to either do an offense or guard on defense. We're going most likely turn that into a game. Let's say we realize... And that's something with my team right now. They're fast and they're not selfish, but we have an issue with like throwing backdoor passes. I've had teams where like, "This is the office we're running. We're going to do hand offs. We're going to try to get back doors off of it," and they just do it. I'm like, "Oh my God, I'm the greatest coach in the world." Then a couple of years later, or next year, we try to do the same thing. I'm like, "These guys can't make a backdoor pass. They don't have... " Like, "I told them exactly what they're supposed to do. They're not doing it." Obviously it's not going to come as easy every year. We're going to give them some tips. We're going to give them...,I have a whole gamut of points I'm going to make in my speech that I'm going to hopefully keep below five minutes, on what a successful backdoor is going to look like. We might run through it, just to go through the motions. Then of course I'm going to see all the players get tired with that. Eventually I'm going to have to make a game out of that, and that's what we're going to do next. We're going to apply points. We're going to assign points for successful back doors. There's no question that we're going to make it into a competitive game that hopefully the players don't find a way to cheat; which is always the case, and then we have to adjust the game. Luckily, I'm at the point now in my career where I've seen most cheats. We've adjusted and hopefully make the games foolproof. We have a player now who he seems to find every loophole in any game we ever come up with.

Tristan: There's always one.

David: He's improving. He's improving us, but it's frustrating.

Craig: That's funny. Yeah. Gamification, that's always important for young players. No doubt about it. Towards the end of the season, let's say you're approaching the playoffs. You might have some injuries on the team and certainly some fatigue from the players, what kind of adjustments do you make? What kind of drills do you do in practice during that point in the season?

David: Yeah, that fatigue is something real. I'm talking about like with mental fatigue. Of course the injuries are always going to be there, and I don't know what you do about that. If you can have some kind of advice and resources where you can talk about some pre-injury stuff, that's great. Luckily enough, we have also another great alum from Richard Montgomery is a Blair O'Donovan, who is right now the physical trainer for the Washington Wizards. If you Google his name, he's all over YouTube, and he has a lot of great stuff. A lot of times I'll consult with him as we go into the playoffs. You know, "What's the best way to go about this or that?" If you have a resource like that, a trainer like that, that's awesome. That mental fatigue is always there. Something that we recently started to do is, is bring up a lot of underclassmen on the varsity. That's a new thing that's going through our county because going back more than a couple of years, we had budget cuts and they cut the JV schedule a couple games. Everyone realized JVs done a month before varsity's done. Everyone's moving up their JV players, or they're just putting up their JV players because they're looking at JV as like, "This is not as grueling or not as a productive as it used to be." Now I've got these sophomores, or sometimes freshmen, and we're on like our 70th practice. We'll get in like 75 practices for the season. We'll be on our 60th practice and we're on our like 19th games and you can just see it, they're like, "Wow, this is... " We're in like late February and this is like every day since November. I think that's something that needs to be addressed. We'll try to find ways to alleviate that. We'll do things like just at the end of practice we might play like dodge ball, something that's nice team builder. Just something different,. Anything different. Then more than that, the kids are always begging me for it too. We do in the summertime and we do it in the preseason, they love yoga. I've used the DVD for it.

Craig: We've heard that before.

David: February especially with those injuries and they're bruised up there, they're begging for it. Like mid February. We've been doing it for several years now, and I'd say about the beginning of February. Actually even going as early as as like mid-January, they just start asking for it. They're like, "Please." We're really lucky that we have a girl's soccer player who's going to be great. Her last name is Heaven and she's a big D1 recruit for soccer. Her mother is a yoga instructor and she loves working our team. She comes in. She's the real deal. She can do all kinds of crazy stuff. She's built. She's way stronger name of our players. Yoga is huge for those types of situations.

Craig: Nice. Yeah, that is healing for sure. All right, you've walked us through the season, and the way that you approach it, and the way that you look at things. Here at Hustle, we look for ways to leverage technology to get the most out of players. So think about kind of the way that you coach and your overall plans for your teams. What role does technology play in your coaching today and what role do you see it taking on in the future?

David: Yeah, for today it just comes down to the camera. We tape probably about a dozen practices. I think practices are great for us to as coaches to look at what we've been doing. The players actually watch that, especially. I think it's huge for your players who are not getting that much playing time. Does any coach honestly believe that they're post even some game film, and the guy who is sitting at the end of the bench is going to watch that game film? Why would he do that? I mean, of course we have all kinds of arguments why he should. I live in the real world, and that kid's not watching that game tape. If you post practice, all of a sudden you. We use Huddle, and you can see how much they've watch. All of a sudden you post practice and that guy who has never played, he's all of a sudden, he's watched two hours of game tape. It's not a game tape, it's practice tape, but he's watched that. That's huge right there. The technology that comes along with Crossover and Huddle and the stats. They send stats back within 24 hours. They send us like shot charts. They send us all that. I think we have the platinum package. We had to fundraise for that. It's not cheap. Fundraising is always a big issue. Nevertheless, we're able to benefit off having that package. Those stats are awesome. You can break them down any way. Then what makes it even the best is you can click on... Like you'll go through the stats and it will say like, "15 turnovers." Well you just click on the 15 turnovers and it shows you a breakdown, shows you a cut up of all those turnovers. I think something that I saw early on in my career when, when all this technology wasn't out there, "We want to watch game tape." Well that meant everyone sitting down and we're watching the whole game. Well, coaches are trying to make a point about, "We're not doing a good job on the back doors." Well that's not coming until like the middle of the second quarter. Then actually, that time it was a good back door. Then third quarter, that's when the back doors start. That one was like at the end of the game. By that time we made 50 other points and the guys are like, "What are we... " We were all over the place. The only way I think you can watch game tape is if it's broken down, and make that game tape, probably I would say, no more than a half hour session. That's even kind of pushing it. Right? The technology that Huddle provides and Crossover, where you can just click on a button and then you see every turnover. You can even go for the whole season and click on a guy and say, "Every turnover he's made." So you'd get that guy you'd say, "Come on, let's, let's have some lunch.".

Craig: That's painful.

Tristan: He probably knows what's coming when coach asks him to lunch, that's for sure.

David: Yeah. Yeah. But just the ability to see that like that is... It makes you feel like... Well, first of all, it makes me feel like a professional. It makes you feel like you're in the NBA or something, that you have that access. That's definitely the first stuff that comes to mind with that question. I'd say for the future, Huddle's coming out with, I should get paid by Huddle for this, but they're coming out with this thing you mount on your gym floor. I'm sorry, your gym wall, and it's going to track the ball. You don't even need a film crew. We got to find managers or maybe ask a father or somebody to film our games. That's imperfect because they want to watch the games. There's always a play where they're watching the game and the camera's on an empty hoop. But for the future of technology, you've got this thing mounted on the wall. Then it's following the ball. Then it's automatically uploaded to Huddle. They're sending you set your stats by the next morning.

Tristan: Yeah, wow.

Craig: Yeah, that's cool.

David: Then beyond that, your imagination can... The way technology exponentially grows these days, you can imagine it's going to able to track players soon. Then you're going to be able to see the stats that we see in the NBA with how long are these guys around him during the game? What's their average speed? There's so many other things that can come out of that, where you're tracking individuals and setting benchmarks. The possibilities are absolutely endless.

Tristan: That's definitely a good point there, that mounting on the wall and be able to track player by player. Pretty soon it's going to be almost like we're playing 2K, there while we're watching films and reviewing. Real quick. Thanks again for your time today here, coach. We're gonna let you go here soon, but something we like to do with all of our guests is a quick rapid fire round, just to peel back the onion a little bit and really get to now who Coach Breslow is. We'll start it off here. We'll throw that fancy production music on in the background, and get into our rapid fire. Real quick coach, what is your favorite sports movie?

David: Cool. There's a movie... I was taking like obscure answers to these questions. There's this old movies, I want everyone to see it. It's one of the best basketball movies I think that's out there. It really spells out all the recruiting and the college experience. It's from like the 1970s it's filmed on a Colorado State University campus. It's called One-on-One. Henry Steele. That that movie is ahead of its time.

Tristan: Awesome.

Tristan: What is the best warm up music before a big game?

David: Oh man Ah, jeez. Whatever's good for player's hype. Okay. My songs is no way any kids go play it, but I like the Big Payback by James Brown. But yeah, what are the chances any kid in this century is going buy in to that.

Tristan: Right. Okay. All right, coach. Friday night. You don't have a basketball game going on. Where are you going to get dinner?

David: Wherever my wife tells me to.

Tristan: There it is. All right, coach. Well, definitely appreciate your time here today. Certainly talking about what you guys identify as a loss is a big help there. I think all this knowledge you've been able to drop on us here is definitely going to be a help to all our athletes as they're developing their game plans, developing the training plan. Definitely appreciate the time, once again.

David: It was a privilege, and happy to. Good luck in the future, guys.