N.A.T.O. & The Signal vs. The Noise

Nov 23, 2021
N.A.T.O. = Not Attached To Outcome
In the summer of 2019, I had the opportunity to be an observing Coach at a PGC (Point Guard College) basketball camp. It was a phenomenal experience, and I highly recommend it to all coaches (regardless of sport).
A key concept that I picked up from PGC that has made a positive impact on how I coach is N.A.T.O.
It's all about valuing the process over the outcome.
A practical way that I've taught my players to be "N.A.T.O." is through our shot selection.
We taught our players the PGC shot selection scale of 3s, 5s, 7s, and 9s.
  • 3s = 3rd grade shots - really poor decision to shoot it 
  • 5s = 50/50 shots - these are those "ehhhh" shots 
  • 7s = Our shot—the shot we want to take every time we have the ball... in rhythm, in range, with room. 
  • 9s = the best shot we can get—these are wide open layups
We made it clear to our players that a good shot is a good shot when it leaves their hands, regardless of whether it goes in our not.
We emphasized that we weren't attached to the outcome of a shot (a make or miss), but we are focused on the process of getting high quality shots as a team (7s and 9s on the scale).
It became obvious to the players that they would never be pulled out of a game for missing a 7 or a 9. 
They knew that a good shot was a good shot regardless of the outcome.
And our players loved it!
They felt confidence and freedom.
They weren't afraid of getting pulled out of the game for taking a good shot and missing!
Doug Lemov calls this helping players separate the signal form the noise.
Signal = The Quality of the Decision
Noise = Randomness of a Single Outcome
A shot in basketball is the perfect illustration for separating the signal from the noise.
The decision a player made to shoot the basketball is what coaches should be praising or giving feedback on, not whether or not the shot when in or not.
If we wan't our players to be N.A.T.O, to be able to distinguish the signal form the noise, we must model it as coaches.
We must provide feedback and create games and drills that reward players for the quality of their decision, not the randomness of an outcome.
We must provide feedback on the Signal, not the Noise.
If the only time players are celebrated is when the outcome is positive (i.e. a made shot), it will create a group of players that play afraid to make mistakes.
We want players that focus on making quality decisions, so we have to celebrate that.
P.S. Doug Lemov published some of my thoughts on this topic on his fantastic blog. Read them HERE.