In addition to horrible officiating, there is something else that all coaches can’t stand… turnovers. Turning the ball over in basketball is a cardinal sin. After all, winning the turnover battle is usually the key to victory.

But is there such a thing as a good turnover? I wouldn’t go that far… but all turnovers are not equal. There is difference between trying to pivot through a trap to pass to an open teammate and getting called for traveling and making a casual perimeter pass that gets stolen. There is a difference between attacking the rim and being called for an offensive foul and tossing an ill-advised behind the back pass out of bounds during a simple 2-on-1 fast break.

What’s the difference? One was an assertive play and the other wasn’t.  You have to learn to live with assertive turnovers.
If you want to be a successful basketball player, you need to be assertive. You need to take calculated risks on the court. You will never maximize your potential by always playing it safe. You need to leave your comfort zone; in workouts, in practice, and in games. However, when you assert yourself, you must be fully prepared to reap the rewards or suffer the consequences. That’s accountability.
What do Steve Nash, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony all have in common? 
1)    They are all NBA All-Stars.
2)    They are the NBA’s most talented offensive players.
3)    They were all ranked in the top 15 in turnovers committed last season! 
Part of their offensive genius is taking risks and being aggressive with the ball. Turnovers happen as a result. You have to take the bad with the good. Even John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists, is 2nd all-time in turnovers committed. It goes with the territory! Anyone who watched Stockton play can agree that his turnovers were assertive in nature.
This is not an invitation to be careless or reckless with the ball. I am not condoning turnovers. You must value the ball… every possession is important. But you have to take chances and be assertive to be successful. You have to take risks. “With great risk come great rewards.”
Assertive players are aggressive and decisive. They don’t hesitate. They survey the situation and go with the best option. They have confidence in whatever decision they make.  And if they make a mistake (or turnover), they learn from it and don’t repeat it. Fighting to establish post position on the block and getting called for 3 seconds is OK. Getting called for it a second or third time is not!
When an assertive player makes a mistake offensively, they bust their butt to “make it up on defense.” Assertive players don’t wallow in mistakes. If they turn the ball over… they immediately move on to the next play. They don’t compound their mistake by standing around and pouting.
And you can be an invaluable offensive player even if you don’t have a sick handle or a killer jump shot. An assertive offensive player sets solid screens, runs the floor on every position, makes hard basket cuts, and crashes the offensive glass every time a shot is taken (assertive players think, “shot is taken, shot is missed.”). Ask any defender… assertive offensive players are the worst to guard!
Assertive players don’t play with fear. They aren’t scared to make a play because they fear turning it over. Assertive players take risks, play hard, and in the end… are successful.
So coaches, before you berate your player for committing a turnover… take a second to judge what kind of turnover it was. If it was an assertive turnover, be supportive and positive. 
If it wasn’t, do what you do!
To be a great player, you need to have strong hands. Grip strength plays a key role in being strong (assertive) with the ball. Here is a video of some unconventional, yet highly effective grip strength exercises: 
Lastly, I highly recommend you read Play Their Hearts Out by George Dohrmann. It is a fascinating emotional roller coaster with unbelievable insight into youth basketball. The book does a tremendous job of highlighting the myriad of problems we face. I have read over 100 books in the past 2+ years and Play Their Hearts Out just moved into my top 3. It is that good. Whether you are a player, coach, or parent, you have to read this book!
As the high school season approaches, please let me know if I can be of service to you or your program. Feel free to email me any time at
Train hard. Train smart.
Alan Stein
P.S.: If you haven’t already done so, make sure you sign up for our monthly email newsletter. We will be sending out a new batch of Coaching Nuggets in early November… you don’t want to miss these!
Click on “Subscribe to Updates” at