Josh Merkel

Lessons from Building a Championship Team with Josh Merkel

Randolph-Macon Head Coach Josh Merkel shares his insights and experiences on building a championship team. During the 2022-23 season, Randolph-Macon won its first national championship in NCAA Division III history, with the largest margin of victory ever recorded. Coach Merkel has had a remarkable run of success, making four trips to the NCAA tournament and earning the most wins in program history. Let’s dive into what pushed his team over the top and learn from his coaching strategies.

The Foundation of Success

Coach Merkel credits the success of his team to several key factors. First and foremost, he acknowledges the players and coaches who came before him, establishing a strong foundation of excellence. The continuity of great players committed to the team and focused on development has set the standards for future players. This sense of continuity and the high standards have helped Josh Merkel improve in his role as head coach. Additionally, the team’s veterans, including two fifth-year players and two four-year seniors, brought a sense of grit and resilience, not wanting to let their older teammates down. This connection and drive fueled their hunger for success.

Merkel emphasizes that his team never got too confident, always playing with a chip on their shoulder. They recognized the importance of staying grounded and focused, which reflected in their record and approach. This mindset contributed to their impressive run and ultimately led them to victory.

A Unique Coaching Philosophy

Merkel’s coaching philosophy is centered around the idea that every player is different and should be coached accordingly. He believes in individual freedom and choice, allowing players to find their own way on the court. One of his favorite quotes is, “Every player doesn’t shoot the same, so why should every player close out the same?” This highlights his belief in tailoring coaching techniques to each player’s strengths and abilities.

He recalls a pivotal moment in his coaching journey when he realized the importance of adapting his coaching style to support his players. He had a talented offensive player who was struggling defensively, despite putting in the effort and being coachable. It was then that Coach Merkel realized he needed to find a way to help and support this player better. This led to the development of his philosophy of individualized closeouts and the recognition that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for every player.

The Power of Player-Led Development

Another unique aspect of Josh Merkel’s coaching approach is the emphasis on player-led development. He believes in empowering his players to take ownership of their growth and learning. This includes allowing them to analyze game film, ask questions, and break down plays during team meetings. By giving players the opportunity to take on leadership roles and teach their teammates, they become more engaged and invested in their own development.

One of the standout moments for Coach Merkel was witnessing his point guard, Buzz Anthony, take the lead during a player-led block session. The other players on the team asked Buzz questions about his defensive techniques, and he broke down his strategies for them. This interaction showcased the team’s strong connection and their commitment to learning from one another.

Leadership Language and Self-Reflection

Coach Merkel believes in the power of language and its impact on a team’s culture. He emphasizes the importance of using specific and meaningful language to convey ideas and expectations. For example, he refers to the scout team as the “studs” to emphasize their value and impact on the team’s success. This language creates a sense of pride and motivation among the players.

Self-reflection is another key aspect of Coach Merkel’s coaching philosophy. He encourages his players to reflect on their performance and make observations about their strengths and areas for improvement. This self-awareness helps them take ownership of their development and become more accountable for their actions on and off the court.

Coaching with Constraints

Josh Merkel believes in coaching with constraints, using specific limitations or rules during drills and small-sided games to focus on particular skills or strategies. This approach allows players to learn and develop within the context of the game, making their learning more efficient and applicable.

One example of coaching with constraints is the “ladder game.” This game involves two teams, each starting from different points on the court. The offense aims to score points by either getting a basket or touching the paint, while the defense tries to prevent them from scoring. This game encourages players to make quick decisions, adapt to different situations, and develop their offensive and defensive skills.

Another drill that Coach Merkel uses is the “2 on 2 appropriate” game. In this game, the offense tries to score by touching the paint, while the defense aims to prevent them from doing so. This drill helps players understand defensive responsibilities, decision-making, and offensive strategies.

The Importance of Feedback and Continuous Improvement

Feedback is a crucial component of Coach Merkel’s coaching philosophy. He encourages his players to seek feedback and embrace it as a means of continuous improvement. By creating an environment where feedback is valued, Coach Merkel helps his players develop self-awareness and become more receptive to constructive criticism.

Coach Merkel also emphasizes the importance of continuous improvement and staying one step ahead. While it’s essential to stick to core principles, he believes in constantly seeking new ideas and strategies to keep the team’s performance at a high level. This commitment to growth and adaptation ensures that the team doesn’t become stagnant or predictable.


Coach Josh Merkel’s coaching philosophy is rooted in individualized development, player-led learning, and continuous improvement. Through his unique approach, he has guided Randolph-Macon to a national championship and established a culture of excellence within the program. By emphasizing self-reflection, language, and coaching with constraints, Coach Merkel empowers his players to become the best versions of themselves on and off the court.

Learn more from Josh Merkel from his All Access Practice Series as he gives you access to his practices and so much more. Merkel is a basketball whisperer, blending passion, precision, and purpose. His coaching philosophy transcends Xs and Os—it’s about nurturing champions, on and off the hardwood. Dive into the heart of basketball excellence with this exclusive series from Immersion Videos!

Tobin Anderson

The Pressing Defense System of Tobin Anderson

Tobin Anderson is a basketball coach who has been known to use his pressing defense system to great success. This tactic involves applying pressure on the opposing team’s ball handlers to force turnovers and create scoring opportunities. Anderson’s coaching career has been quite successful, with his teams winning several championships and making it to the NCAA tournament multiple times. In fact, the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights, recently pulled off a stunning upset against Purdue in the tournament, becoming only the second #16 seed to ever defeat a #1 seed in the tournament. Now that we have an idea of Anderson’s success, let’s dive deeper into the pressing defense strategy and how it has helped him achieve such great results.

Anderson discussed his pressing system and the importance of turnover margin in his team’s success. He also talked about the influence of Rick Pitino and other coaches in developing his pressing system. In this blog post, we will dive deeper into Coach Anderson’s pressing system, exploring the teaching points for both on-ball and off-ball defenders, the importance of defensive decision-making, and the strategies for confusing opponents. We will also discuss the role of the backcourt players and the recovery aspect of the press.

On-Ball Defense

Coach Anderson emphasizes the importance of on-ball pressure in his pressing system. He wants his players to be aggressive and make it difficult for opponents to pass and dissect the press. However, he also cautions against pressuring too much and getting beat easily. The on-ball defenders are instructed to stay open to the ball, not denying the pass inbounds, and being square to the ball handler. The goal is to make the opponent go hard and put pressure on them to make quick decisions.

Defensive Decision-Making

In Coach Anderson’s pressing system, defensive decision-making is crucial. Players need to know when to trap, when to rotate, and when to stunt. They must be instinctive and have a good feel for the game. Coach Anderson encourages his players to be active, foot-faking, and ready to rotate when necessary. The players in the backcourt need to be smart and not lose their man. They must understand their role in the press and make the right decisions based on the situation.

Confusing Opponents

One of the key aspects of Coach Anderson’s pressing system is to confuse opponents. He wants his press to be unpredictable, making it difficult for opponents to know when and where the trap will come. By using match-up oriented concepts, Coach Anderson’s press can resemble both a zone press and a man press, creating confusion for the opposing team. The press is designed to dare opponents to beat them over the top, while also shrinking the court and forcing them to go sideline.

Off-Ball Defense

Off-ball defenders, especially the backcourt players, play a crucial role in Coach Anderson’s pressing system. They need to be active, foot-faking, and ready to rotate when necessary. The backcourt players are instructed to be uphill, up the line, and take away the direct pass. On the weak side, they should come over to the midline and dare opponents to throw the diagonal cross-court pass. The off-ball defenders need to be engaged, communicate, and be in position to make plays.

Recovery Aspect

In Coach Anderson’s pressing system, the recovery aspect is vital. Even if the opponent breaks the press, the defense is not out of the press. Players need to recover quickly, get back to their spots, and play half-court defense. The goal is to prevent layups, threes, and fouls, and get back to playing five-on-five basketball. The recovery aspect requires players to be disciplined, communicate, and make quick adjustments.


Coach Tobin Anderson’s pressing system has been a key factor in his success. By emphasizing on-ball pressure, defensive decision-making, confusion, and recovery, Coach Anderson has created a formidable pressing system. His players are taught to be aggressive, smart, and adaptable, making it difficult for opponents to handle the press. Through practice, game-based play, and video analysis, Coach Anderson’s players develop the necessary skills and instincts to excel in the pressing system.

Tobin Anderson Pressing System All Access Series

If you’re a basketball coach looking to take your team’s defense to the next level, then you should definitely check out the Tobin Anderson Pressing System All Access Series from Immersion Videos. This series provides exclusive access to one of the best basketball minds in college basketball. You’ll learn the methods that have produced one of the most effective pressing defenses in the game.

Open the doors and get full access to three practices to get an inside look at how Tobin Anderson runs his practices and program. You’ll learn how to create a dynamic defense, insights into building culture, and how to blend intensity with teaching. This video will give you a full arsenal of ideas to improve your team’s effort, intensity, and defense. Don’t miss this opportunity to get an all-access look at one of the country’s top defensive coaches in action as his team learns how to be efficient and aggressive on defense. You can learn more about this series and purchase it at

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