In a number of articles, we’ve expressed or implied that X and O’s, techniques, drills and strategy are all extremely important but at the very heart of coaching are people centered and general philosophical concerns. That’s exactly why you’ll watch certain successful programs and say to yourself, “There’s nothing really special about what they do.”
Of course, talent being relatively equal, you know deep down that it’s not so much about the “what” that they do-as it is about the “how” they do it. These coaches seem to have a knack for creating an environment that is pretty balanced in terms of its approach and how everyone (players, coaches, parents, managers, fans, alumni) fits together and interacts.
Generally, these coaches have had some time to develop their programs to this level but there are those who arrive at this balance early in their careers. In either case, I believe that they’re balanced because they’ve found answers that work for them and their constituents to these simple coaching seeming contradictions.
HAVE FUN/BE SERIOUS: I’ve seen youth coaches treat a game like their next meal stood in the balance and on the other hand, I saw an NBA Finals Golden State Warriors’ chalkboard, on which Steve Kerr wrote, “Let It Fly” as one of the keys to that night’s game. You would think that the lower the level, the more that fun would be a prime motivation but that begins and ends with that program’s CEO, the head coach. On the flip side, we’re all serious to one degree or another because it’s a way to make a living, a vocation or just an avocation. Everyone who starts playing basketball and continues to play is in it for the enjoyment. I would say this- if players aren’t having fun, the less serious they’ll want to be about the game.
REALISM/IDEALISM: For instance, how do you define a role for a player based on his athletic ability, skill set and intangibles package (reality) and yet motivate and give that same player space to grow (ideal). This can be a tough balancing act and some coaches excel here. The minute players think you’ve got them “boxed in”, the less likely they’ll achieve and improve. When that happens to a player, the team achieves and improves a little less.
EXECUTION/FREEDOM: On one end of the spectrum you have execution “robots” and on the other end you have players with little or no responsibility. The amount of freedom to let players “play basketball” and take what the opponent gives when the planned structure breaks down is not an easy decision for a coach. It usually varies from team to team and player to player. However, the very best coaches get this right more often than not.
ATTACK/UNDER CONTROL: One of the most difficult balancing acts for coaches and players is attacking, yet under control. I’m not sure I agree with the saying, “Let the game come to you,” because it sounds a little passive. Perhaps “playing aggressively within oneself” is closer to the ideal. Whatever terminology and teaching methods are used, coaches who are good at this concept can successfully coach a wide variety of offenses.
DEFENSIVE AGRESSIVENESS/MINIMAL FOULING: This is the defensive counterpart to attack under control. A team that can be tough at the defensive end reducing the number of looks by an opponent and/or making an opponent turn the ball over with a low foul ratio has the perfect defensive balance. This is also a very challenging balancing act for a coach but with daily emphasis (no matter the system), this balance can be improved.
If a coach has good balance in all five areas, I would say that he has a good grip on the art of coaching and I firmly believe that in many cases, that trumps the specific elements of basketball “science”- the technical side.