Mention Bo Ryan and you automatically think swing offense and solid half-court man defense; then mention Dean Smith and you think full court pressure and primary/secondary fast breaks. These two examples were purposely chosen because, for the most part, they would be regarded as system opposites.
While the X and O components of these two systems or any other, for that matter, are visible markers, they really serve to point to what a system is really about. In Ryan’s Wisconsin example, it’s not turning the ball over and not fouling; in Smith’s North Carolina example, it was relentless pressure at both ends of the floor. These might not be Coach Ryan’s and Coach Smith’s only pillars but they would certainly be among the most identifiable.
Take a few other examples- in Tom Izzo’s case, you think offensive rebounding and great after time-out plays; two of MSU’s pillars might be labeled toughness and attention to detail. In Bob Knight’s case you thought motion offense and help defense; he might have simply described his pillar as “trying to get more good shots than the opponent”.
Coaches like to talk about “what they stand for”. But, one can stand for a lot of ideals in principle but not actually coach them or maybe even more to the point, not “insist on them”. Who doesn’t stand for defense, rebounding, and shot selection. Yet, how many coaches don’t really insist on one or more, let alone have viable plans for each?
If you’ve coached for any length of time and had success or been competitive with lesser talent, you probably can quickly name your program’s pillars. Whether you arrived at them in a carefully planned way or you came to them by trial and error, they serve you well.
But what if you think it over and you say to yourself, “You know, I really don’t have pillars.” Or, “I’m not satisfied with mine and want to add to or change mine.”
You can start at either end of the process but it might be wiser to start with the desired pillar- let’s say shot selection. That way, you’re going at it in a direct way, rather than in a haphazard manner. The sequence in reverse order would then go- 1) Pillar, 2) Insistence on it from everyone in program 24-7, 3) “Standing For It” publicly and privately, 4) Coaching it, 5) Choosing the X and O’s to implement it.
Creating a pillar is a full time proposition and the only danger is obsessing over it at the expense of other facets of your program. The ideal is to be good at everything and great at a few.