Is the system of basketball X’s and O’s that you implement a part of the culture you create for your program? This is a question that I have personally been struggling with since I began envisioning the culture I wanted to create as a head coach. The question is a tough one to address no matter what level you are coaching, however, I think it is the most difficult for high school coaches to answer, specifically because a high school coach does not have the ability to recruit players to fit his or her system as a collegiate coach or a professional coach does. This is a question that I have asked coaches at clinics, in chalk talks, and at camps that I have worked. The vast majority of the coaches I have spoken to reply yes, the system you implement should align with the culture you create as they both are a part of your philosophy. For example, Coach Jim Boone at Delta State University is a pack-line defense/motion offense guy, and he believes that his system aligns with the culture of toughness he is creating. The culture he has created revolves around the team mantra: “grit and grind”.
Now don’t get me wrong, all coaches want to create a culture of toughness…all coaches want their teams to be able to dig deep and grind to improve, but there are varying degrees of toughness and also varying definitions. Further, and here is the key, the system you employ
affects what that toughness means. For Coach Boone, toughness means “outlasting” his opponent defensively and having the discipline offensively to continue to probe the defense until his motion offense creates a breakdown. For Coach Don Showalter of the USA 16U team, toughness means understanding and executing the seven levels of his trapping system and utilizing the correct techniques in his side pick and roll offense.
Now, if you are going to be a coach preaching “grit and grind” as your team mantra, you are a team that is going to have to grit and grind everyday of practice. You will have to do those aggressive “toughness” drills everyday. There are some very successful and disciplined teams that do not have that “gritty” culture, yet they manage just the same. As a coach, I think we have to be aware of what we believe in and what we stand for. Then, we have to know what we will tolerate. To use the old cliché, there are a million ways to skin this cat, however, as the head coach of the program, your vision, culture, and system must align.
Taking it a step further, if you are a motion offense team like Coach Boone, the amount that you are going to trust your team offensively is at a much higher level than a coach that runs all sets. Not saying that one way is better than the other, but the degree to which you trust your team is also indicative of the culture you are creating, and, as just mentioned, the system you run reflects how much you trust your team.
With all of this being said, does this mean that you cannot change your system and keep your culture if the personnel dictates it? Of course not, the reality is that you culture is steeped in the values you hold as a coach. If a system change is necessary, the culture still works, but the values need to be re-aligned and calibrated.
For example, with our culture and our system we have had to re-shape our mantras and core values to align our shift in our system. One of our mantras is “Fear your comfort zone”. Our core values (seven total) included words like competitiveness, communication, and character. Last season we were a pressing team as we had four athletic guards that are all playing college basketball next season. We used their speed and quickness and were able to get into the open floor and ran a continuity pick and roll offense as they were all high-level ball handlers and decision makers. Now, after graduating those four players, we are transitioning into being a more half- court oriented team. Does that mean that those mantras and core values go out the window? No, we just re-define them. Last season when we spoke about “fearing your comfort zone” we spoke about endurance levels (obviously, we still need to be in great basketball shape so this applies), we spoke about focusing on knowing all of the calls out of our pressing system (we still need to keep our focus at a very high-level, now in learning the new defensive rotations in our half-court system). The core values of competitiveness, communication, and character clearly still apply as well. I think we will be an even more competitive team as we will not be as up and down so we are going to have to grind more and win those battles in the half court. Something that we will definitely have to tweak as well, is that we always preach outworking our opponents, and that has been defined as being aggressive (maybe overly aggressive at times) and getting up the line and denying. We will not be in that same deny position this season and are shifting that mentality completely. However, we are not going to stop preaching “outworking” our opponents, it will just mean outworking them in other ways.
The closing point here is that yes, changing systems could and should happen. Adaptability is a growing requirement in the coaching landscape, just ask Coach K. However, that doesn’t mean your culture should change. It should evolve and be tailored to your system.