When I was a very young coach and trying to establish my identity, philosophy and system, I was basically clueless defensively. So, one summer I looked at the previous season’s NCAA team PPG allowed stats and hand wrote each head coach in the Top 20 asking for any direction each might be able to offer.
One reply came shortly from one Bobby Knight, then the head coach at Army, where of course Mike Krzyzewski was one of his players. Coach Knight responded that he had a pamphlet for sale entitled “Let’s Play Defense”. A lot of coaches were asking about his defense as he was regarded as a rising star in coaching circles- so he came up with the pamphlet. I immediately sent my $3.00 and soon received my stapled copy with a cover illustration of a fire-snorting devil in a defensive stance.
The impact of my original inquiry and that subsequent purchase were easily the most significant events in my development as a coach. I devoured the information and it became the foundation of how I approached defense from that day forward. I went from virtually clueless to being a confident teacher of a sound defensive system.
While Coach Knight’s pamphlet was a commercial enterprise and while out of 20 letters sent with only one other response, the truth remains that if I hadn’t originally written, I wouldn’t have had the early opportunity to get in on Coach Knight’s ideas. Of course, not too much later he was hired at Indiana and he and his defense became well known nationally and he was perhaps the brightest star those days on the clinic circuit.
Today, writing 20 handwritten notes wouldn’t exactly be the most techy approach one would use to inquire about some aspect of the game from an expert coach. However, the need to know information in a fairly quick manner precludes the randomness of waiting until the right clinician shows up in one’s area.
This is hardly thinking outside the box, but if I were having trouble against zones, looking into the Syracuse Orange zone offensive attacks might be the first source of ideas. Who better knows the sets and actions vs. the 2-3 that are most troublesome than the team that practices against itself each day and has to game-plan against some of the best minds in college basketball? If anyone knows 2-3 zone attacks, it’s Syracuse. In the same line of thinking, I might research Virginia’s attack vs. pack-line defenses, how Michigan attacks the half-court 1-3-1 and how West Virginia attacks full court pressure, as just a few examples.
Direct communication with these and other staffs may not even be necessary as there are so many ways more ways to access information today than there were in the letter writing era. However, some staffs are happy to hear from coaches and will readily share ideas if the timing isn’t an issue. In-season inquiries are the most likely to go unanswered. Obviously, the very best solution is to attend pre-season practices for your target teams and to find out when they’ll be working on your area of interest. Coaching staffs will generally be very accommodating in this environment.