Friday, August 29, 2008

Systematic Coaching

Paul Johnson believes in himself and his system -- and he is not afraid to implement team building tools and show an unwavering passion for his philosophy of a team:

“It’s not just his offense; he teaches toughness, he shows a sense of pride, a sense of determination,” said Mike Sewak, the co-offensive line coach, who has known Johnson for 23 years. “The best way to do that is get involved, and he’s involved with his team.”

“He is incredibly confident, the most confident coach I have been around, bordering on cocky,” Andrew Gardner, a senior left tackle, said. “Every day, you hear about people questioning whether this offense is going to work on this level, and I think he gets tired answering questions about it because he knows it will work.”

Coaches often teach and preach specific systems on offense and defense, along with other values. Systems are important for the development of players, teams, programs, and franchises. In basketball, with a thoroughly planned structure and an understanding of spacing, screening, interaction, and scoring spots, five people become one on the floor. More significantly, every member of the team, including the coaches, becomes unified. When there is ultimate belief in the system from the top, a trickle-down effect occurs that results in a long term team investment.

Coach K did not always run a 4-out spread offense in the ½ court like the one of his recent Duke teams and the 2008 USA Team. He used to teach a motion offense with different looks and varied screening action. He has adjusted his sets to highlight drive and kick opportunities, three-pointers, and isolations on the block. Coach Calipari has not always utilized the Dribble Drive Motion (DDM); he ran something completely different when he was at UMass.

Good players can adjust to any system. It’s not necessarily the offense and the plays that are, or are not, effective. It comes down to how personnel are used and how the system is taught. Utah’s Jerry Sloan believes in his system and wants players on his team who fit its style. Many teams do not have the benefit of breakdown players like Lebron James or Derrick Rose, so those squads have to maximize the skills of the individuals they do have. Players have to understand their roles just as coaches need to realize how the pieces fit together.

In Pistol, Press Maravich’s philosophy is explained via George Krajack, who was once his best player at Clemson:

“Press never had the same kind of talent that guys like McGuire and Everett Case had. He didn’t have anybody who could break you down off the dribble. He didn’t have anybody who could take over a game and win it by himself. None of us were good enough to freelance…He was forever designing schemes…Press could move those salt and pepper shakers (from the meal table) around until he figured out a way to beat anybody…”

A great teacher and a potent system can create exceptional players. Further, with preparation and concentration, as Bob Knight emphasizes, the mental game can make up for what a player may lack in athletic ability. Knight writes in his autobiography:

“We’ve had some kids who weren’t great basketball players who have been really good scorers, because of the way we used them.”

In a sense, described here is a taste of Gestalt, the psychological theory that proposes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Fittingly, a system is a set of parts that work together to form a complex mechanism. The whole, or the mechanism, is actually made up of myriad components: the vision for the program, communication, social dynamics, player and staff roles, skill development…the list goes on and on. But the system truly works when the players wholeheartedly believe in it, or at least, believe they believe in it (a later discussion).

What is truly extraordinary is when there is a talented player who works harder than anyone, is convinced by the overall mechanism, has the respect of his teammates, and plays in the system with supreme creativity and confidence. (Sounds a bit like MJ, huh?)


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