Follow a TEAM/Study a Coach: The Big Picture is Important Too! First Published in The Roundball Report

Coaches are known to pay attention to detail. Sometimes to the exclusion of the bigger picture. Attending clinics and watching instructional videos is a time honored tradition and great way to learn about the game and the coaching profession.

Coaches tend to be “cherry pickers” and use drills and bits and pieces that fit their system or appeal to the coach for some reason. There is nothing wrong at all with this approach and the great coaches who are innovators certainly engaged in this practice.

Let me suggest a different approach. Don Meyer has been oft quoted as saying “you can get all the good ideas, you just can’t use them all.” Not only is he correct, I would like coaches to consider this, much of what works for one program will NOT work for another. Why? Because the second program does not have the personnel the first program has.

Dick Bennett, the legendary defensive innovator, explained to me the reason he changed from his trademark “push” defense to “pack” defense was because at UW-Stevens Point he had better athletes than his opponents. At UW-Green Bay this was no longer true. What worked at one university no longer would work at another.

Let me suggest studying the entire system or the entire philosophy and teaching approach of a particular coach. This might be much more helpful than picking the bits and pieces that you like or find interesting. Why did Dick Bennett only play man-to-man defense? His brother Jack Bennett won two national titles playing a 1-3-1 zone defense. The answer lies in his approach to teaching the game. Dick Bennett felt less was more. By giving players less to learn they would be more proficient at what they had been taught. Bennett felt defense and simplicity allowed players to play as hard as possible and as a team.

Don Meyer and John Wooden were fanatics about teaching fundamental skills. They started every practice session with time allocated for fundamental work. They were teaching coaches. The result, their teams were noted for being fundamentally sound and not beating themselves with errors due to lack of skill. A closer examination of their teaching methodology will demonstrate just how integrated the correct execution of the fundamental skills and the execution of the offensive and defensive systems of these two programs were.

Coaches, at least at high school and middle school levels, must often adapt to the talent available. College and professional teams can recruit or draft players that fit a system or style of play. Given the fact talent can vary from season to season, it is wise to understand the entire system of play, from the overall strategy and tactics, the skills needed to execute the system and the talent that best suits the system. This can best be learned by studying entire systems of play and the coaches who created or teach the system.

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