About this series: Coaching Beyond the X’s and O’s – this is the soul of Solution-Based Basketball® and the heart of basketball coaching. This is the first of an occasional Coach’s Toolkit series where I talk about the often-overlooked keys to coaching success. This post is on the topic of deep dive learning. Next is “Evaluate for Excellence.”
Once upon a time I took my Muskingum basketball team to Acapulco. We saw the famous La Quebrada cliff-divers. It was a beautiful, breathtaking experience. The young men dive 125 feet from the craggy cliffs to the sea below.
Do you remember the high board at your local swimming pool? It was a death-defying ten feet!
The Acapulco divers can’t just dive whenever they want. Their destination is a narrow, shallow inlet from the Pacific Ocean (a gulch) whose depth varies from six to sixteen feet, depending on waves and tide. The average depth is only twelve feet.
Preparation, training and timing are all crucial, because making a good decision is essential for a successful dive.
The divers must study and analyze the waves. They must be familiar with the ebb and flow of the tide. They must know themselves – their skill level, fitness, well-being, confidence levels.
And so it is with basketball coaches. You must know yourself. You must study and analyze the currents in the game. You must be familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of each player as well as your overall team as well as your opponents.
If you’re a fast break coach, you may not be interested in studying slow down styles or clock milking tactics.
Study them anyhow.
You’d better study them, because that will help you when you play against that dreaded control team.
This doesn’t mean you need to be a slow down expert as well as a fast break expert. But you need to get yourself to a point where you are at least above average in the slow down area.
You don’t need to be an oceanographer to be a cliff-diver, but you need to know the currents.
You can’t be an expert in every aspect of basketball, even though you may want to try. The game is too complex. There’s too much information out there. You will suffer overwhelm and burnout if you try.
You can’t stand on the cliff too long or you will become paralyzed with fear.
Decide what areas you will excel in. Make sure they are areas you enjoy learning and working in. Make sure they are ideas you believe in and that you value. But know that you must discipline yourself to also become at least above average in the areas that are less interesting to you – even areas that you don’t believe in.
You must not decide to jump – just jump!
It’s easy to study styles and philosophies you believe in, but you’d better be sure you’re well-prepared for the other ones too. Just because you don’t like it or don’t believe in it doesn’t mean you won’t face it on the basketball court in a game. And if you’re not prepared, watch out.
My Deep Dive into the Match-Up
Years ago I was playing man for man and every year we’d play a team playing match-up zone. I didn’t like match-up then and I don’t like it now. But it still bothered my team every time we came up against them.
So I took the time and studied match-up zone until I could differentiate between every kind of match-up zone defense. I studied it deeply until I was able to find the weakness in every single version. For a couple of years, this even became our secondary defense. Even though I didn’t play it for long and I never came to believe in it, I never again feared playing against match-up teams.
Study the waves, study the currents, then make your jump.
My 5-Step Deep Dive Process into the Match-Up
1. First, I asked myself a lot of questions – every question I could think of about the topic: Who runs this? How do they match up? From the point? The wing? The center? Which way do they move on the match up? How did the match up evolve?
Then I studied deeply to find answers. This was my process:
2. I went to the library (remember, this was pre-Internet and even pre-computer.) I looked up every piece of information that I could find about match-up zone defense – dozens of magazines.
3. I called a couple of coaches I knew who had experience with this. Because I had always been active in my professional association (the NABC) I knew people I could call.
4. I contacted my former players who were now coaching. Once I had gathered enough information, I would send them my set of questions. I would give them an opportunity to collect and gather their own information and their own answers.
5. We would get together for a day for a deep dive as a group. Everyone brought their notes, articles and videos.
By the time I was finished, I knew as much about match-up zone defense as anybody in coaching. And I didn’t even use – or believe in – that defense.
Your Deep Dive Challenge
I challenge you to create your own deep dive this summer. Will you jump or do a flip the first time?
What’s on your mind? Reducing turnovers? Studying the Princeton to find something you can put in this fall? Jump off a 125-foot cliff in Acapulco?
Don’t try to master everything. You can’t. Choose one topic that has strategic value or compelling interest for you. Then dive deeply.
Go ahead right now. Post your deep dive challenge in the comments below. Let’s start the dialogue.
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