No, I’m certainly not about to make any personal claims of coaching prowess. Nor am I about to anoint any coaches to genius status, although many have been given that moniker - and some may really fit the bill . The late great Bill Walsh of the 49ers got the nickname "The Genius"...and it was probably pretty accurate. Lets read below and see if the shoe fits.
I came across an old article titled “Thinking like a genius: eight strategies used by the super-creative, from Aristotle and Leonardo to Einstein and Edison.” by Michael Michalko. Essentially, the article categorizes eight different ways to think like a Genius. I think this applies to coaching just as much as any other area of life.
1. Look at problems in many different ways, and find new perspectives that no one else has taken (or at least that you know about!)
I put in that qualifier because often, in sports, there are very few “new” ideas. Like the consignment store in my city, only “New To You”. I remember a postseason when we were going to have to retool our entire offensive approach due to some different personnel. The Head Coach and I discussed, made lists, X & O’d, then strategized for hours and hours until we finally came up with the perfect “new” system. A couple months later we attended a basketball clinic together and another coach presented almost the exact same concepts. We thought we were “geniuses” - only someone else was a genius first.
But we did attempt to at least “think” out of the box and look at our team in a different way. Every offseason coaches should go through an extensive evaluation process, not only of their X’s & O’s, but in their coaching style, philosophy, and methods. If we continue to do what we did – we’ll continue to get what we got. So unless you’re the lead dog that view may never change, so you need to find a way to change that view – or perspective.
Many coaches have this one down. Coaches always have rosters, lists and depth charts written on their chalkboards. There is nothing like a good lineup list to get a coaches discussion going. I make a few a week looking at different combinations just to get the mind working and thinking about a myriad of “what-ifs” like fatigue, foul trouble, illness, or injury.
Committed coaches used to watch reels and reels of film, and now with video being so easily accessible it is even more common. You see coaches all the time drawing diagrams on napkins, whiteboards, or pushing around coins, glasses or salt & pepper shakers on a restaurant table. That helps them see in their mind what is happening on the field or court. It also can spark some spirited X & O battles…and you know what they say about those? The last one with the pen wins!
Many years ago, as an Assistant Athletic Director in charge of football and after a game on a Friday night, I found myself in our school’s lounge with the Head Football Coach, and the Offensive and Defensive Coordinators, who were having one of those battles. The OC drew up a bunch of O’s and asked how it could be defended. The DC drew up his defense to stop the play. The Offensive guru decided to “audible” and asked, ‘Now watcha gonna do”? Then the Head Coach grabbed the pen, pointed to one of the defenders and said, “That X has gotta make a great play!” No matter how much we visualize in sports, as coaches we need to realize it’s not always the X’s & O’s but it’s the Jimmy’s & Joe’s.
All of those napkins and papers and videos and workouts and drills and practices and games multiply themselves exponentially. That is how a coach develops his or her “portfolio”. Young coaches can start early and get to work thinking and producing. Not just “products” like the manifestos of information we collect, but also some work experience. Working camps, clinics, volunteering or doing anything possible to hone your craft is just a chance to produce work for you to evaluate and figure what works – for you.
4. Make novel combinations.
Because there is so much information out there and so many things that have been done over time, it is easy for coaches to simply fall into the trap of trying to “copy” something that has been effective for another coach. What can be effective is to study a number of methods and piece things together in a way that works for you.
After years of looking at a bunch of different offensive continuities, I decided to take a few of them and combine them into an offensive system that allowed one pattern to flow into another. I explained to the players it was like a train on a track, and the players could switch from one “track” to another based on decisions by the player with the ball. The players started to call this combination of offenses the “Lok-A-Motion” offense - and I kinda like that.
5. Form relationships; make connections between dissimilar subjects.
One of the most overlooked methods of allowing yourself to think out of the box is to observe other coaches in other sports and try to make connections in how their methods might be adapted to yours. I think basketball coaches can learn a lot from football coaches about preparation in the way they study tendencies of the opponent and from baseball coaches in the use of analytics. We’re starting a move in that direction in the sport.
I began to call plays from the sidelines much like a baseball coach may signal a hit and run from the third base coaching box, instead of some random verbal call of some play named after whatever college team I “stole” it from.. Over the years football coaches have taken that practice from baseball as, as well, and rather than running the plays in with a substitute – they can signal them from the sideline too. I also think football teams that run the “no-huddle offense”, like the University of Oregon, have taken many parts of their game from basketball as it pertains to pace, tempo, and space.
6. Think in opposites.
One of the most obvious ways of thinking in opposites is to take a look at what you do as a coach on opposite sides of the ball. Examine what you do on offense, and see how it could affect your thinking on defense. I believe it is important to make those philosophies fit. I would find it hard, for example, to teach my defense to force the ball to the middle of the floor if I say on offense that is where I would like the ball. Incongruent. To me, at least. But maybe, I just need to think in opposites
Thinking in opposites can help us deal with certain situations better too. Sometimes, when things get bad at practice and our tendency is to get angry and continue to correct (which may be bring the energy down) we might think about pointing out only the good things - no matter how far and few between they may be. Instead of getting louder – get softer. Rather than talking about the mistakes and how to eliminate them, what if we point out the good things and if they do those more often, they may eventually take the place of the bad things.
7. Think metaphorically.
This is the ultimate thinking out of the box. Not only thinking in opposites, but recognizing how some things that are seemingly unrelated, can actually be very similar. I loved the movie “The Legend Baggar Vance”. About the same time the movie was released, I had taken over a basketball program that was very talented, but had “issues”. During a time of the year when I could watch them play, but not actually coach them in basketball. So we had a talk about the movie.
In "The Legend of Baggar Vance" the movie was in a golf setting but was a tremendous metaphor for coaching, life, or the game of basketball. The title character is a mysterious caddie and in many ways, the consummate coach. Bagger Vance helps a down-on-his-luck golfer named Junuh find the deep place inside, where his ego is quiet and where he can “be” with only himself, and where he can be at one with himself. The vehicle for his transformation is the game of golf where he becomes one with the game. This is only possible when he sets aside his ego and the need to validate himself with individual achievement. At one critical point in the movie Bagger says,
"...it’s time...time for you to see the field...feel that focus. Alotta shots to choose from, duffs `n` tops `n` skulls. But only ONE shot is in perfect harmony with the field. An "authentic shot". And that shot chooses YOU. There’s a perfect shot out there trying to find each and every one of us - and all we got to do is get ourselves outta it’s way and let it choose us." He continues with, "Can’t look at that flag like some dragon you gotta slay. You gotta look with soft eyes. See the field. Find that place where the tides, the seasons, the turning of the earth comes together and becomes one. You gotta seek that place with your soul. Seek it with your hands. Don’t think about it. Feel it. Your hands is wiser than your head ever gonna be."
Field. Focus. Shots. Harmony. Slay. Soul. Feel. What does it all mean?
See the floor. Concentrate. Understand the game plan. Be yourself. Play your game. Don’t force things. Do your personal best. Let the game come to you. It’s all the same thing.
Like Junah, when faced with adversity and a critical lack of self-confidence, players must reconnect with their potential and trust their instincts. Practice and hard work gets players to the point where they recognize their abilities, understand their weaknesses, and have developed their habits into instincts. Then they should be able to simply go out and play so that everything just happens the way it is supposed to, without really thinking about it.
In a well-designed offense, there are shot opportunities for all players, and a progression of options that players need to be able to follow. They should not try to force the ball into places, but rather use counter attacks to the defense’s strategies to their advantage. The space on the floor should tell players where to go. The opponents positioning tells a player what is open. Eventually, with proper execution, a shot opportunity will present itself to a player. And that is the right shot to take. But the player did not choose the shot - The shot chose him.
8. Prepare yourself for chance.
A couple months back I wrote in this space about the importance of TIME, and how you put it to use. At that time I used the Abe Lincoln quote:
"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."
That is one of my favorite quotes about preparation. I often say, "I'm sharpening the axe" when I'm reading, learning, or just contemplating (maybe just to justify that time in tyhought - but I d believe it s necessary. Honest Abe also said:
“I will prepare and some day my chance will come.”
I think it is amazing that someone who is so well know for his numerous failures before becoming President of the United States, also has a couple of the most quoted statements regarding preparation. too often we try to hide from failure, but those setbacks are merely preparing you for a future success - if you stick to it.
Robert Schuller said: "Failure doesn't mean you are a failure it just means you haven't succeeded yet. "
And Thomas Edison was quoted, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”
So keep at it and continue to prepare. John Wooden got to UCLA in 1948 and didn't win a championship until 1964. But he continued to prepare as if he could. Then the Bruins won 10 NCAA Titles in 12 years.
It is important to prepare , even in the offseason. Henry Clay said, "Prepare!" The time will come when winter will ask what you were doing all summer."
An coaches all talk about preparation. Bear Bryant first said, "It's not the will to win, but the will to prepare to win that makes the difference."
Bobby Knight expanded on that when he explained, “I’ve never seen a player that didn’t want to win when the ball was tossed up...but I’ll tell you when better want to win — you’d better want to win the day before and two days before and three days before because the will to win the game is not nearly as important as will the will to PREPARE to win the game.”
One of the biggest things coaches need to do is to be prepared to know what decision do they want to make in any special situation that may be presented. Write them down. Visualize them. Then decide how you'll react in that situation. Waiting for the situation is too late - and often leads to poor decisions. And as the old Knight said to Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade,"You must choose...but choose wisely."
Every thing you do is preparing you for the very next moment. Your chance. "And if you had one chance...would you be ready"
Using these methods to guide your thought process might not make you a genius – but you’ll at least think, and hopefully coach, like one.