Asking Profound Questions

Years and decades change, but we as coaches keep asking the the same familiar questions.

To a degree, that’s necessary. Which drills should we run in the next practice? For how long should we practice on the day before our next game? Who should take up spot #4 in the starting five? And so on.

But for as long as the questions remain the same, the range of answers remains more or less the same, too. That’s why asking novel, profound questions is a way to develop coaching.

There’s inherent risk. Since the questions are both novel and profound, it may turn out that they can’t be answered. Or that the answers are not useful.

Yet with novel, profound questions may also come opportunities to create competitive edges. Since we’re asking novel questions, we’re also getting novel answers. Eventually, we may able to utilise profound aspects that have previously been neglected in coaching. Or at least, that have been answered in a less profound way or in a different context.

The following seven ones are my suggestions for what a novel, profound question could be like.

1) Why are there no high-volume shooters with their 3P% in the 60’s?

Or even in the 50’s? Why do great shooters miss almost as often as poor shooters do? The difference between a great and poor shooter may be just 10 percentage points or one make in ten shots. What factors limit the 3P%? How can we circumvent them?

2) How can we allow the players to use the full scope of their defensive skills?

Team defenses tend to be strictly concept-oriented, more so than team offenses. In other words, defenders must be at certain spots and must do certain things no matter who they are. How can better utilise the players’ full potential on defense, too?

3) What does the idea of continuity of mental evolution imply regarding basketball coaching?

The underlying assumptions of modern-day coaching comply with those of modern-day neuroscience. But what if its brain-centered view of cognition is invalid? What if, instead, cognition lies within all our cells and their interaction?

4) What should the training facilities be like?

The organisations that have the money to do so, build posh, grand training facilities. Yet a lot of great basketball players have trained in quite modest facilities. Is this because most basketball facilities in the world are quite modest? Or because good training facilities are a different thing from posh, grand facilities? If so, what are good training facilities like? How do we know?

5) How can the players improve their tactical and technical skills without adding to their fatigue?

Tactical and technical skills are most effectively improved when practice tasks are basketball-representative. However, those game-like tasks tend to fatigue players. This limits the time they can be used. How can we circumvent this contradiction?

6) Why don’t offenses work equally well versus person-to-person and zone defenses?

The offense doesn’t need to know what defense the defense is playing. Defenders must be someplace, anyway. The offense merely needs to recognise where and then act accordingly, never minding the defensive plan.

Yet usually coaches choose to run different plays and continuity offenses versus zone than versus person-to-person. This is inefficient e.g. because it consumes practice time.

Why do coaches feel they can’t run the same offense versus zone as versus person-to-person?

Is this because of the structure of defense – meaning, is it really impossible to build a team offense that works efficiently versus any defense? Or is it that coaches structure their offenses so that they only work versus one or the other? Or does the problem lie with the way coaches teach their team offense?

7) How would people play basketball based on the rules alone?

Thought experiment: Imagine basketball gets forbidden in the whole world. All basketball equipment is destroyed. All court markings are painted over. All basketball video clips and photos are deleted. And so.

Fast forward to year 2172 . Basketball is longer forbidden but it’s forgotten. Someone finds a 2022 FIBA rule book in an attic. Based on the rules, she designs equipment, builds a court and starts playing the game with her friends.

Gradually, basketball becomes just as popular as it was in the early 2020’s. Soon enough there are pro teams, World Cups, junior teams, and so. How is the game played at the very top level in the late 2170’s?

My idea here is not to encourage anyone to write sci-fi about basketball. Rather, the point is to ponder how much of what we do based on the basketball tradition rather than on the basketball rules.

The basketball tradition helps us coach and play effectively. It tells us that these things have been tried and that these things have worked this well. But the tradition also limits out thinking. The state of basketball is path dependent. Or it is due to “the sequence of states, actions, or decisions that preceded” it.

That’s why the thought experiment would lead to a very different brand of basketball than we play in the 2020’s. Starting from a blank state except for the written rules, the development path in the 2170’s would take different turns than it does in the 2020’s when are familiar with the game’s history.

Thus, we know that some effective ways to play and train basketball effectively have been missed because the development path of the game has never happened to pass along their way. The question is if we can figure out some effective ways without the development path taking us to them directly.

8) What is the optimal amount of communication on the floor?

We talk to interact with each other – to let other know what we’re doing and to let  them know what we think they should be doing, for example.

On the other hand, we don’t talk when we run full speed. Talking slows us down.

Especially on defense, basketball coaches want players to “talk”. Or to let others verbally know what they’re doing and to direct the teammates’ actions.

On the other hand, basketball coaches also want players to move full speed.

This contradiction or trade-off is seldom discussed. It’s a trade-off because when talking, a player trades off some of the quickness of his actions for the quickness of the reactions of her teammates.

Usually coaches assume that players should learn to talk more. The assumption is that once they get used to talking continuously, it can be done without slowing down their actions.

Maybe players implicitly recognise that this is not true? That talking will slow them down anyway and therefore talk “too little”?

Maybe there should less and less talk as decades go by and the game gets quicker and quicker?

Certainly there should be some talk. For example, if no one warns you about a screen, the screen will definitely slow down your collective actions.

But what is the optimal amount of talk in order to optimise the collective quickness of reaction and action?

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