One of my primary responsibilities as a coach in the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZ NBL - the country’s top league for men) for 15 years (13 as an assistant and 2 as a head coach) has been scouting. Some of my previous thoughts on scouting can be found here and here. Earlier in the 2018 - 19 season I visited Coach Chris Oliver at the University of Windsor.
Visiting the University of Windsor Lancers earlier this season led to an impromptu learning exercise for me when Coach Chris Oliver sent me the scouting report for the following day’s game against York. It’s one thing to know the scout as a coach who has been compiling it all week, and perhaps has been familiar with the opposing players for years. But this placed me more in the shoes of a player, especially a foreign player, who previously did not know that these opposing players existed (it is critical to include a headshot of the opponent on the scouting report. We identify people primarily through facial recognition, not jersey number. It puts a face to a scouting report, if you like), let alone their strengths and weaknesses as basketball players!
With an hour until practice I set about learning the scout, which included varying quantities of information on thirteen opposing players (this being the scout provided to the coaching staff, more detailed than what would be presented to the players). In that limited time, I was curious how much I could learn and retain. Thankfully, as I wouldn’t be playing in the game, we will remain oblivious to how much I could apply!
What process would I use to limit my learning to a manageable amount? I found I could learn between one and seven instructions (why instructions as opposed to information? Information [“erratic decision maker”] doesn’t overtly inform your team’s behaviour. They’re still required to make inferences based on it. Perhaps they ask themselves, “so what!?” or make the wrong inference. Instructions [“pressure his catches”] are overt and require no interpretation) for each of the thirteen players (their capability typically determining how much it was necessary to know). In order to reduce the volume of information to within these parameters I discarded any universally true instructions (for example, “do not let him split defenders in the pick and roll”… I understand different players make universally true instructions more or less relevant. More on this later) I concentrated solely on instructions that were specific to the individual York players. Examples of player specific instruction include what type of close-out, influence, and level of ball pressure to apply.
Going forward that experience will inform my scouting approach with my own team, especially in terms of what I present to my own players.
Often the universally true instructions included in the scouting report are an unwitting concession by the coach that they do not expect excellence from their team as it is defined in Aristotle’s famous quote:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
For example, when in the scouting report a coach implores his players to “stay down” on the shot fake of “DeMar DeRozen” it is an unwitting concession that he does not expect habitually excellent discipline versus the shot fake from his defenders repeatedly. Or when he reminds his players of the necessity of building a wall in defensive transition versus “Russell Westbrook” he subconsciously concedes that he will not be expecting this of his players on every defensive transition possession.
To mention habits that should be well established as a part of your everyday systems irrespective of the opponent almost reduces them from the realm of expected habitual excellence to being inconstant situation specific edicts. Of course, a team that builds habitual excellence in defensive transition will be optimally prepared when presented with a “Westbrook” level of challenge. The same goes for reminders to “box out,” “make him use the ball screen,” or “sprint into ball screens,” and countless other universal truths that populate the scouting report. These should all be habits being cultivated towards excellence within your base systems.
To reorient my coaching towards an expectation of habitual excellence I need to rethink what instructions I need to emphasise more within our everyday systems, and remove them (or at least reduce their frequency) from the scout. Often providing the players with prior knowledge via the scout is an attempt by the coach to give his players a crutch, to compensate for his inability to build excellent habits in them. For example, on an individual technical level, informing your player that the defender who is likely to be matched up with them ball watches, is therefore susceptible to back door cuts, and that you’d like them to be aware to exploit this opportunity as much as possible in the upcoming game compensates for your player’s lack of ability to watch the defence off ball, recognise when their match up has lost sight of them, and to punish them with a sprint cut to the basket at the appropriate time. On a team tactical level, appraising your team about the “Spurs’ Motion Weak” compensates for their inability to quickly recognise player movements, to communicate the resulting necessary coverages to their teammates, and to respond appropriately to that communication.
In doing so, my everyday expectations of habitual excellence will account for a greater proportion of all the habits my team needs to develop. Subsequently this will reduce the amount of instruction that I will be required to present to my players in the scout. The scouting process therefore becomes simpler - so expected execution and accountability increases - and less time consuming. This leaves more time for the development of habitual excellence and is sure to be appreciated by the players.
To inform myself what habits should be emphasised more in our everyday systems, and their construction, and less in the scout, I asked myself the question, “what do we mention in the scout so frequently that it should be given more emphasis in our everyday systems and removed from the scout?”
I’ve alluded to some of the findings above - see the “DeRozen” and “Westbrook” examples -
However, I think the specific results pale in comparison in terms of importance to the process and underlying theory. I’d encourage you to analyse your own scouting reports and consider what instructions occur so frequently that you should transfer them to the realm of habitual excellence within your everyday systems.