In the above video with John Maeda from the Rhode Island School of Design, he outlines his four topics for his talk:
He characterizes each as:
- Technology – Makes possibilities
- Design – Makes solutions
- Art – Makes questions
- Leadership – Makes actions
From a coaching standpoint, Art and Leadership are the most interesting. Art makes questions. One could say that the art of coaching, as opposed to the science of coaching, is asking questions. What players fit together the best? What system best utilizes the personnel? How are the players feeling today? Do the players need more motivation or less? Do they not understand my instructions because of the way that I am instructing, because they are not paying attention, or because they simply need more time to process and try out the new thing?
Coaches who don’t ask questions, and rush to judgements, are largely ineffective. Reading twitter, it is amazing how many coaches blame players for certain things without reflecting at all about the way that players are coaches and how this coaching affects their development as players (and before twitter, these are the discussions that drove me away from working camps). Coaches bemoan the lack of players who make good decisions, yet how many coaches trust players with decision making? If players always run station-to-station, follow-the-direction plays, how do they learn to make decisions when out of system? Should it happen magically?
Today, on twitter, Dan Dakich asked “Players: why is incredibly difficult for coaches to get you to have active hands on defense?” My answer was simple: “Watch little kids play – they have active hands. Coached out of them. Listen to what coaches say to kids. What’s the first thing ‘good’ coaches do when teaching defense? Zigzags w/hands behind their back. Yet we wonder.” There is a very simple explanation. When I coached an u9 team, our players had active hands. Why? We never yelled “stop reaching” or did drills with hands behind their backs. They used their hands; they looked for steals; we encouraged this aggressiveness rather than creating a passiveness through explanations and drills.
Rather than asking players (and subconsciously blaming players), the correct question would be: What as coaches are we doing to take away the inherent activity of players?
As for Leadership, Maeda suggests that we have moved from a hierarchical system of leadership (top down) to a heterarchical system (network). Is that true in basketball and coaching? Should it be?
The idea is that as opposed to an authoritarian style with one leader dictating terms for all employees (players), the leadership is more spread out and distributed among many. He compares traditional leadership to creative leadership:
Traditional Leadership – Orchestra Model
- Concerned with being right
- Follows the manual
- Loves to avoid mistakes
- Open to limited feedback
- Sustaining order
Creative Leadership – Jazz Ensemble Model
- Concerned with being real
- Improvises when appropriate
- Loves to learn from mistakes
- Open to unlimited critiques
- Taking risks
Traditionally, coaches use the traditional leadership model. The coach is like the conductor with the players following his or her every command. However, is the creative leadership model more appropriate? Should the coach be part of the ensemble as opposed to the figure on the stage with everyone’s attention?
The key comment is that Maeda says that traditional leaders attempt to avoid mistakes while artists want to learn from mistakes. I instruct players to make and learn from mistakes, rather than trying to avoid mistakes. Shouldn’t I expect the same from coaches? Why are mistakes a positive for players but not for leaders or coaches?
I try new things all the time. When I spoke in Canada last week, I tried a new drill in the middle of the clinic; I had never done the drill previously, but thought of a new way to tweak an old drill to involve more players. Of course, as I was explaining it to the audience, I was figuring out how to do it correctly in my head. I have done smarter things as a speaker.
When in India, I adopted a drill that some of the coaches there were using. In a clinic, a little 7 or 8 year-old raised his hand and asked a great question. Of course, at the time, while trying to explain the drill to 40 children who had hardly played basketball before, I did not think the question was great, and I quickly said no to his suggestion. However, as I watched the drill and thought about his question, I realized that it was brilliant. After a couple minutes, I stopped the game and added a new progression. That’s how AdiTag developed.
What’s wrong with making a mistake or asking players for their opinion? Do players expect a coach who knows everything? I coached 5th and 6th grade girls’ volleyball before I had played any organized volleyball. I didn’t even know the rules. I asked players questions all the time. I learned from players who had better technique than myself. I stole cue words that the better players used when encouraging their teammates. Did the players think I was terrible? No, they asked me to coach basketball too, and I stayed for three years as their volleyball coach and parents asked me to start a club team for them. Why? I tried hard, I kept the game fun, I improved, I learned from the players, I did not over-instruct, I included all 12 players, etc. I did not try to act like a know-it-all. I did not try to prove my intelligence by striking down all comments from the players and prohibiting questions that could stump me. I treated the players more like equals than subordinates even though they were 11 years old. I used what Maeda termed creative leadership and managed to fare pretty well.
I have always felt that asking for players’ thoughts and admitting mistakes was a strength, not a weakness. I have never had a player question my intelligence because I asked a question of the players. Instead, it tends to improve the rapport between coach and players.
This is the art and leadership of coaching. Asking the right questions and being willing to engage players rather than talk down to them, risking and learning from mistakes rather than trying to be right, and creating an open environment rather than one that is closed.