Disasters, bounce back, and adaptability on the basketball court

The January 2013 Wired has an interview about Hurricane Sandy with Andrew Zolli, author of Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back. While I in no way want to equate anything that occurs in a basketball game to the devastation of Sandy, Zolli’s thoughts on resiliency in the world parallel my thoughts on adaptability on the court. 

Zolli said that he uses resiliency “to describe the ability of a person or system to persist, recover, or even thrive amid disruption.” I stress to my teams that there is no perfect, and success depends on the ability to adapt and adjust. I remember interviewing Vance Walberg when he was at Fresno City College after watching his team practice. His team’s press stood out to me and remains the best press that I have seen. He told me that his team ran the press correctly only 30% of the time (I think it was 30; it could have been anywhere from 15-40%, but the point was that there were a lot of mistakes).

To me, part of its success was the amount of error. To me, presses are easy to break once you see the rotations. Every press has a weak spot and generally the weak spot is the same because the rotations are the same. I have never coached a team that struggled against pressure, and I spend very little time preparing to face presses. Good spacing and one pass fake defeats most presses.

Walberg’s press, however, did not have a consistent weakness. Whether by design or by error, players did not rotate the same on each possession. The Blitz press is similar. Last week, for instance, we got a steal because one of our defenders made a mistake; the offensive player anticipated him doing one thing, and he didn’t, and the player threw it directly to him. The key to the press is the other four players adjusting to his decision. If the five players do not stay linked, there is too much space and a press is easily defeated. However, if the other four players can adjust quickly to a decision made by the fifth player, mistakes make the press even more difficult to attack because the offense is never sure where the defenders will be.

Zolli continued:

“We need systems that fail gracefully – that don’t bring down everything around them.” 

On the court, some offensive systems are rigid, whereas others are flexible. When a rigid system fails, there is nothing left. When a flexible system fails, it fails gracefully, as the flexibility allows for choices and decisions by the players to make the best of the situation.

Last season, we played a team that was very rigid in their sets. We would defend one set, and prevent an easy shot, so they would back out to half court and ask their coach what to run next. They had no flexibility. They ran to certain spots at certain times. After one possession, it was easy to defend, and the defense essentially brought down everything around it.

We have a couple sets, but we almost never run them, and we almost never execute correctly. However, the sets are flexible and rely heavily on player decision-making. If something goes wrong, the players have the flexibility to adjust and adapt. If the ball keeps moving, we can punish whatever the defense did to make the play go wrong.

Our system has resiliency. Meanwhile, I watched some college games last week, and the coaches do not allow any players to make any decisions. The head coach called every out-of-bounds play, every half-court set, told the PG when to fast break and when to slow down, etc. Even when the play was a high on-ball screen, he was yelling at the ball handler where to pass the ball. I felt like I was watching myself coach u9s! I rarely ever call plays for my team. I empower them to make decisions. They are not reliant on me; they have the flexibility to read the situation and make decisions.

Zolli continued:

A perfect example is what happened when Sandy hit. Lower Manhattan is now full of LEED-certified eco-efficient buildings. But they didn’t have redundant power systems. There was no adaptability built into them. They went dark and flooded….One of the biggest is to develop infrastructure that is lighter-weight, movable, temporary, with lots of local redundancy. So when the lights go out in lower Manhattan, maybe your building has a grid – solar panels on the roof and a local generator with local fuel tanks. The building can continue to operate in an emergency….You cannot harden the shell enough for the egg not to crack eventually. What you have to do is figure out how to create systems that self-repair. 

To me, the LEED-certified buildings are the set plays. When they work, they are great. But, what happens when something goes wrong? Are the players adaptable? What happens when the star is injured? Can players play different positions and function in different roles or are they specialists? If something goes awry, can the players self-repair or do you have to call timeout every time? Can players thrive through disruption?

The best players are adaptable. They take on the Hard2Guard mindset – if the defense takes away one thing, they are vulnerable elsewhere. They adapt and adjust and thrive.

This entry was posted in Talent Development and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.