MMA fighter Georges St-Pierre said in the cover story of the April Men’s Health:
“There is a difference between a fighter and a martial artist. A fighter is training for a purpose: He has a fight. I’m a martial artist. I don’t train for a fight. I train for myself. I’m training all the time. My goal is perfection. But I will never reach perfection.”
From a coaching perspective, at the developmental level, we want to imagine coaching like a martial artist, rather than a fighter. Peak by Friday coaches take the fighter’s mentality: they prepare for a specific opponent or game.
Basketball at the developmental levels should be more about learning and mastery for one’s own sake, not to win a specific game. When one focuses internally on things within his control, he has a more developed game.
At UFC 127, B.J. Penn surprised Jon Fitch in the 1st Round by shooting for the takedown. Fitch is one of the best wrestlers in MMA, but Penn took down his bigger opponent. Fitch said afterwards that Penn’s game plan caught him off guard, as he did not believe that the smaller Penn who has a reputation as a better boxer than Fitch would try for the takedown. He prepared for a specific opponent and lost sight of his biggest strength.
When coaches jump from opponent to opponent during the season, they may ignore their strengths or fail to develop new skills or strategies because their attention is outward, on their opponents. Developmentally, players will play for new coaches the following season (in many cases), so the players will have to learn new ways to beat different, specific opponents.
Instead, if a coach trains his team like a martial artist, the players will be able to adjust to any style of play and any situation. They will not forget their strengths. They will possess the fundamentals to play at different tempos or against different defenses.
The general foundation will allow the players or team to adjust to any opponent, while a specific game plan for a specific opponent lacks the flexibility for future opponents or for constantly shifting situations.