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Freedom versus Control, Part 1

Freedom versus Control, Part 1

Players are smarter than coaches on a moment-by-moment basis.

That ought to get your attention! Here’s what I mean:

  • Players should know when they’re being over-played without the ball and can go back-door.
  • Players should know when their defender is out of position and can be beaten by forgetting “the play” and ripping the ball to the goal.
  • Players should see slight openings in the defense that a coach on the sidelines can’t and take advantage of them.

I could go on with this list (just like any coach could).

So, when I say smarter, I mean more informed from the standpoint of the immediate read of the defense.

Coaches, however, are smarter than players on a possession-by-possession basis, or a run-by-run basis, or game-by-game basis. (Otherwise, we wouldn’t be coaches, right?)

So, how can you “turn the players loose” on a moment-by-moment basis and yet keep control of the things that the players need from you because of your knowledge and experience?

Tradition has told coaches to control it all by using set plays with pre-determined options. In the past, this has allowed coaches to direct moment-by-moment action during each possession and manage everything else in the Big Picture like swings in momentum.

The problem is that defenses have become too good for the X & O coach. Defense can play as a unit and play by principle, allowing them to be decisive and aggressive, while the offense is hampered by the requirement to “obey orders” and “get the ball here” and “set the screen there” and follow the coach’s pre-determined plan of actions regardless of what the defense is doing or not doing (on a moment-by-moment basis).

This is akin to telling a boxer to jab-and-cross, jab-and-cross, over and over, no matter how the opponent reacts. No one would tell a boxer to use a bunch of pre-determined feints and punches regardless of what their opponent does. The opponent would pick up the pattern in about 29 seconds and the result would be a knockout in 30 seconds! This seems like a ridiculous comparison, but it is exactly what we do in basketball and it’s exactly why our set plays don’t work in practice or in the post season. When the defense knows the pre-determined pattern of movements and actions, defense becomes much easier and scoring becomes extremely difficult.

Read & React is an offensive system that turns the moment-by-moment hunting of scoring opportunities over to the players. But it does not turn all offensive control over to the players! The Read & React coach must be aware that his players might not be smart enough to recognize the bigger possession-by-possession adjustments being made by the opponent. The players might not pick up on changes in momentum when possessions are grouped together. They might not recognize the mismatches that you see. Your players might even be too stubborn to change actions that aren’t currently working simply because they worked in a previous game!

I will admit that my ultimate goal with any team is to allow them to hunt on their own for the entire game. But in most cases, the coach must use his or her experience and knowledge to exercise control through the Read & React.

How does a coach do this? There are specific examples in part 2.

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