Dogfooding your coaching

In the August 2013 Wired, Clive Thompson introduced me to a term that I had never heard: Dogfooding. Thompson wrote that Microsoft coders invented the term in the 1980s, as it described coders having to use their own products day in and day out. The idea was that if you use your own product, you will find the bugs and be more motivated to fix them and create a better product. Thompson introduced the idea in his article “Mr. Senator, Eat Your Own Dog Food” as a way to encourage the federal government to get more done.

However, what about coaches? How can coaches use their own products day in and day out to improve them? It is hard to coach oneself. I cannot imagine a notorious screamer like Bob Knight teaching himself how to golf and continually screaming at himself every time that he missed a putt. Who knows? Maybe he does.

Is there a way for coaches to embrace this idea? Video would be one attempt. Coaches can videotape themselves coaching and re-watch to see their interactions with players, their body language, their feedback, etc. However, that’s not exactly the same thing.

I have tried to learn new things as I coach. I have picked up new activities or sports over the years. One reason is to put myself in the same position as the players who I coach. The instructor for jiujitsu may not coach exactly like myself – so I am not dogfooding per se – but I can see my reaction to different coaching styles.

Years back, when I took up boxing and kick boxing, there were different instructors for both, and they were very different. I saw the way that I reacted to different types of instructions. I remember learning a new combination one time, and the instructor stopped me after every repetition to tell me what was wrong. I hardly had any time to practice. It was frustrating. If it was frustrating for me as a 30-year-old recreational athlete trying to get some exercise, how would a 12-year-old react to the same type of instruction in a more competitive environment?

Video and learning something new are not exactly dogfooding, but they may be as close as a coach can get, and they will provide lessons that a coach can transfer to his or her own coaching.

Please suggest any other ideas to replicate the dogfooding concept in the comments.

By Brian McCormick, M.S.S., PES
Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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