Misconceptions about coaching with Phil Jackson

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To answer Ian Begley’s question directly, “No.”

However, this perception affects coaching at all levels.

Rather than downplaying Kerr’s and Walton’s success, I believe Phil Jackson was praising the coaches and management of the Celtics and Warriors.

Look, finding a play, running through plays 5-0 at practice, and calling a play in a game is among the easiest tasks in coaching. First, watch any basketball game. Notice a play that works. Write down that play. Walk through that play with your players. Call play in game. Rinse and repeat. That takes almost no skill. The fact that this is considered to be great coaching is one of the biggest problems in coaching.

Now, creating a “willingness for players to play off each other” is much more difficult. First, it requires the coach to take his or her hands off the clutch and allow players to make decisions. Second, it requires the coach to teach based on principles so players play well together within this freedom. Third, it requires the coach to teach good decision making, including shot selection, without constraining players. Finally, it requires creating an environment of trust between players to share the ball.

Because of the way that Jackson coached, I imagine that he is praising the Warriors’ coaches for their ability to create this philosophy and teamwork with their players, knowing that this takes more work and effort than simply instituting a serious of plays.

Furthermore, I believe that he is praising the organization for retaining players and creating an environment where players want to stay and potentially sacrifice minutes (Igoudala) or shots (Thompson) to be on a great team. This takes great coaching and management to create this environment.

As long as we continue to view calling plays, dictating the action, and demanding the attention as the qualities of good coaching, we will never appreciate the best coaches or create an environment to develop coaches who possess the true qualities of great coaching as expressed by Jackson.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

5 thoughts on “Misconceptions about coaching with Phil Jackson

  • I believe it is partly due to the football centric lens that the United States look at sports through. The authoritarian coach moving his players around like a chess master while conveniently ignoring the fact that the most successful NFL offenses of the past 10 years (Patriots and Manning led Colts/Broncos) were in fact players reading one another and the defense simultaneously. As you’ve written about before this style certainly takes longer to develop but also has more characteristics of being ‘anti-fragile’ than a traditional approach.

  • Mike:
    Probably, although I believe the issue extends beyond the U.S. Also, our perceptions are shaped largely by the media, and when they praise the coaches who stand on the court for entire games dictating play (Rick Pitino, Shaka Smart, Buzz Williams, Coach K, etc), it sends a message that one must do that to be a good coach. Brad Stevens is one of the few (only?) coaches who is celebrated for not doing much overtly during games, although he is celebrated for his out-of-timeout plays and execution.

  • Great article & comments, Brian & Mike!

    I had a recent conversation with coach Nate Sanderson. He went to back-to-back state championship games in Iowa. I asked him how many plays he ran… he said one.

    Brian, he also gave you some props at a recent PGC coaching clinic when doing a presentation on small-sided games and designing drills and practices effectively.

  • I wish every basketball coach in American would read that and take heed, even though it would make me much less successful as a coach. The teams I have taken through a season of practices always feast on teams that spend most of their time practicing plays. They wonder how our players get so skilled, finish so well, make decisions quickly and share the ball so enthusiastically.

    I will be passing this post on to all the other coaches in our travel club this fall.

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