A coaching maverick

I have been an Oakland A’s fan since Billy Beane started to use sabremetrics to keep the A’s competitive. I am not a stat geek or a mathetmatician. However, I appreciated the original thought captured in Michael Lewis’ Moneyball. While the Yankees spent their way to championships by signing proven superstars, the A’s stayed successful using a different approach.

This season, I switched my allegiance. Since the beginning of the season, I have rooted for the Tampa Bay Rays. Sure, I am a front runner, but I had two reasons: (1) I’m sick of “Red Sox Nation” and (2) Joe Maddon.

SI featured a story about Maddon this week which captured his originality and creativity.

“I get so annoyed when you get around a lot of baseball people and basically all they can do is regurgitate previous thoughts,” Maddon says. “They don’t think of anything original. Tell me a better way.”

I read this article shortly after writing yesterday’s post, “Basketball Tradition vs. Training Efficacy.” I believe the same thing happens with basketball people – tradition, rather than innovation dominates. When I question a basketball “truth,” coaches defend the “truth” with the standard “that’s what everyone does” or “that’s how it’s always been done.” Why? Why does everyone do it that way? Why is that the way it’s always been done? Does anyone know?

“Joe’s brilliance is that he knows what needs to be tinkered with and which deep-rooted fundamentals to leave alone,” says Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who had Maddon as his bench coach from 2000 through ’05. “He’s unique because of his ability to be progressive and traditionalist.”

Some teaching methods stand the test of time. However, some persist despite their inefficiency because too few people question traditional methods. Coaches teach an inchworm-like step-slide on defense; they teach players to drop-step to change directions on defense; they do static stretching before practice; they teach players to watch the offensive player’s stomach rather than the ball.

“I needed this job to get my thinking out ahead of me again,” he says. “When you’re in one job for too long you become comfortable. And I don’t like being comfortable.”

Many coaches work hard to learn new things until they become a head coach. Then they get comfortable. They teach their system, and they get comfortable with their system. On the other hand, some coaches jump to the newest trend from week to week and season to season trying to mimic the new hot system or top coach.

Neither is the answer. A coach needs to believe in his philosophy and coach to his strengths. However, he also needs flexibility and a desire to learn and improve. Learning is one of the biggest competitive advantages that a coach can have. The most interesting coaches, to me, are those who draw from a variety of sources, like Maddon and Mike Leach, not those who follow the traditional path and regurgitate the same thoughts.

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