In this first ever blog post (YES!) I want to talk about how Pareto’s Law (the 80-20 rule) can be applied to basketball coaching, and more specifically how we can use our practice time more effectively.
Pareto’s law states that generally 20% of a given unit (we’ll say actions) are responsible for 80% of results. In its origin Vilfredo Pareto was referring to income distribution in his native country, Italy. In management circles it is simply referred to as the 80-20 rule. The concept was brought mainstream and reintroduced to me by Tim Ferriss in his book “The Four Hour Work Week.” In that book Tim speaks to efficiency and how to optimize our personal and professional lives by honing in on what is our 20%. This could be which 20% of your clients are responsible for 80% of your sales, what is your 20% of time when you are most productive, or alternatively looking at exactly how much time is wasted and not efficient.
Now coming back to the basketball side of things. This 80-20 analysis has really sparked me to look at how time is spent with my team in practice, and how that practice manifests in results, aka: game performance. How much time is wasted? I invite you to think about how much time in your practice is spent with your “pet drills,” your go-to layup lines, 3-man weaves, defensive slides, etc. I know I am guilty of falling into a routine of execution when it comes to practices and not really analysing the WHY. WHAT is the purpose for certain drills, HOW does it apply to the game, are we executing it WHEN it would happen in a game? WHO is involved in the drill. WHERE does this fit in making us or that specific player better? (Now keep in mind that my examples are coming from the university context. At a youth level there will be more universality to skill development and acquisition).
I think if you do a true analysis of your time, you will realize there are a lot of superfluous drills and elements that when looked at objectively, are not transferring over to results. This can be tough, as I am sure given enough time many coaches could 'explain-away' the benefits of their long-time favourite drills. However, so many things today need to be taken into consideration. First and foremost, what are the rules of play? In a FIBA game what is the point in learning 5 reversals of the Flex Offense? It is a quick-hitting 24 second shot-clock, where once again we circle back to the theme of efficiency. In a no shot-clock game, persistence is almost as important as execution. In their original iterations, the FLEX and PRINCETON offenses were designed to wear teams down until an opportunity presented itself. If we run this pattern long enough EVENTUALLY we will get a good shot. That is not the reality in the evolution of the game of basketball (and also it is no fun for the players). We want to increase possessions and create opportunities for ourselves as soon as possible. There will be future posts about the learning process and how that manifests itself in player development, but just consider are you the chess-master and placing them in spots? Are you simply teaching your players how to run to places on the floor and how the pattern works? Or rather, are you teaching players HOW TO PLAY and how to create opportunities for themselves and their teammates? The players need to be able to look past the set play or pattern and towards the spacing of the floor and the defense. We need to look for our advantages and attack disorganized defenses, put the defense in “chase-mode” through ball-movement (think San Antonio Spurs the last number of years).
Take a look at the spacing on the floor, is your player in a position where they are taking away opportunities from their teammates, by closing up gaps? Is your player putting the defense into an easy position where they can guard two people at the same time? These are huge points of emphasis to consider at all levels, but it IS NOT having them run to a designated spot on the floor and make a predetermined cut.
There are many things that can be done to analyse how effective you are in games, even at the youth levels you can easily get video of the game and start to really break it down and look at what’s going right and what’s going wrong. There are so many cheap and free resources out there to use, I have been using the iPad app Game Changer, which I will be talking about in a future post. It does all the basics but also includes shot charts, status updates during timeouts, and gets into some basic analytics such as Effective FG% and Assist/Turnover Ratio.
Coming back to the 80-20 rule and how we can apply it. The most basic understanding is that for any situation you have 20% which is vital and 80% which is trivial. Dr. Joseph Juran applied Pareto’s concept universally speaking to the “vital few and trivial many.” Applied to how we coach, the trick will be to flip that equation and spend 80% of our time on that vital 20% which gives us results. If you have a great transition team who can really get up and guard then you would be much better suited to spend 80% of your time working on your press and converting your defense into your offense, building that fast-paced identity. When you do that honest analysis of your practice plans, you may find that half of your time easily gets used up in warm-up and then those favourite, pet-drills. Look for ways to optimize, the players can warm-up in a hallway before practice, so when they get in the gym they are immediately ready to get into basketball-specific work. Have players put their water bottles in an easily accessible place so that they can get to them in the flow of practice and you don’t have to waste 5 minutes giving them a water-break. There are many creative ways to be more effective with your team and many resources on the web to tap into.
This first post definitely turned in to a bit of a ramble but compliments to those who got through it! Check out the hyper-links in the body of the blog if they are of interest, there are some great resources there. Eventually as this grows I want it to be a conversation, so please if you happened across this blog, leave a comment in the comments section and start a coaching dialogue!
Everyone enjoy their weekend wherever you are! ----- Matt
Picture source: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20130104190854-94530-pareto-never-said-to-ignore-the-tip-of-the-iceberg
Coach Matt - Father, Coach, Life Long Learner, Basketball Addict