Beyond the Scoreboard: Environment and Habits
Improving the basketball environment is the only thing that improves basketball habits
Beyond the Scoreboard, a series of writings on things impacting coaching beyond X’s and O’s, is brought to you by Sideline Interactive.
In her book Good Habits, Bad Habits author Wendy Wood, a research psychologist and an expert on habits, details the power our environment has on our habits. It is the single most powerful influence on our habitual behavior.
Coaches can learn valuable lessons from this book. Chief among those lessons is that your most important task as a coach is to create a beneficial environment. Or find one!
There are factors we believe shape our habits or the habits of the players we coach that are not effective most of the time.
Will and Desire
First we believe will and desire change our habits. Those things may give us the impetus to start a new habit or break a destructive one, but alone they are not enough.
For example, we all know someone who tries to lose weight and fails. Perhaps that someone is you. They have the will and desire to form healthier eating habits, exercise and adopt a healthy lifestyle but they fail or relapse. Why? Most often it is because of environment. They have a spouse or share a home with others who are not on this healthy mission and as a result there are sweets and decadent foods in the house. Summoning the willpower without a conducive environment takes superhuman strength and that wanes.
As coaches, we often complain about our players lack of will and desire to get better or to compete. We see kids commit to working hard here and there, but many don’t stick with it. Getting better at basketball is tough work. Reporting for workouts that challenge us mentally and physically takes willpower. So will and desire aren’t by themselves enough.
Another thing we equate with forming good habit is knowledge. We learn smoking causes cancer and we quit, right? Turns out, that is not the case. We all know fruits and vegetables are better for us than burgers and fries. This knowledge does not help us make the best choice.
Players know that getting in the gym and getting up 1000 shots per day will help them. They know that getting to the weight room will help them. They know that playing basketball on a regular basis will help them. Yet this knowledge does not always lead to good habit formation.
A frustrated coach studies more and more X’s and O’s thinking more knowledge will help their program. If they just knew all the offenses and defenses known to man they could impart that knowledge on their players and they’d win.
It turns out neither will and desire nor knowledge is as powerful as environment when it comes to creating good habits.
Is there friction that keeps players from getting into the the gym? Are there available facilities, courts, parks? Habits exist mostly on a subconscious level. We see people around us doing things and we do them. Are your players raised in a basketball-rich environment? Are they surrounded by basketball? If not, why would we expect them to have good playing habits?
Related Article: Basketball Terroir
I live in Dallas, Texas. Just north of where I live is a suburb, Frisco, Texas, which a Men’s Journal study named the best place to raise an athlete. Why? What did they cite in the study? The availability of courts, fields, rinks, leagues, recreation centers. In short, environment.
I often ride my bike in Frisco in their well-marked bike lanes and on their manicured bike trails. No wonder it’s one of Texas’ fittest cities as well. Environment. You are surrounded by these activities and making the right choice is the easy thing, not the hard thing.
In my coaching career I was fortunate enough to work in two schools where the athletic department excelled. Football won state. Volleyball would regularly win 30 plus matches in a season. Track, Cross Country, Golf, Tennis, Softball, Baseball all had championship track records of state-level success. We won in basketball as well. Not of my doing! Players were surrounded not only by winning, but by good habits. Winning was just the byproduct.
How do we use this information as basketball coaches? First, stop directing all of your energy at the things we think build effective habits.
The will and desire of our players matters, but it’s often misdiagnosed as the reason for bad results. “We just don’t want it bad enough” is often not the reason you lose. Your players compete the best they can, they just aren’t good enough at the sport likely because of bad habits which are formed by environment (or the lack thereof).
YOUR desire to win as coach is strong, but what good is that if you are coaching in a place that does not have an immersive basketball environment? You are not going to “out coach” a bad environment.
Knowledge is great. Seek it as a coach, impart in on your players. All of the knowledge it takes to be a good coach is not going to be better in terms of winning than coaching players who grew up in an immersive basketball environment.
Knowing what to do and the ability to do it are different. Execution takes skill. Skill is good habits, and habits are formed by environment. You are on a fool’s mission if you are trying to “knowledge” your way out of a bad basketball environment. Fix the environment and habits will improve.
Therefore, your real job as a coach is an environment creator. Good habits will follow. Create a community where doing the right thing is the easy choice. The gym is always open. There’s hoop in every driveway. Basketball Shangri-La !
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