Beyond The Scoreboard: The Minimum Effective Dose
Avoiding "prescribing" excessive and unneeded info to your teams
Beyond the Scoreboard, a series of writings on things impacting coaching beyond X’s and O’s, is brought to you by Sideline Interactive.
I was recently engaged in a conversation debating what are “good X’s & O’s” with a group of coaches. When someone compliments a team by saying things like…
“They run some great stuff.”
“Their coach is a great X’s & O’s guy/gal..”
…what does that actually mean?
I suppose, like music, food or art what is “good” is mostly a matter of tastes. That’s really no different from X’s & O’s. When one says “lasagna is good” aren’t they really saying “I like lasagna?” After all, there is probably someone out there who doesn’t care for it.
Likewise, “they run some good stuff” is really just another way of saying “I like the stuff they run.”
Is there some agreed upon standard of what are “good” X’s & O’s? Who decides what are good? What decides what makes them good or bad? Let’s make sure as coaches we aren’t conflating “good” with our personal preferences.
I shifted the conversation from debating what are “good” X’s & O’s to perhaps a more appropriate debate. What are “fitting” X’s & O’s? What is needed? And are we calling something “good” for the wrong reasons?
In my view, a lot of what gets labeled “good” when it comes to X’s & O’s by basketball coaching’s gatekeepers is often superfluous. Aesthetically pleasing to the eyes? Perhaps. But oftentimes there are things going on that have no real function.
Let’s talk about two concept from the medical field - the minimum effective dose and least invasive treatments. Both of these concepts exist to find a fitting treatment for patients.
A physician prescribes the appropriate amount for the ailment. A patient complaining of minor pain does not, or should not ethically, receive a major dose of pain killers. Instead doctors seek the minimum effective dose to give the patient relief. Even though they could prescribe more, they don’t. Over-prescribing is excessive for no good reason.
Likewise, you go into the doctor’s office complaining of a stomach ache. They don’t automatically slam you down on the operating table and slice your guts open! They put you through a battery of tests to accurately diagnose the issue then find the least invasive treatment that is appropriate.
If no surgery is needed to cure you, they don’t take that route. Just because the doctor went to medical school and is fully qualified to do surgery doesn’t mean they whip out the scalpel every chance they get!
In basketball terms, what often gets called “good” X’s & O’s is showy overkill. There are intricate movements and multiple passes that look great, sure, but often a team could get the same shot in a much less complicated fashion (without the increased risk of turning the ball over or failing to execute the intricacies). Maybe the team can carryout these “good” X’s & O’s, but does that mean they should?
I am reminded of the Mike D’Antoni/James Harden era Houston Rockets. The knock on them was that players stood too much. There was not enough, movement, passing and cutting in their offense. Meanwhile, they had one of, if not the top offenses in the league during this era. Hard to say it wasn’t “good” by any empirical measure.
It worked in the “minimum effective dose” sort of way. All they needed were shooters surrounding a high ball screen for Harden. Why be more complex than that if you don’t have to be? You generate efficient shots with low risk.
That is was talent applied in a fitting manner allows you to do — use something simple and make it indefensible. Villanova’s plain vanilla offensive style is another example.
When it comes to the intricacies and complexities of our concepts, I want only what we need. Nothing more, nothing less. Nothing for show. Nothing that I used just because it looks cool or someone else deems it “good.” We will not over-prescribe nor under-prescribe. Instead we will always apply the minimum effective dose.
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