Be a Better Coach by Seeing the Big Picture

Watch the ball or watch the game?

It became clear to me long ago, that too many Coaches in basketball watch just the ball and miss a lot of what is and is not going on in a game. It’s easy to do. The ball going in the basket often is what makes good offense. Stopping an opponent from getting the ball in the basket is obviously good defense. So everyone tends to watch mainly what is going on with the ball, including most Coaches.

By watching only the ball, a Coach basically becomes a Fan rather than a leader who is looking to get the most from his team. Are the players doing all the little things that lead to success on the scoreboard; such as: Transitioning hard on offense and defense? Helping from the weak side when playing defense? Going to the boards to get rebounds? Or other aspects of the Coach’s Philosophy that might be getting over looked? Seeing the Big Picture in coaching is a key to getting a team to play at its best. Without it, players may let up, form bad habits, or fail to do their part for the success of the team.

I have watched many teams play and wondered how the Coach did not notice his players were getting back slowly on defense? Or why they were standing and watching as a shot went up and then failed to go for a rebound? The Coach might sub a player out of the game for throwing a bad pass, or taking a bad shot, but those are “ball involved” situations that anyone can see. What about those peripheral things that make a big difference? Why do so many Coaches fail to recognize those situations?

It all comes down to “Seeing the Big Picture.” As a Coach, do you see the whole game? Or are you a “Ball Watcher” only? Yes, you can watch the film the next day and find the corrections you will want to make later. But wouldn’t it be nice to see them as they happen and make corrections immediately, during the actual game? Being able to expand your vision and see more of the action is a key to being a better game coach.

Here are 8 Suggestions to help Coaches learn to see more of what’s happening on the court:

  1. Educate yourself in all facets of the game; offense, defense, and all the basic fundamentals that will help your players execute better. Then teach it to them in practices.

2. Train yourself to see all the action in practice. Learn to watch the “big picture,” even if you have to visually scan back and forth to see everyone. Watch the ball, but use peripheral vision or scanning to get the full picture of what’s really going on.

3. Stop the action in practice and correct players immediately if they are not doing what they are suppose to do. Don’t ignore or wait until later to talk about it. This is practice. Fix things immediately.

4. When your season starts, make a conscience effort to watch more than just the ball early in games. Try to observe the things you worked on in practice. Don’t turn into a cheerleader instead of a “coach.”

5. If you find yourself reverting to just watching the ball, try starting again at the beginning of another half or quarter. You build good habits just like your players do; by correcting the situation and rehearsing it over time.

6. When you see things on the periphery done wrong during the game, do what you did in practice. Correct it immediately, especially early in games. That might mean subbing an offending player out and talking to him about his mistake. Let him know this cannot continue to happen.

7. If you ignore mistakes in effort and execution during practice or games, your players will not improve much over the season. Use your new ability to see the big picture to your advantage. Developing smarter players makes a better team.

8. If you have assistant coaches, train them to watch for certain things. Maybe an area that you find hard to see yourself. Have them take notes and discuss with you at half time or at time outs. Then try to watch for those deficiencies yourself when the action starts again.

Personal Experiences

I became a pretty good “Big Picture” Coach because I had to work by myself most of my career. I often had an assistant on the bench during games, but I generally was all by myself at practice, especially in my early years. That is when I really had to learn to organize and oversee a practice, as well as coach games, using the “Big Picture.” I worked to be a student of the game, always searching for better ways to do things. And I watched practices and games with an eye toward making sure things were done properly.

At several of my schools I had an excellent assistant who came to games, but not practices because of his day job. I liked having him do our defensive assignments during games so that we would have the right matchups in our non-switching, Man to Man Defense. When he was there to help, it certainly freed me up to watch all the other aspects and execution of our game plan. Obviously, when he wasn’t, I was challenged a little bit more to do a good job.

Another way I sometimes used an assistant, often a second assistant, was to have him sit next to me with a clipboard and write down notes I would mention. This was very useful for half time adjustments, future time outs, or even later practice plans. I didn’t have the benefit of assistants too often, but when I did, I tried to use them for the benefit of all in the program. This gave me an even better view of the Big Picture.

A Final Word of Advice: If you are an Assistant Coach without specific responsibilities, practice watching the “big picture” in games and don’t just be a Fan watching the ball. This will help prepare you for your future as a very good Head Coach someday.

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