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Coaching Tips

Soft, selfish, stupid

A few days ago we said how hard it is to make good choices at tryout time.

It’s difficult, for example, to judge in a short span how a player will behave over the long period needed for proper skill growth. How can short bursts of physical activity show whether anyone has a strong mental game? How deep is the athlete’s motivation?

We’ll never solve this Tryout Paradox, but former NBA Coach Jeff Van Gundy recently offered some insights into looking at players.

As part of a panel at the fifth-annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Van Gundy said, “Soft, selfish or stupid. You can be one of these things, but you can’t be two.”

That leads to the thought that perhaps a tryout should be spent not by looking for good things but for bad. Once you note the size, strength, speed, and agility of a player, you’re now on the lookout for “soft, selfish or stupid.”

There are problems with this approach, of course. Look carefully at anyone and you can find a weakness. Should that disqualify a player?

Furthermore, what exactly is “stupid?” There are different kinds of intelligence, and your style may not be the same as someone else’s. I’ve been guilty of labeling players because they needed what seemed to be a painfully detailed explanation of a drill. Now I’m learning that different personality types need things explained in more detail.

Finally, are “soft, selfish and stupid” really three different qualities? Or is selfish a form of soft? And stupid a form of selfish?

I’d be curious to hear exactly how Van Gundy defines those terms, and what anecdotes he might attach to the words.

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Mike Tully speaks to sports, business and educational groups. He also works with coaches, athletes and teams to make their practice time more productive and efficient. He and Gary Pritchard are co-authors of “Ten Things Great Coaches Know.” To see Coach Tully and Coach Pritchard discuss “Seven Ways to Prepare for Adversity,” go here.


One comment for “Soft, selfish, stupid”

  1. At the pro level, “talent” is rarely a question. Coaches look for other characteristics. At the HS level these can be applied with your own interpretation of the three words. I use it to frame attitude within my team.

    Posted by Tony | March 24, 2011, 8:30 am

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