The Problems With Scouting Reports

Today was my first Israeli scouting report, and it was very entertaining.  There were no chopped up video clips detailing the strengths and weaknesses of each player. There was no going over every possible play they might run. All these things were replaced by watching the first quarter of their last game along with a with a simple 15 minute team meeting and a piece of paper with a sentence about each player.

This was all right up my alley. I know that coaches have good intentions and work hard to put together their reports, but do we really need to spend a half hour talking about their 8th, 9th and 10th players? You could probably feel it coming, so hear it is. Time to rant about college pregame scouting reports and walk-throughs!

It’s pretty self-explanatory, but for those who don’t know what I am talking about, before every game you need to spend time the previous day learning about your opponent.  This comes in the form of rehearsing their plays, going over strategy and watching film.  Unless you are about to play for the national championship, you would imagine all the major points could be discussed in an hour or so.  You would be very, very wrong.

The fun usually starts after a practice the night before a game. You gather in the locker room or lounge area and receive a writeup on your opponent. For some reason, I am not quite sure if it is a motivational tactic or if they truly believe the things they say, but these coaches who are so critical of their own players elevate the guys we have to play against to god like status.

Have you ever made a 3 pointer? Good, you are now a “three point threat!” We need to know where you are “AT ALL TIMES!”  Average over 3 rebounds? Congrats, you are “a  BULL!” who is “relentless on the glass and must be boxed out on every shot!”  Scored 12 points or more in a game recently? You are a “***SHOOTER***” who is “really on fire lately!” and someone that we “cannot let get a good look!”

My personal favorite part is when we get to the bench players. These people are inevitably hyped as “impact players” or “spark plugs” who give the team a “shot in the arm” or “instant offense.”  (Coaches have no shame using these tired cliches.)

Oftentimes the “heart and soul” of the team is one of these players.  This is usually a senior.  They throw in some clips of him hustling back on defense, maybe diving on a loose ball. He always “knows the system.” (News Flash: the god damn team manager knows the system, but he still sucks.)  They spend 15 minutes talking about all the things he brings to the table, then you check the sheet and he plays 8 minutes a game! Unreal.

Another awesome scouting report mainstay is having someone attain *Shooter* status but he is like 33/128 from the three point line.  Then they bust out all sorts of excuses for this particular player.  He’s in a cold stretch, he has shot it well in the past, or my personal favorite, “he has to take a lot of tough shots at the end of the shot clock.” Well, sorry, if you don’t make any of those shots you are not that good a shooter. Are we really gonna waste time, and alter our game plan, for a streaky shooter?  Is that considered strategy? And I always imagine how often these teams could really be doing 34 seconds of standing around and then desperately giving this guy the ball, who then attempts an off-balance three. If that is the case, they can’t be a very good team, so why don’t we wrap this thing up because we are going on our 3rd hour talking about Joe Schmoe and his crucial, game altering “knack for DRAWING FOULS.”

That reminds me, one of the silliest parts about this stuff is the egregious use of caps, asterisks, bold, exclamation points, underlines etc. The whole point of these techniques are to draw the readers attention to a particularly important point, so it totally defeats the purpose when every other word is bolded or underlined!

Continuing, the scouting report is followed by a trip down to the court to cover all the plays you just learned in the film session. 5 non starters take on the role of the other team and proceed to run through their sets.

What generally happens during this period is that we get informed on how we are going to make it impossible for the other team to do what they want to do.  The strategy generally revolves around extremes.  We are to “Never let them swing the ball in this situation!” or to “front the post every single possession!”

Now there is nothing really wrong with having these strategies, but it always just seemed like a waste of time to spend so much effort telling us all this stuff, because it never worked out in the game like they said it would. No matter how badly the coaches wanted us to prevent something from happening, it always happened anyway. Sorry, but there is just no way to literally “keep the team on one side of the court.” (Meaning if the ball is on one wing you deny the other playes the ball so that the team can never initiate the offense from the other side.)

We would try our best to make this happen, but it is kind of impossible to actually pull off unless you are on Duke and you are playing a midwestern school for the blind. So, why not just teach us the plays, acknowledge certain things might happen, and let that be that? Have a little bit of faith that the hours you put into practicing us will allow us to succeed.

I know it is easy for me to say as a player, and it might sound like I am just being lazy, but I really believe that sometimes less is more. I can see how coaches get so caught up in pre game preparation, because their job is on the line if they lose, and they want to make sure that their team knows their opponent as well as is humanly possible. The intentions are good, but if you look at it from the players perspective you can find a lot of flaws.

It is just an all around time wasting, ineffective process. I think the time would be better spent doing a quick walk through of their basic plays and offenses, watching a few pertinent game clips and then heading home. If they want to keep us a certain amount of time to ease their consciences’ and feel they are accomplishing something, then put us through some shooting drills. I can guarantee it is more important for a player to have a relaxed mindset and to feel good about his shot than to know every intricate detail about the other team.

I mean, when it comes down to it, unless they have incredible, never before seen plays, or some revolutionary game plan, is our performance really going to be drastically affected by spending hours poring over every detail about our opponent? Do we need to file into the meeting room of a Ramada Inn at 12 AM after a long bus trip to go over a scouting report when we have a game the next day?

Don’t they think we would be better off just sleeping, considering you just kind of zone out at that point anyway? Ya okay, some teams have clever plays, but it basically always comes down to communicating with your teammates and fighting through screens.  Never in my four years did me or anyone I knew who played college basketball ever once talk about how we played differently, better or worse, because of a scouting report.  Every now and then you’ll be like “wow he was as good a shooter as they said” or “ya, he really does go left a lot,” but the thing is when you are in the game you are just playing.

Obviously if you can stop the plays they are trying to run that is a huge advantage. But plays are never so good that they take precedence over the actual players in the game. Trust me, I was a part of a lot of games where we knew the other team inside and out and still got blasted.  We could steal the Lakers playbook and know every play they were going to run every time downcourt, but they would still score a hundred points.

My point is that I think coaches should focus more on simply preparing their team to the best of their abilities and then trust that they will be ready to play come game time. There is a line that gets crossed where your brain can start getting cluttered by all the small details, taking your mind off the big picture of just playing solid defense and making smart decisions on offense.  Preparing for a basketball game is not like studying for a test, where the more you review the material (or scouting report) the better you will do. My opinion is that basketball is a game where the majority of the time you don’t really want to be thinking too much.  You have to trust your reactions and your instincts.

Probably should add in again that I have a ton of respect for all the hard work that my coaches put into scouting the opponent, I just think I have differing views on how to best prepare a team. Say what you will about John Wooden winning only because he recruited the best players, but what I described as my ideal routine was basically what he would do.  He would worry about getting his team as ready as possible, not about what the other team was doing.

Back to the scouting report I went through today.  My coach did not mess around by spending too much time the insignificant players. He got right to the point, and let us know how to deal with the teams best guy. I paraphrase. (note: trying to write how people pronounce words is really tough. New found respect for authors who do this well.)
“He izz a provocative player.  He weeill come up whan you are not lue-king and slap you een da head! (imitates this tactic on the assistant coach.)  You must get heeim back, but do not punch heeim right in frohnt ov da ref.  Wait a lee-til, and den you can PUNCH HEEM IN THA BALLS!  You can really FAHHK heem!!”

Now that’s what I like to hear! Who cares about someone going left 67% of the time after a pump-fake in the second half? Just toughen up, play as hard as you can, and when you get a chance, give their best player a good punch to the groin. Now, this coach always makes it clear that he never wants us to be dirty or try to seriously hurt anyone.   He just gets fired up sometimes and wants to make sure we don’t fear any player.

So, first league game tomorrow. I’m sure you’ll be hearing my observations on it in the near future.

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