What's Your Problem?

food for thought

“We started the film without a script, without a cast, and without a shark.” 

- Richard Dreyfuss

The movie was $5 million over budget and 100 days past due. It nearly cost Steven Spielberg his career before it even got started.

In 1974, an ambitious young director began his film making career by attempting to make a movie about a shark. 

However, production of the film was plagued with problems. The film’s main characters were not officially cast until nine days before filming began. The script was in a constant state of disarray, as scenes were rewritten just hours before being filmed. However, most significantly, this man-versus-shark movie lacked one crucial component… a shark.

In truth, Spielberg had three different mechanical sharks made for the movie, but despite being designed by some of the best engineers in Hollywood, none would work in the dense saltwater where the majority of the action was filmed. Spielberg briefly experimented with training a live shark, but that ended miserably leaving the director at a loss.  

How does one make a movie about a shark without a shark?

The answer saved Spielberg’s career.  He decided to make a different movie.

Rather than provide the audience with a shark, he planted an idea in their imagination - he hinted at something lurking below the waterline, and it was scary as hell. Taking cues from Alfred Hitchcock’s style, Spielberg shifted gears. “It’s what we don’t see which is really, truly frightening.”

Richard Dreyfuss, star of the movie, was thoroughly impressed. “He had to invent, on the spot, another way of shooting which was to imply the shark, which made an ordinary film into a great film.”

Jaws was released in the summer of 1975 and became the highest grossing film of all-time because 26-year old Steven Spielberg realized his problem was not the fact that his mechanical sharks didn’t work. Rather the problem, how to make a movie about a shark without a shark, led to an unforeseen revelation. He was making the wrong movie.

There has been a vibrant conversation of late in the TOC Community group chat regarding the challenges of coaching multi-sport athletes. Specifically, how do we get better when our players spend the majority of their time doing something else?

As a basketball coach, it’s easy to blame other sports for our inability to get the most out of the summer. How quickly we condemn those coaches for sapping the players’ time and energy, leaving little for the rest of us who are also striving to get better. Those other sports seem to be concerned solely with what they need to be successful, regardless of how that impacts other sports reliant on the multi-sport athletes they share.

Perhaps your feelings of frustration, anger, and resentment are triggered because you know exactly what that feels like.

Let me be the first to encourage you, football is not your problem. Volleyball or softball are not the reason why your basketball program is not successful. They might make the puzzle more complicated, but blaming your players' lack of off-season commitment on another program just might be blinding you to the realization that you’re trying to solve the wrong problem.

This summer our best players averaged less than 10 hours in open gym for the entire summer! We felt fortunate to play about a dozen games, and had two days of camp totaling six hours during the first week of June. Strictly by the numbers, this was one of the lowest attended off-seasons in my 21-year career.

It would be easy to blame other sports, or the fact that kids are busier today than ever before. I might even conclude that they don’t value basketball as much as my previous teams did. All of these assumptions might be true, and all may be irrelevant at the same time.

Rather than take on another sport, what if I tried to solve a different problem?

What if I knew in May that I would get my varsity players for six hours of camp, eight hours of open gym, and 12 total games this summer. What would I do with that time to maximize our improvement?  Asking this question redirects all of my attention away from blaming others, and puts the focus on making the most of the time we have.

I might take this further. Am I running the right system knowing my off-season time is limited? Are there other ways to increase their repetitions before they get to us in high school by making our youth and middle school programs more effective? Can I simplify the game, and the skills necessary for us to be successful, so that we can compete with less time required?

And what about the environment I’m asking them to be a part of during the “optional” off-season. Am I creating a place they want to be, or do I badger them with messages of guilt and shame when they don’t show up? 

In short, am I building the right kind of program based on our unique circumstances that gives our multi-sport athletes the best opportunity to be successful in all of their activities? 

At the end of the day, my frustration, and my solutions, may have little to do with that other sport, and much more to do with me recognizing the right problem to solve.

Food for thought.

Nate Sanderson, TOC Mentor and Co-Host of the Coaching Culture Podcast

[email protected] / Twitter @CoachNSanderson

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