Notes on ‘Secrets’

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Huy wrote an interesting comment on my Keith Richards post. Here are some highlights that I thought would be better addressed in a more formal manner than as reply to a comment.  Huy writes …

“The Gladwell article “When David beats Goliath” talks about Louisville University basketball coach Rick Pitino, who has had NCAA championship success using the unconventional “full court press”: …The coaches who came to Louisville sat in the stands and watched that ceaseless activity and despaired. The prospect of playing by David’s rules was too daunting. They would rather lose.

At other times, I think to be able to use another coach’s “secret” requires an ability to accept a perspective on volleyball that you may find truly disgusting.

I started getting success teaching people to pass over a year ago … Other coaches asked me how my players got such good ball control, … many found the “Secret” so contrary to what volleyball should be in their heads and found it disgusting.”

I think we’re talking about a couple of different things here. The ‘David v Goliath’ story is more about what people are or are not prepared to do and so I think it falls into the category of what someone’s intrinsic prejudices are and what their motivation really is.
For people to find any technique ‘disgusting’ is a kind of closed mindedness that goes way, way beyond anything to do with guarding secrets.  There are techniques I think are poor or ineffective or misguided, but not disgusting.  And I suspect what we might be talking about here isn’t even actual technique but aesthetics.  There are even tactics that I disapprove of (berating the referee to gain an advantage, deliberate screening) but none of that is disgusting.
On the other hand there are certain coaching behaviours that I do find disgusting and would never replicate.  Just as there are coaching methods (another NT story that may be related at some point) that I reject on similar grounds.
The points of the post are ultimately that information in itself is relatively worthless.  What separates coaches is how they use that information.  Even if you could explain the ‘secret’ of how a successful coach uses that information, individuals are unique and the exact circumstances can never be replicated.   Therefore one doesn’t need to be concerned about losing one’s potential competitive advantage by sharing too much information.  Like Keith Richards sharing his guitar secrets.  No matter what anyone else knows, only he can play guitar like Keith Richards.
The second point is that anything that makes one coach stronger/smarter/better makes the whole sport stronger/smarter/better.  Like the Italian volleyball coaches who implicitly or explicitly understand that there is a long term mutual benefit for cooperating (and Richards himself that the more people exposed to his kind of music, the bigger the market becomes).  If we want volleyball to be bigger (and I refer to the Hidden Motivation post) then we can only achieve that by cooperating.  The ‘game’ we play between us is not a win/lose game, it is much more like a ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma’.  In our case cooperating or competing amongst ourselves is the choice and the sport of volleyball progressing/regressing/remaining stagnant are the outcomes.

I would like to think that my actions make my position clear on this point.

One comment

  1. Perhaps i didn’t find the best example! What i meant to say was that sharing requires as much an acceptance to receive as a willingness to give.

    The prisoner’s dilemma is an apt way to describe how we need to look at coaching. A level of collusion leads to mutual benefit and betterment of the sport; Not sharing with others leads to “mutually assured destruction”. Unfortunately, the incentives are such that we’re lead to believe that we can get the outcome where we’re better off than our competitors.

    No fault but our own if this is the case. After all, “there is no oppression without the consent of the oppressed!”


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