Searching For Lessons? Consider Context

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I just came across something on the legendary basketball coach, Bobby Knight. It reminded me of hearing from a respected coach that Knight was the best teacher that he had ever seen. It also reminded me of a quote from Knight himself, where he said he would never coach in the NBA because in the NBA the players had all the power. In college coaching, the head coach has the highest (only) salary, chooses the players and can fire them (rescind the scholarships) at any time. In the NBA, the head coach earns less then the best players, doesn’t choose the players and often doesn’t even decide on playing time. Bobby Knight is a great teacher in the context of a vastly unbalanced power structure. There are many lessons he can provide, but you must always remember the context of his work.

In Sam Walker’s ‘Captain Class’, he determined that the Collingwood VFL team of 1927-30 was one of the 16 greatest sporting teams across all sports and all countries of all time. In the 1920s, the VFL was a suburban based, semi professional (barely) league. There was no free movement of players, who were required to play for the club in the area they grew up. Teams ‘trained’ at most twice per week. This Collingwood team was a great team in the context of pre depression Australian sport. There are lessons in leadership to be learned, but probably most of them are not applicable to the current day.

The All-Blacks are widely revered for their incredible culture. I first read about it in the 1990s long before it reached the cult status in world sporting literature that it now does. The All-Blacks culture is remarkable and remarkably self perpetuating. New Zealand is one of six or seven countries in which rugby union is widely played. It is one of two countries in which rugby union is a significant part of the culture. The All-Blacks hold a place in New Zealand culture that is incomparable with any other sport in any other nation, even football in Brazil. The All-Blacks culture exists in the context of its place in New Zealand’s national culture. It is admirable and contains many lessons, but many of those are not replicable in other situations.

All of the the articles you read, the books that you study, the podcasts you listen to, the memes that you post are true. But they are all true in their own context. The context makes a big difference. Men, women. Juniors, seniors. Professionals, amateurs. USA, Germany, Serbia, Brazil, Australia. Football (big sport), volleyball (small sport), skeleton (niche sport). And so on and so on. If you want to extract the lessons, you must first understand that context. Once you have done that, you will know which bits are cool anecdotes and which bits are lessons you can take to your own teams. If you are seeking lessons, first consider that context.

The total of 82 practical Coaching Tips can be found here and here.

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.


  1. The one addition I would make to this is that we should also avoid going in the opposite direction and assume that just because something isn’t in our specific context it doesn’t apply to us. I see this a lot – especially from those looking for a reason to argue against something they don’t agree with.


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