• Gold Medal Squared

Deriving Meaning from Hoosiers

If you’re like me, “Hoosiers” is one of your favorite all-time sports films. I love everything about it; the discipline, the one last chance element, the conflict, the obstacles…everything.

As a student of coaching, athletics, and performance, I like to try and take a deeper look at things and see how they apply to my own coaching. What are the principles at work? A few things about the real-life “Hoosiers” and the cinematic version clashed:

1. There was no Drill-Instructor Coach In fact, it was noted that the 26 year old near-rookie coach had gained notoriety for his soft-spoken nature. He spoke so little to his team that he made the self-effacing statement “God coached this team, not me.”

2. No one was setting up folding chairs for drills or making the team practice without a ball The young coach often suited up with his players and scrimmaged with them. That’s what they did to get better at basketball…They played basketball.

3. There most likely was no statement made by the coach declaring “you are in the army, my army, every afternoon between 3-5” When the director was asked why he had to fictionalize so much of the story, he replied “Because these guys were too nice. The team had no real conflict.”

This was fascinating to me, not because I believe great teams never have any conflict, or because there is never a need for a coach to interject or instill discipline. It floored me because the movie “Hoosiers” is arguably in line with the conventional wisdom on what it means to coach, while the reality of this team’s path to success was completely cast-aside and forgotten. I wonder how often this happens in the world of sports and athletics.

In “The Inner of Game of Tennis” Tim Gallwey writes “I was beginning to learn what all good teachers must learn: that images are better than words, showing better than telling, and too much instruction worse than none.” When looking at item #1 it appears the real version was much more in line with this master teacher than the movie.

Motor Learning, the study of human movement and performance, has several principles that support the real “Hoosiers” over what Hollywood gave us. The principles of Specificity, Transfer, and Whole v. Part would all the support item #2 and the notion that playing the game (A LOT!) would help an athlete’s development much better than a contrived drill. This really hurts us as coaches sometimes, because we want to have control. The makers of “Hoosiers” were certainly in tune to this desire and set up many fictional, heavily coach-centered drills that in reality never took place towards the young underdog team’s development.

Real learning occurs through real investment. Marv Dunphy once told me when thinking of feedback to “lead vs. command.” Socrates appears to have been the master of this with his Socratic method. It appears this principle of giving the learner space to be inquisitive, probe his or her environment, and draw self-constructed conclusions would have been quickly crushed in item #3 and the movie-constructed training environment.

This post almost hurts to write because I have watched and loved this movie many times. It also reminds me, though, that learning can be a counter-intuitive process, and unless we study, and hold a willingness to break-free of prior knowledge we could find ourselves in the confining world of unchanged habits we ask our athletes to leave. As I write this, I can already remember the times this past season I didn’t remember these lessons well enough. Sometimes, we have to challenge and demonstrate our own willingness to be comfortable being uncomfortable.