The Hoops edition.
If you have played sports at any level then there is a great chance you’ve heard the phrase “offense wins games Defense wins championships,” or some version of it. I mean for many basketball coaches this phrase serves as a mantra and foundation for their programs. Eventually I’m going to give my coaches hypothesis on why the statement is true. But first I want to examine the types of games and players that even play in championship games. Trust me, every player is not a championship caliber player. Being a champion in anything takes hard work!
Taking a look at basketball and the types of games typically played there are a few types of games I’d like to highlight. First: High scoring games between two teams (formerly know as offensive shootouts) are really exciting and fun to watch. These are the games where both teams are scoring seemingly back to back and every point scored is celebrated like a game winner. Every play is a highlight play. These games generally lack defense and as a coach can be frustrating to be a part of, win or lose.
Another common type of game is a blowout game where one team heavily outscores the other. This game usually comes as a surprise to no one and in most cases can be expected to a degree. If you’re the type to cheer on the “little guy” then look away. In blowouts the underdog remains the underdog, that poor puppy. Blowout games lack a competitiveness that true athletes crave. From a coaching standpoint these games serve as a measuring stick. The winning team gets more comfortable with what it feels to win different types of games, while the losing team gains motivation to win their next game. Other than temporary embarrassment being on the wrong end of a blowout is something athletes move past easily. That is usually not the case for the last type of game.
Defensive struggles are my favorite type of game and after I explain what I mean by “defensive struggle” you will better understand my reasoning. For some when I say defensive struggle they envision boring games games consisting of overbearing ball pressure, and extreme effort and hustle on the defensive end. They could not be more correct. These games consist of the best defense being played by the best defenders in the game. Often times many fail to understand that in MOST cases the best defenders are not only the most athletic, but also the players with the higher IQ, better work ethic, most toughness, and better offensive games. Yes you read that correct the best defenders in the game are usually the best offensive players.
When you consider a defensive specialist you highlight the fact that they play defense better and at a higher rate than the play offense. Usually when you have a defensive specialist they play on teams with great offensive talent. This is why you rarely see the best offensive players highlighted for their defense. This doesn’t mean that great offensive players don’t play great defense, it just means that their offense is seen as more value than their defense. In fact the best offensive teams and players play the best defense and these are the teams that win championships.
Defense is something that is more mental than it is physical. Granted just like anything else in sports, having more athleticism than your opponent is always going to give you an advantage. Being mentally tough trumps physicality while playing defense in basketball. To quote a mentor and coaching colleague of mine Andre Speech, “If scoring is the best feeling in basketball then stopping someone from scoring is a close second”. While scoring is something you can get in the gym and practice everyday and get better. Defense is something that you have to develop and train on and off the court because it takes determination and mental toughness. I say this because in basketball the ultimate object is to score more points than your opponent. When you have a player that works as hard as possible on the defensive end to stop another player from scoring you have a defensive specialist. When you have great offensive player who works as hard as possible to stop another player on defense you have a great player. Work ethic is something that great players build and apply in various aspects of life and therefore is constantly progressing.
Great defensive teams are made up of great players who understand that defense is a matter of simply wanting to work harder than your opponent. A team can have many plays and players capable of scoring and still struggle against a team full of players committed to stopping you from scoring. The willpower to stop another player from scoring is something that not every player has. The phrase “offense wins games defense wins championships” wins out often in sports. My reasoning for this is when you get to the championship level in basketball or any team sport for this manner, the ability to score is expected, and usually the better players are determined by their ability to score. When the best players are playing in a championship game, the winner is determined by the team that was tough enough to outwork and get more defensive stops than the other team. That’s something that even as a coach I can not force players to do. You have to want to stop another player from scoring. That’s one of the toughest things to do in basketball.