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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Bill Belichick on "Overachievement"

During one of my recent appearances on Eddie King's Betus.com radio show I discussed my predictions for the current NBA season and which teams are doing better or worse than I expected. Chicago and Seattle made the playoffs last year but I said that, while I don't like the term "overachieve," I thought that those teams would find it difficult to sustain the success that they had in 2004-05. Overachievement means to exceed expectations but wouldn't a more accurate--if less grammatical--description be "underprediction"? Chicago and Seattle were fully capable all along of making the playoffs in 2004-05 but many analysts were not able to foresee this.

I just found a great quote from New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick on the subject of overachievement. He was responding to a question about his offensive line, but his ideas about coaching and performance apply beyond the realm of pro football:

"Any coach, whether it's high school, college, pro, whatever it is, any coach's job is to try to maximize the potential and the ability that a player has. I don't really understand the word overachiever. I don't really know what that means. To me, what everybody is trying to do is do their best. If somebody is doing their best, I don't see why that really should be regarded as something that they shouldn't be able to achieve. Frankly, that's what they should be able to achieve. It's the ones that don't, to a degree, nobody is ever perfect, so in a way everybody is an underachiever, even some of the highest achievers. Every quarterback has thrown an interception. Every running back has fumbled. Every receiver has dropped a pass. So, it's never going to be perfect. But I really think that’s a misnomer. I think what a coach tries to do is maximize the performance of his players within the team context. That's really what it's about. Anytime you have an offensive line, again, the context there is also of the entire unit. One guy could block great, but if it’s not coordinated and consistent with the other guys, then you’re not going to have any production and it isn’t going to be any good. All five guys have to function as a unit and function as one. That's where your production of that unit comes from."

This quote came from Coach Belichick's November 18 press conference; a transcript of the entire press conference can be found here:

http://www.patriots.com/mediacenter/index.cfm?ac=audionewsdetail&pid=13967&pcid=85

As Coach Belichick notes, even the greatest players underachieve sometimes. So, in a sense, the job of a coach is to minimize the instances when this occurs. In that context, ESPN analyst Greg Anthony's repeated assertion about Lakers Coach Phil Jackson is very interesting. Anthony has predicted (as have I) that the Lakers will make the playoffs this year, noting that wherever Jackson has coached you rarely see players underachieving; Jackson seems to find a way to get the most out of everyone, from the superstars to the 12th man. If the Lakers do in fact make it to the playoffs, some will say that the team has overachieved, but Belichick, Jackson and Anthony will understand that what actually happened is that the team found a way to minimize underachievement and to get each player to perform at or close to his peak level for as long a period of time as possible.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:50 AM

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