Key Takeaways:

  • Hot Hand Theory
  • Soul Power of Sport

Wrapping up the final chapters of Basketball and Philosophy with myths, metaphysics, and metaphors for life. This is not the prototypical basketball book, at least from a professional development standpoint but we got through it. More importantly, it continues to challenge our beliefs. Some were trivial, like the argument of what is a beautiful possession. Other topics such as performance gaps or the influences of coaching philosophy can play a significant role in our line of work.

Are you philosophers just interested in raising problems? You ever come up with any answers?

I’ve heard that before. But you must agree: not just any answer is a good answer.

PAGE 227

This book raises a lot of questions:

In the last chapters of the book, we will cover the existence of a hot hand and soul power within sports. Let’s finish strong.

Heat Check

Ironically enough, one of the first blogs I can remember writing on this website was about being in the zone, or a Flow State of Mind (2012). During graduate school attending Xavier University, one of our lectures from a coaching course covered the theory of the hot hand defined by author Andrew Cooper. Cooper and author of this chapter in Basketball and Philosophy, Steven D. Hale, would agree that the hot hand exists but not necessarily for the same reasons.

Hales goes into the three main arguments skeptics disavow the notion of being in the zone:

  1. Statistical data suggests success does not breed success
  2. Nothing accomplished is abnormal to what is possible
  3. Chance creates the misconception of a “Hot Streak”

By raising the talking points against the idea that being in the zone is believable, Hale counters with commonsense.

If Shaquille O’Neal hits ten free throws in a row, he does have a hot hand, even if statistically this is a reasonably likely occurrence given his skill as a player and the large number of free throws he shoots.

PAGE 203

Hale doesn’t give a damn what the numbers say, if Shaq hit ten free throws in a row – he’s on fire. Admittedly, it isn’t unthinkable for Shaq to hit ten free throws in a row because after all, he is a professional. Statistically, it is unlikely. And because there is a low probability for it to occur it is expected that he will likely miss the eleventh free throw. That doesn’t change the fact that he’s made ten in a row! He’s hot.

This is where coaching comes into question. During the ‘Hack-A-Shaq’ days Coach Phil Jackson would look to make situational substitutions to limit the number of times Shaq could be fouled late in games. But, after witnessing Shaq already hitting ten in a row it would be hard to take him out. Is that the right decision? Or do you play the odds?

Hale claims that it exist sherely on chance on commonsense.

The conclusions to be drawn are (1) one has a hot hand when one is shooting better than average; (2) players often know when they are shooting better than average; (3) observers can often tell when players are shooting better than average.

PAGE 205
Task v Ability Diagram from Flow State

Cooper takes it a step further insinuating the existence of an experience of ‘flow state’ is an unpredictable collision from three elements: skill, devotion, and immersion. Substantiating the thought of intense preparation provoking an effortless (supernatural) display of excellence.

Either way, coaches will take any untimely arrival of a player being in the zone. As the philosopher of this post, the question is do you encourage finding the hot hand or let the game continue naturally?

Soul Power of the Sport

Both the spirited and the rational parts of the soul are absolutely essential to this great game. The spirited part of the soul was evident whenever Daryl Dawkins shattered a backboard with one of his thunder dunks, or Nancy Lieberman dove on the floor for a loose ball. The rational part was apparent whenever Bill Walton fired yet another perfect outlet pass, or John Stockton and Karl Malone ran one of their patented pick-and-rolls. Basketball exemplifies and reveals these two parts of the soul as a few other sports can because of the delicate balance it requires between strength and touch, brains, and brawn.

PAGE 236

The book ends with a discussion of the essence of the game and how it impacts us individually. The soul is initially described as containing two parts: spirit and rationality. Our spirit shines from a childhood adoration we have for the game, evident with pre-game dances or shouts of “And-One” during momentum-shifting plays. The rational aspect is quite possibly what separates the good to great coaches, as they say playing chess, not checkers.

A successful basketball team also mirrors the qualities found in the soul of a great individual player.

PAGE 237

Plato added a third element to the structure of a human soul: an appetite. It is a desire or motivation to do what we do. And I think we can all agree that we would not be doing this as a career if we did not have an appetite for figuring things out during struggles, or the irreplaceable celebrations with a group that has worked so hard for the success that they had earned.

Think back to some of the most successful teams that you had been a part of, what was the soul of the team? Was it a spirited group? Did they play with a high level of comprehension throughout the season? And what was their drive?

Those three things often determine the success of any given season. And the development of each element throughout the course of said season equips the individual for competition, and for life after hoops. Can we instill a resiliency of spirit in a former player of ours after possibly missing on a job interview? Did we foster a learner’s mentality to combine retention/application with emotional intelligence? And are we empowering others to chase their dream with truth and vigor? The soul power of our team might just be the litmus test of our season, but who we are as coaches.


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