Thoroughly preparing for opponents is a great way to gain a competitive advantage. Good teams prepare for their opponents with a laser sharp focus and are prepared to execute the game plan. In the article that follows, I will provide you with an overview as to how I approach the scouting process, all the way from watching tape to creating and presenting a report.
Rule #1: Scouting is about YOUR team.
One of the biggest dangers in scouting is paralysis by analysis. You will not be able to take away everything that your opponent does, and often times an attempt to do this comes at the expense of your team. It is imperative that you emphasize what your team can do within your philosophy of play to give your team an advantage in the upcoming game. Scouting is about YOUR team. Do not scrap what you do in order to play an opponent a certain way.
Rule #2: Focus on the main themes, not the minute details.
Know what tendencies that your opponent uses the majority of the time, and prepare thoroughly for those. Players do not need a million bits of knowledge regarding the other team to be ready for a game. Players need to know the main themes of the opponent’s style of play and how to guard their man specifically. A scouting report should be made up only of the information that is essential.
Rule #3: Nothing will work unless you do.
Regardless of who you play and how good your game plan is, if your team does not execute their game, you will not have a shot to win. This means emphasizing your team’s execution on what you value most rather than emphasizing who you play. If your offensive spacing is poor, screens are haphazard, and a lack of urgency shows defensively, it does not matter how good your game plan is. Nothing is more important than your team’s execution.
The Scouting Process:
Although my process differs based on who our opponent is (conference teams that I know well vs. out of conference teams you rarely see), I prefer to watch the 3 most recent games of an opponent in order to prepare for our game. I will watch all three games from start to finish in order to determine the following:
- What is their tempo offensively?
- Where do the majority of their shots come from?
- How aggressively do they defend?
- Who is their “go-to” player?
- Where do I feel our team can be most successful?
As I watch for these things, I am taking general notes on a legal pad. These notes are based on the 5 factors I have listed above, however, I scribble other notes as well if I see a set run numerous times or an obvious defensive pattern that the opponent follows.
Next, I begin to tear apart the opponent’s personnel. This begins with checking box scores of previous games and see what players are strong in each of the categories, as well as determining who the usual starting line up is. I am fortunate that I have access to Synergy, where I can watch each specific player’s shot selection from any game. As I watch each player, I am adding notes to my legal pad. A general idea of what I am looking for is:
- Shot location and type (i.e. dribble penetration in the key or 3pt shots off screens)
- Dominant hand
- How often they successfully finish with the non-dominant hand
- Pet moves
- What percentage of their shots are 3s vs. 2s?
After the personnel section is complete, I then focus specifically on their offensive system. Here I am looking for the most common actions that the team runs frequently and what formations they are run out of. I note every set that is run, as well as how often it is run. If the set is not run frequently, then it will not make the report that we give the players, however, it will go to the head coach. Finding what they run and who they go to in late game is essential as well. I normally draw these sets by hand prior to adding them into FastDraw.
Lastly, I watch their defensive possessions to look for holes that we can exploit, as well as tendencies for when they run man vs. zone and so on. Additionally, I want to know how they guard baseline out of bounds so that we can properly anticipate what we want to call in the game.
Putting It All Together:
Being able to digest and organize all of the information obtained onto a scouting report is an essential skill that coaches must obtain. I generate two reports, one for our head coach , and another that we distribute to the players. The report that I give to the head coach is far more detailed than what I provide to the players. The players’ report must be organized and look professional, as well as communicate the game plan in plain and memorable language.
The first section of the report is always personnel. I split the personnel into two groups, starters, and reserves. Next to the player’s name is the following information:
- One line of their essential stats
- One sentence breakdown of their game
- Once sentence of how to guard that player
I repeat the same process for each of the reserves as well. Additionally, provide the match-ups on the report as well so that players know who they are going to guard.
After the personnel, section comes a style of play section. In this section, I use the two broad categories of offense and defense and then list some keys under each. This could look like the the following:
- 50% of the points are scored in transition
- Free flowing ball screen motion in half court
- Set plays run through players A and B specifically
- Shooting 24 FT/Game
- High-pressure man to man defense
- Pick up ball full court
- 2-3 Zone shown after TO and on BOB situations
- Lots of opportunities for us to back cut and slip to the rim
Again, it is essential that the players only know the information that will have the greatest impact on the outcomes of the game. We will supplement this section by walking through how to defend their common sets (out of our defensive philosophy) in a walk through, as well as showing some actions out of our offense that we want to utilize in order to capitalize on their style of play. I will include a few diagrams of the sets that are run most often for the players as well at the end of the report.
The final section is our keys to victory. This section will include 3-5 keys that we have been emphasizing throughout the practices leading up to the game. These keys are what we have determined to be the most essential for our team to have success. At the end of this section, we will attach a box score, as well as a sheet with their common actions listed on it.
The main objective of the player’s report is to provide the essential information in such a way that is easy to understand and generates a feeling of preparedness and confidence. It does not matter what our staff knows, what matters is what our players understand and can execute in the game. As I mentioned before, I prepare 2 reports, and the one that goes to our head coach is much more thorough than what the players receive. Additionally, some of our players crave the extra information as it helps them feel prepared, so I provide them with the coaches report if they ask as well.
In addition to the paper report, we will also show our team a video that mirrors that report. The video is constructed in the same format as the paper report. The video will begin with the personnel and show clips of how they score and their overall game, followed by video examples of style of play offensively and defensively. We will then do a meeting where we show the video to the team and go through the report with them. I have attached examples of both a paper report (both coaches report and players report) as well as the scouting video that accompanies the form.