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Perspective: by Jerry Pyle
It was a pretty good week for Cobber sports. The Lady Cobbers remained undefeated in winning the Midland Basketball Tournament. The Hockey team took second in the MIAC tourney and looks strong again.
But with the emergence of winter sports came a renewal of the war by good coaches against statistics and their corrupting influence.
The ritual of fall, in which football coaches cry for recognition of offensive lines or blocking backs, is fading. It's now the basketball and hockey coaches' turn to fight the focus on leading scorers. And it's a fun battle to watch.
Fans and sports writers and players, along with many coaches, love the comparisons which statistics allow. But good coaches think most statistics are about as useful as keeping score at a ballet. All the parts of a team's effort are so intertwined that who scores and who rebounds is no more important than who sets a good pick or serves as a convincing decoy. A player's, or even a team's, pursuit of some statistical goal is almost always a detriment to that team's play.
Red Auerbach, the Celtics' coach through countless NBA championship seasons, proudly says that he never negotiated a player's contract on the basis of statistics. Freethrows, maybe. That is an ideal in evaluating players that perhaps even Auerbach did not fully achieve. But it is clearly worth pursuing. In any conversation about a career, or a year, the basketball player, for example, knows that the question about points per game comes right after that famous first question, "Did-you-start?"
It is unfortunate that relatively few sports fans get to know a game well enough to see beyond the stats. Watching the pieces come together which make for effective scoring or big yardage or defensive effectiveness is one of the most enjoyable parts of coaching. A lot of sports writers know the games they cover that well. But pieces on offensive tackles or hockey defensemen or basketball point guards tend to sound like fluff stories about people who could not make it as stars. Trying to quantify the unmeasurable.
Although nearly every coach, regardless of the sport, suffers the frustration of the players' and the public's statistical fixation, basketball stats have to rank high in the list of sports where stats-don't-tell-the-story. Ponder some of these problems for a basketball coach. The "stars" are the scoring and rebounding leaders. Trying to get players to accept their valuable role as defensive stoppers, pickers, secondary rebounders or even passing artists flies in the face of the public's focus on scoring leaders. Scoring leaders who take a host of forced shots each night are only ever-so-gently, if ever, chastised by the press.
A dumb shot is not treated in the stats like a turnover but it should be. A point guard looking to pad his or her assist stats ignores the pass-to-set-up-an-assist because there is no recognition for that pass in basketball stats. A rebounder who abandons other defensive obligations to hang around the basket often looks good in the stats while the opposition scores at will.
(No, I'm not done whining yet.)
Good defenses get little statistical credit when they make the opposition look bad. The losing coach just writes it off to his or her team having a bad night. Making another team look like they are off their game is usually the result of a great defensive effort.
Good coaches have a way of getting through to players the fact that there are very few stats which tell an accurate picture of the game besides who won the game. You'll usually see the coaches who succeed at this task picking up championship trophies at the end of the year. Those who don't spend a lot of time telling you that if they just had a few more players to support their leading rebounder and scorer...
(p.s. Stats on the leading Cobber basketball and hockey scorers can be found throughout this press release.)
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