I thought I would take a break today from yelling at you or telling you how to live your life to talk about basketball. Enjoy the break. I’m sure I’ll return to being profoundly disappointed in something you are doing soon enough.

What follows is the direct result of two conversations I had in November. The first, with my cousin, Brian. The second, with my brother. I started this post then, but sat it aside, as I wasn’t sure how to finish it.

The first conversation took place over the Thanksgiving holiday, and is more than a little fuzzy, so I hope that Brian will jump into the comment thread and help me in any place where I have strayed too far. The part that stuck in my head was a comment he made about having a Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for basketball. He, I’m sure, can provide you with more context as to his thought process.

The second conversation took place via iChat during the TCU game. My brother was saying that we had not developed at the rate he had hoped for this year, and was citing our inability or lack of effort to get the ball inside, but rather to settle for swinging the ball from side to side.

I began to defend our progress to this point in the season and during my defense the idea of Maslow came back to me. For those not familiar with Maslow, please look here. In short, his claim to fame is a pyramidal structure that identifies what motivates human behavior, called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. They explain it better than I could, so please go check it out if you need to know more.

I have taken two of his ideas and made something that relates to basketball. 1.) Arranging things in a pyramid shape. And 2.) In his Hierarchy of Needs, people either do not, or are not capable of trying fulfill higher level needs until they have satisfied lower level needs, e.g. It’s hard to worry about your self-esteem issues if you haven’t eaten in a week. You must be fed and clothed before you can seek safety, before you can seek social interactions, before you can worry about how you feel about yourself, etc.

My hierarchy doesn’t hold to that exactly, but the basic idea remains.

As we sit here in the midst of a nine game losing streak, I find my reserve tank of optimism is running low. It’s desperately important for this team to get a win soon, if just to have their work in practice rewarded.

But while we wait for that, it’s helpful to have something concrete to look at so as to gauge our actual improvement. It is with that in mind that I present this basketball hierarchy.

The lowest level of the pyramid is the stuff that is easiest to come by.

Taylor’s Hierarchy of Basketball Needs

Effort and Toughness are things a player can learn and bring to practice almost from the start. Sometimes toughness takes a while to develop, but it is certainly possible to have effort and toughness before you have any of the other levels of the pyramid, and without effort you are never going to develop any of the others. This includes a willingness to work hard in practice, take charges and get on the ground after loose balls. It also includes communication. Everyone can talk, except mutes. Sorry Nell.

Defensive Fundamentals. Anyone who has ever been around kids playing basketball can attest to the fact that it’s hard for kids to learn how to play offense. Most 3rd and 4th grade games are played safely in the single digits. It’s much easier to teach them to play defense. This is still true at upper levels of play. You may not always shoot the ball well, but you can always play hard defense. But this stuff is harder to learn and do well than just trying. This includes footwork, positioning, on-ball defense, playing the help line and boxing out.

Offensive Fundamentals. The offense has to be worked on at the same time as the defense, but a lot of this stuff takes longer to get right. I know peole who play terrific defense but should never, under any circumstances be allowed to dribble or shoot. “Strap, in for Everett. Don’t shoot the ball unless you’re under the basket all by yourself!” This includes shooting, passing, and setting screens.

Situational Awareness. If you can pass, shoot, set screens, guard the ball, move your feet and play help side defense you have the ability to play basketball, but without the knowledge of how the game works and what needs to happen on a possession by possession basis, you will not find much success. This area includes knowing what needs to be done by us and what is likely to be done by them.

Recognition. Once you can perform the basics, and understand the game you need to be able to put that into use, which is where recognition comes in. It goes beyond awareness. And once you are recognizing and executing you are finally a good basketball team. This includes shot selection, proper lines, how to get open, and how to find an open teammate.

So the question we should all be asking ourselves on a daily basis is how are we doing in these areas. This is a good way to see if we are improving or not. If we are making most of our mistakes in the first three levels of the pyramid that should be cause for concern, but if we’re playing pretty consistently in those areas and showing improvement, while still struggling with awareness and recognition, that is something else entirely.

So, what do you think? Are our problems still lower tier problems, or are our problems with situational awareness and recognition causing our problems?

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