Hello everybody, it’s Matt again, chronicling my journey to (hopefully) becoming a basketball coach.
Many times, “We’re not looking for a graphics guy,” or “you do not have enough video experience” is the first thing I hear when looking for jobs in the basketball industry. Often, I am applying for video operations positions that require the ability to break down basketball film and understand offensive and defensive concepts. The interesting thing is, I have about seven years worth of experience working basketball film. So, why do people only see me as a “graphics guy?”
Of course, I dabble in graphics, (or “edits” as the young folk call them) that are used in the recruitment process. Graphics are a great way to visualize recruiting pitches, showcase positive things about your school, or even just provide some entertaining medium that is personalized for a prospect that shows you as a basketball program are thinking about them.
Yes, I can make graphics, but it isn’t the only part of my skillset.
Even at that, I don’t like to think of myself as a “graphics guy.” I like to think of myself as “a person that cares about his players, loves and knows the game of basketball, treats people well, willing to sacrifice himself for the better of a team, and happens to have the ability to help out with graphics.
That being said, if you become known for something, that can become your identity, and that can cause people to overlook other skills or abilities you may possess. Even though I have over seven years experience working with film, and worked countless basketball camps coaching basketball players of all ages, the answer I seem to usually get is “we aren’t looking for a graphics guy.”
That perception of “graphics” guy is potentially a reality. When you become known for something, or you try to form a niche in the job market, it can backfire. Rather than be seen as “look at this video guy/coach who happens to have an extra skill,” it becomes “this guy is a graphics guy applying for a basketball operations position.”
So, how does one try to shed that label? I believe that it is necessary to create publishable work that allows people to see other parts of your basketball identity to showcase versatility. One of the places where I went wrong is that while I studied the game in a variety of ways while working on my graphics skills, the only publishable skills I showcased were my graphics skills. When going into a job interview, those tangibles are very important to showcase what you are able to do.
So, this year, I put a lot of work into developing a basketball analytics manual to add another element to my basketball portfolio. As basketball becomes a more numbers-oriented game, it is imperative to not only understand advanced analytics numbers, but also know how to translate the raw data into something consumable to both coaching staffs and players.
This is the Table of Contents for my KenPom analytics guide, diversifying my basketball portfolio.
That is partially where my master’s degree (currently in progress) in organizational communication will come in. Thanks to Dr. Gail Fairhurst’s wonderful class on organizational communication and leadership at University of Cincinnati, as well as Tsoukas’ enlightening 2011 piece, I learned about the concepts of synoptic, cultural, and improvisational knowledge, as well as the gap in knowledge that occurs when running into a situation that we perhaps have never seen before.
Synoptic knowledge is knowledge that is written down, or represented in some form of abstraction (such as video.) In basketball, many of that “written down” knowledge are advanced stats or film. If one has access to synoptic knowledge, but no “cultural knowledge,” or knowledge of how to use the knowledge in their specific industry, then that synoptic knowledge is useless.
When encountering something that perhaps is not planned for, or there isn’t a set of directions on how to deal with a situation, we use “improvisational” knowledge, or the use of synoptic and cultural knowledge to extend what we know into the unknown. The amount we extend said knowledge is known as the “pharonetic gap.” The larger the gap, the larger the margin for error.
So, the goal is to reduce that gap, and reduce that chance for error by increasing understanding among all individuals in an organization. That is where communication comes in, and how it can be useful to have a person that can take complex synoptic knowledge, like advanced stats, and use that cultural knowledge translate those advanced stats into terms and concepts of shared knowledge, thus increasing shared knowledge among players and staffs, and reducing the phronetic gap.
But, going back to the idea of knowing how to do that, and showing it as a hirable skill are two different areas. In a way, the cultural knowledge has to be backed up with synoptic knowledge, which will decrease the phronetic gap among potential employers. That is why I am writing this analytics guide. I wish to decrease the phronetic gap in my job interviews. That is what publishable work can do for you. It provides concrete data for you to use in job interviews, and the ability to back it up with cultural knowledge in job interviews allows you to be an even more robust candidate.
One thing I realize I haven’t done enough is provide tangible video clips of breaking down basketball plays. While I may have cultural knowledge of how an offense and defense works, I do not have enough of that synoptic evidence to give employers reason to believe I know my stuff. So, this year, I am going to do my best to provide more tangible breakdowns of offenses and defenses.
That may be tough, since doing so effectively often requires software that teams have (such as SportsCode and FastModel), but I cannot afford. However, that is no excuse for me to not be able to put something out there to showcase work. Once again, it is important to have that synoptic knowledge that employers can physically see, something that can get you into that front door.
Wrapping things up, it can be difficult to fight off perceptions, even if they appear to be positive perceptions in order to break into the industry you wish to break in. Branding yourself as the “graphics guy” can backfire, as employers may see you as that and only that, rather than somebody with a diverse set of skills, including one in a niche that not many basketball coaches are skilled in.
Utilizing synoptic knowledge in conjunction with cultural knowledge is vital in shortening the phrenetic gap that can keep us from having mutual understanding. The way you see yourself may not be the way an employer sees you, so it is important to brand yourself in a way that not only showcases your diverse skillset, but also keeps you from being seen as a “one trick pony.”
Tsoukas, H. (2011). Representations, Signification, Improvisation—A three-dimensional view of organizational knowledge. In H.E. Canary & R.D. McPhee (Eds.) Communication and organizational knowledge: Contemporary issues for theory and practice. New York: Routledge, p. x-xix