Scouting is essentially a giant game of Jenga. You try to force your opponent into uncomfortable situations that will ultimately lead them to choose the wrong piece, sending the entire tower—their game plan—crumbling down.
Imagine how much easier Jenga would be if you had a scanner that showed the structural integrity of each block in the tower. You could view the probabilities of success associated with each potential move. That value is what video provides in scouting.
An effective video breakdown reveals your opponent’s strengths and how they like to attack, but also uncovers their weak points. This information helps you keep them out of their sweet spots and put them in uncomfortable situations.
Here are our top elements of a powerful opponent scout, with guidelines to topple the opposing strategy.
Find the Tendencies
The first thing any good scout does is identify what the opponent does best. Identify their top players, where they get their shots from and how they prefer to defend. Just ask Andre Noble, the head coach at Imhotep High School (Philadelphia, Pa.), which finished the 2016-17 season ranked No. 2 in the nation according to MaxPreps.
“First I’m looking for what they’re trying to do and what we’re going to take away,” Noble said. “That’s to me the biggest thing. We would look at the film and say, ‘This is what they’re trying to do when they run this set.’ Or, ‘When they call this, this is the formation.’ We want to give the players all that information up front. They’re not going to remember everything as the game is going on, but if they see common sets, they’re going to get familiar with it.”
Brett Norris, the head coach at Hilliard Bradley High School (Ohio), said his staff dissects each game like a football coach, searching for even the smallest tendency that could cause the opposing offense to fissure.
“We’re looking for alignments for any keys that we can gather that will help us recognize their play packaging or anything significant to the way they’re successful,” Norris said. “We’re also looking at what they do defensively and what tends to trigger their defensive packages.”
Review the First Matchup
Teams often face each other twice in a season, either in tournaments or conference play. Take advantage of this opportunity. You’ve seen exactly what your opponent wants to do, but only from the sideline.
Rewatching the first game’s video gives you a second set of eyes for the matchup. You’ll be able to clear your mind of the emotions involved in the first contest and see the game from a whole new vantage point. You’ll notice things you may have missed the first time.
“When you go back and watch the video, you see some things open up,” Bob Rickman, the head coach at Alton High School (Ill.), said. “Just the simple fact of seeing that from above as opposed to looking through the players on the sidelines makes a tremendous difference.
“One of the most valuable things for me was the ability to go back and look at that video from the previous game and see what we did, what they did, and how we can make adjustments to fix something that was giving us a problem.”
Trust the Data
The saying, “The numbers don’t lie,” may not be 100 percent true. But when stats are linked to video, they’re practically unassailable. Instead of simply looking at a list of numbers, a single click pulls up all available video associated with that stat.
“I watch a lot of video and it saves you time where, ‘This guy is averaging 18 (points), but how is he averaging 18?’” Jimmy Lallathin, head coach at St. Xavier High School (Ohio), said. “Instead of watching four or five games from beginning to end, I can just really quick refresh and go.”
Share with the Players
You can gain the greatest insights in the world, but it’s all for naught if they’re not effectively communicated with your athletes. Be careful not to overwhelm them with information. According to Noble, it’s all about finding that right balance of sharing enough without them thinking too much.
“You can’t take away everything (from an opponent),” Noble said. “You don’t want to overwhelm your team. So you look for the key emphasis points. We know things as a staff, but we try to get things down to our kids in small phrases. We don’t want them thinking about 50 things. We want them to be small, simple phrases.”
Try to keep your video sessions to 30 minutes or less—any longer and you risk losing the athletes’ attention. Another effective strategy is holding sessions with just three or four players at a time. You’ll get through the information much quicker and the athletes will benefit from more direct instruction.
Video unlocks elements of scouting you didn’t know existed. These tools allow you to view the game in a totally different way, exposing trends and tendencies you may miss if you simply scout a game live. Get a head start our free guide to basketball stats.