Rules vs. Standards

Editor’s Note from Brian: This article was written by a basketball coach, but I feel that the principles are applicable to coaching any sport.

This article was contributed by:

Justin Matthew Brandt
Here is a link to his YouTube channel

I have been asked on multiple occasions on what my rules for my classroom or team are. My response is always the same, we do not have rules, we have standards. From reasoning to prescription practices, you will be able to decide for yourself which one is actually more beneficial after digesting the information provided below.

There are major differences between the two terms, even in their simplest of forms, the definitions. Provided below are the results for the two words if you were to search for them on Google.

Rule – one of a set of explicit or understood regulations or principles governing conduct within a particular activity or sphere.

Standard – a level of quality or attainment. An idea or thing used as a measure, norm or model in comparative evaluations.

By definition alone you can see that rules are very forceful and demeaning. In fact, if you were to reference a thesaurus for synonyms for words used in the definition, you would also find words such as “command”, “controlling” and “dominant”. Individuals are forced to bow DOWN and abide by a set of rules they may not even agree with. On the contrary, if you did a similar search for standards you would find words such as “character”, “individuality”, “genius”, and “virtue”. In this case, individuals rise UP in the situation to increase their likelihood of success. Thus, by definition alone, rules are negative, while standards are positive.

During an interview, Coach Mike Krzyzewski once described his reasoning for use of standards instead of rules by stating…

“When I was at West Point, we had a bunch of rules, all of which I didn’t agree with. Usually when you’re ruled, you never agree with all the rules, you just abide by them. But if you have standards and if everyone contributes to the way you’re going to do things, you end up owning how you do things.”

Take a moment to reflect upon this statement with the provided example. You are abiding by the rules just because it’s what you are supposed to do. So instead of running the floor with reasoning, maybe because the team you are playing against enjoys slowing the pace, you jog because it’s January and you are tired of running due to the rule. Or, my favorite, for the purpose of “because I said so”. Sound familiar?
Unfortunately, the reasoning provided above is far from being bizarre or a foreign concept. Knowing the why is the first step to buying into anything! You rarely spend your money on products without any reasoning behind it, why would you spend your time, something that has no return policy, on buying into a rule that makes no sense to you?

I’ll answer this one for you…you wouldn’t! What makes you think that your athletes will? Here are the positives and the negatives of changing this ONE statement. Negatives, you are no longer able to be lazy and some of your views that you thought were good, may actually reveal themselves to be bad. Positives, you and everyone else involved will gain perspective and reasoning, you will work harder, you will increase your program’s comprehension and you will eliminate bad habits/mentalities that were potentially holding you back. All by simply providing reasoning and answering the why.

While knowing the why is the first step when it comes to buying into anything, that does not mean it stops after day one. You will have to continue to reinforce the why on a regular basis. Your standards should also be relevant, realistic, have background data to support them, be developing and have consequences.

Relevant. The easiest way to make standards relevant is to gain input from your athletes. It is very easy to look up standards from other great teams and attempt to implement them. However, as Coach K said before in his interview, “if everyone contributes to the way you’re going to do things, you end up owning how you do things.” Ownership cannot be understated. When people don’t live up to the standards that they put into place, you can hold them accountable for both the decision they made to set the standard and the decision they made to not live up to it. Coaches, support staff and athletes alike.

Realistic and Background Data. I put these two in the same section because they work harmoniously. Your standards must be realistic for your players to live up to. If your team is young and struggling with turnovers, don’t set your standard to zero turnovers. It’s unrealistic to expect someone to go from 10 turnovers in a game to none. You wouldn’t expect a beginner weightlifter to squat two and half times their body weight, so why should your basketball player be any different? With that, you must provide some background data not only to hold them accountable, but to provide them with a standard to live up to.

The best example I can provide is drill work. One drill we do consists of athletes getting two jump shots and a lay-up in during one trip down the floor. It is a continuous transition drill that lasts three minutes long. Each year our standard is set by the numbers they achieve while running through the drill. If they don’t live up to the standards there is a consequence. The JV players and Varsity players have different standards. However, they are given the standards that are used for local collegiate programs as well. This leads into developing.

Developing. Once your players reach the standard consistently, it is time to raise the bar. In doing so, you promote a growth environment as opposed to a simple living at status quo. But remember to keep it realistic. What does that look like? If your team’s standard for “shooting drill A” is 13 and they reach 15, then the new standard is 15. If your squat workout this week is 3×10 at 200lbs, next week it’s 4×10 at 200lbs or 3×10 at 205lbs.

Consequences. While it is the least favorite portion of most people’s programs, consequences are essential to growth. You can talk goals, rules or standards until you’re blue in the face, but if there’s nothing there to hold you accountable afterwards, the majority of the population will continue to come up short. However, like your standards, make sure that your consequences are realistic and appropriate. The days where coaches make their student athletes run 30 suicides because they missed one free throw should be long gone. ESPECIALLY, if you have a coaching philosophy of running and scoring in transition. By punishing athletes with running, they associate running with a negative consequence. Do not make punishments as you go, have them predetermined, this way your emotions from the situation don’t dictate what happens in the moment.

The quick summary… Standards are instinctively more positive than rules. Rules encompass negative connotations and empower the coach/supervisor while standards inspire everyone in the program to contribute/grow their level of excellency. In order to set standards, you should be able to answer the why, make them relevant, realistic, have background data to support your standards, make sure they are always developing and growing and you MUST inforce consequences. The question you have to ask of yourself, staff and athletes now is, what standards do you want to set in order to raise your level of excellency?

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