Coaching Football — A Peppered Profession
Peppered Football — An Introduction
Each year, the author and GBMWolverine present a scholarly series that seeks to further sports knowledge based on intellectual theory and associated applications toward athletic competition and performance. Past ventures are located in the archives and include “The Other Ninety-Percent,” a series about the mental aspects of sports, Coaching: A Treatise for the Fascinated,” and “Leadership.”
This current venture, Peppered Football, is unusual but seeks to further define, almost in a microcosmic fashion, the fateful decisions and accompanying underlying philosophical groundwork that coaches must make and undertake. Coaches are not the only professionals that deal with such enigmas: the underlying theory relates to the preferences and decision making of all mankind.
The primary theoretical pin becomes the work of philosopher Stephen Pepper, who in 1942 wrote a revolutionary work entitled World Hypotheses. As time has passed, Pepper’s theory has gained support and has flowed from the metaphysical world of pure theoretical philosophy to the real world of business, management, sociology, and psychology. To the author’s knowledge, Pepper’s theory has never been applied to football management.
But the guarantee here is that if certain folks hunting for that one small advantage would pursue an understanding of Pepper’s theory, the worst outcome could be a much better understanding of beliefs and decision making. So, in some small manner, this series is also revolutionary in taking metaphysical into coaching’s realm.
The work contains five parts: (1) an introduction to Pepper’s world views; (2) a discussion and analysis of the Formist world view; (3) a discussion and analysis of the Mechanist world view; (4) a discussion and analysis of the Contextualist world view, and (5) finally a discussion and analysis of the Organicist world view.
This series will be more than helpful in gaining knowledge about how world views meld thought processes and decision making within a football program, or, similarly, for countless other human ventures. Lately, there has been a magnitude of complaint and second guessing concerning the Michigan coaching staff among the non-practitioners of football coaching, frequently referred to as armchair quarterbacks. This compilation of scholarship seeks to neither condemn nor commend the direction and decisions of the athletic staff. The sole purpose is to inform intelligently about how decisions are made due to world views that have existed for centuries. Pepper’s theory is perhaps the best and most precise mechanism to obtain this aim.
Be aware, be very aware, that the writing substance is metaphysical in nature and does not speak at length to the physical (real), substantive world of football. Metaphysical as a realm is much more valuable in winning chess games. Football is a physical game, but is not immune to the influence of the metaphysical world, unless one holds the assumption that brute force and talent automatically trump all other football precepts. Simple mind games between opponents may be the oldest documented evidence of metaphysical awareness in sports competition. Still, understand that Pepper’s world views can be used to explain program direction, preference for schemes, and, to a lesser degree, final results.
Also be aware that world views essentially do not much play into the number one ingredient for higher level football success: the amount of pure physical talent needed to compete and provide an edge that enhances, but does not guarantee, victory.
World views can much better explain the number two ingredient for football success touched upon in the previous paragraph, the genesis and execution of program philosophy that includes, among many tenets, organization, management strategies, flexibility, and vision. Examples will be given pertaining to the current program, but any comment or analysis is meant to be historical and not critical.
Before proceeding to the football related discourse, a simple summary of Pepper’s World Hypotheses will be presented. This is not an easy task, but to really grab football and its relationship to the metaphysical world, background knowledge is necessary.
Pepper posited that only four world hypotheses, described as adequate, have survived the span of human history through the support of their underlying foundations. These are the world views (also called world hypotheses) of Formism, Mechanism, Contextualism, and Organicism. They are not to be viewed as competing world views according to Pepper; all have strengths and all have weaknesses; some are linked together and some are more polar opposites in design. Each has a sole purpose, keeping with the historical nature of philosophy, namely to seek truth. But what is truth to one viewpoint may not sit well with another viewpoint. So, as a reader, you may be thinking can this cause conflict and disorganization? Pepper may have disagreed, but many recent scholars that have advanced Pepper’s theory would say yes.
Pepper insisted that all world views be considered equal, regardless of personal preference. He also stated that being conflicted in choice of world view was a dangerous undertaking that leads to confusion. That is to say, we all have a world view and moving back and forth creates bad results. That phenomenon has been present in many sports programs and personal decisions throughout history.
The first two world views, Formism and Mechanism, are analytical. The second pairing, Contextualism and Organicism, are synthetic. The strength of Formism and Contextualism is scope, seeing the entire picture and all the related (bridged) constructs. The strength of Mechanism and Organicism is precision.
The overriding problem is that a football staff needs at one time or another to deal with and undertake multiple world views, since football teams are by necessity linked to ideas, notions, schemes, anything related to knowledge (Formism); are measured by statistics and thought of as machines with independent parts (Mechanism). Disregarding the physical (raw athleticism needed for football success), and remaining within the metaphysical, coaches must also delve into the world views of the synthetic world theories (Contextualism and Organicism) where pragmatism, adaptability, and above all else local knowledge confirmed by common sense, outweighs pure theoretical ideas in pursuing results.
Perhaps the best example of a coach who delved successfully into the four world views is Paul Brown. He was revolutionary; he was everything. Paul Brown originated ideas, facts, and concepts that became the knowledge base of football. He was methodical and indeed did make decisions based on available data; he valued the machine concept of football. Brown also was a successful proponent of synthetic world views as he could quickly adapt through common sense realizations and let his philosophy of football coaching organically change as needed.
Part two starts a look at the metaphysics of football from a Formism viewpoint and makes conclusions about how well Michigan has undertaken this world view. The approach will be one of interpreting stages of development. But be forewarned, this task is not simple and is reliant upon limited empirical observation, a revelation that already would upset the Mechanists among our midst.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — Dan Keller
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