Apr 13, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke talks to offensive linesman Erik Magnuson (78) during the Spring Game at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Formism in Coaching -- Or Ideas Can Count -- Part II

GBMWolverine Coach's Corner2Posted at 12:00pm — 4/25/2014

Formism in Coaching — Or Ideas Can Count — Part II

Reverting back to the notion that all ventures have metaphysical, Platonic forms (ideas or knowledge to us) and observable, physical substance (athletes that smack each other around in sports competition), again note this endeavor scrutinizes the metaphysical.

PlatoPlato would not have made a good football coach since Formists believe that the reality of ideas supersedes the reality of substance. One superior linebacker with common sense and superior athletic talent could supersede Plato’s playbook, which would have been a collection of forms. Still, great athletes in the physical realm may lose to somewhat inferior athletes with a better blueprint. Just do not count on that scenario as a tried and true success recipe. In defense of the brilliant Greek, he certainly would have been a worthwhile sage to bounce ideas off of.

A large part of the population prefer Formism as a world view, and any young coach may be mandated to start with this world view, regardless of preference; there simply may be no choice. Without a knowledge base, merged with a philosophical background, there will be no advancement within the profession.

So how can Formism be described? Formism will forever be linked to Plato and his theory of thoughts and ideas as forms. Everyone has thousands of thoughts using cognitive processes daily. Having thoughts does not put one in the Formism camp. All camps think and respond. But ideas are the root of Formism, whereas Mechanists value the machine and data, the Contextualists value local knowledge and pragmatism, and finally the Organicists most value active, flowing change oriented toward the future.

To the Formist the following words become important, perhaps critical: ideas, concepts, knowledge, categories, and similarities, all of which to Plato were forms necessary to seek the ideal state. Formists explain events as a series of connected ideas, but it is the Mechanists who speak of explanations as cause and effect. To Formists the particulars and qualities of a situation take on increased significance and override machine parts and data.

Think of some recent press conferences held by head football coaches, and Formist and Mechanist thought quickly appear, perhaps even dominating the event’s substance.

Note: one difference between how events on a football field and football program are explained in the Formist and Mechanist view involves chance. With Formists chance is never dismissed as a potential part of the overall discourse of events. Mechanists do not like the potential of accepting the role of chance as a confounding variable; their desire for precision makes this difficult. An admission that chance overtook the machine-like precision of the Mechanistic world view is akin to defeat. Formists hold the strength of broad overall scope, while Mechanists value accuracy, so chance becomes an entity that can sneak in and do some dirty work. When arguments are tough to validate, or defend with pure empirical data, the defense of what happened easily can turn to the Formist collection of ideas and the acceptance that maybe something just randomly happened, even if foreseen.

Every coach and program needs underlying program philosophy, an identity, a belief system; a vision of what can be successful. Formists are hunting a solution, perhaps a universal solution, based on ideas. Formists seek perfection through the essence of their ideas, considered to be blueprints. Formists love to incorporate ideas into function. However necessary this original stage is, great ideas do not guarantee football success. Again we must venture back to the physical world and understand that ideas do not tackle people, but the form of how to tackle is a first step. But in an environment where all other contributing factors may be nearly equal, better “ideas” may pay dividends.

Apr 13, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke talks to offensive linesman Erik Magnuson (78) during the Spring Game at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Apr 13, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke talks to offensive linesman Erik Magnuson (78) during the Spring Game at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

When head coaches first land on the doorstep of employment, the Formist world view has a field day and is viewed in full splendor. Coach Hoke came to Michigan to fulfill a Formist type of mission, that of transforming a Michigan futuristic vision that mirrors the past. Changing from the Organicist view back from the future to a classic Formist view is not an everyday occurrence and is defeatist for some. The reasons for the vision change included past success, current expectations, simplicity, and an adherence to a basic form, one where assumptions can become facts, and order (read long-term tradition) and structure (read homeostasis) are highly valued. His immediate boss also has Formist tendencies, perhaps foremost defined by Brandon’s public posture not to micromanage and proudly hold on to core foundations. He seems to dismiss the strong Mechanist approach many athletic directors demonstrate. Any future firing by Brandon would not indicate a radical change of his world view, but instead a change of parts to reestablish the ideas that once fueled Michigan’s past.

So, Coach Hoke announced a vision, a list of core ideas or forms intended to reach the desired outcome. He next went after the parts to create the whole vision: that is called recruiting. Some coaches despise recruiting, the parts matter less to them: parts are parts, and while any football coach would consider the parts interrelated, due to the nature of football, some coaches are more interested in being evolutionary visionaries of change (Organists) or foundational creators (Formists). Coach Hoke explains things by a listing of events or facts, more so than cause and effect analysis, or merely routinely moving on to a bold new scheme.

Ideas are truth to Formists and Coach Hoke has been recently criticized for sharing his thoughts, none of which have any physical substance. It is what Formists do. Contextualists are upset with Coach Hoke positing the position that such thought can be fodder for opponents. Contextualists rely on common sense and pragmatism and doing what works becomes a method of truth. Coach Hoke has been criticized for not being precise enough to link every cause and effect scenario with winning and losing. Mechanists would perhaps favor such a machine-like, data driven, empirical conclusion type of approach, but instead Coach Hoke spoke in a series of linked ideas, a Formist approach. He did not issue blame for others to be ground up in the cause and effect cycle of failure. Now that Coach Hoke addressed leadership and other issues by taking some blame, and noting cause and effect, he is again being criticized. Let us go back to one of Pepper’s basic precepts: that confusing world views leads to problems and confusion. That appears to be the EXACT scenario occurring presently.

Dec 28, 2013; Tempe, AZ, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke in the second half against the Kansas State Wildcats during the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium. Kansas State defeated Michigan 31-14. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 28, 2013; Tempe, AZ, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke in the second half against the Kansas State Wildcats during the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium. Kansas State defeated Michigan 31-14. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As a likely Formist, Coach Hoke is successful in utilizing his world view. While he never has portrayed himself as an ultra-bright in the Plato mold, Coach Hoke has successfully delineated ideas, forms, expectations, and he knows that the infinite known as Michigan football has a mass of recognizable characteristics that any Formist would want to be replicated over and over and over: until the desired replication is achieved. Then continue the success over and over again.

Coach Hoke wants Michigan football to be a recognizable form, one that goes past physical substance. Like any Formist, he wants all to hold a vision of this entity with agreed upon and firm characteristics, a truly difficult task. To a Formist this may be more important than the systematic organization of precision that Mechanists seek: but Formists may not gleefully execute precision, even though preaching the values and benefits of management skills. It is when Formists integrate all of the ideas (forms) into a logical system that they tend to resemble the Mechanists. Every football coach, due to the large task and multiple related parts, must take ideas and systematically make a mechanized machine. Formists think of ideas being bridged together while Mechanists desire a machine where the parts are defined as totally independent, but in football they are not. Even severe Mechanists cannot accept the world view that in football the parts are not related. Last year, Michigan demonstrated a team where the parts never did become interrelated and function as a machine. This was problematical and remains so to this day. Only noted improvements will quell all world view criticism.

Is Coach Hoke more of a Formist or a Mechanist? He certainly has traits of a Formist that appear to be by choice: go back and listen to some press conferences. And as a football coach he has little choice but to turn ideas into functioning parts of a successful machine, regardless if Formism is a personal preference. He has attempted some pragmatism with staff reorganization. He has left the Organicist function up to the two coordinators, guys who have shown very high synthetic ability in the past.

Next up is the third part of the series that examines the role of Mechanism in the art and science of coaching.

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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — Dan Keller

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