Is There Really A Problem With 'Pitino-Speak'?

Anyone can argue any 1-point loss (such as UL's loss to Morehead) as being attributable to a number of reasons. Right or wrong, anyone can debate a failed shot block, a key player going down, missed free throws, etc, as 'the reason' for the loss. There's nothing wrong with having, stating, defending or debating such an opinion.

One can also argue that UL would have gone far in last year's Big Dance if Preston hadn't gotten hurt. This train of thought is also plausible and defensible given the context of last year's squad's consistent over-achievement and stunning comebacks.

These 2 snippets of conversation actually occurred with Coach Pitino. They had nothing to do with each other; they occurred at different times in different contexts. Each snippet stood on its own merits. Yet, a fan recently complained that this is Pitino being a hypocrite.

This touches one of my former professions related to communication, so after the jump comes a long post. I submit it in the humble hope it will light up a pathway for anyone interested to improve communication and listening skills. And not just with regard to Rick Pitino.

The above to me illustrates one of the problems digesting what [any coach or] Rick [or anyone else] says throughout a season [or throughout life].

There are times when statements should be kept in context of the topic at hand - and times not. Reporters and journalists aren't always savvy when to do so, let alone how to. Also, Rick isn't from the south. He unquestionably has a Yankee accent and speech habits. His communication style is more direct and blunt than a Kentuckian's. These small differences can lead to some misunderstanding, but there are many more factors at play.

Each year, from preseason to postseason, players and programs experience change. Health, morale, motivation, performance, execution, ability are all factors that change for each and every player. They change from season to season and from one game to the next. Consistency and stability are a luxury rarely given by Lady Luck to any program. This largely explains the rarity of (and time elapsed since) a perfect season such as the last by Indiana in 1976.

Considering there is also change-commotion at macro levels (i.e. conference and NCAA), this much is clear: Coaches must navigate an ever-shifting and unpredictable series of changes to even give their program a chance to succeed. It should be concluded that program success is based less on how well coaches plan life, and more on how well coaches overcome its obstacles.

Each year, from preseason to postseason, coaches execute hundreds of communication sessions in pre- post-game comments, interviews, shows and other engagements. That sounds like a lot of communicating, but it's not; not as a percentage of time they spend on the program.

If you could measure all time spent on team practice, game time, individual workouts, individual drills, tape review, staff meetings, staff planning, game planning, recruiting visits, getting a knee operated on, visiting Miss Hawaii, communications, and all other basketball program related activities, the percentage of time spent on communications-fans-see is probably ~2%. Yet we fans wish to, and try to, understand 100% of our program and its coach from the 2% of it spent communicating. That's not gonna work. There will always be gaps.

And what does it mean to communicate, anyway?

In my American military interrogator training I was taught techniques to induce people to talk and techniques to corroborate or refute what they said. Then I was taught a foreign language in which to perform interrogation. Much later came what I now believe was a pivotal piece of learning for me: an Israeli interrogation course. It focused on deviations of native languages such as colloquialisms, dialect, slang, paralinguil signs, etc., and how to analyze those for further information. It was a mix of (what is today referred to as) Discourse Analysis and Conversation Analysis, mixed with some additive criminal and detective science. Language deviations have been around since Adam spoke. Language deviations are not evil by nature, however they are pitfalls which often lead to misunderstanding. Even in sub groupings of people there is variance in how language deviations are used. In turn, that makes it all the more probable the [intended] message will be perceived in numerous ways.

Indeed, 2012 Darrell Griffith knows what a 'sick dunk' means, but 1979 Darrell Griffith would have either been confused or suspected that was an insult. If we were in Italy, see (Stripes reference), a 'sick dunk' never made any sense to players there. Nor have the Germans ever called anything awesome 'cool'. Think about it. We all do it. We say things that literally mean something else (i.e. idioms, sarcasm), yet we expect others to understand exactly what our true meaning is. I don't recall one yet, but I'm willing to wager Mike's reputation that there is at least one funny Cardinal story about a player saying something slang or sarcastic to Gorgui and getting some nonsensical-because-he-was-literal response. So there are those pitfalls, and don't even get me started on the impact of improper grammar.

Communications pitfalls challenge everyone: yourself, Pitino, Obama and even the Prophets. It is the root of why there are so many versions of The Bible. Communications pitfalls also greatly exacerbate the rhetoric and intensity of discourse in internet message forums.

Misinterpretation and misunderstanding increase in direct correlation to the frequency of communication, the diversity of the listeners, the amount of information, and the level and frequency of change to that information.

The point is that noone responsible for frequent communication (such as NCAAB coaches) to a lot of passionately interested people (such as fans) will avoid all the pitfalls of language deviations. There will always be misinterpretation and misunderstanding. There will always be some recipients getting the intended message, some an unintended message, and some simply confused. ADs know that, and that is why communication is [attempted to be] managed. Knowing how to communicate better does not guarantee you will successfully convey your message. Improvement can be had when one person makes effort, but it is improved the most when treated as a two-way street.

One commonly taught technique in civilian and business communication courses is to "repeat the message back in your own words", not unlike military cypher code recipients are taught specific methodologies for confirmation.
Sometimes you might think you understood the message correctly when you really didn't--and even the communicator isn't aware you didn't. However even as the listener, you can initiate such methods.. "Here's what I think you just told me...<say it back to them>; is that right?"

From another of my professions comes a more reconizable aconym: RTM. "Read The Manual." It's what some of us techies would often say to another when being asked a question about how some widget is supposed to work. It's a shorter way of saying "stop making noise (RTFM) and being confused, and go carefully re-read it and make sure you comprehend all that was written/said."

So we know we have an imperfect communicator and are ourselves imperfect listeners. Whatever truth there is that 'Rick spins' clearly will increase misunderstanding in addition to the above pitfalls--even if he does sometimes motivate a player while doing so.

Reading too much into comments or mistakenly putting the wrong puzzle pieces together wouldn't be a bad thing if it didn't escalate into rants, insults and over-the-top conclusions--but unfortunately it does. A lot. So much so that we're still having a flap about one comment when more 'controversial' comments are made. Herd instincts start taking effect, 'hate' increases and posses form, and some guy in the back throws rope over a tree branch.

What does this mean for Cardinal fans? We certainly won't get more communication time.

We can choose to continue wasting [too much] time chewing on 'spin' and hating. Or we can choose to redirect more of that negative energy on positive support of the students and staff for whom our fanhood exists to begin with. And inspiring others to do the same. I believe Cardinal fan life would be much better if we did.

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