Thinking from first principles is breaking down complicated problems into basic elements and then reassemble them from the ground up.
Elon Musk has brought much attention to this idea of thinking from first principles. I first heard about thinking in first principles when Musk was interviewed by Kevin Rose.
In 2002 he wanted to send the first person to Mars. Musk encountered problems right away, namely, he discovered the cost of purchasing a rocket was insanely expensive—up to $65 million.
Given the high price, he began to rethink the problem. As Musk tells Kevin Rose, “So I said, okay, let’s look at the first principles. What is a rocket made of? Aerospace-grade aluminum alloys, plus some titanium, copper, and carbon fiber. Then I asked, what is the value of those materials on the commodity market? It turned out that the materials cost of a rocket was around two percent of the typical price.”
How does this apply to coaches? Glad you asked.
Have you ever asked yourself why you do what you do at practice (or any other aspect of your program)? We often have a practice format that we learned from someone we played for or coached for. Then along the way we tweak a thing here or there (sometimes add, sometimes subtract).
I want to challenge you to think from first principles.
First, tear everything down that you have ever known or believed about practice.
Start from scratch. Have zero assumptions.
Then ask the question “What elements have to be present in a practice to help our athletes perform at a high level?”
The key is to start from scratch.
Too often we are doing things at practice or during a pre-game because ‘that is what we have always done.’
The Whole Program
This off-season, spend some time thinking from first principles. After you review your practice schedule, review recruiting. Then look at what you are doing to develop leaders…what about building culture…off-season skill work, strength and conditioning, the mental side of the game, etc.
Keep tearing down things and building back up from first principles until you have worked through your whole program.