by Guest Author - Mindy Saunders on November 18th, 2009

Interview: Flip Saunders

The following interview was conducted by Mindy Saunders, a student in Bruce Moorhouse’s Strategic Communication Campaigns Course in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Minnesota.

Phillip “Flip” Saunders is currently the head coach of the NBA’s Washington Wizards. He previously coached the Detroit Pistons and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

In this interview Mindy Saunders asks her father, Flip Saunders, about a new communication tool he has introduced to the players and coaches of the Wizards. This tool provides a unique look at the players, the game of basketball—and as we’ll see—the way the players see themselves on and off the court.

MS=Mindy Saunders
FS= Flip Saunders

MS: Thanks for joining us, Flip!
FS: It’s my pleasure.

MS: I saw in a recent article that your team has been using a new communication tool. We would say this tool creates a Metalife phenomenon, as the tool integrates with the iPhone and iPod.
FS: Oh yeah, this has generated a lot of buzz. I must ask, what do you mean by a Metalife phenomenon?

MS: Metalife is the life we live in response to the communication tools we use. Everyone has a Metalife, but they are usually not aware of this. These communication tools unconsciously alter our relationships, decisions and ways in which we live our lives.
FS: OK, interesting! I think I see where you are going with this.


Flip Saunders, Flickr, Keith Allison, Creative Commons license.


MS: Now that you have a little background on Metalife, could you explain the communication tool that you and your staff have created?
FS: The communication tool that we use has many different features. It is an electronic playbook, but this tool gives the players more than just written plays with x and o’s. It now can incorporate video as well. The players can stop, pause, slow motion, rewind etc. It really gives them a chance to sit back and learn the plays. Another feature that this application gives us is the ability to customize plays and film to each individual player. We can send the defensive plays to those on defense and the offensive plays to those on offense. If players have questions on plays, they can instantly contact us and request more information or request film. Another part of this app that I love is the scouting reports. We can produce scouting reports on opposing teams, including written plays and videos, and upload them to this application to share. The application is constantly updated. We update practices, meetings, events, news, everything! Again, this also allows the players to send responses back, as well as request tapes and meetings. I love the two-way conversations, but I’m looking forward to the use of videoconferences through the phone eventually.

MS: So, are you saying then that this communication tool, this electronic playbook, actually enabled two-way communication? Conversations that might not have happened before?


Game Time Concepts dashboard

Game Time Concepts dashboard


FS: There have always been conversations, but now they are more interactive and time-efficient conversations. This can be done almost instantaneously rather than sitting down and going over it days or weeks later. The great thing about this is the total access, which makes it successful and very effective. I’ll illustrate what I mean with an example. Before we had cellular phones, we could always talk, but we had to wait to reach a landline, but when cellular phones came about, we could call from almost anywhere. It sped up the flow of information.

MS: I see. That is a very useful comparison. So, what gave you the idea to implement this new application?
FS: The biggest factor is all the changes in society. Our world has become very interactive, and with the explosion of communication tools, it seemed almost necessary! From a coaching standpoint, not all the players can learn by showing them on the floor. Everyone has a different learning style. It is my job to uncover what’s best for each individual; what gets through to each player.

MS: So, this application served as a collaborative way to combine all the different learning styles?
FS: Exactly! Some need visuals, while others need to learn through plays. Some players make requests for film of themselves, so they can watch and learn from their mistakes and triumphs. What is also nice is that this application gives the players and staff 24/7-access. There is a 24/7 two-way communication flow. This allows for quick and timely responses, which is something that needs to happen in this fast-paced industry.

MS: So let’s put this on pause for a second and review. What you’re saying, I think, is that this tool—like videotape before it—takes the game apart, slices and dices it. But the difference here is … it takes the game apart individually, right? It’s like … if there are 15 players on your team, there are 15 individual games going on?
FS: Yes, what it does is it takes a part the game and lets players watch video and look at those plays that are beneficial to them. For example Gilbert Arenas can get a tape of all the pick and rolls to practice, but to other players this may not be necessary. The application is tailored and synchronized to each player. It’s a great teaching tool to allow efficiency, customization and accessibility.

MS: So does this 24/7 access create a sensation of working, even when you’re not working? It seems that today with communication tools, people are given the ability to bring work home and you never stop.
FS: Definitely, but that is the great thing. It allows us to be “working” 24/7, but not have to be present in the same place. This is a great thing for me, especially with having my family in Minnesota; I want to have the chance to see them as much as I can. With this tool, I can be at work, while being in Minnesota. It enables me to have a more efficient flow of information in an organized and timely manner.

MS: That’s great! So do you see this 24/7-access communication tool fitting the players lifestyles better than the traditional written playbook?
FS: Oh, a million times better! They are really able to benefit from this tool. For example, when they have free time on the plane, at a restaurant or at home, they can have total access on their iPhone or iPod. With the written playbook, you aren’t going to see the players carrying around that bulky book at PF Changs. Instead they can just whip out their iPhone or iPod and have it all right there.

MS: Yeah, that makes sense. So with the NBA being so fast-paced, you guys are always on the go. It seems almost necessary to have this tool, doesn’t it?
FS: Completely! For example, our training camp started on September 28th, it is now November 6th; we have slept in our home beds only eight of those nights! We are constantly on the road. The application combines convenience with portability. Our lifestyles need efficiency and convenience, and that’s exactly what this tool gives us!

MS: So, what about their gaming lifestyles? I know that players love to play video games, and in fact play a game for a living. How does this play a role in their interaction with the tool?
FS: Yes, they love their videogames. When they aren’t playing basketball, you can count on them spending some of their time with videogames. There is a parallel that I see between gaming and this tool. Every video game today has a place where you can go online and get a cheat sheet, which helps you learn to be better at the game. That’s what this application is, a cheat sheet. Players can interact with this tool, and be a step ahead so they can learn how to play the game better, which will hopefully transfer to the court.

MS: So their gaming off the court is benefitting their gaming on the court.
FS: Yes! The tool and video games have similarities in players’ engagement and interaction, but most of all this tool helps them become more visually aware, and does it quicker. We are trying to develop mental quickness. This application helps with that.


Game Time Concepts admin screen

Game Time Concepts admin screen


MS: So, why the iPhone and iPod? There are so many other communication tools.
FS: Everybody has them! The iPhone and iPod allow us endless possibilities. The application was easy to set up, and it’s easy to update and interact with.

MS: And I bet the players constantly have their phones on them…almost as a part of them?
FS: Yes, that’s very true! And if it’s pretty much a part of them, it makes it that much easier for the players to engage with the tool and learn from it.

MS: So, have you heard any feedback from the players?
FS: They all love it! They are constantly looking at it and talking about it. It’s a new and interesting way for them to learn.

MS: So what benefits has this tool given the players?
FS: One of our players was really struggling with remembering the plays. I told him the play numbers to look at on the application, to study them and get back to me with questions. We also personally uploaded videos and tips to help him learn the plays. The customization factor really has let the players learn and absorb the information.

MS: And what benefits have there been regarding how this tool helps with the players’ busy schedules?
FS: I definitely see benefits of this tool with our back-to-back games. We are playing Miami next and have a back-to-back game after that. There is no time for practice in between the games. We sent the players the plays and videos that they needed to learn during their rest time.

MS: So you had a virtual practice instead?
FS: Yes, I guess that’s exactly what it would be called.

MS: We have heard a lot about the iPhone/iPod application. Are there any other communication tools that you find are important to aide in your coaching?
FS: Well the obvious: computers, emails, phones, etc. But one tool that is not as typical is our touch-computer. This computer keeps track of our defense and offense. It looks at stats of players, teams, positions, etc. It is constantly running and is exceptionally useful to gauge how we are doing. We generate final reports and send them to the staff and other stakeholders. This keeps everyone in the know and the process is very efficient and beneficial to our team.

MS: Very cool. So now that we have had a conversation about your Game Time Concepts tool and this Metalife phenomenon, is there anything that you have personally uncovered about your Metalife?
FS: In particular the iPhone/iPod application has opened my eyes to understand that the players really weren’t learning as much as I thought they were from traditional coaching methods. Now that I am able to get feedback and use this collaborative tool, I realize how much they weren’t grasping. I can now help them in many different ways through this tool. As these communication tools are changing, so are their lifestyles. It is important to keep up with these in my coaching techniques so I can better relate to them.

MS: Definitely! It seems that you are really getting your Metalife. Thank you so much for joining us!
FS: This is a really interesting concept. Thanks for having me!


Email This Post Email This Post     Print This Post Print This Post

From Interview

We invite your thoughts and comments about this post. Leave a reply here.

Note: XHTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS