Better Coaches Mindset: Hedgehog Concept

By Doug Brotherton

hedgehog concept

This is Part 1 of a Better Coaches Mindset Series from Coach Doug Brotherton and our partners at HoopGrind Basketball. It was originally published here.

Three years ago, I listened to the audio version of the book, Good to Great, by Jim Collins. One of the concepts that has stuck with me is the Hedgehog ConceptThis concept stems from the famous essay by Isaiah Berlin, “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” The essay describes how the world is divided into two groups. A fox knows many things, while a hedgehog knows one big thing. The fox is a very cunning creature, with a variety of complex strategies to attack a hedgehog. The hedgehog excels at one strategy, rolling up into a perfect little ball, thus becoming a sphere of sharp spikes, pointing outward in all directions. The hedgehog always wins despite the different tactics the fox uses.

The Hedgehog Concept easily relates to coaching, building a specific team, and forming the identity of your program. A lot of coaches are like the fox. They look to run countless different defenses, they put in a ton of offensive plays, and their team is inconsistent. They are average at a lot of things, but are not elite at anything. The best coaches and teams have a clearly defined identity. They have specific things that they do better than other teams. Below is a breakdown of how you can utilize the Hedgehog Concept to better yourself as a coach, to improve your current team, and to establish a clear identity for your program.

“A Hedgehog Concept is not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be the best, an intention to be the best, a plan to be the best. It is an understanding of what you can be the best at. This distinction is absolutely crucial.” – Jim Collins

To begin, we must understand that the Hedgehog Concept is the culmination of clearly understanding three important questions.

THREE CIRCLES OF THE HEDGEHOG CONCEPT

  1. What are you deeply passionate about?
    • In coaching, this question might read: What part of basketball are you deeply passionate about teaching?
    • For our program, we are committed to empowering our players. We are passionate about allowing our players to have “structured freedom.” If they put in the work, then we want to provide them with a system that allows them to showcase their strengths. We want to play as fast as possible, while maintaining our offensive integrity. We are also prideful about defending and taking away what our opponent does best.
  2. What drives your economic engine?
    • In coaching, this question might read: What drives your success/winning?
    • For our program, this is our five keys to success. In the past three seasons, we are undefeated when we accomplish at least three of these five things. 
      • Hold opponents under 40 points
      • Win the rebounding battle
      • 10 or more free throw attempts than our opponents
      • +10 or more on our PLAY HARD CHART
      • Less than 20 turnovers
    • These are the measurable ways that we ensure that we are playing fast, aggressively attacking, and are doing a great job of defending without fouling.
  3. What you can be the best in the world at?
    • In coaching, this question might read: What can you be the best in your league at?
    • For our program, we strive to be the best transition offensive team, and the best defensive team in our league.
    • This commitment begins with clearly explaining our expectations to our players. We also spend a majority of our practice time on these two things. 

I encourage coaches to take the time to explore these three questions, and find a way to utilize the Hedgehog Concept with your team and program. Part of this process is adjusting the way that we handle losing. In our third game of the season, we committed to working on our man-to-man defense in the first half. In practices, we lacked focus, and our young team felt invincible. We needed to learn a lesson. After trailing by 16 at halftime, we used our zone pressures to battle back, but lost the game. It was our only loss of the season, as we are currently 15-1. While I do not believe that teams have to lose to learn, that first half of failing in our man-to-man defense was an important part of our process. We have made terrific strides defensively, holding our last ten opponents under 40 points. When coaches who would characterize as a FOX are faced with failure, they tend to immediately change up their strategy. The response is, “our team can’t do that,” as opposed to, “our team needs to improve that.” If a coach has a clear strategy, like the HEDGEHOG, then they take failure as an opportunity to stress the importance of improving. It is a hard thing to do, as coaches are extremely competitive, but it is necessary to help a team maximize their potential.

We want to be a tool for you, as you explore how the Hedgehog Concept can benefit your program, your team, and your development as a coach. If you have any questions, concerns, or want more information you can reach me at CoachBrotherton@gmail.com or on Twitter at @CoachBrotherton.


Apply the Hedgehog Concept to your coaching philosophy: Utilize FastDraw to improve your playbook organization, helping to define your team’s ONE true identity and strategy.

Winners Come Prepared graphic

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Doug Brotherton
Doug Brotherton is entering his 15th year of coaching basketball, and his 7th year at the helm of The Village School girls varsity basketball program. He has coached boys high school basketball, girls high school basketball, and started the Men's Basketball program at Mid-Michigan Community College. Coach Brotherton is also very involved at all levels of basketball. He is a NBA Regional Advanced Scout for the Chicago Bulls. He is the founder of Dynamic Coaching Tools (www.dynamiccoachingtools.com). Coach Brotherton was elected as the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches Large Private School Board Member. This past year, Coach Brotherton helped develop the drill book and coaches packets for Jay Bilas Basketball Camps, as well as participating in its Coaching Development Program and presenting on the benefits of FastDraw. In 2018, Positive Coaches Alliance selected Coach Brotherton as one of the 50 Double-Goal Coach National Award Winners, for his positive impact on his athletes on the court and in life.
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