You’ve Got Bigger Fish To Fry

This article is from Radius Athletics, a basketball coaching consulting firm that exists to serve, grow and develop basketball coaches at all levels. 


You’ve Got Bigger Fish To Fry

I am a product of The South. I was born in the Mississippi River Delta country of Eastern Arkansas.

My grandfather grew up working in the cotton fields of Northeastern Arkansas and the Bootheel of Missouri before joining the Navy, fighting in World War II, then making a career repairing air conditioner compressors for the civil service while tinkering with lawn mowers as a side hustle.

Like many Southerners, my grandfather was known for his repertoire of colorful expressions. He was a character.

My grandfather, Drew (1925-2007).

One of his favorite expressions was “You’ve got bigger fish to fry.” He would use this when he wanted someone to know they had bigger problems than the small problem they were initially worried about. You are worried about the wrong thing(s).

A church-member would bring by a lawnmower that would not start, thinking they needed the spark plug replaced. Drew would take a look and often tell them “you’ve got bigger fish to fry.” Perhaps there was a much more serious issue – the engine needed to be replaced, for example.

“We’ve got bigger fish to fry” meant that we’re wasting time on small stuff instead of big, important things. We’ve got more important things to do. We need to fix the big problem, then the small problem.

In the hundreds of hours I’ve spent counseling coaches, the expression “we’ve got bigger fish to fry” has been useful.

  • You want to install a 150-page playbook, but you only have one player in your program who can shoot above 33% from three? You’ve got bigger fish to fry.
  • You ask tons of intricate and technical questions about defending rare and complex actions you might face, but you struggle to get great effort from players on defense? You’ve got bigger fish to fry.
  • You spend endless hours producing a thick scouting report while your team struggles to even break a press? You’ve got bigger fish to fry.
  • You want your team to play great in games, but you do not have a high-energy, competitive practice culture? You’ve got bigger fish to fry.
  • You are trying to win in a physically demanding sport with players who are unfit, oft-injured and weak? You’ve got bigger fish to fry.

This list could continue…

Often the small, immediate problems get our attention. But they only exist because we’ve got bigger fish to fry. Ignoring the big fish we need to fry does not make them go away.

Coaches try to solve big, systemic issues with small solutions. You think you can “coach” your way out of it. Too often we seek micro solutions for macro problems. Why?

Because frying the big fish is hard. It takes time and we want our teams and programs to win and be competitive before we are good. Too often coaches think little things are why teams win when big things are why they win. Little things do not matter until you have your big things in order.

Also, often frying the big fish is confrontational and uncomfortable therefore we avoid it.

My grandfather taught me this lesson using this colorful expression and the lesson stuck. Edge cases and minutiae do matter, but not equally. And they certainly do not matter as much until big things are in order.

Ask yourself if you are tackling the right things. Are we caught up in small things when we have bigger fish to fry? What are bigger fish we need to fry as a program before we can become competitive or reach the next level?

Chances are you are devoting time to low impact tasks, when there are bigger fish to fry.

Continue the conversation:

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