It's Not Just What Someone Does, It's What They Didn't Do

What's missing?  It's easy to walk into a gym and notice the positive aspects of someone's ability, but it's a little more difficult to find what isn't there.  I recently listened to a discussion with someone who has a unique perspective on this topic and has written a book entitled, Visual Intelligence.

Amy Herman, JD, MA, is the developer of The Art of Perception, a program designed to promote better observation skills and give various perceptions to any given task.  She conducts sessions for medical programs, NYPD, FBI, the Department of Justice, and the Secret Service.  In a recent interview, she discussed the idea of the "pertinent negative," which is a medical term used to diagnose a non-existent symptom in a patient.  I want to take this idea and apply it to basketball recruiting.  

You need to identify not only what you see, but what is missing to give people the most accurate picture. It’s not just what someone does, it’s what they didn’t do.
— Amy Herman

A quick example that Amy shared of the "pertinent negative" would be this:  You go into the Emergency Room at the hospital to tell the doctor you have pneumonia.  The doctor knows that pneumonia is present if there are three specific symptoms.  As he examines you he finds that symptoms 1 & 2 are present, but symptom 3 (the pertinent negative) is absent.  Because of the pertinent negative, or the missing piece, the doctor can rule out the possibility that you have pneumonia.  


As coaches, we can't always rely on the things that we see out on the court to make a decision.  Sometimes it is more important to gain a different perspective and understand what we don't see.  We need to see what was glaringly missing from a player's game to get an accurate representation of what's going on with that player.  For example, Johnny can shoot really well, dribble past any defender, and finish through contact at the rim.  Initial observation would incline you to believe that he would be a great asset to your team.  But make sure to look for the pertinent negative.  Why didn't any of Johnny's teammates give him a high five after he scored?  Why didn't Johnny go through the handshake line after they lost?  Did you ever see Johnny talking to his teammates?  These are the kinds of characteristics that you need to be observing as a coach to make you dig a little deeper.  If you can identify the pertinent negative in any situation, it may just be the piece of the puzzle that you needed.  It's easy to see what's right in front of you, but sometimes it's more important to see what isn't there before making a decision.


The Art of Perception® & Amy Herman. (n.d.). Retrieved June 14, 2016, from  

Amy Herman on Visual Intelligence [Audio blog interview]. (n.d.). Retrieved June 14, 2016, from