Fall 2014 Blog – Post # 6
Oct 3 UNEXPECTED CHALLENGES
In the last few days, you turned your desk calendar from September to October. I think my reaction every season on that day was always the same…..”Already?” Sometimes the season feels like a runaway freight train. Sure, you tend to fall into a routine, but there was something about seeing October 1st that made me question just how prepared our team was for the final month of our regular season.
I think that it was about this time each season when I started to talk with my staff and players about “expecting the unexpected”. That is my topic this week. In a few weeks, I will be commenting on the idea of “who owns the comfort zone” as it relates to game planning during the championship portion of the season. I think my comments this week set the stage for that concept.
I have a few takes on unexpected challenges that I’d like to present to you this week. The obvious one relates to any circumstances where as a leader you will need to react and help your team react to something unexpected. Don’t overlook the obvious in the sense that players need to be trained to respond whenever they are on the court, so that needs to be a given. A fairly common occurrence and one that I think as coaches we actually fear, is walking into a gym and seeing one of the top players on their team in street clothes and using crutches. You know exactly how your mind works in those first few moments. First, I would hope that there is at least a twinge of feeling bad for any player going through that. There is then that fleeting moment of elation that you won’t have to deal with them tonight, followed immediately by a strong concern that your team thinks they just gained points on the scoreboard without earning them. Realistically, once you coach a few seasons, you have been on the other side of that equation, and you recognize that every time someone goes down, it provides a great opportunity for someone waiting in the wings, and often a team really steps up in these situations. Quickly explaining the reality of this to your team is essential to keep their focus where it needs to be.
Let’s also look at “unexpected challenges” from the perspective of match preparation. By now, you have likely established some sort of pre-match scouting and game planning procedures with your team. This may be as simple as sharing a few keys for each upcoming match, or as in depth as devoting the better part of a practice to simulating the tendencies and strengths of your upcoming opponent including video clips of a previous meeting with that team, or simply reviewing their published statistics.
Why then would I generally be adding the “let’s also expect the unexpected” comment? Well, for a couple of reasons: 1) coaches were still tweaking their line-ups or 2) teams, including your own, could lose a key player to injury, or other off-court circumstances. As much as I wanted to put the effort into being prepared for each opponent, it was not unusual at this point in the season to look across the net during set one of a match and see some unexpected personnel on the court, or quite quickly in the match to see the opponent utilizing some tactics that were not highlighted from our scouting efforts. It’s important to take into consideration that your opponent now has available to them a good deal of information about your team. They are also preparing a game plan for you, and in doing so, they may deviate from some of their norms.
I would caution you about being overly dogmatic in a scouting report to the point of stating that “this is exactly what we should expect”, or “if we do x, y, and z we will surely be successful”. What happens to the psyche of your team then, when they step on the court and nothing on the other side of the net looks like what you presented to them? This scenario can create a distraction to your team and really challenge their focus and perhaps their execution.
Now, let’s turn it around – my suggestion on your side of the net then is to consider in some circumstances “change for the sake of change”. Creating some mental distractions for your opponent early in a match could help you gain an early advantage. When facing well coached teams at this point in the season, I had two things in mind from a tactical perspective. First – what could we do to distract them early in the match recognizing they would enter the match armed with a solid scouting report on our tendencies? Second – what could I afford to hold back from showing them now, that I really felt would be a key to success in this match-up during play-offs? This is tricky, as you certainly want to pull out all the stops to be successful in this match.
Some seasons, we made sure that we started matches in every one of the six rotations simply to make it a little tougher to prepare for us. Serving strategies, passing formations, free ball and transition offense combination plays are all good places to start when tweaking your tendencies for an opponent. I always like the idea of testing our opponent – are they expecting the unexpected? will they be able to adjust to our changes if they spent a good deal of time preparing for us?
Have some fun with this coaches, but recognize that we can also distract our own teams with some of these tactics. My favorite teams to coach were also the toughest to prepare for – those that generally performed like a well-oiled machine. Some of the creative coaching tips I am offering this week could be the biggest reason a team like that could be de-railed. There is a delicate balance between over-coaching and creative coaching, and we need some wisdom mixed with experienced to truly discern the difference. Once again, I will emphasize my biggest purpose in sharing ideas like these through my blog – just to get you thinking. Good luck this weekend.
Next week > The Principle of Sabbath