December 21, 2010

What To Coach First

A.k.a. The Argument For Effort

I'll be the first to say that I have a pretty difficult time getting behind every single thing my boss says or does. There have been many, many moments where I've just silently agreed to disagree with him, moments that range from fairly silly things to much larger issues. But, one thing that he's sold me on is the idea that there are certain things that have to come in the right order when coaching. I'd never really conceptualized what he was talking about before, but when I started thinking about it, he was right on. If you try to build a house without a good foundation, it will collapse. Similarly, if you skip some points of focus, you'll be building your offensive or defensive house on sand.

What it really comes down to is this: the most important thing we can coach first is effort. Without effort, we're left without much else. Poor defensive effort results in bigger and bigger plays and worse and worse outcomes. A talented player who gives less than full effort is less of an asset than a scrub who plays like Rudy. You can rely on Rudy, you can count on him, and you can work around his limitations. An effortless talent, however, is a liability in every possible way.

We can teach technique until the cows come home, in fact I would love to do that. Technique is vital to success at any level. But what is technique if it's not being used consistently or it's being used without full effort? What does it matter if Timmy can execute a perfect push/pull and then rip past his man when he jogs after the ball carrier after that? Effort is what matters most and until maximum effort is a consistent result, little else should really matter to us. Once you get a team flying around after the ball carrier, once you get an offense surging off the ball and just looking to hit someone, you're in a position for success.

How Do You Do It?

Well, in the beginning it should be about simplicity. Simplicity allows for effort to be not only talked about, but put forefront to everything else. If a player has no doubt about what they're supposed to be doing, then it's pretty easy for them to either be giving maximal effort or not. You'll know who is playing hard and who isn't because there won't be any doubt about whether or not they were busy brain-farting or doing the wrong thing or any of that other foolishness that can come with teenage brains. So you K.I.S.S. in the beginning to allow your guys the opportunity to develop into players with fantastic effort, which cures many, many sins.

The primary way that we coach effort is simple: if you aren't giving your maximal effort, you're replaced. Once the kids get the hang of this, there becomes a greater desperation to make the play, to execute your assignment, to play through the echo of the whistle. How you replace them is up to your own individual personality. My boss replaces with fire, brimstone, and the righteous wrath of God. Me, I generally just send the next guy in and tell the first guy, "We won't win with that." Everyone has their own quirks and mannerisms, but the important part is that we put out a consistent message to the kids: go hard or get pulled. There are other ways, such as push-ups or up-downs (usually just 2-5), but the primary tool we use is playing time.

Step 1: Effort, Step 2: ????, Step 3: Profit!

So once you've got effort, then you can start to do more. Schematically you can expand, you can add in new techniques, you're free to do more because you have already created the most important thing: great effort. To use a common phrase, putting scheme before effort is putting the cart before the horse. You can go back to effort once you've installed your complexity, but you've sacrificed time and allowed the players to learn to play at a level below what you consider acceptable. Instead, do things right the first way and make effort your only thought until they prove that they will continue to give great effort with or without your reminding. Then, and only then, can you start to think about more.

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