“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
- Vince Lombardi
We’ve all been there. You’re doing your best to make sure all the kids are having fun and learning about the sport, but for whatever reason you just can’t seem to get the big W. You keep telling the kids “it’s not about the score” while deep inside you’re thinking “I just wish these kids could experience the thrill of victory to offset some of this agony of defeat!” Of course it’s not ALL about winning. It isn’t “everything” or “the only thing” … but it is SOMEthing and sometimes you and your team get tired of coming up short game after game. What to do?
A lot of coaches see a clear choice between player development and fielding a competitive team. You can’t do both, they think. Either put your best kids on the field and leave them there until the outcome is no longer in doubt, or rotate freely and let the chips fall where they may. And they’re right – but only because those are the choices they’ve given themselves. They have predetermined that they cannot compete if they play all the kids on the roster, so if they choose to play everyone they have already convinced themselves they are going to lose. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Choose your adventure: competitiveness or player development?
Why not both?
You don’t have to choose one or the other. If you put the time and effort into it, your team can be competitive and inclusive. There are three keys to making this a reality. I’ll share the first one in this blog, and the other two in a future one. You need to use all three to give yourself the best chance, and you need to work at it. But it is entirely possible.
The Triangle Method
Our staff developed this method when we were in a competitive league and we had 3x more kids than positions to play them in. We tried “hiding” kids in positions where their lack of skill or size would not be exposed, but that often backfired. After experimenting with the Triangle Method we found it was not only more effective, it was more in line with what we were teaching the players about unity. More on that later, but it turns out unity was of supreme importance.
The Triangle Method is simply planning your substitutions to surround your least able players with your most able players. The “triangle” is a spatial description of how to place a group of players in position. One point of the triangle is the player who needs help; the other two points are two of your best players.
To illustrate, here are a couple of examples:
In football, if you put your weaker player at linebacker you make sure the two down linemen to his left and right are the best two. They will likely initiate contact on anyone coming into the area, and your weaker player will only have to grab a piece of the runner to get the feeling that he actually helped – which will boost his confidence, which in turn boosts his aggressiveness, which makes him better.
In soccer, you can put a struggling player at fullback when you have your best goalie and best defender on the back line with her. If you have three on your back line, put her in between two skilled and aggressive defenders and tell her to attack. Coach her teammates to be ready to support her if she gets beaten. Tell her that her job is to force the possessor to make a move or pass, and that her teammates will pounce when she does that. This way she’ll know she had a part in the turnover when it happens, even if she wasn’t the one to steal the ball herself.
You get the idea. Adjust it to your sport and the talent you have on your team. It’s not an exact science. The spirit of the method is to put your weaker players in a position to succeed, instead of putting them on an island and hoping the opponent doesn’t expose them. It’s better for the player, and a more sound strategy for the team.
A quote I prefer to the Lombardi quote at the beginning of this blog is this one:
“All coaching is, is taking a player where he can’t take himself.”
- Bill McCartney
Sometimes that means motivating, training, encouraging, and teaching – and sometimes it means planning ahead so the player finds him or herself in a place they never expected: right in the middle of the big, game-changing play!
What do you think? Have you found techniques to develop players AND win games? I’d love to hear about them. Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.