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We’ve all been there. As a coach, you do your best to make sure all your players have fun and learn the sport. But for whatever reason, you just can’t seem to get the big W. You keep telling your players that 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 the 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 players get tired of coming up short game after game. What can you do?
Many coaches see a clear choice between player development and fielding a competitive team. They seem to think you can’t do both. You 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. These coaches are right—but only because those are the choices they’ve given themselves. They have predetermined that they cannot compete if they play every player on the roster. 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?
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 post, 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. One way is to use the Triangle Method.
Our staff developed this method when we were in a competitive league with three times more young athletes than positions. 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 taught our players about unity.
The Triangle Method is simply planning your substitutions around your least able players by grouping them 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, make sure the two down linemen to the left and right are your best. They will likely initiate contact on anyone entering the area, and your weaker player will only have to grab a piece of the runner to get a feeling of involvement. This boosts confidence, which in turn boosts aggressiveness, which makes your players better.
In soccer, 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 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.
As Bill McCartney said, “All coaching is, is taking a player where he can’t take himself.” 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!
Bill Stark is a former coach, current official and founder of Coach Assist, an organization dedicated to helping coaches be the best they can be. He enjoys inspiring coaches to greatness while equipping them to do the same for others. A husband and father of four amazing kids, he somehow always finds time to talk to coaches about their hopes, dreams and needs. Engage with him on Twitter @YourCoachAssist, at www.coachassist.org or via email [email protected]