Unpredictability: The predictable constant in football playoffs
Posted by Dean Holden at January 18th, 2014
by Jack Blatherwick, 9 January 2014
Recent bowl games and NFL playoffs are a model of exciting unpredictability. Anything goes in the offensive philosophies of the best college and professional football teams. They line up quickly in a formation no one has seen before, and snap the ball before the defense adjusts. They run in passing situations – pass when a run might be the ‘normal’ thing to do.
A college or NFL coach couldn’t keep his job unless he changes things in creative ways. Six decades ago, the 1949 Gopher national champs must have felt it wasn’t REAL football to confuse the defense with deceptive formations. They just lined up in their single-wing every time, and seven linemen escorted the tailback forward in a straight line, like a team of horses pulling a wagon. They smashed the ball right at you for six yards and a cloud of dust.
In the BCS Championship Game, Auburn actually employed that very single-wing for one play in the red zone, but like all other teams, they use dozens of creative formations. Football games look nothing like they did six decades ago, because, ‘You can’t win with yesterday’s offense.’
On the other hand, over the same time, hockey coaches have found job security in the status quo. Nothing has changed. Offensive creativity in college and pro hockey comes from the individual and collective genius of the players. In Minnesota, creativity flowed from the minds and sticks of John Mayasich (early 1950s) and Neal Broten (early 1980s), and we might ask if our robotic systems could ever develop another creative genius like them.
NHL coaches protect their job by employing the same systems other coaches use. That way, the implication after a loss is that players failed. It’s perceived as, “Lack of hustle – bad penalties – lack of discipline – didn’t play the system – poor goaltending.” Notice, no one speculates that there might have been a lack of creativity.
The status quo culture in hockey puts unintended pressure on high school and youth coaches to use the same well-worn systems as if, in trying something totally different the coach might be considered illiterate.
The better alternative for the good of hockey is to assume that college and NHL coaches are stuck in the late 1940s, running the single-wing. When Chip Kelley left Stanford to coach the Philadelphia Eagles, he asked questions in staff meetings that we should paraphrase for hockey. Why not teach creative attack on even-man rushes rather than dumping the puck to the opponents in their corner? Why not encourage team puck control, rather than giving up possession intentionally to the other team? If we try to have more fun with the puck, would the competitive passion be elevated to levels we haven’t seen before?
<My initiative behind Sport IQ was and is to focus on enabling offensive creativity while teaching game sense, principles of play and life skills in a positive, fun, game-like environment. This means my goal is to allow kids to figure out how to solve problems on their own – to become more coach independent – because during a game, you want them capable of making smart split-second decisions on their own!
I don`t care if these kids ever play pro ; I just hope they have fun, learn, gain confidence along with better athletic skills, healthy habits and positive life skills. The biggest gratification for me is to see them continue playing sports the next year and years later – when they get involved in their community coaching to give back the lessons they learned!
I don’t ignore defense, but I do emphasize offense. It flat out works – I am inundated by the number of positive comments I receive about the how the kids love the skill academy curriculum, with creativity being the cornerstone. This is contrary to the current Neanderthal culture perpetuated through coaching certification where the defensive side of the game and coach-dictated patterns, systems and strategy seem to take centre-stage at the expense of offence. After reading ‘Scorecasting’, I am even more motivated to dispel commonly-held beliefs such as, ‘Defense wins championships!’ (Don’t you have to score at least one more than the opponent to ‘win’? That’s called ‘offense’ – correct?!)
I challenge the readers to think outside the box when it comes time to designing their own curriculum – use creativity to develop new game-like activities/SAG’s – enable the start and stop points (as well as administration of the rules) where the setup and the ‘running’ of the activities are controlled by the players themselves! Trust me, they are smarter than you think! Today, (Friday 17 January 2014) we challenged our Grade 7’s and they set up the areas, ran the game, handled disputes, kept score while playing the 2 v 2 continuous small area games in both ends of the rink themselves (while we sat on the bench to watch)… and they did it exceptionally well! I am proud of them and hope we can continue to build ‘independent, problem-solving athletes’ in Grade 7!
You can achieve this too… if you set the table properly (environment, expectations, consistency, genuine care for individuals), guide them with ever-increasing amounts of responsibility (leadership opportunities, integrity rules) and have the patience to step back (and shut up!) to let them lead! Yes, there will be challenges and failures, but they will learn from these situations, as well as their successes and grow immensely over time! I am fortunate to be able to do this and it all starts with my co-workers. I love my so-called ‘job’!