I’ve been noticing a lot of people throwing the term “program” around on RSD recently, and I can’t say that I’m totally confident that I know what it means. However, I do think it’s a somewhat interesting topic as several of us are essentially building teams up from the ground up. For me it’s been interesting to compare the rate of development among the three classes of rookies I’ve had. Each year, the rookies have developed more quickly than the previous year. When I talk about development here I’m talking about it independent of athletic ability. In other words, we all cases where a rookie comes out and is a sick athlete and can help you right away purely by virtue of their athleticism. When I talk about development, I’m just talking about picking up the real nuts and bolts of the game – what pass do I throw in this situation, what cut do I make in this situation. In any event, each of my rookie classes has developed more rapidly than the class that preceded them. Hopefully, some of this can be attributed to the fact that I’ve learned a little bit about coaching and I’m doing a better job than I have in the past. However, I think more of this developmental pattern can be attributed to the fact that we’ve finally laid the foundation for a real program. (Note: I don’t think we’ve developed a true program yet, but I think we have laid the groundwork and if things continue in the next 2 years as they have in the last 2 then Emory should have a sustainable program).
Just saying we’ve poured the foundation for a program is a little abstract (although the metaphor is strangely concrete) so let me try to be a little more specific about what I have in mind. I think the biggest factor in the more rapid development process is just that there are more players ahead of the rookies in school that have developed good fundamentals. As a result, rookies always throw with someone who knows how to throw; they always play with people who have an idea of how to play etc. For this reason, new rookies are less likely to develop bad habits. The reason I say that Emory hasn’t fully developed a program yet becomes clear when you look at the distribution of experience. Emory has 1 player in her fifth year, 1 in her fourth, 2 in their third, 8 in their second and 8 in their first. Given this distribution rookies are primarily learning from watching/playing against second year players. Presumably, next year’s rookie class will develop faster because they’ll learn primarily from 3rd year players, and the following year’s class will develop even faster because they’ll learn primarily from 4th year players. After that the rate of development should plateau as every subsequent class should be learning primarily from fourth year players. It seems to me that as long as a program can continue to recruit 7 or 8 motivated players every year they should be able to produce strong teams pretty much indefinitely. This is what I think it means to have a program. True programs can literally reload every year because as their stars graduate they have a new crop of experienced players to step in.