Friday, April 08, 2005

Player Control??

Many of us have had some experience coaching, be it coaching our peers (perhaps as a captain) or coaching younger players. In the past few weeks I have been privvy to many conversations regarding that one player (or group of players) that steps over the line, exhibits poor behavior/descision making, or is just a general bad apple and is difficult to reign in. I keep hearing about the trials that people are going through in an attempt to correct those players. I know I have my strategy for handling those players before they are too much of a problem. I was curious what strategies you guys have employed. Really I think this question is trying to get at what you all this the relationship between coach and player should be, how you develop that and then how you maintain it.

I guess the right thing for me to do is explain what I did while at Tech. At the time I felt that with a group of people that I knew well as friends, but needed discipline, the way to go was to define the role of coach and separate myself from the players. I wouldn't party with them, no drinking with the underage players, and at practice I ruled with an iron fist. I felt like I didn't have that many problems when it came to player personel/behavior, but I also hada lot of young players who for some reason or another were willing to look at me as a authority figure (I can't wait for one of them to read this and negate all of my statements). Seldom did a player get out of line (bad foul call, mouthing off at a teammate, or not showing up to practice) and when they did I didn't have to do much outside of tell them on the sideline. I never felt like I had to confront someone right away, because that was the type of relationship we had. There were plenty of problems with that team. But discipline wasn't one of them. At the same time, each of you has your own style, which I'm interested in hearing.



wood said...

I personally think it's difficult to generalize this discussion. In my opinion, each player must be handled differently. One player might react best to being yelled at, while another would benefit most from being pulled aside and confided in. I also think that the difference between being a captain/coach and just a coach are huge. I take a much more disciplinarian approach with my college players than I do the club players I also play with.

With my disclaimer out of the way, here are a few thoughts. First, it's very difficult to change a player's attitude. You can try and get them to focus on the field by punishing them for lapses in judgement, or doing things 'incorrectly'. This is a legitimate response in my opinion, everyone on the team should be playing the same way or the whole team will suffer. It's ok for a player to disagree with what the team is doing, but it's not ok for them to play their own way.

The real danger is if a 'bad seed' is able to influence other players. Once they get some support they'll be harder than ever to get into line. The best defense for this is a vocal leadership who actively supports the coach and who can apply peer pressure to those not towing the party line. If you are unable to do this, it may be worth considering giving in somewhat, to try and get the influential 'bad seeds' on board and unifying the team. Your other option would be to just cut the player(s) all together. Simply benching them is unlikely to make the situation better, unless you know the player cares enough about playing to make them alter their behavior. It's been my experience that the 'bad seeds' would rather quit than change.

wood said...

So after I posted my previous comment, I happened upon this article.

Now more than one year into his co-stewardship of the Atlanta Falcons, coach Jim Mora said the time may be right for his team to take on a more questionable character, not that anyone specific is under current consideration.

Last year, he went out of his way to say that the Falcons, with a new program moving into place, were not in position to take on anybody who might disrupt the locker room. And some existing players who were seen as possible distractions, were cut.

But after making it all the way to the NFC Championship Game last season, the Falcons have girded themselves, so to speak, to handle a malcontent or two.

"Oh, sure. We've established our program. We've established our standards, and how we work," Mora said. "We've got leaders on this team who will not allow someone to come in and be a distraction."

Although RB Warrick Dunn is not especially vocal, he and other players like WLB Keith Brooking, DE Patrick Kerney, former NT Ed Jasper and former MLB Chris Draft combined by late last season to take over the locker room, and players to a large degree policed themselves, which is just what Mora had in mind.

"(Tight end) Alge Crumpler will not let someone come in here and ruin a good thing; he's just not going to let it happen," Mora said. "The more of that kind of guy you have on the team, the more you are probably able to withstand a questionable character guy coming into your culture."

Team officials hope that newcomers like MLB Edgerton Hartwell and LB Ike Reese will fill in the gaps left by Jasper and Draft. And a bad seed or two may be welcome, but not if he tries to put down roots.

"They're going to blend in, or be thrown out," Mora said, "and the players are the ones that are going to throw them out."

aj said...

Lots of good points in this discussion…My first year coaching Emory, I was just out of college and I was friends with a couple of the girls of the team before hand. I approached coaching that year more like a friend who was hanging out and less like a disciplining coach. I hung out with the team quite a bit off the field in social situations and it was difficult to separate that role from my role as teacher/coach. My second year of coaching I pretty much totally changed my social approach. I was still friendly with the kids, but I made it a point to not hang out with the team in social settings. As a result the players started thinking of me as their coach first and their friend second. Maintaining this distance has been very helpful.

I also think that having a dedicated leader who is willing to back you up is huge. I remember one game Martin was coaching at Tech – Martin, being the vocal guy that he is, was yelling at different guys to do this or that, and one guy makes some kind of complaining comment to himself (you might not have even noticed this Martin). Bo, Tech’s captain and best player at the time, overhears the guy complaining and gets up in his face and yells at him to shut up and listen to Martin so he can learn something. This is so helpful for a coach. If the leaders of the team have bought into your system the rest of the team will fall in line. At Emory, Laura performs the same role. She demands that the team be dedicated and disciplined and as a result all of the kids who weren’t interested in that kind of thing left and the kids who stayed are into working. It’s interesting now as I see our sophomores preaching that same kind of ethic to our freshmen. I think the kind of team that you choose to be perpetuates itself. If you start out as a goofy team you will remain a goofy team etc.

I think the situation is very different when you’re in a club captain setting. When I was the captain of Chain I definitely clashed heads with people. It’s not surprising as most of us have powerful personalities (and HUGE egos). It’s also difficult because in a club setting you’re all peers and consider each other friends. I didn’t want to be a jack ass (no comments please). There’s also the issue of the guys that disagree with you trying to create pockets of dissent. In the end, the short term way to solve this problem is just to have more political clout on the team than the dissenters. Another short term solution to solving the problem is to cut the player. However, I truly believe the only long-term solution to the problem is to successfully meet the teams goals, or to put it more precisely – win. As long as your team is failing to win/accomplish your goals, you’re going to have dissenters. That’s just the way it is. I wasn’t around during Chain’s long dry spell, but it seems like every year a new team would form after the loss at regionals.

Tarr said...

I would echo what Martin and AJ said about the value of being seen as a coach first, and a buddy second. I notice this with both teams at Purdue. I have a much different relationship with the older players on the teams (who see me as a friend or peer who happens to know a lot about ultimate) and the younger players (to whom I am more of an authority figure). The key for me has been to get the older players to sign on to what I am doing, and reinforce it (a-la the Martin/Bo story) as oppose to undermining it.

Although I do spend social time with the teams, I am a little more careful about it now that I am officially a coach. In particular, I really don't like being drunk (or otherwise altered) around the younger players on the team. It undermines my authority as a coach to be seen that way.

On a slightly different subject, one thing I've been struggling with recently is trying to keep people's attention as the amount of new material I'm teaching declines. In my first two months of coaching the women, we changed their warmup routine, their stretching routine, their workout routine, their standard offense, their zone defense, most of their drills, and their practice order. During this period, I had a lot of support to change things, my impact of my coaching was obvious, and people responded positively.

But now, as the series heats up, I am focussing less on big huge changes, and more on ironing out details of those sets, and improving some of our weaker fundamentals. And to some degree, I think that people are getting used to the routine, and used to hearing the same speeches about where deep cuts should come from and how to defend a cut up the line and how to mark and how to fake and how to defend a swing and how to address the dump and so on and so on. I definitely feel like I'm not making the same impact as a coach that I was six weeks ago. And yet, as good as my ladies are, if they don't improve in a few key areas they're not going to do well at (that tournament in late May).

So... what's the answer here? Think of new drills to do the same things? Get someone else to make the same speech? Change the order of practice to spice things up?

aj said...

First, Tarr welcome, it seems our little group is growing.

Keeping things fresh is tough. I think the ideas you suggest are effective though. I try to find drills that emphasize the same thing and rotate them in. I also make a note of which drills people really seem to like. Some drills just get people excited, so I try to use at least one of the “fun” drills in every practice.

Another thing that I’ve found to keep people’s attention is if I mix controlled games to 3 in between drills that emphasize the skill we were just working on. For instance, if we were working on hitting the dump, we’ll play a game to 3 where if you look to the dump before 5 and then turn it over on a dump throw, you get the disc back and you get another chance to throw a dump.

It’s tough, I know exactly where you’re coming from. I definitely feel like I sound like a broken record sometimes (hell, most of the time). I’m comforted by my belief that repetition is really the only way for their skills to improve.