Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Coaching at the elite level

So . . . why don't top level teams have coaches?

I've run into this question often, and while I can easily cite why college and high school teams need coaches (have to develop players with potentially little experience in a short amount of time), I don't know why or if elite teams need coaches.

Perhaps I am just in the dark. I know that Fury is coached my Matty Tsang, but that has only been for the past three years and they have been kicking people's asses for a long time. I think Machine has a coach, but I can't name another team that has a coach (again, I will point to my possible ignorance).

I've constructed arguments around where the knowledge-base is in our sport. The smartest people in the sport are still playing. In some cases those are the younger players in the open division, but even our older/more experienced players are still on the field. Why would a great ultimate mind be trying to coach an open team when they could be playing masters. But surely there are people out there like me who's careers got cut short due to injury, what about those people? Maybe it is the financial commitment? I kind of find that hard to believe since people pay out of their own pockets to be a part of this community (at tournaments, UPA regs, etc.) we've established that we are willing to shell out coin to stay competitive and involved.

An interesting case against my points would be Stu Downs coaching the University of Georgia. Stu is definitely one of the most experienced and smartest people in the game, so it made sense that as his family developed and age (finally!) caught up to him he would stay involved as a coach. But in that case it was college, where the reasons to coach are much more obvious and the effect he would have is obvious as well.

This leads me to a second question: do elite teams even need coaches? My gut reaction is to say yes. A coach can orchestrate the game play, can see what the opponent is doing and create adjustments to maximize his/her team's chance of winning. There is nothing about ultimate that wouldn't benefit from that . . . but then again I've never played on an elite team. Surely those teams already have captains that do the things that I mentioned, so why bother with a coach?

So that's 2 questions I would love to hear so opinions on?

Why do most elite teams not have coaches?
Would elite teams benefit from coaches?


Sam TH said...

Ironside has two coaches: Greg Conelley and Ted Munter. And Team USA is also always coached.

akb said...

Brown won two Championships (2000, 2005) under the coaching of Nathan Wicks.

Martin said...

So are we establishing that elite level teams do have coaches?? What other examples are there? Am I just totally off mark because I never noticed the coaches on the sideline? It wouldn't be the first time.

With that being said, I don't think I would count Brown or Team USA in my categories of "elite teams that may not need a coach." In Brown's case you only have 5 years to work with a player, so player development is key, and player development happens faster with coaches. For Team USA with so little time to create an elite team it seems that the singular vision that comes with a coach would be a necessity when bringing in players with so many different backgrounds.

Kyle Weisbrod said...

Rare Air also has a coach - Scott Gurst. Refugees had Kurt Dahlenberg coach for a number of years. Gary Foreman served more as a coach than a player for Old and in the Way I believe but was also on their roster. But generally you are correct - I don't think there are many coaches at the club level.

Club level coaching is very different than coaching at the HS and College levels. At those levels, there are enough people with more talent/knowledge than the players that it's easy to find someone who commands authority.

At the club level coaching is different. It's less about teaching skills and tactics and more about managing personnel and making larger strategic decisions. The problem though is that most players (and maybe coaches) think that the two levels of coaching (HS/College and Club) are the same and so why would you need a coach if you've got some of the best players in the game already? Getting a group of players that consider themselves to be the best in a city/region who know the game better than anyone else to defer to the outside leadership of someone who is not playing takes either a selfless group of athletes or a coach who is clearly more knowledgeble than the players.

The problem with this is that the coach doesn't necessarily need to be more knowledgable than the players, he or she just needs to be able to get them on the same page and get them to turn the page together when necessary. He needs to be able to perceive what is working/not working (and can do that through the input of the players) and know what the best adjustments are.

What may be true is not that having a good coach makes a team better but that being a team that is willing to subsume self into team through having a coach is indicative of a team that understands what a team is enough to succeed.

Gambler said...

To clarify, Fury has had a coach at Nationals every year since it first attended in 1999 (Bob Pallares until 2004, Idris Nolan in 2005, and Matty Tsang ever since).

I would say there's a growing trend to have coaching in the club scene, especially for women's club teams. Fury, Backhoe, Rare Air, Brute Squad, Zeitgeist, Traffic, and Riot have all had coaches recently.

All of those teams have some of the top players and top minds in the game, but they obviously felt coaching was important. Coaching can be a key ingredient of getting a team to play as a team in reaching its full potential.

As Kyle stated, coaching a club team is quite different from coaching a high school or college team, so often club coaches are not as visible at tournaments as their college counterparts. They might not be out there dictating the match-ups on every line like some high school or college coaches. They might not call subs every point. That doesn't mean their role can't be vital to a club team's success.

Kyle Weisbrod said...

That's right...
Backhoe - Brian Dobyns
Zeitgeist - Dutchy

Who is coaching Traffic, Riot and Brute Squad?

Gambler said...

Leslie Calder coached Traffic at least through Worlds. Notably, she's the only woman club coach I know about.

Dennis Karlinsky coached Riot last year and is returning this season with the team.

I don't know if Brute Squad had a coach last year, but they have been coached by Greg Connelly in the past, I believe.

Nathan said...

Mike Lawler (Tross) coached Brute Squad last year.
Previous coaches of Brute Squad include Greg Connelly, Dan Cogan-Drew, and Paul Greff (maybe Ted Munter also?). I may have missed somebody else.

Martin said...

Well now I look uninformed . . . but that happens.

I would expect all of us to fall on the same side of the "are coaches beneficial" question, it was posted more as a hypothetical.

Good to see that there are so many coaches at club nationals, I guess living and spending most of my time in the south-east I just never noticed.

I completely agree with Gwen about coaching at an elite level. I think of it the way that I think NBA coaches handle a team. Typically it is about installing an offensive and defensive system, getting players to buy in, running an effective practice, and then making adjustments during a game. While these functions are still there at a college and high school level, they start to take a back seat to conditioning and instruction of basic skills.

Handy said...

Also, if you watch the Final Four tapes you'll see that Tom Izzo's play calls for inbound plays got them 8-10 points, which is huge. They executed all their plays perfectly and made UConn look silly.

Besides that it was easy to tell who was ready to play that game, and much of this falls on the coach. I think one thing that a coach provides that is major is emotional guidance, either "Hey, everybody chill out, let's just play our game" or "Are you watching or playing out there?" No matter how good the player, if you make a statement like this and then don't follow it yourself there's frustration and resentment.

Lastly, and the thing that I think most people aren't thinking about but will become Extremely Important is coaches will be necessary to talk to refs or active observers or whatever way the game develops.

Stuart said...

Surely a main issue with coaching at the elite level is respect. When I coached the college boys of Georgia this was no issue. Longevity of a decent (but not championship) career, local fame or whatever cast me high above them from the start and as long as I didn't screw it up I could remain there. It was like having bank for a few errors, bad choices, poor substitutions, etc.

Had I been attempting to lead a National competitor, I believe there would have been a constant invisible struggle, with judgement awating me each time a decision did not work out. It's no wonder that NCAA coaches routinely get canned simply because teams do poorly for a couple of years.

As I read the blog I see a number of respected names in the business leading top teams; Leslie Calder, Nathan Wicks, Ted Munter all were winners as players. Take nothing from them, but they get an early benefit of the doubt. However when Greg Connelly steps in and makes a tough call he has no trophy to flaunt in support of his idea. He has to produce or be in question - so I think he MUST be a fine coach.

Kurto in Miami is certainly the longest success story I know - consistently leading teams into semis and finals of big tournaments both at the collegiate and club level. But he did not have a wall of plaques when he began...he simply got good at it. Period.

The ego of Ultimate's elite club players can be as heavy a pressure on a coach as any challenging opponent. Be aware of this when seeking a leader or accepting such a position.