Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Unknown Opponent

Just a few days to go until the last Masters Nationals in Sarasota.  While my body has decided to pick up some sort of headache inducing virus, my head seems to be working well enough to collect some more thoughts.

This weekend at Nationals, Reckon will be confronted with a common problem for Master's (and Mixed) teams: the Unknown Opponent.  We haven't previously played any of the teams we are scheduled to play.  Of the entire field we only have played regional opponent Tejas (good luck this weekend, boys).  From last year our two losses (Boneyard and Surly) have had significant roster turn over.  So the question is how to you game plan for an important single game against an opponent you don't know much about?

This is a common Worlds problem and one that is particularly unique to Mixed and Masters.  Roster turnover and the possibility of big name players dropping in for a year can create chaos.  There aren't many unknown commodities in Open and Women's, but if Robbie Cahill or Alex Snyder decided to play Mixed this year it would radically change the landscape.  The same thing happened when Wheelchair's roster came out last year.

Back to the problem at hand.  You don't know the strengths/weaknesses of the opponent and have to win the game.  Beating an Unknown Opponent requires both the coaching staff to be on their toes and the players to be adaptable.

Microscouting becomes really important in this game.  Any piece of information can hopefully be used to generate an easy score or break so the coaches need to be looking for those clues.  Release points, cutting methods, reset strategy and defensive schemes are all things that you might be able to use against an opponent.  The coaches need to be able to spot these things, discuss them and come up with a strategy quickly.

The players need to be maleable.  Beating an opponent that wont allow you to use your bread and butter requires everyone to be able to adjust and without 2 hours of practice time.  This isn't a skill that teams naturally have.  I must have been practiced previously in order for it to go well.  An adjustment has a lower chance of success if one player isn't making the adjustment well.

The players also need to be willing to experiment and often that can mean playing from behind.  Sure you don't want to go down by much, but en route to a defensive adjustment that finally gets an opponent out of their comfort zone you might give up an easy score.  In that time you might also lose a break as the offense is reacting to a better D.  If your team is only comfortable with a 2 point lead then this game can get very stressful.

The script for a game against the Unknown Opponent goes like this:

-Offensively you try to assert what you are comfortable with but ask for bigger windows from your cutters.  If you like to huck often you might be surprised at how fast an unknown defender is, so make sure it is a pretty huck at least in the beginning.  I'm a big fan of running to set up the pass and visa-versa, but for the first few offensive points you need to score.

-Defensively you start with a junk D to get them out of their set play and hopefully dictate match-ups that are what you want.  It gives you a good idea of who their handlers/cutters are and what their standard response to a zone is.  The second part will help figure out what type of zone you want to throw at them next.  Assuming your offense can keep things together you want to try a few defenses, even if one is proving successful.  You only get one shot at this game, so it may seem odd to pass on a successful defense.  But early on you are trying to get as much information on the opponent as possible (while keeping the game close).  In the second half you make the transition to the defense that was successful.

Finally, at some point you are going to have to give the game over to your players.  Adjustments are great, but just like waiting for more-open receivers can stymie an offense, too many adjustments will get your players out of a rhythm.  Once you have a few strategies in place it is necessary for your best players to go out, implement the adjustments and prove that they can respond to the opponent's challenges.  Even if the people lining up on the other line are better than yours, eventually you have to let the kids have the keys to the car and hope that what you taught them (in 3/4 of a game) stuck.

I'm not in charge of Reckon, so I doubt we will be doing this at Nationals next week.  Based on my last post, I'm going to be actively not thinking about this stuff.  Still, I think it is important.  Preparing to beat the Unknown Opponent is not something that all teams do.

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