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Closing the talent gap

I've been listening to all of your podcasts and thoroughly enjoy them. Your podcast with Adin Osmanbasic got me thinking about a question. I currently coach a high school team and we are in a very difficult district. We are almost always the last team in our 5-team group. We are a small private school and usually don't have the numbers the large public schools have. However, we do have some really talented players. I am always thinking about ways to close the gap. If you had to make a list of your top 5 tactics that a lesser team could employ to close a talent gap, what would they be?

Coaching against teams with less resources is a common challenge in coaching that, for some reason, is never addressed on the coach education side. Yes, it’s important to learn how to see a problem and stop a session to deliver key points, but what happens when you are standing on a sideline and you know that you are up against a team who have more fire power and depth than you can even dream of? I think quite a few of us have been there!

I’m going to go narrow it down to three things that I believe need to get right when you are up against tough opposition.

First, and most important one for me, is absolute confidence and clarity from the coaching staff in the tactical identity of the team. Only once this is established can you get players to buy-in on the training pitch. When up against superior opposition, there is always the temptation to start afresh and use their system as the focus of your work, but this can be self-defeating and many times does more harm than good. Instead, your own game plan must be crystal clear in the eyes of your players. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate playbook, but instead can simply be detailing the four moments in how you defend, how you attack, and how you transition in between both. You can then be flexible to the opponent’s shape/system and in-game adjustments but if there are weaknesses in any of those areas, it will make a hard job even harder. Without results going your way, it can be difficult to create an identity that people want to be a part of, so it’s critical that process takes place on the practice field.

Secondly, team chemistry and spirt are of paramount importance. You will require a group mentality that can take on and embrace the role of the underdog. This energy will enable them to continually show up prepared to defy the odds. They also must enjoy being around each other enough to spend that extra hours required to get to the next level, either in the weights room, training pitch, or meeting room. I think a unified group with different personalities are key to teams getting through the tough times and coming out successful. Humorous personalities and energizers are worth their weight in gold in these types of settings as laughter has an incredible way of adding energy to the practices or meeting. Likewise, you will need the competitors who love the day-to-day grind of simply competing and getting better. Then, when results do not go your way, the team must stick together and fight the urge to complain or blame. The coach plays a huge role here with timing and tone of post-game meetings. Both of these have to be spot on. Tough times are guaranteed at any level, so having a plan in place to both lift the team and take the valuable lessons that defeat brings are so important.

Thirdly, I think it’s really important to determine how are you going to gauge success for your team. This can help you as just much as the players because they will continue to look at you throughout the season in order to get guidance on how they should deal with everything. If you have a young team or are in the rebuilding process, it’s so important to not let results define the journey for everyone. Therefore, as a coach you must look beyond the wins and losses and instead find ways to see growth or even more potential pitfalls ahead. I would go back to the first step and create ways to measure performance or KPI’s that reflect your tactical objectives so you can look back and chart progress. When results do not dictate how you feel about a performance it’s then okay to do things like tell a player after a defeat that they were phenomenal, and I think that’s really important.

Overall, although it's a tough task, I think it’s a great opportunity to build leadership, resilience, and look a little bit deeper into how exactly you want to shape your team with your staff. The three parts can also be interconnected and for me, that’s what a great culture is about today. Consistency, both on and off the field, and everyone involved in the process of improving individually and collectively. Thanks for listening to the podcast and best of luck for the upcoming season!

Coaches: If you have any questions or issues that you would like me to address in a post, please email me at

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