Updated: Dec 14, 2018
My team is preparing for the biggest game of the season...with the top-ranked team in the state. I have spent a lot of time researching and scouting this team so I can adequately prepare my players. I want my players to feel empowered by the knowledge about the team, but I am also concerned that they will feel intimidated or hopeless. How do you balance focusing on your own team strengths and strategy with providing background and awareness of the team you are about to face?
It's a great question. I think as coaches we definitely see the benefit in scouting reports and feel that they provide us with the security and peace of mind that we have ticked all the boxes when it comes to the preparation side. But it’s definitely not win-win and they also have the potential to bring a negative impact if the environment is not structured facilitating them effectively. Players can become confused, roles can be too complex, and players can feel that their coach does not believe in their strengths as much as they do in that of their opponents. So, like most things in coaching, the key lies in getting the balance right, both in terms of the content, the delivery, and then the implementation.
It’s impossible for me to give the right answer about the level of content and delivery, without knowledge of your environment and culture. This is where awareness and knowing your players becomes so important. You have to know how much information they can take on and how they would like to receive that information. If you have not done any scouting reports so far this season or do not facilitate tactical discussions with your team, that’s perfectly fine, but I would then question whether they are going to be ready for it now before a big game. If they are ready for it, then you must assess how much they can take on as mental fatigue plays a role. Those fresh minds that sat in pre-season meetings are no longer there and you may be presented with challenges in attention spans and engagement. Maybe ask them a question or two on what information they would like about the opponents and if you have a leadership group, you could spend some time with those players and discuss potential ways that you could enhance the preparation.
The same applies to the training field as it does to the meeting room. Sometimes less is more and at the end of the season in particular, energy is gold, both physically and mentally. You don’t want to stand around and rehearse every potential movement that they may come up against as that will likely do more harm than good. Instead I would propose being creative in session design and maybe preparing for your opponents in a more indirect way. For example, if the opponent’s biggest strength is pressing high, create your sessions to work on that and work through the challenges. You can do the same for a major weakness that you may have identified in the opposition. That way, you can keep the sessions competitive and the tempo high, drip feeding the information to the players in the process. When it comes closer to the game, those little reminders can be a lot more powerful when they come from the practice field, than if they are referring to the strengths of the opposition.
As a coach, I think you have to constantly zoom in and out throughout this process. Avoid making the mistake of handing them a 50-page document and saying “It’s up to you, I’ve done my job.” Personally, I feel a mistake that I made as a young coach was approaching scouting reports in a way that I had to prove my knowledge to my players. Your role as a coach is to prepare the team technically, tactically, psychologically and emotionally for the biggest game of the season. Therefore, you want them confident in the strengths of the team, clear in their individual roles and responsibilities, and energized to go out there, enjoy the experience and play for each other. If you do that, there is a good chance that you will have an energized and engaged group who will be open to information and coaching throughout the game and beyond, rather than just before it. Hope this helps and good luck!!
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