Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Coaches' Conundrum

If you’re a regular at football games here locally you have no doubt been subject to a hefty share of final scores that sent you home with more questions than answers. Even on nights where dominance is the only word you can use to describe what happened, vagueness is what you’re left with.

And your final score from tonight’s ball game:
Burke County 84 Cross Creek 7
Thomson 63 Harlem 0
 Strom Thurmond 77 Gilbert 6
Blowouts seem obvious in their outcomes. One team looks out of this world while the other just looks outclassed, outmatched and endlessly flawed. Kudos are in order for the victor. Post-game, the coaches are anxious to heap praise and sound off in pre-recorded clichés congratulating the team on “perfectly executing the game plan” and “taking care of business.” After doing this though, many times while walking back to the locker room, those coaches begin the anxiety-filled cycle that coaches are ingrained to go through. But sometimes, the result just mixes into a compound angst that only worries the coaches  that much more.
“It’s frustrating.” says Thomson Offensive Coordinator Tucker Pruitt, as the Bulldogs have won their last five games by a margin of 291-26. “Now don’t get me wrong, I’m always thankful for a win, but it does make other parts of the job a little more difficult…Sometimes it’s just your night and your opponent could look as bad as they have all year. It’s just hard to rate your teams progress after games like that.”
Part of the reason for the disparity in scoring margin has to do with Region 3-AAA not being as competitive as in years past with competitive teams in the middle. The top has some of the best teams in the state, but there is a severe drop-off after that. For Thomson, it’s been worrisome for their new coaching staff as they are still getting familiar with the tendencies of the kids on the team.
“Many times this year we have finished around the mid-twenties in our total snap count for our first team offense. Teams we’ll likely play in the playoffs are getting 50+ snaps each game, so we have to adjust our practices a little to make sure we get our work in.”
Coaches are paid to find insufficiencies in their team, shore up their weaknesses, and also forecast potential bumps in the road as the season progresses. It’s in the details. They sweat the small stuff. Which is why for several teams in our local area that’ll have a chance to be contenders come playoff time, these wide margins of victory can be burdensome at times.
“We usually do what we can for a half, and sometimes in the first couple of series of the third quarter,” says Strom Thurmond Head Coach Lee Sawyer, who’s defense has only given up double digit points three times this year. “Once they go to a running clock, we step off the gas. Most coaches understand.”
The conundrum for coaches is that while they don’t want to rub it in the face of any opponent, they have to work on their game plan and get as much “game action” for their players as they can. And too many games in a season like the ones referenced earlier hurt more than they help. For a few reasons:
  1. Coaches, Players don’t “participate” in a full game.
This is all-encompassing:  offense, defense and special teams. It is impossible to replicate what happens under the lights against an opposing team. Coaches and players aren’t put between a rock and a hard place in big game moments, and players don’t learn how to finish an entire game.
  1. False sense of self.
Getting too strung out on complements and overdosing on confidence can gear your team to float in and out of consciousness. Entering “win or go home” games with a big head or distorted self image will quickly punch your ticket back to the house. While the game must be physically played to win or lose, it can be lost mentally weeks in advance.

This certainly gives us something to think about next time we see a game that gets out of hand. The winning coach might have more on his mind that we once thought.

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