Friday, August 12, 2005


Huddles Suck! Or, The Chasm between Sideline and Field

Huddles are a waste of time! Nothing we say matters! How many
times has THIS happened to YOU?

Your team on O has an open player, but a defender poaches
out of the stack to cover, leaving a new teammate open. Unfortunately,
he doesn't see that he's open. As a result, your handler throws a late dump
which floats and is blocked. The D scores. Halftime.
The handler is one of your team's leaders and spends most of the
halftime huddle talking about how you have to see your poaches.
He goes on to explain exactly how you should be keeping aware of
all what your defender is doing at all times. Other team leaders chime
in with their thoughts about how to do this. In the course of this, another
team leader remembers a play where a defender overcommitted on the
mark, getting broken. "We have to hold our marks!" he exclaims.
A few more general points by other team leaders are made, based
on specific plays during the first half. In the remaining minute, the
captain talks about the next half and says a few words of encouragement.
Your team takes the field and the game continues on its own course.

The many voices of the huddle deliver a muddled message which
is never repeated and completely forgotten by the time you take the
field. After all, it's a lot just to remember the O and D calls on the line!

Why do we do this? There are NO GOOD REASONS. Just try to think
or observe what you actually think about during a point. It is very unlikely
related to what someone just told you, and that's not a bad thing -- especially
if what you're thinking about is, "where's my guy? what's he doing? where's
my guy? where's he going? where's the disc? where's my guy? where's he
facing? where's the disc? what's that other guy doing? where's my guy now?
how is he weighted? where's my guy? what's he preparing?...." Again, there
are no good reasons, but the bad reasons for the way we huddle are:

1. Ego. Your leaders -- and everyone seems to think he's a leader -- want
to feel good about themselves, that they have helped the team.
(This is what I call unenlightened ego, where the self is gratified at the
expense of the team. But a poor team reflects poorly on its members.
Enlightened ego is when the team's best interest is served, and this reflects
positively on its members.)

2. Ignorance. People don't realize that saying something -- even if it is
a relevant thing -- has little practical effect.

3. Talk is cheap. It's easier to blather on reflexively than to work to ensure
that team communications are well organized (see below) -- especially if
this means holding your tongue.

4. Political clout. The captain can't risk damaging team unity by silencing
all the team leaders.

What SHOULD we do?

1. One Voice. Too many leaders spoil the broth.

2. Focus the Message. One voice must deliver a focussed strategic message
during huddles, emphasizing just one offensive/defensive theme. Another voice
(or the same) can deliver a defensive message, say if it's halftime and not a
time-out. This may sound like bullet-point oversimplification.
Yes, it may -- but let's not overestimate ourselves, huh?

2. Keep conversations private. If Jimmy made one tactical error which
is not part of a team pattern, only Jimmy needs to hear about it (and not
even that if it's something he clearly knows). Talk to him privately.
Don't use the huddle for private conversations.

3. Echo. The message from the huddle has to be echoed after the
huddle breaks and continued to be stressed from the sideline when
play resumes. It should also be stressed on the line. If not, it's a
guarantee that the on-field players will forget.

4. Take stock. Captains/statisticians, make an honest assessment
of the cause of your team's troubles and successes and take note of
whether the emphasis has had any affect whatsoever. If not, it's okay
to admit it. Better to call it like it is than to point to a score and try to
attribute it to some improvement in team strategy, when the fact was
that Jimmy simply made a great throw.

But few teams do this. Instead, we waste our huddles with
mindnumbing blather and countless irrelevancies.

I've found that in time-out huddles (when time is especially limited), too many voices speak up because the team leaders/captains/coaches didn't take the time to discuss separately what the focus of the huddle should be and come forward with a unified message from one voice.

When picking up with Steve Dugan's coed team a couple of weekends ago, I was exposed to a new way (well, new to me, anyway) to handle that problem when your team is on offense. The thrower would step aside with Steve (who was coaching due to injury) to discuss privately what he or she felt they were most comfortable throwing at that point in time and then they would devise a play around that. The other six players who were in that point would huddle up and basically just breathe to focus on being ready to execute perfect offense. When Steve and the thrower re-joined the huddle, there would be clear instructions on what each person had to do to complete the play and then ONE general comment (if necessary) about what the team had to do.

I felt it was a really great way to get people focused and have one voice talking to the team, but still allowed for some private discussion of how best to score.
> What SHOULD we do?

> 1. One Voice. Too many leaders spoil the broth.

go one step further and find a non-player coach that the team respects. i'm a believer.
I'm going to claim that I have thought this my whole career and that is why I never say anything in huddles.

However, reading this made me more aware that I too am guilty of something that has afflicted our team. Time between points (at least in practice) is spent pointing out the mistakes that someone else made, but phrased so as to make it seem like a general point. I kid myself that my offense isn't as bad because I usually point out offenses that do not lead to turnovers, while some of my teammates focus on turnover or goal-allowing mistakes, but really, it's the same.
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