Sunday, September 25, 2005


Tournament Prep

We all know that how you play at practice is how you play at a tournament. But on-field play is just about the only aspect of a tournament that can realistically be simulated at practice. And yet, the other aspects -- many games in a day, new O's and D's from opponents, sub calling, injuries, time pressures affecting preparation, the urge to socialize, travel fatigue and other logistics -- bear heavily on a team's performance.

Granted, the rank and file need not think about all this, but the captain should. A team should have a strategy about how it is approaching a tournament or an individual game. That strategy should be communicated to the players. Pre-tourney, what is the plan? (Hint: don't make a plan unless you plan on following it! A plan is not just a statement; it must be enforced by an army of operatives, and overseen.) Pre-game, articulate the concept so your teammates do not feel like victims of an arbitrary policy of subbing. Without such a plan, subbing does indeed become haphazard, to no one's benefit. There should be contingencies -- what if we are getting blown out? or what if we're winning easily? At a more basic level, your players must know the role/niche they play/fill on your squad. This is much more important at tournaments than at practice, since playing time is more scarce.

I think the only physical preparation is other tournaments. Make sure your players, if not your team as a whole, have gone to enough tournaments in a year to be ready for the prolonged intensity of the series.

Tournament day arrives and people may scatter to find lunch or wander to nearby fields to watch friends play. Captains: don't be surprised by your teammates' urge to socialize. Try to set a realistic schedule based on your team's model (hardcore, competitive, just for fun). Again, don't set a schedule if you don't plan on following it.

Some teams have begun full-day practices, and this is a great way of practicing the test. Of course, going to tournaments is itself great practice.

I think most teams realize too late in the season how short a season can be. It's a good idea to start in June (or whenever) by drawing up a list of things a team needs to know and planning to get through all of them by sectionals or regionals. Leave blank slots for practicing how to counter unforeseen offenses or for repeating a formation that hasn't been working or that the team hasn't learned.

All of this takes organization above and beyond the basic tasks of learning how to play better. Is it worth it? Generally, I'd say NO! In fact, most teams spend the bulk of their time bilging the hull and can't worry about ripples in the sails. So, plug the holes first, then make your craft yar!

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