Coach’s Notebook

Here’s a thread to jot down teaching points, anecdotes and other insights related to coaching.

For the first post, I want to start off with some comments I had about Pete Carroll’s remarks about a disastrous play right before halftime against the Vikings. The Seahawks had the ball on the Vikings 4 yard line, with 16 seconds and no timeouts. Russell Wilson drops back, slips, tries to scramble and then throws an INT. Anyway, Pete mentioned several things about this that I thought was interesting:

1. He mentioned that he kicked himself for not reminding Russ to throw the ball away if there wasn’t anything. You would expect Wilson to know this, but even really good players forget an important detail like this. (The radio announcer asked if it was similar to baseball players reminding each of the number of outs, and Carroll agreed.) The detail is interesting because it shows a way that professionals aren’t completely different from amateurs.

2. Carroll mentioned that they practice the exact situation over and over again. When I played on teams, the coaches I played for almost never practiced situations like this (i.e., little time on the clock, having timeouts or not, etc.) This isn’t the first time I realized the importance of practicing these situations, but if I ever coach seriously, this is something I’d do a lot with my teams. (I’ll explain the reason in the next point.)

3. Carroll explicitly or implicitly mentioned that they practice these situation over and over again so that a) the coaches don’t have to make a decision under duress. That is, they identify all the possible scenarios, decide the way they want to handle those scenarios, and then practice them over and over again, and b) by repeated practice, the players are comfortable and confident when these situations occur. (If I were the coach, I would try to also recreate the amount of pressure the players feel, and if possible make the pressure even greater than what the players would experience during the game. The idea here is to get the players used to playing under pressure. The more accustomed they are to pressure, the better chance they’ll be able to perform under pressure during the game.)

4. Regarding preparing for different scenarios, Carroll mentioned that they never really practiced a situation where the QB slips, and you can hear his chagrin of this oversight. To me, this illustrates the degree to which a coach would or should think of every possible contingency. Again, you want to do this and then expose your players and coaches to this in practice, so that they’ll be able to handle this well if it happens during the game. This is about being prepared, and being disciplined.

5 thoughts on “Coach’s Notebook

  1. Should You Rest Players or Play Them in a Game That “Doesn’t Matter?”

    That’s what some teams like the coaches, like Pete Carroll, have to face this weekend (although there are some stakes to the Seahawks game, not only who they play in wildcard, but it could affect home field if they advance). Still, let’s assume the game really didn’t matter–would you rest players or play them? With a few exceptions, I would play starters, and I would approach the game as if it mattered. Now, if I had starters that were injured, I would consider sitting them, but it depends. If they would normally play, I would be really reluctant to sit these players. Why? The primary reason is that I’d want to maintain the mindset of approaching each game the same way, as if you were playing in a championship game. When you sit players, especially if you normally wouldn’t, that can signal to your players and coaches to approach the game differently, that they need not approach it with the same intensity and concentration. That is not a good thing. I think this is especially true if your team has been inconsistent all year, which applies to the Seahawks. If your team consistently played a high level all year, I might be more open to sitting players I normally wouldn’t. But that would be one of the few exceptions, and even then, I would be reluctant.

    I think this question can be re-framed in another way: Would you rather lose in the playoffs because of an injury that occurred in a meaningless game, or because your team came out flat and out of sorts? Off the top of my, I’d prefer the former. Both situations would difficult to deal with it, but I think I’d be kicking myself more for the latter.

    1. I would disagree with two things: one, a guy like Martin, where he could play, but rest will help his injury should sit, imo. Could he be rusty after one week off, maybe, but if he could theoretically go from 75% healthy to 85% healthy than I would said it’s worth the chance. Two, although a coach can emphasize the importance of “staying sharp”, players know the game is meaningless, so that could affect how hard they will practice and ultimately how hard they play. Not to mention the focus they will have. So although I think you are right, it’s tough to “manipulate” meaningful football in a meaningless game.

      1. I would disagree with two things: one, a guy like Martin, where he could play, but rest will help his injury should sit, imo. Could he be rusty after one week off, maybe, but if he could theoretically go from 75% healthy to 85% healthy than I would said it’s worth the chance.

        This is a bit of a gray area, but if the player is good enough to play, and the likely improvement is minimal, I’d lean more towards playing them. The bigger issue is the message not playing the player sends–to the player and the rest of the team. If you can rest the player without signaling that the team doesn’t need to play as hard, then I’m more OK with resting the player.

        Two, although a coach can emphasize the importance of “staying sharp”, players know the game is meaningless, so that could affect how hard they will practice and ultimately how hard they play. Not to mention the focus they will have. So although I think you are right, it’s tough to “manipulate” meaningful football in a meaningless game.

        I agree with this, but I don’t see how what you’re saying is a rebuttal to my position. If anything it supports the approach I’m advocating. There are times when getting the players to take a game seriously will be very challenging. That’s when a coach has to earn their money. What you see m to be saying is that there’s no use trying to get the players to take the game seriously. ?

        1. The Eagles had to win their last three games to get into the playoffs, so let’s assume their desire to play hard and win was a 100%. Compared to the Eagles, I cannot expect the Cowboys (against the Giants) to be at that same level of desire. Could I coach them up to get to 75% as compared to the Eagles, let’s say yes. But is that enough to validate what you were saying in the original post about “maintain the mindset” and being more consistent?

          Does it matter if the team’s roster is slim in certain positions in terms of resting? The Cowboys are not in a good place in terms of o-line depth, especially if Sua-Filo cannot play. So would resting a Martin in that situation be more acceptable or would that not come in the play at all in your coaching strategy of playing guys in meaningless games.

          1. Could I coach them up to get to 75% as compared to the Eagles, let’s say yes. But is that enough to validate what you were saying in the original post about “maintain the mindset” and being more consistent?

            Here’s the thing: One of my primary goals as a coach is to get my players (and assistant coaches) to have only one approach towards a game–namely, to give maximum effort and concentration, to earnestly strive for perfection (even though you know this is impossible). Pete Carroll expresses this in the terms “championship week” and “championship opportunity” to describe each game. That is, approach and play each game as if it were the championship game. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is, where the game is played, or even the stakes of the game–I want my players to have only one way to play the game. i don’t care if about the effort of the Eagles. They could be giving 100%, 50%, 10%, it doesn’t matter. I’m striving to get my players to give their maximum effort, to play their best game.

            Ultimately, what I’m saying above is separate from the decision to start a player, pull them out early, or just not let them play at all. Where it is relevant is if you decision sends the message that your players need not take the game as seriously. In other words, they can approach the game differently (thus have at least two ways of playing). If you can rest a player, in a situation where you normally wouldn’t, and NOT undermine your message that you’re playing only one way–that you’re going to give the maximum effort, etc., then I would be OK with this move. I think this is not an easy thing to do, and it’s hard to do with precision.

            But I’ll say it again: the injuries should be factored in. I don’t think a coach can ignore this completely.

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