Monday, July 6, 2015

Is your team's depth chart fluid or did you get it 100% right on day 1?

Every coach has a pecking order of some kind.  It's usually unofficial at the amateur level, but every coach has one.  If you want to deny it, go ahead, but you know I'm right.

My son has played on hockey teams where the same five guys started EVERY game for seven months. Same power play unit, some penalty kill unit, every week, every game. That coach must have it gotten right on day one.  What a genius! (my son was a goalie, so I got to watch this phenomenon with an unbiased viewpoint)

As a soccer coach, if your starting 11 is not up for grabs every week and if there is no movement, you're not doing your job.  All of the years I've been coaching with my friend Rino, we always had conversations on how the top 11 players keeps changing over the course of a season.  It's your indication that your team's culture is alive and well.

There must be competition within your team and it has to come out in training as well as games.

We all know people who have their first 11 stuck in their head and that's that.  You've seen it in games; regardless of how the game is progressing or who is playing well, when the coach informs the official they want to make the change, the same set of players wait for their name to be called.
This is about keeping players a little out of their comfort zone ....
Think about it.
  • If your starting 11 know you will never change the starting 11, what motivation is there for them to work hard to keep their spot?
  • If your "bench" players know that they will never start, what drives them to work harder?
  • If the same players are being substituted for the same players every game, regardless of how they play, what drives them to put in that little "extra" to stay on the field?
  • If your better players know that regardless of their effort (or lack of) that game, they will not be the first guys taken off, what drives them?
Every spot has to be up for grabs in a situation where playing time is not equal, or your team will fail.

Even if playing time is equal, you can use starting spots and substitution order as motivation tools.  (In an equal playing time situation, there is a difference in how a player feels when they start vs being on the bench, even if their total minutes is the same.)

How do you manage the depth chart on your team?

Even if Mother Teresa was coaching a church team, there is an unofficial depth chart that everybody knows.  You want to ensure your training allows for competition so players know they can earn:
  • A starting spot
  • Not be the first one called off the field
  • To be the first one called off the bench
At the college level, we have more players on the team than are allowed on a game day roster, so they are also competing to be on the dress list for the next game, or stay on the dress list.  If you are in a competition/league where the number of substitutions is limited and players who are removed cannot return, then the internal competition increases significantly and players will not take their spots for granted.  (I've argued that the OCAA College Soccer would see a significant increase in quality if the number of substitutions was limited)

A player has to know that they can move up or down in the depth chart.  And if you don't reflect the appreciation for their effort and improvement in your player selections during a match, they will stop working.

What do you think/hope will happen to the efforts of your better players when they see another one of the team's better players lose their starting position for a game?

What will/should be the effect on the work rate of your weaker players when they see somebody has moved up the depth chart?

If you've set your environment up to be truly competitive, your better players will work to keep the depth chart as it is and your weaker players will work to change it.  I would argue that this is a player centric environment, where each player is given a chance to improve and succeed.

How to make it work:
  • Give players the information and attention they need to improve.
  • Show them that you notice they're improving and working hard.
  • Give your better players the information they need to compete to keep their spot or move up.
  • Give them a chance at a second position.  It gives them more options to get on the field and gives you more flexibility with a small roster that usually comes with a youth or amateur team.
  • If a player is slipping, work with them to move back up.  I'm talking about real information and training, not just "you gotta try harder!"
This is about making your better players better to push your weaker players.

This is about making your weaker players better to push your better players.

This is about keeping players a little out of their comfort zone which opens the door for learning and improvement.

This is about making EVERY player better, which will make your team better.

N.B.  When you move players out of their comfort zone, ensure you are not moving them to the point of being stressed.  That delicate area between comfort and stress (or panic) is where the learning and improvement happens.

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