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A while back, I was speaking to a former colleague who coaches, and he was telling me about a recent tournament where he knew, based on the results of his team’s next opponents, they were going to be far superior. Such was the gap between the two teams, he decided to treat the match as a training exercise and give his team specific challenges and targets to meet within the game.
Have you ever been in this situation and done something similar?
What did you try to implement?
Was it successful and worthwhile?
Be interested in people’s experiences.
Certainly in a more individual sport setting, I know that we often use smaller scale competitions as training - e.g. Open meetings, league matches etc. In a sport like athletics much of the whole year is all geared around qualification for and then competition in the main event/s of the year. Of course a linear progression towards maximal performance at the priority event for the year is the dream scenario we strive for. Something will usually intervene however. So for me it is about getting the best out of yourself on a given day,even if the accepted reality is that it may not be your best performance of the year. Understanding the context of that competition or match (both athlete/team AND coach) is always key.
I have a slightly different, although related, scenario. Last year, our junior cricket club entered an age group (u13) for the first time in a while - the core of the team were under 12 and most weeks 50% of the team were in their first season of playing cricket. I spoke to all our opposition to let them know the situation and that it might be a good opportunity for them to do exactly what you have suggested.
Some opponents did use the game as a chance to either a) field squad players who don't get picked that often and/or b) give players more opportunities than they would normally get, so 'lesser' players bowled more overs or batted higher up the order. Generally the response was positive and the opposition thought they got something beneficial out of the game.
From out point of view, we used most games as 'training exercises', focussing on particular elements of the game rather than the final score as success measures. These included extras conceded, catches taken (%), singles taken etc - generally things that were within our control and not dependent on the standard of the opposition.
Looking forward to this season, I think the players understand 'controlling the controllables' and also a better appreciation of player skills/development being a goal in itself rather than just the win/loss columns at the end of the season.
I was the"former colleague" that Rob was speaking to.
Last summer I was coaching the England Womens Lacrosse team at the European Championships in the Czech Republic. In our early pool games we played the hosts, Finland and Norway. We had won our first two games relatively comfortably, and were set to face Norway in the next match. Norway had already lost heavily to Finland and so we were confident of getting the win to secure our place in the quarter finals, but as coaches we had to come up with some way of challenging our players so that we could get some positive benefit from the game.
Yes we would rotate our selection so that all players could get a game, and some players could be rested for the next round, but we still needed to do more to test the squad for this game.
We decided to set them two challenges.
The first was to score exactly 8 goals in the first half, no more no less. (To give this some context we had scored 17 goals in each of our first two games). How they went about doing that was up to them - they could use any of our existing team strategies.
The second challenge was to play defence without checking (equivalent to not tackling in football, for example).
We then left the players to have their own discussions about how they were going to manage the game to meet these challenges.
The first comment I heard was - "well if we have to score 8 goals in 30 minutes, then thats about 4 mins per goal". We left them to it...
The next day at game time, the players were excited about having the chance to run their own game plan. I think our approach had already worked because the players were focused on their own game rather than beating Norway.
When the game started, we controlled the ball well when in possession, the players were very disciplined in going through several phases of our attack moves, before taking high percentage shots. This meant that we very rarely lost possession and the ball never went out of play. At the same time, on the odd occasion that Norway got the ball, our defenders were equally disciplined and because they weren't allowed to check, we didn't give away any fouls. This approach meant that they had to play excellent body position and work together as a defensive unit to close down space, put pressure on our opponents and look for interceptions etc
With 45 seconds to go in the first half it was 7-0 to England and our bench was roaring from the sidelines for our team to get that 8th goal, which I am pleased to say they did. As a reward for their success, we told the players that they were allowed to score 9 goals in the second half. Final score 17-0 to England.
The approach to challenge the players in this way, against weaker opposition, was a great success because it made our players think, discuss their options, focused them on their own performance, and allowed them to feel good at the end of the game about meeting their targets. Bring on the quarter finals!
from athlete experience (admittedly an individual sport), why are you making training and competition different?
I understand theres drills for skill development but at the end of the day, psychological implication can be had from putting "pressure" on outcomes rather than focusing on "process goals" and things that you can actually control!
(i'm now braced for replies!)
This is something that we use quite a lot at the performance centres and I know it is used within a lot of academies also. I think a coach needs to ask themselves 'If my team is far superior than the opponents and win a team by a ridiculous score..are my players taking anything from the game?'
Something I implement at the performance centre is to use conditions to challenge my players e.g. having to complete a certain amount of passes before they can score or they must switch the ball before they can score. There are a plethora of conditions that can be used and adapted in order to challenge the players - conditions could also be given to individuals of the team.
I have also used this method to create animations and trends of play. Such as if tactically I want my full backs to act as 'wing back' and become familiar with penetrating the final third - I could condition this e.g. one of my wing backs must be in the attacking third before my team tries to score. Again, this depends on the ability and tactical understanding of the players.
To some up I believe coaches should use these opportunities as a chance to challenge their players when the opposing team fails to do so. This can be done at any age as long as the condition is appropriate for the age, ability and understanding of the players/individuals involved.
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