Progress or Regress?

Like so many of the articles I write the impetus for this one was a conversation with a coaching colleague. When Barry called the frustration was clear in his voice. He was struggling with what he interpreted as a lack of progress with his team. I think it a generally accepted idea that all teams progress through the course of a season. Some to a higher degree than others, but does any team actually regress? I suppose one devastated by injury or suspensions might? Even then the players who remain will continue to progress won't they?

Barry ended up sending me 3 video clips of his high school team for me to review. I have done this and somewhat to my dismay ended up agreeing with Barry. His teams first game was their best game and its been a backslide ever since.  Now, quality of opponents might factor into things, but from what I could discern that isn't the case here.

I have access to a few different teams Hudl accounts so I have gone back to take a look at segments of an early season and mid-season match for a few of these teams.  I discovered that Barry's team is not the only team who it could be said has regressed from their early season play. I do not believe this depicts a complete picture of what is happening though.

A few thoughts ran through my mind as I considered this idea that a team might actually regress instead of progress as a season proceeds.

1) Because many high school teams will see stretches of playing 3 games in a week, practice time is at a premium. Recovery becomes the primary focus with maintaining skill and tactical awareness a secondary consideration.  Many teams will do nothing more than stretch on the day after a match. Perhaps get a few touches on the ball.

2) The mental grind of playing 3 matches in a span of 6 days is grueling.  How many teams allow for mental recovery between matches?  And how do they manage mental recovery?  I actually think wears on young teams more so than older experienced teams, but it is a consideration for any team.

3) Do teams peak too early?  I can remember certain teams at Shawnee where I was an assistant coach that certainly did. One team in particular comes to mind. They secured the teams first ever league title and that was it. The last 3 weeks of the season were terrible. 

4) So, setting goals might be a consideration. Set them too high and have them realistically out of reach due to a couple early season losses might see a drop off in quality of play. Or setting them too low and meeting the goals too early in the season might leave a team without a clear path to move forward on.

5) Team chemistry or lack thereof might be a consideration. Maybe to start the season everyone buys in, but as the season progresses and adversity is encountered that togetherness falters.  It might be friction between players. It might be a loss of confidence in the coach. It could be any number of things that cries out for something to reunite the team.

I imagine there are other reasons as well. As I stated earlier, these are thoughts that quickly came to mind. And frankly, reviewing film in the wee hours of the morning when I should have been sleeping doesn't lend itself to completely cognizant or cohesive trains of thought.

Today I have reviewed segments of game film from the matches of my son's team. Yeah, they looked really good that first match. Decent in their second match against a very good opponent. Then there has been some slippage in their play. Missing starters in one game was certainly a factor. Their most recent game... maybe it was just a bad game. Those do happen from time to time.

6) And I think that has to be a consideration here.  We are talking about 14-19 year old young men.  Consistency is something they strive for, but in truth performance actually often more closely resembles a roller coaster ride.  Nothing new or startling to see here. This is a teenagers life. Sometimes they are 16 years old going on 26 and other times they are 16 years old going on 6.  It's who they are ... and what they do.

7) This is why consistency in the coach is so very important. If the coach is prone to inconsistency - in his practice planning, game management, player relationships - he really cannot expect consistency from the players, can he?

This was the foundation of my advice to Barry - Be consistent with your team. Be consistent in planning practices. Do not stray from your season plan.  Be consistent with players.  Be consistent in your game management. Be that beacon your players can look for in troubled waters.

That's not to say you should not make necessary adjustments. No, what I caution against is making unnecessary adjustments. Do not panic for if you do your team will follow your lead. Trust yourself. Trust your plan.  Believe... in yourself and your team.

I have written before about the necessity of a coach to give his players his confidence. If a player knows you believe in him, he is much more likely to believe in himself.  When a player senses a coach's frustration or comes to believe the coach no longer trusts him to play, that players performance will reflect this.

Bad games... like mistakes... are opportunities to learn, to grow, to improve and become better.  Do this and then put the poor performance behind you moving forward with confidence to the next match. 

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