7 May 2007

The distribution of playing time

In an elite ultimate team, how should the team's minutes be distributed among the players?

Note that I have deliberately not used the phrase "how should you distribute playing time" since that assumes the process should be determined by one person.

This article gave me insight.

There is a lot to be gained from keeping everyone focussed on the team's aims, and away from comparing their performance relative to others.

I have always tried to keep stats of individual players away from the players, whenever I have been responsible for them. Team stats I will happily share.

To get briefly political, it seems like this applies to the "how shall we pay teachers" debate in Australia.

For me, the important issue is not who gets rewarded, but where the focus of the people doing the work is - on contributing to the effort, or on how they compare to their neighbour. We know the approach of the US, in the teacher pay debate.

Parinella says (and debate follows his post):

the player has to draw one of the following conclusions, depending on how the subbing is done: either whatever I do has little effect on my playing time, in which case I don’t have to play smart, or I am going to be benched if I make a mistake, in which case I probably should play so conservatively that I’m not going to help the team.

I believe, if you can reduce the focus on "how am I doing" and bring it to bear on "how can I help the team more", better results will follow.

And calling lines most points, where you are disappointing several keen players every time you call them off, seems to push the focus in the wrong direction.

So what are the alternatives?

One is self-managed playing time. If your team plays lots, players should have time to get comfortable with their roles. The coach or leadership should make suggestions to players chiefly in non-crucial tournaments and in scrimmages ("play more zone", "make sure we have 3 handlers on", "play less this game, more next game", "play more on O, less on D"). So when you hit the big games, roles are set and players can focus on cheering and getting ready to play, rather than listening for their name, and not hearing it.

Any exceptions e.g. "our strongest lines will be called in crunch time, or to take half", should be established in preparation games too.

Bottom line is, if you use pay or playing time as the carrot, then you need to devise a better carrot - such as seeing how you contribute to success.

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