22 February 2011

Learning patterns

My approach to team tactics has changed over the years.

I am now thinking in terms of patterns instead of rules.

In our club trainings, we train certain cuts for the dump for instance. But it is a pattern of behaviour that we encourage and repeatedly practise - not a rule.

We have patterns for scoring in the redzone, starting a defence point, playing in a zone, cutting to set up power position and cutting long. But these aren't phrased as rules or set plays. Big advantage - just about any one-off behaviour/cut/action is fine. What is focussed on is building habits we desire. We talk about and praise players using the patterns effectively, but we can improvise if needed. Our feedback conversations sound like "You can cut long using diamond cuts more. It was so easy when you did it that first point last game."

In contrast, a set play can set up teammates for criticism: "You were meant to cut break, then long." "But John cut to the wrong place first." Built into the feedback are ideas of what is right, and that one person did the wrong thing.

So many players accept entering a major tournament when a set play is barely mastered by half the team, and only sometimes successful. I want every completed pass to be viewed as a positive, and the best connections viewed as big wins for our team.

Only recently have I been able to recognise and articulate what this philosophy is: patterns instead of rules.

It works because we have an established group of players who have experience together. We can now predict where each other will go on the field, and we have made conscious decisions in planning sessions about the best positions to encourage players to go to.