Preparation Wins Championships

2 Stories of Season Saving Preparation

“At practice they had that play, and I got beat on it.”

– Malcom Butler


 

We usually don’t switch from sport to sport, but with the culmination of the SuperBowl, these two stories from the NFL are too good to pass up…typically we try to find anecdotes within the world of basketball that learn more about how to increase our leadership capacity, but after hearing these next two stories from the NFL in the past two weeks, I thought we had to write a post on it.

Two stories of extraordinary preparation from two of the games greatest coaches (Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll) made the difference in two of the biggest games of the year for their teams. These two stories were reminders about how thorough preparation can make the difference in hyper competitive contests. After hearing these stories, I can confidently say that neither team, the Patriots nor the Seahawks would have accomplished what they did this season if it wasn’t for the attention to detail exhibited by their coaches on the two most crucial plays of their seasons.

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The Fake Field Goal

In the Seahawks conference championship game, they were struggling against a visiting Packers squad. Down 16-0 with 5 minutes left in the third quarter they executed a fake field goal that changed the momentum of the game. On the surface it could appear that Carroll decided on a whim to go for the fake field goal, but underneath the surface was a much more intricate decision process; this process was informed by their scouting and preparation for the Packers.

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The Seahawks coaching staff had noticed a tendency for reserve linebacker Brad Jones to come screaming off the edge trying to block the field goal attempt (ultimately losing outside contain and opening up the possibility for a fake). They concluded that they would only run the play if Jones lined up on the left side, because that would allow Jon Ryan (kicker) to roll out to his left and throw a pass or run for the first down. If Jones wasn’t on the field they would take a delay of game penalty and kick the field goal.

Gilliam (the tackle turned tight end who caught the touchdown) couldn’t help his excitement when he saw that Jones lined up on his side:

“I broke the huddle like, Please be on my side, please be on my side,” Gilliam says. “And then [Jones] was.”

They made the call, ran the play, and scored 7 points instead of 3. They went on to win the game in overtime which gave them the chance to win their 2nd Super Bowl in 2 years. None of that would have been possible if it wasn’t for the preparation that gave them the confidence and intelligence to run that play at the perfect time.

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The Interception

The Seahawks had the ball 2nd and goal on the Patriots 1-yard line. Their season was slipping away. All the Seahawks had to do was punch the ball in the end zone and they would have taken a 3pt lead with little time left for a comeback. Many teams would have panicked. Many coaches would have called a timeout to regroup. Bill Belichick and his Patriots did neither. They trusted in their prep and put the burden of execution back on the Seahawks.

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They knew in that particular situation that the Seahawks would likely run a quick hitter, a Russell Wilson pass on a slant. Here’s what Malcom Butler the Patriots cornerback had to say. “At practice they had that play,” Butler said. “The scout team ran that same play, and I got beat on it. [Belichick] told me, ‘You gotta be on that.’ At that time, memorization came through, and I just jumped the route and made a play. I just did my job.” The difference between a touchdown and a SuperBowl saving interception can be summed up in one word: preparation. Butler was prepared to make the biggest play of his life because his coaching staff but him in a position to do so, he ‘just did his job’.

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Coaching Tips: Preparing for the Season Ahead

A big thanks to Ash McCormick for taking the time to give us his thoughts for this piece. Ash has been involved in basketball as either a coach or player for the majority of his life. He played for several years as a professional in Perth’s State Basketball League and also gained experience playing for Missouri Baptist and Southwest Baptist University in the United States. His playing career was cut short by a series of unfortunate knee injuries, but he has stayed involved with basketball by coaching numerous teams in Perth, AU – including youth and professional level teams – and investing in players through workouts and development. On a personal note, Ash has been a huge asset in my development as a player and student of the game. I have benefited greatly from his wisdom and insight. 10646678_697687700324651_3764398252830865370_n

Strengths and Weaknesses 

Without getting too philosophical here, knowing, in a general sense, the strengths and weaknesses of the playing group gives a coach a big head start in knowing how to structure pre-season. Do you have guards who are dangerous off the pick and roll? Do you have a dominant big/s? Are you a long and athletic team? All of these things can determine what systems and philosophy are best suited for your team. So, try to gain an understanding of the weapons you have as your best starting point for systems.

 

Organisation

Organisation and planning are paramount to having a successful preseason. As a coach you want to have a vision of where you would like your team to be come game 1 of the season. Then you want to develop your preseason plan in phases to build towards that vision. This should include your philosophy of how you want your team to play and the type of culture you want to create. You should also develop a reference to your groups identified strengths and weaknesses and how you will use their strengths in a specific way, as well as minimise/work on weaknesses. It’s important that the coach be able to articulate this vision to all the relevant personnel whether it be club reps, assistant coaches, strength and conditioning coaches and the players.

—> (authors note) Speaking practically to the issue of organisation and efficiency of managing your basketball team. Check out TeamSnap (which I have personally used) which can be hugely helpful in streamlining the organisation of your season. Check them out here.

 

Practice Development

Practice plans are the individual building blocks you will use to lay on your foundation for the rest of the season. Always address both defensive and offensive principles in each session. Phasing offense and Defense into completely seperate parts of the preseason creates an environment where growth is disjointed and that growth can be deceptive! If you spend the first month just working solely Defense it will appear your Defense is strong, but in reality having done no work against structured offense, your Defense is not preparing for what it will likely face in the season. Likewise in reverse, offense developed against unstructured Defense is a false economy. Work on both in each session and let them sharpen and develop each other evenly. Always commit a portion of your session to live play. This is where the players have the opportunity to implement the drills and breakdowns you have gone through into a live game-like setting. This will help the players transfer those skills into game situations.

 

The Pulse of Your Team

Practice plans are a guide, don’t get caught up in making sure every drill is done in each session. Tune yourself to your group. Sometimes your group will excel in a drill and staying in it too long is counterproductive, holding them back from advancing to other concepts. Always have some extra drills or scrimmage time available to counter balance this. Conversely there will be times your group may need extra time to grasp certain concepts and it’s important to your group that you don’t skip ahead before they have grounded those skills.

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