Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Belichick has made a name for himself not only for his preparation, but for his ability to adjust mid-game. As I have said before, I think we default too often to habitual and, therefore, predictable behavior. I think there are enormous opportunities for a team that has the ability to adjust quickly. There is debate, however, about the necessity of adjustments. I spoke with Gwen over the summer about the need for making adjustments. Gwen said that at Stanford, it is all about them. They do not adjust. They believe in their system. It has been proven and tested over time, and it works. The challenge is to implement it correctly. These were not her words, just my interpretation. Now, even I, with my storied and robust coaching career, had trouble arguing with their track record. I have been thinking a bit more about adjustments, however, as I have trouble letting go of my inane little concerns, and I think our discussion was as product of different interpretations of the word, as well as different views about the scope of adjustments.

It seems to me that adjustments can be broken down into a few categories (this list is not meant to be comprehensive): individual, team, offense, and defense. I would argue that these can be organized (purely subjectively) from simple to complex as follows:

individual offense/defense
team defense
team offense

Any good cutter, it seems to me, with even the most basic knowledge of "take what they give you" is essentially reacting and adjusting to the defense as they make their cut. A good defender learns the tendencies of her charge and adjusts to make life more difficult for them. It seems to me that almost all teams either have the ability to do this, or, more likely, do this already. So, while Stanford might not make major system-wide adjustments mid-stream, I bet that on an individual level, they are tweaking their schemes as the game progresses.

Most teams I have been a part of engage in some form of team defense adjustments. Sure, I have, on occasion, played on teams that do not acknowledge anything but force-flick, but this, thankfully, is not frequent. Not only do teams throw out a variety of defensive looks during a game, but subtle tweaks occur in between points or during halftime. Frequently, these adjustments have to do with the mark as well as positioning downfield. I can recall numerous times in which both the large scale as well as subtle team defense adjustments have contributed to wins.

Adjustments to team offense are another story altogether. I have feeling that this is what Gwen was referring to in our conversation. I can say with certainty that I have experienced a system-wide adjustment in a team's offense only once. It occurred, in the most unexpected place, at Fools in 02. I was playing with Short Fat Guys in the semi's against WeSwill. WeSwill had tremendous success against Bomb in qtrs with big lefty throws from Jason Haas and Mooney. They ripped Bomb apart. We went in and played force backhand, our D was able to convert the breaks, and we went up 6-2. They began the game as they had finished against Bomb, but the big throws were not working. Around this 6-2 point in the game, Mooney and Haas started to sit a bit more on O (Mooney still played great on D and did make some big plays), and we started to see a lot of Stu (little Stu from E-pig) and Regetz. Not only did they show us the shorter guys, but it was all about the short game. Dump and Swing, give and go's, etc. This started a run for them and we ended up losing the game. I spoke with someone, maybe Lyn, a few months later, and I asked about whether putting Stu and Regetz out there was a conscious, planned decision. He said, "Yep, that was all Mooney". Am I mistaken that this is a rare occurence? What do teams do when the O goes wrong? I think it is a difficult proposition for teams to alter their offensive philosophy mid-stream.


Marshall said...

I wish I could remember where this quote is from, but a football coach once said that the hardest thing in sports isn't hitting a home run; it's going in at half-time of the Super Bowl and changing the strategy that got you there because it isn't working anymore. [Ok, google is my friend: it's actually a quote from The West Wing, but I don't know where Sorkin got it.]

Actually, a lot of teams make some offensive adjustments. In the game to go against Goat, Boss Hogg made an adjustment based on the conditions and Goat failed to adjust as well to them. They'd beaten us soundly many times that year and we beat them in that game. Of course, adjusting for conditions is easier than adjusting to the opponent for most teams, because most teams either have disagreement on strategy or simply lack anyone with a really good sense of it.

It would be interesting to evaluate the leadership systems for teams that do this well (if they can be identified).

And let's not forget that you once won a tournament wherein your team played no points whatever of anything but 1-3-3.

Kevin said...

Offensive teams make the same small adjustments as the defensive teams do. They don't often have major overhauls of their offense like you mentioned, but they do small things differently. They look more for the huck than they were earlier, or they cut to the breakside more often, or they decide to take riskier passes in an attempt score quickly or whatever it is.

When the O goes wrong it is because of one of three things:

1. Good defense
2. Bad offensive decisions
3. Bad offensive execution

If it's number one, than maybe you're screwed. If the other team is just playing downright good devense, you have to find something, anything that works.

If it is case number two, then you switch up lineups or talk to the individual players, and make sure everyone knows what the correct and incorrect decisions are.

If it is case number three, than you keep on chugging along. A soccer coach of mine always said that physical mistakes are ok, but mental mistakes are not allowed. Meaning that trying to pass to the correct person and making a bad pass is better than passing to the wrong person brilliantly. If you're doing the right things and they're just not working exactly as they should, you have to stick with it.

gcooke said...

Kevin and Marshall,

Thanks for your comments. I think it would be interesting to identify teams that adjust well.

It is interesting to put Kevin's comments in the context of Jim's comments on the Pups blog about O and D. According to him, 50% of turnovers occur due to O error, 25% due to great D, and 25% are a "coverage sack".

So, if your O is stuck then approximately 50% of the time it is either 2 or 3, or both.


Gambler said...

I think when I was mentioning that Stanford didn't really adjust much, I think what I was referring to was the team's default offensive strategy. Sure over the years there have been new plays added, changes to the zone O, experiments with spread offenses etc. but the main dump-swing structure has been the same since the early 90's. That is the team's bread and butter.

However, I would say that mid-game adjustments have always been really important to Stanford. Especially defensively. In fact, Stanford wouldn't have won college nationals last year if the team didn't adjust it's match-ups and other strategies against UW from when Stanford lost in pool play to when they played in finals. Recognizing what defensive adjustments need to be made is a huge strength of current coach, Robin Knowler.

Maybe it's easier to make defensive adjustments than offensive ones mid-game or mid-tournament.