Observations From A Beginner On The Verge To Intermediate Coach
I have coached my team on the bench for a couple of games now. Although I am not considering myself anything close to being an experienced or a good coach, there are some observations I can share that might be interesting mainly for other newbie coaches, or which at least can serve as a basis for interesting discussions. One major thing I have recognised so far is that I cannot concentrate on everything one could do in this position at a time. I want to provide a view on what is comprised in the job and how I try to deal with the overkill. In that context, the style of writing "I do this" and "I do that" in the following describes more my ideal goal than what actually happens during a game, where everything happens at once...
General Organisation Of Bench Personnel
Every team organises the cooperation of the two bench personnel differently. Some have the one person work on the line-ups more or less exclusively and the other for watching the game for tactics, penalties etc. In other teams, one head coach determines tactics, line-ups etc and the other bench staff only supports, with little discretion o f their own. In my team, we work a setup where one line-up manager is mainly responsible for line-ups and the right amount of players to be sent to the track. The other position –we call it bench coach - is for watching the game, aiding jammers to call the jam in time, being Alternate-Captaining which comprises calling time-outs and Official reviews, and giving feedback to line-up and skaters between jams. It makes sense to have bench personnel as Alternate Captain because they cannot be sent to the box (and therewith be unavailable for communication or calling time-outs) and don't need to concentrate on their own gameplay. I like this setup because coaching a game has so many challenges at a time that this is more than enough, so this is already a massive challenge and I would want no more responsibilities. I still have to prioritise. More on priorities follows below. First, however, I would like to describe all the tasks that coaching a game comprises in my personal setup:
Around The Game
- I am responsible for the team's pre-bout routine. We have established a rough pattern to follow before bouts, including warm-up etc, so everyone feels comfortable and confident. There may be a few things differing between home- and away games, but we try to stick to the core of our schedule wherever circumstances allow. As preparatory work, I try to be at the venue early to check out locker room, track, benches (which one do we want if we get to chose?), medics, our track times for warm-up, a place for off-skates warm-up, and generally whether the circumstances allow our team routine to be worked in time. If necessary, I talk to our hosts about any deficits or open questions and communicate amendments of our time plan to the team.
- I get in contact with the Head Ref as soon as possible to introduce myself and to determine where and when Captains meeting takes place.
- I partake in the Captains meeting as Alternate Captain. I bring our helmet covers and the wrist markers for Jammer Ref and Score Keeper. I bring our list with skaters' emergency information and liability waivers, if required from the hosts. I make sure before the meeting that I am able to tell the Head Ref about any relevant impairments of any of my skaters (e.g. reduced hearing ability, which could influence their reaction on penalty calls – Refs need to know so they wont' prematurely issue insubordination calls).
- If Captains meeting or other duties don't interfere, I am available to lead team warm-up.
- I inform my team of any peculiarities in the captains meeting and make a short pep talk in the locker room briefly before the game.
- I take pictures of the penalty board and score board at halt time and after the game.
During The Game
- If we get lead jammer, I watch the status of both jammers and signal my jammer when ideally to call it. To make sure my lead jammer calls it in time, I take into account that the communication from me to my jammer, and their reaction to it, takes some time, and the communication from my jammer to the Jammer Ref, and their reaction, may take some time, too. I try to communicate when my jammer is naturally looking my direction/passing my bench. I try to communicate before they hit the pack – usually when they are in the pack and not yet aware that they might have to call it, it won't be possible to get their attention before they (or the other jammer) are through the pack. At practice before the game, I tried to establish a clear and simple signals/calls language that all our skater know and are able to understand even under the pressure of a running jam.
- I watch how our strategies work in the game and try to adapt if necessary. If for example we initially decided to go and take the jammer line with our blockers whenever we get it, and it proves that the opposing team so effectively blocks us from the front that we never get lead, it is an option to change this strategy to let the line to the opposing team and start in the front of the pack for a change, and see whether this is more successful.
- I watch whether our players are ok on the track and communicate with my line-up manager if necessary. If I observe that a jammer doesn't get through, is in bad shape, tired, not concentrated or high on penalties and therefore in danger of fouling out, I inform my line-up manager that this skater might need a break or should only be used as a blocker for a while.
- I communicate to skaters returning from the track. If people have encountered a major block in the previous jam, or otherwise look like they had an equipment or injury issue, I check with them when they get back to the bench and make sure whether they are ok or need a break. If I have observed them perform a specific move on the track that I didn't understand and that didn't seem to make sense to me, I ask what it meant and try to give feedback. If a skater has done something wrong and I have a feeling they haven't realised it was detrimental, I tell them about it. I high five the skaters who have done well in the jam and try to give as much positive feedback as possible!
- I watch both own and opposing skaters, whether they do or do not get deserved or undeserved penalties. If my own skater gets an undeserved penalty, or an opposing player doesn't get a deserved penalty, this is a potential ground for review. If any incident is observed that might be potential grounds for review, I try to memorise in which pass it occurred and which skaters (number!) were involved. See below for further details on calling timeouts and reviews.
- I watch our points and the opposing team's points to be able to contest wrongful point awards or omissions. Specifically with less experienced Jammer Refs, it may be worthwhile checking whether ghost points are awarded correctly. Also, if my Jammer is just on their way back to the track, check if and when the opposing Jammer still gets any Jammer Lap points although my Jammer had already returned on the track.
- I watch jam starts with regard to too many skaters on the track and try to get our surplus skaters off the track before the officials realise it. I inform the officials as soon as possible of any surplus skaters the opposing team has on the track.
- I run to the infield during jams to talk to the officials, specifically the Head Ref, whenever I consider it necessary. There is always an opportunity to talk to the Head Ref, or maybe another official, briefly before deciding whether I take an official review or not. In certain situations they might respond in a way that makes it unnecessary to call for an official review. In my experience, if I talk to the Head Ref and they don't intend to respond immediately, they will usually ask me whether you want to review the situation. Sometimes, my answer will clearly be "YES", but sometimes the mere fact that the Head Ref asks me whether I want a situation reviewed is a sign for me that it won't be worth reviewing it.
In the communication with the Officials, I always try to remember to not get personal, but try to be professional. I try to not get mad at the officials if they don't follow my perfectly proven case. It is important to remember that as a rule they can only call what they are absolutely sure about. If they are not sure about a situation, they cannot make a call even if they believe I might be right. I allow myself to express my dissent with a view and a verdict, but once the Head Referee as decided, I make clear that I accept the call. The Head Ref is my last instance so there is nothing I can do about it anyways. I clear my mind and look ahead!
I call team time-outs in my capacity as Alternate Captain. There are a number of reasons to do so:
- If the opposing team is on a winning streak
- If my team is on a penalty streak
- If my team needs a break to breathe (e.g. if we are skating with a low number of skaters)
- If I want to change any of our strategies, or have any other thing I urgently need to tell all my team. Examples: Keep concentrated, keep calm, stick to certain strategy elements, hints on weak spots of the opposing team, certain penalties we commit in excess, observations of peculiarities in the way the officials handle certain situations ("they give a lot of leeway wrt out of play" – "they are very strict with pack distructions" etc).
- If the period clock has less than 30 seconds at the end of a period, and my team urgently needs another jam, WFTDA rule 1.4.3.
- If my captain tells me to
- I call an official time-out for the team if officiating has made a wrong call or fails to call something to our detriment. It is important to evaluate whether an incident can not only be reviewed successfully, but also a decision by the HR can result in any advantage, or make up for a disadvantage for my team. For example if my jammer during the previous jam has served an undeserved penalty, what I can achieve with an official review is getting the penalty erased from the board. I can however not make undone any points the opposing jammer made during the resulting power jam, and also cannot get any points awarded my jammer may potentially have made if not ejected. In this example situation, it may still make sense to call for a review if this is my star jammer who is already close to fouling out an the game has significant time remaining on the period clock. Same makes less sense if it the wrong penalty was on a blocker who has only little penalties yet and the game is almost over.
- I try to describe the incident as exact as possible (who was involved, in which pass did it happen, where did it happen) and try to describe the incident in the terminology of the rules. I try state as clearly as possible what I want! It won't help me to share general observations in an official review ("they do so many back blocks!"), because with such there is nothing I can win. So I describe the incident and the consequences I want drawn (send an opposing skater to the box, release a falsely sentenced own skaters, award deserved points to my team, erase wrongly awarded points to the opposing team). If I didn't see the incident by myself, I wait for my skaters to come back and get all necessary information. I take the skater who has the first hand information with me to the communication with the Officials.
The above list is still not conclusive. You could add more things, which I personally however have not (yet) even added to my theoretical portfolio: Timing penalties with a stop watch. Observe penalty count not only at half time but always during the game. Watch the opposing team's strategies and activities on their bench. Maybe there is more – probably there is more one could do. Actually, I am sure there is more one could do.
Many of these things happen at the same time. Specifically if you are not vey experienced, you cannot fully concentrate on all these things at a time, so you need to prioritise. Probably there are again many approaches to handle this overkill. I personally follow a set of priorities, displayed below in a mixture of chronological and priority order:
- Watch for too many opposing skaters before the jam start
- Watch own and opposing start strategy (who takes jammer line? Does opposing team prepare screens?)
- Watch for wrongful penalty calls or omissions during initial pass
- If we get lead: Concentrate on making sure my jammer calls it on time.
- If we don't get lead: Watch for violations of opposing players which might make them eligible for penalty. Pack destructions, cuttings, directions of gameplay. Most beneficial for my team is a penalty for the opposing jammer, so whenever they are in a position to commit penalties, I concentrate on the opposing jammer.
- Watch for penalties to my skaters which were awarded in error.
- Watch whether point awards are correct.
- If necessary: Run to the inside and talk to officials – call time-outs
- If no communication with officials required: Communicate with returning skaters
- When all skaters are back: Communicate with line-up manager if necessary
And, finally, as general approach, I repeat the following mantra to myself:
If I get nervous, it helps me to tell myself that in the end, my job isn't all so important – concentration, and pressure, is on my skaters in the first place. If anyone, then it is me who should have capacities left to keep calm and an overview, right?
I must not get mad at my skaters – they are the ones that are truly under pressure here, and they are the ones personally encountering the situations that I only watch – if I get negative by only watching, how can I expect my skaters to stay positive? And consequently, how can I expect negative skaters to have fun and/or win a game?
Every Jam Is A New Jam
Shake off any unfairness or shock from previous jams. Even if the previous jam was terrible, we can excel in the next one. Even if a game went terrible so far, we can still play an amazing move in the next jam, which might make up for all the bad in the past.
Don't get complicated when talking to skaters – they are in combat mode and may not be able to process complex contexts. If something gets too complicated, let it go and concentrate on the next thing (that you are already about to miss).
Platitude – it all doesn't make much sense if we don't have fun playing the game.