The Coaching Dilemma – System vs Talent – Part 1

Every year we step onto the field we know its going to be a different year.  There are fresh young eyes staring back at you and there are players that have matured (so you hope) in your program and in life.  There are strength’s and weaknesses changing everywhere on the field.  So what do you do.  Does your talent dictate your gameplan?  Or do they all conform to your system?

This leads me into the discussion of how do you plan for the year.  Do you choose a talent based approach that focuses on the individual strengths of your team, or do you stick to your tried and true system.  We discuss the these options below.

Choosing Talent Based Approach

Every year you will learn pretty early on who your best players will be.  On that same token you will learn where your weaknesses are as well.  A talent based approach is focusing on your strengths and giving your best players ample time to shine, while trying your best to hide your weaknesses.  

On the offensive side of the ball this could be running your offense through your best player(s).  Plays are set for them to dodge and shoot.  On the defensive side this could be locking off all defenders around your best player, ensuring his man has the ball.  Or setting up a zone defense with a great goalie to encourage outside shots.  There really isn’t much harm in this approach as you set your best players as the focal point.  The challenge here can be when you only have 1 great player and the opposing team is able to counter in ways to take them out of the game.  Or in those rough seasons where the injury bug takes its toll on the best players.  Then where do you turn.

Another beauty here is your team will be different year in and year out.  It’s hard for an opposing coach to rely on last years scout if you are running completely new stuff based on your talent.  But then again this is harder on the coach to come up with new gameplans each year to keep up with the shifting talent tides year in and year out.

Choosing System Approach

There will be new players every year with new skillsets, but a system doesn’t worry about talent.  A system approach focuses on a set of rules/guidelines that every player follows regardless of skillset.  

On the offensive side of the ball everyone is a threat at all times regardless of skill, but this could lead to some issues when some players that shouldn’t be dodging the other teams best players.  But again to the positive everyone on the team knows what is needed to execute the plan in the absence of any other player.  On the defensive end we play defense as a unit anyway so a system makes a ton of sense here.  All players should learn where to and where not to get beat.  They should be prepared when to slide and when not to slide.  The challenge here can be leaving all these judgment decisions to teenagers that don’t always make the best decisions.  You can also let lesser teams in games longer if you allow them to attack your more vulnerable players.

For a coach a system approach is great because it is something the team is constantly working on perfecting year after year.  Some systems also could (and should) be shared with the youth programs so future players can begin understanding it at a younger age.  The more the kids are in the system, the more comfortable they will all be.  However, the longer you run the same stuff, the more familiar your competition gets with your gameplan.

So which do you choose? Talent or System?

Or do you have to… I know, I know, you knew that was coming.  Like everything else, why can’t we have the “best of both worlds“.  My kids won’t stop singing this song from Hannah Montana so sorry I had to use it.  And don’t click on that link it will get the song stuck in your head.  Seriously, don’t, especially because I have no idea what the lyrics are after the chorus.

Back to the point. Maybe the best answer for your team is a Hybrid approach.  This is what I’ve used in my years and really found value in it.  But the challenge is how rigid should your system be. Or another way of saying it, how much should your individual talent alter your system.  We’ll get into that in Part 2 so check back for the next post.

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