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Cardiff Cobras series (2.1): Managing player expectations and focus

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This posting is one in a series, which will be put together over a period of time, and thus is designed to be more of an organic story rather than a set piece of text. Its discussion looks to cover the build up to the “Welsh Bowl” (from the Christmas break to the game on the 31st January), and then the reflection upon that game. Therefore, as situations arise during this period they will be explored in “real time”.

The overall focus of this post is the management of player expectation in the build up to the game. Specifically, it will look at how player focus is maintained while all predictions are for a strong Cardiff victory, in the context of issues raised in the first blog postThese are namely the problems faced when coaching a Uni team, such as player availability at set times of the year as well as the need to get players back up to speed after the Christmas break.

Week 1

Coming back from the Christmas break there are several key items to address:

  1. Re-evaluate where the players are in terms of fundamentals
  2. Re-evaluate where the players are in terms of playbook memory
  3. Re-focus the players on what lies ahead for the rest of the season

For point 3, the first game up is the unofficial “Welsh Bowl” against Aberystwyth. Originating in the 1992/93 season this will be the 20th meeting of the teams in this fixture, with the winners taking home the coveted trophy. While recent years has seen the emergence of other teams in Wales, such as Bangor and the recently nationally successful Swansea, this fixture carries a strong historical rivalry to it. The build up to it will see a rise of interest from alumni of both Universities and demand for score updates on the day is always at a high.

Reflection on playing against Aber

 (Reflection of a Cobra 'Old Boy' about playing Aberystwyth)

A great summation of what the game means was penned by Coach Macy, himself a veteran of many Welsh Bowls both as player and coach on both sides, prior to the 2012 fixture.

This season sees an oddity in the fixtures in that the teams will play each other twice. By agreement between the two clubs, it was decided that this second meeting would constitute the Welsh Bowl. With the Cobras sitting at the top of the table without conceding a point and Aberystwyth at the bottom without having scored, all signs point to a Cobras victory. Indeed, in the earlier meeting the Cobras came out 21-0 winners.

However, as coaching staff it is important that we maintain focus, don’t let the players assume that the victory will be granted to them and be caught looking ahead to the next game, which is against UWE. Rather that they still have to earn it otherwise they could fall. Indeed, in the last meeting (2012/2013 – due to league realignments in last couple of years), the Cobras went to Aberystwyth only to come away defeated, meaning that Aberystwyth are the current holders. As a result, this is one of the things that we keep referencing to the players to make sure that it is in their mind and to stop them looking forward past this game (with apologies for the sound quality!).

This is then reinforced by key leaders within the team to ensure consistency of message – such as the below post within the team Facebook page by the team President and core defensive leader.

President message to team

As we saw in the last post, an American Football team is very structured, with players in defined units that require specific skills. Therefore, sessions need a mixture of both these individual and team elements. Our Sunday session for the 16th January is given below, with a slightly extended fundamental session to ones at the end of the first half of the season with point 1 above in mind.

Training plan - 16th January 2016

Here you can see how each unit is given specific activities for each section of the training period and then how they will come together, and split apart, as the session develops…

 …Which is all fine until you turn up in the fog, which lifts and turns into rain. The temperatures are at, or near, freezing. It’s in the middle of the exam period and so you have 4 Offensive linemen (OL), when you need a minimum of 5 to fill the spots. You have 2 fully training secondary players (DBs), when you normally get at least 8 making a pass skelly extremely difficult. You go down 3 Defensive Linemen (DL) over the course of training…

 …so you need to adjust. Keep within the framework of what you want to achieve in the session, but in a way that works and doesn’t mean that players start to lose focus. This is where two areas really come to the fore:

  1.      The relationship between the positional coach and his unit

 Here, with reduced numbers due to other time commitments on the players, this relationship is important. With the reduced players the dynamic of the session changes considerably and it can be easy for players to lose focus if the session drifts. It is important to still remain upbeat, and enthusiastic. But most importantly it is imperative not to spend all the time moaning about how you can’t do certain activities as there aren’t the right number of people there. That isn’t the fault of the ones that are there!

 With lesser numbers the positional coach will know how to play the tempo of their sections. He will know the players that he has, when to push them, when to let them rest, and so on, in order to make sure that the required intensity and focus is there.

  1.      The relationship between the different coaches

Things had to change that day. While contingencies were in place, it is hard to plan for everything and you really only know what you can do when you have got everyone there. So coaches need to be on the same wavelength and be prepared. There were things that we wanted to do structurally that could not now happen so that meant some coaches potentially compromising some things to achieve the desired overall goal, with no room for individual selfishness.

The Head Coach pulled together all the coaches and readjusted the schedule as required, including down to the specific player level as to who was to be in certain elements. Drills were adjusted to accommodate the different numbers – for example a key focus of the session with respect to the WS & DBs was to do more competitive work. But with a 6 v 2 in terms of numbers, some drills needed to be readjusted to account for this.

Looking ahead

Next week we will look at the final build up to the Welsh Bowl. Already we are experiencing issues with one of our training pitches being called off, reducing our training time. This is putting even more stress on our preparations when placed in conjunction with the issues of attendance due to the exam period. So issues of how we look to counter this will be explored.

Finally, the third in the series will reflect upon the game to see how we felt we fared through this training period. Did we achieve what we set out to achieve? Were the players focused and ready?

What did you think of the issues raised here? Do you recognise some of the challenges we face? I would love to hear how you overcame these, or similar challenges.

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