Systems Thinking and Football Coaching
I just read a book on systems thinking, and the language they used was useful to understand what happens to us as football coaches.
Feedback is a big deal in systems. If feedback is fast and unquestionable, then the needed changes are obvious. The problem with football is that good feedback is hard to come by. How many of you know of a team that scrimmages all day long, going best vs worst, and they walk into the first game thinking they're going to be competitive, and shockingly they fail? That's why scrimmaging is a poor use of time. You get poor feedback. It is only useful insofar as you're making mistakes, and you can make those same mistakes in a half line drill where your best 11 split into teams of 5 and compete. That feedback will come much faster, which makes the needed changes more obvious.
A second systems issue is regarding delayed feedback. How many teams do you know that throw up their hands and change offenses midseason in an attempt to salvage things? Often times it takes the whole preseason to have a competitive set of plays, and changing things take a while. This represents a delay in feedback. Perhaps the new offense was the right call. Perhaps a certain drill will only pay dividends after a lot of practice. I think strength training works like this. It may be a waste of time if your goal is to win the first game. It may pay off in the playoffs though. Delays in feedback create their own mythology. How many people do you know that swear by a certain drill or offense? They have to do it, almost like a superstition. This is why you hear such fierce debate about how things are done. Two people can be dead certain that their opinions and experiences represent the solution.
Football knowledge works in a vicious circle. The more you learn about a certain type of football, the more you see success with that type of football, and that makes you want to do it more. This can close the minds of football coaches, and that is why you see silos and cult-like behavior.
Perhaps the most obvious thing regarding football is information overload. When you're failing on game day it can be very difficult to understand why. Your dogmatic devotion to your football cult leader has failed you. When you stop to analyze your situation you have difficult choices to make. You have many possible things to blame, and since a lot of people are building their football knowledge on opinions, since they can't really rely on feedback, they can only guess. The best of us can pick out what went wrong, but even the best of us cannot forecast exactly when we're going to fail. It creates a perfect storm for gossip and infighting among the coaching staff. It makes for a lot of second guessing of your process.