Sunday, February 27, 2011

On Strategy Followed by Tactics

Tactics and Strategy are often confused by folks with a series of ultimate consequences that can be quite devastating or rewarding if a fella gets it wrong or if he gets it right.  It is a common occurance that many coaches, leaders and organizations have a general conception of where they would like to get, but fall seriously short of specifics when it comes to the "roadmap". They wind up digging through a bottomless pit of the latest and greatest tactical approaches year after year but to no lasting avail in terms of consistent on-field success.

Strategy is a formulation based on four basic questions: Who are we, where are we trying to go and what are the means and resources we are going to use to get there?  At face value, this may seem like a set of questions with simple answers that are easy to arrive at ,but beware, if you get any of em wrong, the consequences for your endeavor are fatal.  Fatal in the sense that you will not get where you want to be.  When governments and armies get these questions wrong, lives are lost and whole generations within a population find their hopes, dreams and life's potential squandered.  Businesses and private/public organizations fail with the predictable fallout for their various stakeholders and individuals suffer repeated frustrations that can kill hope or leave a person feeling like they are living in a perpetual state of failure.

The thing about a good strategy is that you can get the tactics wrong, but you are on the right course to make adjustments with them that will ultimately lead to success.  Conversely, if you have a bad strategy, you can have an outstanding tactical set, but will ultimately be doomed to failure.

As I have oft stated across the years in this blog, the mindset of an off-season is a debilitating mental posture that robs programs, coaches and players of their true potential greatness.  A better time to look at this period between the last game and the first spring practice is to view it as "The Opportunity Season". 

If I were having a conversation with myself at the start of my coaching carreer entering my first opportunity season, I'd start something like this: 

Phase 1: Stabilizing ops: Collect, launder, repair inventory and properly stow your logistical set; ie. uniforms, equipment, field gear, PA, etc.  Also include a thorough financial review of the year.  Next, gain closure with your team/staff/parents etc. as rapidly as possible with a dinner/culminating gathering of sorts to reflect, acknowledge, thank and share fellowship.  The next phase is data gathering:  Survey players and coaches both formally and informally to gain a picture of their view.  Next, the final data piece would be to breakdown all phases of the on-field game statistically to measure achievements and shortfalls.  Consider phase one opportunity season complete.

Phase Two: Take your program and ink it.  Ink every facet of your program on a piece of paper.  Be brutally honest with yourself as to your current status.  You must ink the material elements of your program, the human elements, player development, performance training, in school recruiting, fundraising, capital resources etc.  All of it. 

Phase Three: With data in hand, go back to your original four strategic questions and measure your progress towards those ends.  Eliminate or re-orient any element of your program that is not aiming itself to your ultimate goal "Where are we going".  This applies to your human resources as well!  With your completed lists, apply the latin principle Macte Virtue which translates to Increase In Excellence.  The translation is deeper than a slogan, it is literally a command.  The importance of this approach cannot be overstated and it warrents an analogy as follows: 

If you liken a program to a human body training to overcome an opponent in a physical and mental contest how would you train?  Well, you would first define the nature of the contest and the tools you are going to need for the struggle (sound like strategy?).  Now if you only focused on a percentage of the required tools you would eventually fall by the wayside when the untended parts of your toolkit are exposed during the course of the struggle.  This exposure would likely take the form of a trained-up part of your body lacking support from the untended part at a crucial time.  Kind of like a strong muscle pulling too hard on an undersized tendon or ligament.

What I am saying is that by knowing your program inside and out, with hard measurable data, you can then set the stage to build and execute a plan to get better everywhere.  The end product is a program that I would liken materially to the strong shaft of a spear, propelled by the focused human energy and with the spear-tip being your players, properly equipped, trained and motivated playing at their best on game-day.

Phase 4: With your Macte Virtue tasks/goals defined, meet, organize and pursue them celebrating your successes and multi-tasking along the way.  There is a great joy and satisfaction in building which is exactly what you and your organization are doing together.

A prediction:  On the first snap of spring ball, you will know.

Looking around the high school football scene in  the province of British Columbia I will venture to say that I see a variety of strategic mind-sets across the success scale.  The best way to determine quality strategic approaches is to look for consistency.  Even more specifically, consistent success in the context of school size and the resources at hand.  Resources are a tricky thing to measure by.  Remember, Japan until very recently had the world's second largest economy while having a dearth of natural resources.  I digress.

Final Thoughts:  If you feel like you are underachieving, go back and look at your strategy within the framework of the beginning of this conversation.  Get the first question right!  Who are you?  Really, really, really take stock of your human resources, where they come from, how they think and how this manifests itself.  When you get this answered right, you can then begin to answer the other key strategic questions.  Build it your way, in your context and have fun doing so!

As an aside, I'd love to hear BCSSFA communicate our collective strategy as an organization within this framework at the next AGM.  I think that a vast and previously untapped set of resources and harmony would emerge from the membership in short order propelling the game to new heights along the way.

A productive opportunity season to you all!  The strength of my opponent is the strength of me.


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