Behind the lines: When Preparation Meets Opportunity

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    Not all coaches are created equal, and it doesn’t matter what their pronouns are. I watched a guy a few years ago repeatedly yelling at his team to, “Stick with the game plan.”

    Great advice if you’re Bear Bryant, Vince Lombardi, or a well prepared local high school coach. The problem was that his team didn’t even know how to line up correctly. Add to the insanity a bevy of trick plays that all failed, without a single basic formation and it’s no wonder the program lost year after year.


    “Joe Fan” up in the stands as my late friend Harold Bailey called the bleacher creatures that second guess every play a coach calls in a game, have no idea what it takes to prepare for a game. They just watch the tipoff and know everything, except they don’t.

    While sports don’t hold the slightest significance as war, quotes from military leaders are often used by coaches.

    High school coaches are generally either history teachers or math teachers. History teachers lean more toward the rhetoric aspect of getting a team prepared for a contest, while math teachers often break practices and games into simple segments and then assemble them into a cohesive plan.

    General George Patton made a speech to the Third Army in 1944, before the Normandy Invasion. His words are often used to inspire a team. “Now, an army is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, fights as a team. This individuality stuff is a bunch of crap (only he didn’t say crap, but BS). The bilious bastards who wrote that stuff about individuality for the Saturday Evening Post don’t know anything more about real battle than they do about fornicating. (but the good general didn’t say fornicating, you know what he said)


    His comments on team and individuality are keynotes for every successful team regardless of the sport.

    “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” the Roman philosopher Seneca said. It is the essence of success on the gridiron, the hardwood, the mat, or the track.

    Game preparation is the most important aspect of a team’s success on Friday night or Saturday afternoon. Knowing your opponent, his strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies is one of the most important things a coach can offer his or her team.


    Scouting is the first step, a game plan the second, and training your team to use the information you present the third.

    Basketball coaches spend a lot of time watching film and trying to break down tendencies as well as situational changes in their opponent. Football coaches take that preparation to insane levels of complexity.

    It goes well beyond down and distance.


    The best man I ever saw break down a game was the late Chuck Wells. Chuck could scout a team live from the stands or watch hours of video in preparation for an upcoming game.

    Chuck broke a game into such detailed information that good coaches could take his data and determine what the other team was about to run on a second and short, or a third and long. His scouting abilities were integral to Harold Bailey’s 1985 state championship with wins over tough Lovell, Greybull, Big Piney, and Cheyenne Seton teams.

    Chuck outlined the tendencies, Harold, Tim Ervin, and Mike Nicholson drilled them into the boys.

    I’ve always been a fan of quotes, even in athletics.

    I’d get film of upcoming opponents, or watch opposing teams live.

    My scouting reports were on the bulletin board in the locker room the Monday before we played a team.

    The list included the five starters, their favorite shots, whether they could handle the ball well, pass well, or were lazy on defense along with tendencies on the first two guys off the bench.

    It included a historical quote above the scouting information.

    High school boys are notoriously lazy and love to avoid requirements.

    After a couple of nights asking players from freshman to senior what Curt Paxton or Owen St. Clair’s favorite shot was, and what the quote of the week was they all had it down. But they learned it the hard way. The first few times the chosen kid never knew the answer and it was time to line up for a few Sweet 16s. If you don’t know what a Sweet 16 is it is a sprint from sideline to sideline eight full times, 16 times across the floor in less than a minute.

    It is a great tool to focus the hormone-laden minds of adolescent boys.

    Good coaches don’t do much X and O work on the sideline during a game, they do their preparation during the week before a ball game.

    One night, we were playing Cokeville at home in Shoshoni. Head coach Todd Dayton’s teams were always prepared. We were overmatched but we had one trick play that worked on everyone we’d played before the Panthers.

    Harold put in Curtis Schmidt at halfback. Curtis was a receiver but had a great arm.

    When he first set up a halfback pass with Curtis, the entire Cokeville team yelled, “Halfback pass” as Curtis lined up in the backfield. Yes, we’d been scouted well, and the play didn’t work.

    I often hear cocky young coaches say, “We just play our game, we don’t worry about what the other team is going to do.”

    Yep, no need to worry about a championship either, your ego has taken that opportunity away from the boys.

    One afternoon at a team camp at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colorado, my ragtag Shoshoni JV team lined up with the junior varsity from Golden, Colorado.

    Golden was a school of about 2,400 students, we had 92 boys and girls in four grades.

    The 20-something coach of Golden bragged all week that he had a man-to-man offense that was unstoppable.

    We’d played man all week before meeting these guys. They were unbeaten and we were a little over .500.

    I played zone defense or switched up with a half-court trap the entire game. We held the ball on offense and ended up winning with a low score like 29-24.

    The Golden coach was angry, bordering on tears.

    “Why would you run zone against us after you played man-to-man all week,” he whimpered.

    With a grin, I said, “I listened to you saying how your man-to-man offense was unstoppable and I believed you.”

    It was my highlight of camp that hot week in July.

    Preparation is evident when a team takes the floor, and yes, the message is you should respect your opponent and prepare for what they are about to try to do to you.

    Seneca was right, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”


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