In the summer of 1993 my dad and I planned a two week trip to Switzerland. Being the OCD person I am, I wanted every second of the trip laid out in a tightly orchestrated itinerary.
We were sitting at the gate ready to depart for our trip when I asked my dad, “how late will they hold our hotel reservation the day we arrive?”
“We don’t have any reservations.”
Anyone who knows me knows that went over about as well as a toot in an elevator.
I have lived my life by the adage “if you fail to plan you plan to fail”. Everything needs to be laid out in detail and the plan must be followed to the letter or I get slightly agitated. It has served me well in some arenas of my life, and I strongly believe every coach should follow it. You should always be prepared….but you should also expect chaos.
“No session plan survives contact with the enemy”
German military strategist Helmuth von Multke is credited with first stating this “duh” quote, though he may not have put it in such a pithy and succinct manner. Who cares exactly what he said, what really matters is how painfully right he was.
We can plan all we want in the illusory ideal realm, but the moment we set out to execute in the real world, that original plan has no chance of surviving. Life has a way of mocking us OCD planners. In coaching, we are not simply mocked, we typically experience what Mike Tyson said:
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”.
He should know. Many of his opponents crossed the ring with a well thought out and carefully developed fight plan only to wake up ten seconds later.
Coaches, you can plan all you want, but the most important plan you can make is to plan for chaos at your session.
There is no ideal world. There is no perfect day or training session. We can never (oops, did I use an absolute?) plan for all the extraneous variables. Even statisticians know this…there is always room for error and when you are relying on weather, traffic, homework, kids, and field conditions, you will certainly have a few extraneous variables.
Don’t end up like I did in the International Terminal of CVG airport with your dad trying to talk you off the ceiling. Here are some suggestions for contact with the enemy (weather, absences, field conditions, rough day at school):
- Try to have an alternate location available for quick changes
- Plan a few team building sessions
- Carry a white board, iPad and HDMI cables, or other methods for teaching tactical decisions, set pieces, etc.
- Have a phone or text tree with your teams to communicate quickly
Low attendance numbers
- Plan sessions for large and small groups
- Utilize sessions based on small sided games
- Have a second session on tap at all times
- Expect to play a game night or recovery night once in a while
Poor field conditions
- Have an alternate location
- Have a session planned for ‘road work’
- Be prepared to do a tactical session / white board work
- Have a session ready for tight spaces
- We all have them and players have them more often than us, so be prepared to adjust for it
- Do not be afraid to hit the reset button on a training session by starting over or changing it
- Be willing to go straight to games or training matches
- Be ready to stop everything, take a deep breath and work through issues (you should be invested enough in your players to be willing to help them cope with life beyond the game)
These are a few suggestions for a few scenarios that hopefully help you understand that contact with the enemy will wreak havoc on any well-thought out plan. You can use these suggestions to begin brainstorming about your own contingencies and “enemies” (here in California, we have heat days to battle with too). Also, be willing to work with colleagues to create club-wide or at least age-group wide contingencies. The ability to be flexible and adapt to the current state on the training field is a tremendous asset as a coach and an undeniable teaching moment for your players.
By the way, I survived that trip to Switzerland. In fact, I gained two of my most valuable perspectives from the entire experience:
- Learn to embrace change and go with the flow of life…it is all one glorious adventure to be had
- Expect for life to always have a good laugh at any plan you make…if you are really good, you learn to laugh right back at it.