The Big Issue with Coaching Quadrant II…you can, but should you?

“Yes, we can.”

We have the resources. We went to the class. We read the book. We can do it. That’s right, with just a little information, we can add something new and pretty to our system.

Just because we “can,” doesn’t mean we should (Jurassic Park in a nutshell)

And, really, that is the problem. In Quadrant II, everything probably works. Now, I have made my career insisting that “everything works” and, suddenly, I become “this guy.” Now, before you abandon me due to my lack of commitment, let me defend myself:

This is the problem with Quadrant II activities like the collision sports and collision occupations: everything only probably works as assessing what goes right and what goes wrong in QII is, at best, guesswork. The very nature of QII with the sheer volume of qualities necessary just to show up and the high level of these qualities makes it tough to see whether or not this new idea, plan, supplement, program or concept is really making a difference.

Here is the rub: your competition may have started doing it, so you, and the program, need to ask some tough questions. If my opponents are adding this and that, do I need to add this or that? Or, do we have a different situation and a different vision, so we don’t need to add anything at this time? Or, maybe, and this is often the case, this new idea is idiotic and we can save a lot of time and energy ignoring it.

The first thing that amazes you when you come into some Division One or professional sports teams training facilities is that you see, well, everything! Machines, Kettlebells, med ball, ropes, climbers, rowing machines, Cross Country Ski Machines and I can go on and on here. To recruit high school kids, one University coach told me they invested in a $25,000 machine that they never used; it simply looked like something that would make you better. Why? Why do these programs invest so much into Strongman gear and Olympic bars then never use them after about a week or so?

The answer is usually “everybody else is doing this.” To keep up, we need to add this and that and this. Does it work? Well, who would ever know as three months later we have the newest brightest toy in the store? QII, then, demands a special kind of thinking:

Managing Compromises.

Literally, one can do anything and it may or may not work. But, listen to this: if you spend a lot of time on this new shiny idea, how do we keep doing what got us here? Welcome to compromises. Let’s talk.

Before I get going here, I am going to be referencing American Football. There is a good reason to do this as most team strength training can find some of its roots (or grossest errors) in this sport. Along with this new generations of fighters and the elite special forces, football strength training seems to be the poster child for hard core, bad ass training. I am surprised, to be honest, to have seen bodybuilding slip back a bit this past decade, but I think that bodybuilding will still have some grasp of the young male teen crowd and the “get back into shape” group. For QII lifestyles, bodybuilding work only works with the genetic superstars, most of us need more complex work. So, I will be referencing American Football. Now, if you don’t understand it and it makes no sense when you watch it, fine, as I am striving to make some key points here and it’s the general points that are important.

It never fails when the Super Bowl is on that someone will tell me that all Team X needs to do is “something like this” or “this play we used to do.” It is laughable, of course, as the NFL teams run so many things that I can guarantee that “Old 97, the play that won the 1926 Rose Bowl” is going to be in the playbook somewhere. What most fans don’t realize is that football teams literally can’t go from this fun thing to that new idea very quickly.

Not long ago, the football world was turned upside down by the University of Utah’s Spread Offense. Urban Meyer, along with an outstanding coaching staff that is always forgotten when discussing the success of Meyer at Utah and Florida, changed the landscape of college football by sending people all over the field and mixing the passing offense with option football. Other systems, like “The System” emerged at the same time and many teams adopted the style. There are other offenses, like the Veer. The Veer demands that your offensive lineman take three steps downfield and, well, let Bob Ladouceur, Spartan Head Football Coach at De La Salle High School in California, explain it:

“I think your priority unit should be
your offensive line. I coach the
offensive line and I want everyone
to know this is where our priority
is for our personnel. All of our
kids come to me telling me they want
to play defense. I tell them they
cannot play defense until they
establish themselves as an offensive
player. Nothing is more demoralizing
to a team than to have an offense
move the ball down the field on them
by running the ball and controlling
the football.
It happens to us when
a team starts making first downs on
us. They start to get an edge as far
as their confidence to win the game.”

The upside of running the Veer, and DSL’s 151 win streak indicates it works, is that your offensive line become your defense. I have coached against it and it kills you to watch the opponent just take the steam out of you. But, getting behind with the Veer is also an issue: how do you score fast?

So, we are standing there as a coaching staff, you and me gentle reader preparing our finest pre-game talks, and a dad yells from the stands “you need to throw the ball more.” Well, and if you run The System, this requires my offensive lineman to step back three steps after each snap.

Veer: drive forward three steps each play.
The System: step back three steps each play.

There is nothing right or wrong about either style. But, if you want success, you either spend a year teaching the kids to drive forward or step back. Doing both, well, that makes you stand still!

It took me a while to get here, but I hope you see the point: you CAN do anything in QII and it might help. But, honestly, the key principle to success is Managing Compromises.

One thing you hear all the time working with collision sports and occupations: “we gotta get back to (fill in the blank).” What happens as you flow through this idea or that idea is that, pretty soon, you feel like you are doing all these things but you gaze back and see that you have forgotten the basics that got you success in the first place. The phrase in football is “You dance with the girl who brung ya.” So, how do you do it? How do you hold faithful to the basics, the givens, the core or the mission and try new things that literally your competition is mastering as you wait to implement it?

It’s all about managing compromises. It is possible to throw the baby out with the bathwater when you decide (from the root “cut or kill” and that is crucial to remember when making decisions) to forcefully shift directions. That should make it even harder to decide what to do. Now, like that offensive lineman who is told all year to take three powerful steps forward and now is told to go three steps back: here you are at a standstill.

Can being decisive be wrong? Sure! Years ago, the football staff I was on began running a great offense called the “Run and Shoot.” I loved it. It had teams scrambling around trying to stop everything. We found that towards the end of each first half, we scored a fairly easy touchdown. One small thing that I thought might be true is that our offense stopped the clock a lot. Halftimes for the opposition were far longer than they had played all season and my thought (the number of plays clearly were higher when teams played us) was simply that our team was used to being on the field about twenty minutes longer than the opposition.

That’s an interesting thing, but what I thought made us more successful was that we kept this older, simpler offense based on “punch you in the mouth” plays called “Blasts” and “Powers” from the I Formation. During halftime, the opposing coaches were remapping and redesigning their defense for the Run and Shoot. We would come out in the I Formation and score quickly against a confused defense. The following season, after long discussions about teaching and clarity, we decided to simplify and only do the Run and Shoot. We also started losing…a lot. As a coach, it was great: I had the whole offense in quicker and smoother with just one half of what we used to teach. We also gave up a lot of winning as it was easier to defend and challenge just one face of our offense.

So, welcome to the challenge of managing compromises. You literally can get too cute and get yourself so back to the basics that you simplify yourself out of a job. It’s not easy! But, this is why NFL coaches are paid so well. It’s not an eight-hour day at that level. So, how do you do it…how do you manage compromises?

First, as a strength coach, it will always be about establishing the highest level of absolute strength we can as a program. I always felt that a team of athletes all at a relatively solid level trumps a program with super stars in the weight room mixed with people who can’t lift their own shirt. The “Big Blue Club” for my boys and “Big Silver Club” for my girls were based on this insight.
Big Blue Club
Power Clean 205
Deadlift 315
Back Squat 255
Front Squat 205
Standing Press 115
One Arm Bench 32kg5 Right/5 left
Power Clean & Jerk 165

Big Silver Club
Power Clean 95
Deadlift 205
Back Squat 135
Front Squat 95
Standing Press 70
One Arm Bench 12kg10 Right/10 left
Power Clean & Jerk 75

Second, the Strength and Conditioning side needs to align with the overall programs vision. I often tell high school coaches that off-season training absolutely depends on the vision of the head coach. If your program is based on high speed and lots of running, your off-season training is track practice. Your people should be sprinting and hurdling. If you vision is based on smash mouth, then sleds and prowlers need to be a huge part of the off-season. So, marry the ideas between team philosophy and weight room vision. Since QII is basically football, rugby, some of the fighting arts (though, you should remember that we are pushing fighters to QIII over time), and the collision occupations, like special forces and some police units, I don’t worry too much if this is confusing for the average reader. Even though the INFLUENCE of football strength work is staggering in this field, the number of people who have to figure out how to “manage compromises” here is very small. But, it is well worth the discussion and the time spent on learning this information.

Third, evaluate and assess somehow your system. I know, we all do this, but there has to be a real vision here. I am an avid reader of all of Bill Walsh’s work and work about him and I discovered that winning is a byproduct of standards of excellence. One can’t win over time without a real vision of what is crucial. John Wooden’s works and a few others would be worth your time and investment. I also like less popular folks, too, as sometimes reading someone who brings you to violent thoughts is, at least, making you think. I will save my favorites for another place and time.

Quadrant II, because it exists at such a rare air, needs to be guided and supported by an overall challenge for excellence. You can’t have lousy care of game uniforms and obscene toilet facilities and call yourself a first class organization. Success, in this Quadrant, is going to come from excellence at every single thing we do.

Leading people, by the way, is a QII activity in this sense: it is all about managing compromises. Everybody wants the week off between Christmas and New Year’s. To manage that fact, you have to manage compromises. Parenting is a 24/7 mission of managing compromises. And, the more children you have, the more and more you must learn to manage compromises:

“Why does Billy get a bigger bowl than me?” You have the same amount. “But, he has a bigger bowl!” It’s the same amount, honey. “But, why does he have a bigger bowl?” Here is a larger bowl.

And, it goes on and on. The art of managing compromises demands an ability to keep looking at the mission and goal while sifting through various new ways of achieving the mission and goal. The key is, of course, remembering the two mantras of life:

The mission is to keep the mission the mission.
The goal is to keep the goal the goal.

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