X’s and O’s
An inside look at game planning for high school, college athletics coaches
Craig — Not an hour had passed since the Moffat County boys basketball team defeated Delta High School, but coach Steve Maneotis wasn’t relishing in the victory.
He was more interested in getting ready for the team’s next opponent.
Instead of sitting back and soaking up the win, he had game film to watch.
Maneotis isn’t alone in the sports world. He isn’t acting out of the norm. He’s doing what most coaches do: scouting out the opposition in an effort to get a competitive edge.
This is the life of a coach.
It’s the initial step in game preparation. From high school to the pros, scouting the opposition is a constant. When coaches begin is the variable.
Some coaches begin two or three days before; others, more than a week.
“We have our graduate assistants out scouting the opposition the Tuesday or Wednesday a week before we play the team we are scouting,” said Joe Ramunno, Mesa State head football coach. “It’s never too early to take a look at who you’re about to face. Heck, we are scouting right now, and it’s not even football season.”
At the high school level, Moffat County High School girls basketball coach Craig Mortensen recalls traveling for hours to watch the upcoming opposition in person.
“I used to travel all over the place,” he said. “There were times I’d watch three games over a weekend, and none of them were of my team. Now, when the VCR came out, everything changed.”
Fortunately for coaches, technology has progressed, and scouting along with it.
High school coaches now exchange game film through the mail; the only trip needed is a once-a-week run to the local post office.
In college, the NCAA doesn’t allow in-person scouting, but it has established a nationwide server that allows coaches to pull up opponents’ game film with the click of a button.
“All of our scouting is done by video now,” said Pi’i Aiu, University of Colorado women’s volleyball coach. “It’s become simple to edit together clips of team and player highlights to research. We play games on Wednesdays and Saturdays. We are scouting at least three days before a match.”
MCHS football coach Kip Hafey starts scouting the Saturday before a Friday night game.
“In this day and age,” Hafey said, “if you’re not scouting, you’re not giving yourself a chance to win.”
Watching film, game planning
All coaches now watch game film, admitting it is the biggest task involved in pre-game preparation. But, how much film they watch is the question.
“Our staff here watches about 90 hours a week of film,” Ramunno said. “We look for tendencies in the opponent. We use the film to construct the game plan we are going to use for that upcoming matchup.”
Maneotis and Aiu dedicate Sundays to film.
“We want to have a game plan in place by Monday’s practice,” Aiu said. “We see the strengths and weaknesses of both teams, not just the opposition.”
Hafey spends several hours each weekend of the football season staring at a screen.
“We put in several hours viewing film,” he said. “We look for what they (the opposition) do, who to stop, their best plays and what they do different than what we’ve already seen. Boy, those get to be some really long nights.”
Coaches at every level are benefited by software that aids their cause.
“It’s a program called the Digital Scouting System, and it’s cool,” Hafey said. “You put stats into it, and it prints out amazing stuff. How often a team runs on first down and how often they run to the right or left on those first-down runs. It’s very in-depth. The only problem with it is that sometimes it prints out 50 pages of stuff.”
The endless hours of watching film have been transformed into a game plan, so now the coach’s task is to implement the plan in practice.
Each has his or her own way of utilizing information gained from film.
Some draw up plays the opposition uses most frequently and transforms them into learning sessions on the practice field. Others who have the number of players needed use a scout team, which acts as the opponent during practice.
“Occasionally, we use a scout team,” Aiu said. “But it’s difficult. To build a legitimate scout team resembling a Big 12 team is hard to do. Our back-up players unfortunately aren’t as good as, say, a Nebraska squad or a Texas squad. Mostly, we just practice being strong where the other team is weak.”
Hafey’s focus is mostly on the opponents’ star players, and he uses a man-to-man type scenario on the practice field.
“We pick out their best players,” he said. “And we take our guys that match up with them. Say their guy is a defensive tackle. We will work all week with our guard to make sure he knows that player’s tendencies.”
Maneotis uses the Moffat County junior varsity team as his scout team to practice game-type situations.
“We set the JV kids up to act like the team we are playing,” he said. “If the team we are playing uses the full-court press, our JV team will press us all practice long. It gives us a chance to work on what we have learned before the actual game is played.”
At Mesa State, Ramunno uses a scout team also, but a smaller version.
“We do 7-on-7 drills with a scout team,” he said. “They help us show our team what the other team does in game-type action. It provides us with tempo and a lot of insight in to how we can do things to stop their best plays. It ends up being quite a bit on the players’ plate to absorb.”
Game day execution
Now that the coaches have their teams prepared, it’s time see if all the work will pay off.
“With all that we do,” Mortensen said, “it all comes down to how you take what you’ve learned and follow through on the court. We know from game planning and practice what to expect. It allows us to do things we didn’t see before or without any preparation.”
On the basketball court, volleyball court or on the football field, the general consensus by the coaches is the same.
“Knowing where to be and when is totally helpful,” Hafey said. “But, you still have to be athletic enough to get there. All the preparation in the world won’t help you if you are slow and can’t tackle.”
For Aiu and the CU volleyball team, he says making the team feel comfortable helps the most.
“We learn tendencies and such,” he said. “But, there are so many different variables like injuries that you really can expect only so much in a game. What helps us the most is the team being relaxed on the court because they know what to expect. There are no surprises when we scout beforehand.”
In the college football scene, scouting is at the forefront of coach Ramunno’s list of why teams win games.
“All that we do is huge, come game time,” he said. “We are able to recognize offensive and defensive sets because of it. It helps us master the confusion encountered out there on the football field. But, regardless of how much we know, you still have to execute. We still have to perform what we learned and parlay that into a victory.”
In the professional sports scene, teams are able to scout during the actual game, something college and high school coaches can’t.
But, Ramunno believes the NCAA will be there soon.
“I really hope we get to the level of the NFL soon,” he said. “They get plays printed up for them as it’s happening. I would love to have that technology. It’s not like I would pull a Bill Belichick thing with the video camera, I would just like to have everything instantaneous like they do.”
In high school, Hafey sees the future of scouting evolving into a system resembling the college format.
“We should have the server in place like they do in college, soon.” he said. “In pro baseball and football, coaches can get just about anything they want. In college, they have the sheer numbers and more financial means to get a jump. I’m just happy if I don’t have to drive to the post office anymore.”
John Vandelinder can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 211, or email@example.com
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