There are many decisions that a Head Coach must make in the preseason in preparation for the first game. Many of these decisions may actually have more effect on your team’s success than what happens on game day. How long should we practice? How many days before the first game should I eliminate live contact in a scrimmage situation? How many days of practice should I dedicate to the first game? How much game plan practice time do I delegate between the first and second team (50-50), (60-40), (70-30). I could on and on with the decisions that a Head Coach has to make during the preseason. The list is endless.
But one of the biggest decisions you have to make is how much “live contact” do I give my star player.
For teams with an abundance of quality players like Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Florida State and others…losing a talented player is not a major issue. These teams have recruited so well, they usually have a backup player that is just as talented. The difficult decision is for the coach that only has one or two “differences makers” on his team. These teams would include most of your non-Power 5 schools and the lower half of the division in Power 5 conferences. These teams can’t afford to lose their one really good player in a practice situation. I always felt that if I was going to lose my best player to injury, I wanted it to be in a game, not practice.
When protecting a star player, a Head Coach must consider several things.
1. Removing your best player or two, during live contact in the preseason can cause moral problems on your team. The Head Coach must fully explain and communicate to the team why one of their teammates is getting out of all the “hard stuff” and they aren’t. This is easier said than done!
2. You also minimize opportunities for your other players to improve by not letting them compete against a really good player…the kind of player they will most likely face in the first game.
3. Another factor to consider for the Head Coach is that when you decrease the live contact opportunities for your star player, you may put him in jeopardy by not being prepared physically.
I had to make these decisions and they are not easy. Because most preseason practices are closed to the public and the media, these are some of the tough decisions Head Coaches have to make that the average spectator is not aware of. But a lot of times it’s these decisions, and not the plays called, that have the most to do with a team’s success in the first game.
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