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Understanding your opponents

Player-centred coaching harnesses the team’s collective intelligence. Paddy Upton explains in this video.
PADDY UPTON: There are a few key considerations for planning, some of which include having an understanding of your opponents, or competitors, in a business context, of the conditions under which you’ll play, or the markets, in a business context, and of your own strengths and weaknesses. In this video, we’ll explore different ways to understand your opponents or competitors. The most common method employed in professional sports is for the coach, in consultation with a video analyst, to spend time reviewing the opposition players and the opponent’s strategies, strengths, and weaknesses, and then to present these to their own players. This constitutes a coach-centered approach.
However, it’s only rarely at the professional level that coaches have access to a detailed library of video footage and statistics on opponents, which might be similar, in the case of understanding public companies. At lower levels, there will be less information available which makes opposition analysis by the coach both difficult and incomplete. At all levels of play, including top international level, a player-centered approach would entail the players sharing with the group their understanding and experience of opponents. Certainly, in all school, club, or domestic leagues, athletes in one team would have played against their opponents at least once per year almost every year since they started playing the game.
Having competed against them before means, within your team, there would be some level of understanding of players in the opposition, which will help make up for much of the lack of video footage or stats. There are several advantages to using this player-centered approach, which harnesses the collective intelligence of the group. By sharing knowledge, team intelligence on opposition grows, team communication develops, at least faster than when the to does all the talking, and players feel a sense of ownership for the plans that emerge.
This ownership increases the retention of information, increases the likelihood of buy in, and if any important piece of information is forgotten by someone during play, they can always ask a fellow player on the field for it rather than wait for the coach to send on the information via water boy, which is often too late. The more information there is on the field, the better the chance of the team members making smart decisions in the key moments of the game, which can be the difference between winning and losing those close-fought encounters. I recall a match in the Indian Premier League in a game where the Rajasthan Royals played against the Kings XI Punjab.
We figured that the Kings XI would play one of their rookie recruits against us. And we had very little footage on him. One of our rookies, who had yet to play a game for us in fact, knew this other player well, having played against him through all the age groups. So the team sat and listened to one of our youngest players, who, in that moment, was possibly the most important person in the room, because they had key information that no one else did. Afterwards, this young player of ours reported making this contribution boosted his confidence, knowing that some of his idols were listening to him, and appreciating his inputs.

Player-centred coaching harnesses the team’s collective intelligence in order to share information and experiences of opponents.

There’s no question that as a coach you need to understand opponents/competitors. In a coach-centred approach, the coach’s attitude would be: ‘I’ve studied them, let me tell you about them’.

Conversely, a coach taking a player-centred approach would ask: ‘What’s your understanding of the opposition? What do you know about them?’

The coach would let players exhaust their understanding before adding any additional information. During a match, as far as possible, the intelligence needs to come from on the field – allowing for quick decisions, which is often the difference between winning and losing.

It’s not only the players’ skill that results in winning, it’s also players’ capacity for decision-making (representative of the top- and bottom-left quadrants).

Your task

Watch the video in which I discuss the different ways of gathering information on your opponents in the planning phase.

Identify whether you use a coach-centred or player-centred approach in your own practice. Evaluate your approach and, in the comments, explain what strategies you could incorporate to empower players to share information about their opponents.

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Player-centred Coaching

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