What To Do With Weaker Players

29 03 2010

My flag football team purchased your 8on8 set and it’s absolutely been very helpful.
Flag Football
However, we have a dilemma that we’ve been trying to solve for a few games:

This season, some of our team’s veteran guys were replaced by more inexperienced and less physically-capable players. So now our team now has about 2-3 guys that we are having problems trying to decide where to play.

We want this to be a positive experience for everyone, so we do not want to bench any of our players or put them only on special teams, but we really do not know where to place these guys. Any ideas?

This is an 8v8 league, and we run separate offensive and defensive personnel. We run a pretty standard cover-2 zone on defense. I was thinking maybe putting these guys as WR (we normally have 4 WR), as this would still leave 2 veteran WRs. We’ve tried OL, DL, and CBs, but they’ve almost been liabilities in these positions.

Thanks for your help!
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The Ninja Speaks

Ken,

The problem you bring up of having a disconnect between the talent/experience/intensity of a couple of players and the rest of the team is all too common on a flag football team, and unfortunately, unlike some sports, even with teams as big as 8on8, there is really no place to “hide” a player, much less 2-3. On the one hand, as you mentioned, you want to make the game a fun, positive experience for all involved, because it’s “just flag football”, right? The other side of the coin is the intense desire to compete and win no matter the venue, and your players probably span the spectrum from “just being out to have fun” to “win at all costs”.   I have seen this before, and unfortunately, there are hard decisions ahead of you. A good first step would be to take a step back and try to determine which direction most of the team seems to be pulling. Does the overall vibe of the team (these 2-3 players excluded) lean towards serious competitive gameplay or towards just having fun. If it’s the latter, then you can take a deep breath and just accept the fact that you’re going to give it your best, but playing time and field equality is more important than winning, even if you yourself are inclined otherwise.

BUT, if you feel that the team really is built to win except for a couple of guys who are dead weight, but you don’t want to be a total jerk by having cuts from your rec league team, things get more dicey. Here are some thoughts:

1. Definitely slip one of them in at wide receiver. If you have 4, that’s a good spot. Make a point to start them in that position, but then encourage a healthy rotation after the first quarter. The fact is, they only become a serious liability if the QB throws them the ball (and they drop it, tip it up, etc.). Part of this will be on the QB. If these guys are truly that dangerous out there, don’t throw them the ball unless necessary. You could split the game, rotating two of them through one receiver slot, trading possessions. You may lose a superstar at that position, but immediately you’ve given two of them assignments. If you can pull off a spread set formation with 2 blockers and 5 receivers, you can definitely afford to have a weaker route runner out there.

2. While I agree that just having them on special teams is only a short step above cutting them, make sure that they are emphasized on special teams. That at least keeps them involved multiple times a game. Can any of them kick? Tasking one of them as kicker actually brings them into the game quite a bit.

3. Rusher on defense is also a good position. If you pair one of them with a very strong rusher, you should still be able to pressure the QB. Again, rotate through these guys to minimize the negative impact.   If you do this a lot, it doesn’t look as much like you’re singling out a weaker player when no one else is rotating.  I would recommend against putting these players in your deep cover two or even at the corners or backer unless they earn the position.  Stopping a good team’s passing game is difficult enough without worrying about your guys being out of position and giving up big plays.

Hard Decisions, Continued
Back to the hard decisions theme… Simply put, you will not be the team you want to be (or used to be) if you’re saddled with inferior players AND you feel that it’s necessary to give them substantial playing time.  The game is just too demanding to have weak players on the field every game. Sometimes it’s good to have numbers to avoid being caught short handed on guys for a game, but often it’s the less desirable players who are the most consistent.  You probably cannot change that much this season, but you may think long and hard about your team ethos and what next season looks like.  It may be worth reevaluating then.  I have direct experience with having to cut a player between seasons.  It was an extremely difficult thing to do, but his attitude and gameplay were dragging the team down.  Our team was much better for having done it.
Alternatively, you can keep these players involved on the team and just make the hard decisions as they come up.  If it’s fourth and long and you need a big play, put your best team out there. If you’re under 2 minutes with a tie game and a playoff berth depends on a victory, put your best team in.  To do this you need one guy (or a couple) who is clearly calling the shots. When playoff games arrive (and every single member from the roster has suddenly found a way to clear the calendar), you have to make tough choices.  Most times a weaker player knows he is weaker and playing some role on a dominant team is good enough.   If you don’t want to address it so brashly, consider reducing the playing time of the weaker players. Let them make the decision of whether getting a few snaps is worth the trade off of a Saturday morning. This is sort of an economist’s approach; address it practically, and if they choose not to continue, that is their most effective way to voice their discontent. (Of course personal relationships must be considered as well).

Remember that a team is an organism made up of a dozen or more individuals, and while nobody wants to be the unpopular leader who takes the game too seriously by making cuts or limiting playing time, there are a dozen other guys on the team who are taking the game seriously and making it a priority. By catering to a couple of guys who really deserve to play at a lower level, you may be trading their contentment for the chemistry and strength of the team, not to mention the satisfaction of the other dozen guys who want to win.

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2 responses

2 04 2010
Pat in AZ

There is another segment of players out there that don’t appear to have the physical attributes: speed, height, athletic abilities of the star players but do show up for all the practices and games and are out to win – not just have fun.

Some of those guys can move the ball on offense when the star players quit on you. Especially when the game isn’t going well. Primadonna’s start arguing with each other and don’t stay in the game.

I’m one of those players. When I’m in the game we do well. I’m not going to break the game open – just move the chains.

I’m going to give my all every play down to the last play – even if we are down 3 td’s. Big players are trying to justify or explain who’s fault it is.
My problem is – I get cut if we have team size limits and almost never start the games.

In the last 4 tournament games – the 2 games I played significantly, we one. Also, I got a number of 1st downs and even got a few scores!
The other 2 games I played like 2 plays each (all on the line). Both games ended up being a loss….I’m just sayin’…….

We play flag football in the East Valley in the Phoenix, AZ area. Tuesday nights, Saturday & Sunday mornings.
Anyone coming to Phoenix should email me at flagfootball@the-rockscene.net or go to http://flagfootball.meetup.com/42

Thanks for letting me vent 🙂

4 02 2011
Who’s Calling Plays? – Playing Time, Egos, and Winning: Struggles of the Player-Coach « Ask The Ninja

[…]  But even along the way, winning games can be very important.  Consider starting some of the non-playmakers so when the crucial final 2 minutes arrives, you’re not compelled to play a weak lineup. […]

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