In my past I’ve been coaching youngsters in a Swedish sport called floorball. A lot of my experiences from that time have been very useful in my role as a producer. Lately I’ve been toying with the thought of picking up coaching again. I’m curious to find out if there are any lessons learnt in producing that can be applied to sports.
If I choose to go for soccer coaching, I’ve been considering a new approach that might revolutionize the game. I’m going to apply scheduling on soccer games. To explain my idea I need to simplify the conditions. We could assume that we start the game with the ball in our possession. This is the way I would plan how to score the first goal, and in this case we only need 2 players, John and Pete.
The snapshot of reality at the start of the game tells me that this plan will succeed, as long as John and Pete understand and execute it.
Of course this is folly and has no chance of succeeding. Just a few seconds into the game things will have changed and the plan needs to be revised. For a plan like this to work it needs to communicable as well, I need a method on how to communicate the plan to the players so that they are aware of what to do next. We have eleven opponents and one or more coaches on the other side doing their best to make my plan fail.
No coach in their right mind would attempt to break down a game into small tasks, and attempt to maintain the plan during the game; the system contains too much uncertainty. Applying this method to soccer would not work. Soccer coaches rely on broad instructions, and simple repeatable strategies that can be used in different situations in a game. Within that framework the players operate, making decisions as the situation changes. It’s also quite common that there are one or two star players in the team as well that are operating quite freely, opening up opportunities with their unique ability to read the game.
When setting up a plan for a soccer game it needs to fulfill a number of criteria, three especially important are:
The plan is the reflection of our current perception of reality. The reality will change and the plan needs to be easily adjustable, so that we are not locked into a game plan that is failing but can’t be changed.
The plan must be simple enough that it’s possible to communicate it to the team. It must also be easy to communicate changes in the plan to the team as reality is changing.
The team needs to be able to understand why the plan will lead to the best possible outcome. If the team doesn’t understand the purpose of the plan they will not be able to use their own best judgment to adapt to situations.
Game development has a lot in common with a soccer game. There is a skilled team of developers that are capable of making decisions within their area. Most likely the game field will be changing all the time as new games are coming out and consumer trends are shifting. There are also often a number of exceptionally creative people that will realize new paths as development moves along.
If the method and plan doesn’t meet the above criteria there is a single point of failure in the team. Even worse is that people’s decision making will be crippled, due to their limited understanding of the purpose. To build a successful team the goal must be to create a machinery that can run even if you remove a cog.
With a well-defined goal and few forces affecting the plan, a linear approach to planning might work. But, when uncertainty and number of stakeholders increases the chosen tactic should reflect that. In those cases we have to work on conveying the plan as a strategy, coach team members to works constructively within the boundaries rather than relying on direct instructions.