Thursday, October 16, 2008

Disrupting the flow

It's interesting to see how coaches work to find the right balance for their teams.

As an example, Dodgers' manager Joe Torre gave his team the day off Tuesday, the day before what would turn out to be the final game of the NLCS against the Phillies, who beat LA last night to advance to the World Series.

Said Torre: "I just thought getting away from it would probably benefit them more than anything else. I sense we'll be back here with the right attitude."

Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel took the opposite approach, electing to take BP as usual. As one Phillies player put it: "We don't want to disrupt the flow of things."

So what's the right approach?

Seeing how the Phils won the game (and the series), it'd be easy to say the Dodgers should have had practice. But Torre, one of the all-time great coaches, knows his team better than anyone. Just as Coach Manuel didn't want to "disrupt the flow," down 3-1 in the series, Torre was looking to do just the opposite.

Earlier this NFL season, the Cardinals staff opted to stay on the East Coast for consecutive games. The idea is that, instead of spending 20 hours on a plane between four flights to and from the East Coast, it would be smarter to use that time preparing for their games and eliminating jet lag.

[The Cards' staff, by the way, worked hard to keep the team engaged, arranging sight-seeing trips for the players, including one out to the FBI training center in Quantico, Va.]

Arizona lost both games, but the staff was looking for a way to help its team -- one that's struggled away from home -- play better on the road. As Cards coach Ken Whisenhunt said at the time:

"This was an opportunity to try something different, shake it up and maybe play a little better on the road."

New England did the same thing when they travelled to the West Coast to play back-to-back road games against the 49ers and the Chargers. The flight from BOS to SFO is about 5-6 hours. That's a long time to sit on a flight.

According to coach Bill Belichick:

"We fly out after practice on Friday. If you fly on Saturday, then you are spending the whole day in the air. You can't get your normal Saturday routine done ... It's a (1 p.m.) game out there, so we felt that this was the best schedule to put our team on."

New England split its games, beating SFO in the first game of the trip and losing to the Chargers at San Diego.

Again, what's the right approach?

While spending 18 hours on a plane flying back and forth across the U.S. isn't easy on the body, as I've posted in the past, staying on the road for more than two weeks is tough -- whether you're an accountant or a professional athlete.

To me, I'd opt to come home after the first game. Let's get back to our facility, our homes, our families, our neighborhoods, etc. Yes, we'll have some jet lag, but guys can sleep on the plane, study film, read, etc.

Likewise, coaches can meet, watch film, visit with players, plan for the next game, etc. You can still be productive on the plane. In fact, I've found you can get a lot done on a plane since there are fewer distractions (e.g., phones ringing, etc.).