I bet the title got you thinking, “What the crap???,” right?
Good. I’ve been thinking a lot about taking things that don’t normally fit together and see how they can remain useful or applicable across subjects–you may be surprised by what you find. (I’ll also confess this is because of other research I’ve been doing–and that my mind rarely strays far from volleyball–for example, this blog on coaching/military theory.
Napoleon was a short French dude from a couple hundred years ago. Any more, he’s most famous for being in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and as the subject of the ABBA song, ‘Waterloo.’ He’s usually known in history for lending his name to the wars and battles that raged across Europe from 1800-1815 or so, but really, his most lasting influence came via his legal system, the Code Napoleon….but we’re going to worry about the military side of things–so we can get to the coaching.
Napoleon, for most of his career as a commander, believed that there were certain principles which would lead to victory. The most important of these was that his army should seize critical positions, then stand fast and force the enemy to attack the French and his prepared artillery units/defensive positions. Napoleon saw this as maintaining the strategic/operational offensive by dominating the tactical (lowest) level through defense, waiting for the enemy to make a mistake he could capitalize on for a guaranteed victory.
INTERRUPTION!!! I don’t expect you to be a history-geek. What do *you* like that you can use? Do you watch TV shows like Iron Chef (watch the communication!) or Cutthroat Kitchen (adapting to circumstances)? Heck, watch British murder mysteries to watch a detective follow a path of questions to an ultimate ‘eureka!’ moment. Or heck–just watch other sports. How are coaches using time outs? Can you figure out their substitution patterns? Can you take what you know from hockey and apply it to volleyball? …and now, back to the originally scheduled program:
The Reichswehr/Wehrmacht was the non-Nazi (sort of…it’s complicated beyond a blog post) military of Germany from 1919-45. Analyzing the end of World War One and the success of Brusilov’s initial offensive, ‘tanks,’ and Stosstruppen in trying to break through trenches (sorry, history geeking-out there), the Wehrmacht (helped by the Soviets…another detail beyond our current scope) developed the concept of the blitzkrieg. The blitz permitted Nazi Germany to quickly overrun Poland and France, then the Balkans and through the summer of 1942, massive swaths of European Russia from Leningrad to Maikop…before the economic might of the US weighed in, the USSR industrialized, and Nazi Germany was defeated.
The key to the blitzkrieg though was unappreciated. It’s always assumed it is about tanks driving forward and going crazy. That’s some of it, but a larger part is breaking through, establishing positions on key terrain, and forcing the enemy to have to fight with communications disrupted on terrain they haven’t chosen. Hmmm…strategic/operational offensive, tactical defensive…sounds familiar, right?
For the Germans, this was intentional. Even low ranking soldiers understood the plan. The machine-gun was their deadliest weapon, therefore they put it in the best position and everything else was put in place to let it do its work–soldiers moved forward, got MGs on hills with clear sight, and then everyone worked to channel everything into the MG’s kill-zone. This technique permitted Germans on the Eastern Front to hold on even when outnumbered 10:1.
So with that in mind, what does that have to do with coaching?
Consider the tactical defensive aspect. Get the lead (hold the key terrain), then force your opponent to take risky actions to get it back–if your opponent has to take risks, they are more likely to lose points from errors, reinforcing your position and bringing you closer to victory (or surrender/withdrawal on a battlefield).
Consider the blog where I noted the importance to grab a lead early–that that HUGELY increases your chances of victory…this is the strategic offensive. Holding the lead is the equivalent of strategic terrain. Seize it fast, then hold on. BUT!!!…. (NOTE: The one good announcer this year from NJCAA Nationals observed that in every set played (up to the Final Four), the team that reached 17 first won. 17-16 or 17-5, it did not matter. Coaches–you’re not playing a game to 25. You are playing a game to 17.
This does not mean you go into time-killing mode like basketball teams do or football teams. Do not start serving easier or only tipping, etc. It means you’re in good shape if you just keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t get cute.
How do we apply this to coaching? Consider some things?
- What is your ‘terrain’? What do you want to defend at all costs–is it the middle of the court? down the line?
- How can you ‘seize’ that first? What do you have available to you, serving, hitting, blocking, etc?
- The Germans built everything around their MG position. Do you have that sort of weapon? Volleyball is built around serve-receive…can you create an unbreakable passer? It’s built around sideouts. Do you have a go-to hitter capable of scoring under any/all circumstances?
- Napoleon and the Germans (sounds like a bad 60s band…) both sought to maintain the initiative, to keep the opponent on their heels. How can you do that? (This sort of rephrases the second point above)
With all this, we’ve got one other problem though. If you’re a history-geek, you may realize it. You see, in the end, for all this brilliance, Napoleon’s Grande Armee and the Wehrmacht, they get crushed utterly. There’s a coaching lesson in this though as well, best put in the words of Han Solo: “Great, now don’t get cocky, kid!” You must remember that there is no perfect system. On any given day, players will have something that is ‘off’ or not working for them. Adapt–see the changes happening–because if you are successful, your opponent will take your tactics and strategies and begin to use them against you. Be ready for that. Don’t look for the perfect drill, the perfect strategy–it’s a fool’s errand.
Whew–if you made it this far, thanks. I hope your brain hurts with the possibilities!