COACHING SYSTEMS COMPARED

Harvard and Yale Methods Criticised by Mr. Lorin F. Deland.

Through the courtesy of the Atlantic Monthly, we are permitted to reprint the following, which is an extract from Mr. Lorin F. Deland's article in the November number. Mr. Deland was tactics coach of the University eleven in 1891, 1893 and 1894.

"At a time when so many eyes are watching the football contests at Cambridge and New Haven, it may be instructive to review the records of the two universities since 1889, and consider the method and policy under which the game has been developed at each university, and the results which have followed as a natural outcome.

"What determines football supremacy? How has Yale met those conditions? How has Harvard met them? Why has Yale won the majority of the Harvard-Yale contests?--these are still questions of vital interest to graduates of the last twenty years, and to many lovers of sport.

"In the thirty-four years that have elapsed since Rugby Football was introduced into this country, Yale and Harvard have played twenty-nine championship matches, and of these Yale has won twenty-three and Harvard four. Since 1889, when Harvard withdrew from the Intercollegiate Association, Yale has won thirteen times and Harvard four. These figures are too divergent to be accounted for by any theory of accident, though 'Yale luck' has passed into a proverb. No; it is a superficial view of the case which fails to see that underlying this long succession of victories there are significant facts concerning the methods and coaching of these Yale players who could take thirteen out of seventeen victories. It is with these facts that we are wholly concerned, and not with any criticisms upon them.

"If we could analyze the average football victory of Yale, and trace it back to its responsible causes, I believe the factors which determine a victory, with the percentage of influence which each exerts, would be as follows: Team (as between Yale and Harvard)  20 per cent. Captain  15 per cent. Head coach and assistants  25 per cent. Coaching of the coaches  40 per cent.

"First, the team. Let us bear in mind that practically the same class of men go to Yale and to Harvard. The preparatory schools send to each university in about equal proportions. Sometimes Yale and Harvard men come from the same family; often they come from the same set or group. They are all merely potentialities. Perhaps Harvard has the best of the picking at the start, for from 1890 to 1900 it will be recalled that it was the Harvard Freshmen who usually beat the Yale Freshmen. None of these Freshman teams received expert coaching, and this factor eliminated the conflict became one of individual ability, and the men of Harvard usually won. When I put the team at 20 per cent., it is the team at the beginning of the season. What the team is at the end of the season is the result of other factors in the equation. Few well-informed judges of football will deny that if Harvard and Yale swapped squads on September 25, the final result would remain unchanged. Taking these facts into consideration, I think we are setting it high enough when we say that the individual ability of the eleven untaught players is fairly represented as influencing twenty per cent. of the result.

"The second factor is the captain. Under this heading I place his qualities of leadership, his command over men, his powers of discipline, his ability to establish and maintain an esprit de corps, his forcefulness, his insight, and finally his finally his common sense. We have had more than one case at Harvard, in the last twenty years, of the choice of an unsuitable captain mainly because he was popular--'a good fellow,' so to speak--one whom every one liked. It is a great mistake. She has made it conspicuously on two occasions, but it is written down that that thing must not happen again. If one can generalize about this question of choosing a captain, I should say that Harvard has chosen her captains for their popularity or personal playing ability. Yale has looked almost wholly at football fibre and leadership. Yale is right, in my opinion. The third factor is the head coach; the man who is the brain and hand of the captain; the teacher, drill-master, critic, field-manager, guide, philosopher, disciplinarian, oxar, and drudge all in one. Assisting him (at both Harvard and Yale) is a corps of coaches, who work under specific instructions as to method and policy.

"The fourth factor is the system. It is the coaching of the coaches. It is the School of Grand Tactics, which at Yale has been presided over for twenty years by Walter Camp. I shall try to show later just what this accomplishes to justify my crediting it with an influence of forty per cent. on the result. I have called it the 'system,' for want of a better word, but it is really the tactical policy of the game.

"Yale, Harvard and Princeton had, after 1891, an abundance of coaching material from which to draw, and the practice was established of appointing a head coach to be assisted by a succession of visiting graduates through the season, the men being invited to coach along special lines, and their attendance being secured at that stage in the season's development when their especial work would be most effective. This practice has endured at Yale up to the present time, and has worked admirably, all things considered. The coaches who teach position-play come very early. The more valuable men, who can deal with the team as a unit, come about the middle of the season. The men who infuse spirit and fight into the playing (how such fellows as Rhodes, Tompkins and Sanford used to do this!) get there toward the close of the season, while for the last ten days there come one or two past masters of football science whose judgment and expert knowledge place them at the very head of Yale coaching material. So Yale has managed, and still manages, her coaching.

"The coaching force at Harvard has varied greatly in size in different seasons, and the coaching policy has been subject to repeated and radical changes. The accessibility of Cambridge has brought an embarrassment of material, and in the middle nineties it was no unusual thing to find from twenty to thirty coaches on the field.

"You will say at once that thirty is an impossible number. It is, and it is not. Sixty is not impossible, if they work together under powerful leadership. Three is too many if they do not. In any case, accepted and admitted leadership is essential, meaning by that a head whose decisions are unhesitatingly accepted, and for whose policy, right or wrong, every man labors.

"Here was Harvard's chief difficulty for several years. With so many counselors, a head coach had more work reconciling his assistants' opposing views than teaching the team. Then, too, there was a wide divergence of opinion, for they had been trained under different systems, with no permanently accepted creeds. No man stood paramount, nor, indeed, was there one worthy of speaking the final word in the daily and nightly debates.

"Unlike Yale, Harvard had no football traditions to guide her, and the important lessons of each year were not being worked out, collated, weighed, and filed away in the mental and written records of one man acting as a permanent, resident guardian of these treasures of experience and precedent, which finally crystallized into the accepted traditions of Yale football. During all these years at New Haven there was a system, and a head of that system; a man who was always in New Haven, who had at his fingers' ends every fact, figure, and deduction of every season, who was always available for advice; supremely a football man, both as player and tactician, a natural student of the game, who would ask no better enjoyment in the long winter evenings than the close study of possible developments of play in the light of the previous season's experiences. And so from this established system there came down rules, methods, and policies which all Yale coaches tacitly accepted.

"First, as to plays. In mastering her plays, Yale believes in perfecting the form of a play at the very start, however slowly it may go, and then speeding it up as fast as the slowest man can be quickened, but no faster. Thus Yale preserves her superb form. Harvard, on the other hand, gets speed and life into a play at the very start, albeit it is very ragged in form. Her effort is then directed, through the rest of the season, to perfecting the form without sacrificing speed. Yale is meanwhile perfecting the speed without sacrificing form.

"Next, study their choice of players. Breadth of chest, reach of arms, and exceptional strength around the loins, with the ability to carry one's self in action with the quick co-ordination of the natural athlete, would count tremendously in a man's favor at New Haven, regardless of whether he had ever played football or gave any promise of playing it. At Harvard, on the other hand, the men are given equal chances of demonstrating what they know, or can readily learn, of football per se; and the tendency is unconsciously to favor the present performer or the one who shows ready aptitude to take instruction. In other words, Harvard sees the present player; Yale sees the future player.

"Harvard has always remembered Arthur Cumnock's definition of team-play. He said it was the overplus, or surplus, of ability which a player could supply to the team beyond the amount which he needed to do his own work. In other words, it was the extra playing which he could contribute for the assistance of his neighbors, beyond what was required to cover his own position. The definition was valuable for its suggestive quality, but to my thinking it is strictly incorrect, and it illustrates the individualistic tendency which has always shown itself in Harvard football.

"Team-play is not a collection of individual contributions, but something much more subtle. It is the subjection and the rejection of everything that is individual. It is a system of reflexes from man to man. It is the complete interdependence of the different individuals. Part of team-play is theory, and can be taught; part is only gained by familiarity through experience. For example, an end, on defence, sees an interference coming his way; he knows his own work, and he knows also what his adjoining neighbors, the tackle and rush-line back, have been told to do. He understands in what way he can depend on them. So much for theory. But now by close familiarity with the personalities of these neighbors, he understands to what exact extent he can depend on each one; by constant practice with them, by daily experience of them, he has learned how far he can rely on them; he feels their presence, even though he cannot see them; he knows instinctively as he advances that they are by his side or backing him up at a definite spot; he goes into the play with a wholly new confidence; he is really three men in one, for their effort is directly interlocked with his, and deep down in his consciousness he both knows it and feels it.

"So much, briefly, for what team-play is, and the higher ability required to coach it. But now, above this coaching, there is yet something higher. There is the policy, or method, or system, which shall be taught. This is what I call the coaching of the coachers. It is the highest round of the ladder. It concerns the grand tactics of the game. It demands the insight to analyze the results of an entire season of intercollegiate football, and draw the correct lessons from it for the equipment of your next year's team. It requires the capacity to plan an offense that shall be interchangeable, well-concealed, speedy, and powerful. It calls for the ability to plan a system of team-defence which shall take care of all possible plays of your opponents. It comprehends the knowledge of how a team ought to be brought along, and by what stages. In a word, it is the regulation and control of the whole coaching policy for the season. This work at Yale has been performed by Walter Camp. He created the Yale system, and his work has long represented, to my thinking, forty per cent for Yale's successful results.