Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Treatise on Platooning

Among the fundamentals that I will soapbox for, platooning, is another that I firmly believe in at the high school level.

This post will simply be a regurgitation of musings I've shared with others on this subject, most noteably here;
Mecca of Platooning

Help me understand when a program should NOT platoon.

I am not suggesting there are no legitimate reason to avoid platoon, because we all will use what "works" for us. I guess I'm stuck wondering;

  1. Does platooning somehow "hurt" a players chances of being 'discovered' by college recruiters ( DI offensive guard playing DT)
  2. The biggest excuse is obviously numbers.

To me, this is relative to people saying they can't buy a house because they don't have the money, so they rent. That kind of reason (IMO) is exactly why you SHOULD buy a house, so that you DO have the money (equity). I've seen big programs platoon, and little programs platoon. If you only have a senior & junior class of 30 and 20 of them are girls, well then maybe I guess I would understand..........help me understand, folks.

It takes considerable faith in your staff's coaching abilities, IMO, to go platoon where you have to "coach up that 2nd tier player" to become a legit starter, even when the instincts are telling you to put Johnny B.Goode who plays on the other side of the ball in. The security blanket of just letting the studs take over and let the marginal players "sink or swim" rather than forcing yourself (and the rest of the team) to rely on how well they've been prepared for a starting spot.


The obstacles, limitations, etc are usually temporary and can be fixed with the application of resources.(more students, more coaches, more facilities, etc)

One could argue, that your "Charles Jefferson" at 60% isn't better than my 100% Johnny Slapdick

If you let your "Charles Jefferson" completely dominate at one position or do you try to distribute his talent among a bunch of positions?

It's the Law of Diminishing Returns at work in a 48 minute ball game on humid nights in the early Fall.(for those that do platoon, you almost ALWAYS have the 2-4 players that HAVE to play both sides, but the majority of players do platoon).

I’ve been at relatively mid-sized schools where we’d platoon. We would train kids both ways up until their Sophomore year. In their Sophomore / Varsity years, they will predominately play one way. There, of course, are exceptions where 3 or 4 kids will play both ways. Very few play an ENTIRE game both ways.

  • Every off season, we look at kids and list the ENTIRE roster pool from incoming 9th - 12th graders.
  • We list their primary and secondary positions.
  • We rank the top 12 kids for offense and defense, regardless of grade or if they were listed for the other side of the ball.

I am in love with the platoon system, as it allows us to teach MORE quality football and it makes adjustments considerably easier, allowing the coaches more control of what happens on the field (execution). You have to have more confidence in the ability of the coaches to TEACH football than you do in kids to just slap stuff together on Friday nights to platoon, IMO.

If you’re waiting for “numbers” until you platoon, it's a chicken-before-the-egg argument. You'll NEVER have the numbers to be a comfortable platoon system UNTIL you start platooning. We try to have TWO teams whenever numerically feasible at the freshmen and MS levels.

When you are afraid of your second tier players having to start (discouraging you from platooning) then, you could say that those "turds" you cringe to start are basically that way because they haven't been coached up (this all is related to how we each value / perceive "coaching").If you just platoon at the Varsity level, I think you will find that the turds are more pronounced. If you platoon program-wide, it should be a different story.It's easy to say that is the case when you think short-term.BUT, if that 3rd string player is ACTUALLY getting reps at the 8th & 9th grade level (instead of runt garbage time), he develops;

  1. a sense of purpose
  2. identifies himself as a football player (motivation to hit the weights)
  3. gets intense quality instruction (instead of 'lectures' he hears at the back of the line)
  4. has immediate incentive to keep coming out for football (increase numbers)

Again, with short-term / long-term 'solutions' a lot of this becomes chicken-or-the-egg mentality. It boils down to We are going to slap-what-we-can-together to win NOW on every level or We are going to BUILD a program geared to win at the Varsity level.

A successful team that we adopted our platooning from (Vic Boblet at Rock Island, who got it from Bob Reade at Geneseo) did this at the lower levels; 8th - 10th

  • Every kid is taught an offensive & defensive position
  • One is their "primary" position and one is their "secondary" position.

It was well-known that the Freshman squad (usually had TWO units) was where they put all the best coaches (since it was all about teaching).

  • Johnny's primary position is OT
  • Johnny's secondary position is ILB

For sub varsity games, they play kids at their primary position for the 1st qtr or half

In the 2nd qtr / half they play their secondary position.

So, Johnny is playing OT the 1st qtr/half then he's getting his reps at ILB the other (not at the same time), while the primary ILB is playing while Johnny is playing OT, etc.

Teaching, playing time / experience, coaching up, technique are what are stressed - winning is a by-product of this.

Again, it all is based on your philosophy as the Head of the Program is......you may boast the 10-time defending City champion Freshman team, but if you never make the playoffs at the Varsity, who really cares? It all depends if you put more importance on the CHICKEN or the EGG.

Years ago I worked at an inner-city program that splits the talent amongst 3 other public schools a private school, and an out-of-district school that "recruits" - we did the Varsity platoon system with 3 coaches on each side of the ball (only one of them was a teacher in the school, the rest were paid assistants from other areas).

I guess what I'm getting at is whenever you have a less-than-perfect situation you can sit back and let temporary excuses limit you, or you can look to actively change your environment.

There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?---Bobby Kennedy

If every kid plays and every kid learns fundamentals to make him successful, mission accomplished in my book.You play to win the game - but winning should be a by-product of great TEAM effort and teaching the game.

Maybe I should add that the biggest caveat that we were taught was that EVERY off-season you had to evaluate the talent (again, more work than some folks would care to do).......

  • EVERY coach had to rank each player (in the program) from 1 - 100 on the player's value (i.e. Charles Johnson is #1, Johnny Slapdick is the 100th best athlete in the program)
  • EVERY coach had to pick each players best offensive & defensive position.
  • Then the offensive & defensive staffs had to essentially "Draft" their roster each year (some are no-brainers), with the TOP QB going to offense and most of the pivotal studs going to defense (fill the critical components to the defense first).
  • Then you find out who you have to coach-up in the off-season (who you HAVE to make a starter by September). It gives the coaches a little more incentive to push certain kids in the weight room (as well as game plan, knowing their 'liabilities').

FYI - at one of the programs I was at years ago, we went from Ironman to platooning, the Sophomore & Varsity staffs worked together quite a bit. Especially during the first 4 weeks of football, so you essentially double-up the Varsity staff.Sophomores get reps with the Varsity during Indy & some Group. By the time you get to TEAM, you don't need tons of coaches present, mainly the coordinators.

You divide up the team with the best 11 to defense after the QB is selected.The bottom line with selection depends on "where can this kid make the best impact"?

We were a cover 3 team. We HAD to have the best athletes at OLB spots....we had a lot of guys we wanted at corner & FS, but being that we were a C3 team, they would've ended up making a bigger impact at TB and flanker. This forces the staff to really hash things out together and forces your staff to get on the same page.......


THIS is who we need (because he's going to do ____)

This cuts down on/eliminates the whining about player placement, because EVERYONE gets an opportunity to air their beliefs and argue their point (that's what football is about).

Finally, I'm not going to convince anyone of anything - I'm not a salesman. I'm just giving some feedback based on my experiences. Each of us are different.

For those of you that believe in two-waying your program..........at what point (freshmen, JV, Varsity) do you begin LOOKING at those second tier guys? I mean REALLY looking at them as legitimate contributors? Honestly, what is THEIR experience like during a practice, during a game, during a season? Do they really have to be involved? I'm just asking, and you may not really care about those players, but I'm just wondering when does the coaching staff collectively say, "Hey, Johnny Slapdick could help us at ROLB instead of Bobby Eveready?"

Shoot, if ALL my players were 6'3", 205lbs and ran a 4.5 40, I'd have a pretty easy time "coaching". Its easy teaching the honor roll students....AGAIN, if 2-4 guys happen to play both ways, that doesn't mean you AREN'T platooning......if you have philosophically decided to have a separate OFFENSE & DEFENSE, then you are platooning .

For myself, the positives of platooning, I see far out-weigh the negatives. I see two-way as a quick-fix, short-sighted mentality to program building (win now). Now each of us have our own decisions to make, and I may be wrong in my opinions (it wouldn't be the first).

If I ran a company and made all of my drinking buddies my senior officers and to hell with everyone else. How many hours would you work overtime, how hard would you try to get those projects done, how long would you delude yourself with 'climbing the ladder', how much night-school would you be attending?

Then I, as the COO, am always bitching and moaning that nobody has any intiative and the only guys I can trust are my drinking buddies....when in truth, I CREATED THE PROBLEM TO BEGIN WITH......

how hard and how long is a 14- 17 year old kid going to bust his hump for you when he knows he'll never get a sniff of the field so long as Tyrone Allstater is out for football, because no matter what, he'll never be the athlete Tyrone is?Do we think that kids just magically quit football during the Varsity years and we wonder why we NEVER have any athletes to use? The problem is systemic, it doesn't just happen overnight.

If your 3rd & 4th team players now become 2nd string.....'Okay, the 4th string player would see exactly HOW much practice reps during the season?---Hey, I've coached two-way guys, and I'll be honest, those 3rd & 4th string guys got about 1 out of 40 reps when the season hit.

Now if you know you've only got 5 or 6 linebackers to coach up, you can spend a lot more time with each one, AND cross-training them (at more than one position) becomes that much easier (to have the backups fill in at any one of those spots)....mainly, because I'm FORCED to spend time with the kid. So the kid, who would've gotten maybe 2-5% of the snaps in a both-way system, now gets 15-20% of the snaps in a two platoon system.

Take for example a 4-3 defense....three linebacker spots. Your starters are bonafide, your second tier guys not so much. Well, instead of 2 studs and one guy you coach up......now you have maybe 8 guys (instead of 17 guys who don't have another position) at linebacker. So instead of trying to divide reps amongst so many guys. Now you can get;

  1. a lot of reps
  2. not many guys hanging around being distracted (zoning out)
  3. brief breathers for your starters
  4. drill time goes quickly (no kids standing around waiting their turn)
  5. you actually are able to have one-on-one time with those deficient players and spend more quality time with instructions

Lets say you platoon THIS YEAR and just looking at this from a Varsity standpoint......Year ONE may be rough....and you WILL get tons of opposition (aww...they would've won won 3 more games if the tailback played DE and FS!!)

But lets say you have 22 starters.........

  • 13 seniors
  • 8 juniors
  • 1 sophomore

Okay, you graduate 13 seniors, boo-hoo.....but now you have 9 kids with Varsity experience (instead of maybe only 3 because those senior studs would've hogged all the PT). Imagine how much more confident you'd be heading into the off-season knowing that you have SOME questions answered about your returning class as well as creating more opportunities for your Freshmen & Sophomore athletes to see the field. If you have a green SS that is a junior, maybe you have a little more confidence in turning him into a MLB his senior year (because you've seen what he can do, because he's gained confidence with the opportunity to see what Varsity ball is all about.....very little question marks).

Coaching is about CONTROL

Coaching a football program doesn't start with the Varsity in August and doesn't end with the Varsity in November. It is year-round and it is PROGRAM-WIDE. Coaching 'control' is being responsible for player retention, parental/community support / player off-season development & weights / team cohesion & building.

If I was a merc and just showed up in camp, sure...gimme the best 11. However, as a commissioned appointee of the SCHOOL, it is my responsibility to do my due-diligence to create the BEST football team the school can offer ALL YEAR LONG. Develop the product.

I have to do SOMETHING to make the team better than if I wasn't there. If I just say "show up" and just pick MY guys....then there is no point in any non-starter to stick around after Labor Day, because the roster HAS BEEN SET!

This isn't soccer and it isn't BASKETBALL where I just let the fastest 5 play and cut everyone else. Coaching is about taking the talent you have and TEACH assignments, game plan against specific opponents, limit my liabilities and accentuate our strengths in the course of a 48 - 60 minute game in 120 - 140 plays.How much faith do you have in your own coaching abilities to DEVELOP players beyond their own potential?

However, if you are considtently only playing 14 to 15 kids a game, and not looking vigorously for opportunities to play more kids, I can't see how that blueprint will ever lead to a championship caliber program. You may have years where the talent of those 14 or 15 could take you deep into the playoffs, and maybe even get a state title, but I can't see the program developing the program strength to be a solid contender on a yearly basis.

This is what I'm talking about regarding "diminishing returns" comment;
If "bobby" can get 260 minutes of instruction each week strictly on his position.......he can really shine and fully understand his assignment and know how to execute.....

  • 35 min individual,
  • 70 min group,
  • 155 min group TOTAL for the week

Now if "bobby" plays two different positions (offense & defense), now he is getting 130 minutes TOTAL every week on his asignment.....

  • 17 min individual
  • 35 min group
  • 78 min group TOTAL for the week

So, by all rights, this ONE player gets twice as much work / instructional time during the week to be prepared. Now work those Products to the context of a game....

a typical HS game averages 60 plays per unit......

  • 120 snaps divided amongst 260 minutes of preparation time


  • 60 snaps with 260 minutes of preparation time (not counting take home work ...ie. DVDs etc)

That equals 4 1/2 minutes preparation per play for platooning squads versus 2 minutes per play for two-way programs.

Show me a coach that says he gives ALL his players equal reps during the season, and I'll show you a coach thats full of it.

In addition, now you actually have a TRUE scout team to go against your no.1s in group time, instead of turd holding bags. Platooning, requires you coach the hell out of your kids. I have coached two-way systems, and it is a complete pain in the butt to try and put in anything other than your base plays because you have to juggle the roster, trying to accomodate enough time to put something in (okay...okay...."bobby" is the tailback.....now, now...if you're playing DE on THIS adjustment....etc). Now if "bobby" gets injured or has to come out of the game.....now you have to figure out how that affects special teams and the other side of the ball...you may have to make a series of adjustments that requires three other players.

Also, you get virtually ZERO production from your 2nd string during the season. With platooning, you can create specific role players as well as challenge your starters for playing time.From the number example, if you had two weeks to prepare for an opponent as opposed to one week.........

DO YOU THINK YOUR PERFORMANCE WOULD BE ANY DIFFERENT? (would you game plan any differently)

If you say no, then by all rights, platooning won't be your bag.

When you platoon, you really have a ton of time to game plan, make adjustments. You will always have two to three complete monsters that can go both ways and handle it all, but they are the exception to the rule. PLUS, it really promotes the numbers in your program ....more players playing = more parents taking involvement = more parents taking involvement = more money.

I think we are creating straw-man arguments by saying that your 2nd tier players are the class nerds. If the player can't run 10 yards, he shouldn't be out for football, let alone starting. The 2nd tier player are kids that are 2nd string players whom we are making an investment to COACH UP......you'd be surprised at how much a kid will do in the off-season when he knows;

  1. he has a shot to start
  2. he is being counted on (no, seriously) to produce (or get his job taken by an underclassman)


The Law of diminishing returns is not applicable to football.

1. It can be argued that in most games, the point of diminishing returns is never met. Teams sit their starters early, games usually aren't close, and even if they are close, these are teenagers, engines running a 100 mph, most can handle it, with proper substitution.

2. If that point is met, it does not mean that the diminished performance of player A is still not heads and shoulders above that of player B.

3. The better kids on a football team usually aren't the best because of their athleticism, though there are always 3 that just run faster, jump higher, and throw better... but the other 11 starters are usually kids that understand the game better... and there is no diminishing return on knowldege. Here's the deal... kids are not equal... there are tangible quantifiable characteristics that separate kids... once you decide who your best players are... play them... to do otherwise does not make sense to me.

If you have 22 comparable kids, more power to you, impressive, and you are either going to be world beaters, or you're in a world of trouble. However, if you are like most teams across America... you have a solid 14 kids... play them. To do otherwise sends a very bad message, the best 11 should get on the field, any other criteria creates a subjectivity that will readily become the demise of the team.""

If you have the ability to platoon then by all means do it, I would think it's a no brainer."""Define ability... because that is a huge "if"

If football was a bunch of kids running successive 40 yard dashes, I'd completely agree with you. However, if you can prepare an athlete properly, you can train him to think / react faster on the field to complete his 1/11th responsibility on the field. Conversely, I can take your 4.4 athlete and turn him into a 4.9 athlete if I throw enough things at him to make him indecisive on the field.

11 athletes going balls out in the humid months of September & October for 48 minutes versus 22 athletes in the same 48 minutes......one of those groups is going to remain 'fresh'.

2nd point (gee, can you tell this is about the one thing I actually have an opinion on?) , platooning will NEVER make sense, if all you look at is one-season. Platooning is a switch you make for the benefit of the entire PROGRAM, not just a one season fix. It NEVER is the 'right time' to platoon based on your numbers / talent.Regarding the ORIGINAL question (sorry)

For you guys that platoon how much do your twos play not counting injuries?

it depends....we sub the DL & WRs plenty to keep them fresh throughout the whole game. Some times situational players come in (pass rushers / blitzers / etc). Some guys come in for reward time ( competent players who put in work during practice who aren't liabilities ). When you have guys go down with injuries, you don't want to have to start from scratch (and coach up in just one week) with a player who is his backup. In a nutshell, TRUE No.2s get about 15 - 17 % of the seasons game time (not counting garbage time).Why? because, again, platooning isn't about ONE season....it's about the program. Giving your underclassmen reps (experience) ....getting your seniors reps (who weren't starters EVER)...getting kids invovled in the game.....THAT is what the program is about, ALL the players (not just the studs)

About the only time we are separate is during Individual time. We go No.1s (offense) vs No.1s (defense) during INSIDE DRILL / SKELLY / 7 ON 7 / 2 MIN DRILL / GOAL LINEthen when it's TEAM time........it's balls out No.1s vs No.1s in DAILY scripted scrimmages.

  • Offense gets 15 plays
  • Defense gets 15 plays
  • then offense gets 15 more plays
  • defense gets 15 more plays

** we run OUR defense adjusted / modified to look like our opponent......we run OUR offense adjusted / modified to look like our opponent (you can pepper in your subs in any of those 30 plays) then, you can go into any situational work you want to go into.this is a LOT more better than going against your make shift turd scouts squad .


Unknown said...

I agree with your post 100%. We had to platoon because our line was getting beat up and worn out during the 3rd and 4th periods. We could not finish games nor get much production on either side of the ball. We switched to platooning, coached up some younger guys and started 3 to 4 guys both ways. None of those guys were our offensive line. Let me tell you the HUGE difference it made. Our Oline was fresh. Our defensive line was fresh. Both played only one way. We had some WR/CB types who could run all night anyway and we wore a team out instead of the opposite. Ironman to me is dead.

jgordon1 said...

Sounds like our program..4-6, 10-2, 3-7...Question..How do you practice the 2-3 guys who are two way players

kylem56 said...

Brophy - another great post, printing it out and adding it to my binder of printouts from your blog, Huey, and smartfootball . Good job keep it up

Unknown said...

Gordon1, We do Tuesday offense and Wednesday defensive focus. So, the players going both ways just get more reps on that side of the ball depending on the day.

indian1 said...

I'm sold. Always liked the idea but didn't have an organized, systematic way to do it and fell into the trap of: Ok lets make our best offensive depth chart, and then lets make our best defensive depth chart. Oh 7 guys are going both ways? Well guess we don't have the guys to platoon this year. Our approach was totally ass backwards compared to what we are trying to do and we didn't even realize it. Great write-up Brophy.

jgordon1 said...

I personally like the idea of planned rest for my 2-way starters. So for instance I have an OG/LB.. I will have the third best OG back him up for a series or two each 1/2 and the third best LB back him up for a series or two on defense.. These are always planned before the game so it is not a rash decision type of thing. No hurt feelings etc..Each player understands his role and we develop future players.. Thinking almost like a pro team. we have 7-8 Oline that can play..3-4 wr that can play etc...provides balance , rest and also reinforces a team concept w/o going too deep into the bench

brophy said...

one other caveat....
You have to make a conscious effort to sell TEAM to your units. The specialization you are afforded (as a coach and player) can often lead to alienating the "other side" when things don't go their way.
As coaches, we have to really do a great job of selling the "other side" to our unit so as to eliminate any possible dissention.

Kids go out for sports to PLAY. We have to provide a reason to practice. If all we are doing is turning the fastest kids loose on Friday night....there is no reason to practice and no reason for any one else on the squad to try to contribute.

Anonymous said...

I fundamentally disagree, which is rare. Coming from a collegiate coaching background, I was fully a two platoon coach. However, after the last several years observing and helping out at the H.S level, I think for a HS program, teaching each player one offensive and one defensive position is more effective for most programs.

I think it is important to recognize that NOT platooning is NOT akin to just rolling out 11 players and letting them do their thing. I believe you can teach each player how to play offense and defense, AND STILL play 22 starters. It is simply the methodology you use.

Remember, if you teach each player an offensive and defensive position, you essentially double the size of your coaching staff. A staff of 6 coaches now effectively has 6 offensive coaches and 6 defensive coaches. This would allow for a breakdown such as : 2 OL coaches, 2 DL coaches 2 back coaches, 2 backer coaches 2 wr coaches and 2 db coaches.

There are 2 keys to successful high school football programs. Ability, and execution of basic fundamental techniques. Although offseason programs can improve the first somewhat, I believe there is definitely a limit to the ability portion. Therefore, teaching as many kids as possible the basic fundamental techniques allow for MORE players of a higher ability level to contribute.

juliya101 said...

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