I received a message on the facebook page a few days ago asking my thoughts regarding a situation that came up in the recent Norceca Men’s Championships. Rather than paraphrase…
The USA men’s team had an injury at opposite so what they did was move Matt Anderson over to opposite and started Rooney in Matt’s spot. Now they essentially were missing 2 starters instead of one. Because Matt is no where near as good as an opposite as a position 4 and Rooney is not as good a position 4 as Matt.
This is a very interesting question that goes to the heart of the central question of coaching – do you create a system to fit the players you have or do you fit your players into an existing system. In general, I come down on the side of creating a system to best fit the players that you have. But in this case we are talking about an immediate solution to a short term problem. I personally err on the side of creating the least disruption to the structure of the team, on the basis that all disruptions are potentially negative, so the fewer the better. But this principle can have different solutions. Sometimes that is by playing a weaker player in his ‘correct’ position and keeping the rest of the team at ‘normal strength’. Other times, for various reasons, one player may have to play ‘out of’ position. In those cases I have personally chosen to move the most experienced player, as the one who can cope best with change.
This case is a slightly different one. Without knowing any of the actual details, it seems that the coach in question determined that his best receiver was a better opposite than this second opposite and/or his third receiver was a better receiver than the second opposite was an opposite. Or perhaps more succinctly (accurately?), it is more important to have the best six players on the court than be restricted by a preexisting structure. Several teams have used that principle in the recent past (as I have written about here), including famously the Russians at the Olympics. As I wrote about in that article, there does seem to be some ever so slight movement away from the principle of specialisation at any cost. It will be interesting to see how / if that develops in the next few years.