I met Terry Liskeyvich more than 20 years while he was still coach of the US women’s National Team and visited Australia for a clinic. Over the next five or six years he was a semi regular visitor to Australia in a variety of capacities and I had the opportunity to spend some time talking with him on a variety of topics. From those conversations, the single biggest thing that stands out to me to this day is the book he described as the most important book he read in his coaching life.
The book is ‘The Fifth Down‘ and is written by Neil Amdur and is the ostensibly the story of a high school football coach named George Davis who had a particular way of running his team. A very particular way in fact. He ran his team as a democracy, allowing players to decide on many aspects of how the team was run, including voting for the starting lineup each week. This is the part that has been sitting in the back of my mind for over twenty years now. The rationale for having the team decide on the starting lineup is simple. Davis maintained that the players themselves are in the best position to know exactly how much effort their peers are investing in the team and in training. Therefore they know better than the coach who is playing well right now and who will put the team in the best position to win the next game.
While I am certain that coaches do not always see the right things in practice or choose the right players and will undoubtedly be swayed by personal feelings at times, I have never been convinced that this idea would work in practice. Simply, if coaches ‘can’t’ be trusted to see the right things, how can one expect players with less training and experience make better decisions. Players would also in many cases be making decisions about their friends and human nature compels people to see their friends in a favourable light. At the highest level, I have had players with blindspots about the quality of certain teammates, both good and bad. I have had experienced players who were 10% off in judging a teammates hitting percentage. I have had teams in which certain players preferred playing with their friends on the team.
Players absolutely have insights into the team that coaches do not. But I am not sure that a straight democracy is the answer.
I would love to hear your thoughts.
In the video, Terry Liskeyvich talks about ‘The Fifth Down‘.
Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.