Saturday, November 13, 2010

What Don't You Know?

"There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know." ~ Donal Rumsfeld
This post is about unknown unknowns. It came to mind because I was thinking about the Black team's three losses in 2010.

(I've noticed that I don't dwell on the losses for the other teams quite as much. I think it is because I'm focused more on the improvements among individual players on the Blue and White teams, and can really leave the games at that. But I seem to linger on the losses for the Black team. We did have improvement among many of our players on the Black team as well, but I just wasn't entirely content with that. If you're blessed with a roster full of talent, you'd better win games. We try not to overly emphasize winning, but as I've mentioned before, they do keep score, and we do try to win.)

Anyway, what kept coming to mind thinking about those losses was Don Rumsfeld's famous line about unknown unknowns. His topic was much more serious than mine, but he actually expressed what we went through to some degree as an offensive football team.

In our 6-0 loss in the semifinals of the Basehor Tournament, we knew that we would have to adapt to playing without a couple of key players. We knew that we would not know what type of defense they would be playing, as there had been no opportunity to scout them. But we did not know that we did not know how to handle an eagled scheme with hard-charging defensive ends. By the time we learned that, the game was in the second half. By the time we found something that might have worked against that thing that we didn't know about, we were down to our last possession.

Before our game against SMNW, we knew that their safety would come up to play run support just before the snap. We knew that we would not know until we had a few cracks at their line whether our veer or option would be more effective (turned out to be veer.) But we did not know that we did not know how to handle an overloaded gap blitz. We learned how to handle that in the weeks following that game. But our offense sputtered in that game because we never knew that we hadn't known how to handle a defense like that.

Against Olathe East we knew that we would be playing the best team in our league, and we would need a great effort against them. We knew that we would not know from snap to snap where their safety would line up, and we prepared for multiple possibilities. But we did not know that we needed to know how to attack a team that stacked six players outside our A backs, instead of the more typical four. It wasn't until the following week at practice, after losing to them, that we developed some better strategies to deal with that type of alignment.

By the time we played our final game we could handle defensive ends crashing with a 5-3 eagle under look. We were much more prepared to pick up the occasional blitz, even through an overloaded gap. And though they didn't stack the outside quite as aggressively as Olathe East, our final opponent did shift somewhat to the outside at the expense of their interior defense - and we were in a far better position to exploit that.

There is a temptation to believe that "now we've seen it all." But I'm sure that we haven't. And I'm happy that we learned and adapted to what defenses did against us throughout last season, and that we got better. But I suppose I will always worry about all the things I don't know that I don't know.

No coach can know what those are beforehand of course - that's the nature of the problem. But this off season, I will be thinking about ways to get faster at understanding unexpected tactics and becoming quicker at inventing adjustments.