Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

Dec. 2, 2019 — The easiest way to win … or lose

It’s one of the aphorisms of sport: “Don’t beat yourself.”

When teams are at or near the top of their competitive level, playing for championships, one of the great secrets of coaching is to get players to not commit mental errors — misjudgments of either the rules of the game or situations within it which often cost games.

In field hockey, the most frequent mental error I have seen in the last three or four years is when the offense turns the ball over after being awarded a free hit in the striking circle, for not moving the ball five yards (or five meters under FIH play) before entering the circle.

In girls’ and women’s lacrosse, I’ve seen multiple mental errors when it comes to the “self start” rule. One cost a team a conference championship in last year’s postseason when the player self-started just after the issuance of a penalty card and didn’t wait for the umpire’s whistle to restart play.

This past weekend, there were a pair of football teams which usually cling to the mentality of “don’t beat yourself,” which wound up making a passel of mental errors to lose key ballgames.

The University of Alabama, for example, committed 13 penalties in the Iron Bowl matchup against Auburn. But the last one was the most costly: Alabama was anticipating a punt with under two minutes to go which could have yielded the tying or winning score. But in lining up against Auburn’s ersatz formation that had the punter out on the wing, Auburn had 12 players lined up — a mental error.

One day later, the New England Patriots, a franchise which had won six NFL championships in the last 19 seasons, fell behind 21-3 on the way to a 28-22 defeat in part thanks to the inability of the Patriots defense to mark backs and tight ends in pass coverage. It wasn’t one big play that cost New England, but a series of small and consistent errors.

As good as these tackle football teams have been in the last 20 years or so, they are the models for teams which would like to beat them in championship situations, and there are plenty of coaches who have been figuring out the best ways to compete, and to put pressure on the seeming leaders of their respective sports competitions.

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