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   During the World Cup, there is a lot of talk about the formation and the tactics, but then they focus on the star...

   During the World Cup, there is a lot of talk about the formation and the tactics, but then they focus on the star players. What’s more important?

P.L., Sonoma 

   Great question — and it applies to all sports. In fact, I’ll start with college basketball.

   When college basketball first got on television, Dick Vitale, a former coach, became the voice of the game. He knew all the coaches, and he watched the game like a coach, so he would say things like “John Thompson is pounding the ball inside,” or “Bobby Knight has the 3-pointers working tonight.” This was OK, I guess, but it confused things, and made the audience think that the coaches were the ones making the entry pass to Patrick Ewing, or hitting three-pointers.

   Of course, they’re not. If the wings can’t make an entry pass then Thompson’s team (not Thompson) can’t pound the ball inside, and if the shooters keep missing, Knight’s team (not Knight) won’t have the 3-pointers working.

   To expand that even further, coaches in all sports have certain systems they like to run. They are both tactical and strategic, and they reflect the coaches’ beliefs and experience. In hockey, for example, some teams will dump and chase, and others prefer to build up an attack with shorter passes; in baseball, some teams bunt a lot, and others are more focused on moving runners along with base hits.

   In the end, all systems work — if you have enough talent. And, in the end, all systems don’t work — if the talent can’t execute.

   The answer to your question, then, is pretty obvious: Star players win games, in all sports, and if one team has a major advantage in talent, then it will win the vast majority of games regardless of the formation or tactics.

   Note, however, the adjective “major.” If one team has a slight advantage in talent, then tactics and strategy take on more importance, and the teams are even in talent, then the team that utilizes its talent the best – or neutralizes the other team’s talent – will have a better chance to win.

   In the World Cup, and in almost every other kind of competition, they are generally different levels of talent. Some teams, like Brazil, are so much better than other teams that they’re going to win some games no matter what. In high school leagues, there are usually a couple of teams that aren’t very good at all, and a couple of teams that stand out. When the standout teams play the weak teams, strategy doesn’t matter — but when the standout teams play each other, then the tactics and formations and such become very important.

   So, though talent is No. 1 on the list, for a team to excel, whatever talent it has must play in a system that maximizes its ability, and that’s where coaching comes in. But without talent, formations and coaching are about as important as the color of the uniforms.


Clay Kallam is an assistant athletic director and girls varsity basketball coach at Bentley High in Lafayette. To submit a question for Behind the Clipboard, email him at  HYPERLINK “”










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