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The Emotions of Sports: Sports surprises keep evolving

Coaches are finding new ways to gain an edge as scouting methods improve

Posted: August 2, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 2, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Every angle of sports is covered these days.

Between statistics, game film, analysis, scouting reports and everything else, it’s hard to hide anything anymore.

Technology has caused coaches to come up with inventive ways to keep the element of surprise alive in sports.

Saugus head football coach Jason Bornn argues that surprise and deception are key factors in maintaining a level playing field, regardless of talent.

“I think that’s kind of the way (football) has evolved,” Bornn says. “Unless you’ve got some dudes. Unless you’ve got some big-time athletes, some creatures, some freaks playing for you, I don’t think you can line up against a team and do the same thing over and over again and defeat people by your sheer will.”

So how do teams, in an age of seemingly endless access to information about opponents, still manage to catch others off guard?

If it’s football, a team can disguise coverages or make a pass play look like a run. In sports like baseball and soccer, something as simple as a lineup change can change the complexion of a game.

“All of the sudden, it throws you off, and you’re trying to adjust to play against this different lineup that you haven’t seen from this team,” says Saugus girls soccer head coach Natalie Helgeson.

Whether it’s a scheme change or a personnel change, the response is always the same.

Get it on film, get it on paper, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Coaches pour over notes and videos of upcoming opponents to prepare for every imaginable angle in an attempt to prevent every coach’s worst fear.

“I think as coaches, we’re paranoid about getting caught off guard,” Bornn says.

Sometimes, that paranoia can go to extreme levels.

At West Ranch, for example, baseball head coach Casey Burrill uses a stat-keeping system called ESPN iScore, which allows teams to easily log and organize every aspect of the game. It keeps track of every pitch by type, location and approximate speed.

Coaches can use it to track pitchers’ tendencies and potential matchups with specific hitters.

“I think it’s so much to the point where it’s a little bit overkill,” Burrill admits.

That doesn’t change the fact that coaches are always looking for an edge, especially against Foothill League teams they face multiple times every season.

The surprise factor is even more difficult against coaches that have been running the same systems for several years. Usually, they don’t miss much.

“Everybody’s been here for so long and everything’s been done that can possibly be done,” Bornn says.

Simple trickery doesn’t work as frequently anymore, so sometimes more elaborate measure have to be taken.

Throughout the 2010 season, Saugus football employed a conservative, pass coverage-oriented zone defense.

Late in the season against eventual league champion and offensive juggernaut Valencia, Saugus changed its strategy and geared the defense toward stopping running back Steven Manfro.

“We game-planned for stopping Manfro, or at least tried to slow him down,” Bornn says. “We stopped him a little bit. Did we stop him completely? No, but I think it surprised Valencia a little bit.”

Saugus ended up losing the game 14-3, but managed to limit the Vikings to their lowest scoring output of the season.

On rare occasions, a simple play slips through the cracks, and it only adds to the fear of the unexpected.

“When you’re beat on a trick play, it’s definitely memorable,” Helgeson says.

As aggravating as it can be for coaches, often the only thing left to do is tip your cap to the opponent and go back to the drawing board.

And the endless cat and mouse game continues.


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