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Practical Considerations

by Adam Goff

When I was calling subs, I also usually was calling the "strategy" for the points. (Are we playing zone? Are we setting horizontal? Is this point the most critical point ever?). That helped me when it came to determining players based on the roles needed. It also made me pretty tired by the end of the day. How these decisions are made on your team will help dictate who should call subs when the sub-caller goes down with a freak throat injury (Larynxeum andibenitis). For example, if there are two people who call the O and two people who call the D, can one of them handle the sub-calling as well? That will simplify the discussions, and it will help with establishing authority for the sub-caller. If this is not as strict (is it just a leader on the field who does it?), then I would suggest establishing a short discussion prior to each point to set that down. That discussion should be 5 seconds or less. 

Here's a suggested transcript: 

Sub-Caller: What's the D?
Strategy Person: Clam for five to backhand.
Sub-Caller: Ok, (seven names) you're in.

It is within the idea of strategy that some of the subtleties that I believe are the hardest to convey to a new sub-caller appear. A few examples: 

- It's double game point and we're receiving. Perhaps one of my top handlers is also one of my higher risk handlers (bigger throws, less prone to possession) or maybe one of my top handlers has a habit of tightening up on the big points. Do I need that person on the field or is it too high a risk at that point in the game? 

- The other team is kicking our butts by sending out three tall receivers, but it's the mark getting broken that is setting up the throws. Do I need my best markers or tallest players (or both)? 

Given the parameters of the question, I bring out a pad of paper and a pen for stuff like this. The strategy leadership needs to pass this information to the sub-caller. This needs to be communicated during the game, and the number of people who are allowed to talk to the sub-caller about this has to be limited for a new one. That needs to be established prior to the weekend with the entire team. 

Sub-calling starts early in the season and lasts throughout the year. This doesn't just mean the act of calling out names between points, but rather consists of preparing people for the role that they will play, ensuring that they know that role and clearly communicating expectations throughout the year. If the fourth person down the depth chart of O handlers who has never played a D point actually expects to go in when you're pulling at 14-14 in the semis of regionals, that's a personal problem. Sub-callers and captains need to ignore that at all points at Regionals. It's more likely that someone who is down the depth chart a bit starts to think that they should be playing more at the end of games. This is still a personal problem, not a team one. It only becomes a team problem if it distracts leadership from their roles. If I'm training a new sub-caller, I tell them that during the game is not the time for this, and they just need to send that person to me or to a different captain at that point. The sub-caller can't spend time on it. No need to yell at this person, but the sub-caller needs to simply-and-firmly tell the person to go away until after the game. Then, I'd suggest that the person only talk to the captain, and the captain talks to the sub-caller (assuming they are different people). That message also needs to go to the entire team before the weekend. Captain to team: "Billy-Jean will be calling subs this weekend. Do not insert yourself into this process. If you have a problem with this, talk to me. If Billy-Jean asks you to do something, play or sub out, do it." 

Most teams have defined positions or roles (O/D, handler/upfield, more points/less points, zone breakers, upwind players), and the general theory of the team has likely been discussed prior to the week of Regionals (fortunately). The sub-caller should understand these key principles and who fits into what roles. A hierarchy can be important to understand as well. Some teams seemed to have a group of individuals who can self-sub (Did it look like DoG was calling subs on offense when they were winning? Or did 7 people just kind of wander out on to the field and then score?). The sub-caller absolutely has to know who can and cannot do that and has to have the confidence and strength of personality to stop those who can't do it and sometimes stop those who can do it. 

When I called subs for teams, I kept a sheet of who had played how many points. I changed organization of the sheet depending on the team, but: 

- For teams which were almost exclusively O/D, I would split the list that way. This presented some challenge for the few players who did play both, but it was helpful. Then, within the groups I split handlers and upfield cutters. 

- For teams which were not as heavily O/D, I split handlers and upfield. This is what I did almost always. I expected some variance, but usually wind, the type of O or D, the situation dictated which of those groups I needed more than anything else. 

I would refer to the sheet occasionally through the game, but not necessarily on every line call. I also had others helping keep the sheet filled out so that I could pay attention to how the game was going. I asked those people to tell me things like: if a key player has played four or more points in a row early in a game, if a player we'd need at the end of the game hadn't played in six or more points, and so on. Just those things are enough to help guide what needs to be done. When I coached, I did the same thing. In addition to the points-sheet, it's useful for a new sub-caller to have a sheet which has the roles and hierarchy. For example, that sheet might have four sections: Vertical O, Horizontal O, Person D, Zone D. That's the playbook. Laminate it and tape it to the sub-callers arm. Within each section, it would list in order of hierarchy, handlers then upfielders. That's the sheet that person would use most often. I didn't actually carry this, as I felt that I knew it by the time it mattered, but if someone is doing it for the first time at Regionals, it will help. 

I didn't keep turnovers, O/D or other information on the points sheet, because that was simply more information than I could process while making decisions. If others put the information on the sheet, I thanked them nicely and then ignored it. It's good information to have when evaluating how things went, but just too much for the heat-of-the-moment. Some people may be able to process all of that information, but I kinda doubt it. My feeling was that, unless a key player was having the type of hellish game that was obvious to everyone, that person didn't sit more when it mattered. Play time is usually earned over a season, not in the 1 vs. 16 game at Regionals. Likewise, if a player down the depth chart had earned more points, it's obvious. 

One special situation: Let's say my team is pretty much O and D split. Let's say the O isn't getting it done. We had a three point lead. The handlers seem spent and we've turned it over two in a row, and it's now tight. My D line has 2 of my best handlers on it. Do I put the two D guys in with the rest of the O line? Do I put seven from in the D line to play O? To oversimplify the answer: If I practice almost entirely split between the lines or if my D plays O differently than my O, I put in the D line. Otherwise, I put in the D handlers with the O line. 

Special Mixed Note: I've seen a number of teams that have a woman sub-caller and a male sub-caller. Those two tend to work together on some teams and independently on other teams. I think it's natural that the players are aware a bit more of their gender on the field. It's important that the "new" sub-caller get with the other sub-caller in this situation and understand when to and when not to worry about what the other one is doing. Both are still subservient to the strategy role, but they need to know how the roles work together. 

And a final point about picking a sub-caller: some people with all the skills (confidence, authority, perception, know the players, see the game) can't manage to call subs and play at their top level. Some can, but some just can't. If someone struggles to focus on their own game when they are calling subs, that person can really only be the sub-caller if they don't have to play at all. Perhaps the editors can twist an ankle on that person and make this assignment easy? (Editor's Note: No.)

huddle Issue 9 Sub-Calling

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

A Basic Checklist
by Gwen Ambler

Be Careful What You Wish For
by Tully Beatty

The Best Sub-Caller Is...
by Lou Burruss

by Matt Dufort

Practical Considerations
by Adam Goff

Empowering The Team With Self Subbing
by Greg Husak

Elocution & Enunciation
by Andy Lovseth

For Your Team, Not Your Teammates
by Ryan Morgan

Prepare Your Team For The Hard Decisions
by Mike Mullen

My Sub-Calling Philosophies
by Miranda Roth

The Pod System
by Mike Whitaker




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