How to build a Dynamite Team

Matt West told me he was recently discussing with someone how the great coaches have built teams over the years. I mentioned in my article on great coaches that some, like Matt’s very own father, Paul West, could build a team that revolved around one to two great quizzers and a lot of window dressing. I also mentioned that Randy Thaxton was able to start a new way–building a team that was five equal parts. This got me to thinking–Which is better?

The only coach I ever remember having solid teams using both of these methods was David Douglas. He had a team that rode Valerie Wood, someone in the argument for best quizzer ever, all the way to a second place finish. I mention this team specifically because it was the team that stood out. They were not the highest achieving Valerie team, but they were the team that had the least to compliment her. Just a few years later, Douglas built a team that revolved around three approximately equal good, but not quite great, quizzers (Matt Rexford, Josh Malone, and Karl Wood, if you’re keeping score at home). This team was equally honored, but totally different in makeup.

Having praised David Douglas, I am led to my thesis question. How could Douglas adapt while West and Thaxton seemed to be stuck in their constant patterns, and yet they’ve won at least 4 AACS titles each, while Douglas has only won one? Hereafter is my logic.

A good teacher, leader, or manager always finds a way to evaluate the talent he has and use it accordingly. Is it statistically probable that Paul West coaches Bobby Reid, Wendy Heiniger, Jimmy Thompson, Chip Crissey, Jenni West, Gordon McCarty, Matt West, Israel Bandela, John Mark Palacios, and Jesse Startup, while Randy Thaxton did not coach more than two people whose names I remember? No. Is it likely that a man who has won 5 AACS championships, squandered much talent? No. Therefore, while it is statistically unlikely that Thaxton never had Top of the Heap talent, it is even more unlikely that he squandered it.

Is it statistically probable that Randy Thaxton could always find five quizzers to contribute while Paul West never had more than three? No. Is it likely that a man who won 4 AACS championships squandered much talent? No. Therefore while it seems unlikely that West couldn’t find better support for his stars, it seems even more unlikely that he would let potential run away.

This leads me to my theory. I think that both played the hands they were dealt and those hands just happened to be completely different. I don’t think the problem is with these two. I think we have coaches who try to absolutely emulate one of the Big Two.

It is no secret that I have believed that Abby Carbonell is the best current quizzer in the country for over a year now. I have seen her just enough (and watched her through the FQA website even more) to think she is one of the Best Five Ever, so I think it is appropriate to put her at the top of her craft today, despite her young age. (Hey, if Matt West can win highest quizzer as a seven year old, I can vote a 12 year old #1–and yes, I know Abby is now 14). Speaking of Matt West, he had the opportunity to coach Abby at SCQANIT last year. The rest of Abby’s team was decent, but it was not a team that scared anybody. What happened was a testament to the team (I hate to credit Matt for anything else) and Abby. Abby was dynamite and the team did just enough to help them survive until a very respectable second place finish.

Matt also coached another team that same day. This team had some very good quizzers. Jessica Jones, Breanna Richardson, Annabelle Carbonell, and Elizabeth Webster led this team. While all are very talented, none are as good as Abigail Carbonell. Matt needed to coach this team in a completely different way. Top to bottom, this team is more talented than the Middle School one. However, they did not have as good of a “star” quizzer. My guess is that Matt emulated his dad, a good move, and just didn’t quite realize that his personell warranted something different. This team got 7th place. A great finish for many teams, but probably something that is a disgrace to Matt’s dad.

I propose that Matt merely did not recognize that he had different talent on that team than his dad had in his glory days. But in his father’s last year, his team finished in the top 5 at both SCQANIT and AACS and he had no star, so while West, Sr. adapted, West, Jr. has not proven to be able to do so yet. Why do we even talk about this story? Because it shows how emulating these great coaches is a great thing, if you have the same talent. Emulating Phil Jackson is a great idea if you have MJ or Shaq. However, if you have five guys no one has heard of, you’d be better off emulating Larry Brown.

We can learn from Matt’s story that someone who emulates a coaching style can be very successful if they have a similar team. However, if you don’t recognize that you have a team of five solid, though unspectacular quizzers, you need to build a Thaxton team, rather than a West team. All of you coaches that haven’t clicked away yet, make sure you utilize what you’ve got in terms of talent and don’t turn the team into something it isn’t. Be forewarned that the coach who attempts to make Abby answer just 3-4 a quiz is just as bad as Matt West was last year, and that is something no one wants to hear.

Come back next week, when we learn how to handle summer team building.

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