THE average school, with small numbers and only a few large boys to pick from, is at a disadvantage when pitted against one of the great schools, such as Exeter, Andover, Groton, St. Marks, or Lawrenceville. But in foot-ball, skill and spirit will take the place of weight and brute force every time.
Every school captain is anxious to work, but perhaps does not know where to begin or how to develop his team. The game seems to be formidable and intricate at first, and one is apt to begin at the wrong end. Instead of planning "touchdowns" and big scores, you must begin at the foundation; you must creep before you can walk. On this foundation, so often neglected, everything depends; without it you cannot hope for team play or success.
In order to make clear what is meant by foundation, let us look at a few practical facts.
A team cannot make ground against an equally good team, unless it can "block;" and, vice versa, an eleven cannot stop an opponent from advancing the ball, unless it can get through and tackle. A team's offensive play depends almost entirely upon the accuracy with which the centre rush passes the ball to the quarter-back; on the ability of the quarter to pick the ball up, however badly it may come back, and pass it accurately to the runner; on the ability of the halves to run strongly, dodge, use the arm, and catch the ball; on the blocking off of the team, and the runner's ability to take advantage of it. When a team is pressed to the last extremity, it depends upon a sure kick. A game has often been saved by a safe catch or a quick fall on the ball after a muff.
These few examples will serve to show you that every movement in foot-ball depends directly upon several details. Such details are what make up the foundation, and on their perfection depends good team play.
I can best illustrate what is meant by " team play," and its relation to these details, by asking you to imagine a board in which eleven ink-wells have been imbedded. Pour ink into each of these wells. Then as you pour a little more into every one, they overflow their edges till the overflow of each meets the overflow of its neighbor, and the board is covered. If you should neglect to pour the " little more" into any well, the overflow of the others would have to cover its part, and the total covering would be just so much thinner.
The Snap Back.
So when each boy on a foot-ball eleven conquers the duties of his own position, he can enlarge his sphere of action till he meets the rest of the team doing the same thing; then the relations between the different positions can be perfected, one boy helping another, till the whole team takes a part in every play. The mastery of these details is often neglected; and when the time comes for the eleven to exert itself as a unit, each player is so much occupied in "filling his own well," that he cannot give any strength or attention to the rest of the team, but leaves it to the other ten.
The aim of every captain is to have his team play as one man; and this is evidently dependent on the strength and resources his players are able to give to a concentrated effort. So he may well study into everything that will tend toward this end.
Every detail of foot-ball is a problem which may be solved by study. These details must be studied out of the field, however, and the solutions put to a test during practice games. To solve these difficulties on the field you will find is as perplexing as to learn an arithmetic or geometry lesson out there.
Take, for instance, blocking and getting through. There are a great many ways of doing these things, and you cannot find them all out in a minute or two; you must live with them. Think out ways, invent new methods, and then try them. Do not make them too complicated, and do not get discouraged because something you thought was good "doesn't work." No two boys are of the same size, strength, quickness, or mental capacity; and what one boy can do well, another would find himself unfitted for. Each boy's qualities must be studied into to get the best results. For instance, Newell, the old Harvard player, used to get through as well as, if not better than, any one in the country. Some one at Yale understood this, and invented a new way to stop him. Winter, who was his opponent, stood back a yard or two and let Newell start first. As he was going by, Winter and Bliss, a half-back who stood near, threw their weight on him from an angle, and either pushed him back or blocked him off.
Tackling is only a knack, and can be studied as well as wrestling. For instance, S. V. R. Crosby, Harvard '91, an end-rush, could not tackle; and it was almost impossible to explain the way to do it. Finally a bag was hung up, on which was a projection representing an arm, so he could not tackle high. This bag was swung for Crosby to get the knack of ducking, taking hold, and throwing. He studied it all out, and in three or four days he tackled beautifully.
Practice off the field will enable the centre-rush to pass the ball correctly to the quarter every time. By passing for an hour a day during the summer, a quarter-back will find that he can handle a foot-ball as easily as he can a base-ball, and throw it as accurately. If he follows the ball, trying to get into imaginary plays when he is practising, in a regular game he will keep up with the ball, and be able to block off for the runner.
A back's duties require skill and accuracy for every movement, and there is no limit to the possibilities of his position. He can work up kicking, catching, running with a ball, using his arm, and, among many other things, how to take advantage of blocking off.
Warding off Tackle.
During one whole summer, Everett Lake, the Harvard half-back, practised warding off tacklers with his arm. When autumn came he was one of the most difficult halves in the country to stop, because, in addition to his great weight and strength, the tackier was nearly always kept at arm's length.
The kicking of Captain Trafford of the Harvard '91 and '92 elevens illustrated what study and hard work can do for a full-back. In July, in the summer before he came to college, he could not drop-kick at all. Part of a week was spent in simply studying the way to make a drop-kick. He worked an hour or two every day during the summer; and when he came to college in the fall, he could drop the ball from the thirty-five yard line between the goal-posts nearly every time.
When a captain gets so that he is able to reason these details out, and when his team sees how easy it is for them to settle any difficulty by study, they are on the road to success. I know of a team that was said to have coached itself; this simply means they played foot-ball not like so many machines, but like thinking and reasoning beings.
During the practice game, when a misplay is discovered, do not blame the team without telling them how to overcome it. Put them back in the positions they were in when it happened, and the trouble will soon appear. Then show them the way to prevent it; and if you do not happen to know, do not be ashamed to study it out with them.
The spirit of a team is another important element. An eleven going into a match with great skill and a thorough knowledge of the game possesses a confidence that is half the battle. In selecting the boys for your team, give preference to those who are honest hard workers; avoid "stars," who save themselves from the regular team work for startling individual plays. A Harvard captain was once giving his last instructions to the team before a Yale game. Turning to the end-rushers he said, " I shall hold you alone responsible for being down on the ball every time after a kick;" when the centre-rush, whose duty it was to block, and who had little chance to do anything else, said, "I am going to be down there too." And he was. He did his own blocking, and was often down the field before the ends got there. That kind of spirit will win a victory every time.
A Try for Goal.
You will find, in executing the different plays and moves you may plan, that the matter of detail still occupies a prominent position. You may tell a player to go to a certain place; but to obtain the best results you must show him how he is to go, and what he is to do when he gets there. Make your players start from the same positions in as many moves as you can, so that your opponent cannot tell what your plan of action is; in this way you can pass quickly from one play to another without a change of position. Make each boy's duties simple, and have him do the same thing in as many moves as possible. Do not waste your time on complicated tricks; team play is absolutely necessary for success. This comes from developing the players and their positions from the foundation up, and not from attempting intricate moves with boys who do not understand the rudiments of the game.
Make your signals simple, easy to be remembered, and at the same time effective. A complicated code of signals will puzzle your own side, when excited, quite as much as it does your opponents.
In conclusion, study the details of each position of your eleven, and develop your players so they may have resources at their command.
Show them the re-lations between the different positions, and teach them to play into each other's hands. Your reward will be that in every movement, from making a hole to stopping an end play, you will have eleven players concentrated, who know how to play together for the same end.
Falling on a Muff.
This is a hard kind of a team to beat, for they make few misplays themselves, and know how to take advantage of their opponents' errors.
BY ARTHUR J. CUMNOCK, Captain of the Harvard Foot-ball Teams of 1889 and 1890.
Running and Warding Off.