Well, I signed up to coach Riley's soccer team this spring.  It's been fun so far, but the same issue I dealt with every season in the past seems to be rearing its head again -- how to do substitutions.

Every season, I think that I would like to concentrate more on the live game than having to deal with the substitutions, and if I could have someone else take care of that task, I'd have less on my mind during the game that I'd be able to participate/encourage/coach the players more.  Alas, I have not been able to accomplish that.  Still, I have spent a lot more effort this season trying to keep my head off of the bench and in the game.

When you've got parents instructing their own kids from the sidelines, kids on the bench begging to go back in at positions that they can't play (after 7 seasons of coaching, I swear that any player that asks to play at striker has no business doing it), and a live ball in the game, trying to keep track of who's at what position and who's been subbed where is a living nightmare.  It's absolutely the worst part of coaching soccer, in my opinion.

I used to use this app called Soccer Dad, which is pretty neat, but isn't always the easiest to use on the field.  It actually does a lot that would be great if I could concentrate on only that instead of that and the game, like keeping track of scores and assists, and tracking time played along with substitution data, and aggregating it for the whole season.

My main problems with Soccer Dad are not obvious.  You'd think the drag-n-drop features of the app would be easy on the field, but they're not.  To access who is subbing where is a bit of a chore.  If you want to work the game a little different than the app expects, it can resist what data you're entering, which is not what you want while everyone's screaming and the opponent has the ball.

With 14 players playing 9v9, there's just no way to juggle 5 kids on the bench without some kind of aid.  And so, as is typical with me, I've come up with a design solution.

I want a way to do a number of very basic things, and so I have this list of requirements:

  • The entire plan must fit on a 3×5 card.
  • It should be easy to start a new game with starting positions.
  • It should be obvious what players play well in what positions so that they can be subbed into the correct place.
  • There should be a way to indicate alternate starting positions in case some intended starting players don't show up.
  • It should be possible to see at a glance which player is currently in a particular position.
  • It should be possible to see at a glance what position a player is currently playing.
  • The card should indicate the frequency with which a player is subbed so that they don't spend a lot of time on the bench.
  • The card should be fully operable with a pen/pencil.
  • There should be room on the card for parent phone numbers in case of an emergency.

I want to be able to run the entire game from a single card, and not have to think too hard about where a player can best play or who they can sub for (based on their time on the field).

Initially, I created a card with a simple grid.  Players were listed down the left side, and I wrote in their positions in the grid boxes.  This proved inconvenient, because you couldn't tell at a glance who was in a particular position.  As I subbed in players, I couldn't update the card fast enough to keep it accurate, and the whole thing became useless before the end of the first half. There was also no obvious way to keep track of how many times a player subbed, or where a player on the bench best fit into the game, and thinking about these things cost me precious time in the game.  (Seriously, I've missed many major plays because I had to mentally negotiate which player to put in where.)

My current iteration is a bit more thought through.  Instead of a freeform position entry, I've created a full grid with the positions as labels across the top.  Since we play 9v9, we usually set up as 3-3-2, so there are only 2 defenders and the goalie.  There will be cases in the future where we'll need to play 3-2-3, so I'll probably need to update the design a bit, but I'll save that until after we've tested this design.

Each player and position cell has six sub-cells.  This is merely to keep things organized as the game progresses.  In those cells, I write in an "O" to represent the player playing that position.  When the player leaves that position, I cross off the "O" with an "X".  If a player is on the bench, they get an "O" in the "B" column.

To set up the game, I simply put an "O" in the first box of every green cell.  These are the marked starting positions for the game.  If one of those players doesn't show for the game, I can cross off their row, and replace their position with one of the players from the bench.  This is done by playing the benched player in the green outlined cell instead of the bench.  This may take a little mental work, only because the missing player may not have a specific benched player that replaces him.

When the game is in play, I can scan down the "B" column for who is on the bench, then across to the positions that are colored in purple.  These are positions that the player has shown competency in.  I can see which players in those positions need relief or hadn't yet been subbed out by seeing how many marks were made in their row.

Before our throw-ins, when I need to decide who from the bench is going in where, I can set this all up by writing in the "X"s and "O"s for where I want players to go, then tell them who they're going in for and at what position.

My only concern right now is playtesting this design.  I'm anxious to have a non-rain day to try it out.  I'm a bit worried that having to make four marks in different places on the sheet might be too much to do during the game, but I'm hoping that the ease I'm expecting this to enable when figuring out substitutions will be worth that time.

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