I’m excited to be preparing for our first exhibition game at the University of Maine. We are heading down to play Southern Maine this weekend, the first time we’ll put on the Black Bear uniforms as a group. Playing the game at their place will give us an opportunity to play in front of some of our fans in the Portland area and the Southern part of the state.
I’ve always believed in exhibition games as an essential way to prepare your team for the season. When I was at RIC we played an exhibition game against a division I opponent in 8 of my 9 years. As a division III school it forced us to prepare quickly at a high level in October, bringing a sense of urgency to our early practices that might not have normally been there. We had some success, winning 2 of those games – beating Iona and Holy Cross in back to back years. But every year that we played I learned essential things about our team that helped us moving forward.
It is important to me to put your guys in tough situations early in the year as much as possible, and to see how they react. When you get out there with uniforms on, 3 officials, fans in the stands and the lights on the scoreboard, the feeling is just different. We just played our first intrasquad Skip Chappelle scrimmage this past Saturday – in our own gym in front of about 100 fans – and we reacted differently as a team. A lot of the stuff we had worked on slipped when we put our guys in a real game situation, and that is natural. When the scoreboard is on, there are real officials and stats are being kept, your players will react differently. You learn a lot about your team when you put them in live game situations, and its something your players need to get used to.
The reason I think exhibitions games are important is control. Too often as coaches we want to control everything in practice – the noise, who walks in and out, the timing, the teams, the drills. But in games we have very little control. It’s a scenario that is hard to replicate in a controlled scrimmage.
Playing exhibition games allows you to learn a lot about your team, an important goal in the pre-season. I’m not sure there is a better way to learn what you have. Play a live game, sell tickets, put fans in the seats. A lot of players react differently in those situations, and need some time to get used to them.
Exhibition games will reveal things about your team that you won’t see in a scrimmage, and you definitely won’t see every day in practice. I’m excited to get started this weekend at Southern Maine because I can’t wait to see what we have. We’ll get more out of a true exhibition game then we would get out of another controlled scrimmage.