Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Play TO the Whistle

Posted by admin October - 24 - 2016 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

We hear a lot about teaching our players to “play TO the whistle.” It’s important on defense so all 11 guys are running to the ball in their correct pursuit angles. I posted about this phenomenon 2 years ago. We were having problems with our defenders “easing up” when the 1st guy made contact. Too many times, the first tackler held on but the RB squirmed loose and made BIG gains on second effort while our kids let up and watched! Remember: This was all during games!

We started evaluating things and I quickly realized my error: I was blowing the whistle too soon in practice!!! I was conditioning our defenders to “gear down” when they saw the first hit!!!!!!!! Why? How? Cuz… in order to protect our Scout Offense RB’s and try to minimize the chance for injury… when I saw the first hit (in practice now… remember?!), I would blow a “quick whistle” on the play. I was inadvertently “teaching” our defenders to gear down and NOT continue to fly to the ball. My whistle (quick) whistle was teaching them a negative (for football) response.

How did I remedy it? (Again, I posted on this a while back but… I’ll be quick) When we did Pursuit Drill— which we did EVERY Wednesday— we would set up 4 of those big “Pass Rush” dummies (the kind with all of the weight in the base. We called them “Weebles” cuz they get knocked over but they don’t stay down!) Our DC would simulate a snap and all 11 would hit the ground, bounce up and… look to see which of the 4 “Weebles” the DC pointed to! (NOTE: they were spread all over the field!) The defense then took off on a sprint and had to get 9 of the 11 “Dog Piling” on the dummy before I counted to 4! THEN… I would blow the whistle!! If 9 (only 9 because the other 2 should be in cut back/cut off pursuit angle/position) did not “pile on” within 4 seconds, the rep didn’t count and they had to do it again.

When we went Team D vs. the Scout O, I explained that it was not live to the ground but we needed to “Drive For 5” like our Seahawk Tackling taught us while the other 7-10 sprinted to the ball or their correct pursuit angle. I was NOT going to give a quick whistle anymore!!! I wanted to see at least 7 guys “around” the ball carrier when I blew the (late!) whistle or they’d be doing some up/downs real quick. It was amazing how much better our gang tackling got after that!

I think the same thing holds true on Offense. I know a coach who does not ever blow a whistle in practice. I’m concerned about it cuz I’m not sure the players are being properly conditioned to “play TO the whistle.” Why? Cuz there never is a whistle!!! I think it creates laziness… particularly on the part of the offensive players who are the blockers on a play. It’s all about training. Without a whistle to “control” their effort, they will simply stop when they feel like it. Which, in most cases, is waaaaaaaay earlier than you want them to stop. This has a direct carry over to the game.

If you’re not using a whistle to “condition” or “train” your players to play TO the whistle, I would encourage you to start. It’s not too late!

Getting Out of the “Cellar”

Posted by admin October - 18 - 2016 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I’m helping a couple of coaches deal with the frustration of an unfulfilling season. They both came in with high hopes but through a series of circumstances (mostly beyond their control) their record is not what they’d hoped it would be. I read something impactful (again!) from my Bob Gass devotional, The Word For You Today, recently and I think I need to share this with my coaching friends out there.

We get ourselves into (what Gass calls) “emotional messes.” They are mostly caused by faulty thinking. Our feelings are generated by the way we think about things. When we feel depressed it’s because of the negative, overwhelming thoughts that we let run through our heads. Gass says, “Our emotions spring from how we interpret life and if you always see things from a negative viewpoint you’re going to get down.”

God doesn’t tell us to “get in touch with our feelings” like pop psychologists tell us. Rather, God tells us to get in touch with the truth of His Word. Ultimately, the Word is what’s going to set us free (check out John 8:32). To overcome depression, it’s important to study God’s Word and, as Gass says, “bring your feelings into alignment with what it (the Bible) says.”

Read a few Bible verses each morning. It’s good for your soul; it’s good for your mental health!


Posted by admin October - 12 - 2016 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

For those of you reading this who are high school football coaches, your season is at/near the half-way point. Some of you are in the hunt for a playoff berth and/or championship and some of you are just trying to keep your players focused and motivated. It’s your job as the coach to lead, encourage and help your players to do just that— not quit! There’s still 4-5 games left.

The key is CONSISTENCY. When you as the coach panic… and start changing everything… what kind of message is that sending to the kids? My staff knew on Sunday evening what our chances were of winning against our next opponent just by watching their previous games. If they’d been in one offense one week… then another offense the next week… and so on!— wWe knew we had them. Same with their defense. It’s one of the reasons I love the Delaware Wing T offense so much. It is very difficult to prepare for in 3-4 days. An opponent who is changing his defense in an attempt to stop our Wing T is in deep trouble! Even if things aren’t going well right now for you and your team, it’s important to continue to do the things you’ve been working on since the summer. Stay consistent!!!

I knew a smart coach who once told me that he “strives for boredom!” Huh? Yep! He was a great O Line coach who ran the same drills over and over— week after week…. until his linemen became completely bored doing them. He said, “THAT’S when I had ’em right where I wanted them!” He wanted them to know the techniques and rules soooooooooooo well that there was no thinking involved. Psychologists call it “over-learning.” It’s like memorization on auto pilot. For instance, someone asks you what your address is… your response is automatic. (That is, unless you’ve just moved!) This coaching friend would then begin to “sell” the players on the benefits of being “bored!!!” It is a tremendous confidence booster.

It’s the same reason that I would rarely vary our practice routine during the season. We might do a different type of conditioning but our skills and drills and our practice schedule weren’t going to change. Once the kids become comfortable, i.e., “bored,” you stay on them about not becoming complacent. Encourage; challenge; fuss a little when you see them slacking off but… remind them that “everything we do in practice is designed to 1- make you better and 2- prepare you to be successful on Friday night. Soooooooo… stay focused; hustle and keep grindin’!!!

Playing “2 1st Halves!”

Posted by admin October - 4 - 2016 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I am helping a local team with the implementation of the Delaware Wing T offense. I’ve seen some good things. Execution improves each week. Unfortunately, it’s not showing up in the win-loss record. They lost their star running back in the first game and it’s been a little tougher to get that yardage when it’s crunch time.

More importantly, the team as a whole has not been able to “put it all together” for 4 quarters. Three times in the last four weeks, they’ve gone into halftime with a lead… only to fall in the second half. I think it’s become something of a “psych out” problem for the players.

I had the same problem the first year I returned to coaching at a local private academy. In fact, one of the returning seniors warned me how “last year, coach, we lost 5 games in the 4th quarter. We had the lead and couldn’t hold it.” The same thing held true through the first four games of the, then, current season. We were winning at halftime in ALL 4 games and succumbed to our opponents’ relentlessness late in each game. We were 0-4 and easily could’ve been 3-1 or 4-0. We just seemed to have this “psychological block” for playing 4 quarters!!!

We were on the road for our 5th game and once again went in at halftime with a 2 touchdown lead. You could almost “feel” the foreboding atmosphere in the locker room as we met as a team to recap the 1st half. I’ll chalk this one up to hearing God’s “still, small voice” in my head but… I looked at the players and said, “Guys, take off your shoulder pads!!!” The look on their faces was priceless! I repeated my command, “Take off your shoulder pads… NOW!!! We have played 5 great “1st halves” and folded in the 2nd half. Sooooooo… we’re going to play 2 1st halves today! Take off your shoulder pads just like it’s the beginning of the game. We’re going to go out in a minute and play ANOTHER 1st half!!” Something clicked! One by one they began to peel off their pads, laid them on the floor and began to move around the room. I could tell that it was a very “freeing” moment. After 5 minutes or so I told them to “get dressed. We’re going out to play this game!”

The “second” 1st half went even better than the “real” first half! We proceeded to win our last 6 games of the season. Yes! Every halftime, we went in and took off our pads! I did it a couple of times over the next 4 seasons just as a reminder for the players. I’m going to recommend that we do this “ritual” this Friday night for the team I’m helping.

Overcoming psychological barriers sometimes requires creating a paradigm shift. This means “turning things around” in our heads so we see something from an entirely different perspective. We created that paradigm shift in our players’ heads and once they saw things differently, it changed their behavior. Why? Because “perception is reality!”

What Are YOU Passionate About?

Posted by admin October - 3 - 2016 - Monday 2 COMMENTS

No post last week. My wife and I spent 7 days on a Viking River Cruise in France. I retired last fall to give my wife the “first fruits” of my time… after 42 years of coaching. Fall is a great time to vacation but we never could travel because I was always tied up with football. The cruise was fantastic. I highly recommend Viking if any of you have a desire to take a European river cruise!

We met folks from all over the USA… made some good friends. One guy I talked to a lot is a huge U. of Michigan football fan. We talked a lot of college football and even got to watch Michigan and Wisconsin on his computer at 10pm Saturday night! (Paris is 6 hours ahead of us here in USA!) He was/is also a very intelligent guy who is a Child Psychologist by trade so we had some good discussions about children/teens and high school football players. A topic that came up that made me “dig deep” was the idea about passion. What are you passionate about? What are your players passionate about? Where does football fit into that scenario?

You who follow this site know how important character-building by coaches is to me. We called it the “double victory” when I was a head coach. We want to be victorious ON the field but, we also want to be victorious OFF the field! That means developing those character traits that help us succeed in life. I’ve always felt that, if a coach wants to incorporate it into his program, that… FOOTBALL (and sports in general) can be a great platform to show players how what we’re trying to teach them as football players can be applied as students, boyfriend/husband and worker.

Sooooooo… I ask you what are YOU passionate about? 3 things and… in order of importance!

For me, it was 1) Faith (in Jesus Christ), 2) Family, and 3) Football. I, at times, got those a little skewed but it always came back to being sure I had my priorities in the right order. It was the only way I could find peace when things weren’t going right with our football season. This gentleman I mentioned that I met on the trip even said one time, “Lew, I’ve noticed how a LOT of athletes and coaches seem to make their “faith” a big deal.” My response? “It IS! It’s often the only rock I have to hold on to when things are rough!”

From these things that I’m passionate about grew the thought of: IF these 3 things are so important… and, I want to do more than just win football games with my players; i.e., I want to make a difference in their lives, then…….. what do I need to instill in their character before they graduate? Three (more!) things came to mind:

What I wanted to instill in my players was: 1- Responsibility (or Accountability)— which is lacking tremendously in our culture today! 2- Relationships… with God (in the Person of Jesus Christ for me) and others and 3- Respect. Respect for authority, respects for others in general and… SELF respect.

We as high school coaches need to step up and take the necessary time to help our players see that there are waaaaaaaaaay more important things than just walking around school on Monday feeling good about themselves because they won a football game last Friday! As the coach in the movie Facing The Giants told his team: “IF your goal is simply to WIN football games, then your goals are too small!”

“Unity! Pride!! TOTAL Effort!!!”

Posted by admin September - 21 - 2016 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

I am reminded each time I see young people today about how our culture is “trying” to teach our youth to just be average. How to be apathetic. How to be fearful. But then I get around athletes (football players, anyway) and I am once again reminded of the impact that athletics CAN (not always does!) have on building character and teaching young men that striving for excellence in ALL that they do is honorable and the best way to conduct their lives.

I spoke to the team at the public school where I coached for 34 years last Thursday. I felt like they needed to hear from an “outsider” about how they need to continue to strive for excellence… though they had lost their first 2 games. I told them that I came there to accomplish 2 things: 1- to show support for their head coach and 2- to encourage them. I talked to them about the foundation of the program when I was the head coach. Those cornerstones were: Unity. Pride. and TOTAL Effort.

No organization is going to succeed if they are lacking in unity. If they’re more worried about themselves (their playing time; their number of carries; their number of tackles) than the team, they are sure to keep on losing. But… if they will adopt the philosophy (which I got from Bo Schembechler when he was the HC at the U. of Michigan) of “BIG Team. Little Me,” they would see a change in their team’s performance.

I told them that they need to have pride. Not arrogance but a humble pride in knowing that they worked very hard to prepare for this season and NOW it was time to reap the benefits. Take pride in what you’ve accomplished… just like an artist does after creating a work of art.

Finally, they shouldn’t ever mistake “activity for achievement.” IF… they will play unified. IF… they will carry themselves with a high degree of self-respect, then… they will play hard EVERY play! They won’t just go out and go through the motions but they will give a TOTAL effort on every play.

If they will do that, they will see changes. Not just in their won-loss record (though they probably will!), but in how they feel about their teammates and coaches… and football in general. It’ll be fun again— instead of a chore!

The coach told me at church on Sunday that it was one of the most gratifying experiences he’d had as a football coach. The kids played hard; they played together and there was a synergy that can only be found in team sports.

And, by the way, they won!!!

God Has Something Better

Posted by admin September - 13 - 2016 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

Kudo’s to Bob Gass Ministries again for “nailing” it this morning in their Word For You Today devotion. It really spoke to a situation that a coaching friend of mine is dealing with. The gist of the devotion this morning will be an encouragement to him and to many of you, too, I think.

It’s a capsulized look at Joseph’s life… and how, regardless of his circumstances, God was with him and had something better planned for his life. First, his brother’s sold him into slavery. Joseph ended up in Egypt where he rose in power until his boss’s wife came on to him and he refused her advances. She cried “rape” (falsely) but her husband believed her— not Joseph. Joseph gets thrown in jail. As Pastor Gass points out, “Some of us would have said, ‘It’s not fair. I did the right thing. Maybe I should have had some fun, kept my job and even gotten a promotion.’ Not Joseph! At that point in his life (here’s the KEY!) there was no better place for him to be, because he was exactly where God wanted him.”

Sometimes when we hit rock bottom, we fear that the “good life” as we know it is over. But, God has bigger plans for you. God had something much bigger for Joseph to accomplish. He has that for you too. God knows exactly where He’s taking you and He knows the lessons you must learn along the way. When things are at their worst, instead of succumbing to fear or self-pity or giving up… look for God’s hand in that situation.

I need to add that none of this works if all you have is a “passing relationship” with God. He requires a commitment to him the same way you ask for a commitment from your players. That comes by going ‘all in” for Jesus. Jesus offers the open door to God and heaven that nobody or nothing else can. Soooooooo… think about this today: are you willing to turn things over to Jesus and let HIM be your “Head Coach?!” Cuz, if you are, then God will begin to implement His plan for your life. and… God’s way is ALWAYS better than ours!!!

Injured Players

Posted by admin September - 8 - 2016 - Thursday ADD COMMENTS

The team I’m “consulting” for won their opener on Monday. After getting rained out by the Tropical Storm Friday and Saturday, they finally got to play on Monday. It was gratifying to sit in the press box and see the Wing T that I helped install being executed so well. I made a few suggestions to the HC (who’s the OC) and passed on information about the defense’s reactions. They scored 5 times and did not have a turn-over. A good day’s work!

However, the star RB went out of the game late in the 1st quarter with a knee injury. A low, diving tackle caught him with his leg planted on the artificial turf and he did not come back in the rest of the game. The bad news came later that night when the MRI they took revealed 2 torn ligaments. His (senior) season is over. A bitter pin to swallow for the player and the team.

My focus is: what do you do now? As a coach who cares about his players’ well-being, I think it’s incumbent upon you to make sure 2 things happen. One is from the team’s perspective and the other is from the injured player’s perspective.

First the team. A meeting with the leaders/captains/lieutenants is important followed by a meeting with the entire team. It’s probably better NOT to have the injured player there but it’s not imperative. What needs to be discussed is how the team is to treat their injured teammate now that they know he can’t contribute ON THE FIELD (that’s important!) anymore. They need to go out of their way to make the injured player feels like he is still a vital member of the team. He IS!!! We have a responsibility as coaches to make every player on the team understands his role and… that the role he plays is part of the “big scheme” of things that makes the team function properly. I like the analogy of a jigsaw puzzle. Every piece in its proper place is important or the picture is unclear. The same thing with players on a team. It’s easy as the regular season progresses to forget that these are people… kids… who need the same encouragement and reinforcement as anyone else. Make sure that the players include the injured player. Above all else: don’t REJECT him or make him feel like he’s not important anymore!!!

I talked to the injured RB yesterday before practice. I told him that I was praying for him and would continue to do so. It was obvious that he was hurting— physically and emotionally. What I emphasized to him was: you are still an important part of this team. The worst thing you can do right now is to withdraw. You need to stay actively involved. Attend as many practices as you can. Be at the pregame meal. Prowl the sideline during the game by cheering on your teammates. Be a part of the team. Because you’re frustrated and disappointed, the natural tendency is to close yourself off and even feel sorry for yourself. NO! You need to be investing in your team. If he’s a captain, he especially needs to continue to lead.

We had a similar situation occur 3 seasons ago on the team I was coaching. I felt like we had a chance to be a really good team. We had a veteran bunch of talented seniors. The one guy who was not only a great player but kind of the “Inspirational Force” of the team (who we could NOT afford to lose)… of course, went down with a season-ending knee injury in the first game— just like what happened on Monday. I encouraged Jack to stay involved. Even though he was on crutches and recovering from knee surgery, he made appearances at practices (for at least a few minutes) most every day. What I thought was the most critical part of his participation, though, was that his parents would be sure to get him to the games early enough that he could “crutch” out to the middle of the field for the coin toss with the Captains. Our players really reacted positively to that. Jack’s inspirational leadership helped us get to the state semi’s that year… and he played in only 1 quarter of the opening game.

By staying involved, he helped himself and the team. We certainly would’ve preferred to have him on the field for every game but… under the circumstances, it turned out very well for everyone involved.

Muscle Memory Patterns

Posted by admin August - 31 - 2016 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

I don’t normally post twice in one week but this situation came up yesterday and I felt like it needed to be addressed. I have NO idea how many coaches read these things each week but… if I’m helping one guy, it’s worth it!

This concerns “interrupting” practice to correct mistakes. The discussion (friendly dispute) came up when a coach told me that his philosophy is: if a player makes a mistake (this was during 11 on 11), he “shows” him what he did wrong and moves on. He felt like it was more important to get through the list of plays on his script than to take the time to “correct” the error and then… run the play again. My point is: just “showing” someone what he’s done wrong is not an effective teaching strategy. You need to “show” him, yes! But then he needs to “correct his mistake.” The play needs to run again… and again, if necessary, until it is blocked correctly. True, it may mean that you only get through 11 or 12 of the 20 plays you had scheduled but… you will KNOW when you leave the field that your players know how to run the play correctly and can execute it on game night.

I had lunch with my sister today and ran this situation by her. She is a professional actress, director and writer. I have “picked her brain” on numerous occasions to find out how she gets a troupe of actors ready to do a live performance on stage. It occurred to me that there are a LOT of similarities between getting ready for a live performance on stage and a live performance on a football field! Her tips have proven to be very helpful. I decided to run this issue past her today to get her feelings on it… from a theatrical standpoint.

I told her, “I was discussing with a coach about what to do if a player blows an assignment during practice. He said to me that he shows or tells the player what he did wrong and moves on…” “NO!” she blurted out! “You’ve got muscle memory patterns” involved here!!! You can’t just show/tell them what they did wrong; you have to walk them through it. There are muscle memory patterns deeply involved here. Bodily movements that are NOT corrected (right on the spot!) become ingrained on the brain! Unless the performer actually DOES the action correctly, he’s memorized it incorrectly and will continue to do it INcorrectly. The eyes need to report it to the brain (doing it the right way) which then directs neural energy to the muscles.” My reply? “Amen, sis!!!”

I’ve studied Principle of Learning. Any of you out there reading this who are in the classroom have sat in on seminars or taken a course on: “Learning Modalities.” Some people learn through listening (a small percentage) and a lot of people learn through visual cues. But the most effective means of learning is: DOING!!! It’s why you Math teachers out there make students come to the board and write out a problem… AND, answer it! And if their answer is incorrect? Yep! You make them work it out (maybe with help from you or another student) until they get it right!

My sister pointed out that marching bands, drill teams and dance squads all subscribe to this means of teaching intricate group maneuvers. My sister and I concurred that it’s also very applicable to an offensive football team. I think it applies to defense/special teams—ANY learning experience.

Reps! Reps! Reps! It’s tedious; it’s boring. But it’s the most effective way to learn. However… I’m sure you’ve heard the statement that: “Practice Makes Perfect.” Is that true??

NO! NO!! NO!!! The only thing that produces perfect results is perfect practice. Too many people confuse activity with achievement. I can “turn the pages in my textbook” and then announce that I’ve “read” a chapter! But… what was gained from “reading”; i.e., turning the pages? Not much.

I have huddled my 1st team offense around me many times as we are starting our Team period in practice. I show them the script. “Guys, we have 30 minutes to try and run 25 plays. That’s the challenge… to get ALL of them rehearsed. But… we will go back and repeat any play that’s not run correctly. That means, no missed assignments and everyone is hustling TO the whistle. Are you ready to accept this challenge??” If your kids have a competitive bone in their body, they’re going to work real hard to practice mistake-free and get in all 25 plays! Unfortunately, there were days when after 15 minutes had passed that I stepped back in front of the unit and showed them where we were on the script. “Guys, we’ve been doing this for 15 minutes now and we are ONLY on play number 7!!! That is just not acceptable. Let’s get focused and run these things correctly.” Yes, there were days when after 30 minutes we’d only gotten to play 17 or 18. But, I knew that those plays had been run correctly and THOSE were the plays we needed to concentrate on in the game that week.

I had college head coaches (I had 2 Hall of Famers— Marv Levy and Lou Holtz!) who subscribed to the philosophy of “reset… and hit the ‘Do Over’ button.” Not me. If we’re supposed to run 25 plays in 30 minutes and we only got through 18 then… hopefully, we’d do a little better the next day. It was an opportunity lost. I always explained it to the players in that manner. There are going to be lost opportunities in life. Try not to let it happen to YOU!!!

That’s MY story… and I’m stickin’ to it!!! Have a blessed day!!!

Be the HEAD Coach

Posted by admin August - 30 - 2016 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I talked with a head coach recently who was expressing some frustration to me over how his team’s preseason had gone. There were several issues we discussed but I’ll just select one for now.

His offense was just NOT clicking in the preseason. He was concerned about it since they open up this week. I asked him about his role in all of this and was verrrrrry surprised with his response! He said that, “On game nights, I’m going to be the Special Teams Coordinator and manage the game.” I’ve gotten a little bolder and blunter in my old age so I don’t think I gave him the response he was anticipating. I said:

“Coach, who is the most experienced coach on your staff?” “Me,” he said. And, “who is the most knowledgable?” “Me.” and “Who works the hardest and commits the most time to your program?” “Me.” “Frankly, who is the BEST coach on your staff?” He humbly replied, “Well, I guess it’s ME.” “YES!!! No doubt,” was what I (just about shouted!)

I said, “But you are simply going to “manage” the game next Friday?!!! You’re going to stand there and let someone else control the game through their play calls on Offense and Defense? Coach, this isn’t college.” I put it to him pretty emphatically… he needs to be actively involved in controlling every move… not just managing the game. In my mind, managers “react” after things happen. A coach is “dictating” how things unfold.

Soooooooo… high school head coaches who read this: Unless you’ve got a veteran (former) head coach with waaaaay more experience, knowledge and success than you do… who’s come out of retirement to help you—– YOU need to be (at least!) your own Offensive (or Defensive) Coordinator— and maybe you need to be both!!!