Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

7 ON “0”!!!

Posted by admin July - 18 - 2017 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

7 on 7 is the rage in this area! Everybody is playing it for various reasons. A coaching friend of mine and I started the first Passing League around here in 1997… mostly to offer football players a chance to compete during the summer. We had to combat the other sports that were offering our players a chance to play— as opposed to just lifting and doing drills leading up to pre-season practice. Look what’s happened to 7 on 7 competitions in the last 20 years!

What I’m suggesting today, though, is 7 on “none!” This is for the installation and… review of your passing game. I got this idea from Bill Bilichick when Tom Brady was just getting established as the Patriots starter. It worked so well for us that we continued to do it till I retired in 2015.

This means that your receivers are running against “air.” There is nobody on the defensive side of the ball. The advantage is 2-fold:
1- you and your QB can realllllllllly see the routes unfold in front of you. At the same time, the receivers’ route discipline can easily be dissected. There is no one in front of them (on defense) who can hinder them running the route.
2- The number of reps you can get off in a 20 minute passing period is extremely high! We tried it this morning at the school where I’m consulting for the HC. He had enough people (including JV players) to run 4 full groups. He called a pass play for the 1st Varsity unit and the next 3 groups simply mirrored the pattern. The HC counted up the plays at the end of practice and he got off 52 pass plays in 20 minutes!!! Pretty impressive.

Discipline vs. Punishment

Posted by admin July - 11 - 2017 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

There are, unfortunately, times that you have to punish players because of rules infractions. That’s why it’s important to keep your “rules” to a minimum. Cuz… if you make a rule and a player breaks it, you are forced to implement the punishment. If you ignore enforcement, you’ve set yourself up for bigger problems. Here are a couple of examples of punishment:

We value being on time in our program. If you are late, unless it is excused; i.e., parent’s note explaining why the player is late or a teacher’s note that she kept the player back after school, then you are going to suffer the consequences. I stationed a coach at the entrance to our practice field. He kept track of when the whistle blew to start practice. For every minute a player was late, it was an “up/down.” *You can modify that to fit your needs. I know a coach who has them do a full burpee for every 30 seconds a player is late.

We do not tolerate unsportsmanlike penalties in practice or games. NO fighting in practice… period! An unsportsmanlike penalty in a game is going to cost you 200 yards of driving the 1 man tackling stick up and down the field. And… he has 3 minutes to get it done. I like to have football “skills” that they work on while doing the punishment. Driving a sled or tackling a bag are more “football-related” punishments than just running or doing grass drills.

Discipline is related to self-control. We’re trying to teach something. I do a set of push ups each night before I go to bed. My wife once said, “Lew, you are the most disciplined person I’ve ever met!” It’s simply developing a habit! And… that takes reps and reps and reps! Till, it’s just “something you do without thinking!” Some psychologists call it a “positive addiction!” You’re in the habit of doing something that is healthy.

The same thing goes in football. Reps (quality reps!) are so important to developing “muscle memory patterns” and, thus, having your body perform an activity to the best of your ability. We want our players to hustle everywhere they go on the field— which in turn will hopefully teach them to “hustle” in life! If I call the team up for a talk and they don’t (at least) jog over to me, they have to go back and come over again. If the offense jumps off side during practice, they do 5 push ups for each yard a 5 yard penalty costs them in a game! When you discipline, you are training. This is why I’m so big on positive reinforcement! I’ve said it before but I’ll say it here again:
IF you want a behavior repeated, reward it!!!

Look for opportunities to praise a player. But, at the same time, don’t let them “get away” with something if they fail to meet an expectation.

UN-conventional Special Teams Play

Posted by admin July - 7 - 2017 - Friday ADD COMMENTS

If you are looking for an advantage that will help you win a close game, I want to encourage you to consider purchasing my new dvd that Championship Productions has just released.

I share our rather unique concepts on making your special teams special. We have adapted our special teams play specifically for high school players. It has been very successful for us over the years!

Please check it out in Championship’s catalog.

“Being First”

Posted by admin July - 5 - 2017 - Wednesday 1 COMMENT

I shared with the players the other day about 2 important aspects of creating a culture of champions: 1- strive to be first in everything that you do and 2- hustle is an attitude. Let me ‘splain!!!!

When I hear or read about championship-caliber athletes, the one factor that stands out in my mind is their burning desire to be the very best they can be at whatever their sport is. They possess a passion— not only for the game but, for succeeding and achieving in that game. Simply put, they desire to be first! What does this take? I believe it requires hustle.

Two stories come to mind that bring this to light. One is the story of the lion and gazelle. It goes something like this: Every morning the lion and the gazelle awake and they begin running (hustling!) Whoever hustles faster and longer will survive. Either the lion has a full belly or the gazelle gets to sleep with his family that night. So, you better wake up ready to hustle all day long cuz… you don’t know who’s out there looking to “eat you up!”

The other story was the one I shared with the players. I first heard it from my baseball coach when I was in 10th grade! Sooooooooo, it goes back a LOOOOOOOOOOONG way!!! He was challenging us to always “be first.” Be the first one dressed and out of the locker room. Be the first player on the field. Be the first student to get to class. Be the first… be the FIRST! “How do you accomplish this?” he queried. “It’s actually pretty simple!” Coach exclaimed. “If everybody else is walking, then you JOG! If everyone else is jogging, then you RUN! If everyone else is running, then you SPRINT! If everyone else is sprinting (which is HIGHLY UN-likely!!!) then at least you’re right up there competing with the best!”

Just stay “1 step ahead of the pack” and you will be the leader! It doesn’t take talent to hustle!! But… talent PLUS hustle is a tough combination to beat!!!

Maximizing Mental Performance

Posted by admin June - 26 - 2017 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

I read an article in our local paper, The Virginian-Pilot, over the weekend that had some excellent information. The article happened to be about baseball but I felt it was so pertinent to my “Little Things” list that I want to share some of the key ideas here as they apply to football. All the credit has to go to Charlie Mayer, the Director of Psychological Services for the Cleveland Indians. Mayer states in the article that, “we want them (baseball players) to stay in their 3-foot world.” For a baseball player (but, again, for an athlete in any sport) it means focusing on the pitcher’s rubber or the batter’s box. I think that football players’ “3 foot world” pertains to the man across the line from you… whether you’re a lineman or a corner on an island covering a wide receiver.

A key point that Maher makes in the article is that the pursuit of “maximizing mental performance” takes time. *I think of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 reps theory!

We often talk about “slowing the game down” so our athletes can better process information necessary to succeed at their position. It’s why I’ve always had players walk through a play before running it. In fact, walking it numerous times before going full speed. I use something (check earlier blog titles) called “Bird Dogging and Bird Walking” when installing a play. It’s a significant part of the learning process.

The article continues… “Maher uses an acronym: M A C. The “M” is for MINDFULNESS. “It’s learning how to center yourself,” Maher says. It’s that moment when everything is starting in motion. A player needs to be able to block everything else out and zero in on what his job is.

The “A” follows. It’s for ACCEPTANCE. (I think this is KEY!) “As they compete, things happen during the game,” Maher says. A quarterback could be moving his offense efficiently down the field with several nice completions… when all of a sudden, the defense blitzes and he’s hit! The ball goes awry and it’s intercepted for a “pick 6.” You’ve got the ball back and here comes the QB trotting out on the field for the next series. As the song in Frozen says, he’s got to “Let It Go!”

Finally the “C” stands for COMMIT. Commit to the next play. Stay in the moment. Don’t dwell on the last play. Relax. Get the job done.

Soooooooooooooo… how do you help players learn to apply these steps? Maher recommends one of the oldest tricks in the book: “Count to 10!” But, apply deep breathing exercises to your count! Maher says, “What that does for them, it centers them. It slows things down for them.”

I know from experience that deep breathing works! When my wife was pregnant with our first child, we/she decided she wanted to do natural childbirth. We went to all of the lamaze classes to learn how this takes place. One of the first things that our instructor taught her/us was “take a cleansing breath” and then focus on an object 4-6 feet away. My wife was then taught to take deep breathes and stay focused on that object for 60 seconds (about the length of a contraction.) My job as “coach” was to apply pressure to her thigh just above her knee cap. I love my wife to death but she is a wimp! I knew if I squeezed just a little bit, she’d scream at me and break her concentration. “Ha! Easy,” I thought. wellllllllllllllll… not so much! I started squeezing moderately and… nothing! Huh? So I squeezed a little harder. “THIS will get her!” Nothing. I swear to you that, out of frustration, I squeezed her leg with as much pressure as I could and… she just kept on breathing and stayed focused on the little Teddy bear we’d set up in front of her!!! I was amazed! When the 60 seconds was over, I asked her, “How could you not react to my squeezing the heck out of your leg, Sweetie??!!!” Her response? “I didn’t even feel it, Lew!!!”

Practice deep breathing for 10 seconds with your team at different times during practice each day. It will pay dividends when it’s game time and the pressure is on!!!

What Do You Want to be Known For?

Posted by admin June - 20 - 2017 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I posed this question to a coach yesterday (the title!) and it generated a great discussion. Setting aside the fact that everybody wants to be “known for” being a championship program!— what are some qualities that you want your program to be known for??? After this morning’s workout at the school where I’m consulting, the HC allowed me to speak to the players for a minute. I posed the same question to them! I asked them to think about it and I’d ask for their answers tomorrow. Their answers should prove to be interesting.

The answer(s) to this question speaks directly to one’s general coaching philosophy. It also challenges the coaches to promote these qualities on and off the field. That means 1- “talking them up” on a consistent basis with your players and 2- “reminding” them (a few up/downs always seem to get the point across! By a “few” I mean 6 or 7, by the way!) when the quality is NOT being shown on the field. We had a situation this morning, for example, where the HC whistled the players to come to him. An expectation that we are going to run— NOT walk— on the field is one that the coaches have set down for the players. A bunch of them jogged over but there were a dozen or more who strolled over. I whispered in the HC’s ear, “you should send them back from where they were on the field and then call them up again.” He took my suggestion; blew his whistle and sent them back. The second time he called them up they hustled over. Point made!

This leads to the first quality that I wanted my teams to be known for:
1- HUSTLE. I wanted my teams to be recognized as a bunch of players who were going to hustle everywhere they went. Anyone can hustle. This creates energy. It can also be emotionally intimidating to opponents. I always wanted to win the Mind Game battle.

Hustle leads directly to the second quality I wanted my teams to be known for:
2- ENTHUSIASM. Football is a game of emotion. I never wanted us too high or… too low; but I did want my players to be excited about playing! Congratulate the big play. Jump around and get others pumped up. Scream, shout… knock yourself out!!! Enthusiasm is contagious!

This segues into the third quality:
3- EFFORT. I wanted kids who were going to go hard every play… no matter the score. Effort was one of the 2 main qualities that I graded our players on each week. Regardless of the score; regardless if we won or lost— did our players give a great effort??!! Again, it doesn’t take talent to go hard every play. It’s an attitude!

4- EXECUTION… which is a byproduct of DISCIPLINE. If you’re not coaching your players to be disciplined, you’re never going to develop that “well-oiled machine” that (hopefully) you want your team to look like or be known for. This means correcting mistakes as they happen on the field. For example, if you’re in Team Offense period in practice and someone jumps offside. You drop everyone down for 5 push ups! It doesn’t sound like much but the kids hate it! It’s a 5 yard penalty in a game, thus, a push up for each yard the team would be penalized!

5- PHYSICALITY. It’s a contact sport. I wanted kids playing who enjoyed hitting people. Here again is another “tie in”— to #4. We wanted to be physical but we wanted to be clean. No cheap shots. No late hits. Play to the whistle and stop! We encouraged gang tackling. On double team blocks, we wanted the D Lineman to be ridden “right off the field.” Get after people but don’t run your mouth. Be physical!

Finally, I wanted my teams to have a
6- “NEVER GIVE UP” ATTITUDE. Again, a tie in with HUSTLE and EFFORT. We won some big games by coming from behind in the 4th quarter. Two of the biggest wins in my career (most memorable and most pleasing for me) came about when we were down late in the game but “found a way to win!” Never give up! Never give in!!! You have to preach it; you have to teach it.

Maybe you have some other qualities that you’d like your team to be known for. Give it some thought. Ask your players what they want to be “known for”— besides being winners. The interesting thing is… when you strive to be known for these things that I’ve discussed here, you will find that year in and year out, you’re going to be competing for championships. Cuz, this is what champions are made of!

“Work SMARTER… not Harder!!!”

Posted by admin June - 13 - 2017 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

We hear so much about the Grind. It almost seems like too many coaches feel they need to spend more hours working out, lifting, running… practicing! than their opponents. That it will somehow magically produce a championship next fall. I would like to present an idea that kinda “blows up” that concept of OUT-working the other guy. I got it from a highly successful business manager some years ago and it revolutionized how I ran our football program.

The concept is simply: Learn to work smarter… NOT harder!

This is NOT encouraging anyone to cut corners or slack off. The focus is on finding more effective and more efficient ways to get your work done than maybe you’re doing right now. I wish I could remember the name of the manager or his book— it was THAT long ago. It’s always stuck with me though; and it guided me through 32 years of a highly successful head coaching career. Let me explain with some examples.

Hudl has to go down as one of THE major innovations that has significantly changed the way we “do business” as football coaches. If your school does not have it, you need to get it. How has Hudl helped us to work smarter… not harder?

First thing: Saturday morning meetings with your players and coaches. Why require everyone to come in at 8 am on the morning after a game to sit through what almost always becomes a “chewing out” session with the coaches?? What 16 year old wants to spend his Saturday morning doing that??!!! Plus, the frustration of some important player not showing just compounds things! Why not work smarter… and you, the HC, get up at 6:30 or 7 at your house; throw on the game and go through each clip making telestrater notes and comments?! It took me about 90 minutes to 2 hours to finish up the game. You then send it out to the coaches and players. OH, don’t let the game be posted before you send out the notes. All the players want to do is watch themselves! If you post it early, they’ll watch it Friday night late and never look at it again.

Staff meeting time can be better served watching the game at home too. I’m not even sure that a staff meeting is always necessary anymore! If it’s a problem getting everyone to a central location, how about doing a phone call and BOTH of you watch Hudl together? Go over the clips you need to see. Everyone needs a day to rest during the season. Remember that GRIND thing? Saturday should be a day to get away from the “grind.” If you want a staff meeting, have it late in the afternoon on Sunday.

If you evaluate your schedule, you can find other ways to save time and make things run more efficiently. It takes some study and some imagination but it is worth the effort.

Summer Time and… TIMES!!!

Posted by admin June - 10 - 2017 - Saturday ADD COMMENTS

I was at a Men’s Prayer Breakfast this morning and naturally the topic turned to sports and, in particular, HS football. One guy asked what time we work out during the summer.

I might have written about this a while back but it’s worth repeating NOW because those of you responsible for planning summer workouts and preseason practice are probably making your plans now. I want to quickly share something that revolutionized my coaching career!!! Why I didn’t do it years ago is beyond me. My point is:
workout and/or pratice EARLY… EARRRRRRRLY IN THE MORNING!!! Unless you’re in Maine reading this and there’s frost on the ground at 6am in August!!!! LOL

Why I waited till the last year of my coaching career to switch to mornings is something I’ve kicked myself in the tail about since 2015!!! Prior to that season (my last as a HC!) I’d always scheduled practice for afternoons to evening. yep! the hottest part of the day. And… around here, the most likely time for thunderstorms.

In 2015, I had them hit the field at 6:30 AM!, practiced for 2 hours, took a 50 minute break… then back out for another 2 hours. After that we either lifted weights (inside) or wenthome! I can’t emphasize how much more refreshed I was at the end of preseason practice that year. It didn’t really start getting “steamy” until the last 30 minutes of the 2nd practice. We did our conditioning early when it was still cool. So we were to the Team period on our practice schedule by the time it started to really heat up.

You’ll feel better. Your coaches won’t be as worn out. And… your players may grumble a bit about getting up so early but, when they see how much cooler (and less humid) it is at 7am as opposed to 4 PM!!!, they’ll appreciate it too.

Keys to Victory

Posted by admin June - 7 - 2017 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

I had a good talk with a coach the other night. We discussed some of the statistical factors that one can analyze to predict the outcome of a game. The stats were directly related to HS football so I was very interested. Some of the factors were pretty obvious; i.e., win the turn over battle, win the 3rd down conversion battle, etc. But there were a couple that I hadn’t heard about which helped confirm some of the things I’ve done as a head coach which helped our win/loss record over the years. I’ll share a few of them here.

1) ELIMINATE FOOLISH PENALTIES. What are foolish penalties? Aren’t all penalties foolish? Not really. Two players going up for a ball and one pushes off and the other one gets flagged for pass interference!!???!!!?? An O lineman pancaking a D lineman; lays on him and gets called for “holding!” I’m not sure we have an answer for those “head scratchers” that officials call on occasion!!!
There are penalties that can be dealt with in practice that will minimize (or eliminate) them during games. Jumping off sides can be “punished” in practice so the offense is more focused during a game. We always made the whole offense “give me 5” push ups when they jumped off sides during Team period. or… illegal motion— any of those little 5 yarders which drive you crazy in a game! 5 push ups makes the point. It’s 5 yards… so 5 push ups. And, the whole team gets penalized in a game so everyone drops!
For more serious penalties, they must be dealt with in practice, too. We’re talking about promoting self-discipline. Successful teams don’t play careless football. There is NO way that fighting should ever be encouraged during practice! It’ll come back to bite you in the butt when you need it the least— in a big game!
Those mistakes in practice, by the way, cost them 15 push ups! We want our players to play aggressive but intelligently.

2) WIN 3RD DOWN AND GOAL LINE BATTLE. This is why I feel you need a “separate” goal line/short yardage offense! Teams don’t seem to prepare as well when it’s a package that is only used 3-4 plays a game. If you practice it each week, that gives you an advantage.

3)WIN THE KICKING GAME. I’ve written about that here on several occasions! It’s why we are unconventional in our approach to Special Teams. *Here’s my chance for a plug for my new coaching dvd’s coming out this month through Championship Productions. The dvd’s are all about our unique way we execute our kicking game.

4) 1ST TO SCORE! I saved this one for last because I found it the most intriguing. In a high school game, the team that scores first has a 75% better chance of winning the game. I would always get “looks” because I wanted the ball first (old school) if we won the opening toss! Let’s go down the field and score— take the lead and stay on top for the rest of the game.

Ultimate Goal???

Posted by admin May - 30 - 2017 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I was discussing “philosophy” with a coach the other night. He was explaining his helmet sticker-award system. “Of course, everyone on the team gets a sticker when we win. And… nobody gets any stickers when we lose,” he stated. OK, that sounds reasonable. Right? We want to reward good behavior and punish bad, right? There is one fatal flaw in this thinking, though. What about that time that you’re playing the best team in your area and you come out on the short end of a 10-7 loss? Your defense played “lights out!” They get NO recognition for a great performance??!!! And the converse… you beat a poor team 35-28! You won, but you played poorly and (probably) with little effort or enthusiasm. Hey.. you won! So everything’s ok and everybody gets a reward??!!! I don’t think so. The question becomes: What is your Ultimate Goal for your team for any particular season?

If your ultimate goal is: Win A State Championship! and, you come up short (lose in the finals in triple overtime!!!)… I guess that means that the season was a miserable failure, right??? NO!!!!!!!!! Not if you think more in terms of EFFORT and EXECUTION for your players as the measure of success and/or failure.

I have been a disciple of legendary college basketball coach John Wooden for years. Coach Wooden was talking about the process long before Nick Saban came on the scene. I’ve always liked Wooden’s definition of success. It’s: peace of mind! A settled, contented feeling that’s a result of “doing your best to become the best you are capable of being.” In other words, effort and execution.

Our ultimate team goal each year became: BECOME THE BEST TEAM WE ARE CAPABLE OF BEING.

Each week, our team was “graded” on how much effort they gave and how well they executed their assignments. Whether we won or lost had no affect on whether players earned awards or not. The criteria for being rewarded was based on effort and execution. You have probably guessed that there is a direct correlation between how well we play and how hard we hustle and… whether we win or lose a ball game! It’s not a 100% truth but… enough that you can count on those 2 factors strongly affecting the outcome.

Our emphasis became fixated on the “2 E’s of Success.” When we played poorly yet still won, it was not a time for great celebration. If, perchance, we played our butts off but came up short against a great team, we could hold our heads up knowing that we accomplished we wanted to achieve: great effort and execution. This perspective allowed us to stay focused on the process and not the outcome.