Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Donut Holes!

Posted by admin September - 20 - 2019 - Friday ADD COMMENTS

I’m not sure where I came up with this idea… but, it has been effective with our players in the past.

I have mentioned before on this site that my background is in psychology and counseling. How the mental part of the game of football operates has always fascinated me! Looking for a psychological advantage is one of the fun parts of coaching for me. I have found one that I want to share.

One of the most important aspects of a well-executed offensive game plan is: Turn-overs! One of our Offensive Game Objectives that we set each week is to have no more than 1 T-O! If they have 0 T-O’s, the Offense earns a bonus point. However, I was looking for a motivational tool that might get our Offense to realllllllllllly strive for NO turn-overs. What I came up with is pretty cool! No turn-overs earns all of the offensive guys a couple of donut HOLES! The hole looks like a fat “0!” My hope was that the symbolism would be significant.

Welllllllll, we had a T-O in our first game so no donut holes. I heard a couple of players saying, “we need to get those donut holes this week, guys!” THAT is what I wanted to hear! Good news— we had 0 T-O’s in last week’s game. When we broke from our Thursday Pre-Game Ceremony yesterday, (get a copy of my book and you’ll see what the “Ceremony” is all about!!!) I called the offensive players over. When they saw the box from Dunkin’ Donuts, they started smiling. I broke open the box and started handing out Holes!

We’ll see tonight if it makes a difference!!!

NEVER Forget! ALWAYS Remember!!!

Posted by admin September - 11 - 2019 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

I don’t know why the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on our country has impacted me so greatly this morning… but it has!

There have been tons of posts on my Facebook page about remembering. It’s painful to remember but sooooooo important. We’d be doing ourselves a disservice— and psychologists would say “harm”— to try and block out the terrible events that have occurred in our lives.

How does this tie in to coaching football? Welllllllllll… if you believe that football is a metaphor for life like I do; then, you can learn from confronting the past. Hopefully, by doing so, you won’t make the same mistake again!

I had to learn that lesson the hard way the first year I was a HC. We were 2 and 1 at the time and had what we ALL thought was going to be an easy game that week. Practices were lackluster but I didn’t say anything cuz we were so confident. Friday got here and it was pouring down rain. The game got postponed to Saturday afternoon. That’s when things started falling apart. One of our starters came to me and said that he would have to miss the game. His sister was getting married on Saturday and he was in the wedding party! OK… I understood. We’d be OK without him, I thought!

We got over to the school and the field hadn’t been cut and the lines were faded out. It was pretty pathetic. Our warm-ups were as bad as the field conditions. That’s when it hit me! I’m sure it was the Lord exhorting me to stop everything and call the team up… and chew them out goooood! But, no… I just stood there.

The home team’s band attempted to play the National Anthem. It was awful. I noticed a couple of our players snickering at it. I knew what they were thinking: their band sucks and so does their team!

You can probably figure out the ending. We were behind with 2 minutes left in the game. We made a valiant effort to drive the length of the field but to no avail. It was a crushing defeat! We went on a 3 game losing streak and never recovered.

I NEVER forgot all the mistakes I made that day. It was that off-season that I first read what was to become my coaching (and life) mantra: PROPER Preparation Prevents Poor Performance!!!

That lack of proper preparation was the driving force that helped me face up to reality. Never again was I going to say that I did not prepare my team properly— both physically and (more importantly!) mentally.

Never forget! ALWAYS remember! God bless the USA!!!

Open Weeks

Posted by admin September - 6 - 2019 - Friday ADD COMMENTS

We’ve played one game, and won, and now we’ve had an “off” week! The schedule in Virginia is kinda peculiar. We opened on the “0” week and now we are open for week 1.

It doesn’t matter when you have your open date, the important thing is how you utilize it. It’s an extra week to prepare OR… it’s an extra day or two to let your players and staff recharge their battery! You can accomplish both.

Our HC gave the players Monday off. No practice. The fact that it was Labor Day helped— enjoyed the holiday. He also gave everyone a free day today. The plan was to go scout but Hurricane Dorian has messed up all of that.

He had us working hard on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday— which is exactly what I would’ve done if I were in charge. (I have a very wise HC!!!)

We went out in full gear and worked hard for 2 1/2 hours. Tuesday was Kicking Game and Offense. Wednesday was Kicking Game and Defense and Thursday was Kicking Game and split O and D evenly.

THAT was the physical part. The mental part is where you plant seeds that will bear fruit down the road. We talked to the players about the importance of “getting better.” We challenged them to focus… and pay attention to details. That’s harder to do when there’s no game on Friday.

We weren’t getting much effort nor enthusiasm during my Offensive practice on Tuesday. Rather than calling them up to talk to them at the end of practice, I had them circle up and we did up/downs for 5 minutes. We hadn’t done any Conditioning that day so that was taken care of with the exercise! It was afterwards that I explained that, “I cannot tolerate lack of effort. I will NOT accept a lack of hustle! You don’t go hard during practice, you’ll have to make up for it at the end of practice!”

Wednesday’s practice was much better.

Each week has a purpose and each day is an opportunity to fulfill that purpose. Paint a picture for your players so they can see that purpose. It’s highly motivating when they see that they’re all working toward a common objective.

“The First is Worth 3!”

Posted by admin August - 31 - 2019 - Saturday ADD COMMENTS

I just realized that I haven’t written in a couple of weeks. If you are not aware, I am back coaching FULL-time and it’s consumed quite a bit of my time and focus since practice started the first of August.

Being the Offensive Coordinator instead of the Head Coach has been an interesting transition. First off, I work for one of my former players— who is like a son to me! Learning to take orders instead of giving them has been interesting! He’s an excellent leader and I’m enjoying every minute of it!! The best part is: I get to call the offense without having to worry about all the “mess” that the HC has to contend with!

We won our opener last night and played pretty well for a first game. I said something to the players the other day that my coach told us some 50 years ago when I was playing in high school. It’s as true today as it was back in the 60’s. (That’s the 19-60’s…. not 18!!!) He told us that “the first game is worth 3 games!”

What he meant was: this first game has “carry-over power” for the next 2 weeks. If you win, your team comes away knowing that they can have a good season; but, they have to “clean up” mistakes. However, if you lose the opener, you are in an uphill battle already. Adolescent males’ self concepts are pretty fragile. Those who tie their self-worth to how well their sport goes will have to deal with the negativity that comes from losing that first game. It’s going to affect the next 2 weeks.

Sooooooooo…. how do you deal with that first game in terms of the mental side of things? I think it’s important to show the mistakes and make sure they get corrected on the field. If you won, you use those mistakes to show them how they can improve. If you lost, I think you compile a playlist to show the players how close they came to victory… if only they hadn’t produced all those blunders. Take the “negatives” and turn them into “positives.” Berating or embarrassing the players won’t help much.


Posted by admin August - 5 - 2019 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

I’ve often felt that “motivation” is waaaaaaay over-rated. The idea of a fiery half-time speech propelling a team to rise above how they played in the first half has been over-played. Changing a belief with one speech may cause a quick spike in adrenaline but… when the players come “crashing down”… they’re going to be flatter than they were before the speech!

It’s why I’ve always given my “pep talk” on Thursday! Give them something to “chew on” for 24 hours… but not try to “fire them up” just before they go out on the field to play a game! Yes! a lot of enthusiasm and excitement is important but… I never wanted my team “sky high” before a game.

I did, however, convince our players that a fired up underdog might stay with us through the first half —on adrenaline alone! But, “just keep playing your game, guys!” We will begin to exert our authority in the 2nd half– when the game is on the line.

Our pastor shared something in his message a week ago which has “rattled around in my head” since then. Here’s what Pastor Michael Brueseke of Community Church @ Western Branch said: “Once a lie is believed in our mind, it’s hard to remove! However… once a truth is believed in our mind, we must feed it to keep it there!!!”

First… I wonder why that is a truth?! Is it because we are so susceptible to negativism and falsehoods that we “buy into” anything that sounds bad? And yet, we start saying positive things (to ourselves) and we must continue to feed those thoughts or… they tend to erode and pass out of our mind.

This is why, for me, I continue to read/study/meditate on God’s Word. The Bible is full of truth and is my source of life. I let God’s Holy Spirit “speak LIFE” to my mind by reading a little of the Bible each day. In that way, I’m letting the Word of God take up residence in my mind so there’s no room for the enemy’s thoughts to overwhelm me.

It will work for YOU too!


Posted by admin July - 28 - 2019 - Sunday ADD COMMENTS

For most of us, pre-season practice is starting shortly. As a HC, if you have not set up a meeting with your staff… you need to do so! It is important that everyone is on the same page. This leads to effective organization and strong leadership by your coaches.

A young HC asked me recently what he should cover in his meeting. One thing I mentioned to him was… get your assistants involved. You don’t need to lead the whole time. Let your Coordinators speak. Let you Assistant HC’s speak… etc. Give them an opportunity to get up in front of the group.

I think it’s important that your entire staff know what the expectations that you have for them are. You can do this with a Staff Policy Sheet or HC Expectations. Also at this time, your staff needs to know their on-field as well as their OFF-field responsibilities. These are things like getting the equipment (blocking bags, cones, etc) out and… stored away. Locker room clean-up. Getting the managers organized with the water. The HC should not have to do all of this by himself.

During the meeting, it’s important to talk about the program’s Goals and Values. You need to make it clear to your staff what the things are that you believe in and will stand on during the season.

Remind them that they are Teacher/Coaches. The best coaches are the best teachers. You can discuss Offensive, Defensive and Special Teams philosophy and objectives at this time — and have the Coordinators speak.

One last thing that I’d recommend discussing is the daily schedule throughout August… leading up to your first game. Give a hand-out on the times of each practice and when you expect the staff to arrive and leave. Let them know when staff meetings will occur. Go ahead and state the time requirements in-season too. All of this is necessary so coaches know in advance what their time commitment is.

If you can close the meeting with prayer, do it! Then… our staff is going to have a cook-out after the completion of our meeting. It’s a “pot luck” dinner at one of the coach’s house. Great time to build rapport.

NFHS Teacher/Coach

Posted by admin July - 19 - 2019 - Friday ADD COMMENTS

Since I am back coaching on the HS level full-time, I’ve been required to do some Coaching Education by our Virginia High School League office. Wow! Lots of stuff to read and listen to.

We were assigned to take an online course from the NFHS on Principles of Coaching. It was a bear! 6 hours and extremely comprehensive. But, you know what? It was worth it!

If you have any desire to be a head coach at the high school level, you need to take this course at some point. It was like trying to swallow a fire hose gushing water… but I learned (or re-learned) a lot of important information.

Check it out!

Fear and Respect

Posted by admin July - 3 - 2019 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

One of my favorite authors (and it has nothing…. welllllllllll, something!…. to do with the fact that he is a native Virginian like me!) is David Baldacci. I’m reading one of his John Puller novels entitled The Escape. One of the characters said something that made me take pause. It was Puller’s dad saying something to the effect that, “when it comes to fear and respect, you want the men under you to fear you more than respect you!”

Now… that may work in the Army. I’ve never been in live combat but I did do some live-fire training when I was in the Reserves. It’s prettttttty intimidating! If your leader says “get up and follow me, you’d better go!”

When it comes to football or business or the classroom… I think a little fear is ok but… respect is much more appropriate to motivate your players to do what you want them to do. Fear may produce results in the short term; but, in the long run, it’s much more effective to develop respect.

Developing respect involves developing relationships. Your players have to know that you care before they care how much you know. I believe that the best way to earn respect from your subordinates is to show them respect.

Now… I’ll be the first to say that I have “gone off” on my team in practice before! I do not curse but I am LOUD!!! And my tone of voice is such that the players know that I am serious. I always make sure that my caustic remarks are said in general and NOT directed at 1 individual. If I’m going to criticize a player, I’ll do that in private. Again, showing respect. If you’re going to set high standards, you have to be willing to “lose” it occasionally so that the players don’t become complacent.

Most of the time, however, I stay upbeat and positive. I like to recognize great effort by a player during practice (or games) cuz I want them to know that total effort is a value that we have high regard for in our program. That positive reinforcement is part of letting your players know that you care.

I have a painting of Knute Rockne, the legendary Notre Dame coach, standing in front of his team in the Fightin’ Irish locker room. On the chalk board (remember, this was the 1930’s) is a statement that says: “Make your opponent FEAR you and RESPECT you!” I think the same thing holds true for your own players too.

“PROPER Preparation Prevents Poor Performance!”

Posted by admin June - 25 - 2019 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

Coaches: This will be short and sweet. If you do not have (at least) an outline of every pre-season practice already mapped out, you are risking failure for this upcoming season!

The biggest downfall of most coaches is: lack of organization. The second is: lack of discipline! The 2 go hand-in-hand. You need to set certain expectations for your staff, your players and yourself! However, those expectations/standards mean nothing if you lack the discipline (and fortitude) to carry them out.

One discipline that all leaders need is: to be organized! Plan out in advance your schedule for the fall. As I opened with, you should already have a plan for what you are going to do every day/practice starting in August. If not, hopefully this post will motivate you to get it done this week!

Use the age-old strategy of “working from the end back to the front” if you don’t know where to start! List the date of your opening game. Then list the things that you want installed by that opening game. Then… start working backwards— to your opening practice. You can always modify the schedule if something comes up. You need a plan! And you need it NOW!

Being An Effective Communicator, Part II

Posted by admin June - 20 - 2019 - Thursday ADD COMMENTS

Last week, I wrote about the importance of being an effective communicator… IF you want to improve your leadership skills. The focus was primarily on public speaking/communication skills.

Today, I want to stress the importance of simply communicating!

People who work with and for you like to be kept in the loop. Not many people I know prefer being left in the dark. Our 24 hour a day newscasts and instant access to social media has fed that beast! People want (and need) to be informed. Sooooo…. be an effective communicator with your focus on communicating information to your team/organization.

One of the smartest things I did in my last head coaching position was to keep the parents informed as to what was going on with the team. I’m not sure where I came up with the idea (I’ll give credit to God’s Holy Spirit!) but every Sunday evening when I had wrapped up the previous game’s evaluations and done our preliminary prep for the next game, I would sit down at my computer and compose a Weekly Newsletter to the players AND their parents! I also included our AD, Principal and anyone else involved in our program who I felt needed to be “kept in the loop.”

I would talk about the previous game. I kept it as positive as possible. I didn’t hand out any individual accolades (unless someone had a huge game that anyone would’ve recognized!) but talked in general terms about the good things the staff saw and then some things we needed to work on.

Included would be a calendar and I would point out any important activities coming up that everybody should be aware of. Then, I would close with the Word of the Week (****Check out a previous post) and talk about its significance.

The purpose of the newsletter was two-fold. First, to accomplish the goal of being an effective communicator; thereby keeping everyone informed. Secondly, I used it as a motivational tool. By keeping the criticism to a bare minimum and accentuating the positive, the newsletter was a tool to encourage and challenge everyone to “press on.”