Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Wooden’s Wisdom

Posted by admin May - 21 - 2019 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I’ve encouraged those of you who read this regularly to read books about (and by!) successful people. I read a lot of biographies when I was young. They taught me to dream big! Since my professional career began, I’ve focused more on books by successful coaches. I also like to read books on leadership. You should too!

One of my all-time favorite coaches is the former UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden. I know he coached in a different culture than we have today but… his philosophy is timeless. I think if more coaches/leaders were to adopt Coach Wooden’s principles of success, our society would be a better place to live.

I was thinking about my post from last week— focusing on perseverance and self-discipline— when something about Coach Wooden popped into my head. I want to share it here as a great example of why “stickin’ to your knittin’” will bring forth success!

The first time that Coach met with his UCLA players… the first thing he would do was: demonstrate how to put on their socks correctly!!! What??? Yep! He would show them how to put on their practice/game socks correctly so they wouldn’t cause blisters!!! Can you believe it?! Here are 12-13 of the best college basketball players in the country. They’ve played B-ball since they could probably just start to walk! And Coach is showing them how to put on their socks so they won’t get blisters!!!! THAT is crazy!

Why would he do this? More importantly… why would he do it at the beginning of every season? Because Coach Wooden knew that taking care of the little things is a key to success! He was disciplined enough to never over-look this “little thing.” He did it cuz he cared about his players but… I also think he did it to show them that taking care of something that appears rather insignificant can help them succeed in big ways!

“Learned” Laziness

Posted by admin May - 17 - 2019 - Friday ADD COMMENTS

I got into a discussion with a coach the other day. I asked him how his team’s off-season workouts were going… since school is coming to a close and teams will soon be transitioning to PRE-season preparations.

He told me that he’s been pleased with how things have gone since they started working out in January. The kids had worked hard but…. he thought that they had gotten lazy here at the end of the school year. He kept on talking but that statement resonated with me. It continued to percolate in my head as the day went on. I called him later and shared this:

I remember studying in Psych 101 that there is such a thing as learned laziness! It comes about because people just naturally gravitate toward the “least common denominator”…. that is, getting away with doing as little as possible!… if you don’t motivate them to get up and move. If people learn that they can get away with sitting around or giving less than their best effort (and don’t get criticized), then they will continue in that fashion. I believe that this is what happened to this coach’s program.

He explained how they started out like a ball of fire! Everyone was flying around and working hard. Now, 4 months later, the fire seems to have burnt out. I asked him about HIS and his staff’s behavior. Had that changed? He had to admit that it had. The coaches weren’t challenging the players to move quickly between stations nor to get all of their reps in during the prescribed lifting time. I told him that, “you are dealing with something as old as time!”

It’s why Philippians 3:14 is one of my favorite Bible verses. You don’t have to believe in God to see that Biblical principles apply to life anyway! This verse says to: “PRESS on toward the goal.” Key word being “press!”

A goal worth achieving is going to require effort. More importantly, continued effort! Thus the key. Are we willing to “press on” 3 months or 9 months…. or 3 years… or 10 years to accomplish a goal? Some may call it stubborn. I call it “competitive perseverance!” This coach had fallen into the trap of slacking off; back-sliding; failing to maintain proper stress levels on his subordinates. (The key there is “proper.”) Once we stop pushing, our players will learn quickly that hustling or being enthusiastic or… whatever it is that you want them to do… is not necessary anymore.

I shared this as gently as I could with this coach cuz I didn’t want to come across as critical. I just wanted to help him and his program. He received it well.

Remember that the same thing holds true for our own life. We have to continue to demand the same level of focus, intensity or enthusiasm in our own lives too. And… it helps to have an “accountability partner” who will call us out if he sees that we are slacking off!

PRESS ON, guys!!!

“Small World Syndrome!”

Posted by admin May - 11 - 2019 - Saturday ADD COMMENTS

I haven’t posted in a while cuz my wife and I have been on a river cruise down the Rhine river in Germany. A fabulous 10 days— starting with a 3 day visit to Amsterdam then 7 days on the Scenic Opal ship. We flew home from Zurich the other day. I’m trying to re-set my “internal clock” and start sleeping at night again!

But this story is about who we met on the cruise. We made new friends who are from Canada, Australia, Great Britain and USA! As I introduced myself, people wanted to know where I was from and what did I do. “Virginia and retired HS football coach” was my answer. Apparently I said it loud enough that others overheard me speaking!

The second day of the cruise a guy came up and said, “I heard you saying that you coached high school football in Virginia. My son coaches in Virginia too.” and… he (my cruise mate) is a retired HS coach from Indiana! Once we started sharing more, I found out that not only did I know where his son coached but that I actually have met his son at a clinic! And…. they run the Wing T!!! It was hilarious when I texted my friend to tell him that his dad and I just met in Germany!!! “Small world!”

My new (retired) coaching friend from Indiana was traveling with his wife and another couple. The other guy was a former HS football coach too! Obviously, we had several impromptu “coaching clinics” while cruising down the Rhine! It was great to share stories and information.

What I realized was that: American football is a great game! and… it’s played all over the country at the same level of intensity and enthusiasm as its played here in Virginia. To run into a coaching colleague who has a son that I already knew just added to the joy of a great vacation.

5 Qualities of a Successful Head Coach!

Posted by admin April - 8 - 2019 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

I’ll be watching my “home-state team” tonight when UVa plays for the NCAA basketball championship. I’m not a big fan of college basketball (pass it around the perimeter for 20 seconds, then someone attempts– and usually misses a 3) and then they go down to the other end! Yawn!!! But, I’ll be cheering on UVa for one reason: Coach Tony Bennett. He is the epitome of class. And…. a darn good coach!

There was a quote in the paper the other day in an article by writer David Teel from Coach Bennett’s sister, Kathi Bennett, who is also a college basketball coach. What Teel reported from her is the focus of this post.

Kathi said, “He’s (Tony) is good on all fronts. Relationships, X’s and O’s, motivation, perspective. He’s steadfast.”

Wow! I started thinking about those 5 qualities and how they fit Tony Bennett and my conclusion was: she’s right! Then I started thinking about some other head coaches I know (either personally or professionally) to see if they “check the boxes” on those 5 qualities. Some graded pretty high; others, not so much!!! It amazed me when I compared their ratings on the 5 qualities to their winning percentage. A very strong correlation!

Let’s look at each of them briefly:

1- Relationships: We are social animals. Our ability to relate and get along with others goes a long way in how effective we are as a leader/head coach. We all need a degree of self-awareness to tell us if we are relating effectively with those we work and live with.

2- X’s and O’s: You’ve heard the saying that “it’s not the X’s and O’s but the Bobby and Joe’s” that determine success. That is true to an extent. We have to have some talent to be successful. But, what about those teams that DO have talent and still don’t win consistently? We’ve played people over the years that I knew going in that our team was simply better-prepared; i.e., better-coached, than our opponent. You’d better know your craft and be able to teach it well.

3- Motivation: It’s the underlying theme of this site. Motivation encompasses most everything that involves the critical mental part of the game of coaching. How do you go about motivating a bunch of 16 and 17 year olds to play with intensity and enthusiasm… throughout a game; throughout a season; throughout a year? Motivation, to me, means encouraging others to achieve more than they think they’re capable of.

4- Perspective: How do you see the world? How do you see a challenge? How do you see yourself? It’s sorta like your “world-view.” When you lose a BIG game (like Tony Bennett did in the 1st round of the play-off’s last year), how do you handle it? When you win that championship, what does it do to your view of things? Your perspective… and being able to keep a positive, healthy perspective is crucial to your mental well-being!

5- Finally, Steadfast: Perhaps my favorite Bible verse is Philippians 3:14. It says to “press on towards the goal…” Press on! That means that there’s going to be pressure. Can you remain steadfast in striving to achieve your goal when things don’t go well? Can you press on when confronted with obstacles that seem insurmountable? On the other hand, will you remain steadfast when things are going well? Or… is that when you get lazy and relax?

If you’re reading this, I encourage you to take a piece of paper and a pen and write down these 5 qualities… then grade yourself (letter grades are fine or 1-5) on where you think you are. Then…. this is important!… ask someone who you respect and will be honest with you (and who knows something about coaching!) and ask them to grade you! Then compare the two. It will be an excellent exercise in growing and developing as a coach and as a person.

“It’s Not WHAT You Do; But, HOW You Do It!”

Posted by admin April - 2 - 2019 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

Agree? The title is something that I heard someone state recently about good leadership. The guy used this statement to make a point… a point that I did not (totally) agree with.

I do agree that too many leaders/coaches/parents forget how important delivery is! I recall the first time I heard a recording of Adolph Hitler giving a speech to the Nazi party faithful. I was walking down the Social Studies hall at our school. One of the US History teachers was showing a film. The part I heard was Hitler delivering his speech. I was so intrigued that I stopped and stood next to the class doorway and listened. Hitler’s passion and enthusiasm were so contagious that I found myself stepping into the entrance-way of the class to actually see him! It is important to know that I do not speak one word of German! I had NO idea what the man was saying. It didn’t matter. His tone of voice; his gestures; his volume were all so appealing that it didn’t matter that I didn’t understand what he was saying. It was HOW he said it… or rather (back to our title!) HOW he did it that had me… and the thousands of Germans in the crowd listening to Hitler in person… so enthralled!!! I walked away shaking my head— knowing how easily we can be “pulled in” by a charismatic leader.

As a leader, you are a role model. Your values are more often caught rather than taught. Your players are constantly watching you… studying you. It’s your level of enthusiasm; it’s the passion for coaching that inspires those under you. I’ve often said that “your attitude is contagious. Is yours worth catching??!!!!”

So… Yes! Never forget that HOW you do something is far more important than you may ever realize. It has a tremendous impact on those who work for you.

But… here’s where I disagree with the speaker’s statement that “WHAT we do isn’t as important.” YES, it IS!!!

You can be the most enthusiastic, excited, passionate coach in your district. But, if you and your staff don’t know WHAT they are doing, you’re kids aren’t going to win many games! They may be an emotional, fired-up team but… if they can’t execute, they’re doomed to failure! Your staff needs to know the fundamentals of football. Your staff needs to have effective drills and… be able to teach them. They must know when a player makes a mistake and effectively correct it. All of these “what’s” are just as important as the “how’s.”

Now… if you know what you’re doing; but, your approach stinks… you’re probably in for a long season too! It is having the proper mixture of the two that makes for effective leadership. That’s why the amount of each ingredient is critical to producing a delicious chocolate chip cookie. (MY favorite!) Mess up the recipe and the end result will not be pleasant! Mess up the “what’s” and the “how’s” and your chance for success significantly decreases.

HOW you do something is just as important as WHAT you do!!!

Go “BIG!”

Posted by admin March - 29 - 2019 - Friday ADD COMMENTS

Our pastor held another Leadership Summit at our church this past week. He shared some great stuff!

I don’t know where I first heard it but someone once said, “If you can take just 1 thing from a conference/clinic/seminar that you can use, then it was worth it!” This is true with what our pastor shared. He gave me 3 things though! He said, “Dream BIG! Pray BIG! EXECUTE small and BIG!” A lot of wisdom there.

1- Dream BIG! We are guided by our perceptions and thoughts. If we dream small, we are going to achieve small goals. Goals that probably weren’t worth achieving anyway. Some say, “I don’t want to dream big cuz if my dreams don’t come true, I feel let down!” My reply? If you never dream big, you’ll never accomplish anything big and you’ll spend your life feeling let down!

One of the best sayings I’ve ever heard comes from a pastor/friend of mine. His name is Melvin Marriner. It’s his “motto” for his church: “You cannot rise to low expectations!” Why? Cuz there’s nothing to rise to! Dream BIG!

2- Pray BIG! Take your dreams to God. Pray your prayers in faith! Ask God for His help and guidance. As Carrie Underwood sang a few years ago, let “Jesus Take the Wheel!” I am convinced that God wants us to pray big, bold prayers! It shows that we have confidence in Him!

3- Finally, Execute small and BIG!!! Some people think that they can skip the details. “Just focus on the BIG things and you’ll be OK!” ummmmmmm… not so fast, my friend! If you’ve read my book or followed me on this blog site over the years, you know that my motto is: “Little things can make a BIG difference!” They may seem like small things; but, left unchecked, they pile up and become big things! I keep a check-list of the “little things” that I need to take care of during the week. It helps me to stay on top of things and not get overwhelmed. Take time to assess what your small and big things are. Then, like “eating the elephant”… take one bite at a time!

Transfers and Recruiting

Posted by admin March - 18 - 2019 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

This whole subject of students transferring schools to play for a better shot at a scholarship realllllllllly bothers me. I blame it on free agency. It started at the professional level when players were allowed to chase the money. Then, it began to effect the college game. Don’t like your situation? Transfer. Now, it seems, it plagues high school ball too. At least it does in our area. I know it does in other states too.

There is a friend of mine who coached (successfully) in Florida for a number of years who just recently opted out and moved to take over a program in Alabama! Why? Cuz Florida allows “open transfers.” Players can transfer from one school to another in the state and be immediately eligible! So, a disgruntled player can transfer on Monday from School A to School B and on Friday night he can suit up and play for School B… against School A!!! Wow!

If it’s an issue, then how do you deal with it? First off, if it’s still a rule in your state that recruiting is illegal then… you don’t do it! And you tell everyone on your staff that they don’t do it! As is often the case, it’s the adults who create the problems. My rule of thumb has always been: if I’m approached by a player about transferring to my school, I tell him 2 things: 1- your family must move into our zone and 2- have your parents call me to set up a meeting. Once they approach me, I will discuss what our school has to offer. Until then, the player is off limits.

How do you keep players from wanting to leave your program? That is more difficult to cope with. As I mentioned, the coach I know from Florida was very successful— a couple of state championships. And still, players wanted to leave. Why? They expected more playing time. They expected more scholarship offers. They wanted to play for a winning program. They wanted to play for a coach who they felt would treat them better. I don’t think you can deal with any of these things and still run a solid program. Unless you allow the players and their parents to run your program… and even then, someone is going to think they’re being treated unfairly… you’re never going to make everyone happy.

I think it’s important to treat players and their parents with respect. But, as my high school coach reminded me several times over the years: “Lew, you are the coach. They are the parent. Who’s in charge?!” The principal and AD hired you to lead the program. It’s your job to help your players both on and off the field. Accountability; respect for authority; and working together for a common goal are 3 objectives of any high school football program. Your job as HC is to see that these objectives are met.

It is often the case that if you take care of these little things, the wins will follow. Chase the wins and you’ve got your priorities out of order. When asked what his main purpose was as a football coach, the coach stated: “To win football games!” The other man responded, “Friend, winning football games is too small a thing to live for!” Amen!

“Mattering Matters!”

Posted by admin March - 5 - 2019 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

Unfortunately, I forgot where on the internet that I read this last week but it has reallllllllllllly stuck in my head! The person writing it was talking about Leadership and the components of effective leadership.

I’ve read a lot of books and listened to a lot of speakers discussing leadership. What this man wrote was, I thought, profound! The gist of his message was: Mattering matters!

There are people in our programs that we consider essential to making our organization successful. And they are essential! However, there are people in our programs who, at best, we’d call marginal. If you’re talking about a high school football team, it’s those guys who are on the team but aren’t likely to play much. You keep them around cuz they’re good kids and, maybe, you hate to cut players who have a good attitude and work hard. It’s these marginal players that we have a responsibility to make feel like they have a contribution to make. You never know! I recall a Freshman running back we had back in the 90’s whom our JV coach deemed too small and he wanted to cut him. The guy stuck around and — long story short — by his senior year, he had a dozen D1 offers!

From a business standpoint, one could ask the owner: “Do you know the name of your custodian?” Or, “do you speak to the Security Guard when you check in each morning?” These people need to feel like they matter. Because… here’s the KEY: when people feel like they matter to the boss/head coach, their performance improves! When someone is made to feel like they are essential to the success of a team, they are going to be motivated to perform at a level that produces success.

Take the time to get to know that back-up offensive lineman. Spend some time with the kid who you consider to be “last on the depth chart.” It’s all about making your weakest link as strong as you can.

This is why I’ve always advocated meeting individually with all Varsity veterans during the off-season. Give them a goal-planning sheet to fill out and bring back to you. Use what they wrote to promote discussion. And… don’t make all of the questions about football. Ask them about their life goals. Ask them where they see themselves 10 years from now. Ask about their family. All of this is showing your players that they matter to you. You’re very likely to see an increase in performance/motivation because you took to heart that mattering matters!

“17 Inches!”

Posted by admin February - 26 - 2019 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I have always been pretty conservative. Political correctness drives me crazy! Most people would probably call me “old fashioned.” That would be a compliment!!! When I look at this crazy, mixed up world, I get a little sad… thinking about what we are leaving to my grandkids. Some of the viewpoints being expounded upon in today’s politically-charged climate make me shake my head.

But, I take solace that… for the most part, athletics has not been tainted. Oh yes, we went through the “everyone deserves a trophy” days… but most everybody recognized that we need to get back to setting goals and working to achieve them. A championship has to be earned. Competition is what drives us to succeed. We can still teach sportsmanship and respect while we are challenging our players to become the best they can be. When we start letting them get away with stuff, we are creating headaches that will ultimately lead to (as Head Coaches) being fired.

All of this brings to mind the story I read recently that I want to strongly encourage you to find on the internet and read— no! absorb it!!! I think the title is “17 Inches.”

The author is a young high school baseball coach who is attending his first big coaches clinic. He writes about how he ended up in a packed room during the second day of the clinic where a retired college baseball coach named John Solinos was going to be speaking to the crowd. What Coach Solinos shared over the next 30 minutes changed this young coach’s life. If you will read it, I think it will cause you to stop and reflect also. I will not give away the “punch line” of Solinos’ story. Needless to say, it really impacted me! I hope it will for you too.

I found the web address. It’s www.sperrybaseballlife.com/stay-at-17-inches/. Please check it out. You won’t regret it!

Attitude Determines Altitude

Posted by admin February - 18 - 2019 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

This subject has been on my mind lately.

I did some checking and found that one of the most important instruments in an airplane cockpit is the gyroscope that tells the pilot what his attitude is! Don’t you wish we had an instrument that could tell us what our attitude is??!!

Attitude is critical for an airplane to stave off a potential crash. What this gyroscope shows the pilot is the relationship of the nose of his plane to the horizon. A pilot needs this so he can continue to stay on course and airborne.

I have read that (particularly in jet fighters that are flying very fast) a pilot can become disoriented and actually fly the plane upside down. Without an awareness of where the horizon is, the fighter pilot could think he is climbing in altitude when, in reality, he is driving his jet right into the ground. Thus, the saying in Pilot Training School: “Attitude is EVERYTHING!”

The same thing holds true when looking at our character. I’ve heard any number of motivational speakers/writers say the same thing, “Your attitude determines your altitude.”

Possessing a negative attitude generally means that when things go wrong, you’re probably going to crash and burn — just like that airplane! However, a person with a positive attitude keeps his “nose up!” He is more likely to overcome an obstacle or negative situation because he keeps a positive outlook. This person is going to keep looking for a way to get over, under, around or through the obstacle. Why? Because he believes he can do it!

My wife and I took a trip to the Canyon Lands of the SW US (Arizona and Utah) back in the fall. The Grand Canyon, in particular, is truly one of the great natural wonders of the world! I heard about a guy, John Wesley Powell, who took 10 men with him in 1869 to try to become the first men to travel down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. I was so interested in Powell’s story that I bought a book on the expedition. What these men accomplished (they DID make it) was a phenomenal feat!

What stood out for me, though, was the fact that 2 of the men gave up late in the journey and climbed the steep walls of the Grand Canyon because they just couldn’t take it anymore! They were sure that Powell and the crew were never going to make it to the other end of the Grand Canyon along the river. So… they quit! They quit ONE DAY before the crew floated out of the canyon and onto easy-flowing river currents!!!! One day!!!

As so often happens, our negative attitude forces us to give up before we reach our goal. It’s amazing to me how close a person can be to accomplishing his goal — and he just quits!

Winston Churchill’s words resonate through my mind quite often. He told the people of England during the darkest hours of WW II to, “Never, never, never give up! and… NEVER give in!!!” I’m echoing those same words to you.