Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

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.”

Qualities of an Effective Leader

Posted by admin June - 12 - 2019 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership recently. Several coaches have posed questions, and opinions, about what they think an effective leader is like. Some of them I agree with, others…. not so much! Sooooooo… I decided to formulate my own ideas about what qualities an effective leader should possess. I’ll cover them one at a time over the next few weeks.

First… a note: If you haven’t noticed, I have not used the term “great” leader. I prefer to use the term effective. That, to me, expresses more about what a leader should know and do. He knows his job and he does it well. He/she is effective in accomplishing the goal of the particular group/organization/team that the leader leads.

1st Quality: An effective leader is an effective communicator. He/she knows how to get his point across. He accomplishes this using good grammar and enunciation. He knows how to effectively use non-verbal cues (we call it body language) to convey the message he’s trying to share. Such things as eye contact, hand gestures, posture, tone of voice and using voice volume are all important. If you don’t know how to incorporate these things when talking with your team, you need to learn. They are important.

I will never forget asking a former coach (who was pretty successful) to come in and speak to our team before a big game. I knew him to be a pretty passionate fellow. Welllllll… 20 minutes later when everybody in the room (players and coaches) was asleep, I found a moment to start clapping for him— though I don’t think he was finished!– so that everyone else would join in and we could get him out of the room. It was B-A-D… and sad! Kids were laughing about it for days.

Which leads me to the other key point in communicating: Be prepared. Know how much time you’ve got and plan on shaving off 10-12 minutes from that time! I’ve learned over the years that you can say all you need to say in about 10 minutes. Did you know that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address lasted about 3 minutes??!!! Pretty impressive message for such a short speech. So, know what you’re going to say and practice with a timer.

Then, finally…. know how to FINISH!! I have seen soooooo many public speakers who had no closing! They would reach their last point and then… ramble on… and on… and on! They didn’t plan to or know how to close! I like it when speakers say something to the effect, “and my last point is…” or, “to summarize….” It sparks some energy in the audience because they know it’s coming to a close. And, it gets their attention.

So, in closing!!!— an effective leader is an effective communicator! This skill can be learned but it takes practice. Search out videos or books on the subject. You will be amazed at how much more your team/organization will respond to you when you can communicate your message succinctly, passionately and clearly.

Attitude is EVERYTHING!

Posted by admin June - 5 - 2019 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

A young coach posed a question to me the other day which makes for a good topic to write about.

He shared how his team had gone from the “out house to the pent house” in one season! The euphoria of that special season has still not worn off. Unfortunately, it’s now holding the players’ mind captive! The staff is having a very difficult time motivating them to work hard this spring. He fears that their “we’ve been to the mountaintop” attitude does not bode well for the upcoming season! He wanted to know how I handled this after one of our championship seasons. I shared a couple of things. Here they are:

1- I don’t think you want to totally destroy their swagger. Confidence can be a fleeting thing. It doesn’t take much adversity for a lot of adolescents to “cave in” their positive attitude. That’s why I like a great statement I first heard from Pastor Mark Batterson. He says: “Stay humble. Stay hungry.”

That says a LOT! It gives a coach a platform to talk about “balance.” Be proud of what you accomplished but don’t turn into a bragger. (Stay humble… and thankful for what you accomplished.) I think it’s the cockiness that destroys work ethic. It becomes a “look what we DID” instead of a “look what we still have to DO!” Thus, the need to (constantly) remind your players: STAY HUNGRY! Complacency destroys motivation.

That leads to point number 2: I think you need to be “preaching” attitude every time you get with your players! They are doing the hard physical work in the weight room. But, they need “mental” training just as much. Presenting the same message in different ways is an art that only a coach who develops his communication skills can share. Having a file full of “stories” is how one is able to do this. If you tell the same story over and over, it gets stale and its impact lessens with each repetition.

I would suggest looking at athletes, singers, movie stars— famous people, who, when you share their story, the kids will recognize the name. Examples of how someone got a big head and stopped working hard— and suffered the consequences— is a terrific wake-up call. Lines from movies (especially sports movies) can have tremendous impact also. I love the scene from Facing The Giants where the coach is challenging the player to keep bear-crawling down the field!!! It’s worth showing every season.

3- Finally, check your enthusiasm level. Are you as energetic? Are you challenging the players? OR… are you “sitting on your laurels” too? Check your own attitude before you start complaining about the players.

Leaving A Legacy

Posted by admin May - 31 - 2019 - Friday ADD COMMENTS

Once again, a “tip of the hat” to Pastor Bob Gass and his staff for writing about such an important topic in The Word For You Today. He states that “You don’t get to choose the moment of your arrival and departure here on earth, but you get to choose what your legacy will be, what you will be remembered for.”


I have a friend who once shared a talk with my players that he titled, “Take Care of Your Dash!” huh?? His point was similar to what Pastor Gass is saying: When people look at your tombstone, they’ll see the year you were born on the left… and the year you died on the right. But, between the two dates is a “dash.” That dash represents all of the time between those 2 dates! That dash is your life and your legacy! What are you leaving behind? When you change jobs… what are you remembered for? If you go to a different city, what will people say about you after you’ve left? Most importantly, as a coach, what kind of impact are you making on your player’s lives?

Gass concludes his remarks by saying, “When your life’s sole focus is self-interest, you won’t be missed when you are gone, or missed for the right reasons.” That’s sobering! When your players look back on their time with you, what are they going to remember the most?

Yes, winning games is important. Guys lose their jobs because they’re not winning enough games. But, I just had a friend dismissed from his coaching job because the administration said, in essence, that it “wasn’t a good fit.” In other words, his philosophy and goals did not match what the AD and Principal felt were what they wanted in a football coach.

It ‘s why I always had as an objective that we wanted to earn the “Double Victory!” We wanted to win ON the field but… how our players conducted themselves away from football was important too! It’s why I spent so much time pouring into their lives the values that I felt were important in making them successful in life-— not just football. That’s the other victory.

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.