Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Never Assume

Posted by admin August - 15 - 2017 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

It’s interesting, informative and (sometimes) entertaining to stand back and actually watch a HS football practice unfold. To be an observer instead of an active participant gives me a whole different perspective. One thing I’ve noticed is how effective the communication is between coaches and players. I’ve come to realize in only 2 weeks that, as a coach, you have to be verrrrrrrry careful not to assume anything when you’re dealing with teen-aged boys!

You’ve probably heard the adage: “Never assume! Cuz assuming something will make an A-S-S out of U and ME!!!” As a coach, you cannot take it for granted that a player has understood your instructions. The coaches I’m advising get upset when a 2nd team player makes a mistake that a starter was corrected for 10 minutes before. First off, the back up probably wasn’t even paying attention when the starter was corrected and… now that it’s his turn, he’s pretty much clueless on how he is supposed to execute his position. Assuming that the back up was listening is just going to cause heart burn on everyone’s part.

Sooooooo… if we are to never assume that your instructions are clearly understood and will be carried out, how should we proceed to be sure that coaching instructions are followed correctly?

One thing you can do is to get the player to repeat back what you just told him. Say, “Now… you’re the coach. Coach me on what I’m supposed to do.” Then have him repeat it back to you in a practical situation. That way, you are checking to be sure they’ve been paying attention and understand what you were teaching them. How many times has someone explained something to you and you nodded your head in affirmation when in reality you had NO clue what they were explaining? That happened to me when we had life insurance agents in the house! The agent would sit there and go over all of the benefits the new policy provided. I didn’t want to appear dumb… so, I just nodded my head like I knew exactly what he just said!!! Don’t think that your players don’t do the same thing!!!

Biggy-backing off of this, one of the best ways to check to see if your players understand their assignments is having quick quizzes. You can even do it on the field. You sub in a back up for a starter and call the starter over to you. You pose the question right there. What’s your rule on Buck Sweep to your side? He gives you the correct answer. Your response is, “Good job. Now… explain me to what ‘gap’- ‘down’- ‘backer’ actually means!” If he can’t give you an immediate correct answer, drop him for 5 push ups. It doesn’t need to be 25 up/downs or 200 yards of bear crawls!! 5 push ups makes the point.

Your job as a coach is to be an effective teacher. An effective teacher never takes anything for granted. I love the way the military trains its people. They explain; they show; they do… and do and do and do. If need be, they back up and explain and show again till the soldiers can do it right.

Never assume that a player is listening!!!

It’s Time to RUN!!!

Posted by admin August - 7 - 2017 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

I saw something today that, for an “Old Dog”, will be a “new trick!” My whole way of thinking about “running” players for Conditioning was changed in one 20-minute period!!!

The HC whom I’m “consulting” for started his conditioning program today!!! Yep! He runs a very uptempo practice where the players are “on the move” for 2 1/2 hours but… there had been no time specifically set aside for “conditioning”— until today! The kids have 3 weeks to “peak.” He is confident (and I believe him… cuz he researches and talks about football to more experts than any coach I know!) that the players will be in tip top shape by September 1st.

The other interesting aspect of the “conditioning” periods was: No sprints! No gassers! No distance running!!! He calls it “county fair.” There are 8 stations set up around the perimeter of the practice field. He breaks up the team into 8 equal groups and sends 1 group to each station. On the whistle, they begin to run… and cut… and spin… and turn… and accelerate and decelerate and… sprint 10 yards. After 2 1/2 minutes he blows the whistle and the groups rotate to the next station. In a roughly 20 minute segment, each player ran about 75 20-40 yard sprints… and they didn’t even realize that they were “conditioning!!!”

It was pretty amazing!

Injured Reserves???

Posted by admin August - 3 - 2017 - Thursday ADD COMMENTS

What to do with those players who are injured yet still attend practice??? This situation came up this morning and I felt the need to address it since many of you are starting full contact practices. Players are going to get banged up and for whatever reason, they are going to sit out a practice or two. I believe that how you deal with them “sends a message” to the rest of your players. Kids today are so media-conscious; in that, they “see” things when we, as adults, don’t!

A coach contacted me about what to do with those players who can’t practice. I shared how I used to just let them stand on the sideline (here’s the KEY) in street clothes and observe. What I didn’t realize was that… there was more observing of what the injured players were doing (or not doing!) than vice versa. They stood over there and laughed. They stood in the shade. They walked to the water horse anytime they wanted. What the players who were practicing were observing was: these guys are reallllllllly taking it easy! Maybe, I need to get a little “banged up” so I can stand in the shade and watch practice for a couple of these hot days!!!

Then I visited Va. Tech during a spring practice one year. I noticed that every player was dressed out! However, players had different colored jerseys on. I recognized offense and defense but there were also yellow jerseys (for the QB’s… non contact) and red jerseys. These guys were over on the sidelines… not participating in drills. I asked the Head Trainer what was going on?? He shared with me that, “those are the players who are injured and are not allowed to participate in any drills.” Yet, I saw that they were fully dressed in gear and that they were doing a series of exercises (push ups; sit ups; stretching) while practice was going on. The Trainer explained further, “Nobody gets a ‘day off.’ There’s work to be done to help them either rehab their injury or simply to stay in shape. They need to be working too.” A new team policy took shape in my head.

When practice started the next year, it was now one of our policies that everyone dresses out for practice if they are in attendance. If a player has a shoulder injury that precludes him from wearing shoulder pads, he can still wear his girdles, pants and helmet— with his jersey on with no shoulder pads. Our trainer gave them a series of exercises to do while practice was going on. Some could even do sprints or jog around the field. The key was: they were going to work! It was not a vacation. In addition, if they were physically able, they became “managers for a day.” They helped set up and then put away equipment in the shed. They pulled the water horse around. It was their job to keep the field cleaned up. Again, not the most fun day they’re ever spent “watching” practice.

I found that kids were not as inclined to just want to “take a day off”— when they had to dress out, exercise constantly and… help with managerial duties!

Let me close on a verrrrrrrrrrrrry serious note: we were always cognizant of a player’s physical status. We had a Trainer on the field every day and we always told the players that if they had a concern… to see the trainer before they left school! Big or small— get it checked out. We also talked a lot about the difference between being “hurt” and being injured. The player should know his body and pain threshold well enough to know the difference. Football is a “collision sport” and your body is going to have aches and pains. If the player had ANY question, see the trainer.

My policy with our trainer and Team Doctor was always this: YOU do the injury evaluations and I will do the coaching. If a trainer or doctor told me that a kid was done… he was done! I’m not going to question their decision. Likewise, they don’t come down and tell me to “go for it” instead of punting either!!! SAFETY FIRST!! We were very fortunate to have a great deal of support from our school and community to get the very best medical care for our players. Find a local Sports Medicine doctor who is willing to volunteer his/her time to check out your players and be on the sideline during games. Then…. let them do their job!

Specializing!!!

Posted by admin August - 1 - 2017 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

This is more of a commentary than advice today. It’s bothered me for a while and it’s “reared its ugly head again!”

As football practice has started, several players have told the HC that they CAN’T come out for football!!!! “Why not?” he asks. The answers are all centered around 2 things (just 1 really!) but their “reason” is: they have to concentrate on 1 sport or…. here it comes: it’ll ruin their chances of getting a scholarship!!! Come on man!!!

I bet if you lined up 100 high school athletes from your school and asked them to be honest and tell you WHY they are playing their particular sport, the vast majority would say: “To get a scholarship.” WOW!!! What happened to playing high school sports for the sake of enjoyment of the sport and competition and interacting with your teammates???

This all came to a head two weeks ago for me as I watched the MLB Home Run Derby. Aaron Judge was crushing it! The announcers were going on and on about what a great guy he is— besides being an outstanding baseball player! Then it happened… they flashed a message across the screen showing Judge in his HS football uniform and his Sr. year stats. Oh and then it showed him in his basketball uniform grabbing a rebound and his stats! Finally, his stats for his senior baseball season! A 3-sport star!!! I bet his baseball coach had a stroke every year! Or maybe his basketball coach implored him to “forget about those other 2 sports and concentrate on basketball!” His football coach… probably tried to apply the same pressure!!! Is it SOOOOOOOOOOOOO sad… and infuriating!!! And quite honestly, very selfish on the part of that coach who pressures his/her players to concentrate on 1 sport— his, of course!!!

My response? Playing 3 sports in high school didn’t seem to adversely affect Aaron Judge’s baseball career… did it???!!!!

Think about it!!!

“Attitude is EVERYTHING!!!”

Posted by admin July - 25 - 2017 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I guess that a lot of you are gearing up for preseason practice to begin in the next week or so. It’s that time of year!!! Though I’m only “consulting” for the local team, the HC has really made me feel a part of things. It’s nice to be appreciated.

The same thing goes for your players. Have you let them know how much you appreciate their hard work in the weight room this summer? I used to present t shirts to those players with high attendance and achievement in our weight lifting program. You’re trying to create an atmosphere where your players (and coaches) realize that they are important… that you, as the HC, care about them. Your attitude toward them will have an impact on everything else you do during the season.

What do we mean by attitude? I’ll ask you: define attitude.

I’ll bet that your answer was along the lines of: how you act. You’re not entirely wrong… but you place the cart before the horse if you just think of someone’s attitude just being the way they behave. Something has to be the catalyst that caused that behavior first!

My Webster’s Abridged Dictionary defines attitude as 1- opinion or feeling. 2- posture. You might conclude that behavior is kinda mixed in there but… if you look more closely, it has to do with your mental state. Opinions and feelings are generated from your mind. Your posture is that look on your face (behavior) that is a result of that thought.

Why do I say all this? Cuz… you’re not going to change players’ behavior until you change their mind set; i.e., their attitudes!

I think one of the best ways to work on a person’s attitude (mental state) is through the use of slogans or inspirational sayings. I’d find one and make it into a poster and tape it on the locker room wall. Now… you’ve got to repeatedly bring that slogan to your players’ attention or it won’t work. It’s like the doctor giving you some medicine. You take the pills home and sit them by your bathroom sink and never take one out of the bottle!!!

The other day, I came across one of the most powerful slogans I’ve heard in a long time! I credit it to that great motivational speaker Zig Ziglar. It’s in a little paperback book of his entitled, Great Quotes From Zig Ziglar. Here it is:

“Remember that FAILURE is an event—not a person.”

Wow!!! How often do we blame others for things? How often do we do poorly (fail) at something and blame ourselves?? When we can separate the act from being personal, our attitude begins to change. That’s what we’re after: changing attitudes!

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

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“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!!!