Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

“We’ve Always Done It THAT Way!!!”

Posted by admin May - 23 - 2017 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

A coaching friend of mine just got hired as the new head coach at a school which has been mired in mediocrity for at least a decade. He’s a fire ball and highly motivated so I know he’s going to work hard to “change the culture” at his new school. Whether he gets it done depends on a lot of things. One thing that I KNOW is a factor in success or failure is attitude.

You may have heard the axiom that “attitude determines altitude.” But did you know that this is part of the Law of Aerodynamics? The “attitude” (tilt) of a plane’s wings controls whether that plane rises or falls. It is the same with us. If our attitude is positive, we are likely to climb. Likewise, if the attitude of our “mental wings” is tilted downward (negative attitude) then we are likely to crash and burn.

I hear a lot these days about “changing the culture” of a program. What that entails is getting people to change their attitudes— attitudes toward work; attitude toward their teammates and… attitude toward themselves. If a certain mind set (or pervading attitude) is entrenched in too many people’s minds, it’s going to be very hard for a head coach to change it. Thus, the title of this post. Someone who’s been in the program says, “We’ve ALWAYS done it that way!” “Wellllllll… if you look at your record over the last 10 years, it’s pretty obvious that THAT way is not working!” should be your reply. However, even with reality staring them in the face, some people are going to be unwilling to change! Why?

Check this out: Psychologists placed 12 bees in a glass jar in a dark room. A beam of light was shown onto the bottom of the jar… and then, the lid removed! Instinctively, the bees flew toward the light and spent their time and energy attempting to buzz through the bottom of the jar— till they died! The researchers then took 12 houseflies and did the same experiment. Within seconds the flies found their way out of the jar! Yes, bees are smarter than flies and their survival instincts are stronger; yet, it was those instincts (“we’ve always done it that way!”) that doomed them to failure.

Assumptions, rigid thinking (Zig Ziglar called it “stinkin’ thinkin’!”) and force of habit can cause us to… here we go!… keep doing things that DON’T work and make NO sense! Don’t let your fears and preconceived ideas about how something should be done keep you from growing and ultimately succeeding!

Make Your Special Teams “Special!”

Posted by admin May - 16 - 2017 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I am happy to announce that Championship Productions will soon be releasing my newest teaching videos for coaches. This time I’m speaking on the Kicking Game. The title of the dvd’s is: Making Your Special Teams Special… by Being Unconventional.

If you are not “gaining the edge” in the kicking game, you are missing out on an opportunity to “steal” a victory here and there during your season. Most coaches, unfortunately, do not spend the time that is necessary to actually win the kicking game each week. I recall one of my college coaches saying: “In a close game between two evenly-matched teams, it usually comes down to a play in the kicking game that determines the outcome!” Think of Alabama/Auburn a couple of years ago… FG return of 109 yards for a TD! Michigan/Michigan State: bothced punt by Michigan in closing minutes led to MSU TD! How many “wide lefts” does Bobby Bowden still wake up from in a cold sweat??!!! The kicking game IS 1/3 of the game. Are you spending the practice time necessary to be successful? And when you do spend time, are you utilizing “unconventional” means to achieve that success? We did for over 20 years and it paid dividends! I’m not going to go into detail here about these unconventional things we did— I want you to buy the dvd’s!!!! I will say that they afford you 2 things: 1) you can use back-up’s as most of your kicking team personnel… which allows you to rest your starters. and 2) if your opponent doesn’t prepare properly for your “unconventional” approach to your kicking teams, you’re going to create “game-changers” from the opening kickoff to that last second field goal attempt.

OK… I’ll give you a teaser. Yes, I’m a nice guy!!! 🙂 But, my wife says: “Tell them to buy the dvd’s!!!”

How would you like to have a 50/50 chance of recovering your kickoffs? and… NOT necessarily on-side kicking every time! My mantra is: NEVER, NEVER kick deep down the middle!!! (unless you know your kicker will put it in the end zone every kick!!) Why? Kicking it to the 5- 10 yard line is a recipe for disaster! Most high school kids are not going to sell out for 50 yards to storm down the field to “bust the wedge” and make an open field tackle on a strong, speedy back! That’s just one more example of “don’t use college-level concepts for high school kids.” It just doesn’t work very often. We have 7 different “short to medium pop ups and worm burners kicks” to confuse and confound the return team. We rarely have a return of over 7 yards run back against us. Plus, as I said earlier, we are likely to get at least 1 turn over each game because of our uncoventional method of kicking off!

Check out the dvd’s. I think that you will find them to be of interest and value. And… even if you don’t buy my dvd’s, look into some “unconventional” ways to approach your special teams. Truly make them special!

Home Visits

Posted by admin May - 9 - 2017 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

One of THE best things the current HC did at “my” school when he took over was to set up “home visits.” He would contact the parents of the players and set up a time to come by their house. They would meet and get a chance to know each other. I think it really paid dividends for him in developing relationships with parents and fostering good will on his team.

For some reason, he stopped doing it. My guess would be that it was very time-consuming. You’re going to spend a lot of nights away from home meeting with your players and their parents at their home. The pay back, though, is tremendous.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I’ve committed to be a “Consultant” for this head coach. One of the first things I asked about was: “Are you still doing the home visits?” He said, “no. I’ve gotten away from that.” I told him that he needed to start doing it again. And he did! Some of the stories he’s shared with me have been gut-wrenching and heart-overflowing!!! It has really helped him see our players from a different perspective. It’s established a bond between him (the HC), his players and the parents that anyone would want when dealing with a team of high school kids.

So, how do you accomplish this without “burning yourself out” or never seeing your family for 3 months? I’d start with meeting with the parents of your rising seniors. If you don’t meet with anyone else the first time you enact this policy, meet with them first. If a family transfers in, go meet with them. They will have questions and you want to get off on the right foot with any new family.

From that point on, you can make that your policy; i.e., meet with each of the seniors before their senior season.

If you can meet with all of your veterans in one off-season, then set a policy to meet with those families who are “new” to your program. That would be players moving up from JV or transfer families. Take the time to meet these people. It is one of the most positive things you can do as a head coach.

“Less of me; more of You!”

Posted by admin May - 3 - 2017 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

I’ve found that one of the most powerful verses in the entire Bible was uttered by John the Baptist. When asked by his disciples about losing his place of status because Jesus had come on the scene, John uttered, “I must diminish so He can increase.” John was talking about status, popularity and power. This is a situation that all of us as coaches need to address. My question to you is: WHY do you coach football?!” There are many good reasons but, unfortunately, one bad one! And the bad one can cause problems for you, the staff you work with and the entire football program.

Some of you know that I retired from coaching after the 2015 season. I spent last season helping a local school (on a limited basis) install the Delaware Wing T offense. I stayed on through the season attending 1 practice a week and spotting in the press box on game night. It was very rewarding and I met a lot of great guys. But, I told the HC at the end of the season that I would not be back. I have continued to mentor him and enjoy helping him build the culture of his program.

A month or so ago, I felt the Lord leading me to approach the current HC at our local high school about being a “Consultant” for him. This is the same school that I was the HC for 22 very successful seasons. When my decision went public, I had a lot of people (including some members of my family!) chide me for doing it. “How can you go back there and just be an assistant coach?!” “You were the head coach; now you’re going to just help out?!” “Doesn’t that make you uncomfortable that you’re going back where you had so much success as the head man and now you’re just a ‘Consultant?!” People just didn’t get it!

The same (main) reason I coached in the first place hasn’t changed! IT’S ALL ABOUT THE KIDS!!!

Sure I love to win- won’t deny it. And I don’t like to lose- hate it. But, I’ve learned over the years that if you’re in coaching (or any other leadership position) to boost your own self-esteem, you’re in it for the wrong reason.

Trying to explain to folks that it doesn’t matter to me that I’m low man on the totem pole doesn’t seem to compute with them. They’re incredulous that I’m not getting my name in the paper as the “Big Cheese;” that I’m not getting the “atta boys” and slaps on the back for winning another game. It’s just not that important. My priority is: I want the kids to have a great experience. I want to help these younger coaches see the impact they have on their players. I want to show these coaches that there is tremendous gratification in helping a teenager see that his significance goes beyond how many TD’s he scores. Our lasting impact as coaches and mentors should be made in that young man’s life OFF the game field. Our interactions with our players must not be limited to just football. And it certainly can’t be to use them as a tool to make us feel better about ourselves.

There’s one more area I want to comment on. For those of you who are married. I had some people look at me kinda strangely when I announced at my retirement 2 years ago that the reason I was retiring after 42 years of coaching was that my wife deserved the first fruits of my time!!! I had put football first waaaaaaaay too often. She was always there to support me and rarely complained. I knew that the Lord was impressing upon me at the end of my career that it was time to put my focus on the things she wanted to do. What she wanted to do was to travel. So right in the middle of last football season, we took a fabulous trip to Europe– a Viking river cruise through France. She was soooooooooo pumped! I loved it too. Now she’s planning our trip for this fall. As much as I’ll hate missing a game, it’s OK! I promised her that she comes first. Don’t shortchange your wives, coaches. She needs you. If you have kids, get them involved with your team as youngsters. Bring them to practice. My son was my “wing man” anytime I went to scout another team. He grew up to play for me and was an All District player his senior year. He still loves sports and is the Assistant Athletics Director for Media Relations at a major university.

I say all of this to say: where are your priorities? Make sure you have them in the right order. You’ll be happier and life will be much more fulfilling.

“Little Things” DO Make a BIG Difference

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

I am pleased to announce that I am “going home!” After being away for 11 years from the school and program that I helped build, I am going to “Consult” for the current head coach… and help out as a volunteer assistant on a part-time basis. I felt like the Lord was telling me that He wanted me affiliated with that program again. I am thrilled!

In the 2 weeks that I’ve been “hanging out” around the weight room and on the field while the kids run through drills, I’ve observed some things that I felt were significant enough to share with the head coach. Each of them goes to the foundation of my philosophy of coaching: 1- Everyone can hustle; 2- BIG Team; little Me. 3- and my third “plank” of “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance”— which requires a coaching staff who’s willing to teach and teach it well!

Hustle: “It doesn’t take talent to hustle.” In my time as a head coach, all players ran everywhere when they were ON the field— practice and game! We ran onto the field; we ran everywhere we went! I think this builds a sense of pride and establishes a core value that we will not tolerate lack of effort. I noticed the other day that the coach called the players up at the end of the workout. A bunch of them walked over to him while the linemen (who were 50 yards away!) jogged over. *I think it’s interesting to note that the O Line coach played for me at Western Branch. He said later that “running is just how we do things!” Several of the backs commented (positively) on seeing the linemen jog over to them! Good start!

Team First! As the HC began his closing remarks to the players, I noticed that several of the veterans were off about 10 yards away!!?? They were gathering up the bags and shields and carrying them to the storage shed beside the field. A very nice thing for them to do but… they were missing out on the “words of wisdom” that the coach was sharing. I pointed out to him later that I think it’s important for ALL of the players to gather around (in front of him, by the way!!! Have them form a semi-circle in front of you. You want to be able to look them in the eye when you talk. You don’t want players behind you that you can’t see and… they can’t see you!) to hear what he has to say. I also stated (back to point #1) that if the HC is calling the players over, it must be important! So, they better coming running— not walking!

Then there’s the situation with storing the equipment. I used to ask for volunteers to stay back and pick up the equipment and help me get it into the shed. One hot, humid August day I noticed that the same 4-5 players were helping me close up every day! I stepped outside of the shed and looked toward our locker room (which is about 200 yards away) and some of the players were already nearing the door and taking off their pads and shoes!!! I went ballistic!!! I started blowing my whistle long and loud (repeatedly!) till the word reached the locker room that “Coach J wants everybody back on the field… pronto!!!” They came running! I gathered them around me (in front of me!!!) and said, “These 4 guys stay out every day and help me close up the shed while the rest of you head in and get a fast exit after practice. That is not fair and it does not exemplify what “BIG Team; little me” represents. From now on, NOBODY leaves the practice field until all equipment is stored away and I lock the door!!! If you want to help, and your help would be appreciated, that’s great! Things will get cleaned up faster with more people helping. But… we’re ALL staying here until the field is cleaned up! Is that clear??!!” From that point on, we got more people involved in clean up but… everyone went in as a team at the end of practice!

It may seem like “little things” but it’s all part of the BIG picture. You want to instill qualities that will make your players successful on and off the field! Teaching them that hustle and unity will carry them through life builds character. Making these “little things” I’ve discussed here part of your program’s culture are building blocks toward achieving that end.

Be An Effective “Time Manager”

Posted by admin April - 17 - 2017 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

One of the habits of a successful person is the ability to manage one’s schedule. It means “being on top of things” and meeting deadlines. It requires a high degree of organization but, that in itself is the factor that makes successful people successful!

For a Head Football Coach that means having a schedule and sticking to it. At this time of year, you should be laying out a monthly plan of upcoming events to carry you right into your pre-season practice. If you haven’t done so, you should arrange for your pre-season scrimmages. Find out what day practice officially starts and work backwards to this month to plan your spring and summer workouts.

Meetings: I’d recommend at least monthly off-season staff meetings. And, here is a key: All meetings start on time and finish on time. Let your staff know that you will start precisely at whatever time you’ve designated the meeting. Thus, they need to arrive 5-10 minutes early so they can be ready when it’s time to begin. Tardiness is inexcusable. We used to call this “Lombardi Time” for Vince Lombardi of the GB Packers. On the other end, the meeting ends at the prescribed time too. If you haven’t finished your business, continue it to the next meeting. It’s important to have an agenda so everyone stays on task. If you have a “talker” on your staff, you may have to pull him aside and ask his help in keeping everyone focused on the agenda.

Something else just crossed my mind. The same thing holds true for team practices; i.e., start and finish on time. If you don’t get everything done that you wanted, you put that on the kids at the end of practice. “It’s time lost that we can never earn back, guys!” you tell them. And along that line… when practice is over, ask for help in cleaning up the field and putting away equipment. Invariably, it seems to be the same 4-5 players who stay out and help lock up the equipment shed. You know what? The rest of the team can just stand there at the edge of the field till everything is done. NOBODY heads for the locker room until every player can go in together!!!!

Are You Willing to Pay the Price?

Posted by admin April - 12 - 2017 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

I’m borrowing a theme from Bob Gass ministries’ daily devotion book, “The Word For You Today.” I highly recommend it to you!

He talks about things that you have to overcome if you want to be succeed in life. He points out that “success usually comes at the end of a struggle; if it came easily, everybody would be experiencing it.” There are no shortcuts to success. You have to be willing to pay the price by spending the time and making yourself do the things that UN-successful people don’t like to do! You need to remember that anything’s value is determined by the price that you’re willing to pay. Lasting success doesn’t come cheaply.

One of the things that all of us need to overcome are our fears. What are you afraid of? I know that in my life for years it was the fear of failure… and the subsequent fear of rejection from others. The remedy is simple: “Face Your Fears!” but the motivation is usually lacking! Instead of fearing failure, your concern should be the opposite! You should be concerned about the regret over never trying!!!

Is fear of criticism a problem for you? As you do experience success, certain people are going to resent it and resent you!

I love the Bible story of Nehemiah, the man who God called to be the RE-builder of Jerusalem’s walls. He had jealous enemies who did not want to see him succeed in the project. They came up with all sorts of enticements for Nehemiah to stop work and come down off the walls. His response?? “I am doing a great work, so… I cannot come down.” Do not defer to the opinions of others— especially when you know you’re doing what God has put on your heart to accomplish! Stay up on your “wall.” Keep laying bricks— or whatever God has called you to do.

Advancement and success require us to persevere. You build that wall brick by brick. It won’t happen overnight. With time and consistent effort, great things can happen. Don’t let fear and doubt get in your way. Go for it!!!

Thoughts on Staff Organization

Posted by admin April - 5 - 2017 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

It’s that time of year when I’m hearing from coaches about what should they do with their coaching staff responsibilities and organization. I’ve got several Word doc’s available if any of you would like to take a look at them. Note that my email has changed. Please email me now at: coac...@gmail.com.

Here are some random thoughts on how you should organize your staff:

1- Who is the smartest, most knowledgeable… most experienced coach on your staff? If it is YOU then you need to be doing the majority of the important duties… like play-calling and running the defense! Interestingly, the most successful coaches in our area of Tidewater Virginia call both the offense and defense on game nights! They “fit the bill” on the qualities I stated above… so they take the major responsibility during games to affect and control the outcome. Don’t just give offensive play-calling to a young coach and you sit back on game night and basically “watch.” This is not college and it’s definitely not the NFL. Don’t use them as your basis for how to manage your program! This is high school.

2- If you want your offense to “go” you better have a great O line coach! You can give young, inexperienced guys some drills to run for Running Backs or Wide Receivers Indie period but… if you don’t have a quality O line coach, you are in trouble. In most cases, I’d even say that, if necessary, YOU take the O line (Head Coach!) and make sure that things are running smoothly up front.

3- Should you “split” your staff? Unless you are a “big time” powerhouse with 10-12 “quality” assistants and… 75- 100 kids on your squad, your staff members should coach both sides of the ball. I might add that I am not in favor of full 2 platooning either! In high school, you need your best players on the field as much as possible. Give them a rest on Offense and special teams but get those athletes on the field as much as possible so they can make plays for you!!! But, with your staff, I think it’s best to have assistants work both sides of the ball. I like having our JV players and coaches do Indie and Group periods during practice with the Varsity too.

4- Have a Special Teams “over-seer” who makes sure the special teams/players are on the field on Friday night but… you should consider assigning individual kicking teams to individual coaches. Give your assistants something to invest in. Make it theirs. They’ll take a lot more pride in getting things done if it’s their responsibility to make that particular special team excel.

5- Finally, give those young, hungry assistants responsibility for a position. You will have to “coach the coach” to be sure he understands the fundamentals of the position. You’ll have to give him a set of drills you want him to run during Indie period but most coaches want some autonomy and responsibility. Once you go to Groups, your Coordinators take over.

If any of you reading this want to “kick some things around” or you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact me!

Developing An “Overcomer’s” Attitude

Posted by admin March - 30 - 2017 - Thursday ADD COMMENTS

Life’s disappointments can cause you to see everything in life (including your future) from a negative perspective. You express hopelessness, belittle your own abilities and complain about life’s unfairness. As Pastor Bob Gass says: “Do you recognize any of these attitudes in yourself?!”

Dr. Paul Meier, a Christian therapist, wrote, “Attitudes are nothing more than habits of thought… and habits can be acquired. An action repeated becomes an attitude realized.” What can we gather from this? It means that with practice, you can develop an Overcomer’s Attitude! Bob Gass suggests some ways we can accomplish this:

1) “Be honest about your quest to conquer pessimism. Give someone you respect the permission to point out when you are being negative.
2) Limit your exposure to negative input. Since you become like the company you keep, look for people who fortify your faith and not feed your fears.”
3) Volunteer to serve others who are less fortunate. Serving creates positive feelings and gives you a sense of value.
4) Look for the good in every situation and always express faith that it’s there!”

President Harry Truman is quoted as saying that “A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.” Which way you go is based on the choice you make.

Illegal Recruiting

Posted by admin March - 21 - 2017 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I talked with a local coach recently who expressed a lot of anger and frustration over rival schools actively recruiting his players. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, we are regulated by the Virginia High School League. It is quite clear in their by-laws that proselyting players from another VHSL school is strictly against the rules. Yet, some schools seem to feel that they have to go “cherry-pick” players from rival programs.

What I found out from this conversation is that the school or schools in question are now skirting the rules by having someone not directly connected to their program (like the parent of one of their players or a Youth League coach) contact the player or his parents about a possible transfer. What do they call it in the federal security agencies? Plausible Deniability??!!! Now, if the coach whose school is brought up for questioning about recruiting rival players, he can deny it because he (nor any of his staff) is not actively engaged in the recruiting.

In talking with this coach, he seemed to be at the point of throwing in the towel and just “letting him go!” I shared an idea as to how he can combat this illegal and unethical practice. He needs to “recruit” his own players!

Think of this scenario: you’ve got a stud on your team. Both Ohio State and Michigan are after him to commit to them. You come in as the recruiter for Ohio State and meet with the player. Are you going to tell him, “welllllllllllll, if you really want to, you oughta go to Michigan.” NO!!! You’re going into that meeting selling nothing but Buckeye football and how great your program, your stadium, your coaches, your facilities and your school are. You’re going to point out how going to your school is the best thing for him. It may be necessary to compare your program to Michigan (or any school who’s also interested in his services) but… keep the focus on YOUR program!

That seemed to strike a cord with the coach with whom I was talking. He was being stirred emotionally as I spoke. I explained that this is exactly what any good recruiter is taught to do— the same sales techniques that an insurance company or car dealership is going to teach their sales staff to close the deal. You need to create a situation where the “client” is moved emotionally. How do you achieve this? You appeal to his ego!

We’ve not talking about “blowing smoke up his butt” with a bunch of lies. What we are talking about is letting that player know how valued he is to you and your program. That’s the truth! You (as ficticious Ohio State recruiter) wouldn’t be recruiting him if you didn’t think he is going to help your program. It’s the same scenario when you are “recruiting” one of your own players. You need to make him feel (there’s that emotional thing!) that he is verrrrrrrry important to you and how successful your team will be with him playing for you. Everyone likes to have his ego stroked! Letting this player who may be tempted to jump ship and join another school’s football program know how important he is to you is critical in keeping him in the fold.

The other main factor that I shared was something that I learned from Lou Holtz years ago. It’s kinda like the Law of Reciprocity that the Bible talks about: be willing to help others and they will likely reciprocate. Show a player that you are there to help him achieve his goals (play college football or make all-state) and he will reciprocate by giving you everything he’s got. It’s a matter of loyalty. When players know that you care about them as people and you want to help them succeed, a bond is formed that is hard to break. Don’t do it if you don’t mean it! But… if you don’t mean it; i.e., your players’ well-being really isn’t important to you then, in my mind, you’re in coaching for the wrong reason. If you’re not in it for the kids, you should consider getting out!!!