Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

“Saturdays In The South”

Posted by admin October - 10 - 2019 - Thursday ADD COMMENTS

If you are as big a college football fan as I am, you need to watch the ESPN series in conjunction with the SEC Network called Saturdays In The South– The History of the SEC Football. It is grrrrrrrreat!!!

They’ve broken the conference’s history down by decades and presented the key players, coaches and games that were highlights for that particular decade. My first recollection of college football goes back to the late 1950’s. I remember someone talking about the LSU Tigers defense being called the “Chinese Bandits.” I thought that sounded pretty cool. Then I read about their star RB, Billy Cannon, and I was hooked! I’ve followed college football ever since. Cannon and LSU were highlighted in part 3 of the show.

Last night I watched Part 6, the 90’s. A lot of it was about Steve Spurrier and his Florida Gator “Fun ‘n Gun” offense. They also talked about Tennessee’s unlikely run to a national championship— right after Peyton Manning had graduated! Tee Martin was the QB and Phillip Fulmer was the coach.

They had a segment where the UT team was in their pre-game meeting and Coach Fulmer was “charging the troops!” There was a huge poster mounted on the team room wall and Fulmer had obviously written on the chalk board something that he was using as his “prop” to inspire the team. There were 7 things that he had written on the chalk board and as he read each thing, he had the players repeat it back to him… out loud! I thought that was pretty cool! So, I hit rewind and listened/looked again.

What Fulmer was using was “Coach Bob Neyland’s 7 Maxims.” I’m not going to go into detail here about each one. I looked them up on the internet and found them on volnation.com.

The 7 maxims themselves are what I’d call “Keys To Victory.” What I think is so important here, though, is that the Coach was emphasizing those 7 maxims to his players before a game. They were obviously important enough to Fulmer that he used them as the basis for his pre-game talk. More importantly, he had the team repeat them OUT LOUD to him.

If something is important enough to post on the wall of your locker room, you must have the self-discipline to be sure that you bring the team’s attention to what those posters say— over and over again. If you don’t, they’ll be ignored! If they were important enough to hang on the wall, you need to reinforce what they say from time to time. In UT’s case, apparently he did it every week.

“Fun” vs. Being “Funny!”

Posted by admin October - 4 - 2019 - Friday ADD COMMENTS

I asked the team at the end of practice the other day if they were having fun? It just seemed to me that the whole season has seemed like a big drudgery to them so far. There is no life; no enthusiasm; no joy! I encouraged them to “loosen up” and enjoy the ride.

Sometimes as coaches we get so “locked in” that our intensity hinders the players from enjoying an activity that is supposed to be FUN! We need to find opportunities to break the monotony and produce a relaxed, joyful atmosphere. It doesn’t have to be anything big or well-planned (though, those type of activities are good, too!) to get your players to enjoy themselves.

A “little thing” that I used to do was to dance for/with the players. We always had music on in the locker room before practice. I could hear it in my office. If it was a “dance-worthy” song, I would come out of my office boogyin’ and shakin’ (being a little silly too!) to the beat of the song. The kids would see me and start cheering! Some would come join me and we’d dance together. I’m sure they thought that “the old man is crazy” but that was ok. I wanted to show them that being together as a team can be (and should be) a joyful experience!

I’m well-known for telling really bad jokes! I love puns and will take any opportunity to share a funny one. I’d get up in front of the team to start a meeting… appearing all serious… and then tell a silly joke! The kids would moan and groan but it was fun!!!

Now… you have to be careful, particularly with adolescents, that “fun” doesn’t spill over the line to what I call “funny.” This is when you allow things to get out of hand. The player who has some issues with self-control can say/do something that is inappropriate. The player who’s a bit of a show-off will try to bring too much attention to himself. This has to be dealt with. A brief team meeting usually sets people straight. If not, a 1-on-1 with that player who is trying to be “funny” may be necessary.

You need some wisdom to recognize when someone does step over the line and deal with it. If not, it can cause the whole team to lose focus.

All of this changes on game day. Rarely do you find me relaxed on game day. I put on my “game face” early in the day and I expect our players to be the same way. We’ll have fun after we win that night!!!

“Bounce-back Week”

Posted by admin September - 25 - 2019 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

Wellllllllllll…. my motivational tool that I wrote about last week didn’t pan out so well. We had 2 fumbles inside our opponent’s 15 yard line! Both times we were easily driving down the field against a good team. We go for 2 points about 90% of the time and make most of them. So we left 16 points “on the field.” Final score: 40-20. With those 16 additional points, it would’ve been interesting.

I don’t know where I heard it but it really resonated with me this week as we began practice Monday. I asked the HC for a minute to speak to the team before practice. This is what I said:

Don’t let IR beat you twice!” Don’t let IR beat you twice!! Stop feeling sorry for yourself; quit pouting… and get back to the business of focusing on THIS week’s game. We need to be properly prepared both physically and mentally. Don’t let IR beat you twice!”

It helped. We had a decent practice for a Monday but yesterday, Tuesday, was as good as we’ve had all year. The coaches were coaching and the kids responded.

Don’t let your last defeat keep you from “moving on” and focusing on THIS week’s game. Don’t let that team that you lost to last week beat you again!

Donut Holes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEVER Forget! ALWAYS Remember!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open Weeks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday’s practice was much better.

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

“The First is Worth 3!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beliefs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It will work for YOU too!

PRE-SEASON COACHING STAFF MEETING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFHS Teacher/Coach

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

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

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

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

Check it out!

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