Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for February, 2010

“Judge not… less ye be judged in a like manner.”

Posted by admin February - 26 - 2010 - Friday ADD COMMENTS

This is be short but sweet! I wanted to share something that our Principal closed our faculty meeting with yesterday that I thought was very impactful.
The story goes: a young boy was called into the doctor’s office with his parents. The doctor explained to the little boy that his big sister was very sick and she would need an operation. The doctor and his parents wanted him to give his sister his blood… that she would need during the surgery.
The boy sat there with a look of deep concern on his face. Finally, he looked up and told them: “If it means saving my sister, then I’ll do it.” The next day, they rolled him into the waiting room beside his sister, inserted the needle in his arm and began to drain a pint of his blood. As he lay there, tears streamed down his face but the little boy persevered. A few minutes later, when the blood donation was over, his look changed to perplexity. The little boy called the doctor over to his bed and in a soft voice said to the doctor, “Doctor, when do I die?”

You see, the boy thought that he was sacrificing himself by giving his blood to save his sister’s life!

Then the other story Dr. Fowler shared concerned a man who walked up to a bus stop one day. There sitting on the bench was a woman whom he knew fairly well. She lived across the street from him with her 10 year old son. As he approached her on the bench, he gave his warmest smile and was getting ready to speak when she basically looked up at him, gave him a blank stare and looked down again.

“Welllllll.. the nerve of that woman. I always knew that she was a snob. Blowing me off like that. I never have really liked her that much. See if I ever help her out in her yard anymore.”

Just then the bus pulled up and as he started to get on the bus, she rose from the bench, looked up and recognizing him said: “Oh Lee, I’m so sorry. I was sitting here trying to compose myself. I just came from the doctor’s office where he told me that my son has leukemia.”

Guys… don’t think that you know how your players are feeling all the time or that you can JUDGE their intentions based on what you are observing at the moment. We just aren’t that wise. No matter how much experience you have working with teenagers (or adults)… you just don’t know what people are thinking.

What is the old saying: “Never assume anything. Cuz “assuming” just makes an A-S-S out of “U” and “ME.” Or as the Lord said in the Sermon on the Mount in the Book of Matthew: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged… Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your neighbor’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

Think about it!

Don’t Settle for a “B”

Posted by admin February - 22 - 2010 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

I found this quite appealing as I read my daily devotion the other morning. It points out how we as people have to strengthen our “spiritual” man as much as the physical if we want to lead a balanced life. The story goes like this:

Harvey MacKay tells the story of a professor who stood before his class of 30 senior molecular biolgy college students. Before passing out the final exam he said, “I have been privileged to be your instructor this semester, and I know how hard you have worked to prepare for this test. I also know that most of you are off to medical school or grad school next Fall. I am well aware of hou much pressure you are under to keep your grade point averages up. Because I am confident that you know this material, I am prepared to offer an automatic B to anyone who opts to skip taking the final today.” The relief around the room was audible. A number of students jumped up from their desks, thanking the professor for the life line he had thrown them as they left the room. “Any other takers?” he asked. “This is your last opportunity.” One more student decided to leave. The instructor then handed out the final exam, which consisted of two sentences. It read: “Congratulations, you have just received an A in this class. Keep believing in yourself!” It was a just reward for the students who had worked hard and believed in themselves.

The Apostle Paul experienced more headaches and heartaches in a month than most of us will see in a lifetime! Yet he wrote, “I can do all things through Christ… who gives me the strength to do them.” (Phil. 4:13— the “Tebow verse!”)

Guys… start believing in yourself, in the Jesus Who wants to live within you, in the gifts He’s placed at your disposal, and the destiny to which He’s called you too.

I would add: start believing in your players too! Don’t let them settle for a “B” when they are capable of an A. You don’t accomplish that be belittling them or pushing them. I found that very few people like to be “pushed.” You get behind that donkey and try to shove him, he’s just going to sit down on his haunches and refuse to be moved. But… if you come around front, grab the reins, and start walking (leading him!), he will follow. That, to me, is the essence of leadership— getting out front and knowing how to motivate.

God bless you in your efforts.

Oh and… refuse to settle for a B when God has called you to an A!

The 10,000 Hour Rule, Pt. 2

Posted by admin February - 18 - 2010 - Thursday ADD COMMENTS

I had a coaching friend who wrote in response to my post on our “lengthy” practices. He was surprised that we stayed on the field for such a long period of time. I see his point but it made me realize that I needed to clarify some points and go into a little more detail about how our practices were organized… especially as the season went along.

One point he was concerned about was keeping players “fresh.”— that long practices would wear kids down. What I should delve into some more here is that as our season progressed, 2 things were pared down: the total amount of time we stayed on the field and the amount of conditioning that we did.

Those “8 hour practice days” were only for a week. That was our Camp Week. We totally immersed the kids in football. If they weren’t at school or away at our camp site, what else would they be doing?! It’s early August and nothing else is going on. It was actually 4 2-hour practices with plenty of down time, meetings and time to eat and hang out. We sold it to the kids as a “pride thing” for our program! That nobody was going to outwork us. The other selling point was that we pointed to the NFL in their training camps going on at the same time ours was. The kids love it when they can “see” themselves as being like NFL guys! We had nobody quit nor people failing to come to practice. We were way ahead of our opponents in preseason scrimmages and opening game. I learned from my old HS coach, who was a legend here in the Tidewater Virginia region (Billy O’Brien), that the opening game of the season is worth “3 games.” That if you lose that first one, it takes another 2 weeks to recoup the loss. We wanted to win that opener every year. From 1995 to 2006, the last 12 years of my career, we won our opener! From 1989 till 1995, we were 5 and 2. And we did not tail off during the second half of the season either. We were ready and focused for a playoff run. We were either 4 and 1 or 5 and 0 for the second halves for 14 straight years. (*You can read in my book why we instituted “Nap Time” before our home games!!!)

What I did do was…. starting the 6th game week, we would begin to cut back on the time we spent on the field. If you have read my book, I have posted daily practice schedules. Once the season opens, our average time on the practice field was about 2 hours and 40 minutes. But, that includes team flex, kicking game, water break and conditioning. The football specific portion was only about 1 hour and 50 minutes. And, again, starting the 6th week, I would cut about 5-8 minutes per week. By the time we hit the play-offs, we were on the field for about 2 hours and 10 minutes. We rarely added time once we were in the playoffs either.

I also began to curtain the conditioning time. Whereas we were running them 12-15 minutes per day in the pre-season, it went to 10 for the first half of the season. At the 6th week, it started being shaved some more (down to 5-7 minutes per day… and occasionally just skipping a day if they worked extremely hard that day!) In the last 2 weeks of the regular season, we only really conditioned on Mondays! Tuesday’s conditioning was Offensive Team Take-off period (we called it Buck Sweep Drill… lightning fast! Lots of fast movement and maximum reps) and on Wednesday’s, it was Defensive Team Pursuit. If a player wasn’t in shape by the 6th week of the season, he wasn’t going to be!!!

My last detail that I would add is: as organized as we can try to be in high school, it is very difficult to simulate what the colleges do as far as keeping their practices moving. Why? Well, if you are like we were, you do not have a managerial staff of 8 to 10 students who are moving around the practice setting up the next drill station… moving bags and cones and putting pads on sleds, etc. I could barely get our managers to keep the water bottles full! How many times have you as the coach had to grab a bunch of shields and set up your own drill area??? If you’ve got this under control… great! It’s kinda like that study that was just released about the average amount of “real time” in an NFL football game. It is about 11 minutes!! That’s the amount of time football is actually played— from the moment of the snap till the whistle blows. I think the same is true for practice. There is simply a lot of “down time.”

Team period is probably the worst. You’ve got your first 11 on Offense on the field and 11 on Scout Defense. If you’ve got a squad of 44, then half your team is standing over there on the sidelines while you go team period for 30- 45 minutes!

What we did is that I would have a “script” for our Offensive team period. It had the play we’re running and the defense, including blitzes, that I wanted the Scout Team Coordinator to run. Every coach has a copy. The script is set up so that the 1st O runs 7 plays and then the 2nd O (who, by the way, is right behind the offensive coaches on the field… listening to the play and watching what the 1st team player at his position is doing) comes in and runs 3 plays. So that’s 22 people who are “actively” involved on Offense.

On the Scout Defense, we have 18-20 players who alternate in. Some would be defensive starters who don’t play any Offense. Others would be key defensive back-ups who need some snaps with the scout team defense. Then you have a couple of younger guys who just need to get smacked-on by the 1st team offense to build toughness and confidence. So now, during our team period we have about 40 guys actively involved. Only 5 or 6 standing around on the sideline. I had a policy not to cut anyone who tried out IF 1- he could protect himself and 2- he maintained a good attitude. But, that’s another post.

I would love to talk practice scheduling with any of you who are looking for some ideas about how to make your practices more efficient. There is a “contact” button on the dashboard at the top of the home page if you would like to email me.

2 Platooning at the HS Level??

Posted by admin February - 15 - 2010 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

A coach asked me to comment on the concept of 2 platooning players at the HS level. Let me first say that I can only share with you what my experience of leading a program for 22 years was. I know of a couple of coaches who successfully used 2 platooning but… they were both from very large schools and had the luxury of 75-80 Varsity players. I guess I see the advantages that hard-core 2 platooners speak of… I just know that we never had that many “great ones” and we wanted them on the field as much as possible!

I tried 2 platooning one season toward the end of my career and it was a disaster. If you are considering full scale 2 platooning, remember: you will also be “2 platooning” your coaching staff! Right there is where we first ran into problems. I guess I either did a poor job of leading or they were simply too immature or self-absorbed to get along but… we became a divided staff… especially when the defense was playing well and our offense was struggling. It wasn’t anything blatant; but you could tell that there was friction way beyond what is healthy. You will have to assign your staff members a position on only 1 side of the ball. He will work with those players every day. Like a D1 college staff, his contact with the offensive players will be only when the 2 sides do competition drills together…. and then it will only be as the “opponent.”

You run into another problem right off the bat when your staff has to have their “draft.” If players are only going to go 1 way, you have to decide which side of the ball they are going to play on. Who will make this decision? Again… competition.

I am an advocate of players, the “stars”, going 1 and 1/2 ways!!! What I mean is: your best (the one’s that you want on the field as much as possible) will rest every 3rd series you are on offense. You set up a rotation in practice that carries over to the game where the back-up knows when he is coming on the field. This accomplishes 2 things: it gives the starter a break, probably once or even twice a half, during the heat of the game and 2) it allows a quality back-up to get important game time when the game is on the line. This builds depth for this season and gives you experience coming in to next year; for, we try very hard to never back up a senior with another senior. We want underclassmen on the field as those “key back-ups.”

We also are careful about the “stars” playing on Special Teams. It’s another area where we build depth and experience for the younger ones. Now… we only put quality back-ups on the field for the kicking game— because it is just too important to just stick anyone out there! Our “stars” can get a break during a kicking play. It’s a chance to get a drink and, especially, talk with their coach before heading back out for offense or defense.

Let me just mention here too that you will find that you have one or two kids each year who go hard ALL the time and just never seem to get tired!!! The harder you work them, the stronger they perform. These are those 1 or 2 that we WILL let play on the “key” special teams (i.e., Punt and Kick-off)… but most of the “stars” will get a break during kicking plays during the game.

Another factor which played into our getting a lot of kids in the game was that we DID 2 platoon our Offensive linemen. Rarely did we have an OL who had the physical tools we were looking for in our Defensive linemen. Our O Line is more of the “hog” type while our Def. line is usually made up of back-up Linebackers. In other words, we go more for speed and aggressiveness on our defense. We’ll convert a LB and get him to put his hand on the ground to give us that speed we want for our fast-paced defensive attack. Our “star” O lineman can come in on goal line defense to help bring some bulk. Otherwise, our OL go only 1 way. Our O Line coach is the only one who only coaches 1 side of the ball. When everyone else is working on Defensive positions, the OL coach has more time to work on OL skills. When we go Def. Group work, our OL coach brings his linemen over and it can get pretty competitive because it is guys who only go one way going against each other! That’s about as far as I feel comfortable going with true 2 platooning.

Let me point out too that when the “star” gets his rest, it is on offense! Our whole program psyche changed when we changed from giving breaks on defense to giving breaks on offense! I brought in a new assistant coach from a neighboring school that had had a lot of success… including a state championship. They were known for their physicality and mental toughness. This coach was the first to show me that “you send messages to the kids and don’t even realize it!” The message I discovered that we were sending to our players (prior to this) was: “Defense was just something to do till the Offense got the ball again!” How did the kids “learn” this? Because we substituded on defense and talked about “how important it is to keep your offense working as a unit”, they thought that we were “saying” that Offense is more important! That changed when we started subbing on Offense. We let it be known that the Defense would stay in tact. Our offensive production didn’t suffer but our whole defensive attitude changed! Now that star defensive back/running back was getting his break on offense and that budding star running back was getting some snaps in a key part of the game. The message was clear: our defense is going to win us a championship. We backed up our words with our actions.

The main reason I like “1 and 1/2” platooning is that it promotes team unity… one of my foundational blocks of success. Coaches learn to coach a position on both sides of the ball and players working on both sides during practice builds depth. If an injury occurs, you’ve got a quality athlete to substitute in there until your starter returns. I think with true 2 platooning that you are not only playing with less over-all quality on the field with just the starters, but you really drop off when the back up has to come in. He may be the 3rd or 4th best Defensive lineman instead of 2nd best… because the 2nd best is only playing offense. (There’s that draft again!)

I realize that the true 2 platooners would say that they are getting much more practice time for those guys since they get to work on their skils twice as much. I can’t disagree except to say that I think that a player’s ability level has the greatest chance for improvement during the off season. I think of in-season practice as “preparing for the next game” not improving a skill set. That’s what the hours of lifting, running, agility and drill work from February to July is all about!

I want THE best athletes I can put on the field as much as possible. Names from this area like Kenny Easley, Ronald Curry, Allen Iverson (and those 3 were all QB’s!), Dre Bly, Deangelo Hall, Percy Harvin and others… all played both ways in high school around here. They never suffered for being on the field; in fact, their teams were all championship caliber teams.

Get those “athletes” on the field and give them the chance to produce for you! I’d start “selling” playing both ways in the spring. I’d put it in their heads that a real warrior goes both ways. That you shouldn’t want to come off the field. I ask them: “Don’t you like to put on a show for the fans?! Then you need to be on the field as much as you can so you can be ‘prime time.'” Quite frankly, our kids would be frustrated if they didn’t get to go both ways… yours will too if you plant the right seeds.

Player Goal Planning

Posted by admin February - 12 - 2010 - Friday ADD COMMENTS

One of the most important activities that I did each year with our returning veterans occurred at this time of year.  I want to bring it to your attention so you can decide if it’s worthwhile for you to be doing with your team.

It is an activity that I describe in detail AND… have a copy of the actual sheets that I used…. in my book, 101 Little Things…  Coaches write all the time asking how we were able to win consistently over a 16 year span (6 and 4 only once; 7 and 3 twice and the other 13 years we were averaging about  9 or 10 wins a season.  It was because I was consistent.  I found things that worked and we kept doing them each and every year!  Too many coaches are not disciplined enough to continue doing something the same way over and over.  They get “bored” so they stop doing it.  Baaaaaaad move!  My daddy used to say (you’ve heard it!):  “Son, if it ain’t broke… don’t fix it!”  and it’s true.

One of those activities that I found produced consistently great results was something I started doing in late winter/early spring because, if you’re going to do it right, it takes some time.  In the book, it’s “Little Thing” #17:  Goal Planning/Self-evaluation Meetings.  It means making the time to actually meet with every returning veteran twice to accomplish what the activity is designed to do.  Once it’s done though, you will have a group of players who are focused and motivated as they look forward to the end of school and getting ready to move into the “Pre Season” phase of your year-long plan.

I created a goal planning sheet for each player to fill out.  Also stapled to the Goal Planning Sheet was a Self Evaluation Sheet.  The Goal Planning sheet consisted of questions that each player has to answer concerning what his goals are for the team for next season and what his goals are for himself next season.  Perhaps the best question I posed to the kids was:  Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?  Where do you see yourself 15 years from now?  You’d be amazed at some of the answers!

What I think was the key point, though, was that with each question about the goals, the players were also asked for a “plan of action.”  In other words, a step by step plan of how they plan to achieve those goals.  That always allowed for a “teachable moment” when I could explain to each player that a goal means nothing unless you know what it’s going to take to achieve it.  I used the parable that Jesus told about the man who started building a house but ran out of money to complete it.  So the unfinished house just sat there for anyone who passed by to see.  The point that the Lord was trying to make is:  “Count the cost” before you set out to accomplish something. 

The Self Evaluation Sheet consisted of 12 qualities that every coach would hope that his players possessed.  This is not only football skills but also character traits like “hustle”, “leadership” and “work ethic.”  Each player is asked to rate himself from 1 to 5 on each trait.

The initial meeting with each player is to review (and you need to go over both sheets in detail… because a lot of kids have never done something like this.  If you want valid results, they need to clearly understand what it is that you expect them to do!) both sheets and set up a time that the player will return so that you can review and discuss the player’s answers.  The first meeting will take about 10 minutes but the second “interview” will take 30-40… so plan accordingly so you are not getting the player, or you!, in trouble with a teacher because he’s missing class time to do “football.”

When you sit down with the player to review his sheets, I started with the Self Evaluation.  You will be surprised at some of the ratings that players give themselves.  For ratings on traits that I think are way out of line with reality (i.e., a 3rd string OT who’s 5’8 and 220 rating his “level of play” as D1 College potential!), it is a great opportunity to discuss this aspect of his performance.  It is also a natural lead-in to the goal planning review that’s coming up.

I would also ask some of them if they would like to know how I, as their HC, would “rate” them on the catagories.  Most will say “yes.”  You have to be honest but…. you also need to remember that you are dealing with the psyche of a 16 year old.  What you as their HC say to them carries a LOT of weight.  I always tried to present it as positively and encouragingly as possible.  You can discuss what they need to do to achieve the level to which they have rated themselves if you disagree.  Here again, moving towards the goal planning exercise.

The Goal Planning Sheet review always focused on the:  “What will it take to achieve this goal” part of the exercise.  I wanted them to know that goals aren’t just handed to you.  Hard work and persistence cease the day.  This whole exercise is designed to be that “teachable moment” that I already mentioned… your chance to discuss in detail what you see and think about certain goals and traits.  You have the boy in a one on one setting… do some “preaching” of your coaching philosophy. I’d ask them upon reading a goal: “Is this goal achievable… or just ‘pie in the sky’ what you think I want to hear?” You can then discuss what real goals are all about: a challenge but realistically achievable IF the player is willing to work hard for it!

Years later, I would run into players and many would bring up the “goal planning sessions” with me as one of the highlights of their HS football career.  The kids like the attention and the fact that you are “listening” to them and what they see as significant in their lives.  Building that rapport with your players is all part of establishing trust and respect as building blocks of success for your program.

Good luck and God bless you!

The 10,000 Hour Rule!

Posted by admin February - 10 - 2010 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

I want to continue to share some things that I’ve picked up from reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers.  This point would be food for thought as your staff begins to meet this spring to hash out the controversial topic of” how long should we practice each day?!

Gladwell’s research was centered on Bill Gates and, yes, The Beatles!  The Mop Tops are from my generation and were one of my favorites (I even had the “modified” Beatles’ haircut… not long on the sides but the bangs hangin down to the middle of my forehead.  It looked pretty cool (to me anyway!!!)  With so many crewcuts and flat tops in 1964, I was pretty radical!!!

Anway… what Gladwell discovered about Gates and the Beatles was:  both spent countless hours perfecting their skills.  The Beatles traveled to Hamburg Germany on numerous occassions in the late 50’s and early 60’s to perform at clubs there.  What I did not know until reading Outliers was that these clubs they performed in stayed open all night.  And… they were expected to play all night— with little or no breaks!  That’s 8 to 10 hours a night for 7 to 14 nights in a row.  You’re going to get a LOT of playing time in! 

The same for Bill Gates… when he was first allowed computer terminal time while still a teenager.  Gates was allowed unlimited access to the computers at a local university where he grew up.  From the time he was in his teens till he was in college, he was in front of a computer terminal an incredibly large number of hours.  Gladwell researched it and figured out approximately how much time these 2 examples perfected their particular skill.  What he discovered is that “genius” is more of a “time on task” (practice) characteristic than a matter of innate intelligence.  Not that Gates isn’t brilliant; but, with the amount of time he had to perfect his skill with computers, he almost couldn’t help but be great with them.

Gladwell states that 10,000 hours of practice is the breakpoint that separates “genius” from just being “very good.”  These guys put in an extraordinary amount of time and it paid off!

My point to coaches is:  don’t short change your team.  Most of you probably look for ways to trim time from practice.  You use the reasoning that “kids will get bored” if we stay on the field too long.  Well, my response is:  go by their houses and calculate the amount of time they spend in fromt of their tv or computer screen playing Madden or Wii!!!  They don’t get bored there!!!  Why?  Because they are actively involved… not just standing around.

Which leads to the point of practice organization as much as how much time you spend on the field.  I believe, and I can back it up, that kids will spend 8 hours a day doing football as long as you keep them actively engaged and moving from one skill to another.  Our first week of practice when I coached was 3-4 hours… mostly because we couldn’t wear full pads until the 6th day of practice.  Once we went full pads, we went to Camp!  We started at 6:30 in the morning and went non-stop until 5 in the afternoon.  When we went away for Camp (instead of doing it at school), we went until 9 at night.  The kids were interested and never seemed tired.  In fact, we had a hard time getting them to go to bed at 10 pm.  They wanted to stay up and talk and laugh!!!  and that was after a 14 hour work day!

The most successful HS program in the state of Virginia is known for their long practices.  I’ve heard it said that they would practice for over 3 hours on Thursday… in full pads and going live part of the time!  I think this is too extreme… but they proved that it worked!  They’ve won about a ga-zillion state championships over the last 30 years!

I would encourage you to reassess your attitude towards practice time for your team.  You may never reach the “10,00 hour limit” but you can look to think about how you can get 20-30 more minutes in each day.  That’s 2 hours more a week.  Run your season out for 13-15 weeks and that’s almost 30 hours more practice time you got your kids during an entire season. 

It’s not the size of your playbook that produces a championship team… it’s the level of execution!!  You’ve heard the saying:  “practice makes perfect.”  I heartily disagree.  The only thing that makes “perfect” is perfect practice!!!  You can only approximate “genius” on the football field when you begin to approach that 10,000 hour mark.  Go for it!!!

The Psychology of Success

Posted by admin February - 6 - 2010 - Saturday ADD COMMENTS

I want to share another point that Gladwell makes in his book Outliers.  First, perhaps, I should define what he means by an “outlier.”  Gladwell says that it’s a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience.  People, who are outliers, are so accomplished… so extraordinary… in their field that we are in awe of their accomplishments. 

Most of us won’t have the good fortune of coaching a Lawrence Taylor, Jerry Rice or Brett Favre… just as we probably won’t have a Bill Gates in our Computer Science class nor a John Lennon in our school band.  Gladwell’s point is that, in explaining these people’s enormous success or wealth, our tendency is to focus on the individual.  We describe their characteristics and habits and traits that propel that person to the heights they have attained.  Herein lies the problem.

Gladwell says that to understand an individual’s success, you need to look around them more than you look inside them.  People say that Gates or Lennon or Favre are “really smart or gifted”…. but Gladwell says that he knows LOTS of people who are really smart or talented… and they aren’t worth 60 billion dollars like Gates is!

You need to look at the culture they were reared in and the community, family and the generation they were born into.  We, as coaches, are part of that culture and community.  We, whether we realize it or not,  have a major impact on the development of the  success that our athletes can potentially have.  I had a player a decade ago who has now played in the NFL for 10 years and has been All Pro twice and has a Super Bowl ring, Dre Bly of the 49’ers.  As a freshman in HS, Dre was performing so poorly academically that his parents (who were both teachers) were ready to pull him from all sports.  They graciously gave me the opportunity to work with him both in the off season weight program but I also met with him weekly to learn study skills, work habits and talk about what success in the classroom meant to his future.  As they say… the rest is history.  All State high school football player.  3 time 1st team All American at UNC and he still holds the NCAA record for career interceptions… and now a long, excellent (and lucrative!) pro career.  His parents still thank me for being that “spark” that their son needed.

Who knows… maybe that future NFL star is in your weight room right now!  It is imperative that you invest the time in these young men’s lives both on and off the field.  Bill Gates was given permission to use a computer lab at the local university right as his interest in computers was igniting.  Gladwell makes the point:  suppose that opportunity hadn’t been presented to Gates at just the right time and place?  But it was… and look what he’s accomplished!

Snow Days and Reading

Posted by admin February - 2 - 2010 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

When we get a decent snowfall in Tidewater VA, as we did Saturday when we got 5-7 inches, the whole world comes to a screeching halt.  Our church service was canceled on Sunday then school was called off yesterday and again today.  Now it was just posted that we’ll be out again tomorrow!!!  Too much ice on the back roads for the buses to safely travel.  I went to the Gym and played with my granddaughter for awhile and took a nap this afternoon, so I was fine.  But, when I starte whining about being bored my wife hadned me a book she’d just finished and recommended that I read it… and I couldn’t put it down.  It’s title?  Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  I was so enthralled with his premise after finishing the book in one day that I went to his website and have now read 3-4 of his articles posted there.  Gladwell writes for The New Yorker magazine and his archive of past articles is on his website.

I am going to comment on several things that I have read by Mr. Gladwell over the next few entries in the coming weeks.  I will tie them all together under the title of The Psychology of Success.  Gladwell has given me some tremendous new insights into this topic.  He is a “pop sociologist” so he does his research.  I’m not sure why he’s called a pop sociologist except, I guess, he does not have a degree in sociology… he simply comments on the social scene and finds fascinating people who DO have degrees.  He studies their research and then writes about it.  As a coach who likes to read and considers himself to be a “student of the game,” I am always looking for that edge… that bit of knowledge about people or how to motivate them or a fresh way to look at winning that might provide me with a “W” on Friday night.  I guess that if you are reading this blog, you are looking for the same thing!  If so, you need to check out Malcolm Gladwell’s works.

I want to give you just a “taste” of what I’ve learned from Gladwell so far and then encourage you to search him out yourself.  As I mentioned, my wife handed me his book, Outliers, on Sunday and told me that “this guy is fascinating.”  Since I had time on my hands, with the snow day, I settled in and started reading.  I was captured in the first chapter.  For example… do you know that the majority of  the most highly skilled youth (10-12 year olds) ice hockey players in Canada have a birthdate that falls in January, February or March?!  What Gladwell found was that the cut off date for youth ice hockey sign ups in Canada is January 1st.  It stands to reason that when the coaches of the all star traveling teams select their players, they are going to look for the biggest, most physically-advanced boys that they can find.  These are the ones who will get the extra practice, more games and best coaching.  So their chance to excel is much greater than those kids who may not have been as “physically ready” as the top kids when try-outs occurred.

When you run down the roster of these all star teams, it quickly becomes apparent that the majority of the boys’ birthdays fall within the first 3 months of the year.  By virtue of when they are born, they have an advantage right out of the gate… cuz when the cut off date falls on January 1st, those boys are the oldest and have had the longest time to mature.  Now you would think that Gladwell has not really uncovered anything earth shaking, right.  We all know as HS coaches that the boy who is playing at or near 19 (the cut off age in Virginia anyway) has an advantage over the senior who’s playing who only just turned 17 in September.  But what about that gangly, long-armed sophomore lineman who isn’t very strong and keeps tripping over his feet?  Do we write him off and fail to spend the time necessary to help him develop (like the Canadian youth hockey leagues)?  I recall the story about “some kid” from Wilmington, NC who was cut from his JV basketball team because his coach said that he lacked the skills to ever develop into a decent HS basketball player.  hummmmmmmmmmm????  I think the kid’s name was Michael Jordan or something like that!!!

I had a coach recently tell me that he has so many kids in his off season weight program that he has to divide his work outs.  The “young” group only gets about 50 minutes and then he runs them out cuz he needs to give his “veteran/older” group the majority of time in the weight room.  After reading Outliers I might take exception to that concept.  It’s the younger, less physically-advanced group that needs the majority of the time.  Get the older kids in and out of there so you can spend more time helping the younger ones get the chance to improve as much as they can.  Who knows… you may have a “Michael Jordan” in your young group who can’t catch a pass right now but in two years…………….???!!

That is Gladwell’s conclusion:  how many MORE all star hockey players could Canada produce if they had a “second” Select team.  Focusing on only the most physically advanced playersat age 8 or 9 makes for one great team but think of what they may be missing.  The same is true of our football teams.  I think that too many of us, as HS football coaches, have the mind set of “only the strong survive.”  Football coaches weed out the “weaklings” and focus our attention on the players who will win us some games this fall.  I suggest that you have a paradymn shift in your thinking and spend the off season focusing on the young ones.  Give them the extra time and attention.  Encourage them and help them to grow and mature.  I think one of the key factors that allowed us to have 16 straight seasons of 7 and 3 or better was that I was always “focusing on the future.”  I mention several of theseconcepts in 101 Little Things but suffice it to say that the young, awkward ones got lots of attention in our program.  You never know when that boy will have a growth spurt and be the one who is instrumental in anchoring that offensive line for you for 2 years.

As my players say:  “I’m just sayin'”!!!!  Something to think about.

Loyalty

Posted by admin February - 1 - 2010 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

A coach asked recently if I would comment on the subject of “Loyalty”— among the staff; to the HC; to the players and players to coaches and to the school.  It’s an important subject and definitely one of those “little things” that must be dealt with, developed and exercised if you want a successful football program.  However, with society’s emphasis on “taking care of Number 1”, loyalty is a character trait that has gone on the “endangered character trait” list!

Pastor Bill Hybels spoke about this in a book he wrote several years ago entitled, Who You Are When No One’s Looking.  He talks about how these types of important traits, like courage, faith, endurance and trust are not being instilled in our personalities as they once were.  I say all this to say:  you are going to be fighting an uphill battle when you take on the challenge of expecting “loyalty” from others in your program.  Why?  Again, because it’s just not something that’s being taught as an important character trait as much as it used to.  but……….. do it anyway!  If loyalty is a priority to you in your Coaching Philosophy then that is a battle worth fighting.  I want to share a few things that, in my mind, can help build loyalty in your football program, school and community.

Loyalty, I believe, is established through respect and trust.  It is a process and is going to take time to establish.  First, you must talk about these traits and let your staff and your team know that they are going to be emphasized.  You talk about them often and you use anecdotes, stories and quotes to back it up.  You can’t just bring it up in a pre-season meeting and then never talk about it again!  I like to point out examples of our players showing loyalty… or in the development stage:  respect or trust.  A player who has completed his sprints but runs back out on the field to help “carry” the over-weight young player across the finish line— his respect is going to be played up in front of the whole team when practice is over!  The player whom you let borrow your keys to open the weight room and immediately brings them back to you is going to get a big “Thank you” in front of the rest of the players.  PUBLIC affirmation has a tremendous impact on peoples’ psyche.

We had lost a close, hard-fought game early in the season to the eventual state champions— losing only in the last minute of the game.  They had a lot more talent than we did but the kids played hard and had a chance at the end.  I called them over after the game; looked them in the eye and said in a very loud voice:  “I AM SOOOOOOOOOOOOO PROUD OF YOU!!!— I am SO proud of you!  You fought hard and you played well and you never gave up.  No coach could ask for more than that!  Thank you that you let me be your Head Coach tonight.”  The look on their faces was priceless.  They were expecting to get chewed out after losing…. and then in one mighty gesture on my part, their whole demeanor changed.  Nobody liked losing that night, but that post-game speech was a huge factor in our later success.  Oh… we won 6 of our last 7 games after that!  What was built that night?  Mutual respect.

The same is true in working with your coaching staff.  Loyalty is built by establishing respect and trust.  I was known as a HC who was going to let his assistants “coach.”  They had the responsibility to get their position players ready and the coaches learned that I trusted them to do this.  I always coached a position too… so they knew that nobody was going to be looking over their shoulder when in Individual or Group period during practice.  I trusted them to get the job done. 

Rarely can I recall “chewing out” an assistant coach— in public or private in 22 years as a HC.  If I did, I made sure that I apologized.  This is showing respect for them as adults.  “Chewing out” people rarely has any positive effect on their subsequent behavior.  In fact, it tends to build resentment which is anathema to creating loyalty.

There are several quotes from Coach Bear Bryant that have stayed with me over the years.  I think they speak also to this case of creating loyalty in a team.  I can’t state them verbatim but they will still make sense.  One is: “If anything goes wrong, I (the HC) did it.  If anything goes well, we did it and if anything goes great, you (the teammate or coach) did it!”  There’s that public affirmation again.  I’m showing respect to you and, thus, the natural tendency is to show it back.

Another important philosophical statement that the Bear made was something like, “never give up on a player… regardless of his ability level… as long as he doesn’t give up on himself, you or the team. In time, he will develop or quit.”  I never let a player quit without talking at length with him and calling his parents to let them know of his decision.  I didn’t want it said that “Coach J” ever gave up on a guy.  Respect and trust— the building blocks of loyalty.

Finally, I would add that the staff and players must know your core philosophy.  You must all have “one heartbeat.”  You must have a common goal that everyone is striving for.  If you have a staff member or player whom you detect as not ascribing to what your common goal is, steps must be taken to confront him and either convince him that to stay, he must join in or risk separation from the team.  We had a returning veteran one year who was going to be a starter for us, who in pre-season was just not buying into our philosophy that hustle was one of the core values of our team.  When everyone else jogged, he walked.  When everyone else was shouting and cheering and singing the school fight song, he stood off in the back by himself.  I went over and gave him a slap on the back several times to encourage him to join in. No response.  I called him into the coach’s office and we talked to him as a staff.  No change.  Finally, I had our Team Lieutenants and I hold a private meeting with him to see if some positive peer pressure would change his attitude.  All fruitless.  When we got back from our Camp at a local college, I posted the team roster (the guys who made the team—- coaches:  please don’t publish a “cut list!”) on the locker room door.  When the players came by over the week-end to see who made the team, they (as was the player himself!) were  shocked that this very good football player’s name was not on the list!  He later transferred to another school and didn’t do much there either.  But, interestingly, the question of hustle and enthusiasm was never an issue with our kids for a loooooooooooong time!

Reaching” kids (and adults) is a huge Little Thing.    It’s all about motivation.  A HC must learn how to “hold a team together.”  You are going to go through hard times.  Each person is going to respond to adversity differently.  For some players, you to lift them up; for others, you have to calm them down.  The whole point is to get that one heartbeat that I mentioned earlier.  With God’s guidance and strength, we can maintain these important character traits of loyalty, trust and respect— and resurrect them off the “endangered trait list”.

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