Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for February, 2017

Head Coaches as “Leaders”

Posted by admin February - 28 - 2017 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

There is soooooooooo much out there on “Leadership” that I don’t know if I can add anything that hasn’t already been shared by some of the experts! So, I’m going to try to synthesize things and give you some bullet points on what I’ve learned; what I’ve seen and, thus, what I know and have lived through as a head coach for over 30 years.

In its simplest form, when I size someone up as a potentially strong candidate for a head coaching position… it comes down to 2 qualities:
1- Self-confidence
2- Self-control

Self-confidence is NOT cockiness. It’s a quiet self-assurance that you know what you’re doing and you know in your own mind that you can motivate, teach and lead by example. Now, admittedly, some coaches who are extremely self-confident get labeled as arrogant. I think this is oftentimes jealousy! The successful head coach believes in his system; he’s been successful running that system and others see him as being aloof or unapproachable. “He’s (fill in the blank with someone you might be a little envious of!!!) just a bit too full of himself for me!” says the coach who wishes he was having the success that the “arrogant” one is!

NO! I’ve told our players over the years that the difference between being cocky and confident is: a confident person can back up the positive feelings about himself because of (positive) past experience. The cocky person is simply trying to convince others AND himself that he is good! It’s pretty easy to see right through the charade. It’s like the black belt in karate. He doesn’t have to walk around telling the world how “bad” he is. He can show you!!!

Interestingly, I believe that your level of self-confidence directly affects what style of leadership you naturally assume. Which in turn goes a long way in demonstrating how much self-control you possess. I’m not talking about a passionate, enthusiastic guy who loves to see his players compete and excel— and cheers them on! No. I’m talking about the guy who lacks self-confidence. He therefore, tends to micromanage and exhibit the Authoritarian style of leadership. When things go wrong, he quickly points the finger at others instead of taking responsibility and he readily criticizes staff and players when they fail to meet his expectations and demands. Why? It gets back to that level of self-confidence he possesses.

As a young head coach, I always set high expectations for my players. However, when they failed to achieve my level of expectation, I would become frustrated and angry. I had to “grow up.” For me, the Main Thing that transformed me was pursuing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As I gained confidence in the Lord, I gained confidence in myself. One of the Fruit of the Spirit that the Bible talks about is: yep! Self-control! Jesus helped me with this too. My advice? Try Him! You’ll like Him! He already loves YOU!!!

We kept working hard. We developed a system of offense called the Delaware Wing T. We adopted Virginia Tech’s 4 man front pressure package on defense and we concocted a rather unorthodox style of play with our special teams which drove people crazy!!! And… I was determined that we would persevere! “Never give up! and… NEVER give in!” became our battle cry! I had a great staff that stayed with me, for the most part, for a long time and we emphasized to the players, starting in middle school, that we were going to be a great football program. A program built on: UNITY! RESPECT!! and TOTAL EFFORT!!

We had a system. We had a philosophy. I grew to be a confident, disciplined leader. I basically wanted a program where kids wanted to play for me! They knew they were going to work hard but it was going to pay off. We built a tradition of excellence based on these tenets. As a result, we had 16 straight seasons of at least 6 wins in one of the toughest districts in the state of Virginia. The concept works!

Hail Alma Mater!

Posted by admin February - 25 - 2017 - Saturday ADD COMMENTS

I have memorabilia from my coaching career scattered all over the house… though my wife makes me keep it contained primarily in 2 rooms!!! Looking at a picture that one of the player’s mom painted triggered a memory. I get coaches from time to time asking about “how do I build tradition?” “How do I build pride in our program?” I got this idea years ago watching a couple of college football games and kinda combined the two. The painting I was referring to is of one of our player’s helmet being hoisted high in the air. All you can see is his hand, part of his arm and our Winged helmet extended above him. It depicts one of the most meaningful times during the entire week for our football team. Let me tell you about it.

I saw Southern Cal rush over to their band after a big win one Saturday evening. Pete Carroll came over too and directed the band in playing the Trojan fight song. The next week I watched the pageantry and tradition of the Army-Navy Classic (I never miss that one!) I was soooooooooo impressed with how each team stood at attention for the other’s alma mater being played. The next Monday I went to our Band Director with an idea.

We discussed the tradition at our school of playing the alma mater just after the game ends. We both were concerned about how few people even paused and listened. I presented my idea of how to improve this and he loved it. The next home game, this is what we did:

As soon as the traditional post-game “walk the line” handshake between teams finished, our players and coaches hustled over to our sideline right in front of our band. Just seeing this got the fans to stop and see what was going on! As the band began to play our school alma mater, every player proudly raised him helmet above his head and held it there until the end of the song!!! We then huddled for our post-game talk and headed to the locker room. I can’t even tell you how many people waited around to tell me how moving and special that moment was! On Monday, I was summonsed to the principal’s office! He, too, wanted to tell me what an outpouring of positive comments he’d received since Friday’s game. I knew we had something special and we continued to do it for every home game (win OR loss) for the rest of my career.

It’s important to stress to your players what their decorum must be. A LOT of people are going to be watching you and will notice if you don’t show school pride and respect during the playing of YOUR alma mater. I emphasized “your” because I wanted to develop a greater sense of pride in our school. With the football team leading the way, many other students felt compelled to follow suit. From my vantage point in back of the team, I could see the looks of pride on the faces of faculty and alumni at the game.

It’s a Little Thing that can make a BIG difference in your program!

Building a Coaching Philosophy

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

I was invited by a head coach to spend some time with him to help him build a coaching philosophy. I was happy to help because having a philosophy was a factor in the success that I had as a HC. It also brought to mind a book by Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks (I think I commented on it in a post from a couple of years ago) that I read where Pete shared that his head coaching career didn’t “take off” until he sat down and developed a coaching philosophy. I was surprised that someone who’d risen to the top of our profession (Carroll was the HC for the NY Jets earlier in his career… and was fired!) didn’t have a philosophy of coaching!!! It emphasized to me how important having a philosophy is. I want to bring up some thoughts that I shared with this local coach to help him build his philosophy.

Before we met, I sent him a bunch of Word doc’s that I had stored in my computer over the years. They all had, in some way, information about philosophy. What I asked him to do before I arrived, though, was to answer these 3 questions:
1- In just a few sentences, tell me: WHY DO YOU COACH HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL?
2- When you finally retire from coaching, what do you want said about you at your retirement banquet? List at least 3 things.
3- How would you describe your style of leadership?
Then… finally, craft a MISSION STATEMENT for your school’s football program.

These 3 questions focus on the key components of “building a coaching philosophy.” First is purpose. WHY do you coach? Next is your VALUES. This includes both your personal values (what you deem important in your life) and… your “coaching” values. For me, those were: hustle/great effort; respect and cooperation (I never allowed teammates to fight on the practice field! It meant staying after practice with me!) and, self-discipline. (We did not want to beat ourselves with stupid mental errors.) Finally, your style of leadership indicates to you how you’re going to treat your players and how involved you’re going to be in their lives.

You take these 3 components and mix them together and you come up with your (general) philosophy. What does that mean? It’s HOW you’re going to run your program!

I started my talk with the coach by painting a picture of a high-rise building being built. I talked about how: before you can go UP… the construction people have to go DOWN! My wife and I had a Florida Room added to our house a few years ago. I was amazed at how long it took to build the FOUNDATION! In fact, compared to building the rest of the room, the foundation (by itself) took more time than the rest of the construction! I thought about how much further down and how much rebar and cement they’d have to lay for a 12 story building… than they did for my addition! But… if the foundation isn’t firm, what happens when you start building floors? Right! The building is not steady and when a “storm” comes, that building is going to crumble.

The same is true with your football program. The “building” represents your program— the players, your coaches, the parents, the boosters and administrators. Your program is going to get battered by a “storm” at some point. It’s inevitable… cuz you’re dealing with people! Your philosophy of coaching is your foundation. Without a philosophy in place, just like that building with the poorly-constructed foundation, it’s going to fall. You NEED a philosophy to stand firm. It is the basis for HOW you’re going to conduct your program.

I hope this has caused you to pause! If you’d like more info, I’m glad to send out any doc’s I’ve accumulated over the years. Just send me a “comment” and I’ll get back to you!

“Student of the Game”

Posted by admin February - 13 - 2017 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

I couldn’t wait till Tuesday to post this week cuz I had such a great time this past weekend… that I had to post today!

I spent Friday and Saturday with all of the coaches who attended the Glazier Coach’s Clinic in Charlotte, NC. Friday night, I talked about the Up Tempo Spread Shotgun Wing T Offense w/ Sniffer Back! We had a good crowd but not great. Then, as I always do when preparing for a big clinic… I requested the “dawn patrol” sessions! I want to speak on Saturday morning— early! This session is one that speakers don’t usually want to be penciled in to speak at because they are so sparsely attended on Saturday morning. I’m exactly the opposite. Give me the early Saturday session! Why? Because that’s where the “students of the game” are!!!! They guys who, though they may have stayed out late on Friday night, are there at 8:20 am to listen, take notes and ask questions. I told them as I began how PROUD I was of them! Proud that they came to a clinic with the right perspective. That they were here to learn and not just party. That they were serious about learning; therefore, they made the effort to get up and be downstairs earrrrrrly so they could sit in and learn. These guys want to better themselves. These guys are the “students of the game.”

As I always told my players: “Attitude is EVERYTHING!” A coach who is hungry to grow and learn his craft has a much better chance of succeeding in this business than the one who 1- doesn’t even choose to attend a clinic or 2- just shows up! He’s not really there to educate himself! In most cases, that coach is NOT going to go too far in this competitive profession.

I always marveled at the fact that Frank Beamer took his staff to meet with another D1 staff each February. What did those guys still need to learn? It was one of the best coaching staffs I’ve ever been around. But they knew that even at THAT level, they still needed to be “Students of the Game.”

My recommendation is this: Go to these big-time clinics that Glazier and Nike offer. You have a wide variety of coaches and subjects. There’s bound to be someone there that you can glean something from. But… I would encourage you to visit a high school staff in another part of your state that is very successful. If they run an offense or defense similar to yours, that’s even better. However, you should spend time learning about the “Little Things” that make that program so successful! THAT is why I strongly suggest visiting a high school staff. These D1 coaches are excellent but… they are coaching at a much higher level than most of us at the high school level will ever dream of! I learned that I could gain a LOT more valuable information by talking to other high school coaches than I could going to a college clinic… unless they brought in other high school coaches to speak. Unless that D1 coach is willing to bring his techniques, concepts and schemes down to your level, you’re just going to get frustrated trying to apply their schemes at your level! For example, inside zone blocking. This, to me, is a college blocking scheme— not high school. Unless you have 5 guys up front who blot out the sun and bench press the moom, you’re going to find that it’s very difficult to get much out of a 6’1 240 pound tackle who doesn’t even bench press his weight and can’t get to a parallel position in the squat! It’s a great scheme; just not very applicable for (most) high school teams! I know– cuz we tried it. I had one of THE finest Offensive Line coaches (at any level!) for 15 years. He wanted to teach our O Line to zone block. If anybody could do it, he could. After 3 weeks I had to tell him that it just wasn’t working. We went back to the classic Wing T “shoulder skill” blocking technique and did much better! It is a technique that high school players can perfect.

Strive to be the best high school coach you can be! That means being a “Student of the Game.” It’s a life-long or rather career-long process. What’s the old adage: When you’re ripe, you’re getting ready to rot!!! Don’t rot! Get Direct TV! No… wait! That’s a commercial!!! Have a blessed day!!! Lew

Leadership 101

Posted by admin February - 8 - 2017 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

I spent a wonderful 24 hours Friday and Saturday in Virginia Beach at a Leadership Advance (our pastor says we never “retreat!” Always moving forward!!!) for our church leaders. I took copious notes and will share some here.

The opening talk was on “Great Leaders SELF-examine!” and our pastor’s opening line captured my attention! He stated, “I will only lead others well (help them fulfill their potential) IF… I first lead myself well!!!” WOW!!! So, that’s the first step to strong leadership: we have to be a strong self-leader.

Self-leadership requires self-awareness! It requires being honest with ourselves. We have to look inward, at our heart, and ask ourselves the tough questions: 1- Am I self-disciplined? 2- Do I know my shortcomings? 3- Am I willing to work to improve those areas of my life where I’m still coming up short? You have to grow yourself if you’re going to grow others. The BEST leaders lead themselves well!

Another important facet of being a strong leader is that leaders are raising up new leaders. As a head football coach, you should be encouraging and helping your assistants (IF they want to) to become head coaches. It really bothered me a few years ago when a former assistant of mine called me to complain that he’d spoken to his current head coach about applying for a head coaching position at another school. The head coach had “gone off” on him… berating him and “guilting” him about leaving. “How dare you leave me hanging like this,” the HC said! Come On, Man!!! This guy was looking for an opportunity to improve himself and all the head coach could do was think about himself. Wrong! As leaders we should make it a priority to be training younger folks to take our place. That’s what I mean by “leaving a legacy of (strong) leadership.”

Our pastor closed by sharing a Bible verse (paraphrase) from Proverbs. It should speak volumes to you. Proverbs 20:28 (paraphrase) says: “Good leaders build their organization on love and truth. For kindness and integrity are what keep leaders in a position of trust.”

I read several articles about Bill Belichick before the Super Bowl this past weekend. I found it interesting that, as big a curmudgeon as he appears to be publicly, his players reallllllllllly respect him. They know he is loyal and dedicated to making them the best they can be. Players LOVE to play for him! I think that is so important. Coaches write me all the time about how they can get more kids out for their football program. My response centers around making football something that they WANT to play. It starts with how you come across to kids. If you want to “sell” your program, you have to “sell” yourself. It goes back to that “self-examination” thing I talked about in the beginning of this post. Let me put it this way: Would YOU be somebody that you would want to play football for???!!!” Something to think about.

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