Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for June, 2018

“Honor the Sabbath!”

Posted by admin June - 29 - 2018 - Friday ADD COMMENTS

In the state of Virginia, ALL sports activity comes to a complete halt next week! No practice; no lifting; no conditioning… nothing! Zip! I’ve had a couple of coaches kinda freaking out on me over this rule. I’ve heard, “We can’t afford to take a week off!” Or… “Why right here just 3 weeks before preseason practice begins??!!!” I think there’s a very good reason for having a “Quiet Period” right now: everyone needs a break! Everyone needs to “honor the Sabbath.” Let me ‘splain:

I owe a LOT to a former assistant coach, Pastor Sam Warren, who taught me a very important life lesson when he joined our staff. He looked at my weekly in-season schedule and freaked out! We went hard 7 days a week. Players in for lifting, running and video viewing on Saturday. Staff meetings afterwards. Then the staff met again on Sunday afternoon. Plus 2 1/2- 3 hour practices from Monday to Thursday. To call it a grind was putting it mildly!

He sat me down and pulled out his Bible. He said, “Open it to Genesis, Chapter 2. Now read verse 2 to me.” It says, “… on the 7th day God rested from all his work.” Sam then stated one of the most significant things I’ve ever heard someone say to me. He said, “If GOD needed to take a break, don’t you think YOU should too, Lew??!!!” POW!!! Right between the eyes! That hit home— hard!

We immediately canceled all Saturday activities. The staff would only meet on Sunday evenings and it would only be for 2 hours… unless it was a big game and we needed more time to prepare. I spent more time with my family and enjoyed college football on Saturdays for a change. It not only made a difference for me but the players too.

What am I saying? Go hard. It can be a grind but… work hard not to make it a grind! Huh? You’ve got to find things to do that keep the players (and coaches) enthused. You can have some fun without being funny! Enjoy a little break without losing control of the players.

We always let the players have the week off just before preseason Camp started. They come back excited and rarin’ to go! Everybody needs a break. I even built in a day off during the season. I committed to it in July so that no matter what our record was at that point in the season, we were taking off Monday. Some years I let the players just go on home. But I found out they were either out playing B-ball or some other foolishness instead of relaxing and getting away from things. So, some years we had a “Punt, Pass and Kick” competition. Another time we played 7 on 7… including the linemen! Something that “broke the grind” and let kids get their focus off of football for one day.

Changing things up occasionally can be a good thing. For you as a head coach, you need the time away to recharge your battery. Set up your schedule so that you make the time to relax and revitalize. You’ll enjoy it a lot more!

Expectations of an Assistant Coach

Posted by admin June - 19 - 2018 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

Talking with coaches from 4-5 different states over the last 2 weeks, one of the most common concerns is finding quality assistant coaches. It seems fewer and fewer men are going into teaching careers; so finding a quality assistant coach who will be IN the school building is unlikely to occur.

I would caution you to do your due diligence before hiring someone today just because you have a position available. There are a lot of wannabe’s who think they know football AND how to coach kids. However, when it comes time to show up and perform the duties that the head coach wants done, “it’s too much trouble.” Or, “I don’t have time.” Or, “That’s beneath me.” When interviewing, I’d suggest finding out more about his work ethic and his character before I discussed how much football he knows.

There are things that a HC must expect his assistants to do as part of a staff. I used to break them down as “on-the-field” and “OFF-the-field” duties. For any operation/organization to run smoothly, everybody needs to pitch in and cooperate. I’d hire a guy who may have been lacking in football knowledge but wants to learn and, more importantly, wants to work.

Something else I’d establish early on when interviewing (and starting to work with) assistants were the expectations I had for them. I will mention a few key qualities here in a minute. If you would like the whole article, email me at coac...@gmail.com and I’ll be glad to send it to you.
I printed up an entire sheet of “expectations.” One thing that I emphasized right off the bat was, I expected a LOT from myself; therefore, I expected a lot from my assistant coaches. Some people get hung on on others having “expectations” of them; but, in this case, when the assistants know that the HC is holding himself to a standard of excellence, it’s easier to accept that the assistant must live up to those same expectations. If they don’t like it, then maybe you hired the wrong guy!

The first thing I talked about to the staff was a Code of Conduct. These are those qualities that show how hard a guy is willing to work and how his behavior and attitude impact the entire program. Such things as arriving on time (and staying late), proper attire for practice and games and being loyal… to the program and to the HC are extremely important.

The second part of the Expectation Sheet dealt with Staff Organization. This laid out in general the responsibilities that assistant coaches were expected to carry out. From being involved during the Special Teams portion of practice (when a lot of assistants think it’s time to take a break!) to helping line the field… all of the duties assigned to an assistant are important. A head coach MUST learn to delegate! Yes, you could live with the old adage that “if you want something done right, do it yourself” but… it’s a recipe for burnout if you don’t delegate responsibilities to assistants. Give an assistant a responsibility. Make sure you teach him HOW you want it done. Check behind him. Correct him if anything could be done better and then… follow up to be sure that he’s doing it in a timely fashion.

One final point that I want to share is that I let assistants know is this adage: “The harder you work, the more responsibility you get!” I had an assistant once who rarely showed up for spring and summer workouts prior to preseason practice officially starting. Once he was there, he was the one with all the good ideas on how to run the program. He got upset because I wouldn’t give him a coordinator’s position. We had to have a “Come to Jesus” meeting where I reminded him of my adage. I asked him, “why do you think you deserve more responsibility when you’re rarely here?” His response, “Cuz the kids like me and I’m the coach with the most experience.” THAT didn’t sit too well with me. He was gone a few weeks later!

You need to communicate your expectations and you need to get them in writing so there’s no question about what assistants are supposed to be doing. If a problem arises, you’ve covered your butt. Finally, be ready to hold an assistant accountable. If he’s not performing his responsibilities, you need to have a conference with him. If he continues to come up short, it may be time to get rid of him. Just remember that next time you are interviewing a new candidate. There’s more to it than how much football he knows!

Season’s “Theme”

Posted by admin June - 11 - 2018 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

As school ends for everybody, a head football coach’s mind turns to preparation for the upcoming season. One of the things that I did as a head coach was to create a theme for the players to focus on for the season.

I first saw this around 1990. Our staff visited East Carolina University for their coaches clinic. I noticed their players walking around the football complex with their ECU Football team t shirts on. A big pirate in the middle with ECU Football surrounding it. Interestingly, when a player would walk by I saw something printed on the back of the shirt which made me scratch my head! Near the top were the letters in big, bold print: TEAM. Hard to see, but down at the bottom of the back of the shirt, were the little, tiny letters: Me. What the heck?!!

As another player passed me, I spoke up and asked him: “What is the significance of the two words on the back of everybody’s shirt?” He replied, “Coach, it’s to remind everybody of what our coach wants us to focus on this season.” “What’s that?” I asked. “BIG Team! Little me,” he stated. WOW!! It was the first time I’d ever heard it put that way and it stuck with me.

That summer when I ordered our Team T Shirts for the upcoming season, I had the company we bought the shirts from print the same thing on our shirts! That was the first time that I had our “Team Theme” printed on our shirts. It was an easy way to keep the theme out in the open in front (behind!) the guys all season long. What I realized when I first put on my shirt was that the “slogan” (or theme) was right there in front of me as I pulled the shirt over my head!

It became one of the most important items on my agenda from then on… to decide what our slogan or theme would be for that next season. I even asked the players a couple of times if they had any suggestions. Some of their ideas were very good.

Let me point out too that I used the purchase of the “season t shirt” as a fund raiser each year. I expected every player to purchase a t shirt for the upcoming season. The price was reasonable but still helped us raise some much-needed funds for our football program. I would print the year for that upcoming season in the middle of the front so they couldn’t “sneak in” a shirt from a previous season! The shirts became so popular that I let family members purchase them too. Everybody affiliated with our program was seen wearing our Team T Shirt in the community.

The slogan was important. It focused on a theme that I felt that the upcoming team would need to keep in their psyche. It often had to do with an “issue” that we had to address the previous season that I stressed to the team throughout the off-season. For example, one year we had a group of players who allowed mistakes from a previous play to rob them of their focus on the next play! THAT became the theme for the next year and the slogan on the back of the shirt: NEXT PLAY!

Another time, we’d had a great season the year before. I noticed that a lot of the players seemed pretty satisfied with themselves during the offseason and our success had kinda gone to their heads. I harped on: STAY HUMBLE; STAY HUNGRY! We talked a lot about excellence and what it entailed. STRIVE FOR EXCELLENCE was a theme one season.

Is this helping to spawn some ideas in your head? I hope so. Our players liked the shirts and they found the theme/slogan on the back to be inspiring. Your players probably will too.

Planning Your Summer Workout/Practice Schedule

Posted by admin June - 5 - 2018 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I had a discussion with a coach the other day about how to organize his summer workouts. I know that each state has different rules regarding how much time you can practice (or workout— I will make a distinction there as we go along here!) before your first game. In Virginia, where I live, the rules allow you to lift, run and “practice” all summer… with the exception of one week in July when everyone has to shut down everything! Official preseason practice begins 3-4 weeks before your opening game. Time on the practice field and going full gear has a state mandate. What I’m talking about here, though, is what you do in the weeks leading up to the official start of preseason practice.

A lot is said about the Big MO (momentum) during a football game. It’s kinda looked at as some nebulous entity… like the Force in Star Wars! It’s “real” you say —- we just don’t have much control over it. I disagree!

Like anything else dealing with the mental side of football, momentum is something that you can regulate and you need to plan for it. Think: a little snowball starting to roll down the side of a steep (and loooooong) hill. What happens? It picks up speed as it increases its mass or density until… near the bottom, it’s a gigantic snow mountain ready to crush anything in its path!!!

But… suppose half way down that mountain, as the snowball is picking up speed, the mountain flattens out into a plateau. What’s going to happen to the snowball’s momentum? Obviously, the snowball is going to slow down from its thundering path down the mountain and may even come to rest. What caused the loss of momentum? Things “flattened” out. Our attitude; our work ethic; our commitment can “flatten out” too! Doing too much of the same thing is going to get tedious. Kids would say, “Boooooooooring.” As a coach organizing your summer workouts, you need to find ways to eliminate the possibility of hitting a “plateau.” You do that by 1- keeping things “short and sweet” and 2- changing things up while keeping them the same! What???!!!!

You continue to work on the same skills: lifting weights; conditioning/speed/agility training and on the field skills and drills (IF allowed in your district!)… but, you find different ways to accomplish the same goal!

I’m confident that you change up your weight room workouts already! I hope so!!! How about conditioning? Sprints and nothing else? Try to be creative. We used to play “sharks and minnows” in a limited area. (That’s “tag” if you don’t know what I mean!) Competitive relay races. Run “L’s” or “J’s” around the edge of the field instead of gassers across the field every day. Even if you can’t use a ball (use an “invisible” ball!) and run up and down the field just “faking” dive or zone or trap with your offense. Sprint 15 yards; set up and run it again… and again… till you get to the end zone. We even let the linemen play their own game of 7 on 7! But, they had to keep running. NO walking!

Your workouts don’t (and should not!!!) be as lengthy as your “official” practices which usually begin in August. Keep them short and crisp. Cover 1 side of the ball each day. An hour to 90 minutes is plenty of time to work on skills and drills. Try to play 7 on 7 once a week— either against another school (if allowable) or just divide up your players and go shirts and skins.

One KEY thing: When I was a head coach, I gave the players the week off just prior to official practice starting. I let parents know well in advance so if they wanted to take a family vacation… THAT was the week to go! While the players had the week off, this was when I met with my staff to finalize things for practice. This allows the players a chance to get away and “re-energize.” It gets them excited about official practice beginning the next week; i.e., something to look forward to! Just like those last few weeks before Christmas. (“The anticipation is killing me!!!”) It’s a chance to reboot the energy/enthusiasm level in your players’ minds and… yep! get that “momentum machine” geared up and ready to start rolling down that hill again!!!

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