Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for May, 2020

Determine Your Values

Posted by admin May - 27 - 2020 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

I love it when I, as I call it, “pan for a gold nugget” and come up with a “boulder!” It’s so important to read and listen. Don’t ever stop learning.

Over the years, I’ve spent countless hours studying leadership skills. Many of the experts point out that…. to be an effective leader, you have to set goals. But, for the first time this morning, I read something that was an ah ha moment!

I was reading in my morning devotional The Word for You Today from Bob Gass Ministries. The message was about integrity. There was one sentence in the middle of the devotion that made me sit up and go “WOW! Never heard that before!” Here’s what it said:

“So before you set your goals, determine your values.” Really? Boy am I glad that I caught that and went back and re-read it!

Setting goals is a critical element in achieving success. What’s the old axiom say: “A sailing ship without a rudder is destined to sail aimlessly… wherever the winds take it.” We need a target. We need something to shoot at and shoot for. We need goals!

However, this statement in my devotion put a whole new slant on things for me. It made me pause and think: what do we base our goals on? My answer? “Welllllllllll… on the things that are important to me?!” Those “things” are our values. When you stop and consider the things in coaching that are important to you, you’ll have a better concept of what it is you want to achieve. If you take the “Lombardi point of view” (“Winning isn’t everything… it’s the ONLY thing!”) then you set your goals based on how many games you can win. In a lot of cases that includes cutting corners or taking advantage of a person or situation… all in the name of achieving that goal.

The writer went on. He added that “Values are like guardrails on the highway; they keep you from veering off the road and over the cliff’s edge. They determine how far you’ll go on questionable issues.”

Here’s the KEY: “Knowing what matter and what you truly value is the key to living a life of meaning and purpose.”

During my coaching career, I can’t deny that I valued winning. That’s why we played the game! It was a competition. I wanted my team to come out on top. However, early on in my head coaching career I was challenged by a Fellowship of Christian Athletes talk to consider striving for the “double victory.” Hummmmm? OK… you’ve got my attention. What he meant by double victory is: we want our players (and coaches!) to win ON and OFF the field. I wanted young men who left my program after 4 years to be “better young men than when they came in.”

Thus my goal matched my value. Character was just as important to me as championships. I am proud of the championships that we won. At the same time, I am equally proud of the outstanding young men who have gone on to be great dads and husbands and workers in their respective fields. I tell audiences when I speak that I am proud of the district, region and state championships that we won. But… I am more proud of the “universe” championships that we won!!! There are 9 pastors of the Gospel of Jesus Christ who played for us. THAT achievement is what I’m most proud of!

Two Things I Don’t Understand, Part II

Posted by admin May - 18 - 2020 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

I talked last week about the importance of repetition and correcting mistakes in practice. Today, I want to share another aspect of HS coaching that I do not understand. What I do not understand is: why don’t coaches study a little more Psychology? OR… apply some of the lessons on Principles of Learning that they (hopefully!) were taught in their Education classes in college??!!

This post is concerned the importance of reinforcement and how it affects performance. The practical application in HS football that I am focusing on is: grading players’ game performance AND… what a coach does with that grade once the players learn what letter grade they earned. Here’s the scenario:

A coaching staff from out of state drove 7 hours to spend a weekend with me to learn about the Wing T specifically and Coaching 101 generally. We’d had a good series of talks over 2 days. The last point that the visiting HC wanted to cover was: HOW did I grade my player’s game performance? What system did I use? The look on his face (the whole staff) when I uttered my response was priceless! What I told him was, “Coach, we don’t grade our individual player’s performance!” WOW! Let me explain.

1- We don’t have the time. Welllllllllll… we have the time. I’m just not going to prevail on my assistants to take 4-5 hours over the weekend to grade each player on every play. As we say when talking about installing a particular play: “It’s very expensive and the return on your investment (of time and energy) is not real good!”

2- Once you post a letter grade for every player, the whole team knows how well OR… how poorly each starter played. Now that it’s public knowledge, what are you going to do about it? For example… you are pretty thin on the Offensive Line (most people are!) Your right tackle is a Senior. Big kid; decent strength; moves okay but, he’s a little lazy…. and not the most coachable kid you’ve ever worked with. The OL coach KNOWS from watching him in practice and games (he certainly doesn’t need to grade every play to know that this player is limited in ability!) that he is a liability. However, the guy behind him is a Sophomore. He hasn’t played much football. Plus, he’s a “string bean”— 6’2 and about 185. This back-up is just not ready to step in.

The OL coach has graded every play of this right tackle for 4 games now and his letter grade has been an F (failing) every game! It’s obvious that he’s just not getting it done. The staff meets and they discuss this guy’s performance (or lack thereof!) and realize that… “Guys,” the HC says, “we can’t bench this guy. The kid behind him is awful. We’ll get killed! We’ll just leave him in there and hope he gets better.” Big mistake!!!

WHAT KIND OF MESSAGE ARE YOU SENDING TO THESE 2 PLAYERS AND… THE REST OF THE TEAM???!!!

I’ll tell you what you’re “saying”: It’s OK to fail. Just keep doing a lousy job— it doesn’t matter. We don’t have anybody to replace you with. So…… just keep on screwing up. You’ll still be starting and playing this coming Friday. Is THAT the message that you want to convey to your team?

Plus… that OL coach has busted his tail every Saturday to grade this guy’s performance— and nothing is done about his failing grade! That’s very DE-motivating for that coach.

How about that back-up? How do you think he feels? What about players at other positions? The whole situation gets back to the “power of reinforcement.” In essence, you are rewarding bad behavior! So… that behavior is just going to continue.

Soooooooooo… what do you do about it? This is what I told that staff that was visiting: 1- you call in the starter and tell him (in private) that he is not performing up to the standard that you expect. *Note: this should have happened after the 2nd poor performance. He shouldn’t get 4 weeks of poor showings to finally get called in. 2- You tell him that his starting position is now in jeopardy. That someone else is going to start getting a few more snaps in practice AND, possibly, the game this week. That depends on how the 2 of you perform in practice this week. 3- If you continue to perform below standards, we will have to give someone else a chance to play that position. You will have a chance to win the position back but… you will have to a) improve your performance and b) OUT-perform the guy that will be getting reps instead of you. That is what competition is all about.

Last thing, I gave “Group” grades— not individual grades. Based on what I saw on the video on Saturday, I would write up a Game Summary. The OL would get a grade. My comments would be about that group as a whole. Then the Receivers and the Backs and, finally, the QB. Yep, individual but still I spoke of the “position” and not the individual. Same thing on defense.

A lot more detail is in my book, 101 Little Things That Can Make a BIG Difference. Check out a copy.

Two Things I Don’t Understand!

Posted by admin May - 11 - 2020 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

Two topics have come up in conversation in the last few days. I will take up one of them today. I’ll see if I want to cover both in this post or wait. Wait till I see how long this first topic goes.

What I want to share is: what is your practice philosophy? That is, what do you think the purpose of practice is?

Those of you who have been reading these for a while know that one of my foundational principles of coaching/learning/success is: “The 5 P’s of Success.” PROPER Preparation Prevents Poor Performance!” I just discussed this in detail a couple of posts back.

Monday through Thursday (in-season) is our time to prepare. We are preparing to play (and hopefully win!) our game on Friday night/Saturday afternoon. Are you preparing properly?

What I want to focus on is the concept of repetitions and the need to correct mistakes. Let me take you into your classroom for a minute and create an analogy. I will use Math class as my example.

The teacher calls 4 students to the front of the class to work out problems on the board. Each student works diligently and in a couple of minutes, they are done. Three have completed their assigned problem and the fourth just stands there frustrated and embarrassed because he could not come up with an answer at all.

You, the teacher, look at the class and say, “OK. We need to move on. I need 4 more students to come up and work out an equation. We have to give every student in class a chance to come up to the board and work out a problem.” WHAT???!!! No feedback? No correction? No praise for the students who got the correct answer? No help for the one who had no clue what he was doing? NO!!! The teacher has a goal of getting everyone to the board to do a problem! We MUST achieve our goal. We only have 30 minutes to complete this activity. Let’s go!!!

YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!

Is this an example of efficient teaching? Is this an example of effective learning? If YOU were one of those 4 students, how would you feel when your teacher told you to “go sit down. We have to move on.” I know what my response would be? How about you? “But, Teacher…. did I get the answer correct?!!”

Let’s apply this to football practice. The HC has allocated 30 minutes for Team Offense. In those 30 minutes, he wants to RUN (we’ll come back to that!) 30 plays. That’s the objective of this “lesson plan.”

Scout D gets lined up. Offense breaks the huddle, lines up, snaps the ball and runs the play. A LB shoots through the B gap and pops the ball carrier 4 yards deep in the backfield. No whistle blows (which is another subject in itself!!!). The coaches just yell “stop. Stop!” The OL coach tells Jimmy while he’s running back to the huddle that “you need to block down when a LB shoots the B gap on you. OK?” Jimmy responds while getting his spot in the huddle, “Sure, Coach.”

What if Jimmy doesn’t know what blocking down means? What if Jimmy doesn’t know what a LB is? (I know what you’re thinking but… kids don’t know as much as you assume that they do!) Finally, do your kids understand where the B or C or A gaps are? You know what they say about “assuming” don’t you???!!!

So this continues throughout the 30 minute period. Run a play. Someone messes up. He gets corrected with nothing more than a verbal explanation… and on to the next play. The HC feels good because he got all 30 plays run in the allotted time! But… how much was actually accomplished? NOT MUCH! And he wonders why his execution on game night is so poor!!!

Most high school programs are not afforded the opportunity to have meetings with players before and after practice… and during the school day. This is when college programs can go over mistakes via video and white board. They don’t need to STOP PRACTICE AND CORRECT like high school’s do. Thus, the nexus of what I’m driving at.

You cannot expect your players to improve unless they know; i.e., SEE, their mistakes and…. be SHOWN how to do it correctly!!!

I’d rather perform 15 plays correctly (even though we had to stop and walk through it again) than race through 30 plays…. just to say that “we completed our objective.” When creating my game plan, I’ll know to focus on those plays that we executed the best! This is why I’ve always encouraged coaches to: “Get realllllllllllly good at just a few things!

There’s a lot more I could say about this. Hopefully, I’ve given you something to chew on. If you’d like to discuss it further, please feel free to email me at coac...@gmail.com.

“Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid!”

Posted by admin May - 9 - 2020 - Saturday ADD COMMENTS

Some of you recall the origin of this axiom. In 1976, Jim Jones of the Peoples Temple religious group convinced his followers that it would be best for ALL of them to die together in their encampment in a South American jungle. Representatives from the U.S. government were flying in to get the people out. In a panic, Jones urged his group to drink poison rather than surrender. He mixed the poison with kool-aid… thus the axiom presented in my title!!!

How does all this apply to football coaches? I am attempting to caution you to be sure that “going along with what the group does” isn’t necessarily the best thing for you. Some might call it peer pressure. I recall getting in trouble at school in the 6th grade because a friend “dared” me to do something wrong. I got caught! They called my dad and I got the old “double whammy” when I got home— punished at school AND punished at home! I do recall my dad asking me sarcastically, “Would you jump off the top of the school building if you friend dared you to?????!!!!!!!” Gulp!

Soooooooo…. why are so many of you “drinking the kool-aid” of we GOTTA go to the Spread offense??!!! Wellllllllll…. everybody else is doing it. I guess we should be doing it too! WHY?

Most of you know that I am an old school Delaware Wing T coach. I love to stay up on the latest trends in football, though. (Once a “Student of the Game;” always a “Student of the Game!”) I’m reading more and more of Wing T coaches who are looking to spread things out and…. here it comes: run RPO’s as a major focus in their offensive package! Wow!

I’ve been around football long enough to go back to the early days of the T formation. My Jr. High coach still ran the old Single Wing in the early 60’s! Then (here it comes!) everybody caught the “Wishbone” bug! When Bear Bryant at Alabama went to it, that was it. Did you know that Bryant made Joe Namath run the Wishbone/Triple Option in college? Joe was a darn good runner; but, that’s where he started having knee problems! We all were trying to run some form of the triple option. But guess what? Defenses saw it so much that they started coming up with answers to it and slowly it faded away to guys running the I formation! THAT was the new “answer!”

People who break the mold and stick with an antique, broken down old jalopy of an offense actually have an advantage. Nobody sees it very often so nobody knows how to defense it!!! The most fun I had in the last decade of following Virginia Tech football was watching Bud Foster, DC at VT, go up against Paul Johnson’s Triple Option offense at Georgia Tech! Observing those two trying to out-wit each other was like watching two chess masters. So good! Guess who usually won? I hate to say it but GT!

If you’ve got a system, work with it! Build it up to where people fear you for running that offense. The same could be said for defense. We went to a Wing T coaches clinic at the U. of Delaware when Tubby Raymond was still the HC. He was on the over-head machine (that’s how long ago it was!) diagramming a Wing T play. He drew up a defense against it. It was a defense that guys in the audience were kinda scratching their heads on as they saw it. Then Tubby said something that’s always stuck with me. He started erasing the defense and said, “Sorry. I just automatically drew up OUR defense. Most of you don’t recognize it, do you?!” A lot of nods in the crowd. He continued, “That is the College 4-3… or as some call it, the old 6-1. We use it cuz NOBODY else uses it!” AH HA!!! Not only was Tubby a tremendous innovator on offense with his devastating Wing T package; but, he ran a NON-traditional defense too! He knew the value of being unique!!!

Try it. You’ll like it!!!