Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for June, 2020

Make Your Special Teams “Special!”

Posted by admin June - 30 - 2020 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

This blog is not about the X’s and O’s of coaching football. So, when I write about the Kicking Game/Special Teams, I will not talk about the execution of your special teams. However, I do want to emphasize that it is important to make your special teams “special.” Let me explain…

A coach and I were talking yesterday about his upcoming season. Apparently things are going well in his state and he feels that they will be playing football there this fall. We were talking Delaware Wing T when he stated… “and Coach, I realize now that I’ve got to spend more time on the Kicking Game. I’ve done a poor job on that phase the last few years and it’s hurt us.”

My response was, “Suppose I can show you a way to get more out of your Special Teams (make them “special!”) but not have to spend more practice time doing it. Would that interest you?”

His reply was an emphatic “yes!”

The easiest way to do this is for you to go to the Championship Productions catalog and purchase the dvd that I did for them on Special Teams! But… I’m not here to “sell” you something except for the idea that if you are not being as efficient in your kicking game as you’d like, I have some ideas that I think will be of interest and value to you.

I’ve always liked being innovative and, even more, unconventional in my approach to coaching football. It’s why I became sold on the Delaware Wing T offense. It’s why our defense initiated Split-field coverages when nobody else around even knew what they were! We didn’t always have the greatest athletes on the field but… we had the hardest-working and mentally-toughest kids that you’d ever face on a given Friday night. Why? Why did I like to be unconventional in my approach? Because I was always looking for an advantage. Legal and fair (though some opposing coaches would scream “unfair!” when we snuck one in on them in the kicking game.) ***For example: how many of you know that you can attempt a field goal after fair catching a kick? Yep! I got that one from Vince Lombardi years ago! We beat a team by kicking a field goal from their 35 after fair catching their punt from their end zone!

That advantage that I was looking for was both physical and psychological. If we could “get into their heads,” I knew we could gain the upper hand. When you utilize an unconventional approach to your Special Teams, you too can gain that advantage.

A couple of keys… then if you have questions or want more info, please email be at coac...@gmail.com and I’ll be glad to help. These keys are the basis for our kicking game.

1- Practice 2 phases of the kicking game every day. We chose to work on Punt and Kick-off on Monday’s and Wednesday’s— cuz I felt that these were the teams that create the biggest change of field position and momentum. Then, we’d kick 3 PAT’s and 3 Field Goals every day. Tuesday was Kick-off Return and Punt Return plus PAT/FG’s. On Thursdays, we review ALL kicking teams. ***I want to add: make Special Teams your FIRST period in your practice schedule! You want to send the message of how important your Special Teams are. You do that by making them a priority in practice.

2- Install ONE play for each kicking team! You don’t have time (we didn’t!) to devote 30-40 minutes on special teams each day. We alleviated that problem by, for example, having 1 Kick-off Return; 1 Punt Return; 1 Kick-off… etc. By the 3rd or 4th game, the players knew their assignments so well that it just became a matter of review. We were unconventional in, for example, how we kicked off. We would onside kick if I felt we had it available but… more than likely we were going to “hit a pitching wedge” to an area of the field that the Kick-off Return team did not have sufficient coverage. Our kicker was really good at dropping his pop up (sky ball) where we needed it… much like a golfer hitting a wedge shot on the green near the flag! People did not properly prepare for this and there were numerous games where we recovered at least one of our “pooch” kicks.

3- Get your “key” back-up’s on the field. When a player knows he’s going to play on Friday, his motivation and attention levels increase. We wanted to get as many back-ups on the field for the kicking teams as we could— without “hurting” the team. That’s why I used the term “key” back-up. Guys who you can count on but maybe are young or just not as good as the guy ahead of them at his offensive or defensive position. Now… that does not mean that we never used starters on Special Teams. We almost always had our starting RB’s deep on Kick-off Return. I used our best Wide Receiver to return (or should I say “catch”) the punts! There was more than one game (big game) that our whole starting defense was the Kick-off Team! But, in normal situations, we would have no problem starting a back-up on our kicking teams.

Marv Levy of the Buffalo Bills fame was my first college coach. His influence is what motivated me to emphasize the kicking game. Levy said, “more BIG plays happen in the kicking game than any of the 3 phases of football.” Lou Holtz also coached me in college (his first HC job was at William and Mary in 1969) and he too was a stickler for Special Teams execution. I love his quote that he shared with us: “A close game between 2 evenly matched teams will likely come down to a mistake in the kicking game.” Think: “Kick 6— Bama vs. Auburn! or the bobbled/flubbed catch of the punt snap for Michigan vs. Michigan State a few years ago! You can gain an advantage by utilizing an “unconventional” approach to your kicking game. Make your Special Team Special!!!

“Do Something Hard”

Posted by admin June - 23 - 2020 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I just finished one of the most important books I’ve read in a long time! It is by former Navy SEAL and current representative from Texas Dan Crenshaw (the eye patch guy!) and titled Fortitude. If you are looking for a new guide to leadership, this book is for you!

There are soooooooo many points that Crenshaw makes that will help you as a head coach and a leader that I don’t know where to start. So, I’m picking one that I think will cause each of you to pause and think about it. The title of Chapter 8 is: “Do Something Hard.”

Crenshaw talks a lot about his SEAL training… particularly the brutal BUD/S training that all SEALs have to complete to earn their trident. The things that the instructors put the SEAL trainee’s through is legendary for being challenging— both physically and mentally. Crenshaw does NOT encourage his readers to go through BUD/S training; but, he does challenge his readers to do something hard! Here’s what he says:

“I won’t suggest everyone go throug BUD/S, but I will suggest that a life unchallenged by hardship is a missed opportuinty and you should therefore seek to do something hard. Something really difficult. Something that takes you from a place where you’re not the kind of person who could rise to the challenge— to a place where you’re the kind of person who did.

As football coaches, we work with young men who, let’s face it, are pretty pampered— not all of them but a lot. I believe that part of our responsibility as high school coaches is to challenge our players to go a little further; stretch a little higher; or try a little harder than they ever have. How will a young man ever know what he’s capable of if he isn’t “pushed” a little bit?! Unless a coach is willing to do this, most people lack the intrinsic motivation (the inner drive) to make this happen. Crenshaw points out that this is why not many people want to be SEALs!

Now…. I am not advocating a “Junction Boys” boot camp like Coach Bear Bryant used when he first went to Texas A&M! (If you haven’t read that book, you need to! It’s a great example of how NOT to lead a program! Different era; different culture.) What I am advocating is, as Crenshaw says, “Scatter challenges throughout the season.” Build confidence in your players that they can overcome small obstacles. This, in turn, will lead them to want bigger challenges.

When I first took over the high school program that I led for 22 years, I knew after one season that we had to build 1- mental toughness and 2- self-confidence in our players if we were ever going to get to the championship level of play that we desired. That next August, we packed up everybody and headed to Chowan College in North Carolina for a week away from home— where we could build toughness and confidence for 5 days without outside influences creeping in.

We were up at 5:30 am each morning for a 3 mile run. The day didn’t end until 10 at night. There were plenty of breaks and we ate in the school cafeteria so there was lots of good food 3 times a day. But, we challenged our guys to overcome obstacles. We challenged them through team and individual activities to develop what I call an “overcomer’s attitude.” We wanted to build healthy thought patterns. Crenshaw says that “doing something hard is the habit of building mental calluses so that when life happens, you are better prepared for it.”

We went to Camp for 4 straight years until Chowan could no longer accommodate us. So we started having our Camp at school. Same daily routine as we had when we went away… just when we got to supper time, we sent them home to eat and sleep. (I let Mama fix their evening meal and make them go to bed!) By the 5th year, we were competing with the best teams in our area. And that continued for the next 17 years! Why? Because I felt it was important to teach our players NOT to avoid the hard things in life but… to face them head on. And…. overcome them!

In the Bible, Romans 5:3-4 probably says it the best, “We can rejoice when we run into problems and trials for we know that they are good for us— they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady.” As Crenshaw points out, “In short, suffering has both moral and spiritual worth.” Do something hard!

Effective Communication

Posted by admin June - 16 - 2020 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I don’t recall who sent it to me but… I was watching Coach Scott Frost of the University of Nebraska speaking to a group of people. He stated how important being an effective communicator is when you are a coach.

Taking what he said, I started brainstorming and the following things are, what I believe, are the KEYS to being an effective communicator. They are:

  1. Be CLEAR. You must speak to your audience (whether it’s your players, coaches, parents or administrators) in such a manner that what you are saying is being understood. Using good grammar, proper pronunciation and volume control all help you make your point clearly.
  2. Be CONCISE. I always cringe when I hear a public speaker who doesn’t know when… or how to stop! Some, I know, just like to hear themselves speak! Others simply do not prepare properly and they don’t know how to draw a conclusion. They repeat themselves and lose their audience and fail to make their point because they ramble. Say what you’re going to say and stop!!!
  3. Be COMPETENT. You will gain nothing by “spouting off” on a subject when you are clearly in error with what you are stating. Know your subject matter before you get up to speak. If someone poses a question to you that you do not know the answer to, DON’T try to come across as a “know-it-all” (cuz nobody IS!) I heard someone say that the best thing you can do at that point is to say, “I’m not sure about what you’ve just asked. Let me check and get back to you on that.” Then, do your due diligence and… get back to them! You’ll gain a lot more credibility that way than to say something that later comes back to bite you in the butt!
  4. Be CONVINCING. You’ve probably heard the old axiom, “If you can’t say something nice… don’t say nuthin’ at all!” True! But, in what I’m sharing, I want to massage that saying. Try this: “If you can’t share something with enthusiasm, don’t say nuthin’ at all!” Is there anything worse than a boring speech??! “I’d rather watch the grass grow… or watch paint dry than listen to this guy!” Ever said one of those? I have! I recall that I invited a former coach to come speak to our team before a championship game. My hope was that he would “fire up” the guys before we took the field. His delivery was so …. welllllllllll, there’s no other way to say it: boring!… that the players were just about to fall asleep in their chairs. This was just before we were to leave the locker room! Wow! If you believe in something, then present your idea in as convincing a manner as possible. You don’t need to scream and yell; but, you do need to speak in a way that captures the emotions of your audience.

Whenever you have to speak in front of a group, prepare what you’re going to say. Carry some notes or an outline or check list— something to keep you on track. Then, follow the 4 guidelines that I’ve shared with you and you’ll find that you’ll be an effective communicator. ***See how nicely I closed that???!!! LOL

A Coach’s Role

Posted by admin June - 8 - 2020 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

I’ve been thinking (and praying) a LOT the past 10 days! As Charles Dickens said, “It’s been the best of times and it’s been the worst of times.” I turned 71 on Saturday… “Thank You, Jesus!” It’s been very exciting! Each day is a new opportunity to praise God for all of His blessings.

It’s also been a heart-breaking 10 days. To see that man die at the hands of a sociopathic police officer— who’s duty it is to protect and serve– sickened me. Then to see the rioting, looting and burning just made it worse. We’ve lost our way in this country. Why? Because too many people have left God (in the Person of Jesus Christ) out of their lives.

Let’s get personal. As coaches, what is our role? For me, nothing has changed. For some of you, it’s time to wake up! As Joe Erhrmann would say, “We ALL need to be 3D coaches.” If you are merely training your players to perform at their peak athletic performance level— and forgetting that there are other MORE important things you should be placing in your athletes’ lives— then shame on you! You are part of the problem and not the solution.

Our role as leaders and role models is to “train up a young man in the way he should go.” This includes helping him (or her) to mature emotionally and, most importantly, to grow spiritually.

What we are facing in this country is nothing short of a “spiritual crisis.” People have forgotten that “faith, hope and love” stand as the most important qualities in any person’s life. But…. “the greatest of these is LOVE!”

Love is still the governing principle that controls all that God and His people are and do!

Our role as coaches is to LEAD the next generation so that the ills that we are facing in our culture can be dealt with and cured.

If you have not read Joe Erhmann’s 3D Coaching, I strongly encourage you to get a copy and READ IT!! NO…. not just read it but APPLY it!!!

To paraphrase the Bible in 1st Corinthians 13, this is what it’s saying to coaches: “If I speak to my players in a way that motivates them to go out and dominate their opponents, but have not love, I am only an obnoxious clanging cymbal. If I coach up a team that wins championship after championship, but don’t teach them to love their brothers, then what good have I done? Even if I won every coaching award that is handed out and I don’t teach my players to stand up for equality and justice then of what worth am I?”

That pretty well sums up what YOUR role as a coach should be!!!

Blow Your Whistle!

Posted by admin June - 2 - 2020 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

You know that the focus of these entries is the “little things” in coaching football. My intention is that little things, if handled correctly, can make a BIG difference in the success of your program! This suggestion may have you scratching your head: but, bear with me! It is this: Wear your whistle to practice. Require your staff to wear a whistle and… blow your whistle!!!

From the early annals of organized warfare, armies have used “horns” as a means of communicating movement of troops. I’ve read of bugles and even drums being used to signal a military movement to advance, halt or even retreat.

When training dogs or birds of prey, handlers use whistles to elicit certain responses in the animal. In a football game, when an official blows a whistle, he is “conveying information” to the players. Most of the time it’s telling them when to stop! Since that is the case, why not use your whistle during practice to “condition” a response in your players?? It’s a training tool that has direct carry-over to the game.

I’ve had good and bad results from the use of my whistle when I was coaching. Let me share:

During the 31 years that I was a head coach, I can’t recall but a (tiny) handful of “late hit” penalties against our players. Why? Because we “trained” our players to react to a whistle during practice. You want to incorporate drills in your position and group work that apply to the game… right? (You should!) So why not “drill” your players every time they’re moving/reacting/performing by hearing a whistle to end the play? I instructed our staff to blow a whistle on every play. Get them used to “stopping on the whistle.”

We often used a “quick whistle” in practice. We wanted to reduce the chance of injury so we blew a “quick whistle” to get defenders to lay off the big hits. This, unfortunately, backfired on me one season! This works fine (quick whistle) when you’re working on your Offense. Not so much when you’re on Defense. Here’s how it backfired on us!

I noticed in games that opposing ball carriers were breaking the first tackle we attempted more than I liked. However, the bad part came after that first tackle was broken… and we had nobody around the ball to finish him off! Lots of “YAC” (yardage after contact) was really hurting us. What was wrong? I studied play after play; watching our kids. It dawned on me: they were “quitting” early! Our pursuit was good. But, when they saw the first hit, everyone geared down. That was when we needed them to speed up! What was causing this?

I looked at our practices. That’s when it came to me! We were blowing a “quick whistle” on our Defense too! The first hit would be made and we would blow our whistles to end the play. We were inadvertently “conditioning” our defenders to gear down when they saw the first hit made in practice!!! Wow! Talk about “carry over” to games… in a negative fashion!!!

We remedied this by setting up our team pursuit drill differently. I placed 4 of those big pop-up dummies around the field. We’d snap the ball, point at a bag and all 11 defenders had 4 seconds to get to the bag. The first guy there tackled the bag. Everybody else “dog piled” on like you see baseball teams do when they win a championship! It added a little fun to the drill but it also taught everyone that they could not slow down until they reached the “ball carrier.” If all 11 did not arrive within 4 seconds, the play didn’t count and they did it again. We’d do 4 rep’s so they had to run to all 4 bags. It also tested them to go as hard on the 4th rep as they did the first! We basically shut down “YAC” gains!

Practices are for preparing your players to perform at their maximum level of ability during games. Using a whistle to end plays has tremendous “transfer of learning” potential. It’s a principle of learning that is critical to success. Apply it to your practices. It makes a BIG difference!