Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for May, 2021

“Earning” That Reward!

Posted by admin May - 25 - 2021 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

Recently, I was talking with a coach about the benefits of instituting a helmet award sticker system for his program. He was very interested… seemingly unaware of some of the Principles of Conditioning that are taught in most Introductory Psychology classes. If YOU don’t know these principles, I encourage you to take some time to study them. It is a valuable lesson in effectively leading your program.

Obviously, each player you coach has a different “hot button.” You have to learn what that hot button is to effectively motivate him. However, there are some universal principles of motivation that 99.9% of people always respond to in a similar fashion. One of those principles involves “rewarding behavior.” Our culture, in my opinion, has failed to observe this principle and has, therefore, raised a generation whose sole concern is feeling that they are entitled to something— even if they didn’t earn it. It’s the issue of “everybody gets a trophy!” If everybody gets a trophy (for just showing up!) then where is the motivation to strive to achieve one’s maximum???

People love recognition. I’ll admit: it was a factor that got me interested in sports at an early age. I knew that athletes were people whom others looked up to. When you did well, you got your name announced over the PA system or, even better, got your name in the newspaper! You tie that in with a tremendous “competitive spirit” (which I credit my dad giving me) and you’ve got a player who drives himself to get recognized for his achievements. This is one of the positive benefits of a helmet sticker REWARD system! Players get recognition for outstanding play or great effort. That in itself is a reason to invest in buying a boat load of helmet stickers.

The other relates to a Principle of Conditioning that BF Skinner proved years ago. It’s pretty simple… but profound. It goes: “If you want a behavior REPEATED… REWARD it!” “If you want to extinguish a behavior, IGNORE it!” Both sides of the same coin. I want to deal with the first one… cuz I’ve always been a big advocate of rewarding good behavior? Why? Cuz… if a person does something that you like and you recognize what he/she did with some type of reward, it’s very likely that they will repeat it. Again… why? So they can earn the reward again!!! When it was time to hand out stickers (check out my book! We called it the Ceremony.), I made the biggest deal out of presenting the helmet sticker for GREAT EFFORT during the game! I wanted the players to know that EFFORT will always be recognized and rewarded!!! How? With a special helmet sticker that is only given for effort!!!

As I was talking with this coach, he became very enthusiastic about implementing the helmet award sticker system. His next comment afforded me one more learning experience for him. He exclaimed, “I’ve got to buy enough stickers to have them for the JV and the Middle School players, too!” My response? “NO! You do NOT want to buy stickers for the younger teams, Coach!” “Huh?” he replied!

I shared with him, “you need some things that ONLY the Varsity team gets to have… or do! You want those younger kids to want to get to the Varsity team so they can enjoy the same benefits that the older guys get.” Helmet stickers is one example of this. Our JV always got the “hand-me-down” game uniforms. They were nice and in good shape… just the old ones. The Varsity got the new uni’s! The Varsity got a nice catered pre-game meal. The JV scrambled to get a sandwich and some chips. All of this falls right back into the category of “everybody gets a trophy.” Part of building a successful program is to keep players interested in playing— all the way to their Senior year. It’s the reason why I brought the best 10 graders up to the Varsity. My “rule of thumb” was: if you started on the JV (we did not have a Freshman team, per se) as a Freshman, you have accomplished all we want from the JV team. It’s time to move up and face a new challenge. Play on the Varsity as a Sophomore. I knew that this would put our JV team at a disadvantage on game night. We were playing mostly Freshmen while some schools actually dropped down Juniors to play in the JV game! Our JV teams did not have great won-loss records over the years. But our Varsity was winning 85% of our games during that same period. Kids didn’t want to stay and be a “JV Super Star!” They wanted to get to the Varsity. All of this was part of my over-all plan to build a consistently successful Varsity football program. It will work for you too!

You Are NEVER “Just a ….”

Posted by admin May - 17 - 2021 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

Our church is very fortunate to have 4 or 5 really outstanding preacher/teachers. The message from our Campus Pastor yesterday was outstanding. Like any good message, it realllllllllllllly got me thinking about a number of things. Two points that he made, though, stood out to me. The first is the title of this post. It spoke to me about the situation for those who find themselves in a subordinate role in their organization. For football coaches, it’s the role of an assistant coach whose sole responsibility, for example, is coaching nothing more than a position. For someone in the business world, it’s the employee who looks at his/her job and sees him/herself at “the bottom of the barrel” in the company. Here’s what you need to know: You are NEVER “just a...” and you can fill in the blank! You are neverjust a… defensive back coach.” You are never... “just a running back coach.” You are never... “just a JV coach.” At the office, you are NEVERjust an… account manager.” You are neverjust a… sales clerk.” EVERY position in an organization is critical to the overall success of that organization.

In his message, our pastor compared his job as a Teaching Pastor to the folks who clean the rest rooms each week. He shared how he could deliver a great message but…. if a visitor walked into the rest room before service and it smelled bad or the toilets weren’t clean, it could be the most powerful message ever delivered…. it wouldn’t matter! That visitor is very unlikely to return! In football, a punt gets blocked late in the game because the Punt Team Coach didn’t spend the time going over the key points of protection schemes. Why? Cuz he is “just the… Punt Team Coach.” See? Each position is critical to the organization’s overall success. If you’re thinking that… “I’m just the O Line coach.” Your attitude is going to affect your performance! You don’t stay focused during practice; thus, your linemen don’t either. On Friday night, when your QB gets sacked 5 or 6 times because of pass blocking errors… whose fault is it?!! It’s pretty obvious to me. You may not see your job as being very important until….. it’s time for you (or your people) to “step up.” Then, everyone will see that you were NEVER “just a ……” Do you see what I’m talking about here?

Your attitude means everything! hummmmm??? I just thought about the guy in the Army who’s assigned to do nothing more than pack the parachutes for his regiment. When a parachute fails to open during the jump, it becomes quite apparent how important his job is! His attitude stunk; thus, his work performance suffered. In this case, it cost lives! What you do matters! Take pride in what you’re assigned. Give it your best.

I love what our pastor closed with yesterday: “desire trumps willingness.” It’s great that you are willing to take on a job. However, that is often not going to produce the best results! You need the desire (the right attitude) that you are going to “do your best to become the best that you are capable of being.” That is Coach John Wooden’s definition of success.

Want to be successful? Adopt Coach Wooden’s philosophy. It will carry you far in life!

Make Your Special Teams “Special”

Posted by admin May - 11 - 2021 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

This is about as close as I’ll get to talking “X’s and O’s” on this site.

After watching the state championship games in Virginia last week, it became obvious to me that… even at THAT level, some coaches did not properly prepare their players on their kicking teams. It cost them. One team, for example, had the defending state champs on the ropes late in the 4th quarter. They were held deep in their own territory and had to punt. Their punter, in his own end zone, fielded a low snap. Rather than kick/throw/run the ball out of the back of the end zone, he tried to scoop up the ball; lost control and it rolled to his side. The defending state champs’ punt return team fell on it— 6 points! Knocking it out of the back of the end zone would’ve only cost them 2. They lost by 5 points!

Another team (foolishly) kicked deep to one of the fastest players in the state of Virginia. Guess what? 86 yard kickoff return TD! In another game, the team “popped up” the kickoff. It came down short and to the side. The player on the return team stood there and watched it bounce. (Probably thought you play it like a punt— NOT a “free” kick!) The kicking team recovered the “free” kick on the 33 and went in to take the lead in the game! Time and again, critical errors in the kicking game led to major momentum shifts in a state championship game. These happen every week of the season.

It was pounded into my head when I was a player that “the kicking game is 1/3 of the game! Spend the time necessary to execute your Special Teams as efficiently as you do your Offense and Defense.” It paid off for us many times during my 43 year coaching career. One of my favorites was actually when I was still an assistant coach. It was late in the first half of a hard-fought game against a very well-coached team. We had stopped them deep in their own territory with less than a minute left in the half. They were going to have to punt out of their own end zone. As our deep returner ran onto the field, I said, “Mike. Signal a fair catch no matter how much yardage you think you can get! OK?” He did as I asked and fair caught the punt on their 32 yard line. I then told our QB to go tell the ref that “we want a free kick on goal.” He looked at me funny but I said, “Go! Go tell him.” Fortunately, the referee knew the rules and said “Ok. Bring out your kicking team.” The QB also happened to be our place kicker. I told him to put his block/tee down on the 32 and get Mike, the Returner, to hold it on the block. “Put the rest of the guys ON the 32 but off to the side.” We got lined up and the ref made the opposing defense line up 10 yards back! Huh? They had no idea what was going on. But they backed up to the 22 and waited. As our kicker approached the ball, several of their guys “rushed” the kick. Flag! He missed the field goal attempt (yep!) wide right. However, the flag was for them being Off-side! They crossed the 22 before the ball was kicked. They marked it up 5 yards and everyone reset. This time they didn’t move and, yes, he made the kick. As time ran out and we headed to the locker room, I saw the opposing coach confront the officials. He was pretty upset because we had just taken the lead on something he’d never seen (nor knew about) in a game before. When we came back out 15 minutes later, he was still conversing with the officials! It threw them completely off their game in the second half and we ended up beating them. I bet that YOU didn’t know that you can attempt a field goal after a fair catch, did you?

There are so many funky rules still in the Rule Book that relate to the kicking game. I had a long-time official tell me that he believed that those rules were “left over” from the early days of football when the “foot” was still a BIG part of the game! I made it a point to study those rules and we spent a lot of time in preseason pounding those rules into our players’ heads. We reaped the benefit numerous times.

By studying the kicking game, I initiated some rather unorthodox ways to execute our kicking teams. A couple of examples are: 1) We NEVER kicked off deep down the middle. It’s a recipe for disaster! We didn’t onside kick; but we did have a number of different “pop up” and “hot grounders” that we used. 2) Use your back-up QB as your Long Snapper! He simply “throws a pass” between his legs. It’s accurate and should have pretty good speed on it. Finally, have ONE kick off return and never change. The one we installed every year provided us with several kick off returns for TD’s and numerous returns to midfield. It was a weapon that turned momentum and/or won a game for us over the years.

I put together a dvd that Championship Productions distributes for me. It has all of this (and more) information on it. Check it out. And…. study your Rule Book in the offseason and learn what these crazy rules in the kicking game are… so they can help you win a game!

To Go OR… Not To Go?!

Posted by admin May - 4 - 2021 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

Interestingly, within the last few days I have had 2 young head coaches call me seeking advice… about the same subject! It seems that both of them had recently been hired by their respective school as the new head football coach. They were both happy where they were. However… head coaching jobs have just come open in their area of the country! Jobs that they are both interested in applying for. Thus the dilemma! “To go or not to go?” (as Bill Shakespeare would write) “THAT is the question!!!”

Whenever I’m faced with a decision that carries as much import as this would, I do 3 things. First, I pray! Seeking God’s wisdom is important to me. Second, at the same time, I talk to my wife. She is the one with the Gift of wisdom in our household. I want to know what she thinks. I will also talk with others with whom I am close and respect their opinion. This is the “information gathering” phase. Finally, I am going to do a “Priority Check.” I did this with a young man last night on the phone.

He explained how he was torn between applying for this job that holds a lot of potential; but, at the same time, he felt a sense of obligation to the school he was currently at. “What do I do, Coach J? Help!” So we did a priority check! I asked him to state his TOP 3 priorities in life to me. (I might encourage any of you reading to do the same thing right now! And… it should NOT be difficult to come up with those 3. IF… it is a problem to think about what they are, you have bigger issues than just deciding what offense you should run this fall!!!!!!!!) Coach stated: “Family, God and the kids I coach.” Good choices and… good job of prioritizing the right things… in the right order!!!

“So,” I said. “Let’s look at your first/top priority. Which job allows that (top) priority to remain your top priority??? (See, that is the problem. We say that “such and such” is my top priority but… we fail to give it the time and effort that it deserves. You may say that family is most important. How are you showing that?)

He replied, “The XYZ High School is much closer to home. I’d be able to see my family a lot more.” I remained silent; waiting for that to sink in. A few seconds later he said, “Say no more, Coach J. I see clearly now— for the first time in a while. I know what I have to do.” He clarified his values and determined, based on his values/priorities, how he would keep them in order. Later last night, I received an email from the school system offering the vacant head coaching position. It was to write up a recommendation for the young man. He got his priorities straight and knew what was best for him and his family— his TOP priority.

When you need help with a decision, always stop and look at what/who you value in your life. Will you be able to devote the time and effort that the “top priority” deserves? If not, you’re probably wise to choose the alternative that does!