Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Building Team Unity

Posted by admin July - 31 - 2013 - Wednesday

With high school football practice starting in the next few days, those of you who read this and coach (or play) are starting to get focused on what’s going to take place over the next 3 weeks. “That” is: pre-season practice! Some of you will have some kind of Camp. Others will have their version of 2-a-days. In any case, a lot of thought has gone into planning out those practices to get the maximum benefit from them. I hope that the “little things” that can be learned during pre-season are not being ignored at your school. One of those “little things” is building team unity.

President Lincoln is quoted as saying it, but he was merely quoting the Bible! “A house divided against itself will not stand.” If there was ever a call to be unified, that pretty well nails it. I have always emphasized team unity as one of our foundation blocks for the teams I’ve coached. Building and maintaining unity throughout the season is the first goal that I present to the team each year. It should be yours too.

I learned from Coach Lou Holtz many years ago that you need to face adversity before it faces you! Cuz then it can be too late. I tell my players: “We are going to face some kind of adversity this season. We need to be aware of that fact and start preparing now to deal with it. I don’t know what that adversity is going to look like, but (and not to be negative!) something bad is going to happen to us before this season is over. Be prepared and let’s not get overwhelmed by it.”

This all sounds good but… what specifically has to be done in preparation? You can talk about a storm hitting your house but if you do not board up the windows, the winds can wreak havoc. We have the threat of a hurricane here in Tidewater Virginia almost every year. When the warning comes, people are told of the steps they need to take in preparation for the storm. It’s the same thing with your team. It’s important to have “built a shelter” before the adversity hits. This is accomplished through building trust. Trust is built through communication.

I am a big advocate of “team-building” exercises for your players. They don’t have to be complicated nor do they need to last very long. One of my favorites is what our kids call “Timmmmmber!” We put a guy up on a table or a bench and 6-7 players surround him. He goes rigid and then simply topples off the edge of the table backwards like a tree falling. It is the job of the surrounding players to catch him before he hits the floor. We talk about the seriousness of the exercise— there is NO joking around! It’s fun but… if you’re going to build unity, that player falling over must knowthat he is going to be caught. There’s that trust factor. You can have every player fall a couple of times in just 5 minutes.

Then you need to process the exercise. Observe what’s going on as the kids interact. It’s funny how for some players, just getting 3-4 feet off the ground makes them frightened. Others are nervous because they’ve never been put in a situation where they have to trust others to keep them from falling. You need to talk about this stuff afterwards. For example, we had a transfer to our team last year who did not really know many of his teammates yet. I noticed that he sat over in the corner and chose not to even participate. I asked him why he didn’t when we met afterwards to process the activity. He was bold enough to say, with everyone in the room, that “I don’t know you guys yet. I don’t know if I can trust you.” You could have heard a pin drop. Nothing more needed to be said. I closed with pointing out that if we don’t “hang out” together and talk, we can’t build trust. We don’t build trust… we don’t build unity. Then when the adversity strikes (for us last season, we lost our first 2 games by a point!) your team won’t be able to overcome it.

Stand strong… together!

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