Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

“Put In the Work”

Posted by admin January - 22 - 2019 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I’m reading Tim Tebow’s new book, This Is The Day. Some great life-lessons for anyone who desires to grow in Christ or simply improve as an individual.

The chapter I’m in right now is titled, “Put In the Work.” He’s talking about competitiveness and, one of my favorite concepts!, persistence. I think we learn competitiveness early in life. It’s instilled in us if we live in a competitive environment as we grow up. Persistence, too, has to be nurtured. We, as coaches, have to teach it, model it (never give up! never give in!) and encourage it. One thing Tim writes about his time at the U. of Florida really struck home. Remember… his coach was Urban Meyer.

Tim writes, “When I was at the University of Florida, our whole college program was centered on bringing out our mental toughness. Obviously, we focused on speed and strength, but it was secondary to the goal of developing grit.”

Wow!!! Are you spending as much time on the mental training as you are the physical? Particularly here in the off-season portion of the year, a coach needs to start training his players to be mentally tough. There are activities and exercises that you can use. I’d be glad to share a few with you if you’ll email me. I’m not talking about a meat grinder attitude. I’m definitely not encouraging you to replicate the Junction Boys that Bear Bryant put his Texas A & M team through! No. It’s a matter of simply helping kids to see/learn that they can do more than they think they can. Our job is to get them out of their comfort zone. As Tim says later, “It means getting inconvenienced. But if you don’t grow, you won’t change. And if you don’t change, you stay stuck.”

Like the commercial says, “Don’t stay stuck! Get GEICO.” or whatever product they’re trying to sell! *See…. that’s bad psychology in that ad. When you can remember the jingle but can’t remember the product— what good have you done?!! On the other hand, when the message is so powerful and it’s easily attached to the product, it will make your company a LOT of money! Don’t believe me? Then why do companies spend millions of dollars for 30 seconds of ad time during the Super Bowl?

We as coaches need to sell our product. In this case, it’s mental toughness and competitive spirit.

I’ll close with one more quote from the book. Tim says, “Striving for something and having a life of significance doesn’t always feel good. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s outright painful. You have to do the hard things to get to where you need to go.”

Amen? Amen!

Have A VISION

Posted by admin January - 18 - 2019 - Friday ADD COMMENTS

I had the good fortune to attend a local Sports Club meeting the other day where LaTasha Colander-Clark was the keynote speaker. She was a 2000 Olympian from our area. She won a gold medal in the 4 X 200 Relay and still holds the world record in the event. Verrrrrry impressive! and… a very impressive young woman.

It was admirable that she did not hide the fact that she is a born-again Christian from the audience when she first stood to talk. Making a “faith statement” lent credence to the powerful talk she subsequently presented over the next 15 minutes. This is a summary of the notes I took while she spoke. The theme is something that all of us should adopt. Her title was: “Have a Vision.”

A line from the movie Sister Act 2 has always remained a mantra for me. The character that Whoopie Goldberg played stated in front of her students one day that… “If you want to be somebody. If you want to go somewhere. You better wake up and pay attention!” Truth!!!

Ms. Colander-Clark was basically stating the same thing. If we want to be successful, we need to have a picture in our mind of where we want to go and what we want to do. Without that picture; i.e., vision, we are destined to fail. Why?

We are likely to fail because somewhere along the road to success there are going to be some speed bumps. There might even be a wreck. Do those obstacles slow us down? OR… do they cause us to give up; tuck our tail between our legs and… slink off to the Land of Quitters. That’s the place where people make all kinds of excuses for WHY they failed. The main reason they failed is because they lacked a vision. With that vision, you have a driving force that keeps you going. Without a vision, you’ll never “see” yourself succeeding. When the times get tough, the weak get going… right out the door!

One of my “life verses” from the Bible is Phil. 3:14. It paraphrases, “PRESS ON toward the goal!” Press… is short for pressure! Pressure will come to bear but I choose to remain strong and hopeful. I know that “God’s got this” and He will take care of me. For a Christian, surrender is just another word for VICTORY. We surrender means trusting the things/people/situations in our life to God. “I can’t do this on my own, Lord. I give (surrender) it to YOU!”

It took 10 years before my “vision” of what I wanted our football program to look like finally came to fruition. I had to “press on” through many trials and sorrows. But, I knew that God had given me a vision and He did NOT want me to give up.

Create a Vision Statement and live it out! Through thick and thin, God is with us!

Back In The “Grind!”

Posted by admin January - 9 - 2019 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

I recently accepted an offer to become the Offensive Coordinator at a local high school! Yes… I have “UN-retired” for the 3rd time! There have been a lot (overwhelmingly) of positive posts from friends on my Facebook page— congratulating me on my return to coaching. However, there are a few who are questioning why would I want to get back in the grind! I have an answer. Let me let Dabo Swinney speak for me!

Dabo was asked why he’s already prepared to start the grind all over again so soon. His response was priceless! Dabo stated, “I’m looking forward to Friday. That’s the fun part about what I do. We get to start over every year and plug guys in and let them go play. I’m excited about it. It’s always a fun meeting for me to kind of reset the room, if you will, and kind of paint a picture of what this new journey is going to look like and what we’ve got to do. Every year is a new challenge and you don’t carry anything over.”

Does that sound like a grind??!! Dabo’s attitude is not only positive but infectious. No wonder he’s getting the country’s best recruits.

That is what I missed. I love the preparation phase of a new season. Evaluating, studying, planning and teaching the staff and players is FUN! It’s fun because I know what my life’s purpose is and how God wants me to fulfill that purpose. If you don’t know what your life purpose is, you need to discover it. I discovered mine when my sweet wife spoke a “Word” over me about 35 years ago. Other friends, who I love and respect, confirmed what God had shared with her… that He wanted her to share with me. It was one simple statement. “This (coaching) is your ministry.”

My priority as a high school football coach was (and now is) to: Share the love and hope of Jesus Christ with my players and fellow coaches. Simply put: “Love Jesus; love people.” When we seek God as the priority in our life, He will take care of the rest. (Check out Matthew 6:33 in the Bible!)

When you know your purpose in life and properly prepare yourself (and your coaches and players), it’s amazing what you can accomplish. We’re going to win a lot of football games in the next few years! Of that, I have no doubt. Why am I so confident? Because the young man who is our Head Coach has been “tutored” by me since he was a Freshman in high school! He played for me and coached with me. He wants to do things the right way. I am honored to join his staff.

Small Beginnings

Posted by admin January - 2 - 2019 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

I’ve been having conversations with a young first-year head coach over the holidays. He related how he was disappointed in their first-season’s record. They went 7-3! Made the play-offs. Won their first play-off game and lost in the 2nd round to an undefeated team. I asked him, “which part of all that success are you most disappointed in??!!!”

This post, then, is not for any coaches in this young coach’s situation. This post is for those of you who weren’t very successful in your first (or second) season of being a HC. My encouragement to you is a verse from the Bible! It says, “Do not despise these small beginnings… for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.”

You need to remember what I read from Bob Gass recently. He wrote that “great endings usually start with humble beginnings.” Building a successful program is just that… a building process. Some call it a grind. I don’t like that cuz it brings up negative connotations in my head. Yes, it was frustrating to build a successful high school football program. The first few years were not easy. But, I also found it exhilarating when I saw that we were taking steps in the right direction.

I adopted the philosophy (and, thus, the title of my book) that Little Things CAN Make a BIG Difference! One of my closest friends in coaching always reminded me to “pay attention to details!” That was easy for me because I’m a bit OCD anyway! Staying focused is never a problem for me. You need to adopt the same point of view.

And don’t quit just because things don’t look like they’re ever going to get better! In my first 5 seasons as a HC, we were 22-25-3. The last 25 seasons we were 177-56… with 8 conference, 1 regional and 1 state championship. Those first 5 were tough. But, it was those small beginnings that were the bedrock of persistence and determination which carried us to so much success over the next 25 years.

Do not despise small beginnings!

How Do You See Yourself?

Posted by admin December - 20 - 2018 - Thursday ADD COMMENTS

Kudo’s to Pastor Bob Gass and his writing staff for bringing such important messages each morning in their devotion book, The Word For You Today!  It inspired these thoughts I want to share with you today.

I love the fact that, you may not even believe in God, but… the wisdom of the Bible can still guide your life.  I find so much practical advise throughout the Word of God.  The devotional this morning focused on a story from the Old Testament book of Numbers.  It is a powerful testimony to the way that our self image (how we see ourselves!) can impact how we see  the world… and, ultimately, how much success we enjoy in our endeavors.  If you want to check out the full story, it’s found in Numbers, chapter 13.  The verse that I want to focus on is verse 33.  Let me give you some background.

Moses had sent out some men to scout the land (today it’s Israel) in preparing to cross the Jordan river and settle there.  Moses wanted to get the “lay of the land.”  The 12 scouts that he sends out returned after exploring the land and this was their report:  “We saw giants.  We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes…”  Welllllllllll… that was the report of 10 of the 12 scouts.  Two of them, by the names of Joshua and Caleb, were adamant that the Israelites should “go up and take the land that God has promised us.”  Joshua and Caleb saw the same giants (there really were giants in the land!) but believed that with God’s help they could defeat them.  Guess which report the people chose to believe???!!!  If you guesses the naysayers, you are right!

Stinkin’ thinking leads to a rotting away of our self confidence.  And a lack of self confidence is a major factor in explaining why so many of us fail at achieving important goals that we want to accomplish.  Joshua and Caleb had a winning attitude.  They spoke life.  They spoke the language of a winner.

The words that we speak are a result of the thoughts that we have.  Our words create our feelings and generate our actions.  If our action is that of “running away” in times of stress (giving up!), it’s root cause started with stinkin’ thinking.  

We can interrupt (and change) this process by speaking life to ourselves.  As a Believer, I constantly have to remind myself of how much the Lord loves me and wants to help me.  He believes in me so I need to believe Him.  Jesus is my source of strength.  What’s yours??!!!

Team Mom(s)

Posted by admin December - 11 - 2018 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

A local HC was lamenting to me the other day that with his seniors leaving the program, he is also going to lose his very valuable Team Mom!  Cuz her son is a Senior!  He said he even asked her if she would come back next year.  No such luck.  Her son is graduating and she is done.

Now he has to go out and “beg” someone else to take over the duties of being Team Mom.  I suggested that developing a Team Mom is just like developing players at the (very important) Quarterback position!  You need to have a younger one in the program that you bring along.  When he’s ready to step in to the starting role, he already has a good idea of what is expected of him and what he needs to do.  The same thing goes for the Team Mom position.

I was fortunate that when I coached at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, I had tremendous parental support.  I inherited a Team Mom who’d been trained by the previous Team Mom as to what was involved in doing her job.  The transition was seamless.  The moms taught me the right way to go about this.  They already had the transition process in place.  A designated “Team Mom In Training” was learning the ropes during the season prior to her taking over the head job.  Those ladies had even put together a “Book” (it looked like a scrapbook!) of information and tips to help guide the Team Mom throughout the year.  They even had a little ceremony where they “handed off” The Book to the next Team Mom!  It was pretty cool.

It was so nice to know that I didn’t have to go looking for a new Team Mom each year.  The moms were actually training to take over.  A couple of years they even worked at Co-Team Moms.  That was fine with me.  They got the job done and nobody was overwhelmed by all of the duties they had to perform.  They were always nice enough to get my final “seal of approval” before the new Team Mom was inaugurated; but, I’d already seen the “mom in training” in action so there was never a problem.  It was always nice to pick up the phone to ask the new Team Mom to accept her new role knowing that she was willing and able to take over.

It’s another of those little things that you need to take care of it or it can become a big deal if you don’t!  As a Head Coach, you need to be able to delegate.  Having a player’s mom who can handle things like pre-game meals, your team banquet and such is a tremendous burden off of you.  Meet with your moms and explain how you want to do this.  When they know that they are doing it for their boys as much (or more) than they’re doing it for you, I think you will find that you will get a LOT of cooperation and help!

Senior Meeting

Posted by admin December - 5 - 2018 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

I highly recommend that you have a post-season meeting with your seniors on your team. Ask them 2 questions: 1- what do they recommend that you, as HC, do to improve the team/program? 2- What can I, HC, do to be a better leader. Get out a tablet of paper and pen and get ready to write stuff down. However, be prepared! Cuz “it” may be coming!!! What is “it?” Things you might not want to hear!!!

There are 2 typed of criticism: constructive and destructive criticism. One will increase your confidence; the other can destroy it. You’re probably going to get some of each when your seniors begin to offer their recommendations. Be cautious in how you respond to destructive criticism. You may not like it, but there may be a kernel of truth in what that senior has to say. In fact, don’t respond at all. Just write it down and say “thank you.” and… move on. If they see you losing your cool, they’re liable to shut down and then you’ll get nothing.

I did this exercise for years when I was coaching. I wanted to hear what the seniors had to say. Their career was done so they didn’t have to worry about any reprisals for speaking their mind. Good! I wanted them to speak freely. It was the only way I was going to be able to grow as a coach.

Early in my career, a senior said “Coach J. You’re too nice!” Huh? What? Too nice? I had him explain. What he was basically saying was, I was letting the players get away with too much. I was being soft on them. They wanted me to toughen up! Not become a screamer/yeller or over-react with a lot of punishment drills… just demand more from them. I took that to heart and during the off-season I developed a Player Policy Sheet which laid out the expectations I had for our players. If they could not (or would not!) conform to these new policies, they would suffer the consequences. Of course, some of them began to test me immediately. It took some time, but once they realized that I was not going to let them get away with stuff anymore, they buckled down and starting living up to the new expectations I had for them.

All of you should be looking for ways to improve— your program in general and you as a coach. This meeting can be an extremely effective means of gaining some valuable information from those who have IN your program and observed you daily. Suck it up and hear them out!!!

Be a “Student of the Game!”

Posted by admin November - 28 - 2018 - Wednesday ADD COMMENTS

It’s “Final 4 Weekend” in Virginia this coming Saturday. Four teams in each of the 6 divisions are the only teams left standing. That means that most people have turned in their equipment and, hopefully, are relaxing a bit. Guys: you NEED that time away. They don’t call it a grind for nothing! It will grind you up and spit you out if you don’t take some time to decompress. I know a couple of coaches who have already gotten their off-season weight program going. IMO, that is a mistake! Burn out is a real thing!

My focus on this post, however, is about “continuing education” for coaches. It is important that you seek out people who are going to help you get to that next level. It is also important that you include your entire staff in this effort! And… at some point, it is imperative that the Head Coach “coach the coaches.”

There are clinics galore— all over the country! I am honored to have been asked to speak at 3 different clinics this year: the National Wing T Coaches Clinic in Pittsburgh; the Glazier Clinic in Boston and the best clinic for HS coaches in the state of Virginia in Richmond. Wherever you choose to go, let me make a couple of key points:

1- Listen to high school coaches! The college game is soooooooo different from high school. You need to talk to successful coaches who coach at the same level as you. For instance, a coach at a Division 2 high school in Virginia is dealing with a student body of maybe 400 students — half of which are females. The scope of your football program is going to be verrrrrrrry different than what the coaches at, say, Allen HS in Dallas, Texas have to deal with. They are great coaches. But why not find another successful D2 coach in your state and go visit him and his staff? Or, if he’s speaking at a clinic, attend it and hear him speak.

2- Don’t be afraid to ask for some extra time after the coach has finished his talk at a clinic. I’m always honored to be asked to speak. It’s a double honor when a coach asks if he can “pick my brain” afterwards.

3- If you can learn “1 little thing” then it was worth the time and money to attend. That little thing can end up making a BIG difference. One little thing I took away from a speaker one time was: “Shoot your linemen’s hands down on the first snap count… sometimes! The rest of the time go on ‘1st sound.” I took this home and started toying with it and it ended up being one of THE best things we ever did. Our kids would get very upset if they didn’t draw the D line off-side at least once a game! It helped us with our Punt and Field Goal teams too.

4- Videotape the talk… IF it’s allowed. Whenever my staff used to visit another staff, we would tape the entire session. Most of the big-time clinics won’t let you tape; but, at least ask.

Hopefully these ideas will give you some food for thought. The key is: (continue to be) a Student of the Game!

Post-Season Checklist

Posted by admin November - 19 - 2018 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

I like to divide up the calendar year by “seasons.” For instance, there is post-season and then there’s off-season. I think there’s a difference. There are things a HC needs to “clean up” once the regular season (IN-season) is over. These need to occur as soon as the last game as possible. Once they’re completed, then… you can start focusing on the long haul of the OFF-season! I want to give you a list of things that you should consider doing in the post-season.

1- EQUIPMENT. Get it collected, cleaned and stored. Pull out the equipment that will be going to the Reconditioner and complete your inventory. Based on the inventory that you make (and probably submit to your AD), you can begin to make your “wish list” for items that you’d like to have purchased for next year. Let your staff know that they are expected to help in doing this. Once again, as I’ve discussed many times, don’t be a micromanager. Solicit the help of your assistant coaches. Include it in the job description for assistants so there’s no dispute over who has to help!

2- STAFF DINNER. On the day that our staff completed the clean-up and inventory, I took the staff out to dinner. It was an opportunity for me to say “Thanks!” to my staff for their hard work over the last 4-6 months. If there is money available to do it, take them to a steak house. If not, have them over to your house and prepare a meal for them there. It’s a small thing but it shows your appreciation to the assistants. It’s also a time to reflect back on the season; hopefully have a few laughs and give a toast — do something where you express your thanks to them.

3- STAFF EVALUATIONS. Call in each assistant individually and go over your evaluation of the job they did this season. There are checklists you can find online or simply write up a summary for each. Include things they did well and… things they need to work on. Phrasing it that way (“things you need to work or improve on”) presents a more positive picture than “things that you did that I didn’t like” or “things you did wrong.” There may have to be a “stipulation” attached to it. “If this doesn’t improve next year, we will probably have to let you go.” Let that coach know that you are there to help him improve. Don’t leave him flapping in the breeze. You hired him; so do your part as the leader of your staff to help him improve!

4- ADMIN EVALUATION. If your AD doesn’t do it, you need to ask him/her to do a written evaluation of the job that YOU did this season. Again, in writing. You need to know where you stand with your AD and the job that he/she thought you did. Keep it in your records file.
The same thing goes for your Principal. You should ask for a meeting at his/her earliest convenience and talk about the season. Ask him/her what you can do to improve.

5- GETAWAY WEEKEND… with your spouse/partner or just by yourself! Get away from football! I used to take my wife to the Outer Banks of NC for a weekend. It was a chance for me to decompress but also a chance to lavish a lot of attention on HER! I have an amazing “coaches wife!” Especially since she’s not a big football fan. But she was a “Lew J. Fan” and she was always there to support me. It was only right that I’d take a weekend to get away with her and get reacquainted!!!

6- BANQUET. I’ve talked about this activity before so I won’t go into detail. If your school/AD doesn’t have this, contact some Moms and ask for their help. They love doing things for their sons. “Sell” it to them in that manner. Yes, they’re helping you. But… they’re doing it for their son! You can hold a nice function right in the school cafeteria. It doesn’t have to be elaborate but it needs to be done. Your players deserve it.

I think of November/December as “post-season.” It’s a time to wrap things up and close things down for 4 weeks. Some coaches simply never stop. It becomes a chore and a burden. Kids today aren’t as sold on the grind as they might’ve been at one time. I wouldn’t even open the weight room till January— and then that month is for introducing lifts, getting preliminary maxes and emphasizing SAFETY in the weight room. February through July is plenty of time to conduct your OFF-season strength/speed/agility program. Don’t drive kids away from your program by being overly ambitious about getting them into the weight room right after the season ends. Everyone needs some time away.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Our Troubles Can Train Us!

Posted by admin November - 12 - 2018 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

I know that some of you are dealing with the disappointment of a season unfulfilled. For whatever reason, it just didn’t turn out like you’d hoped it would when you started back in the August. Too many injuries; bad breaks; bad attitudes…. whatever the cause, you’re looking back at your season with a lot of regrets. Let me, perhaps, cast a different light on things for you.

I love what Pastor Bob Gass said in his daily devotional a while back. “Contrary to what you may thing, the ideal environment for your ‘players’ is NOT one that’s devoid of problems and trials. Though it’s hard to accept at the time, your ‘players’ NEED the minor setbacks and disappointments that come their way. How can they learn to cope with problems and frustrations as adults, if their early experiences are totally without them?”

I hope that you are a coach who cares just as much as building character as you do about winning football games. If your main goal as a coach is to win games, then your focus is too small! Long after your players hang up their helmets for the last time, they will remember the atmosphere of your program. Nobody can have as much impact on a young man’s development as his coach. To pretend that your influence doesn’t matter… you’re just kidding yourself. You have a responsibility to teach your players to win with class but, also, to accept defeat with dignity. It’s those defeats that build strength of character.

Have you heard the tale of the 2 trees? A tree that’s planted in a rain forest is rarely forced to extend its roots downward in search of water. As a result, it remains poorly anchored. When even a moderate amount of wind comes, it can be easily toppled over. However, a mesquite tree (of which I saw hundreds recently when my wife and I toured the Canyon Lands of the SW) planted in a desert is under stress right from the earliest growing season. It survives by driving it’s roots 30-50 feet into the earth in search of water. Overcoming adverse conditions allows the mesquite to stand up to all types of situations.

I encourage you to take those losses this fall and use them to help your players learn to be, as the Bible says, “more than conquerors!”

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