Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

When It ALL Goes Bad!

Posted by admin September - 19 - 2017 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

It was a rivalry game! The newspaper had hyped it as the game of the week in the entire area. Two reallllllly good teams meeting for the first time in a number of years where the game actually meant something to BOTH teams. Excitement was in the air; a big crowd was in the stands and… we fell flat on our faces!!! We gave away 3 scores and shot ourselves in the foot 3 times inside their 10 yard line. Final score: 0 to 35!!! Total deflation!

Have you ever had it happen to you and your team? Expectations are high. You’re excited about the season and… BANG! It all comes crashing down. It happened to us with that thumping we received on Friday night. Sooooooooooooo… what do you do when this happens? “Panic” is NOT an option! Playing the “blame game” is NOT an option! “Giving up” is NOT an option! and… ADDING MORE PLAYS is NOT an option! A wise coach once told me that, “when things go bad, reduce… don’t increase!!!” You need to simplify— not complicate!

Some of you have probably heard my slogan. It’s one of our Principles of Success for Coaches. It is: SIMPLICITY = CONSISTENCY!

If you want things to be “simple” to learn (and I am not talking about “dumbing down” things!!!) then you have to make things consistent! Otherwise, you are creating confusing and doubt in the minds of your players. This, in turn, leads to hesitancy. If a football player hesitates, he’s going to get beat! For example, you can’t have one set of blocking rules for O linemen vs. an even front and then a different set of rules (for the same plays!) vs. an odd front! It’s not consistent, therefore not simple, and thus… confuses your linemen.

Take a look at your game stats and your playbook and see if there are plays that you are rarely (or ever) running right now. Get rid of them. Stop practicing them. Concentrate on those “Big 5” key plays that you need to improve upon.

Finally, you have to be the encourager. You have to “speak life” when your players are down. It won’t do any good to criticize and point fingers when things have gone bad. Make it clear to your players (and coaches) that we are not going to stop working. We ARE going to get better. One of my favorite sayings is from Tim Duncan. I believe he shared that he first heard it from his grandma when he lived in the Caribbean. It goes: “Good; better; best. You can never rest! Until your “good” becomes “better” and… your “better” becomes “best!”

Coming From Behind (to Win!) and… Getting Better

Posted by admin September - 12 - 2017 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

One of the hardest things a HS coach has to deal with is being sure that he is maximizing the talent that he has. You simply have to play to your strengths. That requires analysis and evaluation of your personnel and staff on a weekly basis. Although I’m not an advocate of taking 5-6 hours each weekend to grade every play of every player, I do think it’s important that you take some time to study the game video. If you’re on Hudl, you can use the telestrater and make notes as you’re going along. When you’re finished, send it out to the players and coaches. By the way, I wouldn’t send the game video to your players until after you’ve made your notes! Why? The players will stay up Friday night just to “watch themselves!” They don’t care as much about seeing what their mistakes were. If you don’t post the game until after7 you’ve made your notes, at least then… as they watch the game, they’re going to see your notes.

I also make sure that I make a big deal about big plays that they make too! I “telestrate” stars all over the clip! One other thing you can do to be sure they watch the video is to “imbed” a secret reward! Somewhere during the game (you can do it twice if you want), you select a clip and type a note to the players: “When you see this note, text me. You’ll get a reward on Monday!” For those who see it and text you, keep a bag of Hershey’s kisses in your desk at the locker room. When a player who can tell you what clip the “secret surprise” was located, flip a couple of kisses at him!! It’s not a big deal but the kids love candy!!

The final step in this post-game evaluation is the toughest. It’s when you decide that you have to make some changes in personnel and/or positions. It can be a “shock to the system” of a high school player when he’s told that he’s been demoted or moved to another position. But, you show him the evidence from your evaluation and (this is important) give him HOPE! Let him know that his position is now “open” and if he’s the better man during the practice week, he’ll start. You can give the other player some game time if you want to evaluate him in game situations or… maybe the back-up performs better in practice and he gets the starting nod. But I’ve always like the concept that our Wrestling coach used with “wrestle-off’s.” Whoever wins the wrestle-off during practice is the one who wrestles in the match that week. A little healthy competition can teach a high school kid a powerful lesson.

Bouncing Back!

Posted by admin September - 5 - 2017 - Tuesday 1 COMMENT

The team that I’m “consulting” for lost Friday night against one of the best teams in the state of Virginia. And probably shoulda/coulda/woulda won if they hadn’t made so many (typical first-game) mistakes. They had 11 penalties (3 of which caused TD’s to be called back!!!), 3 turn overs and numerous blown assignments on defense against a split-back veer offense. And with all that, they had a chance to tie it when they recovered an onside kick with less than a minute to play. They couldn’t get it down the field for the tying score.

As a “Consultant” my job is to observe. So, as the game ended and the coaches met with the players, I stayed in the background and just watched body language. I did the same at practice yesterday. One thing that was very obvious to me was: both the coaches and the players knew that they should’ve won that game. They were disappointed but nobody was pointing fingers. The coaches talked calmly to them after the game and went about their business as usual yesterday at the Monday practice.

One thing that I noticed that the HC did (which I thought was ingenious!) was: the Monday conditioning period was directly tied into the number of penalties they had on Friday night. 11 penalties = 11 gassers! Plus one of the 11 was a personal foul so that counted as 4 instead of one. He pointed out to them that, “you have less running to do on Monday if you have less penalties!” Excellent example of negative reinforcement.

We had our “consultation” after practice last night and I complimented him on the concept. It got the juices flowing and we “wondered out loud” how we could tie conditioning for Tuesday and Wednesday to things that need improvement in the game. He decided that… since Tuesday is “Big D” Day that they’d do a suicide for each “loaf” and/or missed tackle. He does the Defensive Tackling Chart on Monday night so he’ll know by this afternoon how many times they’ll have to run lines!

OK… how about Wednesday?? We kicked around what other factor directly impacts the game. Of course, he brought up turn-overs! I mentioned about running “U’s” or “J’s” around the field. It’s a middle distance run where they get their heart rate up but it’s not an all-out sprint. For a “U” you start the backs and ends in one corner of the field— at the intersection of the backline and the sideline. They stride out 120 down the sideline, turn left and run across the field and take another left turn and stride down the other sideline and finish at the other backline. It’s about a 300 yard “sprint.” Then the linemen run their “U” while the backs and ends walk across the field on the backline. When the get to the original starting point, they take off again. Note: With a “J” you stop them at the 20 yard line of the back sideline. That would be about a 200 yard run. We lost 3 turn-overs and got 1… for a total of – 2. So everyone will run 2 “U’s” for the turn-overs.

I think it is a powerful incentive for the kids to decrease and/or eliminate those mistakes and earn less running at the beginning of practice (yes! “Conditioning” is the first thing he does) each day.

Weekend Work Schedule

Posted by admin August - 29 - 2017 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

For the first 12 years that I was a high school head football coach, I ascribed to the philosophy of “IF we want to be successful, we have to OUT-work our opponent!” I equated that with how many hours a week I spent on coaching; watching film; scouting and all the other things that went into being a “successful” program. There was just one BIG problem: by mid-season, I was exhausted and.. all of this work did not show itself on the scoreboard!

In my 13th year, I brought on an assistant who had been a coach on a local team that had won a state championship 2 years prior. I was excited to have him join our staff… mostly because of his winning background. Little did I know at the time that he would revolutionize my coaching style and philosophy! Coach Warren was the first to introduce me to concept of “take care of the details.” Those “behind-the-scene” things which are going to affect your whole program are more important than how many hours a week you spend coaching.

One of the first things he convinced me of was: to give the players (and coaches!) a day off on Saturday! He reminded me that even God has a day of rest when He was creating the Earth! That was good enough for me. With the advent of Hudl, I was able to watch our previous night’s game in the leisure of my home on Saturday as I prepared to settle in and watch college football. By Sunday evening, I was ready to meet with my staff. We’d review the previous game and then focus for an hour on our next opponent. We came to work… and my meetings never lasted more than 2 hours. Shorter than that if I could condense it!

We also learned to work smarter… not harder!!! Some things that we were spending waaaaaaaaaay too much time working on during the weekend was curtailed. I adopted a grading system (#53 in my book, 101 Little Things) that was helpful but did not take hours to use. We streamlined our scouting. We found that most of the information we gathered about an opponent was for the staff… NOT the players! Unless you’re at a private academy or Football Factory where your players’ time is unlimited, it’s best to have a staff that is ready to “coach ’em up” on Monday. Unless your kids are different than the ones I’ve coached since Hudl came out, the only thing they want to watch is the game… and specifically, themselves! LOTS of highlight video’s; not many minutes spent watching an opponent!

I can go into a lot more detail but it’s in the book. OR… you can contact me if you have questions about our weekend schedule. Learn to work smarter; not harder!


Posted by admin August - 22 - 2017 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I think it is very important that you keep the “lines of communication” open throughout the football season. As the coach, you are speaking to your players just about every day. It is also important that you keep your AD and principal informed as to what is going on with your team and/or your program. Administrators don’t like “surprises!” If you know of someone who is going to be calling one of them to complain, let that administrator know ahead of time. Everyone likes a “head’s up!”

This is to encourage you to keep the lines of communication open with the players’ parents, too. Keeping them informed helps to make them feel part of the team. Keep them in the loop.

One of the best ways to do this is to send out a weekly email report to parents, administrators and players. I sent mine out on Sunday evenings each week during the season. It was a brief recap of the previous week’s activities. If you had a game, you can give an analysis of the game. When you do, it is important to stay positive and encouraging. Never denigrate a player (in this case through mass email) in front of the whole team. You can talk about areas that need improvement but speak life… not death!!! I generally didn’t even mention an individual player in my Weekly Report. I stuck to our “BIG team; little me” philosophy even when handing out praise. It’s always a team effort when we won. If we lost, it was MY fault.

I recall that we lost a close game late in the 4th quarter one year. Our regular punter got injured during the game. We got pinned deep in our own territory and had to punt out of our end zone with just a couple of minutes left. There was no reason to go for it— except that our back-up punter was a raw rookie who’d never played football before. I decided to go with him. I mean… what could go wrong?!! Just catch it and kick it! Welllllll, we snapped it to him in the back of the end zone and he proceeded to shank it out of bounds on the 10 yard line!!! Needless to say, the other team scored on the ensuing drive and we lost. After the game, the reporter covering it tried to “bait” me into being critical of our rookie punter who “blew the game.” I would have none of it. I praised him for doing his best in a very tough situation. I also said that I had confidence that he would do better in the future. Two years later, this same boy was the leading kicker in the area and was invited to walk on at a major university!!! At graduation that following June, the punter’s mom sought me out… to thank me for not publicly ridiculing her son. She told me how much she appreciated not making him the scapegoat. By handling it the way I did, it gave her son the motivation to keep working on his kicking!

The Weekly Report is also a time to talk about the coming week’s activities. You can speak a little about your upcoming opponent. Remind the players (and parents) of the weekly practice schedule. If there are any special events, remind them of those. Keep those lines of communication open!

A number of parents thanked me each year for the Weekly Report! They knew what was going on and said that it made them feel like a part of the team.

I closed the Weekly Report with our new “Word (or character trait) of the (next) Week”! That word or trait would be the focus for my “character-building” talks that I would give to the team as the week’s practices progressed. All of this information was presented in one place at one time to everyone involved in the program. It is important to the unity and cohesiveness of your team. Try it. It takes a few minutes each weekend but it’s worth it in producing good will.

Never Assume

Posted by admin August - 15 - 2017 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

It’s interesting, informative and (sometimes) entertaining to stand back and actually watch a HS football practice unfold. To be an observer instead of an active participant gives me a whole different perspective. One thing I’ve noticed is how effective the communication is between coaches and players. I’ve come to realize in only 2 weeks that, as a coach, you have to be verrrrrrrry careful not to assume anything when you’re dealing with teen-aged boys!

You’ve probably heard the adage: “Never assume! Cuz assuming something will make an A-S-S out of U and ME!!!” As a coach, you cannot take it for granted that a player has understood your instructions. The coaches I’m advising get upset when a 2nd team player makes a mistake that a starter was corrected for 10 minutes before. First off, the back up probably wasn’t even paying attention when the starter was corrected and… now that it’s his turn, he’s pretty much clueless on how he is supposed to execute his position. Assuming that the back up was listening is just going to cause heart burn on everyone’s part.

Sooooooo… if we are to never assume that your instructions are clearly understood and will be carried out, how should we proceed to be sure that coaching instructions are followed correctly?

One thing you can do is to get the player to repeat back what you just told him. Say, “Now… you’re the coach. Coach me on what I’m supposed to do.” Then have him repeat it back to you in a practical situation. That way, you are checking to be sure they’ve been paying attention and understand what you were teaching them. How many times has someone explained something to you and you nodded your head in affirmation when in reality you had NO clue what they were explaining? That happened to me when we had life insurance agents in the house! The agent would sit there and go over all of the benefits the new policy provided. I didn’t want to appear dumb… so, I just nodded my head like I knew exactly what he just said!!! Don’t think that your players don’t do the same thing!!!

Biggy-backing off of this, one of the best ways to check to see if your players understand their assignments is having quick quizzes. You can even do it on the field. You sub in a back up for a starter and call the starter over to you. You pose the question right there. What’s your rule on Buck Sweep to your side? He gives you the correct answer. Your response is, “Good job. Now… explain me to what ‘gap’- ‘down’- ‘backer’ actually means!” If he can’t give you an immediate correct answer, drop him for 5 push ups. It doesn’t need to be 25 up/downs or 200 yards of bear crawls!! 5 push ups makes the point.

Your job as a coach is to be an effective teacher. An effective teacher never takes anything for granted. I love the way the military trains its people. They explain; they show; they do… and do and do and do. If need be, they back up and explain and show again till the soldiers can do it right.

Never assume that a player is listening!!!

It’s Time to RUN!!!

Posted by admin August - 7 - 2017 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

I saw something today that, for an “Old Dog”, will be a “new trick!” My whole way of thinking about “running” players for Conditioning was changed in one 20-minute period!!!

The HC whom I’m “consulting” for started his conditioning program today!!! Yep! He runs a very uptempo practice where the players are “on the move” for 2 1/2 hours but… there had been no time specifically set aside for “conditioning”— until today! The kids have 3 weeks to “peak.” He is confident (and I believe him… cuz he researches and talks about football to more experts than any coach I know!) that the players will be in tip top shape by September 1st.

The other interesting aspect of the “conditioning” periods was: No sprints! No gassers! No distance running!!! He calls it “county fair.” There are 8 stations set up around the perimeter of the practice field. He breaks up the team into 8 equal groups and sends 1 group to each station. On the whistle, they begin to run… and cut… and spin… and turn… and accelerate and decelerate and… sprint 10 yards. After 2 1/2 minutes he blows the whistle and the groups rotate to the next station. In a roughly 20 minute segment, each player ran about 75 20-40 yard sprints… and they didn’t even realize that they were “conditioning!!!”

It was pretty amazing!

Injured Reserves???

Posted by admin August - 3 - 2017 - Thursday ADD COMMENTS

What to do with those players who are injured yet still attend practice??? This situation came up this morning and I felt the need to address it since many of you are starting full contact practices. Players are going to get banged up and for whatever reason, they are going to sit out a practice or two. I believe that how you deal with them “sends a message” to the rest of your players. Kids today are so media-conscious; in that, they “see” things when we, as adults, don’t!

A coach contacted me about what to do with those players who can’t practice. I shared how I used to just let them stand on the sideline (here’s the KEY) in street clothes and observe. What I didn’t realize was that… there was more observing of what the injured players were doing (or not doing!) than vice versa. They stood over there and laughed. They stood in the shade. They walked to the water horse anytime they wanted. What the players who were practicing were observing was: these guys are reallllllllly taking it easy! Maybe, I need to get a little “banged up” so I can stand in the shade and watch practice for a couple of these hot days!!!

Then I visited Va. Tech during a spring practice one year. I noticed that every player was dressed out! However, players had different colored jerseys on. I recognized offense and defense but there were also yellow jerseys (for the QB’s… non contact) and red jerseys. These guys were over on the sidelines… not participating in drills. I asked the Head Trainer what was going on?? He shared with me that, “those are the players who are injured and are not allowed to participate in any drills.” Yet, I saw that they were fully dressed in gear and that they were doing a series of exercises (push ups; sit ups; stretching) while practice was going on. The Trainer explained further, “Nobody gets a ‘day off.’ There’s work to be done to help them either rehab their injury or simply to stay in shape. They need to be working too.” A new team policy took shape in my head.

When practice started the next year, it was now one of our policies that everyone dresses out for practice if they are in attendance. If a player has a shoulder injury that precludes him from wearing shoulder pads, he can still wear his girdles, pants and helmet— with his jersey on with no shoulder pads. Our trainer gave them a series of exercises to do while practice was going on. Some could even do sprints or jog around the field. The key was: they were going to work! It was not a vacation. In addition, if they were physically able, they became “managers for a day.” They helped set up and then put away equipment in the shed. They pulled the water horse around. It was their job to keep the field cleaned up. Again, not the most fun day they’re ever spent “watching” practice.

I found that kids were not as inclined to just want to “take a day off”— when they had to dress out, exercise constantly and… help with managerial duties!

Let me close on a verrrrrrrrrrrrry serious note: we were always cognizant of a player’s physical status. We had a Trainer on the field every day and we always told the players that if they had a concern… to see the trainer before they left school! Big or small— get it checked out. We also talked a lot about the difference between being “hurt” and being injured. The player should know his body and pain threshold well enough to know the difference. Football is a “collision sport” and your body is going to have aches and pains. If the player had ANY question, see the trainer.

My policy with our trainer and Team Doctor was always this: YOU do the injury evaluations and I will do the coaching. If a trainer or doctor told me that a kid was done… he was done! I’m not going to question their decision. Likewise, they don’t come down and tell me to “go for it” instead of punting either!!! SAFETY FIRST!! We were very fortunate to have a great deal of support from our school and community to get the very best medical care for our players. Find a local Sports Medicine doctor who is willing to volunteer his/her time to check out your players and be on the sideline during games. Then…. let them do their job!


Posted by admin August - 1 - 2017 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

This is more of a commentary than advice today. It’s bothered me for a while and it’s “reared its ugly head again!”

As football practice has started, several players have told the HC that they CAN’T come out for football!!!! “Why not?” he asks. The answers are all centered around 2 things (just 1 really!) but their “reason” is: they have to concentrate on 1 sport or…. here it comes: it’ll ruin their chances of getting a scholarship!!! Come on man!!!

I bet if you lined up 100 high school athletes from your school and asked them to be honest and tell you WHY they are playing their particular sport, the vast majority would say: “To get a scholarship.” WOW!!! What happened to playing high school sports for the sake of enjoyment of the sport and competition and interacting with your teammates???

This all came to a head two weeks ago for me as I watched the MLB Home Run Derby. Aaron Judge was crushing it! The announcers were going on and on about what a great guy he is— besides being an outstanding baseball player! Then it happened… they flashed a message across the screen showing Judge in his HS football uniform and his Sr. year stats. Oh and then it showed him in his basketball uniform grabbing a rebound and his stats! Finally, his stats for his senior baseball season! A 3-sport star!!! I bet his baseball coach had a stroke every year! Or maybe his basketball coach implored him to “forget about those other 2 sports and concentrate on basketball!” His football coach… probably tried to apply the same pressure!!! Is it SOOOOOOOOOOOOO sad… and infuriating!!! And quite honestly, very selfish on the part of that coach who pressures his/her players to concentrate on 1 sport— his, of course!!!

My response? Playing 3 sports in high school didn’t seem to adversely affect Aaron Judge’s baseball career… did it???!!!!

Think about it!!!

“Attitude is EVERYTHING!!!”

Posted by admin July - 25 - 2017 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I guess that a lot of you are gearing up for preseason practice to begin in the next week or so. It’s that time of year!!! Though I’m only “consulting” for the local team, the HC has really made me feel a part of things. It’s nice to be appreciated.

The same thing goes for your players. Have you let them know how much you appreciate their hard work in the weight room this summer? I used to present t shirts to those players with high attendance and achievement in our weight lifting program. You’re trying to create an atmosphere where your players (and coaches) realize that they are important… that you, as the HC, care about them. Your attitude toward them will have an impact on everything else you do during the season.

What do we mean by attitude? I’ll ask you: define attitude.

I’ll bet that your answer was along the lines of: how you act. You’re not entirely wrong… but you place the cart before the horse if you just think of someone’s attitude just being the way they behave. Something has to be the catalyst that caused that behavior first!

My Webster’s Abridged Dictionary defines attitude as 1- opinion or feeling. 2- posture. You might conclude that behavior is kinda mixed in there but… if you look more closely, it has to do with your mental state. Opinions and feelings are generated from your mind. Your posture is that look on your face (behavior) that is a result of that thought.

Why do I say all this? Cuz… you’re not going to change players’ behavior until you change their mind set; i.e., their attitudes!

I think one of the best ways to work on a person’s attitude (mental state) is through the use of slogans or inspirational sayings. I’d find one and make it into a poster and tape it on the locker room wall. Now… you’ve got to repeatedly bring that slogan to your players’ attention or it won’t work. It’s like the doctor giving you some medicine. You take the pills home and sit them by your bathroom sink and never take one out of the bottle!!!

The other day, I came across one of the most powerful slogans I’ve heard in a long time! I credit it to that great motivational speaker Zig Ziglar. It’s in a little paperback book of his entitled, Great Quotes From Zig Ziglar. Here it is:

“Remember that FAILURE is an event—not a person.”

Wow!!! How often do we blame others for things? How often do we do poorly (fail) at something and blame ourselves?? When we can separate the act from being personal, our attitude begins to change. That’s what we’re after: changing attitudes!

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