Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

“Earning” That Reward!

Posted by admin May - 25 - 2021 - Tuesday

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!

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