Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program


Posted by admin February - 1 - 2010 - Monday

A coach asked recently if I would comment on the subject of “Loyalty”— among the staff; to the HC; to the players and players to coaches and to the school.  It’s an important subject and definitely one of those “little things” that must be dealt with, developed and exercised if you want a successful football program.  However, with society’s emphasis on “taking care of Number 1”, loyalty is a character trait that has gone on the “endangered character trait” list!

Pastor Bill Hybels spoke about this in a book he wrote several years ago entitled, Who You Are When No One’s Looking.  He talks about how these types of important traits, like courage, faith, endurance and trust are not being instilled in our personalities as they once were.  I say all this to say:  you are going to be fighting an uphill battle when you take on the challenge of expecting “loyalty” from others in your program.  Why?  Again, because it’s just not something that’s being taught as an important character trait as much as it used to.  but……….. do it anyway!  If loyalty is a priority to you in your Coaching Philosophy then that is a battle worth fighting.  I want to share a few things that, in my mind, can help build loyalty in your football program, school and community.

Loyalty, I believe, is established through respect and trust.  It is a process and is going to take time to establish.  First, you must talk about these traits and let your staff and your team know that they are going to be emphasized.  You talk about them often and you use anecdotes, stories and quotes to back it up.  You can’t just bring it up in a pre-season meeting and then never talk about it again!  I like to point out examples of our players showing loyalty… or in the development stage:  respect or trust.  A player who has completed his sprints but runs back out on the field to help “carry” the over-weight young player across the finish line— his respect is going to be played up in front of the whole team when practice is over!  The player whom you let borrow your keys to open the weight room and immediately brings them back to you is going to get a big “Thank you” in front of the rest of the players.  PUBLIC affirmation has a tremendous impact on peoples’ psyche.

We had lost a close, hard-fought game early in the season to the eventual state champions— losing only in the last minute of the game.  They had a lot more talent than we did but the kids played hard and had a chance at the end.  I called them over after the game; looked them in the eye and said in a very loud voice:  “I AM SOOOOOOOOOOOOO PROUD OF YOU!!!— I am SO proud of you!  You fought hard and you played well and you never gave up.  No coach could ask for more than that!  Thank you that you let me be your Head Coach tonight.”  The look on their faces was priceless.  They were expecting to get chewed out after losing…. and then in one mighty gesture on my part, their whole demeanor changed.  Nobody liked losing that night, but that post-game speech was a huge factor in our later success.  Oh… we won 6 of our last 7 games after that!  What was built that night?  Mutual respect.

The same is true in working with your coaching staff.  Loyalty is built by establishing respect and trust.  I was known as a HC who was going to let his assistants “coach.”  They had the responsibility to get their position players ready and the coaches learned that I trusted them to do this.  I always coached a position too… so they knew that nobody was going to be looking over their shoulder when in Individual or Group period during practice.  I trusted them to get the job done. 

Rarely can I recall “chewing out” an assistant coach— in public or private in 22 years as a HC.  If I did, I made sure that I apologized.  This is showing respect for them as adults.  “Chewing out” people rarely has any positive effect on their subsequent behavior.  In fact, it tends to build resentment which is anathema to creating loyalty.

There are several quotes from Coach Bear Bryant that have stayed with me over the years.  I think they speak also to this case of creating loyalty in a team.  I can’t state them verbatim but they will still make sense.  One is: “If anything goes wrong, I (the HC) did it.  If anything goes well, we did it and if anything goes great, you (the teammate or coach) did it!”  There’s that public affirmation again.  I’m showing respect to you and, thus, the natural tendency is to show it back.

Another important philosophical statement that the Bear made was something like, “never give up on a player… regardless of his ability level… as long as he doesn’t give up on himself, you or the team. In time, he will develop or quit.”  I never let a player quit without talking at length with him and calling his parents to let them know of his decision.  I didn’t want it said that “Coach J” ever gave up on a guy.  Respect and trust— the building blocks of loyalty.

Finally, I would add that the staff and players must know your core philosophy.  You must all have “one heartbeat.”  You must have a common goal that everyone is striving for.  If you have a staff member or player whom you detect as not ascribing to what your common goal is, steps must be taken to confront him and either convince him that to stay, he must join in or risk separation from the team.  We had a returning veteran one year who was going to be a starter for us, who in pre-season was just not buying into our philosophy that hustle was one of the core values of our team.  When everyone else jogged, he walked.  When everyone else was shouting and cheering and singing the school fight song, he stood off in the back by himself.  I went over and gave him a slap on the back several times to encourage him to join in. No response.  I called him into the coach’s office and we talked to him as a staff.  No change.  Finally, I had our Team Lieutenants and I hold a private meeting with him to see if some positive peer pressure would change his attitude.  All fruitless.  When we got back from our Camp at a local college, I posted the team roster (the guys who made the team—- coaches:  please don’t publish a “cut list!”) on the locker room door.  When the players came by over the week-end to see who made the team, they (as was the player himself!) were  shocked that this very good football player’s name was not on the list!  He later transferred to another school and didn’t do much there either.  But, interestingly, the question of hustle and enthusiasm was never an issue with our kids for a loooooooooooong time!

Reaching” kids (and adults) is a huge Little Thing.    It’s all about motivation.  A HC must learn how to “hold a team together.”  You are going to go through hard times.  Each person is going to respond to adversity differently.  For some players, you to lift them up; for others, you have to calm them down.  The whole point is to get that one heartbeat that I mentioned earlier.  With God’s guidance and strength, we can maintain these important character traits of loyalty, trust and respect— and resurrect them off the “endangered trait list”.

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