Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Muscle Memory Patterns

Posted by admin August - 31 - 2016 - Wednesday

I don’t normally post twice in one week but this situation came up yesterday and I felt like it needed to be addressed. I have NO idea how many coaches read these things each week but… if I’m helping one guy, it’s worth it!

This concerns “interrupting” practice to correct mistakes. The discussion (friendly dispute) came up when a coach told me that his philosophy is: if a player makes a mistake (this was during 11 on 11), he “shows” him what he did wrong and moves on. He felt like it was more important to get through the list of plays on his script than to take the time to “correct” the error and then… run the play again. My point is: just “showing” someone what he’s done wrong is not an effective teaching strategy. You need to “show” him, yes! But then he needs to “correct his mistake.” The play needs to run again… and again, if necessary, until it is blocked correctly. True, it may mean that you only get through 11 or 12 of the 20 plays you had scheduled but… you will KNOW when you leave the field that your players know how to run the play correctly and can execute it on game night.

I had lunch with my sister today and ran this situation by her. She is a professional actress, director and writer. I have “picked her brain” on numerous occasions to find out how she gets a troupe of actors ready to do a live performance on stage. It occurred to me that there are a LOT of similarities between getting ready for a live performance on stage and a live performance on a football field! Her tips have proven to be very helpful. I decided to run this issue past her today to get her feelings on it… from a theatrical standpoint.

I told her, “I was discussing with a coach about what to do if a player blows an assignment during practice. He said to me that he shows or tells the player what he did wrong and moves on…” “NO!” she blurted out! “You’ve got muscle memory patterns” involved here!!! You can’t just show/tell them what they did wrong; you have to walk them through it. There are muscle memory patterns deeply involved here. Bodily movements that are NOT corrected (right on the spot!) become ingrained on the brain! Unless the performer actually DOES the action correctly, he’s memorized it incorrectly and will continue to do it INcorrectly. The eyes need to report it to the brain (doing it the right way) which then directs neural energy to the muscles.” My reply? “Amen, sis!!!”

I’ve studied Principle of Learning. Any of you out there reading this who are in the classroom have sat in on seminars or taken a course on: “Learning Modalities.” Some people learn through listening (a small percentage) and a lot of people learn through visual cues. But the most effective means of learning is: DOING!!! It’s why you Math teachers out there make students come to the board and write out a problem… AND, answer it! And if their answer is incorrect? Yep! You make them work it out (maybe with help from you or another student) until they get it right!

My sister pointed out that marching bands, drill teams and dance squads all subscribe to this means of teaching intricate group maneuvers. My sister and I concurred that it’s also very applicable to an offensive football team. I think it applies to defense/special teams—ANY learning experience.

Reps! Reps! Reps! It’s tedious; it’s boring. But it’s the most effective way to learn. However… I’m sure you’ve heard the statement that: “Practice Makes Perfect.” Is that true??

NO! NO!! NO!!! The only thing that produces perfect results is perfect practice. Too many people confuse activity with achievement. I can “turn the pages in my textbook” and then announce that I’ve “read” a chapter! But… what was gained from “reading”; i.e., turning the pages? Not much.

I have huddled my 1st team offense around me many times as we are starting our Team period in practice. I show them the script. “Guys, we have 30 minutes to try and run 25 plays. That’s the challenge… to get ALL of them rehearsed. But… we will go back and repeat any play that’s not run correctly. That means, no missed assignments and everyone is hustling TO the whistle. Are you ready to accept this challenge??” If your kids have a competitive bone in their body, they’re going to work real hard to practice mistake-free and get in all 25 plays! Unfortunately, there were days when after 15 minutes had passed that I stepped back in front of the unit and showed them where we were on the script. “Guys, we’ve been doing this for 15 minutes now and we are ONLY on play number 7!!! That is just not acceptable. Let’s get focused and run these things correctly.” Yes, there were days when after 30 minutes we’d only gotten to play 17 or 18. But, I knew that those plays had been run correctly and THOSE were the plays we needed to concentrate on in the game that week.

I had college head coaches (I had 2 Hall of Famers— Marv Levy and Lou Holtz!) who subscribed to the philosophy of “reset… and hit the ‘Do Over’ button.” Not me. If we’re supposed to run 25 plays in 30 minutes and we only got through 18 then… hopefully, we’d do a little better the next day. It was an opportunity lost. I always explained it to the players in that manner. There are going to be lost opportunities in life. Try not to let it happen to YOU!!!

That’s MY story… and I’m stickin’ to it!!! Have a blessed day!!!

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