Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Recipe For Success

Posted by admin September - 26 - 2017 - Tuesday

I had a coach contact me the other day and admit that last week’s post “fit” his situation and he appreciated the words. He seemingly asked in frustration, “Coach, what was your secret of success over such a long period of time?” He went on to say, “We had a couple of good years and then fell right back into mediocrity.” This is what I shared with him.

A “recipe” is just what it is: a certain number of ingredients (all necessary) all measured out in the just the right quantity; then allowed to sit and finally, bake for the proper amount of time. Then… your cake/pie/cookies come out just right! My wife makes THE best home-made chocolate chip cookies. I noticed recently that once she’d put all the ingredients together that she put a lid on the bowl and put it in the refrigerator for a while. I’d never seen this before, so I asked her about it. “You need to let the cookie dough firm up before you spoon them out in the pan or they will lose their shape and spread out too much in the pan.” I didn’t know this! It’s one of those Little Things that can make a BIG difference. Remember that, Coaches, when you are preparing your team.

There are a LOT of factors that can produce a successful season. Obviously, having talent helps a lot! Having experienced, knowledgeable and loyal assistant coaches is important, too. But, there are those intangibles that a successful coach comes to realize are necessary to being successful. If I had to write out 3 ingredients that need to go into the recipe that produces “yummy cookies” (winning football teams!), I’d suggest these:

Teach, expect and demand (if necessary) that your players:
1- Play HARD
2- Play Smart
3- Play Fast

I think I got this from Bear Bryant… or something similar to it. At any rate, it has proven to be a successful recipe for the different teams that I led for 31 years as a head football coach. Let’s look briefly at each ingredient:

1- Play HARD. I’ve heard coaches say that “I can’t teach hustle.” Au contraire! I beg to disagree. If hustle is a fundamental block of your coaching philosophy then it is imperative that you teach hustle; ie., playing HARD. You have to teach it because most people are not self-motivated. You do a lot of drills where going hard to the whistle is expected… and if they don’t, they do it again. Pursuit drill on defense is a great example. Timing each gasser or sprint during conditioning is essential. If they don’t make their time, they run an extra sprint. They need to know that lack of hustle can get you benched. What you demand, you achieve.

2- Play Smart. Players simply MUST know their assignments in order to be successful. If they don’t know them, that falls back on the coach. Either you are trying to do too much or… you need to find a better way to get it in the kids’ heads. Another area of “playing smart” was staying away from making “bonehead errors.”
Those “little things” during a game that can cost you dearly. One thing I always did during practice was to make sure we talked a LOT about things like: a) don’t block behind the ball! Be a cheerleader— don’t have a TD called back cuz you did something stupid. b) there’s no reason to ever get a late hit. Know where you are on the field. And if it happened, the player “paid a price” with some reminders after practice on Monday. c) ball carriers don’t fumble. We worked a lot on ball security but… if a fumble occurred, the player got to do one of “Coach J’s Fumble Drills” during practice on Monday. It was a strong deterrent to coughing up the ball in subsequent games. Something I learned from my high school coaches, Billy O’Brien and Jimmy Calhoun, is that we want to take advantage of the other team’s mistakes.
Never beat yourself! I’ve said it before: you may be called “Coach” but you’re really a “Teacher.” Soooooooo… teach!

3- Play Fast. Kids won’t play fast unless they are confident in what they’re doing. Hesitancy invariably causes a player to be that “one step behind” that keeps him from making the play when you need him too. It also means being in shape so that physically each player can play fast and hard for 4 quarters. So, it’s mental and physical.

These are just some things to think about as you evaluate your coaching style and how you’re practicing during the week. Once your players understand that this is what’s expected of them… they will work to achieve these objectives. There were many Friday nights that I stood in front of our players just prior to taking the field and reminded them to: “Play HARD! Play Smart!! and… Play Fast!!! Let’s go have some fun!!!”

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