Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Snow Days and Reading

Posted by admin February - 2 - 2010 - Tuesday

When we get a decent snowfall in Tidewater VA, as we did Saturday when we got 5-7 inches, the whole world comes to a screeching halt.  Our church service was canceled on Sunday then school was called off yesterday and again today.  Now it was just posted that we’ll be out again tomorrow!!!  Too much ice on the back roads for the buses to safely travel.  I went to the Gym and played with my granddaughter for awhile and took a nap this afternoon, so I was fine.  But, when I starte whining about being bored my wife hadned me a book she’d just finished and recommended that I read it… and I couldn’t put it down.  It’s title?  Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  I was so enthralled with his premise after finishing the book in one day that I went to his website and have now read 3-4 of his articles posted there.  Gladwell writes for The New Yorker magazine and his archive of past articles is on his website.

I am going to comment on several things that I have read by Mr. Gladwell over the next few entries in the coming weeks.  I will tie them all together under the title of The Psychology of Success.  Gladwell has given me some tremendous new insights into this topic.  He is a “pop sociologist” so he does his research.  I’m not sure why he’s called a pop sociologist except, I guess, he does not have a degree in sociology… he simply comments on the social scene and finds fascinating people who DO have degrees.  He studies their research and then writes about it.  As a coach who likes to read and considers himself to be a “student of the game,” I am always looking for that edge… that bit of knowledge about people or how to motivate them or a fresh way to look at winning that might provide me with a “W” on Friday night.  I guess that if you are reading this blog, you are looking for the same thing!  If so, you need to check out Malcolm Gladwell’s works.

I want to give you just a “taste” of what I’ve learned from Gladwell so far and then encourage you to search him out yourself.  As I mentioned, my wife handed me his book, Outliers, on Sunday and told me that “this guy is fascinating.”  Since I had time on my hands, with the snow day, I settled in and started reading.  I was captured in the first chapter.  For example… do you know that the majority of  the most highly skilled youth (10-12 year olds) ice hockey players in Canada have a birthdate that falls in January, February or March?!  What Gladwell found was that the cut off date for youth ice hockey sign ups in Canada is January 1st.  It stands to reason that when the coaches of the all star traveling teams select their players, they are going to look for the biggest, most physically-advanced boys that they can find.  These are the ones who will get the extra practice, more games and best coaching.  So their chance to excel is much greater than those kids who may not have been as “physically ready” as the top kids when try-outs occurred.

When you run down the roster of these all star teams, it quickly becomes apparent that the majority of the boys’ birthdays fall within the first 3 months of the year.  By virtue of when they are born, they have an advantage right out of the gate… cuz when the cut off date falls on January 1st, those boys are the oldest and have had the longest time to mature.  Now you would think that Gladwell has not really uncovered anything earth shaking, right.  We all know as HS coaches that the boy who is playing at or near 19 (the cut off age in Virginia anyway) has an advantage over the senior who’s playing who only just turned 17 in September.  But what about that gangly, long-armed sophomore lineman who isn’t very strong and keeps tripping over his feet?  Do we write him off and fail to spend the time necessary to help him develop (like the Canadian youth hockey leagues)?  I recall the story about “some kid” from Wilmington, NC who was cut from his JV basketball team because his coach said that he lacked the skills to ever develop into a decent HS basketball player.  hummmmmmmmmmm????  I think the kid’s name was Michael Jordan or something like that!!!

I had a coach recently tell me that he has so many kids in his off season weight program that he has to divide his work outs.  The “young” group only gets about 50 minutes and then he runs them out cuz he needs to give his “veteran/older” group the majority of time in the weight room.  After reading Outliers I might take exception to that concept.  It’s the younger, less physically-advanced group that needs the majority of the time.  Get the older kids in and out of there so you can spend more time helping the younger ones get the chance to improve as much as they can.  Who knows… you may have a “Michael Jordan” in your young group who can’t catch a pass right now but in two years…………….???!!

That is Gladwell’s conclusion:  how many MORE all star hockey players could Canada produce if they had a “second” Select team.  Focusing on only the most physically advanced playersat age 8 or 9 makes for one great team but think of what they may be missing.  The same is true of our football teams.  I think that too many of us, as HS football coaches, have the mind set of “only the strong survive.”  Football coaches weed out the “weaklings” and focus our attention on the players who will win us some games this fall.  I suggest that you have a paradymn shift in your thinking and spend the off season focusing on the young ones.  Give them the extra time and attention.  Encourage them and help them to grow and mature.  I think one of the key factors that allowed us to have 16 straight seasons of 7 and 3 or better was that I was always “focusing on the future.”  I mention several of theseconcepts in 101 Little Things but suffice it to say that the young, awkward ones got lots of attention in our program.  You never know when that boy will have a growth spurt and be the one who is instrumental in anchoring that offensive line for you for 2 years.

As my players say:  “I’m just sayin'”!!!!  Something to think about.

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