Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Thoughts As Spring Practice Concludes

Posted by admin May - 21 - 2011 - Saturday

One of the MANY nice things I’ve discovered in an Independent school setting is that our school sets the guidelines for when and how much we can work out. So, I decided we would have a spring “Mini Camp” after spring sports concluded at my school.

It was well-publicized for several weeks and I wanted to see who would show up. The plan was to give our players a “sneak preview” of how we’ll do things when pre-season practice actually starts in August. We had 2 2-hour practices where I introduced our practice schedule, our Offensive and Defensive schemes and just ran our players through some drills. It went well. We got a lot accomplished and it was a good “send-off” as our players start exams next week and finish classes. I saw a lot of hustle and the focus was excellent. We won’t be real big but it doesn’t matter. Our hallmark is speed. Combined that with the fact that we have very smart kids, we have the makings of an excellent football team. We did some intro tacking drills (just using bags) and I saw some very aggressive kids too!!!

What I didn’t see were 4 or 5 potential starters! Several still had Select Lacrosse (a big sport at our school!) going on so they had to miss. OK. Conflicts happen. It did concern me that lacrosse took presidence over football since school lacrosse had ended. That didn’t concern me as much as the 2 or 3 who just didn’t think it was important enough to make the effort to attend. It simply confirmed in my mind what I learned about high school athletes years ago:

There are football players and there are kids who just like to play football. We had them at the public school that I coached at also. Those kids who enjoy playing football but just don’t get excited about going “all in” to prepare themselves properly. Their shadow will probably never cross the weight room door all spring and summer. Evening conditioning and throwing the ball around? Nah… they have better things to do. But… come August they’ll be there for practice to start and…. will probably be good enough on natural ability to beat out anybody who’s ahead of them!

I know what you’re thinking: “think how good they’d be IF they’d get in the weight room?!” You’re right. I couldn’t agree more. What I want you to realize, though, is: you need to be careful to keep the door open for these “kids who like to play football.” What you want to do is to turn them into “football players.” It’s just NOT in their DNA right now. I think you are making a huge mistake if you set some kind of ultimatum that if a player is not in the weight program they can’t play football for you! You’ll never have a chance to change their attitude if you don’t even let them come out when practice starts!

Here’s what worked for me. Once they are part of the team and practice has started, weight lifting is mandatory for everybody! They must lift twice a week as part of the practice schedule. What I found was: teen-agers and their self-image are funny things! A lot of kids who finally confided in me admitted that they were embarrassed, ashamed or just plain afraid to come in the weight room. But… once they started working out IN-season, they found that they liked it; it wasn’t what they thought it was going to be; and… “I’ll be there this winter, Coach!”

The other part of this that I want to emphasize is: you can win with players who are not “weight-room rats.” Those “guys who like to play football” DO like to play football! And once practice starts and you’re getting ready for your opener, they are just as excited and dedicated as the guy next to him who spent the last 8 months religiously working out 3-4 times a week.

We had a fullback/linebacker who started on our AAA varsity team for all 4 years. During those 4 years, he was the state heavyweight wrestling champion 2 or 3 times and the state champion in the discus a couple of times. He simply liked playing sports year round and did not want to come in the weight room. I did see him walk in the weight room one day and start “messing around.” He put 300 lbs. on the bench and repped it 10 times! He laughed with his spotters and said, “that’s just a warm up… too light!” and went to 350 lbs. Now, he had everyone’s attention… including mine! He lifted 350 5 times— and the other kids went nuts!!! He said, “put 400 on there and let’s see what that’s like.” I started to step in but I could tell that the 3 spotters he had could handle it when! he couldn’t get it up. Remember: this guy is a 17 year old Junior who’s never lifted a weight in his high school career (at least in our weight room anyway!) What do you think happened when he cleared the 400 lbs. off the racks? Yep, got 1 rep and set it back! I was dumbfounded!!!

I later found out that he lifted a lot with his dad but the kid was just gifted! I’ve never seen a high school player as naturally strong as he was. He later earned a full ride to a Div 1A program. He also played on 3 of our teams that made it to the Regional championship. Suppose I had been “Mr. Hard Nose” and said that he couldn’t play football if he didn’t lift?!!

Be careful coaches about the rules that you make… you may have to enforce them! OR… you may have to break one of them to show favoritism to a player that you need. Now you’ve lost your credibility with the rest of your team. Once you lose your integrity with teens, it’s hard to earn it back. Lose a kid’s respect, he won’t work for you.

Our team rules are pretty simple. I got these from one of my former head coaches from my college days. Most of you know him as “Dr. Lou!” Coach Holtz’s rules are:
1- DO THE RIGHT THING
2- DO YOUR BEST
3- DO UNTO OTHERS… THE WAY YOU WANT TO BE TREATED

Beyond that, be careful about laying too many stipulations on kids’ behavior. You could wind up “cutting off your nose to spite your face!”

One Response to “Thoughts As Spring Practice Concludes”

  1. Coach Ray says:

    Excellent words of wisdom coach Lew! As summer approaches, I find myself trying to put a summer workout program together and am finding it difficult to get it to work with “everyone”

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