Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Two Things I Don’t Understand, Part II

Posted by admin May - 18 - 2020 - Monday

I talked last week about the importance of repetition and correcting mistakes in practice. Today, I want to share another aspect of HS coaching that I do not understand. What I do not understand is: why don’t coaches study a little more Psychology? OR… apply some of the lessons on Principles of Learning that they (hopefully!) were taught in their Education classes in college??!!

This post is concerned the importance of reinforcement and how it affects performance. The practical application in HS football that I am focusing on is: grading players’ game performance AND… what a coach does with that grade once the players learn what letter grade they earned. Here’s the scenario:

A coaching staff from out of state drove 7 hours to spend a weekend with me to learn about the Wing T specifically and Coaching 101 generally. We’d had a good series of talks over 2 days. The last point that the visiting HC wanted to cover was: HOW did I grade my player’s game performance? What system did I use? The look on his face (the whole staff) when I uttered my response was priceless! What I told him was, “Coach, we don’t grade our individual player’s performance!” WOW! Let me explain.

1- We don’t have the time. Welllllllllll… we have the time. I’m just not going to prevail on my assistants to take 4-5 hours over the weekend to grade each player on every play. As we say when talking about installing a particular play: “It’s very expensive and the return on your investment (of time and energy) is not real good!”

2- Once you post a letter grade for every player, the whole team knows how well OR… how poorly each starter played. Now that it’s public knowledge, what are you going to do about it? For example… you are pretty thin on the Offensive Line (most people are!) Your right tackle is a Senior. Big kid; decent strength; moves okay but, he’s a little lazy…. and not the most coachable kid you’ve ever worked with. The OL coach KNOWS from watching him in practice and games (he certainly doesn’t need to grade every play to know that this player is limited in ability!) that he is a liability. However, the guy behind him is a Sophomore. He hasn’t played much football. Plus, he’s a “string bean”— 6’2 and about 185. This back-up is just not ready to step in.

The OL coach has graded every play of this right tackle for 4 games now and his letter grade has been an F (failing) every game! It’s obvious that he’s just not getting it done. The staff meets and they discuss this guy’s performance (or lack thereof!) and realize that… “Guys,” the HC says, “we can’t bench this guy. The kid behind him is awful. We’ll get killed! We’ll just leave him in there and hope he gets better.” Big mistake!!!

WHAT KIND OF MESSAGE ARE YOU SENDING TO THESE 2 PLAYERS AND… THE REST OF THE TEAM???!!!

I’ll tell you what you’re “saying”: It’s OK to fail. Just keep doing a lousy job— it doesn’t matter. We don’t have anybody to replace you with. So…… just keep on screwing up. You’ll still be starting and playing this coming Friday. Is THAT the message that you want to convey to your team?

Plus… that OL coach has busted his tail every Saturday to grade this guy’s performance— and nothing is done about his failing grade! That’s very DE-motivating for that coach.

How about that back-up? How do you think he feels? What about players at other positions? The whole situation gets back to the “power of reinforcement.” In essence, you are rewarding bad behavior! So… that behavior is just going to continue.

Soooooooooo… what do you do about it? This is what I told that staff that was visiting: 1- you call in the starter and tell him (in private) that he is not performing up to the standard that you expect. *Note: this should have happened after the 2nd poor performance. He shouldn’t get 4 weeks of poor showings to finally get called in. 2- You tell him that his starting position is now in jeopardy. That someone else is going to start getting a few more snaps in practice AND, possibly, the game this week. That depends on how the 2 of you perform in practice this week. 3- If you continue to perform below standards, we will have to give someone else a chance to play that position. You will have a chance to win the position back but… you will have to a) improve your performance and b) OUT-perform the guy that will be getting reps instead of you. That is what competition is all about.

Last thing, I gave “Group” grades— not individual grades. Based on what I saw on the video on Saturday, I would write up a Game Summary. The OL would get a grade. My comments would be about that group as a whole. Then the Receivers and the Backs and, finally, the QB. Yep, individual but still I spoke of the “position” and not the individual. Same thing on defense.

A lot more detail is in my book, 101 Little Things That Can Make a BIG Difference. Check out a copy.

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