Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for April, 2010

“Breaking the Rules” Testimony

Posted by admin April - 30 - 2010 - Friday 1 COMMENT

I love it when guys write me to share their success stories!
A coaching friend in Wisconsin wrote in to tell me his team’s story of how, as an “Underdog”, he “broke the rules” and pulled off a huge upset early in his career at the school. As a matter of fact, this particular game was the catalyst that resulted in unbelievable success at his school since that big win several years ago. He wrote that their record since that upset is 42-11 with numerous play-off appearances and championships. Here’s Clay’s story:

“The year before I took over, they had finished 2-7 and lost to this one school 54-0. When I took over we started 2-1, but we weren’t anywhere near where I wanted us to be. I could tell that the kids felt we had NO chance vs. this next opponent.

I was very upset and acted angry the first 2 days of practice but nothing changed… until I did. On Wednesday, I brought them out and we did a couple of full contact one on one drills— did soome 7 on 7 with the linemen and the backs hit the sled. I brought them inside and we watched a couple of scenes from Brave heart and went home.

Thursday, we were real quick and did some fun competitions— the kids were smiling and that was better than the fear they had shown earlier in the week.

As a staff we decided to call the game “backwards”— we reversed our script. We decided to throw on almost every 1st down and 2nd and medium… while running on long yardage situations. (We broke the school passing record that night!) We ended up winning in 4 overtimes 42-35. That win right there spring-boarded the kids into believing and since that game we have gone 42-11.”

He stated in a later email that the coach of the team that they upset that night still jokes with him that “we put you on the map!”

“Underdogs”… consider “breaking the rules” and pull the upset! It can turn your whole program around.

When You’re on Overload

Posted by admin April - 30 - 2010 - Friday Comments Off on When You’re on Overload

At this time of year, I hear from coaches about all the activities that are going on with their program. I talked with one coach yesterday who just took over a program that has been down for awhile. He listed for me all of the projects that he needs to complete before the summer begins. Whew! He made me tired just thinking about it. It’s tough trying to resurrect a program that’s been down a while.

All of the stress can lead to fatigue. Fatigue leads to making poor decisions… and that’s when you get in trouble. When you are on “overload”, there are some things that you can do to unburden yourself.

Think about this: before a violin can produce music, stress must be put on the strings. But pull them too tight and they’ll snap. The same’s true of you. Enough stress gets the juices flowing and helps you do what needs to be done, but beyond that you snap. Someone quipped, “You know you’re on overload when you’ve no time to cook a TV dinner, the cat’s on tranquilizers and family reunions have to be mediated by law enforcement!” Seriously… before it gets to that point, do 2 things:

1- Ask for help: During Hurricane Katrina 8 dolphins were swept out of their aquarium into the sea. But, because they stayed together they were rescued. If one had tried to go it alone he’d have perished. When you’re alone too much you lose perspective. When you get isolated, you can be more easily influenced. It is my belief that God designed His family to stay connected. There’s even a verse in 1st Corinthians that says: “So that all the members care for each other” (1 Cor. 12:25).

2- Get real with God. Under stress, the surge of negative emotions can be overwhelming and unless you unburden your soul before God you’ll explode at the wrong people. The Book of Psalms addresses this in Psalm 55 where it says: “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you.”

It’s no mere coincidence that many of the Psalms start out with the writer crying out to God for help and end up with him rejoicing because he vented his pent-up frustrations.

You can’t escape stress, but you can learn to cope with it by taking control of your life in small yet important ways.

Underdogs Win When They “Break the Rules!”

Posted by admin April - 23 - 2010 - Friday Comments Off on Underdogs Win When They “Break the Rules!”

When the underdog wins, people rejoice! What an uplifting experience to see the little guy win. We even tag these battles as “David vs. Goliath”— and when “David” wins, people get excited!

But what lies behind the success that the underdogs possess? Some teams that you know of… some college programs that you can think of… invariably always seem to pull off the upset! Why? What do they possess that puts them in that position? If you and your program would be catagorized as a perennial underdog in your district, what are some things that you can do to maximize your chances of pulling off those upsets and elevating your team’s status to “giant killer.” The KEY is: underdogs “break the rules!” Not rules of ethics… but the expectations of how to attack the “giant” and win! History proves that if the underdog takes on the favorite with a “conventional” plan of attack, the likelihood of defeat is great. But… when the underdog does something unorthodox, out of the ordinary or unexpected, the chances of victory are greatly increased. I want to share several examples to point this out to you.

I wrote at lenght several months ago about a fascinating book that I’d just read by Malcolm Gladwell entitled The Outliers. One of the topics that Mr. Gladwell discussed in his writings was about this idea of HOW underdogs win. Gladwell shared about a girls’ basketball coach in California who took over a team that his daughter was on and proceeded to win a state championship with a bunch of undersized and physically less talented girls than anybody they faced. How did they do it? Gladwell reports how this fledgling coach “looked at” the game and asked himself, “why only cover 24 feet of a 94 foot court? Why do weak teams play in such a way that makes it easy for good teams to do the very things that make them good?!” For instance, if the underdog plays the conventional way— i.e., let the superior team dribble up the court unopposed, settle into their well-rehearsed offense and get off a good shot… they would almost certainly lose! That coach’s solution? Pick up full court and harrass the more talented team relentlessly for the entire game. The coach instituted this strategy by doing 2 things: First, he spoke calmly… to convince the girls of the wisdom of this unorthodox approach. He spoke by appealing to reason and common sense. And he continued to talk this way to them as he continued to stress that this would be the way to defeat the stronger teams. The second principle: the team would play full court pressure defense every second of every game. This is how they practiced— run, run, run! and run some more! I think of the movie “Miracle and how the U.S. Olympic Ice Hockey coach Herb Brooks drove his team in practice when I hear this. “Do it again.” “Do it again.” “Do it again.” He never raised his voice; never lost his cool. Brooks simply demanded the very best that his team could give.

When the underdog acknowledges their weakness and choosees an uncoventional strategy, Gladwell found that the chances for an upset increased significantly!

In the Biblical account of David and Goliath… King Saul initially gave David his sword and armor to wear as he went into battle against Goliath. *He was prepared to wage a conventional battle with the giant! But David stopped and stated: “I can hardly move in this stuff!” and he took it off. He, instead, picked up 5 stones and armed only with a slingshot and a shepherd’s staff, David started out across the valley towards Goliath. (1 Samuel 17) As they say, the rest is history! You see, David broke the rhythem of the encounter. He speeded it up (*changed the tempo!). It had to be disruptive to have disrespected Goliath’s response and he probably froze… making him a better target. Of course, it helps to have God on your side!

Let’s look at a couple of examples from military history. T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia movie fame) waged war against the Turks in Arabia near the end of WW I. Lawrence chose to strike the Turks where they were weakest— NOT at points of strength. Lawrence said: “our advantages were speed and time… not hitting-power.”

In the American Revolution, the Americans’ guerilla tactics in the early part of the war kept the British frustrated. But Washington wanted to create a “British-type” army. As a result, Washington’s “classic” army and battle tactics lost time after time and almost lost the war!

Gen. George Patton in WW II patterned his army’s maneuverability after Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign of the American Civil War. Patton’s relentless attacks and lightning quick changes of direction (forced marches at top speed) drove the German’s from North Africa. He accomplished the same thing in France after the Normandy invasion— pushing the Nazi’s back into Germany and their ultimate defeat.

As coaches, we tell ourselves that skill is the precious resource and effort is the commodity. Gladwell says that it’s the other way around! Effort can trump ability. Relentless effort is in fact something rare. If it can be harnessed and executed, then it can overcome the ability to engage in some finely tuned act of motor coordination.

How do we apply this to football? First, we, “David”, work harder than “Goliath.” (that’s the “10,000 hour rule that I wrote about a couple of months ago that caused quite a stir!) Notice that it doesn’t say that we work our team longer (though some well-organized extra practice time will help)— it says that we work harder. Like that basketball coach, we have to “sell the concept” that we are going to practice the way we play! We are going to go at a “racehorse” pace in practice and never slow down! Here is where I think that the Little Thing of TEMPO is overlooked by coaches way too often. I recall a state championship game here in Virginia about 20 years ago. The underdog team (they had about 28 players on their team) was playing a team from Northern Virginia that had about 80 players on their team. The underdog received the kickoff and immediately caused a stir by running a reverse on the return and getting up close to midfield to start their opening drive. The offense sprinted onto the field, lined up without a huddle (which was unheard of at that time!) and threw a pass on first down. It was complete and they ran to the line again without a huddle and threw again! They were now down in the red zone on two plays. On the third play, they ran a reverse and got knocked out of bounds on the 1. They ran to the line again with no huddle and ran a “silent” sneak for a TD! All of this took about 90 seconds off the clock. They weren’t done. On the ensuing kick-off, yep!!!, they on sided and recovered! They threw a bomb on the first play… scored and the rout was on! The superior team never recovered. Didn’t something like that happen in this year’s Super Bowl??!!!

We have to be willing to do something “uncoventional” to change momentum and get it in our favor. I feel that “tempo” is an important way to do that.

The other application that you as the “underdog coach” can utilize to gain an advantage is: do something that goes against the grain. Your strategy challenges conventional wisdom of how battles are supposed to be fought— how football games are supposed to be played.

Why did the first teams to run the Delaware Wing T offense go to it? They had undersized linemen who were fast and aggressive. They developed “blocking angles” that defenses weren’t prepared to stop. Why did the first coaches install “spread” attacks? They were looking for an advantage that was out of the ordinary. I think it’s why you see more teams messing around with the Single Wing or “Wildcat” offense these days. When I and my staff first installed the Wing T offense in the late 80’s, only one other team in our region even ran it. We became two of the most successful programs in the state for the next 15 years. During that time, 5 other teams in our district alone installed the Del. Wing T. It was not “unconventional” anymore. Somebody playing us in the 9th week had already prepared for the Wing T 4 other times prior to our playing. When I came up with our version of the Spread Shotgun Wing T package, and went to a no huddle when running it, I discovered the importance of both principles: do something that breaks the mold and change the tempo!

If this post has caused your pulse to start to quicken and for the first time in awhile you see some “hope” for success for your program, email me back through the “comments” section of this website. I’d love to talk with you about some things you might do.

God bless you and God bless the Denver Broncos! Since I’ve been a huge Tim Tebow fan for 4 years in college, I now have a new favorite NFL team! Praise God!!!

Shukhov’s Standard

Posted by admin April - 19 - 2010 - Monday Comments Off on Shukhov’s Standard

It’s not easy to maintain a strong work ethic… especially when you feel overworked, underpaid and underappreciated. But that’s the point at which your character is tested— and developed.

Having a work ethic means 1- doing what you don’t feel like doing, in order to achieve the results you want; 2- paying a higher price than others for something worthwhile; and 3- standing up for your principles when someone’s trying to knock you down.

In his first novel, author and Nobel prizewinner Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote about Ivan Shukhov, a political prisoner in a Siberian labor camp. Shukhov is forced to build a wall in weather 20 degress below zero. At it gets darker and colder the foreman gives the order to hurry the job by throwing leftover mortar over the wall instead of using it, so they could be finished for the day. “But Shukhov wasn’t made that way,” wrote Solzhenitsy, telling how the man resisisted the order— determined to finish the job right.

“Eight years in a prison camp couldn’t change his nature. Shukhov worried about everything he could make use of, about every scrap of work he could do— nothing must be wasted without good reason. The foreman yells at him and then hurries away. But Shukhov— and if the guards would’ve put dogs on him it wouldn’t have made a difference— ran to the back and looked about. ‘Not bad.’ Then he ran and gave the wall a good look-over, to the left, to the right, his eye as accurate as a carpenter’s level, straight and even. Only then did Shukhov stop working.”

Sooooooooo… measured by Shukhov’s standard, how’s your work ethic?!

Stay Focused!

Posted by admin April - 13 - 2010 - Tuesday Comments Off on Stay Focused!

Continuing with some comments I made at the end of my last post, I want to expound upon this idea of Staying Focused. This is from my morning devotion book this morning published by KLOVE Christian radio.

When it comes to staying focused, keep in mind: 1- Focused people always look for a better way. What got you where you are now, won’t necessarily get you where you need to be.

A family who moved into a new neighborhood got a late start one morning. As a result their 6-year-old missed her school bus. Though it would make him late for work her father agreed to take her to school if she gave him directions. After 20 minutes of going around in circles, they finally arrived at the school… which turned out to be only a few blocks away from where they lived. Steaming, her dad asked why she drove him all over the place when the school was so close to home? “We went the way the school bus does, ” she said. “That’s the ONLY way I know.”

How about you? Are you doing things the way you’ve always done them because that’s the only way you know how to do them??!!! Be a “student of the game.” Study and learn from other successful coaches if you want to improve.

2- Focused people concentrate a little harder and a little longer. Hall of Fame baseball player Hank Aaron says, “What separates a superstar from the average player is that he concentrates just a little longer.” Focused thinking is the ability to remove distractions and mental clutter so that you can concentrate with clarity.

This is particularly true for coaches during the game. We harp on our players about concentrating during the game; but do we as coaches stay focused? You can’t let your emotions get the best of you during a game. If you let the ebbs and flows of a game keep you on an emotional rollercoaster, then you need to learn to concentrate harder. I think that Tom Landry, the old Dallas Cowboys coach, was one of the best at this. I heard him say that he may appear calm on the sideline, but he was dealing with emotions just like anyone else. He had to teach himself to learn to concentrate and stay focused so he could think clearly and make good game-time decisions.

3- Focused people make commitments, not excuses. A sign on the desk of an officer at the Pentagon read: “The secrecy of my job does not permit me to know what I am doing.” It’s a cute saying, but not so cute when it’s true! When you don’t know what you’re doing, you become frustrated and end up failing. As a coach, you are taking your staff and players right down the drain with you.

That’s why I encourage you to pray and get directions from God. It is critical for your life! Proverbs 3:6 says: “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”

Buy the Book!!! Please!

Posted by admin April - 12 - 2010 - Monday Comments Off on Buy the Book!!! Please!

Many coaches are writing in with questions for me!  I appreciate the interest and the respect you have for my opinion but… guys— a LOT of what you are asking is “in the book!”  Please… buy the book!  There are 101 of these “little things” that can make a huge difference as far as running a consistently successful program.  These hints, ideas and concepts came from 22 years of head coaching and being a “student of the game.”  I searched out information from successful coaches anywhere I could find it.  I tried it; it worked; and it became a part of our program. The book is there to help you and it’s all in one place!!!

For instance, let’s look briefly at what should be going on in the off season phase of your year-long program calendar of events:

Are you meeting on a weekly basis with your QB’s?  Do you go over your playbook with your QB’s?  Do you have a QB Manual that is exclusively for your QB’s?  Can you get outside and work on mechanics, reads and other fundamentals with the most important position on your team? 

Are you meeting on a one on one or even two on one basis with your key offensive linemen at this time of year?  Helping those guys, especially if it’s a potential new starter, not only learn their blocking rules but to comprehend the “concepts” of what your offense is designed to do. It is critical to your success on Offense next fall.

Are you, or your Def. Coordinator, meeting with returning defensive players… to go over game tape?  Do you review coverages with DB’s?  Are you grooming one or two of your leaders to “know” your defense so well that they can make the adjustment calls during a game? 

Many coaches seem to think that running the off-season weight-lifting program is all that’s needed this time of year.  Yes, it’s important— but there is much that can be done from a mental standpoint to be sure that your players understand the game of football and, specifically, your schemes.  There’s still time this Spring.  If you haven’t started, start now!

Have you met with your staff yet for your monthly off season meeting?  It’s time to get them together too.  They need an update on plans for your offense, defense and kicking game plus just spend some time together as a staff.

Have you taken my recommendation from “the book!” and met with your players individually to formulate some team and personal goals for next year?  Yes…. it takes time!  But, I was reading this morning about “being focused.  The author made the point, I think it was a Henry David Thoreau quote, about:  do you know anyone who has worked tirelessly over a period of time— who remained focused… and did not end up at least achieving a modicum of success?  Our program was a defeated, under-achieving bunch when I took over in 1985.  It took 3 years to get to the point where I felt like we could at least compete with the majority of teams on our schedule.  But, at that point, we were only “coming close.”  To get over the hump, we needed to do something drastic to change attitudes.  I made the decision at that point that we needed to get away for a week of pre-season Camp and build the type of esprit de corps that we needed to be a successful football team. 

I would encourage any of you who are “on the verge” to find a college campus or 4H Camp or even a military reservation that can put your team up for 4-5 days and build your team— away from all the distractions of home. Start making those calls now to book your week in August.


Posted by admin April - 9 - 2010 - Friday Comments Off on Faith

It’s Spring Break week and we went to visit family in Blacksburg.  As has always been the case, coach Beamer allowed me on the practice field at Va. Tech Wednesday afternoon to observe the Hokies working out.  It’s always a treat to see those guys up close as they practice.

I wandered over to watch the running backs go through their individual drills and, to my surprise, there was Kenny Lewis, Jr. back in his old familiar #20 jersey— going full speed!!  This is the guy whose career was “over” after tearing his achilles tendon and then having 4 surgeries to fix it!  He was never going to play again!  But… there he was.

I just read a blog report from the writer who covers VT football for The Virginian Pilot, our local paper, and really enjoyed the interview he did with Kenny yesterday.  If you want to be encouraged… if you want to see what faith can do… if you want to read about a true miracle of God… then you need to read Kyle Tucker’s blog about Kenny Lewis, Jr!  Check it out!

“Good” Friday??!!!

Posted by admin April - 2 - 2010 - Friday Comments Off on “Good” Friday??!!!

Good Friday? What makes it “good”? It’s the day that Christ suffered and died! If you’ve seen the movie, The Passion, you’ve seen as realistic a depiction of what Jesus went through as we could ever imagine. Gruesome and excruciatingly painful.

So…. why is Good Friday “good”?

Because that’s when the GOOD Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep. (John 10:11)
Because of the spotless GOODNESS of the One who was crucified and died for us! (1 Peter 1:19)
Because of the unmatched GOODNESS that Jesus accomplished for all of us through His crucifixion (Isaiah 53:11-12)

One of my favorite Easter stories comes from Tony Campolo. He shared how he was visiting an African-American church in the Philadelphia area and had the pleasure of hearing their long-time pastor share his Good Friday message. I can’t quote all of it but it goes something like this:
“It’s Friday… there’s a Man hanging on a cross writhing in pain. It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!
It’s Friday… and darkness overtakes the world. It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!
It’s Friday… and that Man cries out to His Heavenly Father… Who does not answer. It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!”

This is true in our lives too. Your world may seem dark and hopeless right now too. But you can be hopeful!! It may be “Friday” in you life… but hang in there— cuz Sunday’s coming! and we will celebrate Jesus coming out of that tomb!  Just like the disciples who ran back to the upper room to tell the rest what they had just seen and heard, we can proclaim:
“HE’S ALIVE!!!!”

Max Lucado asked the question in one of his books: “Do you know why the stone was rolled away from Jesus’ tomb?” Most people would say… so Jesus could get out! But that’s not the case. The stone wasn’t rolled away so Jesus could out; it was rolled away so we could see in! And see the empty grace! HE IS RISEN!!! HALLELUJAH!

Have a blessed Resurrection Day!!!