Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for May, 2010

Remember Our Fallen Heroes!

Posted by admin May - 31 - 2010 - Monday Comments Off on Remember Our Fallen Heroes!

Today is Memorial Day! I always think of those who’ve served our country to defend our freedoms today. If you didn’t see the Meomrial Day Concert on the grounds of the Capitol building in D.C. last night on PBS, you need to check it out next year— very inspiring!

I want to share a few words of wisdom with you today. I mentioned them 4-5 months ago but could not find a copy. An email to my house yesterday contained the quote as a “salutation” from the woman. Here it is:

“People are often illogical, unreasonable and self-centered… forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives… be kind anyway.
If you are successsful, you will win some false friends and true enemies…. be successful anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you… be honest anyway.
What you spend years building, someone may destroy overnight. Build anyway.
If you find serenity and joy, people will be jealous. Be joyful always! (1 Thess. 5:16)
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.”

Words to live by. I hope they are an encouragement to you the way they are to me.

Never forget!

Junior High Program

Posted by admin May - 28 - 2010 - Friday Comments Off on Junior High Program

A coach asked: “should a 7th and 8th grade program use the same playbook, terminology and techniques as the High School program OR… just teach the fundamentals?”

IF… the Varsity coach has responsibility/control over the Junior High/Middle School program, then absolutely “Yes!” They are part of your program and you should be installing your offense, defense and special teams at that level just like you would at the Freshman and J.V. levels. More importantly than “installing” should be “instilling”— values, expectations and policies that the kids will have to exhibit when they get to the high school. To allow junior high kids to be “renegades” when they are playing at 6th-8th grade and then come to the high school program and be expected to be good citizens is fighting an uphill battle.

However, if the Junior High/Middle School football program is “independent” of the High School program, then you don’t have any control over what they install or instill. As I mention in my book, 101 Little Things that Can Make a BIG Difference, a Varsity coach should establish lines of communication and provide any help that his feeder programs need. I see nothing wrong with “pitching” to the Jr. High coach that you would like him to run your system. But… be quick to point out that you will provide him the help he needs to learn it and install it.

Soooooooooo… “Yes”! I think the earlier you can get the kids that you will be coaching at the high school level “indoctrinated” to your program the better off you’ll be. We can’t draft and we can’t recruit at the high school level. We take what we get and work as hard as we can to make them the best they can be. The earlier that process can start, the better your program is going to be over the long haul. You focus on THIS season but you’re always “planning” for the next 2-3 seasons. Those kids in 7th grade will be sophomores in that 2-3 year time period. Isn’t it better to “capture his heart and mind” when he’s 13 and mold him into the type of player that you want him to be than to wait and get him as a 15-16 year old Sophomore and try to assimilate him into your program in a year so he has a chance to help you by the time he’s a Senior?

Testimony to “Words of Wisdom”

Posted by admin May - 28 - 2010 - Friday Comments Off on Testimony to “Words of Wisdom”

It’s always very rewarding when someone writes in to respond to something “encouraging” that I’ve posted. A coaching friend wrote in yesterday to tell me about his experience with trying to “grab the gold ring too fast!”

He shared: “I have enjoyed all of your posts but this one in particular hit home with me. When I first started coaching I thought the key to success was to simply out-work my opponent; to put more hours in would automatically lead to success. What followed was my only losing season of 3-6. And everything else in my life suffered as well: my teaching, my relationships, etc. I learned a valuable lesson that year. I still work hard but I have also learned to work smarter.

The same philosophy I have used in the weight room. When I first started, we would have 2 hour weight lifting sessions. But, I have learned that all they did was burn out kids and coaches and our attendance suffered. Now I have our sessions done in under an hour and we are stronger and better.”

He later added when I wrote back to thank him for sharing that “Another thing I have learned over the years is that I can’t do everything. When I first started I felt I needed to make every decision in the entire program. I thought I had to coach every position and every team in my program. I have learned over time to let my assistant coaches coach. All I was doing was burning myself out and I was not allowing my assistants to grow. And then one day, I had an epiphany— not like a hit with a lightning bolt epiphany— but more of a self-reflection epiphany. I decided to change my approach. Now, I have 3 former assistants who are head coaches and my life is much happier and fuller.”

Outstanding! Head coaches: you need to be paying attention to what Coach Holman just shared and…. putting it into practice! Don’t just think about it— DO it!

Words of Wisdom

Posted by admin May - 25 - 2010 - Tuesday 2 COMMENTS

I had an old coaching friend stop by to talk to our middle school weight lifters (yes! we lift with our 7th and 8th graders!!!) yesterday. What he had to say not only spoke to our kids… but it really hit home with me, too!

I have shared that when I took over the football program at our local high school in 1985, it was not in good shape. I believe that they had had one winning season in the past 6-7 years. I was determined that we were going to turn this thing around in 3 years and be competing for championships. I set to work and told the kids that nobody was going to out-work us and told the staff that none of them was going to out-work me— the head man! And we DID work hard. For those first 3 years, we worked our back-sides off. Here’s what it got us: in 1985 (my first season), we went 3-4-3! It was the last year of “ties” in Virginia HS football! and we now held the record for most ties in one season!!! Never to be broken… cuz there are no more tie games!!! OK… we rationalized that if we’d won those 3 ties, we’d have had a winning season.

We went back to work and got to 5-5 in 1986. Frustrating but we were making progress! Then in 1987, I thought we were “over the top!” We went 6 and 4 and I thought we were on our way! I knew we still had a LOT of work to do, but I was motivated. We were closing the gap. Hours and hours of hard work resulted in— are you ready?— a 4 and 6 season in 1988! Talk about deflating!!! For the first time I started questioning how we were doing things. I talked with and visited other coaches. We decided that we needed to get away in pre-season; so we went to Camp at Chowan College for a week. We worked them from 5:30 am till 9 pm! (and some of them STILL wouldn’t go to bed!)

In 1989, my AD called me into his office at mid-season and said: “Lew, I think we made a big mistake naming you as the head football coach. I don’t believe that we are ever going to have a championship program here with you as the head coach!” Wellllllll… you could have knocked me over with a feather! I was shattered. If not for God intervening (another story, another time!) I’d have submitted my letter of resignation and gotten out.

But… we kept plugging away. In 1990, we again went 6 and 4. My “right hand man” assistant coach and I sat in the stands during play-off games and would get sooooooo upset because we weren’t playing! In 1991, however, we hit paydirt! We upset the district champions on the last play of the game in the last game of the season to cap our first 7 and 3 season! From that point on, our worst record till I retired in 2006 was one year at 6 and 4 and one at 7-3. The rest were 8 and 2’s, 9 and 1’s and 4 10-0 seasons… for 15 straight seasons! And numerous play-off appearances.

Which leads me back to what my coaching friend shared in the weight room with us. He talked about hearing Jim Valvano speak before he died. Coach V said: “When you get up in the morning, you have a choice to make. Are you going to choose to work hard or are you going to choose to “hardly work?!” My friend went on to say: “guys… if you choose to work hard, that’s great! But remember this: all that working hard is going to do for you is… PUT YOU IN A POSITION TO BE SUCCESSFUL! There are NO guarantees that just because you work hard, that you will automatically have success. All hard work does is put you in the position to win. But…. if you DON’T work hard, you have NO chance of being successful!” Wiser words I’ve never heard!

It made me think back to my 2 years selling life insurance. I had left education seeking my “fame and fortune” selling for Prudential. I tell people that the only positive thing that came out of that 2 year debacle is that I met the Lord Jesus Christ and He turned my life around and upside down! I did, however, learn one piece of advice from an insurance executive which has served me well. It’s from a booklet published by Prudential written by Albert E. N. Gray. It’s entitled: The Common Denominator of Success. Mr. Gray was one of the most successful agents in the history of the life insurance business. What he wrote about how he (and others) can acheive success is profound!

Mr. Gray’s common denominator of success is: “the secret of success of every man who has ever been successful… lies in the fact that: SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE FORM THE HABIT OF DOING THINGS THAT FAILURES DON’T LIKE TO DO.”

When I talk to players, I ask them: “What are some of the things that football players don’t like to do?” They reply: “Lift weights; come to practice; work hard at practice; do conditioning; learn their assignments… etc.” What separates the successful player from the failure? The successes form the habit of doing the things that failures don’t like to do!

How about coaches? What are some of the things that we don’t LIKE to do: watch hours of film; constantly motivate kids to do better; check up on their grades on a weekly basis; scout other teams when you’d rather be home or out with your wife/friends; travel to clinics; etc.

Notice this: does Mr. Gray’s statement say that successful people LIKE to do these things???!!! NO! What we like is the result that comes from doing them— over and over again! Nobody likes to work hard! Unless it means there’s a pay off at the end! We have to FORM THE HABIT of doing those things.

But Valvano said that hard work just gives you a chance to be successful??! But, I ask you: isn’t it worth the gamble to gain that success?!!!

Coach John Wooden says in his pyramid of success that his definition of success is: “Peace of Mind”— that is a result of KNOWING that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of being!”

Start “forming the habits” of doing things that failures don’t like to do… right now! You will find that you will be put in far more situations where your chance for success increases significantly.

Summer Planning

Posted by admin May - 24 - 2010 - Monday Comments Off on Summer Planning

For a lot of you, school is coming to a close. Unfortunately for me, in Virginia, we are not allowed to start school until AFTER Labor Day in the fall. So, we have to get in our 180 days. That puts us getting out on June 18th this year! ugh!

Anyway… I was just flipping through my book and thought it might be a good idea to bring up some things that you should consider doing early in the summer. I am a firm believer in getting things done early! That way, you can set it aside for a few days; mull it over in your head; get some feedback from a trusted ally and then go back and make any tweaks that you see that you need to make.

Nothing is more important now than getting your pre-season schedule nailed down… early! I would even encourage you to have each individual day’s practice schedule laid out now. Use the “work backwards” formula. By that I mean: take the last day of pre-season practice and work from there back to the first day of practice. List all the things you want to accomplish in pre-season and then start “plugging them in” on a daily basis.

What you’ve got here is a “Daily Installation Schedule.” This includes (on Offense): formations; shifts; motions; runs; passes and trick plays. Whatever you want to have ready for your opening game should have been installed and rehearsed BEFORE your Game Week practices begin.

It’s good to have “Benchmarks” also. Our teachers have been preparing our students for their Virginia State Standard of Learning exams all year. The state was wise to provide “benchmarks” throughout the school year to show teachers that THIS is where you should be right now in your curriculum if you are going to have covered all the material you should before your students take their state exam. The same is true with your pre-season daily schedule.

In Virginia, we are allowed to have 2 pre-season scrimmages against other schools. They do not count in the standings. They are merely “practices” with another school. It makes for an easy “benchmark date” for us to know what we want to have installed by the first scrimmage. Then, what do we add between the 1st and 2nd scrimmage— which is a week later. Virginia allows 20 days of preseason practice. You can go as long as you want during each of those days; but you only have 20 practice days. Two of those are set aside for the scrimmages. We may have had a walk through early on those days, but it really meant that we had 18 days to prepare for our opening game. Three to five of those days were taken up with our Bruin Football Camp. You can find information about that in my book. Our camp meant the players were with us for at least 10 hours a day. Some years we even went away (like the segment in Remember the Titans movie). That meant we had them for 12-14 hours a day of nothing but football and team building! We got a LOT of work done.

A smart head coach takes care of the “little things!” He is a planner and an effective organizer. This is why you need to know in advance EXACTLY what you’re going to be doing on each day of pre-season practice.

The Power of Passion!

Posted by admin May - 20 - 2010 - Thursday Comments Off on The Power of Passion!

If you’ve ever built a fire you know that its tendency is to go out. You must feed and protect it. Not everyone you meet and work with will help you do that. This post is for head coaches and/or assistants— really anyone who works around other people!

There are 2 kinds of people you’ll meet in life: (1)Fire Lighters and (2)Fire Extinguishers. The first group will inspire you, encourage you and go out of their way to help you. The second group will throw cold water on you and your ideas. How can you tell the difference?

Fire Extinguishers use phrases like: “That’s not practical… we’ve tried that before and it didn’t work… it’s not in the budget… if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…we don’t have enough talent, experience, training, etc., … who will do all the extra work?… who do YOU think you are?!” IF you’ve heard one or more of these excuses coming from the people around you, pray for them, love them, but don’t let them influence you. If you are a Head Coach, you need to talk with them. You may even need to fire them! But, again, don’t let their negative attitude affect you or your goals.

Fire Extinguishers focus on what’s wrong instead of what’s right. They find the cloud that comes with every silver lining. They doubt. They resist change. They keep you from reaching higher by trying to put out the fire of your passion.

I had an assistant coach who had a lot of passion for coaching kids. However, he was close to being a Fire Extinguisher on our staff. He and I went to a clinic together one time and all I heard on the ride over was how this was wrong and we can’t change that. During the clinic, the coach we were meeting with said something so profound that it hit both of us like a ton of bricks. In essence he said: “Don’t look at the problem (and get weighted down by it!)— look for solutions! Focus on them.” WOW!!! We talked about it on the ride home and this coach realized that he needed to change. He became the most positive, encouraging coach I’ve ever been around. Not only with the kids but on the staff. He became the Fire Lighter for the whole team! What a spark plug. What he did best,though, was to encourage me when he sensed that I was getting down. I appreciated that tremendously… and still do!

Then we had another coach who was the classic Fire Extinguisher— everything we did (everything I did!) was wrong. It became so bad that the rest of the staff was asking me to do something about him. He was well-liked by the players so I decided to keep him on the staff but relegate him to our Head JV Coach position. This did not please him. He wanted more status— he wanted a Varsity position. He wanted that so he could use it on a resume when he applied for head coaching positions. All the talk in the world could not convince him that he was a “turn off” and a Fire Extinguisher on our staff. He finally quit in a huff one day right in the middle of practice and walked off the field. He later apologized; I forgave him but… I would not let him return to coaching with us!

You need to handle Fire Extinguishers with care. Sometimes they do this deliberately, other times unknowingly. What you need to do is spend more time with Fire Lighters! They view you not as who you are, but as who you could be. These people fuel your faith and ignite your passion.

Interestingly, I was reading about missionaries throughout history and the great things they accomplished for the kingdom of God around the world. It’s estimated that there are about 200 million Christians in the Chinese church today. One of the Fire Lighters who helped start it was a missionary named Hudson Taylor. He’s the man who said, “The sun has not once risen in China in 40 years, without finding me on my knees in prayer for the Chinese people.” That’s passion!

Speed and Agility

Posted by admin May - 17 - 2010 - Monday Comments Off on Speed and Agility

I have to remember that some of you reading this blog are looking for answers to problems you’re having with your program and others simply desire further education on developing a consistently successful HS football program. I shared with a coach this morning via email that I would hope he’d consider purchasing my book, 101 Little Things— that I think it would help him with some answers he needs to get his program on track.

I want to talk about what makes for a successful off season conditioning program. This entry may be “preaching to the choir” but I need to bring it up. If your off-season program consists only of lifting weights then you are short-changing your players. We were fortunate back in the mid 90’s to have the highly successful Clemson University Mens’ Track coach join our faculty at Western Branch. We met and agreed that we needed to coordinate between the Track and Football teams. In fact, Wade Williams accepted my offer of joining our football staff. He brought a work ethic and a whole different appoach to football conditioning than anything I’d been exposed to in the past.

What Wade taught was “speed training!” I was under the impression that you “can’t teach speed!” That you’ve either got it or you don’t. Coach Williams proved me wrong.

If you don’t know about Speed Training, Plyometrics or Agility work, you need to check it out! It’s a component of your program that can be a KEY element to your success.

Always Do the Right Thing

Posted by admin May - 13 - 2010 - Thursday Comments Off on Always Do the Right Thing

I had the privilege of being coached by Lou Holtz when he was hired for his first head coaching position at William and Mary my junior year…. yep— I’m THAT old!! Coach Lou pokes fun at his experience at W & M on the ESPN studio football show but I know he appreciates the fact that William and Mary gave him his chance. He still returns to campus for football reunions.

Several years ago while he took a break from coaching, Coach Holtz was working the speakers circuit. I heard him speak locally and, as usual, was entranced! He shared his “3 rules of success.” I have them posted in our weight room and talk to the players about those rules all the time. I want to share some thoughts about his first rule: “The DO RIGHT Rule”. Thus the title of this entry! Thanks again to KLOVE Christian radio for providing the material that I used for these ideas.

George Washington said, “Few men have enough virtue to withstand the highest bidder.” Yet that’s what we must do to develop the kind of character that will sustain us in our careers and our lives. It’s not easy to do the right thing when a) it will cost you; b) the wrong thing is more expedient; c) no one but you will know. It’s in those moments that your character is revealed.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said,
“Cowardice asks: is it safe? Consensus asks: is it popular? Character asks: is it right?”

Recently a PGA golfer made headlines by calling a foul on himself which subsequently led to him losing the tournament. During the final play-off of the U.S. Open one year, the legendary Bobby Jones’ ball ended up in the rough just off the fairway. As he set up to hit his next shot, he accidentally moved the ball with his club. He immediately turned to the marshals and announced a foul. Interestingly, the marshals hadn’t seen the ball move; neither had anyone else. So they left it up to Jones whether to take the penalty stroke. He did! Later when someone commended him for his integrity, Jones replied, “Do you commend a bank robber for not robbing a bank? No, you don’t. This is how the game of golf should be played at all times.” Jones lost the match that day — by one stroke, but he maintained his integrity. His character was so well known that the USGA’s sportsmanship award came to be named The Bob Jones Award.

So, do the right thing… and KEEP doing it. Even if it doesn’t help you move ahead in the short-term, it will protect you and serve you over the long haul. Coach Holtz would say that this is how you build trust on your team. Or as the Psalmist puts it in the 23rd Psalm, “He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His Name.”

Looking for Inspiration, Part 2

Posted by admin May - 10 - 2010 - Monday Comments Off on Looking for Inspiration, Part 2

My buddy, Coach Metz from Florida, sent along a couple of his favorite inspirational movie scenes for coaches… so I want to pass them along:

1- Black Hawk Down: At the end of the movie when Hoot says, “People ask me, ‘Hey Hoot, why do you do it?'”

2- Friday Night Lights: At halftime, when Coach Gaines says, “To me, being perfect is not about that scoreboard…” Metz adds that it’s NOT only football, but life!

I want to add: Remember the Titans (particularly since the opening monologue from the Coach’s daughter talks about football in the state of Virginia… MY state!!!) The whole movie is worth showing your team if you have the time. and then… discuss it with your players. But the scene when they are at camp at Gettysburg College and he takes them to the battlefield cemetery is powerful.


Keep Treading and Trusting!

Posted by admin May - 6 - 2010 - Thursday 1 COMMENT

You’ll notice a common thread throughout the Bible. When we really need Him, God shows up and does for us what we can’t do by ourselves. The rest of the time, which is most of the time, He strengthens us and says: “keep treading and trusting.” I’ve learned that there’s no magic carpet. To achieve anything worthwhile, you have to walk it out in faith— step by challenging step.

Most of you know about Job and the trials he faced. The Book of Job in the Old Testament has 42 chapters. In the first 41, Job lived through the loss of his health, his wealth and his family. With friends like Job had, he didn’t need any enemies! His doubts were relentless. Over and over he questioned God but got only silence for an answer. He persevered through tough days and sleepless nights believing, “When I’m tried, I will come forth as gold” (see Job 23:10)

Notice: 1- It takes fire to produce gold. 2- Only the Refiner knows the degree of heat and amount of time required to purify the gold. 3- To rush the process is to produce something of lesser value.

God told the Israelites, as they prepared to enter the Promised Land, that every place the soles of their feet trod, He would give to them. But, think about what they had to go through for 40 years “in the fire” to get to that point!

C.V. White said, in effect, that, “The man who succeeds never waits for the crowd. It takes nerve, it takes a lot of grit, but the man who succeeds has both! Success is the accomplishment of that which people think can’t be done!”

Complacency, fatigue, criticism and discouragement are hurdles you must constantly overcome. So, keep “treading and trusting.”