Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for March, 2012

Feeder Programs

Posted by admin March - 27 - 2012 - Tuesday Comments Off on Feeder Programs

I just spent some time talking with a coach who’s frustrated about his feeder programs. He’s not getting a lot of cooperation from the programs down the chain. I shared a couple of things that all of you might find of interest and value.

The first concern he had was with his Community/Youth League program. Apparently it’s poorly run and the parents in the community won’t support it because of this. Not many boys are playing at the youth level because of the mistrust and anger over how the league is being led. I shared with this coach that, in my opinion, boys playing football at the “youth” level is an added luxury. It is not going to make or break a high school porgram. Too often, the coaching at that level is not sound nor do they run the same offense and defense that your HS program runs. It IS beneficial that the boys are playing football at that age but… it’s not a “make or break” situation for the high school.

What bothers me is that boys that age (8-11) are NOT playing any football. They’re inside on those video games instead of out in the yard throwing the ball around or playing pick-up games! I think that organized youth sports leagues have become a bit too organized anyway! Parents can become a bit too controlling at times. I want kids outside playing sports. It doesn’t have to be anything more than a bunch of them in somebody’s front yard. PLAY!!!

If a HS coach can help get a youth program running, and running right, then great! It is nice to have your system installed down to that level but not a requirement for success at the high school level. During my 22 years at HC at our local HS, our youth league program basically dissolved to the point that instead of 5 or 6 teams in our community, there were only enough boys playing football to field one team. Our numbers at the high school actually increased over that same time.

IF… you have a youth league in place, show them as much support as you can. They are a great asset to your HS program. As I said… getting boys outside and PLAYING is the important thing. If you have the resources and time to get a youth league up and running, I’d encourage you to do it. But, the KEY is the next level: MIDDLE SCHOOL.

For those of you who do NOT have a middle school football program in place in your school sytem… THIS is where you need to focus your energy. A youth program at this age/level is critical to your success! You need a strong feeder program for those boys who will come directly into your HS program. In my city, we were the only city in our region that had middle school football for years. And, in most cases, schools in our city dominated. Then the neighboring cities got wise and started playing MS football also. Wow! What a change in which schools began to dominate.

If you have not attempted to speak to your school board about starting middle school football, you should try. It’s not the best time economically to be asking for start up money for 6th, 7th and 8th grade football but you should try. If that is not feasible, then that youth or community league involvement becomes paramount.

If you DO have MS football in place right now, it is imperative that you form a strong working relationship with the MS coaches. In a lot of cases, the MS program does NOT fall under the guidance of the HS coach. If this is your case, you need to reach out to the MS football coach and offer any help that you can. Tell him that if he will install your system, your staff will help him in any way that you can! Offer clinics, camps or just meetings to discuss things that they might have questions about. Make yourself available. Show up for MS practices. Talk to those kids. Be there for their games if possible. Make sure that those 8th graders in particular KNOW who you are!

If you’re not getting much cooperation from the MS coach, then contact the MS principal and see if you can get an ally there. Maybe speak to the 8th grade PE teachers about coming in one day in the spring to “sell” your program to ALL 8th grade boys. If it’s as bad as it seems, there may be 8th graders who can help you next year who didn’t even play MS ball! Assure them that if they come out as 9th graders, they have a real shot at playing time on the JV. How does this happen?

My last point is critical for sustaining your program. If you only have a Varsity and JV then I think you need to make your JV team basically a “freshman” team. Once a freshman has started on JV, he has accomplished everything that the JV team is designed for. That sophomore needs to be on Varsity! When I took over our HS program years ago, I could not get soph’s to come out for Varsity. They wanted to stay on JV another year and be a “JV Superstar.” They knew if they came up to Varsity that they’d probably sit on the bench. I had to create a paradigm shift in their thinking. Most of these kids were good enough to play varsity as 10th graders and we did everything we could to get them on the field… particularly on special teams. They just wanted to contribute! I’d tell them and their parents: “Everyone goes through a rookie season— no matter what level you’re playing at! Learn the system, take your lumps now. As juniors you’ll be ready to compete for a starting position. You can be a 2 year starter instead of just one.” Over a period of 4-5 years the attitude changed and soon… kids complained if they weren’t allowed to play Varsity as 10th graders!

Sustained success at the HS level is predicated on keeping the flow of players coming in from the programs below you. Keep those lines of communication open. Develop a working relationship with those feeder programs. It will require some more of your time but… it’s important enough to your success to do it.

Head Coach— High School vs. College

Posted by admin March - 19 - 2012 - Monday 2 COMMENTS

I spent a great Friday/Saturday in Lynchburg, VA at the Mid-Atlantic Wings ‘n Things Coaches Clinic. Some outstanding speakers and Cecil Phillips always puts on a 1st class operation.

I heard 2 different (HS) head coaches say that: “I’m going to be more of a CEO this coming season. I’m not going to coach a position… just kinda wander around the practice field and fill in where I’m needed. I’m gonna let my assistants handle more duties.” UGH!!! In probably 99% of the cases (that I know from being in HS coaching for 35 years!), that is a BAD decision. Let me explain why and you can draw your own conclusions.

First off… “been there; done that!” There’s not much that I didn’t try during my 22 years as a public school head football coach. I decided one year that I would pattern things after what I’d seen after visiting Va. Tech’s spring practices for 2-3 days. I told the staff that I was NOT going to coach a position on either side of the ball. That I would be the CEO… wander around the practice field and step in, help out and/or make corrections when I saw fit. I thought my staff would love having more responsibility and a little more autonomy. What I discovered (from a conversation with my AD after the season) was… my staff was jealous. “Why does Lew get to stand around during practice while we’re working our tails off?!” “Coach J. is just lazy… he didn’t work as hard this year.” THAT kind of stuff!

Now maybe I had a rather selfish, lazy staff but… from MY perspective, what I found was: I was bored out of my mind!!! With no position to coach, I DID just wander around the practice field. I became the “Schedule Time-keeper”— watching my clock all the time to blow the whistle when it was time for a change of periods. I also learned why a lot of college head coaches build towers on their practice field. If they’re going to “oversee” things then… they need to be in a position to “see over!” I just couldn’t be in 2 or 3 places at once. So rather than focusing on (at least!) coaching up one position… I was wandering around looking over everybody’s back. Which in turn made my assistants very uncomfortable.

A long-time assistant who was extremely loyal sat down with me and laid it out. I think this gets to the crux of the matter… and it’s why I said at the opening that… in 99% of the cases that I know about— the head coach needs to be highly involved in at least one position and in ALL phases of your program. What he said to me was: “Lew, you are the best coach on this staff! You spend more time studying the game. You spend more time watching video. You know our system better than any other member of our staff. If you ‘draw back’ from coaching, we are putting ourselves at a distinct disadvantage. You need to be FULLY involved in all aspects of our program!” WOW! He certainly got my attention.

I started evaluating. I won’t mention names but… 2 of the most successful programs in the state of Virginia over the last 25 years (one guy won 9 or 10 state championships during the 80’s and 90’s and the other has now won 2 state championships and 8 district championships in the last 10 years) basically do ALL of the coordinating! They call all of the plays on Friday night. They make all of the defensive calls during the game too! They are smart; they know the game; they know their personnel… they know MORE than anybody else on their staff. They’re out front directing the team… where they need to be!

College coaches go out and hire highly talented, extremely knowledgable assistant coaches. They can afford to take a little more “hands off” approach. I just don’t think that most head high school coaches can afford to do that. A HS head coach needs to be as involved as he can be. Yes… “coach your coaches.” And, challenge them to be “students of the game.” But, when it comes down to it.. you wouldn’t tell your best RB (who is also your place kicker) to “just go over there and practice your kicking. That is a very important part of our team. We may put you in for a play on Offense if we need you in an emergency situation.” Hummmmmm…. I just don’t think that that’s utilizing your talent to your best advantage.

Just my thoughts….

Coming Back Stronger!

Posted by admin March - 12 - 2012 - Monday Comments Off on Coming Back Stronger!

That’s the title of Drew Brees’ autobiography. I just finished Coming Back Stronger and it’s an excellent read. I’d recommend it for any football fan. The subtitle is even better: “Unleashing the hidden power of adversity.” Now THAT’S an attention-grabber!

I like how the back cover describes Drew’s impact on the Saints AND the city of New Orleans: “A true inspiration on and off the field, Drew has become a symbol of hope— not just to the team and the city he helped resurrect, but to everyone who has ever been knocked to the ground. Drew’s invaluable insights on unleashing the hidden power of adversity are proof positive that with enough faith, determination and heart, you can overcome anything!”

His book’s Epilogue really summed up what Drew wants to say to everyone. He points out that “When I set out to write this book, my ultimate goal was not to get you excited about my career or the Saints…. My desire was to have you turn the last page and become excited about waking up tomorrow. You will undoubtedly have challenges ahead that you will have to face and overcome. But don’t forget that adversity is not your enemy. It can unleash a power in your life that will make you stronger and help you achieve amazing things.”

Brees concludes by saying that if he could sit down face to face with his readers, he’s want to share the following things with us:
1- Find a mentor. We all need someone who can keep us grounded.
2- Don’t give up. The worst thing is NOT getting knocked down… it’s getting knocked down and refusing to get back up!
3- Turn your defeats into triumphs. The greatest opportunities in life are the ones that test us the most.
4- Dream. Be a visioneer.
5- Hope. You have to have an object of hope if you’re going to come back from a setback. For Drew (and me) that object is the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Isaiah 40:31 says: “Those who HOPE in the Lord shall renew their strength!”
6- Be flexible. I tell our players all the time: we have to “adjust on the run.”
7- See adversity as an opportunity. God can use everything in your life for good… IF you trust Him with your life.
8- Don’t be afraid of taking a few steps back. A step back is not necessarily a setback. Sometimes you have to take a few steps backward before you can get the momentum to push forward.
9- Don’t speculate— be ready. When the next opportunity comes your way, make sure you have properly prepared yourself to seize the chance you’ve been given.
10- Remember who you are. God created each of us for a purpose. Seek Him and discover that purpose. Then… don’t let adversity stop you. Remember that faith will carry you through. The tests of adversity are fought with faith… in God and yourself (in THAT order!)
11- Finish strong. It’s not where you start in life, it is how you finish. Make your last rep your best rep.

Brees closes by saying, “Never forget that sometimes your greatest victories can come from your greatest defeats. The next time adversity knocks on your door, stand up tall and do the right thing. You can do more than just survive. You can come back— stronger.” Truer words, never spoken. I highly recommend this book!


Posted by admin March - 7 - 2012 - Wednesday Comments Off on Checklist

I’m speaking at a coach’s clinic next week-end. The Clinic Director has asked me to speak to a group of Youth League coaches on Saturday morning. Cool! As I’m putting together my power point, I realize that the “Little Things” that I’m going to talk to them about, apply to ALL levels of football.

I just read an article by Chip Kelly of U. of Oregon. He emphasized 2 things in his talk: 1- What do we stand for? and 2- have a teaching philosophy. Both points are well taken.

He said that at Oregon, when he took over, the first thing they had to find out was “What do we stand for?” You answer that through your offensive, defensive and kicking game philosophies. “If you are going to stand for something, it is not what you say it is… it is what people see in your actions.” Kelly feels that someone can come to your practice and in 5 minutes they’ll KNOW what you stand for.

AT Oregon, what they stand for (on the field) is: Play Fast; Play Hard; and Finish. Kelly says, “what you decide upon is up to you, but find something to be.”

His second point caught my eye because I see so few coaches who understand and, thus, fail to implement effective learning strategies on the practice field. Coach Kelly’s Teaching Philosophy is pretty simple: I see, and I forget. I UNDERSTAND, and I do! No matter how much knowledge of the game of football you possess, if you cannot communicate it to a player so he can go out and execute, it does not matter! Explain, demonstrate, walk it, correct, walk it again, praise and then let him go!

Once they’ve shown that they understand what to do and how to do it, if a problem comes up during practice… don’t stop the drill to correct one person. Do your coaching with the second team. If a 1st team player makes a mistake, replace him with the back-up, explain what he did wrong, get him to demonstrate how to do it correctly… then re-insert him for the next rep. If you make your practices more efficient, you will be more successful.

Put Your Foot on Their Necks!

Posted by admin March - 1 - 2012 - Thursday Comments Off on Put Your Foot on Their Necks!

Another home run from Bob Gass devotional, The Word for You Today.”

One of my favorite Bible characters is Joshua. He was called on by God to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. Moses had turned the mantle of leadership over to Joshua, so it was Joshua’s responsibility to take his people across the Jordan riverto the “land of milk and honey” that God had promised them. But… that didn’t mean that there wasn’t going to be opposition. The Israelites had to fight for their inheritance.

When Israel entered the Promised Land, there were 5 kings with armies determined to stop them. But God helped Joshua defeat all of them and the 5 kings ran and hid in a cave. So Joshua told his soldiers to bring them out and put their foot on each of their necks. That day God’s Word to His people was: “Be strong and of good courage. Do not be dismayed.”

That word “dismayed” implies being “torn down by fear” and “falling apart.” There are enemies of your mind who want to tear you down by robbing you of your peace, your joy and your confidence. Your enemies (and you need to realize that YOU might be your own worst enemy!) will keep pouring on the pressure in hopes that you will cave in. That’s why God told Joshua to be bring each king out of the cave and deal with him decisively by standing on his neck and then hanging him on a tree. These 5 kings represent your 5 senses. God doesn’t want you to live according to their dictates.

The enemy of our mind works through our 5 senses… but, get this, God has given us a “6th sense”: faith. The Bible says to “walk by faith, not by sight.” Faith says: “In spite of what I see, in spite of what I hear, in spite of what I smell, taste and feel, I believe everything’s going to be alright. Why? Because God is with me!”

Our senses, which are highly susceptible to all that’s going on around you, are faith-killers. And, unless you “put them under your foot,” they will steal your dream, your confidence and everything else that God has promised you.

Our emotions are “problem-driven”, but faith is “purpose-driven.” If you allow your emotions to rule your life you will be up one minute and down the next. Life in Christ is not meant to be a roller coaster ride. God’s plan for us (I LOVE this!) is to get down on our knees to pray, then get up in faith and go do what He’s told us to do.

As you walk each day, take the time to recognize when one of those “5 kings” is trying to create negativity. When it happens, do not passively accept these negative thoughts. Your passivity gives them the right to rule over you. They have no power over you except the power you give them. So… go into whatever that cave is in your life and drag each “king” out. Place your foot on their neck and put them to death. God will be with you IF you acknowledge Him in your life.