Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for June, 2012

Lee on Leadership

Posted by admin June - 27 - 2012 - Wednesday Comments Off on Lee on Leadership

My family is on vacation at the beautiful Outer Banks of North Carolina this week… so a little late and I’ll keep this short!
As usual, I’ve been doing a lot of reading while sitting up on the beach. One book in particular that has really been informative is a book by H.W. Crocker 111 entitled Robert E. Lee on Leadership. Being a native Virginian as was General Lee and a student of American History— particularly the War Between the States— I was interested in what Crocker had to say about Lee and his leadership style.

Whatever your feelings about the war, as a coach or business leader, you’ll find this book to be an invaluable tool for dissecting the brilliance of a great military strategist and his leadership qualities. If you’re a coach who’s at a perennial “underdog” school, you’ll find Lee’s tactics in fighting a much larger Union army to be applicable to how you might want to plan your attack going into games this fall.

As a leader, no army was ever more loyal or fought harder for their commander than did the soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia. It was the leadership style that Lee exhibited which motivated these men to fight so hard for him. Even after the signing of the surrender papers at Appomattox, Lee’s men cheered him as he returned to their camp.

What I liked best is that at the end of each chapter, there are “key points” summarizing the qualities that Lee displayed in different battles during the war. These are lessons learned which can be applied not only to our professional lives but to our private lives as well. It’s a must read for any coach who’s looking to learn and grow.

To Win in Life

Posted by admin June - 21 - 2012 - Thursday Comments Off on To Win in Life

This is one of the best quotes I’ve read in a loooooooong time!
William Arthur Ward said: “Believe while others are doubting. Plan while others are playing. Decide while others are delaying. Prepare while others are wishing. Save while others are wasting. Listen while others are talking. Smile while other are frowning. Persist while others are quitting.”

I read recently that to win in life requires us to do 3 things: 1) We must start. This may seem obvious, but many of us are stuck in neutral waiting for something (or someone!) to get us going. 2) We need to give it our all. I bet you realized this but… never thought about it: Olympic divers don’t save all of their effort for their last dive of the competition. They concentrate on nailing every single dive. This increases their chances for the gold medal. Don’t settle for mediocrity at any phase of your life. 3) We must never give up and never give in. You may remember in the 1992 Summer Olympics, a runner from England was competing in the 400 meter race. Near the finish line, he suffered a torn hamstring and fell hard to the track. As the other runners flashed by, he began to struggle to his feet. His dad, with tears rolling down his cheeks, suddenly leaped out of the stands and ran to help his son on the track. Slowly, agonizingly, they made their way to the finish line together. As they crossed the line, the stadium in Seoul erupted in thunderous applause. The guy didn’t win a medal, but he won something more important— peoples’ respect.

The Bible says, “Run in such a way to gain the prize of heavenly value.” Sometimes there are more important things we should be striving to win in our lives than medals or crowns.

Group Dynamics, Final Edition

Posted by admin June - 12 - 2012 - Tuesday Comments Off on Group Dynamics, Final Edition

I’m going to close by simply summarizing what’s been discussed for the past month. This concept of dynamics might be equated to the word force. Group dynamics, then, would be the sum of the forces brought to bear on a group/team/unit which will affect the group’s behavior and performance.

As I presented earlier, as the leader of the group you need to find out which individual needs can be satisfied by (this is KEY): belonging to the group. Individuals have a desire to be identified with others. They like to belong to groups through which they can gain feelings of security, recognition and status. Do your players like to wear their game jersey when they are at the mall or scouting another team? The pride in displaying that jersey exemplifies what we are talking about here. Raise some money and get your kids in a team t shirt!

It’s important to know that there are many internal and external forces working in a group. Some of these forces, if not dealt with properly, can work against the leader/coach. It is your responsibility as the leader to influence these forces (like that grapevine) to work for you— to achieve the goals of the group.

The secret of building successful teams is getting all members to identify with the group and its objectives. This is what we call identification. This identification with the group must show promise of being a “pay off” to members by satisfying some of the needs of the individual. The more needs satisfied by being a member of the group, the stronger the identification will be for all of the members. One of my fondest memories in coaching occurred the year I chose to let a boy play who had a severe hearing loss. His doctor cleared him and his mom hesitantly said ok. I admit that I was concerned about his safety (not being able to hear people coming at him could have devistating consequences) but everyone decided to give him a chance. We were careful during practice and he didn’t play much during the year. But a couple of times in blow outs, we got him in for a play or two. We won our district championship that year. At the end-of-season banquet, that boy came up to me and quiety said to me as he shook my hand, “Thanks Coach for making me a champion.” WOW!!! The tears were flowing. What a perfect example of someone who made little or no on-the-field contribution to our success but he identified with our team and saw himself to be a champion just like the biggest star.

To make group dynamics “work” for you to achieve your team’s goals, you must create a satisfying social structure within the group. You can promote this kind of motivation by making clear to the team what their season goals are and giving direction to any group activities. “Team building” exercises are worth the time it takes to do them. You must be sure to give consistent treatment to all members. Nothing breaks down team cohesion quicker than a prima donna being allowed to break a rule and suffer no consequences. At the same time, it’s important to create status for individuals and the group as a whole. This is why I am such a strong advocate of a helmet sticker award system. Stickers are earned for team and individual performance. I’ve said many times: if you want a particular action repeated, reward it! We give a sticker for great hustle. We give a sticker every week to the Scout Team Player of the Week. You want to see your scout teams hustling and giving you a good look? Reward them for their effort. You’ll see them fighting to get that award!

As the leader, you are the one who should be most aware of these various forces we’ve discussed. You are the one person who can most effectively lead your team to succeed if you utilize the various forces which influence a group. Recognizing the 1- the needs of the individual players and 2- knowing what to do to cause the group to serve individual needs which accomplish the goals of the team are the leader’s most important tasks. Good luck and God bless you!

Group Dynamics, Part 3

Posted by admin June - 5 - 2012 - Tuesday Comments Off on Group Dynamics, Part 3

I was in Washington, D.C. with my family last week doing the sightseeing thing. If you ever go there to tour, make sure you take the “DC Duck” ride that starts at Union Station… fabulous adventure!

For a leader of any group (not just football coaches), I hope you’ve discovered that an understanding and appreciation for what “makes your players/employees tick” is critical to the success of your team/group. I pointed out in an earlier post that with my background in Psychology, I thought that you deal with the individual and you’ll be able to solve most every problem. What this Marine Corps book has shown me is: you’d better have an understanding of group dynamics (some would call it Sociology as opposed to Psychology) as well.

We’ll define Group Dynamics as “those forces that result from the interaction of group members among themselves and between the group and the environment in which the group exists.” Internal dynamics are those forces within the group and external dynamics arise from interaction of the group with its environment. First, internal dynamics.

Two key factors in internal group dynamics are 1- communication and 2- participation patterns. I’ll talk about communication today.

Communication within the group is essential for effective group functioning. Communication is the primary process of group dynamics. No coordination nor cooperation can be achieved without communication. In a group there needs to be an open channel of communication. The leader must be at the center of the communication network. KEY: he needs to be in a position where he can not only direct communication downward but also receive communication coming up from the group. A leader needs feedback. Subordinates need to feel that they have a “voice” in what transpires in the group. If communication from members of the group is encouraged, many good ideas will originate from the people who are in the best position to recommend changes. This, in turn, will increase efficiency. I always meet with my seniors after the season is completed and ask for their feedback. Now that their eligibility is used up, they are more apt to speak freely about their experience in my football program. Meet with them in a group. This will provide an air of civility that might not be evident if you meet one-on-one. I always came away with a couple of suggestions for how I could improve the program or the way that I coached. Don’t be afraid of constructive criticism. It may sound crazy, but I asked my seniors how I could improve as a coach.

Yes, upward communication means that subordinates are going to “let off steam” at times. I learned that it’s OK for assistant coaches or even players to come in and express a gripe or complaint. They need to know that you will provide a “listening ear” to their concerns. I instructed them that IF you have a problem, I want to hear it. However, I learned from a very wise and successful coach… don’t bring a complaint without also bringing a solution. Gripe sessions can go on forever and accomplish nothing if you don’t tell people that you don’t want to hear just the problem— you want their recommendation of a solution too.

Another important communication pattern within a group is what is known as the “grapevine.” It refers to the unofficial information that is passed among the members of the group. You can try to curtail it but that won’t stop it. People simply like to gossip! The information bantered about “at the water cooler” or the lunchroom consists of a combination of facts and rumors. Surprisingly, studies of the grapevine has shown that the information communicated is highly accurate and reliable! This is due to the fact that the information is passed along among friends so it is received in an atmosphere of trust.

KEY: Rather than look at the grapevine as a nuisance, a smart leader should use it to the advantage of effective group communication. Listening to the gossip can show him who the potential leaders and/or trouble-makers are. The leader can use the grapevine to disseminate messages that might be better received in the informal atmosphere of the locker room than a called team meeting. Use the grapevine to your advantage!