Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for May, 2016


Posted by admin May - 30 - 2016 - Monday Comments Off on Remembering

I felt compelled to go ahead and post today this week. With the Capitol Memorial Day Concert still resonating in my soul since last night, I want to offer my sincere thanks for all of our servicemen and women who made the ultimate sacrifice defending our freedom. The emphasis during the concert last night was on the 60’s (the Beach Boys did a medley of their hits!!!) and the Vietnam War era. That’s MY era!! I was one of the fortunate ones who was training at Ft. Gordon, GA but President Nixon started pulling troops out of Vietnam and back home so they didn’t need me. Anytime they show the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in D.C. I shed some tears— and some guilt. “Survivor’s guilt” I guess they call it. I didn’t have anyone close to me die over there but… the fact that so many others did give their lives still bothers me today 50 years later.

I went to Walmart on Saturday. There were 2 veterans outside the store presenting “poppies” to anyone who’d make a donation to the VFW. It showed me how God is working in my life… cuz I’d awakened earlier thinking about the Memorial Day parades I attended as a child and… yep! the little paper poppies we used to get. And here I had one in my hand as I entered Walmart.

We are traveling to France in the fall. I get to stand on the beach at Normandy and see what those gallant men faced when they stormed ashore on June 6, 1944. We will also visit the National Cemetery where my uncle is buried. He parachuted in with the 82nd Airborne the night before D Day. He died on June 21st holding off Nazi’s so his platoon could escape. Several members of my family have been to his grave site; I look forward to my first visit in the fall.

How does this all relate to football?! Welllllllllll…. there’s NO WAY that we can compare what soldiers and Marines go through on the battlefield to football players competing on Friday night. NO comparison! However, there are lessons that athletes can learn from the military which can help them succeed on the playing field and in life.

I love the tactical side of football. I believe I’ve mentioned before on this site about the book War Fighting by Marine General Gray. A coach looking for strategic and tactical tips on how to game plan and then attack opponents’ defenses will find this little book fascinating! I highly recommend it to all head coaches/offensive coordinators.

“Little Things”

Posted by admin May - 24 - 2016 - Tuesday Comments Off on “Little Things”

I spoke at a Nike Coaches Clinic in D.C. in January. I shared some things that I thought coaches may never have thought of as being important in “attacking defenses.” I want to share one of the “unique” ways to attack a defense that I discussed at the clinic. This all came about due to discussions with coaches that I am “mentoring” as they install (or “upgrade”) their Delaware Wing T offenses this spring. What I’m writing about here, though, can impact anyone’s offense— no matter what you run.

The importance of one’s cadence, or snap count, is often overlooked by many coaches. I learned a hard lesson early in my head coaching career. I had simply adopted the cadence that we’d used when I played high school ball. Here was our cadence:

The linemen would get set in their 3 point stances; the QB would get up under center; look around and bark out: “GO!” and the ball would be snapped! and… it would ALWAYS be snapped on “GO!” Simple, effective and easy to learn! Right??? Except… it was ALSO “simple, effective and easy to learn” for DEFENSES!!! We played a lot of teams where their concept of defense centered on pressure! I realized that after 3 or 4 offensive series, the blitzing Linebackers and Ends had our snap count learned just as well as our offensive linemen! In fact, we had one game where a LB actually “stole” the handoff between our QB and the RB!!! Something had to be done to combat this or we would continue to be overwhelmed by pressure defenses.

It was about that time that I was introduced to Tubby Raymond’s Delaware Wing T offense. While studying his “Order of Football,” I was introduced to Tubby’s cadence. When we went Del. Wing T, we went “ALL IN!” I would guess that we incorporated 95-99% of what Tubby was doing. One of the things that I was intrigued with was his cadence. Tubby’s cadence afforded the backs the means of tying in lots of motion and shifts— which are trademarks of the Del. Wing T. What I liked best about it was how it had TWO snap counts… not the one that I had. I knew I was on to something.

Honestly, I don’t remember where I got this next part I’m going to mention but… once we added this piece, our cadence became one of those things that opposing coaches hated! How do I know this? Because I was around for sooooooo long that many opposing coaches were retiring. Once they did, they were willing to “share” things about our offense which helped me to continue to refine it over the years. I had more than one coach say to me, “Lew, do you know how effective your cadence was in CONTROLLING our defense???!!!” My response? “No! Really???!!! I had no idea!” (Yeah… right!!) I knew exactly what we were doing! Here’s how it works.

*I need to add here that in the last couple of seasons we have also become acutely aware of what “tempo” can do to control defenses. More on that at another time! I will say that incorporating the “Sugar Huddle” to our offense made our cadence even more effective.

We “Sugar” huddle about 1-1 1/2 yards from the ball. We break the huddle and move quickly to our alignments and get set. However… our “set” position for our O linemen is a 2 point stance! They have their elbows on their thigh pads and their knees bent– almost in a full squat position. Our backs are all in a 2 point stance anyway (“Tubby style!”) so they get set quickly also. Our cadence is:

“HIT!!….. Red. Set-GO!” There is a pause between Hit and Red. (That’s why I drew the dotted line.) The “Set” can also be elongated depending on how long we want to keep a back in motion before we snap the ball. What we have then is a NON-rhythmic cadence. (It gets better!)

There are lots of times that we open the game by snapping the ball on “1st Sound”— which means we snap the ball on “HIT!” Yes, this means that our linemen are coming off the ball in a 2 point stance but, it has never been an issue for us. We “bird dog” our first steps (from a 2 point stance!) every day! Our linemen adapt to it and many actually like it better. Soooooooo… we snap it on “HIT!” and away we go. We do that for 3, 4… 5 plays in a row. It’s now 3rd and 4 and we want to keep a drive going. The QB steps up and barks out “HIT!” and now, instead of snapping the ball and taking off… each O linemen shoots his hand down (and out! I.e., get a little weight forward… plus it kinda moves their hand “toward” the D linemen!) and everyone remains set for a second. The QB then continues his count and we snap the ball on “GO!” What usually happens (you already know, don’t you??!!) is that a D lineman or a blitzing LB jumps across the line and we get a “cheap” 5 yards. However… opposing coaches may call it “cheap!” We call it a product of hard work and tremendous discipline! We “earned” it the hard way! It takes LOTS of reps to get the players to focus on which snap count we are going on but… it is worth it! Why?!

Because, even if we don’t get anybody to jump… we have sent notice that you better not try to ANTICIPATE our snap count cuz we’ll catch you leaning or actually moving into the neutral zone and pick up 5 “easy” yards! Once a guy jumps offside (particularly in a key 3rd/4th down situation), he becomes HESITANT and back on his heels. We are now CONTROLLING the defense with our cadence!!! We have curbed their aggressiveness and have now made them wait on us! We have achieved our goal of attacking the defense in a “unique” way— even before we snap the ball!!!

Discipline = Teaching

Posted by admin May - 17 - 2016 - Tuesday Comments Off on Discipline = Teaching

I was blessed to have had great coaches when I played high school ball at Great Bridge HS in Chesapeake, VA back in the mid-60’s. I am proud to say that during my varsity career I never played in a losing game! (We tied a couple! but NO losses!!!) We were a powerhouse. It was also the era of Vince Lombardi… where coaches everywhere were attempting to emulate Lombardi in ALL facets of their coaching. Everyone wanted his success on the field (several NFL championships… and later, 2 Super Bowl wins) but, somehow, too many coaches also decided to emulate Lombardi’s tough, disciplinarian—martinet personna when dealing with their players. Quotes from Lombardi’s Packer players (“He treats us all like dogs!”) just fueled the fire. In my mind, it gave licence for coaches to be terrorists. Fortunately for me and my teammates, this was NOT the case with our coaches. In fact, I can remember only 1 time in 3 years that a coach even raised his voice at me! Oh, there was lots of correction and doing things over till we got it right; but, our coaches did not subject us to endless streams of invectives or hours of grass drills for minor infractions— like so many other coaches were doing. And… isn’t it funny that the one time that I was “fussed at” by one of the assistants is still so clear in my head 50 years later??!!! Hummmmm??? Think about it!

Discipline on any team; in any organization is critical to its success. Without discipline, there is no order. Without order, the team crumbles under its own weight of disobedience. Teams need discipline and coaches need to be cognizant of 1- what discipline actually is! and 2- how to use it effectively to get the desired result.

Let’s establish one thing right now: Discipline does NOT = “Punishment!” It does NOT equate to PUNISHMENT!! This alone can create a paradigm shift that will revolutionize your coaching. I briefly stated in last week’s post that what discipline DOES equate to is “TEACHING.” I often say to coaches who are also classroom teachers: “When you are handing back a test paper to your students, do you make nasty VERBAL comments to those students who did poorly on the test?! Do you scream and rant at those students who failed your test?!” Invoking the wrath of the teacher is what every student desires to receive, right??!! NO… of course not! So, why subject your players to this verbal abuse??! Cuz they’re football players and they need to be able to “suck it up?!” Not really. They may be mentally and physically tougher than the average teenage boy but… it doesn’t mean that your verbal assault is going to improve his play. THAT’S the key!

What we as coaches, teachers… leaders are looking for is positive results from our subordinates. It’s really a case of motivation. What propels our players to WANT TO succeed??? I submit that degrading remarks, critical comments and endless “Punishment Periods” are not the answer!

My definition of a great coach is, first and foremost, that he is a great teacher! Even a better description would be that he is a great “CONDITIONER.” Not that he can run his players to death doing gassers or grass drills but that he can “Train” their minds (and bodies) to perform at a level that produces great results on the football field. This is NOT accomplished through PUNISHMENT!!! If anything, “Punishment” is DE-motivating!!! and that’s definitely NOT what we want!

I was a “yeller” on the practice field. But… it was NOT to scream and yell at an individual player for screwing up. I raised my voice to 1- shout encouragement and/or 2- to be emphatic that we needed a better effort from “Everyone.” It was never a personal attack. The kids KNEW when I was upset cuz I got L-O-U-D! If you scream ALL the time, kids learn to “tune you out!” If coaches are going to be positive motivators then you need to speak “Words of Life!” Be known as an encourager. Be known as a positive guy. DON’T be known by your players as “the coach who, all he does, is chew your butt off when you do something wrong. NEVER do you hear anything positive from him!” (Is THAT how you want to be remembered by your players???) I hope not!

LAST THING: Let the “punishment FIT the crime!” Yes, there are times when you WILL have to punish someone… or a whole team! When players break the rules, swift and JUST punishment needs to be meted out! If our players were late getting on the practice field (unexcused) they did one “up/down” for every minute they were late. If a player got a 15 yard unsportsmanlike penalty in the game, he got 15 tackles on the 1-man tackling stick on Monday after practice. (See: we worked on a skill while we were punishing!) If our defense didn’t pursue the ball (exhibited laziness!) during Team period in practice, they got to bear crawl to the sideline and back… while the Scout O was getting ready for the next play! … which, by the way, ALWAYS takes too much time!!! If one of our offensive players jumped off side during practice, everyone on offense dropped down for 5 push ups. (5 yard penalty = 5 push ups! NOT 50 or 100!! 5 makes your point!) And… why is it that Receivers coaches punish guys for dropping a pass? First with 10 push ups and then they start doubling the amount? We’d have kids on the ground doing 100 (fingertip) push ups… missing 3 or 4 more chances to catch a pass! How does this MOTIVATE or TEACH a kid to catch the ball better????!!!!! See my point??!!! Let’s “discipline” that player by teaching him HOW to catch a football… not humiliate him by doing hundreds of push ups for missing a pass. If he can’t catch, he shouldn’t be at wide receiver anyway!!! Be a great coach— be a great teacher!!! Train your players through the use of effective motivational techniques.

“If you want someone to REPEAT a behavior, REWARD it when he does it! If you want a player to STOP doing something, IGNORE it and eventually it will go away!” That’s from my days in Behavioral Psychology class at The College of William and Mary! (and “No!” I was NOT there at the same time as Thomas Jefferson!!! lol) I never forgot it. It works!!!


Posted by admin May - 9 - 2016 - Monday Comments Off on “READY, READY!!!” “TEAM!!!”

I had another great morning working with my “adopted” Wing T team. We spent over an hour out on the field installing plays from the Buck Sweep series! I LOVE to teach/coach/train football players! And, this school has some! “Football players”… that is! They’re going to surprise some people this fall.

I presented a little drill that didn’t go over too well— so it took a little “training period” for them to understand what I wanted!!! I call it our “Ready-Ready!” drill.

I first saw it in action at a camp that the coaches from Christopher Newport University put on in our area. One of their assistant coaches, whom I’d known for years, called all of the participants together (about 100 kids in all) and explained what the “Ready Ready!” drill is… and what it’s for! The coach shouts out “Ready- Ready!” ALL of the players respond with a quick hand clap while simultaneously shouting back to the coach: “TEAM!” What the CNU coach explained was this: “When you guys clap and say ‘Team!” together, it means: “Mouths closed; eyes up; ears ‘open’ and… brains engaged!” In other words, “Be quiet and pay attention!” It is THE BEST WAY I have found to get a large group focused quickly!!! Kids, in particular, need a procedure like this to get them focused.

Soooooooo… we tried it this morning. I barked out, “Ready- Ready!” and… oh, it was baaaaad! I had about 30 people clapping all at different times and several who didn’t even say “Team!” So, I explained our “One Heart Beat” philosophy. “Guys, we ALL clap and… we all clap at the SAME TIME!” It’s one sound— not 7 or 8 different “pops” as people clap. ONE heart beat!” So, we tried it again. A little better. Once more, and they were “decent.” I had their attention so I explained what we were going to do next.

Well, about 10 minutes later I needed to get their attention again so I shouted, “Ready-Ready.” I had about 10 of the 40 clap and most of them said “Team!” So, we did it again… and again… and again! It got better.

Same thing— about 5 minutes later. No good! So, on the ground they went!!! “Assume the position, please! Everybody in the ‘up’ push-up position.” They got down and I did it again: “Ready-ready!” They responded “Team” but… nobody clapped!!! I explained that they STILL had to clap or we’d stay down there a while. I tried it again… “Ready- Ready!” and they pushed off and clapped. Not great but… I made my point! “It’s a LOT easier to clap when you’re standing up, isn’t it??!!!” I got them up and we did it again. Amazingly, it sounded pretty good!

We did this (again, unexpectedly!) 2 or 3 more times. Finally, we got a grrrrreat one! Everybody clapped (at the same time!) and everyone shouted “Team” at the same time! I told them later that this was a great “conditioning” drill. They had a perplexed look on their faces! “This is a MENTAL conditioning drill, guys! We are building team unity, team pride and respect for your coach. He wants your attention and he wants it NOW! Get focused!”

If you’re looking for an edge. If you agree that the “Little Things” can make a BIG difference… then, this is a drill that I encourage you to adopt in your program!!!

Last thing… *NOTE: The discipline (punishment, if you will) was not 100 yards of crabbing! It was NOT 50 up/downs! I simply had them get in a push up position for 10- 15 seconds and try to clap their hands from there! Discipline is designed to TEACH! The word discipline sounds a lot like “disciple” doesn’t it?? Jesus’ disciples… they were there to LEARN from the Master Teacher! Sometimes Jesus had stern words for His disciples but… he never degraded them or made them do something so “out of proportion” to the offense (“Let the punishment FIT the crime!) that it was DE-motivating. I think I’ll talk more about “DISCIPLINE” next week!

IN Christ,

Dealing with an “I Can’t” Attitude

Posted by admin May - 3 - 2016 - Tuesday Comments Off on Dealing with an “I Can’t” Attitude

Attitude is one of those words that we use a lot but… I’m not sure if someone pinned us down, we could really define it! Think about it!!???
My Word Finder describes “Attitude” as: disposition, outlook, point of view or demeanor. OK. That makes me think of how someone is ACTING. However, attitude has its origin or basis in my mind. What we’re thinking or feeling on the INSIDE directly influences our behavior.

Wherever we go, we take our “attitude” with us. The story of the Israelites approaching the Promised Land is a great example of this. For 400 years they’d been captives in Egypt. They had developed a “slave mentality”— they lacked the ability to make any decisions for themselves. Consequently, when the spies came back from checking out this “land of milk and honey”… ten of the twelve described the people in the land as “giants! We are like grasshoppers compared to them.” Only two of the spies had the right “attitude” and exclaimed that they could take the land!

From a spiritual standpoint, Joshua and Caleb (the 2 spies with the positive attitude) had developed the capacity to see things from God’s perspective. The other 10 were defeated even before they faced their foes! This “I Can’t” attitude spelled doom from the git-go!

We need to view every situation or circumstance through God’s eyes. I like what Pastor Bob Gass said: “You stop looking at the Devil’s picture of defeat and focus on God’s portrait of success.”

I’m not talking about pop psychology or some name it-claim it theology. I’m encouraging all of us to stand on God’s Word and declare, “I am God’s masterpiece.” (Ephesians 2:10) and “I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength to accomplish it.” (Philippians 4:13)