Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for August, 2016

Muscle Memory Patterns

Posted by admin August - 31 - 2016 - Wednesday Comments Off on Muscle Memory Patterns

I don’t normally post twice in one week but this situation came up yesterday and I felt like it needed to be addressed. I have NO idea how many coaches read these things each week but… if I’m helping one guy, it’s worth it!

This concerns “interrupting” practice to correct mistakes. The discussion (friendly dispute) came up when a coach told me that his philosophy is: if a player makes a mistake (this was during 11 on 11), he “shows” him what he did wrong and moves on. He felt like it was more important to get through the list of plays on his script than to take the time to “correct” the error and then… run the play again. My point is: just “showing” someone what he’s done wrong is not an effective teaching strategy. You need to “show” him, yes! But then he needs to “correct his mistake.” The play needs to run again… and again, if necessary, until it is blocked correctly. True, it may mean that you only get through 11 or 12 of the 20 plays you had scheduled but… you will KNOW when you leave the field that your players know how to run the play correctly and can execute it on game night.

I had lunch with my sister today and ran this situation by her. She is a professional actress, director and writer. I have “picked her brain” on numerous occasions to find out how she gets a troupe of actors ready to do a live performance on stage. It occurred to me that there are a LOT of similarities between getting ready for a live performance on stage and a live performance on a football field! Her tips have proven to be very helpful. I decided to run this issue past her today to get her feelings on it… from a theatrical standpoint.

I told her, “I was discussing with a coach about what to do if a player blows an assignment during practice. He said to me that he shows or tells the player what he did wrong and moves on…” “NO!” she blurted out! “You’ve got muscle memory patterns” involved here!!! You can’t just show/tell them what they did wrong; you have to walk them through it. There are muscle memory patterns deeply involved here. Bodily movements that are NOT corrected (right on the spot!) become ingrained on the brain! Unless the performer actually DOES the action correctly, he’s memorized it incorrectly and will continue to do it INcorrectly. The eyes need to report it to the brain (doing it the right way) which then directs neural energy to the muscles.” My reply? “Amen, sis!!!”

I’ve studied Principle of Learning. Any of you out there reading this who are in the classroom have sat in on seminars or taken a course on: “Learning Modalities.” Some people learn through listening (a small percentage) and a lot of people learn through visual cues. But the most effective means of learning is: DOING!!! It’s why you Math teachers out there make students come to the board and write out a problem… AND, answer it! And if their answer is incorrect? Yep! You make them work it out (maybe with help from you or another student) until they get it right!

My sister pointed out that marching bands, drill teams and dance squads all subscribe to this means of teaching intricate group maneuvers. My sister and I concurred that it’s also very applicable to an offensive football team. I think it applies to defense/special teams—ANY learning experience.

Reps! Reps! Reps! It’s tedious; it’s boring. But it’s the most effective way to learn. However… I’m sure you’ve heard the statement that: “Practice Makes Perfect.” Is that true??

NO! NO!! NO!!! The only thing that produces perfect results is perfect practice. Too many people confuse activity with achievement. I can “turn the pages in my textbook” and then announce that I’ve “read” a chapter! But… what was gained from “reading”; i.e., turning the pages? Not much.

I have huddled my 1st team offense around me many times as we are starting our Team period in practice. I show them the script. “Guys, we have 30 minutes to try and run 25 plays. That’s the challenge… to get ALL of them rehearsed. But… we will go back and repeat any play that’s not run correctly. That means, no missed assignments and everyone is hustling TO the whistle. Are you ready to accept this challenge??” If your kids have a competitive bone in their body, they’re going to work real hard to practice mistake-free and get in all 25 plays! Unfortunately, there were days when after 15 minutes had passed that I stepped back in front of the unit and showed them where we were on the script. “Guys, we’ve been doing this for 15 minutes now and we are ONLY on play number 7!!! That is just not acceptable. Let’s get focused and run these things correctly.” Yes, there were days when after 30 minutes we’d only gotten to play 17 or 18. But, I knew that those plays had been run correctly and THOSE were the plays we needed to concentrate on in the game that week.

I had college head coaches (I had 2 Hall of Famers— Marv Levy and Lou Holtz!) who subscribed to the philosophy of “reset… and hit the ‘Do Over’ button.” Not me. If we’re supposed to run 25 plays in 30 minutes and we only got through 18 then… hopefully, we’d do a little better the next day. It was an opportunity lost. I always explained it to the players in that manner. There are going to be lost opportunities in life. Try not to let it happen to YOU!!!

That’s MY story… and I’m stickin’ to it!!! Have a blessed day!!!

Be the HEAD Coach

Posted by admin August - 30 - 2016 - Tuesday Comments Off on Be the HEAD Coach

I talked with a head coach recently who was expressing some frustration to me over how his team’s preseason had gone. There were several issues we discussed but I’ll just select one for now.

His offense was just NOT clicking in the preseason. He was concerned about it since they open up this week. I asked him about his role in all of this and was verrrrrry surprised with his response! He said that, “On game nights, I’m going to be the Special Teams Coordinator and manage the game.” I’ve gotten a little bolder and blunter in my old age so I don’t think I gave him the response he was anticipating. I said:

“Coach, who is the most experienced coach on your staff?” “Me,” he said. And, “who is the most knowledgable?” “Me.” and “Who works the hardest and commits the most time to your program?” “Me.” “Frankly, who is the BEST coach on your staff?” He humbly replied, “Well, I guess it’s ME.” “YES!!! No doubt,” was what I (just about shouted!)

I said, “But you are simply going to “manage” the game next Friday?!!! You’re going to stand there and let someone else control the game through their play calls on Offense and Defense? Coach, this isn’t college.” I put it to him pretty emphatically… he needs to be actively involved in controlling every move… not just managing the game. In my mind, managers “react” after things happen. A coach is “dictating” how things unfold.

Soooooooo… high school head coaches who read this: Unless you’ve got a veteran (former) head coach with waaaaay more experience, knowledge and success than you do… who’s come out of retirement to help you—– YOU need to be (at least!) your own Offensive (or Defensive) Coordinator— and maybe you need to be both!!!

“Good, Better, Best!”

Posted by admin August - 23 - 2016 - Tuesday Comments Off on “Good, Better, Best!”

We were on vacation last week. We didn’t find out until we arrived that we had neither phone service nor internet! Our 10 year old granddaughter called it “living in the old timey days!!!” Sooooooo… no post last week! But, I’m back!

I had a conversation with a coach yesterday who was talking about the motivation/interest level of his various players. They are installing the Delaware Wing T so I have been a “Consultant” for him. He commented that “this is an offense for the underdog and overachievers. My more talented players get bored easily and lose focus.” That statement caused me to pause… and think! What do we do with those players on our team who are obviously gifted? How do we motivate them to continue to improve?

Then, I saw in the paper (yep! old school! I still read the printed local newspaper every morning!!!) that Notre Dame dismissed a former “5 star athlete” from their team. The article commented about how the player had never shown much of the “greatness” that he’d shown in high school while playing at ND. What happened? Why didn’t this player continue to shine like he had in high school? I think it has to do with how we motivate these “more talented” players on our team.

There are 3 statements which I have always “preached” to my players which relate to this situation of challenging the reallllllly good ones (and everyone else!) to continue to work hard, improve and dominate. They are:
1- from Tim Duncan, “Good. Better. Best… You can never rest! Until your good becomes better and your better becomes best!”
2- from Kevin Durant, “Hard work beats “talent” when “talent” doesn’t work hard!”
and 3- from the Bible, “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

The stars need to be challenged to work to improve their skills, their attitude, and their leadership abilities just as much as that big ole offensive tackle who’s trying as hard as he can! These guys, the gifted ones, can’t be allowed to just get by on their athletic ability alone. They may dominate in high school but… if they get the opportunity to play at the next level (when EVERYONE is just as good or better than them!), they will have needed their high school coach to have “pushed” him to be even better than he already is!

Add a Little Stress!

Posted by admin August - 11 - 2016 - Thursday Comments Off on Add a Little Stress!

There’s a pop song from my teen years in the 60’s that is part of what this post is about. I don’t recall what singer/group sang it but it went… “Try a little tenderness.” When dealing with people (especially teenagers!) in this day and time, using your softer/gentler side, Coach, can go a long way in promoting good will! Good will with your players; good will with their parents; good will toward your school administrators. I’m paraphrasing but… there’s a verse in the Bible from the Book of Proverbs that says: “A soft answer turns away wrath.” Which to me means: stay cool in those stress-filled situations. It’ll promote calm and, in the long run, help you develop more self-control. God knows best!

Thus, leading to my topic today. It sounds like the antithesis of that first paragraph but… hang with me, cuz it’ll all come together in the end!

STRESS. Stress has developed a “bad name” in our culture today. Everybody talks about staying away from stressful situations. Avoiding people who cause you stress. Find ways to ease your stress. Hey, “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere”… right??!!! NO!!! Like most anything else, avoidance doesn’t make the problem go away! If you’re going to be involved in a competitive sport like football, there is going to be stress. It’s the nature of the beast. What I’m about to say is a bit radical… but, I think stress is actually a good thing!!!! Wellllllllllll… properly-regulated stress is a good thing. If your body had no stress/no tension, you’d be a slug! Your muscles constantly have some tension. When you call upon your body to react (like when a football play starts), the stress level on your body— that which your muscles and nerves produce— propels you into action. So, NO stress is not a good thing. A football team that has little or no stress before a game is either waaaaaaay over-confident or just doesn’t care. Everyone— every team needs some stress to be able to perform at their peak level. Thus the rub!

How do you, as a coach, KNOW how much stress is just right? Your team is made up of dozens of young men… each with a different personality. Sociologists have discovered, though, that in a group setting the group mind-set takes over. What you get is a “synergy” that transcends individual make-ups. It’s like what those sociologists call “Group Think.” A wise coach studies his team… looking for signs of what the Group Personality is. There are always going to be some “outlyers.” But, for the most part, if a kid is playing a team sport… he’s playing it because he enjoys the interaction with other people. He’s willing to sacrifice some of his individuality for the sake of the group/team. Coaches need to observe their team when they’re together. It could be in a structured situation like when they are in the weight room together. It could (and should) be in a more relaxed setting, too— like when they’re hanging out in the locker room before practice. When I was a head coach, we met in the Team Room before we went on the field for practice. I made announcements; we talked about practice; we might have a scouting session but… the kids knew to meet in the Team Room (ALWAYS!) before we went outside. I would arrive and many times would not start the meeting right away. I’d just observe. Who’ sitting where? Who’s sitting with whom? Where’s the laughter coming from? Who seems subdued today? You begin to get a “feel” for your team’s personality. That will be important as you face the weekly grind of trying to win as many games as you can.

I am “consulting” for a local team. I’ve mentioned them a couple of times in previous posts. I am having a blast… helping install the offense I love and just interacting with the players and coaches. The young head coach and I are forming a good working relationship that is becoming more and more of a “bonding” situation where he knows I’m there to help him. So, he is learning to trust me. I offer my expertise and experience and he is soaking it up. I told him that he has a “teachable spirit” about him. They have their first pre-season scrimmage tonight. I have been pleased with the progress they’ve made in learning to execute the Delaware Wing T. Tonight they get put to the test.

I shared with him what I thought was the best (mental) way to approach tonight’s scrimmage. We’re pretty big into NASCAR racing here in Tidewater, Virginia. I suggested (cuz THAT’S what a consultant does!!!!) that he use a NASCAR analogy for tonight. It’s just a “Test Drive.” We want to see how the “engine” responds when we put it on the track and push the pedal to the metal! Don’t make a big deal about “winning and losing.” Tonight is about EXECUTION. NO turn-overs! NO missed assignments! NO major penalties. It’s only a scrimmage. It will not count in their regular-season record. Down-play it so the… HERE WE GO!!!: their STRESS LEVEL stays low. You don’t need them all hyped up tonight.

I had teams that were soooooooo hyper before a game that I had to find ways to calm them down! Other teams required a very emotional appeal before each game to “wake them up.” Others, we said that they had “Quiet Fire.” There was a high level of intensity but… they did NOT need anyone to “pump them up” before a game. That’s YOUR job, Coach! You’ve got to learn what your Team Temperament is and then, when necessary, ADD a little stress! OR… at other times, try a little tenderness… to calm them down.

I’ll close by sharing one of the most amazing pre-game environments I was ever around in my 31 years as a head football coach! It happened before our State Championship game last fall. We’d gathered to head out on the field for the game to start. I was looking for the “pulse” of the team to see if I needed to pump them up OR… calm them down. (I’ve been known to tell a stupid joke… I love puns! before a game to get a groan. Laughter releases stress!) I looked in those kids’ eyes to try and determine where they were emotionally and psychologically and, guess what I got looking back at me? The most peaceful, yet determined look on faces that I’d EVER seen! I KNEW at that moment that we were going to win that game! I didn’t need to say anything. Our “NASCAR Engine” was finely-tuned! We were ready to fly! And… we did! It was over in the first half! The stress level was perfect-a-mundo!!! I was smart enough to just “leave it alone.” You need to develop this power of observation too.


Posted by admin August - 2 - 2016 - Tuesday Comments Off on Play-calling

I’ve always enjoyed reading. When I was young, I loved the Hardy Boys Mysteries and biographies of famous men. As an adult, I find great wisdom and practical advice in the Bible. A good mystery is always entertaining too! It always amazes me the little “nuggets” you can pick up when you read. I was reading a novel recently about World War II when the lead character, an American soldier embroiled in the Battle of the Bulge, commented about how the German Panzer (tank) commanders were using Stonewall Jackson’s strategy against the Americans! I checked out the quote the author attributed to Gen. Jackson… and it was confirmed. Here it is:
“Always mystify, mislead and surprise the enemy whenever possible.”

I made the connection to play-calling in a football game and how important it is, whether on Offense or Defense, to use this philosophy to put your opponent in a bad way!!! What was Jackson saying that a Coordinator/play-called can use? “Do the UN-expected!” You want to keep your opponent out of sorts as much as possible. It’s, for instance, why I like the Delaware Wing T offense so much as the ultimate high school offensive attack. By its very nature, the Wing T with its shifts, motions, unbalanced formations, misdirection plays and deception is a perfect example of Gen. Jackson’s tactical plan. I can’t tell you how many times over a 28 year coaching career of running the Delaware Wing T that I had opposing coaches exclaim, “We HATE to defend that stinkin’ Wing T offense you run!” Your ability to seemingly “pull a play out of your hat” and have it be successful drives opposing coaches crazy! Little do they know the planning and strategy that went into having that “right play” ready at the opportune time. IF… you have Stonewall’s quote in the forefront of your mind, you’ll pull off those surprises against your opponent!

This “mystify, mislead and surprise” strategy can be exhibited very simply by saying… for an offensive play-caller: “You call a pass play when the defense expects a run! and… you call a run play when they’re expecting a pass!”

Let me assure you that this is not an attempt to encourage you to be reckless in your play-calling. Being tagged as a “river boat gambler” or a “pirate” (like some famous players and coaches!) is NOT what I’m suggesting. I’m simply pointing out that there’s nothing wrong with crossing up your opponent once in a while to keep him off balance. I have a long-time coaching friend who has always said (and done!), “We get 3rd and long— 12 yards or more— we’re going to run fullback trap! And we’re going to get the first down!” Unexpected? Yes! Reckless? Not at all! It simply is calling a play that the defense does not think would be called in that situation.

Thomas J. (“Stonewall”) Jackson is recognized as one of the greatest commanders in the history of warfare. His tactics and strategies are world-famous. One of the strategies he employed which “mystified” the Union generals during the American Civil War was how quickly he could move his army. “Tempo” has become one of the “hot things” that offenses have incorporated. I’ve discussed this topic in the past on this blog so I won’t go into detail now. I WILL say that not huddling or running a Sugar huddle a la Auburn and Gus Malzahn can be that surprise element that keeps a drive alive or gives you a “cheap” score.

One of the coaches I gained a lot from was Bobby Bowden when he was so successful at Florida State. He always had a trickeration play in his game plan and wanted to call his “trick” before his opponent called theirs! I adopted this strategy a few years back and it produced some very positive results— in games AND on the practice field! We would introduce the “Trick of the Week” on Monday. It was always met with great enthusiasm by the players. They were excited to see what Coach J. had “cooked up” for us that week!!! Anything that raises the “fun quotient” in practice means that that practice is more spirited and focused. Whenever we practiced our “trick” the players worked extra hard to perfect their assignment. By Friday night we were ready to spring it on our opponent. There were games where I ended up not even calling it. If that was the case, we just saved it for the next week. This was the situation in our state championship game last fall. In the state semi’s we got off to a quick lead and did not need to call our “trick of the week.” So, going into the finals we had 2 tricks ready! My attitude going into that championship game (since I was retiring regardless of the outcome) was “Let it ALL hang out! Don’t leave anything uncalled on the play sheet. We were going out in a blaze of glory!”

With 2 “tricks” on my Ready List, I decided midway through the 2nd quarter to spring the first one. Our qb hit our “stacked” flanker with a screen pass. He got one block from the SE and went the distance… 40 yards and TD! We got the ball back quickly and from almost the exact same spot on the field, we called our second “trick” (a Double Pass with motion) and… yep! It hit for a 35 yard TD! We got both 2 point conversions and in a matter of 4 minutes, we broke the game wiiiiiiide open! Why? Cuz I incorporated General Jackson’s strategy: “Mystify, mislead and surprise your opponent!”