Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for August, 2017

Weekend Work Schedule

Posted by admin August - 29 - 2017 - Tuesday Comments Off on Weekend Work Schedule

For the first 12 years that I was a high school head football coach, I ascribed to the philosophy of “IF we want to be successful, we have to OUT-work our opponent!” I equated that with how many hours a week I spent on coaching; watching film; scouting and all the other things that went into being a “successful” program. There was just one BIG problem: by mid-season, I was exhausted and.. all of this work did not show itself on the scoreboard!

In my 13th year, I brought on an assistant who had been a coach on a local team that had won a state championship 2 years prior. I was excited to have him join our staff… mostly because of his winning background. Little did I know at the time that he would revolutionize my coaching style and philosophy! Coach Warren was the first to introduce me to concept of “take care of the details.” Those “behind-the-scene” things which are going to affect your whole program are more important than how many hours a week you spend coaching.

One of the first things he convinced me of was: to give the players (and coaches!) a day off on Saturday! He reminded me that even God has a day of rest when He was creating the Earth! That was good enough for me. With the advent of Hudl, I was able to watch our previous night’s game in the leisure of my home on Saturday as I prepared to settle in and watch college football. By Sunday evening, I was ready to meet with my staff. We’d review the previous game and then focus for an hour on our next opponent. We came to work… and my meetings never lasted more than 2 hours. Shorter than that if I could condense it!

We also learned to work smarter… not harder!!! Some things that we were spending waaaaaaaaaay too much time working on during the weekend was curtailed. I adopted a grading system (#53 in my book, 101 Little Things) that was helpful but did not take hours to use. We streamlined our scouting. We found that most of the information we gathered about an opponent was for the staff… NOT the players! Unless you’re at a private academy or Football Factory where your players’ time is unlimited, it’s best to have a staff that is ready to “coach ’em up” on Monday. Unless your kids are different than the ones I’ve coached since Hudl came out, the only thing they want to watch is the game… and specifically, themselves! LOTS of highlight video’s; not many minutes spent watching an opponent!

I can go into a lot more detail but it’s in the book. OR… you can contact me if you have questions about our weekend schedule. Learn to work smarter; not harder!


Posted by admin August - 22 - 2017 - Tuesday Comments Off on Communication

I think it is very important that you keep the “lines of communication” open throughout the football season. As the coach, you are speaking to your players just about every day. It is also important that you keep your AD and principal informed as to what is going on with your team and/or your program. Administrators don’t like “surprises!” If you know of someone who is going to be calling one of them to complain, let that administrator know ahead of time. Everyone likes a “head’s up!”

This is to encourage you to keep the lines of communication open with the players’ parents, too. Keeping them informed helps to make them feel part of the team. Keep them in the loop.

One of the best ways to do this is to send out a weekly email report to parents, administrators and players. I sent mine out on Sunday evenings each week during the season. It was a brief recap of the previous week’s activities. If you had a game, you can give an analysis of the game. When you do, it is important to stay positive and encouraging. Never denigrate a player (in this case through mass email) in front of the whole team. You can talk about areas that need improvement but speak life… not death!!! I generally didn’t even mention an individual player in my Weekly Report. I stuck to our “BIG team; little me” philosophy even when handing out praise. It’s always a team effort when we won. If we lost, it was MY fault.

I recall that we lost a close game late in the 4th quarter one year. Our regular punter got injured during the game. We got pinned deep in our own territory and had to punt out of our end zone with just a couple of minutes left. There was no reason to go for it— except that our back-up punter was a raw rookie who’d never played football before. I decided to go with him. I mean… what could go wrong?!! Just catch it and kick it! Welllllll, we snapped it to him in the back of the end zone and he proceeded to shank it out of bounds on the 10 yard line!!! Needless to say, the other team scored on the ensuing drive and we lost. After the game, the reporter covering it tried to “bait” me into being critical of our rookie punter who “blew the game.” I would have none of it. I praised him for doing his best in a very tough situation. I also said that I had confidence that he would do better in the future. Two years later, this same boy was the leading kicker in the area and was invited to walk on at a major university!!! At graduation that following June, the punter’s mom sought me out… to thank me for not publicly ridiculing her son. She told me how much she appreciated not making him the scapegoat. By handling it the way I did, it gave her son the motivation to keep working on his kicking!

The Weekly Report is also a time to talk about the coming week’s activities. You can speak a little about your upcoming opponent. Remind the players (and parents) of the weekly practice schedule. If there are any special events, remind them of those. Keep those lines of communication open!

A number of parents thanked me each year for the Weekly Report! They knew what was going on and said that it made them feel like a part of the team.

I closed the Weekly Report with our new “Word (or character trait) of the (next) Week”! That word or trait would be the focus for my “character-building” talks that I would give to the team as the week’s practices progressed. All of this information was presented in one place at one time to everyone involved in the program. It is important to the unity and cohesiveness of your team. Try it. It takes a few minutes each weekend but it’s worth it in producing good will.

Never Assume

Posted by admin August - 15 - 2017 - Tuesday Comments Off on Never Assume

It’s interesting, informative and (sometimes) entertaining to stand back and actually watch a HS football practice unfold. To be an observer instead of an active participant gives me a whole different perspective. One thing I’ve noticed is how effective the communication is between coaches and players. I’ve come to realize in only 2 weeks that, as a coach, you have to be verrrrrrrry careful not to assume anything when you’re dealing with teen-aged boys!

You’ve probably heard the adage: “Never assume! Cuz assuming something will make an A-S-S out of U and ME!!!” As a coach, you cannot take it for granted that a player has understood your instructions. The coaches I’m advising get upset when a 2nd team player makes a mistake that a starter was corrected for 10 minutes before. First off, the back up probably wasn’t even paying attention when the starter was corrected and… now that it’s his turn, he’s pretty much clueless on how he is supposed to execute his position. Assuming that the back up was listening is just going to cause heart burn on everyone’s part.

Sooooooo… if we are to never assume that your instructions are clearly understood and will be carried out, how should we proceed to be sure that coaching instructions are followed correctly?

One thing you can do is to get the player to repeat back what you just told him. Say, “Now… you’re the coach. Coach me on what I’m supposed to do.” Then have him repeat it back to you in a practical situation. That way, you are checking to be sure they’ve been paying attention and understand what you were teaching them. How many times has someone explained something to you and you nodded your head in affirmation when in reality you had NO clue what they were explaining? That happened to me when we had life insurance agents in the house! The agent would sit there and go over all of the benefits the new policy provided. I didn’t want to appear dumb… so, I just nodded my head like I knew exactly what he just said!!! Don’t think that your players don’t do the same thing!!!

Biggy-backing off of this, one of the best ways to check to see if your players understand their assignments is having quick quizzes. You can even do it on the field. You sub in a back up for a starter and call the starter over to you. You pose the question right there. What’s your rule on Buck Sweep to your side? He gives you the correct answer. Your response is, “Good job. Now… explain me to what ‘gap’- ‘down’- ‘backer’ actually means!” If he can’t give you an immediate correct answer, drop him for 5 push ups. It doesn’t need to be 25 up/downs or 200 yards of bear crawls!! 5 push ups makes the point.

Your job as a coach is to be an effective teacher. An effective teacher never takes anything for granted. I love the way the military trains its people. They explain; they show; they do… and do and do and do. If need be, they back up and explain and show again till the soldiers can do it right.

Never assume that a player is listening!!!

It’s Time to RUN!!!

Posted by admin August - 7 - 2017 - Monday Comments Off on It’s Time to RUN!!!

I saw something today that, for an “Old Dog”, will be a “new trick!” My whole way of thinking about “running” players for Conditioning was changed in one 20-minute period!!!

The HC whom I’m “consulting” for started his conditioning program today!!! Yep! He runs a very uptempo practice where the players are “on the move” for 2 1/2 hours but… there had been no time specifically set aside for “conditioning”— until today! The kids have 3 weeks to “peak.” He is confident (and I believe him… cuz he researches and talks about football to more experts than any coach I know!) that the players will be in tip top shape by September 1st.

The other interesting aspect of the “conditioning” periods was: No sprints! No gassers! No distance running!!! He calls it “county fair.” There are 8 stations set up around the perimeter of the practice field. He breaks up the team into 8 equal groups and sends 1 group to each station. On the whistle, they begin to run… and cut… and spin… and turn… and accelerate and decelerate and… sprint 10 yards. After 2 1/2 minutes he blows the whistle and the groups rotate to the next station. In a roughly 20 minute segment, each player ran about 75 20-40 yard sprints… and they didn’t even realize that they were “conditioning!!!”

It was pretty amazing!

Injured Reserves???

Posted by admin August - 3 - 2017 - Thursday Comments Off on Injured Reserves???

What to do with those players who are injured yet still attend practice??? This situation came up this morning and I felt the need to address it since many of you are starting full contact practices. Players are going to get banged up and for whatever reason, they are going to sit out a practice or two. I believe that how you deal with them “sends a message” to the rest of your players. Kids today are so media-conscious; in that, they “see” things when we, as adults, don’t!

A coach contacted me about what to do with those players who can’t practice. I shared how I used to just let them stand on the sideline (here’s the KEY) in street clothes and observe. What I didn’t realize was that… there was more observing of what the injured players were doing (or not doing!) than vice versa. They stood over there and laughed. They stood in the shade. They walked to the water horse anytime they wanted. What the players who were practicing were observing was: these guys are reallllllllly taking it easy! Maybe, I need to get a little “banged up” so I can stand in the shade and watch practice for a couple of these hot days!!!

Then I visited Va. Tech during a spring practice one year. I noticed that every player was dressed out! However, players had different colored jerseys on. I recognized offense and defense but there were also yellow jerseys (for the QB’s… non contact) and red jerseys. These guys were over on the sidelines… not participating in drills. I asked the Head Trainer what was going on?? He shared with me that, “those are the players who are injured and are not allowed to participate in any drills.” Yet, I saw that they were fully dressed in gear and that they were doing a series of exercises (push ups; sit ups; stretching) while practice was going on. The Trainer explained further, “Nobody gets a ‘day off.’ There’s work to be done to help them either rehab their injury or simply to stay in shape. They need to be working too.” A new team policy took shape in my head.

When practice started the next year, it was now one of our policies that everyone dresses out for practice if they are in attendance. If a player has a shoulder injury that precludes him from wearing shoulder pads, he can still wear his girdles, pants and helmet— with his jersey on with no shoulder pads. Our trainer gave them a series of exercises to do while practice was going on. Some could even do sprints or jog around the field. The key was: they were going to work! It was not a vacation. In addition, if they were physically able, they became “managers for a day.” They helped set up and then put away equipment in the shed. They pulled the water horse around. It was their job to keep the field cleaned up. Again, not the most fun day they’re ever spent “watching” practice.

I found that kids were not as inclined to just want to “take a day off”— when they had to dress out, exercise constantly and… help with managerial duties!

Let me close on a verrrrrrrrrrrrry serious note: we were always cognizant of a player’s physical status. We had a Trainer on the field every day and we always told the players that if they had a concern… to see the trainer before they left school! Big or small— get it checked out. We also talked a lot about the difference between being “hurt” and being injured. The player should know his body and pain threshold well enough to know the difference. Football is a “collision sport” and your body is going to have aches and pains. If the player had ANY question, see the trainer.

My policy with our trainer and Team Doctor was always this: YOU do the injury evaluations and I will do the coaching. If a trainer or doctor told me that a kid was done… he was done! I’m not going to question their decision. Likewise, they don’t come down and tell me to “go for it” instead of punting either!!! SAFETY FIRST!! We were very fortunate to have a great deal of support from our school and community to get the very best medical care for our players. Find a local Sports Medicine doctor who is willing to volunteer his/her time to check out your players and be on the sideline during games. Then…. let them do their job!


Posted by admin August - 1 - 2017 - Tuesday Comments Off on Specializing!!!

This is more of a commentary than advice today. It’s bothered me for a while and it’s “reared its ugly head again!”

As football practice has started, several players have told the HC that they CAN’T come out for football!!!! “Why not?” he asks. The answers are all centered around 2 things (just 1 really!) but their “reason” is: they have to concentrate on 1 sport or…. here it comes: it’ll ruin their chances of getting a scholarship!!! Come on man!!!

I bet if you lined up 100 high school athletes from your school and asked them to be honest and tell you WHY they are playing their particular sport, the vast majority would say: “To get a scholarship.” WOW!!! What happened to playing high school sports for the sake of enjoyment of the sport and competition and interacting with your teammates???

This all came to a head two weeks ago for me as I watched the MLB Home Run Derby. Aaron Judge was crushing it! The announcers were going on and on about what a great guy he is— besides being an outstanding baseball player! Then it happened… they flashed a message across the screen showing Judge in his HS football uniform and his Sr. year stats. Oh and then it showed him in his basketball uniform grabbing a rebound and his stats! Finally, his stats for his senior baseball season! A 3-sport star!!! I bet his baseball coach had a stroke every year! Or maybe his basketball coach implored him to “forget about those other 2 sports and concentrate on basketball!” His football coach… probably tried to apply the same pressure!!! Is it SOOOOOOOOOOOOO sad… and infuriating!!! And quite honestly, very selfish on the part of that coach who pressures his/her players to concentrate on 1 sport— his, of course!!!

My response? Playing 3 sports in high school didn’t seem to adversely affect Aaron Judge’s baseball career… did it???!!!!

Think about it!!!