Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for September, 2017

Recipe For Success

Posted by admin September - 26 - 2017 - Tuesday Comments Off on Recipe For Success

I had a coach contact me the other day and admit that last week’s post “fit” his situation and he appreciated the words. He seemingly asked in frustration, “Coach, what was your secret of success over such a long period of time?” He went on to say, “We had a couple of good years and then fell right back into mediocrity.” This is what I shared with him.

A “recipe” is just what it is: a certain number of ingredients (all necessary) all measured out in the just the right quantity; then allowed to sit and finally, bake for the proper amount of time. Then… your cake/pie/cookies come out just right! My wife makes THE best home-made chocolate chip cookies. I noticed recently that once she’d put all the ingredients together that she put a lid on the bowl and put it in the refrigerator for a while. I’d never seen this before, so I asked her about it. “You need to let the cookie dough firm up before you spoon them out in the pan or they will lose their shape and spread out too much in the pan.” I didn’t know this! It’s one of those Little Things that can make a BIG difference. Remember that, Coaches, when you are preparing your team.

There are a LOT of factors that can produce a successful season. Obviously, having talent helps a lot! Having experienced, knowledgeable and loyal assistant coaches is important, too. But, there are those intangibles that a successful coach comes to realize are necessary to being successful. If I had to write out 3 ingredients that need to go into the recipe that produces “yummy cookies” (winning football teams!), I’d suggest these:

Teach, expect and demand (if necessary) that your players:
1- Play HARD
2- Play Smart
3- Play Fast

I think I got this from Bear Bryant… or something similar to it. At any rate, it has proven to be a successful recipe for the different teams that I led for 31 years as a head football coach. Let’s look briefly at each ingredient:

1- Play HARD. I’ve heard coaches say that “I can’t teach hustle.” Au contraire! I beg to disagree. If hustle is a fundamental block of your coaching philosophy then it is imperative that you teach hustle; ie., playing HARD. You have to teach it because most people are not self-motivated. You do a lot of drills where going hard to the whistle is expected… and if they don’t, they do it again. Pursuit drill on defense is a great example. Timing each gasser or sprint during conditioning is essential. If they don’t make their time, they run an extra sprint. They need to know that lack of hustle can get you benched. What you demand, you achieve.

2- Play Smart. Players simply MUST know their assignments in order to be successful. If they don’t know them, that falls back on the coach. Either you are trying to do too much or… you need to find a better way to get it in the kids’ heads. Another area of “playing smart” was staying away from making “bonehead errors.”
Those “little things” during a game that can cost you dearly. One thing I always did during practice was to make sure we talked a LOT about things like: a) don’t block behind the ball! Be a cheerleader— don’t have a TD called back cuz you did something stupid. b) there’s no reason to ever get a late hit. Know where you are on the field. And if it happened, the player “paid a price” with some reminders after practice on Monday. c) ball carriers don’t fumble. We worked a lot on ball security but… if a fumble occurred, the player got to do one of “Coach J’s Fumble Drills” during practice on Monday. It was a strong deterrent to coughing up the ball in subsequent games. Something I learned from my high school coaches, Billy O’Brien and Jimmy Calhoun, is that we want to take advantage of the other team’s mistakes.
Never beat yourself! I’ve said it before: you may be called “Coach” but you’re really a “Teacher.” Soooooooo… teach!

3- Play Fast. Kids won’t play fast unless they are confident in what they’re doing. Hesitancy invariably causes a player to be that “one step behind” that keeps him from making the play when you need him too. It also means being in shape so that physically each player can play fast and hard for 4 quarters. So, it’s mental and physical.

These are just some things to think about as you evaluate your coaching style and how you’re practicing during the week. Once your players understand that this is what’s expected of them… they will work to achieve these objectives. There were many Friday nights that I stood in front of our players just prior to taking the field and reminded them to: “Play HARD! Play Smart!! and… Play Fast!!! Let’s go have some fun!!!”

When It ALL Goes Bad!

Posted by admin September - 19 - 2017 - Tuesday Comments Off on When It ALL Goes Bad!

It was a rivalry game! The newspaper had hyped it as the game of the week in the entire area. Two reallllllly good teams meeting for the first time in a number of years where the game actually meant something to BOTH teams. Excitement was in the air; a big crowd was in the stands and… we fell flat on our faces!!! We gave away 3 scores and shot ourselves in the foot 3 times inside their 10 yard line. Final score: 0 to 35!!! Total deflation!

Have you ever had it happen to you and your team? Expectations are high. You’re excited about the season and… BANG! It all comes crashing down. It happened to us with that thumping we received on Friday night. Sooooooooooooo… what do you do when this happens? “Panic” is NOT an option! Playing the “blame game” is NOT an option! “Giving up” is NOT an option! and… ADDING MORE PLAYS is NOT an option! A wise coach once told me that, “when things go bad, reduce… don’t increase!!!” You need to simplify— not complicate!

Some of you have probably heard my slogan. It’s one of our Principles of Success for Coaches. It is: SIMPLICITY = CONSISTENCY!

If you want things to be “simple” to learn (and I am not talking about “dumbing down” things!!!) then you have to make things consistent! Otherwise, you are creating confusing and doubt in the minds of your players. This, in turn, leads to hesitancy. If a football player hesitates, he’s going to get beat! For example, you can’t have one set of blocking rules for O linemen vs. an even front and then a different set of rules (for the same plays!) vs. an odd front! It’s not consistent, therefore not simple, and thus… confuses your linemen.

Take a look at your game stats and your playbook and see if there are plays that you are rarely (or ever) running right now. Get rid of them. Stop practicing them. Concentrate on those “Big 5” key plays that you need to improve upon.

Finally, you have to be the encourager. You have to “speak life” when your players are down. It won’t do any good to criticize and point fingers when things have gone bad. Make it clear to your players (and coaches) that we are not going to stop working. We ARE going to get better. One of my favorite sayings is from Tim Duncan. I believe he shared that he first heard it from his grandma when he lived in the Caribbean. It goes: “Good; better; best. You can never rest! Until your “good” becomes “better” and… your “better” becomes “best!”

Coming From Behind (to Win!) and… Getting Better

Posted by admin September - 12 - 2017 - Tuesday Comments Off on Coming From Behind (to Win!) and… Getting Better

One of the hardest things a HS coach has to deal with is being sure that he is maximizing the talent that he has. You simply have to play to your strengths. That requires analysis and evaluation of your personnel and staff on a weekly basis. Although I’m not an advocate of taking 5-6 hours each weekend to grade every play of every player, I do think it’s important that you take some time to study the game video. If you’re on Hudl, you can use the telestrater and make notes as you’re going along. When you’re finished, send it out to the players and coaches. By the way, I wouldn’t send the game video to your players until after you’ve made your notes! Why? The players will stay up Friday night just to “watch themselves!” They don’t care as much about seeing what their mistakes were. If you don’t post the game until after7 you’ve made your notes, at least then… as they watch the game, they’re going to see your notes.

I also make sure that I make a big deal about big plays that they make too! I “telestrate” stars all over the clip! One other thing you can do to be sure they watch the video is to “imbed” a secret reward! Somewhere during the game (you can do it twice if you want), you select a clip and type a note to the players: “When you see this note, text me. You’ll get a reward on Monday!” For those who see it and text you, keep a bag of Hershey’s kisses in your desk at the locker room. When a player who can tell you what clip the “secret surprise” was located, flip a couple of kisses at him!! It’s not a big deal but the kids love candy!!

The final step in this post-game evaluation is the toughest. It’s when you decide that you have to make some changes in personnel and/or positions. It can be a “shock to the system” of a high school player when he’s told that he’s been demoted or moved to another position. But, you show him the evidence from your evaluation and (this is important) give him HOPE! Let him know that his position is now “open” and if he’s the better man during the practice week, he’ll start. You can give the other player some game time if you want to evaluate him in game situations or… maybe the back-up performs better in practice and he gets the starting nod. But I’ve always like the concept that our Wrestling coach used with “wrestle-off’s.” Whoever wins the wrestle-off during practice is the one who wrestles in the match that week. A little healthy competition can teach a high school kid a powerful lesson.

Bouncing Back!

Posted by admin September - 5 - 2017 - Tuesday 1 COMMENT

The team that I’m “consulting” for lost Friday night against one of the best teams in the state of Virginia. And probably shoulda/coulda/woulda won if they hadn’t made so many (typical first-game) mistakes. They had 11 penalties (3 of which caused TD’s to be called back!!!), 3 turn overs and numerous blown assignments on defense against a split-back veer offense. And with all that, they had a chance to tie it when they recovered an onside kick with less than a minute to play. They couldn’t get it down the field for the tying score.

As a “Consultant” my job is to observe. So, as the game ended and the coaches met with the players, I stayed in the background and just watched body language. I did the same at practice yesterday. One thing that was very obvious to me was: both the coaches and the players knew that they should’ve won that game. They were disappointed but nobody was pointing fingers. The coaches talked calmly to them after the game and went about their business as usual yesterday at the Monday practice.

One thing that I noticed that the HC did (which I thought was ingenious!) was: the Monday conditioning period was directly tied into the number of penalties they had on Friday night. 11 penalties = 11 gassers! Plus one of the 11 was a personal foul so that counted as 4 instead of one. He pointed out to them that, “you have less running to do on Monday if you have less penalties!” Excellent example of negative reinforcement.

We had our “consultation” after practice last night and I complimented him on the concept. It got the juices flowing and we “wondered out loud” how we could tie conditioning for Tuesday and Wednesday to things that need improvement in the game. He decided that… since Tuesday is “Big D” Day that they’d do a suicide for each “loaf” and/or missed tackle. He does the Defensive Tackling Chart on Monday night so he’ll know by this afternoon how many times they’ll have to run lines!

OK… how about Wednesday?? We kicked around what other factor directly impacts the game. Of course, he brought up turn-overs! I mentioned about running “U’s” or “J’s” around the field. It’s a middle distance run where they get their heart rate up but it’s not an all-out sprint. For a “U” you start the backs and ends in one corner of the field— at the intersection of the backline and the sideline. They stride out 120 down the sideline, turn left and run across the field and take another left turn and stride down the other sideline and finish at the other backline. It’s about a 300 yard “sprint.” Then the linemen run their “U” while the backs and ends walk across the field on the backline. When the get to the original starting point, they take off again. Note: With a “J” you stop them at the 20 yard line of the back sideline. That would be about a 200 yard run. We lost 3 turn-overs and got 1… for a total of – 2. So everyone will run 2 “U’s” for the turn-overs.

I think it is a powerful incentive for the kids to decrease and/or eliminate those mistakes and earn less running at the beginning of practice (yes! “Conditioning” is the first thing he does) each day.