Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for November, 2017

Make Your Special Teams “Special”

Posted by admin November - 28 - 2017 - Tuesday Comments Off on Make Your Special Teams “Special”

I love watching college football games! My Saturday’s in the fall start around 10 am when I tune in to Game Day and that leads to the first game at noon. Sometimes my tv watching doesn’t end until around midnight… IF there’s a West Coast game that I want to watch. I always enjoy seeing what coaches and their teams are doing with their kicking teams. They always seem to be so well-prepared. High school games that I watch… NOT so much! Special Teams appears to be the “stepchild” of too many high school programs. Unfortunately, it usually ends up costing them the game. I observed this happen last Friday night.

Attending a Regional championship game here in Tidewater Virginia that a former player and coach was participating in, I saw a team lose the championship on something that never should’ve happened. Let me set the scene:

“My” team jumped out to a 14-0 lead. Their kicker had put every kickoff into the end zone… unheard of in high school ball around here, anyway! The other team scored just before half to make it 14-7. The second half kickoff was returned to the opposing 30 and in 3-4 plays, my friend’s team scored again. The other team came back in the 4th Q to tie it and take it into overtime. They got the ball first and scored in 3 plays! UGH! They lined up to kick the extra point and “broke out” into a muddle huddle formation! I thought, “Wow! They DO spend time on their special teams if they know how to do that!” They shifted back; lined up for an easy kick and… 2 guys came right up the middle and blocked the PAT!!! “Come on, Man!!!”

My friend’s team got the ball, scored in 3 plays… kicked the extra point and now they are going on to the state semi-finals and the team that probably should’ve won turned in their stuff after the game. All because they didn’t emphasize to their players the importance of “taking care of the details!” Like… securing your gap on the PAT!

Championship Productions has a dvd that I did in the spring talking about “Making Your Special Teams Special.” They did a great job putting it together and I’m proud to recommend it to you. My point of emphasis is: too many teams don’t spend the time that they should on preparing their kicking game. Sooooooo… take advantage of that! Spend the necessary time and gain an advantage. I’ll never forget something that Lou Holtz told us years ago (I was fortunate to have been playing at William and Mary when Lou got his first HC job). He said, “A close game between two evenly-matched teams is usually going to come down to a play in the kicking game to decide the victor!” It taught me to never take the kicking game lightly. I encourage you to do the same!

“5 P’s of Success!”

Posted by admin November - 21 - 2017 - Tuesday Comments Off on “5 P’s of Success!”

Our pastor spoke Sunday on the “Season of Preparation” in our lives. I went up to him after church to tell him that he had “stolen my thunder!!??!!?” I explained that I talk to groups and individuals all the time about the “5 P’s of Success.” Of course he asked, “what are the 5 P’s?” I replied:

My talk is entitled “Preparation ALWAYS Precedes Promotion.”

Pastor Michael agreed… since the focus of his message was on NOT skipping the “season of preparation.” He said that “when we try to skip the season of preparation, we actually skip the best moments of life!” and, too often people”want to BE ready— but we don’t want to GET ready! Shortcuts are not the answer.” In fact, the most impactful statement he made was “Making a shortcut in the prep season messes up the ‘harvest season.'” That’s where our 2 talks come together. If you want to be productive. If you want to be promoted. If you want to be successful, then you have to properly prepare! And it doesn’t matter if you’re a football coach, a teacher or a businessperson…. “failing to prepare is preparing to fail!”

You’ve heard the axiom “practice makes perfect.” Is that true? NO! Not exactly. Yes, practice is very important (thing Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 reps rule!”); however, the only thing that makes perfect is… perfect practice. The only thing that produces successful results is proper practice. What do I mean, then, by proper preparation?

1) Be organized! Another axiom (I’m full of them!!!) “Plan your work and work your plan!” But, you can’t “work your plan” if you don’t have a plan in the first place! This means organizing both short range (day to day activities) and long range (getting a general plan for the whole (next) year.
I’ve talked with coaches who go out on the practice field and don’t even have a practice schedule! No wonder there’s not experiencing any success!

2) Be disciplined. This means you’re going to have to not only plan for your success but you’re going to have to implement that plan. This is going to require that you become disciplined. That brings to mind the idea of perseverance or persistence! If things aren’t working out according to your plan, do you persist? OR… do you give up?
I left teaching and coaching 10 years into my career to “seek my fame and fortune” selling life insurance! UGH! The only good thing that came out of it was… I was such a miserable failure at selling that I humbled myself one day and surrendered my life to Jesus! and, nothing has been the same since. “It just keeps getting better!”
I heard a man speak at an insurance agent’s conference who shared one of the the most important statements I’ve ever heard. This guy was one of the top salesman in the entire industry. Very unassuming; quiet… almost shy— so he was not your typical “go-getter” high pressure salesman that we’ve all run across. Someone asked him what was his secret to his phenomenal success? What he said has never left me! Albert Gray said, “The common denominator of success — the secret of success of every person who has ever been successful— lies in the fact that he or she formed the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do.” So simple but sooooooo profound! Ask yourself: What is it that I don’t like to do? Find the answer to that question and you are probably uncovering the basis for why you haven’t achieved the goals that you’ve set.

3) Do your homework! In coaching that means scouting and developing a game plan. Here is where a coach can find a lot of help by looking at how the military trains its officers to lead and conduct operations. I’ve stated in a blog here before… you need to purchase a copy of Warfighting by General A.N. Gray, USMC. It is one of the most concise and clear-cut treatises on how to plan, organize and implement your strategy for success that I’ve ever read. Get a copy and read it!

The definition of preparation is “make something ready for use.” That’s the whole purpose of leading, isn’t it? Whether it’s getting your players ready for Friday night’s game or preparing them for adulthood… your job is to properly prepare them.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that God is preparing YOU too! He has a purpose and a plan for each of us. We need to look to Him to discover it.

Belichick on Navy Football

Posted by admin November - 16 - 2017 - Thursday Comments Off on Belichick on Navy Football

This was just too good to pass up!
My local newspaper (yes, I’m old school!!! Still read the paper version delivered to my house every day!) had an article in the Sports section by Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post on Bill Belichick. He was visiting the Naval Academy football team recently and Steinberg had a chance to interview Belichick. The quote he got from Belichick spoke volumes about Belichick’s coaching philosophy and, in my mind, explains why the NE Patriots are so successful year in and year out.

Belichick said, “When I look back on it, one of the things I learned at Annapolis, when I grew up around the Navy football teams (his dad was an assistant coach there in the ’60’s)— I didn’t know any differently. I just assumed that’s what football was. Guys were very disciplined. They worked very hard. They did extra things. They were always on time, alert, ready to go, team-oriented, unselfish. I thought that’s the way it all was. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but I can see how that molded me.”

Note the last sentence… the impact that this environment had on Belichick influenced… no, molded… him into the coach that he is today! What he saw growing up is the bedrock foundation of the Patriot’s football program. It needs to be yours too!

“But, not all (not many!) are like those Midshipmen of the Naval Academy,” you say. That’s true! That doesn’t mean that you can’t “motivate” your players to strive to be more like those Navy football players that Belichick grew up around. How do you accomplish this? I believe it’s through accountability and responsibility.

You don’t have to be a dictator or a tyrant. Kids will respond to discipline if that’s what you expect of them. You make them accountable by enforcing basic rules that are necessary for any organization to function properly. (Look at those qualities again that Belichick said that he observed in the Navy football players.) If your players fail to live up to the standards that you set, there are consequences. Just be sure that “the punishment fits the crime!”

The responsibility part of this falls on you as the coach. You teach responsibility by being responsible. You, as the coach, have a responsibility to hold your coaches and your players accountable. If you fail to fulfill that responsibility, you are falling down on what a head coach is supposed to do.

One final note: 1- it won’t be easy. Changing a culture of laziness or irresponsibility takes time. It’s like turning a huge aircraft carrier. But, if you start in the off-season in the weight room establishing a sense of accountability, it will be easier when practice starts. 2- You’re going to have to be PERSISTENT. Too many times, I see coaches/leaders who start out all “fired up” but lose that fire over a period of weeks or months. It takes hard work to stick to something. It requires discipline and self-control— not the easiest character traits to maintain over a period of time. *Think: “New Year’s resolutions!” But, if you really care about making a difference in your program and ultimately in your coaches and player’s lives, you will persevere!

Starting Afresh

Posted by admin November - 15 - 2017 - Wednesday Comments Off on Starting Afresh

The other day, I had a coach ask about starting “fresh” with his offense. He wanted to know what he should install? My advice to him would hold true for any coach who’s looking to start afresh!

1- Stick with what you KNOW! There is no magic bullet out there as far as an offense you can install that’s going to immediately have you averaging 40 points a game. In my experience, offensive production has more to do with execution than “tricking” opponents. You can’t execute if you don’t know what you’re doing!
So… if you’re installing a “new” offense, maybe it’s better to install an “old” offense that you already know and just work harder on execution. That means paying attention to details— at every position.
If, however, you want to go in a different/new direction with your offense, it is critically important that you research it in depth. Clinics, visits to staffs that already run it, videos— all are important in gaining the depth of knowledge you need to be successful from the get-go! If you don’t, you’re going to be “swimming upstream” all season; probably get frustrated and bag the offense halfway into your season next fall.
I have been helping a coach from another area in our state of Virginia install the Delaware Wing T system of offense this year. We started conversing in January; sent him to Pittsburgh for the National Wing T Coaches Clinic and met several times during the spring and summer. The guy did his research and was ready to install the offense in the spring. By August when preseason practice began, he had it “up and running” very smoothly.
He called me midseason and said that some coaches weren’t happy with the offense. They were 5-1 at the time and putting up impressive numbers??!!!?? Some of the coaches, however, weren’t comfortable with the new offense. I encouraged him to “stick to his guns!” He did and they are 10-1 and playing the 2nd round of the state playoffs this weekend. He had confidence in the offense and confidence in himself— so he stuck it out! Good for him!

2- Coach Your Coaches: This is usually a major mess up on the part of coaches who are changing systems. You know the system but you fail to get your assistants up to speed. Thus, they can’t teach their positions effectively and your execution is sub-par. Just giving material to coaches and telling them to study and learn it is NOT enough! Do you do that with your students in your classroom? NO! You go over the material and then test them!!! You need to do the same with assistant coaches. Most coaches are not enough of a “self-starter” to get the work done that needs to be done. It’s the “80-20 principle” in play: 20% of the people are going to do 80% of the work!” The other 80% of the people you have to “motivate” to get things done. You have to “make” your coaches learn the system.
Off-season staff and individual meetings are important. Either have the coach submit answers to a test you make up OR… have them get up in front of your staff and present their drills; techniques and alignments to the rest of the coaches.

3- Stick with It! This follows what I said in point #1 above… but a little different. I mentioned the coach from Richmond who faced some opposition and stood his ground. I can relate 5-6 other stories of the same type of thing; i.e., coaches who made changes… it didn’t go well… they panicked… and “bailed” on the offense! If you’ve made a commitment, stick with it!!! Keep working hard. Take care of details. Grow as you learn. I’ve said it before on here: if things aren’t going well, don’t ADD… SUBTRACT! You may be trying to do too much! Pick out your 5-7 best plays (your Magnificent 7!) and work on them over and over! Self-scout and see what you’re calling in the game. If you’re not using it in a game, delete it! Focus on those KEY plays that you need to get better at!
Most coaches do not have the patience or perseverance to see things through to the end. That’s why the Bible so strongly encourages folks to “press on!” Philippians 3:13 is one of my life verses. It exhorts us to “press on toward the goal!” Press indicates that they will be pressure. We have to persevere through it. Never give up and never give in!

Prepping for the Playoffs

Posted by admin November - 7 - 2017 - Tuesday Comments Off on Prepping for the Playoffs

Some of you have the good fortune of being in your area’s playoff’s at this time of year. For those who have packed up the equipment, get some rest! You’re now going to turn your program around by getting in the weight room as early as possible! An extra week of lifting in November is not likely to win 4-5 more games next fall. Get away from it all. Your players will come back refreshed too.

If you’re in the midst of the playoff’s, I want to pass along a few things that I learned during my tenure as a head coach. Eleven of the last 15 years that I coached, we earned a playoff berth 11 of those seasons. We won regional and state championships during that run. We were doing something right! and… we did some things wrong. Let me share some things that I feel will be of interest and value to help you navigate your way deep into your playoffs.

1) Keep your same routine. There will always be a little more sense of urgency once the post-season starts. However, the more you can stick to your regular schedule, the better the atmosphere will be. We are creatures of habit. Do something to upset our homeostasis and it psychologically knocks us for a loop. For example, if your normal practice is 2 hours, don’t all of a sudden run it out to 3 hours so you can get some “extra work” in. If your schedule worked during the regular season (it must have or you wouldn’t be in the playoffs!), it will work during the post-season.

2) Do NOT take any playoff opponent lightly. Suppose you are the higher seed in the first round. The tendency would be to think that “we have to be the favorite.” If you pass that along to your players, whether consciously or not, it is a recipe for disaster. Going in over-confident or lacking in focus or intensity might be just what the underdog needs to pull off the upset. EVERYBODY in the playoffs is a good team. Sell that to your players… and, I might add, your coaches. If they go out with a “cocky” attitude, players can pick up on that too.

3) Don’t change your game plan! This sounds a little like #1 but I want to focus on your specific game-planning here. We were in the Final 4 in the state one year and thought we had a very good chance of getting to the Finals and winning it all. The team we faced in the Semi’s presented a blitz that we had not seen. We spent waaaaaay too much time preparing to block it and, because of that, it took away from our practicing the other plays that we should’ve been preparing.
Stick with what’s been working during the season. As a long-time Wing T coach, we were never quite sure what defense we’d see come game-time. People tended to “freak out” when they scouted what we were doing and tried to come up with (what they thought) was some elaborate (bizarre) defense. We knew on the first series whether we were going to dominate that night… because, if they weren’t in their regular front, they hadn’t practiced enough to stop us.

As my dad used to say, “Dance with who brought you!” Another one was, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” You’ve earned the right to be a playoff team because of your success during the regular season. Just keep doing what got you there!