Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for April, 2018

Approach With Caution!

Posted by admin April - 25 - 2018 - Wednesday Comments Off on Approach With Caution!

A good coach is always looking for ways to motivate his players. A long time ago, I came up with my definition of what an effective coach looks like. My definition is: “A great coach is able to lead/teach/motivate his players to accomplish more than the player is able to realize he’s capable of achieving.” To accomplish this, a coach must be a “life-long learner” — finding bits of info that he can add to his “tool belt.” Recently, I found one such nugget while reading a daily devotion from Bob Gass Ministries.

Pastor Gass says, “It’s not enough to have the right answers; you need the right approach.” How true! He goes on to say that, “Good ideas and sound advice are wasted when you use a ram-it-down-your-throat approach.” Your efforts to help that player accomplish greater things is dependent on the approach you take to reach him. As coaches, we need to be wise when working with people. Wisdom means possessing the ability to say the right thing, at the right time, with the right tone of voice. I learned a long time ago that “it’s not what you say… but, how you say it” that captures a person’s attention!

I am a firm believer that our efforts at helping a player to change will fail (or worse, cause them to quit on you and leave your program) unless you approach them in love and humility. Another axiom that applies here is, “Players don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!”

Most players want to be great. They simply lack the skills to help them achieve greatness on their own. That’s where we step in as coaches. That’s why the right approach is so important.

Former U.S. Senate Chaplain Richard Halverson once wrote: “You can offer your ideas to people as bullets or as seeds. You can shoot them or sow them. Ideas used as bullets kill inspiration and motivation. Ideas used as seeds take root, grow and bear fruit in the life in which they are planted. But, there’s a risk: Once it becomes part of those in whom it’s planted, you’ll probably get no credit for originating the idea. But if you’re willing to do without the credit… you’ll reap a rich harvest.”

So if you want your players to receive the truth in a way that will drive them to improve, then you have to find the right approach for each individual!

Team Leadership

Posted by admin April - 20 - 2018 - Friday Comments Off on Team Leadership

We got some extraordinary news yesterday. One of my former players was named a Captain of the West Point football team for next season!!! The “extraordinary” thing is that Cole will only be a Junior! He is only the 5th underclassman in the history of West Point football to be named a captain at the U.S. Military Academy. Verrrrrrrrrrrry impressive!!! But, for me, not surprising. This guy had “leader” written all over him when I started coaching him as a freshman in high school and we named him a team captain THAT season! Yes, Cole was a Captain for all 4 years of his high school varsity career!!!

What I want to comment about, though, is how few “leaders” we actually had during my 30 years as a head coach! I look back and can only think of 4 or 5 players who I tapped as a “captain” who possessed the emotional maturity to truly lead the team! Teenage boys of 16, 17 or 18 years of age are not normally equipped emotionally to handle the responsibilities that a “true” team captain/leader must assume. Why? Because most of them are too concerned about “approval.” Leading your peers is a difficult proposition. Some don’t want to be led by a friend so they “buck the system.” The voting for team captains is usually based on popularity… so the guys who are selected want to stay “popular” so they don’t step up and truly lead… for fear of losing their popularity status. Other players are selected as captains because they are the best athletes. Most of these guys are more focused on continuing their successful career than they are truly interested in helping others.

That’s the first point I emphasize when I talk to potential team leaders… that you have to be more concerned about others — about the team — than yourself! That is very hard for young men to accept.

We did a lot of leadership skills training with our leaders. I actually had 5-7 team leaders instead of the standard 2 or 3. I called them “Lieutenants” instead of “Captains”… for just like in the Army, there are more lieutenants than there are captains in the chain of command. I had an initial training session in pre-season that included lunch to start teaching leadership skills. Then, we met every Monday after practice to discuss what was going on with the team that I needed to be aware of and then had a “1 minute leadership training session.” As the season went along, it became easy to see if we had any true leaders. By that I mean: those kids, who as I stated earlier, weren’t concerned about their status and would speak their mind to their teammates; lead by example and show the level of hustle and enthusiasm that made them strong role models for the behaviors we wanted all of the players to exhibit.

So… what do you do as a coach if you can’t find or “grow!” good team leaders? You continue to work with the players. Part of your job is to teach leadership skills. What I found worked best was to simply impress upon your coaching staff that they are the real leaders of your team! They have to set the example. They have to speak up when things aren’t going right. They have to be the ones that the players look to for inspiration and motivation. They have to be the “hustlers.” They have to be the “cheerleaders.” It’s up to your staff to lead your team. If one can’t, then maybe you need to replace that assistant with a coach who will be an effective leader for you!

Leadership is an integral component of any successful organization! It’s one of those Little Things that can make a BIG difference in your team’s success. Since it’s hard to find strong leaders within your roster, then, while you’re preparing those players whom you’ve deemed as your team leaders… your assistant coaches (and you!) are the real leaders of your team!!!


Posted by admin April - 18 - 2018 - Wednesday Comments Off on Symposium

I was honored to have been asked to speak at the inaugural 757 Football Coaches Symposium last Friday. A local assistant coach saw the need to bring together as many high school football coaches (head and assistants) as possible to 1) discuss the factors that successful coaches in our area have used during their careers that have propelled their programs to the top and 2) try to develop a “spirit of unity and cooperation” among the coaches in our area.

Having coached in this area since 1971, I have seen a lot of coaches come and go. Many more “go” than stay! Coaching high school football in our area is not a financially lucrative proposition. In fact, I’ve heard many coaches say over the years that “we do not do it for the money!” in Tidewater (757) Virginia.

What I gleaned from the other speakers on the docket was, to me, not revolutionary but… it seemed to be a common theme. That point was: If you’re not “in it for the kids” then you’re in the wrong profession!

What does that mean… being “in it for the kids?”

First and foremost, it means setting aside your own ego and focusing on what’s best for your players. Their needs must take priority over your own. What are some of those “needs” that your players have?

1) The need for discipline. I’m not talking about punishment; I’m talking about providing structure and guidance. Setting down rules of conduct and then expecting your players to follow them.

2) Secondly, the need for confirmation or… affirmation. This encompasses the need for love, acceptance and the knowledge that people care about you. We need to “confirm” in our players’ minds that they are appreciated and, yes, loved!

3) Finally, I’d say that coaches need to set an example for our players. Positive role models (especially male role models for teenage boys) are often lacking at home. The coach has to provide that role— NOT singers, actors or athletes. Players are watching you. I know this because we used to have “skit day” during pre-season Camp. We allowed the players to put on skits about “A Day in the Life of a Bruin Football Player.” The player assigned to the role of “Coach” in the skit was uncanny in how he mimicked that coach! Get “caught in the act” of doing things that promote maturity, responsibility and self-control. Set an example that will help your players become a successful husband, dad and worker in their adult life.

I hope that the 100 or so coaches who attended the Symposium walked away with some of the wisdom imparted by the coaches who spoke. There was some reallllllllly good information presented. Unfortunately, I did not see much (if any) note-taking by those in attendance and the “body language” was such that I left sensing that those in attendance did not allow themselves to be as impacted as they could have.

(Legal!) Recruiting

Posted by admin April - 10 - 2018 - Tuesday Comments Off on (Legal!) Recruiting

I received a question from a coach the other day that I thought deserved some commentary. He was asking about “recruiting.” I don’t know if illegal recruiting (poaching, I call it) is a problem in your area but it is a problem where I live. My policy was if a player from another school contacted me about possibly transferring to our school… my response was: “have your parents contact me or the AD and then we can talk.” Too many HS coaches are out there trying to “convince” kids to transfer to their school. Not good and not fair! Anyway…

The coach I was speaking to was talking about legal recruiting— primarily how to go about getting some guys who are walking the halls to come out for football. I asked him what he was doing about getting middle school kids to come out for the HS teams? This (recruiting middle school players) is the KEY to recruiting! And, again, only talking to players who would legally funnel into your HS!

For those guys “walking the halls”… a lot of times all it takes is showing them some interest. Invite them out for weight lifting. Or let them know you’re going to be playing 7 on 7— would they like to play? Most people respond positively when someone shows some interest in them. Tell them you’ve seen them in PE class or you like his physique. I’ve asked plenty of guys, “Have you been lifting weights at home?!” It’s a great conversation starter.

But, for those middle school kids… you need the personal touch there too! Ask the middle school principal or AD for a time that you can come to their school and talk to ALL of the 8th grade boys. Heck, if it works out… talk to all the boys in all of the grades! All you need is 15 minutes. Make your appeal; let them know how important they are to the success of the HS program and get them to fill out a Personal Information Sheet so you’ve got names, addresses and numbers.

I saw the tri-fold color brochure that a coach put together for “recruiting.” He was worried about just handing them out. That’s when I recommended that he go to the middle school in person. Let the kids see you, hear you and ask questions. Again, the personal touch matters.