Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for August, 2018


Posted by admin August - 29 - 2018 - Wednesday Comments Off on Story-telling

I remember once hearing a pastor say that people love to hear stories. They relate to stories. We’ve had stories told to us since we were little kids. Jesus was the greatest story-teller who ever lived! If you’ve ever read any of the four Gospels in the New Testament, you know that they are full of stories that Jesus told…. to illustrate a key point. You as a coach should try to do the same thing!

This came up last week when one of my former assistants called to tell me that I need to write a new book… loaded with the stories I used to tell the team. He’s young and he wanted a resource to go to to find an appropriate story to share with his players when he needed to illustrate a point to them. This request made me realize what an impact my “stories” had— that a new head coach would want to tap into the same source to motivate and challenge his kids.

My best resource for stories has been “longevity.” I like to listen to podcasts and I like to read. So, I am exposed to a lot of different ideas. Listening to many different pastors’ sermons has helped me form a library of stories. A book on “Sermon Illustrations” has been one of the best resources I have found. Obviously, you can find anything on the internet today. Just search “story-telling!”

Why are stories so impactful? I think it’s because people can easily relate to them. We like to hear things that touch us emotionally. I like stories with a surprise ending. One of the best assistant coaches I ever had used to tell me that “you want to create a paradigm shift in peoples’ mind.” A twist at the end of a story causes people to think. That means that you have captured them intellectually as well as emotionally. For me, if it can include something from the Bible, then you have touched all 3 aspects of our being: emotions, intellect and spirit.

Finally, be an effective story teller if you’re going to use them. I understand that there are professional story-tellers out there today! You can hire them to read to the children at a birthday party. The best story-teller I’ve ever heard is my wife! She does such a great job with our grandkids. Her voice inflection; her change of modulation; her use of different voices for different characters in the book she’s reading to our 3-year-old granddaughter is literally captivating! This comes from 34 years as a 1st grade teacher, I suppose. She’s just really good at getting, and keeping, your attention. You need to do the same thing if you’re going to tell a story. Make your presentation full of enthusiasm. And… practice in front of a mirror before you present it to your team!

Head Coach: Active or Passive?

Posted by admin August - 24 - 2018 - Friday Comments Off on Head Coach: Active or Passive?

I have talked to several HS coaches this summer who’ve told me that they have adopted the “college model” for their staffs. They have hired an OC and a DC to run their respective sides of the ball and… call the plays on game night. In most instances, I think this is a mistake.

On most HS staffs, the HC is the most experienced and the most knowledgeable coach on the staff. Yet, he is turning over the responsibility of running his team to a less-experienced/less-knowledgeable coach. The most fun I had as a coach was 1- preparing my team for the game (developing that game plan) and then 2- going head to head with that DC on the other side of the field! I loved the competition; I loved the chess match that unfolded during a game.

I was always my own OC… for 30 seasons. There were times that I took a more active interest in our defense— even a couple of times that I had to step in and call the defense. But, hiring a qualified DC was always my first order of business. I wanted a coach whom I could count on to handle the defense for me. Honestly, I would’ve been bored if I’d have just stood around on Friday nights with nothing to do. The same went for practice.

One season, I tried not coaching a position. I would wander around the practice field observing, correcting and exhorting players and coaches while they worked and I watched. Can you spell BORING with me! I got into coaching because I like to coach!!! There are few things more gratifying than showing a player how to do something correctly and then he goes out the next play and does exactly what you showed him to do! I made changes at mid-season.

I have advised coaches even into the regular season to makes changes in their staff’s responsibilities if things weren’t going well. If you as a HC are dissatisfied with the job that a Coordinator is doing, call him in and have a 1 on 1 conference. Tell him a) what he’s doing wrong and b) what he needs to do to rectify the situation. If things still don’t change, perhaps it’s time to make a move. It might mean that YOU, as HC, take on a greater role but… that’s why you make the big money!!!

Mental Toughness

Posted by admin August - 13 - 2018 - Monday Comments Off on Mental Toughness

If you have not seen (I think it’s called) Rollin’ With The Tide on ESPN, you need to check it out! It’s an inside look at the Alabama football program… particularly focusing on Nick Saban. I watched part of it (is there more than 1 episode?) the other night and was verrrrrrry impressed! It was the day that the ‘Bama players reported. I focused on the initial team meeting as Saban welcomed the 2018 players. What he shared was so good! I want to paraphrase what he said cuz I think it’s important for coaches to know.

I am pretty sure that no other coaches were in the room— I didn’t see any! Just Saban and the players. Welllllll… one guy over on the audio/visual machine. They were sitting up straight in their seats and nobody was wearing a hat. Of course, all of these “little things” have been established over the years of success they’ve had; but, it had to start somewhere. Most people don’t remember that Saban’s first year at ‘Bama was not too good. They even lost to a 1-AA team! Things turned around quickly, though.

He welcomed the players and let them know right off the bat that they have a “target on their backs.” Everyone is chasing them. It’s going to require that they continue to work hard to stay on top. Then the first KEY point.

Saban pointed out how opposing schools have hired away a number of the “leaders of his program” to try and figure out what ‘Bama does. However, Saban pointed out that it’s more important HOW they do things… not, what they do! That’s a point that you have to ask yourself when you look at your program, too! HOW do you do things? In the off-season weight program? In your preseason practices? On game night? It’s all part of what Saban calls The Process!

Then, he asks them a very powerful question! He said, “What does it take to break you?!” and added, “What does it take to make you give in?! Is it too hot? Are you too tired? Is it when you don’t feel like working hard? What does it take?!” What Saban then defined is one of those “unanswerable questions” that I’ve been trying to answer for years! Coach said, “What we are talking about here is MENTAL TOUGHNESS!!!”

“You’ve got to have a LOT of mental toughness to sustain what we do here at Alabama as such a high level.”

“It’s not our goal to try to break you! It’s just the way it IS in football.” THAT was the second key. I see some coaches today (not as many as in the past… thank goodness!) who have decided that Lombardi’s Way or Bear Bryant’s Junction Boys (if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, you need to check it out!) is the way to treat players. Break them down… then build them back up. It seems that a couple of prominent college coaches thought that this is the way to “build up” their players! Look what that’s gotten them? Lots of trouble— legal type!

There’s that line between mental toughness and physical toughness that you have to realize that there IS a difference! If a young high school boy hasn’t shown that he likes (or at least doesn’t mind) contact/collisions on the football field, I think it’s too late to try to instill that physical toughness in him. That should’ve been determined when he was in Youth League or Middle School. I just don’t believe you’re going to get a HS kid to start “liking” contact by putting him through a lot of full contact drills; ie., Bull in the Ring; Oklahoma; etc!

I am a strong advocate for developing mental toughness. This comes about, not by physically abusing players, but by challenging them to develop DISCIPLINE! Saban said, “Mental toughness helps you maintain the level of discipline necessary to overcome obstacles.” Notice he said “maintain.” ‘Bama football players already have a high level of discipline. If they don’t, they don’t stay in the program very long.

I’ve written previously about creating (and maintaining) discipline in an earlier post. Scroll back till you find it if you want to discover how to create discipline in your program. Again, though, it is NOT being abusive (physically or mentally) to your players. It is really just having high expectations for them and then… making sure you require them to uphold those standards. Let me give 2 examples and I’ll close.

Hustle was instilled in me from the time I started playing sports back in the 60’s. Why walk when you can jog? Why jog when you can run? Hustle! So, I required our players to run everywhere they went. We crossed Beautiful Bruin Creek on the way to our practice field… which was still 50 yards away. Once you crossed the creek, you ran. If someone saw you walking, you went back! Everyone runs when they’re ON the field. Once you hit the sideline, then you can walk. But, on the field you run! I’d blow the whistle to call up the team at the end of practice. If someone was not running up to me, they ALL went back where they were. I blew the whistle again and watched to be sure that everyone ran this time. If it was the end of Conditioning period, they went back and ran another sprint! Then they got another chance to show their discipline/hustle by running this time! It, hustle, was a core value for me and it was something that I stood by and did not let slide. Our teams became known as hustling teams. It was very (mentally) intimidating to opponents over the years!

One more example. I was also very picky about how our players wore their uniforms. I felt it showed team and individual pride. Both socks up to the top of their calves. Everyone wore the same black game shoes. No sleeves taped up so they could show off their guns. Shirt tails tucked in (that one did NOT change!!!) My daughter came to me one day. She’d just started high school and it was the same school that I was the HC at. She gave me a lesson in “letting the guys show a little bit of individuality.” “Let them wear the cleats they want to wear, Dad. If they want the ‘no sock look’, let them.” Interestingly, I’d just read a book by Bobby Bowden, former HC at Florida State. He’d run into the same thing with his college players. I sat down and prayerfully considered what my daughter said. I decided that I was willing to “bend” a bit. When I announced that some changes were going to occur with how I let them wear their uniform… you’d have thought I’d just handed each of them a $100 bill! Now… the shirt tails did have to remain in. That, in my opinion, just looks sloppy. NO discipline; no pride! Socks could be white, navy or gold. They just had to match. Shoes could be black, white, navy or gold (our school colors)… they had to be the same and NO writing on them. My willingness to compromise showed the players that I was willing to be flexible without losing our discipline.

That’s what you have to decide. What are your standards? What are your core values? Once you determine what they are, then you have to continually uphold them until, as Saban said, you maintain/sustain your level of mental toughness.

Special Teams Reps

Posted by admin August - 7 - 2018 - Tuesday Comments Off on Special Teams Reps

I was observing practice yesterday and it brought back a memory of how I “conserved” time when working on Special Teams.

It’s a shame but, Special Teams is still the most over-looked part of the game for too many coaches! You’ve heard the saying that “Special Teams is 1/3 of the game.” I believe that it’s true. Many games’ outcomes have been determined by the “hidden yardage” in the kicking game… and more directly a kicking game gaffe has spelled defeat for the coach who did not put in the practice time necessary to be successful. I still hold to the adage that I first heard Lou Holtz say when he was in his first head coaching position at William and Mary. It went, “In a close game between two evenly-matched teams, it’s probably going to come down to a play in the kicking game that determines the outcome!” If it’s so important, why don’t coaches spend more practice time preparing for the kicking game? It may be due to time constraints. I want to give you a couple of ideas that can help you maximize special teams practice time to get more bang for your buck!

Punt Team: I believe it is the single most important special team! Why? Cuz it’s used more often than any other…. so it has the most impact on a game. Punting has 3 phases… which makes it harder to perform.
1) obviously it is the punt itself. I found out years ago that it’s hard to find a quality high school punter. So, we found an athlete who could catch and kick… even if he only took 1 or 2 steps. I told them that “there are no style points” for punting! We wanted to get the ball off and… this is KEY!… I did not want him to kick it to the return man!!! Yep! Why risk a decent return by kicking it TO the returner? Line drive it; kick it to one side; sky-ball it… but don’t give him something he can return.
2) is the snap. Again… too often overlooked. If we lacked a quality snapper, I used a QB with a good arm. I told him just to take a passing grip; turn around and bend over and… throw a pass through his legs! It worked out fine! Our all-state QB was our snapper one year. I told him to “throw the pass” and don’t even worry about covering. I found as the year went along that he would jog on down. He even made a tackle one game!
3) protection and coverage. This could be split into two categories but since it pertains to the same people, I combined them. There are any number of alignments and blocking techniques. If you don’t know them, get some info on it. Coverage… the same thing. The main thing here, I think, is to have 6 guys with good speed and can tackle in open space. No need for size cuz they don’t really block… just punch and go!

Finally, let me talk about how to maximize your reps in practice. We could get off anywhere from 6-9 punts in a 7 minute period each day! How? The main thing is not to waste time. You set the ball on your own 35 for the first punt. Kick it. Sprint down and cover. Say, the ball landed on the opposite 35. Do NOT call the punt team back to you. Keep them right there. Turn things around (how many of your say “riverside??!!!”) and kick back to you. There are 20 of the 22 players involved 30- 40 yards away from you. Have 2 new return men waiting with you on the near end. They step on as you and your staff jog down. The other 20 get lined up and punt again…. back toward the original end of the field. This time put the ball on your own 10. Kick it out and set the ball at the 50 or opposing 45. Flip it and now you “pooch” punt and keep it in the field of play. Next, you set the ball on your own 1 yard line and punt from your end zone. You keep “flipping the field” instead of having the punt team and return team personnel jogging back to you each time. You’d be amazed at how much time you can save and how many more punts you can get off in a 10 minute period.

Oh.. since none of the “big dogs” are on the punt team, have them down at the other end working on pat/field goal blocking. If your punter is not your place-kicker, you can be even be kicking extra points at the same time as your punt practice is going on. Learn to conserve time and get more done!

If these ideas intrigue you, check out my dvd’s that I did for Championship Productions on Making Your Special Teams Special!