Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Words of Wisdom

Posted by admin May - 25 - 2010 - Tuesday

I had an old coaching friend stop by to talk to our middle school weight lifters (yes! we lift with our 7th and 8th graders!!!) yesterday. What he had to say not only spoke to our kids… but it really hit home with me, too!

I have shared that when I took over the football program at our local high school in 1985, it was not in good shape. I believe that they had had one winning season in the past 6-7 years. I was determined that we were going to turn this thing around in 3 years and be competing for championships. I set to work and told the kids that nobody was going to out-work us and told the staff that none of them was going to out-work me— the head man! And we DID work hard. For those first 3 years, we worked our back-sides off. Here’s what it got us: in 1985 (my first season), we went 3-4-3! It was the last year of “ties” in Virginia HS football! and we now held the record for most ties in one season!!! Never to be broken… cuz there are no more tie games!!! OK… we rationalized that if we’d won those 3 ties, we’d have had a winning season.

We went back to work and got to 5-5 in 1986. Frustrating but we were making progress! Then in 1987, I thought we were “over the top!” We went 6 and 4 and I thought we were on our way! I knew we still had a LOT of work to do, but I was motivated. We were closing the gap. Hours and hours of hard work resulted in— are you ready?— a 4 and 6 season in 1988! Talk about deflating!!! For the first time I started questioning how we were doing things. I talked with and visited other coaches. We decided that we needed to get away in pre-season; so we went to Camp at Chowan College for a week. We worked them from 5:30 am till 9 pm! (and some of them STILL wouldn’t go to bed!)

In 1989, my AD called me into his office at mid-season and said: “Lew, I think we made a big mistake naming you as the head football coach. I don’t believe that we are ever going to have a championship program here with you as the head coach!” Wellllllll… you could have knocked me over with a feather! I was shattered. If not for God intervening (another story, another time!) I’d have submitted my letter of resignation and gotten out.

But… we kept plugging away. In 1990, we again went 6 and 4. My “right hand man” assistant coach and I sat in the stands during play-off games and would get sooooooo upset because we weren’t playing! In 1991, however, we hit paydirt! We upset the district champions on the last play of the game in the last game of the season to cap our first 7 and 3 season! From that point on, our worst record till I retired in 2006 was one year at 6 and 4 and one at 7-3. The rest were 8 and 2’s, 9 and 1’s and 4 10-0 seasons… for 15 straight seasons! And numerous play-off appearances.

Which leads me back to what my coaching friend shared in the weight room with us. He talked about hearing Jim Valvano speak before he died. Coach V said: “When you get up in the morning, you have a choice to make. Are you going to choose to work hard or are you going to choose to “hardly work?!” My friend went on to say: “guys… if you choose to work hard, that’s great! But remember this: all that working hard is going to do for you is… PUT YOU IN A POSITION TO BE SUCCESSFUL! There are NO guarantees that just because you work hard, that you will automatically have success. All hard work does is put you in the position to win. But…. if you DON’T work hard, you have NO chance of being successful!” Wiser words I’ve never heard!

It made me think back to my 2 years selling life insurance. I had left education seeking my “fame and fortune” selling for Prudential. I tell people that the only positive thing that came out of that 2 year debacle is that I met the Lord Jesus Christ and He turned my life around and upside down! I did, however, learn one piece of advice from an insurance executive which has served me well. It’s from a booklet published by Prudential written by Albert E. N. Gray. It’s entitled: The Common Denominator of Success. Mr. Gray was one of the most successful agents in the history of the life insurance business. What he wrote about how he (and others) can acheive success is profound!

Mr. Gray’s common denominator of success is: “the secret of success of every man who has ever been successful… lies in the fact that: SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE FORM THE HABIT OF DOING THINGS THAT FAILURES DON’T LIKE TO DO.”

When I talk to players, I ask them: “What are some of the things that football players don’t like to do?” They reply: “Lift weights; come to practice; work hard at practice; do conditioning; learn their assignments… etc.” What separates the successful player from the failure? The successes form the habit of doing the things that failures don’t like to do!

How about coaches? What are some of the things that we don’t LIKE to do: watch hours of film; constantly motivate kids to do better; check up on their grades on a weekly basis; scout other teams when you’d rather be home or out with your wife/friends; travel to clinics; etc.

Notice this: does Mr. Gray’s statement say that successful people LIKE to do these things???!!! NO! What we like is the result that comes from doing them— over and over again! Nobody likes to work hard! Unless it means there’s a pay off at the end! We have to FORM THE HABIT of doing those things.

But Valvano said that hard work just gives you a chance to be successful??! But, I ask you: isn’t it worth the gamble to gain that success?!!!

Coach John Wooden says in his pyramid of success that his definition of success is: “Peace of Mind”— that is a result of KNOWING that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of being!”

Start “forming the habits” of doing things that failures don’t like to do… right now! You will find that you will be put in far more situations where your chance for success increases significantly.

2 Responses to “Words of Wisdom”

  1. Sean Coultis says:

    Coach Lew,

    I have been reading your website since its’ inception and I also read all of your posts on I think this is by far your best post ever. It speaks of the intangibles that truly make a difference in winning. I think you explained how to motivate players perfectly (love how you said that nobody likes working hard but that they like the reward that comes from working hard). This lets players know WHY they should work hard, which is so important these days. I loved the quote from Mr. Gray that described winners as those that make a habit out of doing things others don’t like to do.

    I remember an old coach I worked with that used to talk about the acronym T.N.T. (takes no talent). He would always say that we needed to be good at the things that take no talent (pursuit and effort, doing your job/execution, paying attention in films/to coaches, etc…).

    Great article. Keep up the fine work.

    -Sean Coultis
    Varsity LB Coach Bolingbrook H.S. (IL)

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