Gates

As a former offensive and defensive line football coach, one thing I always look for when watching a game or scouting a game is open/closed gates. What is a gate in football? It’s the ability to stay square and create your space in the contact zone called the line of scrimmage. It’s the same concept as the gate on a fence. When a gate is closed, you can’t walk through it. It’s a barrier. When a gate is closed, you have to do something drastic, like climb over, dig under, or ram through it, to get through. An open gate is just the opposite. It’s no longer a barrier but an invitation to come through.

By Calum McRoberts, CC BY-SA 2.0

My football concept of gates on the offensive and defensive line is similar. When an offensive lineman or defensive lineman keep their hips and shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage, their gate is closed. When they turn their hips and shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, they open the gate.

A defensive lineman’s job is simple. They are assigned a piece of real estate, a gap or area, to protect. Nothing gets through. Nothing knocks the DL from their spot. The job is much easier and much more effective when they play with their gate closed. Opening their gate and turning their hips and shoulders open a running lane.

The same is true for an offensive lineman. Their job is to create open real estate and running lanes on a run play. The job is to clear a path by using your closed gate-created space to either drive the defender away from the running lane, like a snow blade on the front of a truck, or shield a lane for the running back to use. 

For pass blocking, the offensive linemen need to provide a protective barrier for the QB in the pocket in order for the QB to feel safe, comfortable, and able to make the throws. Close gates are essential to provide a barrier from the rushing defenders across the line of scrimmage. Closed gates in pass protection reduce the attack alleys of the defense just like a closed gate of a fence makes it harder to enter. Only when a pass rusher breaks the blocker’s hip level does the blocker turn the hips and shoulders to adjust their gate to the threat.

Establishing good technical skills to be an effective offensive and defensive lineman requires excellent footwork, body position, and hand battle skill. Everything a coach should do in practice must be centered around those skills. The footwork is vital. It drives the placement of the hips which drives the placement of the shoulders, which drives the success or failure in a lineman doing their job. (What is good footwork? That, and how to develop good big boy footwork are coming soon in a separate post.)

Practice perfect every rep. 

Practice for perfection when the athletes get tired because physically and mentally tired athletes make mistake because they lose form. 

Practice, practice, and practice to keep the gates closed. 

Close those gates, Bubbas!

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Doesn’t Matter

It doesn’t matter what everybody else thinks.
It’s what you think that matters.

It doesn’t matter what everybody else does.
It’s what you do that matters.

It doesn’t matter what everyone else talks.
It’s the walk you walk that matters.

Be the best you that you can be.
Every day.

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Go!

3,2,1…GO!

It’s time for the high school football season! There’s nothing quite like Friday Night in America.

I’m excited to watch our Clay County teams in action. Go Clay Center Tigers! Go Wakefield Bombers!

I’m also excited for the K-State season and to see what my Kansas City Chiefs can accomplish in what I consider a “do or die” season.

The song that always popped into my head before a Friday night football game as a player and as a coach was Street Fighting Man by The Rolling Stones. Great beat and cadence of what it felt like inside my head before a game.  “Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet boy”

I think I finally found a replacement Friday Night in America song. Go! by the London electronic band, Public Service Broadcasting. It’s a song that hits the perfect pregame mental/emotional notes and, in this 50th anniversary year of the Apollo 11 mission, makes one want almost want to run through a brick wall.

Enjoy your opening week, everyone! I wish you joy and satisfaction this season.

Work hard and have fun!

But never forget…

Football is NOT life; it’s for a lifetime.

Friday Night In America

We did not come here for “spirit” or to be “peppy”, others will come for those.

We did not come here for peace, or love, or joy.

We came here to knock your pride into the dirt.

We came here to steal your dignity.

Friday Night in America.

Tiger Football.

3,2,1…GO!

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All the answers

I was probably a nightmare of a kid to coach. No, I wasn’t a behavior problem. No, I wasn’t an attendance problem. No, I wasn’t a bad influence. In short, I was not in any way, shape, or form Kelly Leak from the Bad News Bears. My problem was that I wanted to have a sense as to why we were doing the things we did.

Why did we have to stand around for 2/3 of practice instead of doing something?

Why did we do basketball shooting drills where almost all the shots we practiced were shots we would never shoot in a game?

Why didn’t we occasionally pass when we had a speed advantage and the defense stacking 9 in the box against our wishbone offense?

Why?

Why?

Why?

Of course, I never said these things to my coaches. I just thought about them. And if I couldn’t work out an answer, my interest and enthusiasm waned. I turned into a sports zombie merely going through the motions on a day to day basis.

I learned a good lesson from these experiences. Experiences that I incorporated years later from day one in my accidental coaching career. That lesson?

If you want everybody on the same page, everybody needs to know what page it is and what’s on that page.

I probably learned this from my earliest football experiences. I was fortunate to play CYO football for Don Stump, whose son was in my grade at Christ The King school. Mr. Stump worked as an administrator at the local community college at the time but had a long career teaching and coaching high school football. Dave Palcher, the assistant coach, was our line coach. Both men told us what we were doing and why we were doing it in a simple and clear manner. Mr. Palcher was especially good with us linemen. Using only an ancient, stuffed, probably about fifth hand blocking dummy, he taught us the importance of why we need to put our foot here and our helmet there and keep the feet moving each and every practice. The basics taught in those blocking and tackling drills still live in my head today. Those “why”s and “how”s still survive in my head today and were a part of every practice I coached.

The bottom line is: Players (and fellow coaches!) are more locked in when they know the basic information of why you’re doing what you are doing. Locked in players (and coaches!) buy into their roles and take more pride in their jobs.

Today, probably more than ever, kids crave answers. In sports, they want to know if the things you are asking them to do matter. No, you don’t have to justify everything you do as a coach but you do need to communicate the reasoning behind your choices. The players need to know you’re not wasting their time. Time is precious even to a teenager. 

A coach doesn’t need the perfect answer during a timeout with 1:30 left on the clock and your defense trying to protect a four-point lead against an opponent with all the momentum on their side. During that timeout, the coach must provide an answer. The players need it. They need an answer they can grab ahold of and rally behind. As I said, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be logical, presented with complete confidence, and be something besides, “TRY HARDER!!!!”

Want to be a more effective coach?

Share information.

Put everyone on the same page. And keep them there.

Respect the players in your program enough to allow them into the hive mind.

Maybe most important, know why you are doing what you do. Everything you do must have a purpose. Don’t do something just because a book, video, or that college coaching camp you went to last year told you to. Do everything with a purpose for your players and your program.

You should know and be able to communicate that purpose within the organization.

If you can’t write down a specific purpose or goal of everything you do on and off the field, either do the research to figure out why or toss it. Don’t just tell your noseguard he has A-gap. Tell your noseguard he has to get his hip into A-gap and lockout square not allowing a single, double, or triple-team block to move you out of that gap YOU OWN.

Players in your program might not be Rhodes Scholars, but they aren’t stupid. Trust them and they’ll trust you. Before they buy into what you are trying to do, they need to know what they’re buying. Knowledge is power—and powerful.

Never forget, if you want everybody on the same page, everybody needs to know what page it is and what’s on that page.

 

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An Oft Forgotten Aspect of Coaching

Yesterday I met with a football coach friend to show him a defensive line drill progression for the three-man sled from back in the day. The Quick Draw/Lockout Drill is a good drill that covers defensive line fundamentals from the ground up in 7-10 minutes of practice time. That’s a good thing because, as you’ve heard me rant about before, time is the currency of coaching. Time is valuable and shouldn’t be wasted with frivolity—unless that frivolity has a purpose, like a fun competition.

After I finished showing the coach the drill and talked about some other aspects of coaching the defensive line, I checked the list I had in my jean pocket. Surprisingly, I covered everything on my list. Even at 55 years of age and ten seasons out of football, I still had it.

Or so I thought.

An hour or so later back at home, I retrieved the list from my jeans pocket before throwing them in the dirty clothes basket. I sat down on the bed and read the list while my ego soared with my second old man memory victory of the day. (You people know, right? That situation where you get “notified” that the stuff you forget to take out of your pockets ended up lining the inside of the washing machine with annoying shreds of wet paper.) I folded the list with a satisfied smile and was placing it on the table when it hit me. In my coaching session, I forgot the single most important aspect of coaching sports drills.

Paying attention.

Specifically, paying attention to the form of each and every kid on each and every drill. Good stances, ball reaction, hand positioning, foot placement, arm lockout, hip into their gap, etc. My balloon of coaching pride burst. I had taught the basic steps of the drill to my friend but failed to include the most important piece of information to ensure success. Paying attention.

Paying attention and correcting is at the very heart of coaching a sport. Why do we practice and do drills? To get better, right? If I’m not paying attention to each and every kid on each and every rep with the sole mission to make that kid just a little bit better, then I’ve failed as a coach. Sure, I still have the title and the team shirt and my name in the game program, but if I’m not making my players better every single day with every single repetition, I am not coaching.

And if I’m not coaching a drill with the intent and purpose to get better…

I AM WASTING TIME!!!

Youth and high school sports are played by youth and teenagers. Youth and teenagers, as a general rule, do a pretty crappy job of squeezing the best out of every practice repetition. Given the opportunity, they will slack off. I was like that as a kid and I bet most of you were/are the same. Very few have the innate discipline to perform ten repetitions of a drill with the focus of improvement on each rep. That’s why they need coaches. To teach, push, and correct technique and skill. It’s the very heart and soul of what we do. 

And what did I say about time in the opening paragraph? Time is valuable. Practice time, preparation time, and game time are all fleeting and can’t be wasted. They are too valuable to waste talking to other coaches, worrying about the next thing on the to-do list, or just mentally relaxing while the players go through the motions.

I publicly apologize to my coaching friend. I let him down by leaving out the most important aspect of the drill, “Watch every defensive lineman like a hawk with every snap of the drill.”

Coaching is teaching.

Coaching is providing the environment for constant improvement.

Purpose. Pride. Passion. Performance.

Push them to get better one step at a time.

Every player gets better.

Every day.

By Snyder, Frank R. Flickr: Miami U. Libraries – Digital Collections [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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If you love it, do it.

Even though I don’t coach high school football anymore, I always get a little excited for the upcoming football season around this time of the summer. It’s a sport I’ve always enjoyed as a player, fan, and especially as a coach.

This is also the time of the summer where I started hearing about the local kids who say they’re not going to play in the fall. On the one hand, it makes me sad. On the other hand, I understand. Time commitment, work, school, and/or issues with the coaching staff are all reasons I’ve heard from kids in the past. I do understand these reasons.

My advice to these kids who are contemplating not playing a sport they’ve played in the past is pretty simple:

If you love playing the sport, play it.

Don’t worry about the details.

Don’t worry about anything.

If you love it, do it.

Compete and enjoy the process.

Don’t let others, including the adults, bring you down.

Play for the joy of playing. Find that joy you once experienced and find a way to live within that joy. Use it to fuel your performance. Use it to put on the blinders and play with the spirit of the game despite whatever crap swirls around you.

To all you young athletes on the fence about participating in a sport, this advice is for you. Like I’ve said many times, there’s no “I” in team, but there’s sure as hell is a “ME”.  Take care of your business, do your job, and don’t worry about the things you can’t control.

See? It’s pretty simple.

If you love playing a game, play it.

Play the game you love until somebody tells you that you can’t play anymore.

Good luck! Whatever your decision is, do it with confidence, do it with thought, and, most of all, do it with no regrets.

By The Library of Congress – Instilling love of the game early? https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51223119

 

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Competing: Part Three

Six Competitive Environment Necessities 

Establishing a culture of compete is the foundation for developing a successful program. You are dead in the water without this, especially if you can’t roll out superior athletes for each and every contest. Kids want to be part of something good. It’s a coach’s job to provide an atmosphere and environment of good.

1. I know this may sound simplistic but…

It’s more about ‘How are you doing?’s and ‘Hello’s than it is about Xs and Os.

2. Accountability

There must be an atmosphere where everyone from the head coach to the assistant coaches to the individual classes to the position groups to the managers to the kids holds one another accountable. On and off the field of play.

3. Trust

Before you drive a kid to get better, he or she must trust you have their best interest at heart. TRUST (in all caps)

4. Relationships

A coach can’t effectively yell at a kid they haven’t developed a relationship with. As one of my favorite coaching resources, Baseball Excellence, touts, “Don’t screech if you don’t teach.”

5. Humility

If you think you know everything, you know nothing. Check your ego at the door and do the work to improve yourself as a coach. And never be too proud to admit to your players you’re wrong or made a mistake. They know when you’re feeding them a line of bull because a bullshit meter is one of the greatest teenage powers.

6. Direction

There is great satisfaction in being part of a group working toward a common goal. HINT: The correct common goal is not “Winning”. The common goal that works for the long term is to do your job to the best of your ability every play, every day.

 

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