Tag Archives: David and Goliath

How In The World…?

Another DAVID AND GOLIATH post on one of my favorite football coaching memories.

I learned a valuable lesson about succeeding as the underdog early in my football coaching career. I learned this from our offensive coordinator at the time, Coach Dail Smith. He didn’t sit me down and explain this lesson. It didn’t pop into my head like a light bulb of understanding. I learned this valuable lesson from a short pre-game talk at the 50-yard line of Otto Unruh Stadium with the head coach of our most bitter rival, the Marysville Bulldogs.

As the lowest coach on our program’s coaching totem pole, it was my job to remember to get the VHS trade scout tapes from the equipment box and return them to the opposing coach before the game. (Yes, back in the dark ages, the upcoming opposing coaches would meet on Saturday morning and trade game tapes from the night before and the week before. I imagine the HUDL online system is golden compared to VHS trade tapes.)

Well, I ran the Marysville tapes out to midfield to give back to Coach Warner, who I knew a bit from coaching baseball. I handed him the tapes and said hello. He takes the tapes, smiles and asks, “How in the world do you get high school kids to learn all those plays?”

I said, “Huh?”

“Your playbook must be four inches thick. How do you guys do it?”

“What do you mean?”

“When I charted your plays from these past two games,” he said, handing me our two VHS tapes. “I counted 127 different plays. How in the world…?”

I just shrugged my shoulders and bit my lip to keep from breaking out into a fit of laughter. “I don’t know, coach. I guess our kids are awesome or something.” I told him good luck and ran to our sidelines laughing like a hyena all the way.

Now, I know our kids. They are awesome kids. But they aren’t that awesome (or quite that smart). 127 plays? I still laugh about that to this day and it’s still one of my favorite memories—and coaching lessons.

Simple is better, even if it looks like a Chinese fire drill.

Coach Smith designed an offense to look and act like this big 127 separate play chaotic monster. But, in all actuality, it was a very simple, multiple-look offense. An offense which exploited the best things we did while trying to mask the things we didn’t do well.

Again, David using his advantages to compete against Goliath instead of entering into a disadvantageous matchup.

Well, you may be wondering by now how many plays Coach Smith did have in his playbook. First, I don’t think he ever made a real playbook or did so willingly. But he did scratch out the basics.

The numbers?

We had about 6-8 running plays and a handful of passing plays.

We taught the kids their job on these 15 or so plays until they knew what they were supposed to do like clockwork. Then we ran those plays out of 27 different formations we had that year. And every kid could go to those formations in their sleep because we drilled and drilled and drilled those formations in summer camp and two-a-days until they were blue in the face.

So, when our kids learned their jobs on those 15 plays and compound it with all those formations, I am sure our offense looked like this massive, complex gargantuan playbook. Something that made our opponents spend hours of scouting and practice time covering the hundreds of plays.

Using our tools to be the best we could be.

Just like David against Goliath.

Coach Smith was a wily, old fox, wasn’t he?

 

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Slingers

I am a huge fan of Malcolm Gladwell. I just like the way he thinks and researches things. He seems to be that kind of interesting person you’d like to talk to on a train ride across the midwest. Like I said in the last post, he might be the actual, living Most Interesting Man In The World.

One of the first articles from Gladwell I read was The Physical Genius (The New Yorker, August 1999). In the article he wrote about advanced gestalt psychology development and vision in great athletes, like Wayne Gretsky and Tony Gwynn, a musician (Yo Yo Ma), and a neurosurgeon, (Dr. Charlie Wilson). These gestalt-exhibiting athletes are able to see and perceived the whole as more than just the collective sum of the parts. Brilliant and thought-provoking stuff. 

In his book,  DAVID AND GOLIATH: UNDERDOGS, MISFITS, AND THE ART OF BATTLING GIANTS, Gladwell explores the underdog and how the underdog often succeeds by taking advantage of what the “giant” sees as disadvantages. Below is a link to a video of Gladwell talking about his spotlight example in the story of David and Goliath. It is well worth a few minutes of your time to watch and listen to this Ted Talk about David and Goliath. He talks about how David took advantage of his slingshot skill to beat the intimidating giant Goliath. The value of a “slinger” is explained in detail. At the very minimum, you will leave this video with a whole new viewpoint about a Bible story we all thought we knew.

Too many people look at things like King Saul:

  • Be like everyone else
  • Operate like everyone else
  • Stick to the convention.

Because of who we ARE, we have to approach things differently. Like I’ve mentioned more than a few times before, we aren’t big, we aren’t particularly fast, we aren’t incredibly naturally talented, but we are who we are. We have to approach things from a non-conventional direction in order to develop into a successful team with the ability to slay the giants we faced. We developed our kids to be SLINGERS to battle the giants. Mobile, agile and able to hit the opponent like a cannon shot all game long.

The successes we had almost always lined up to the times we held tight to the David philosophy and tailored everything to that particular group of kids. Our failures more often than not came when we tried to squeeze square pegs into the round holes of convention. Instead of forcing these kids into our conventions, we should have been kicking down the round-holed-wall and rebuilding it to the necessary specs fitted for the current players.

Now, where’s my slingshot?

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My Ball!

Football has been on my mind lately. I know what you’re thinking, “Stop the presses! Hays never thinks about sports.” The general consensus has always been, even in the days before I coached the game, that a certain percentage of my total brain function is dedicated to football thought 24/7/365. This is different, though.

My latest football obsession has been triggered by a book (Yes, I said a book.). I’ve been reading (and listening) to Malcolm Gladwell’s book about the misconception of the underdog called DAVID AND GOLIATH: UNDERDOGS, MISFITS, AND THE ART OF BATTLING GIANTS. Gladwell is one of my favorite intellects currently walking this fine planet. Forget the grey-haired, elderly, beer-sipping character from a TV commercial, Malcolm Gladwell may truly be The Most Interesting Man In The World.

Many of the patterns and habit of underdogs—which, by the way, lead to more successes than expected—outlined in the book remind me of the things I learned while coaching. I’ll attempt to touch on some of these learned lessons over the next months on the blog. One of the most important lessons learned was this intricately simplistic, but incredibly effective, definition of the game of football. The “MY BALL!” philosophy of Coach Paul Lane.

In my town, we are perennial underdogs. We have the collective genetics of a lower middleweight wrestler. We aren’t big, we aren’t particularly fast, we aren’t incredibly naturally talented, but we are who we are. If you were to line our Clay Center boy’s teams up before the game at the 50-yard line against the opponent and take a vote on who’ll win from physical appearance only, we’d lose that vote in a landslide 95 times out of 100.

We are who we are.

Being what and who we naturally are, we have to approach things from a non-conventional direction in order to develop into a successful team. We have to think outside the proverbial box because we don’t have the natural athleticism that fits nicely into that box. I don’t mean to be mean-spirited because I loved coaching this tough-minded, hard-working population of kids. It is just the harsh reality—we have to develop competitive teams, not inherit competitive teams.

Coach Lane’s number one teaching point for the Tiger Defense consisted of only two words, MY BALL!. When the opponent had the ball, our job was to physically take our ball back, either by force or by making the opponent punt the ball back to us in three plays. Our goal was to be selfish by taking our ball back whenever the opponent happened to gain possession of it—and take it from them ASAP.

A beautifully simple, yet effective definition of the game that 99.9% of our teenage boys were able to grasp. They could “get it”. Football went from this apparently confusing game of rules and playbooks, and techniques to something they could wrap their young minds around. It’s all about MY BALL.

  • Get it back when we don’t have it.
  • Take care of it when we have it and move it to our special piece of prime real estate at the opposite end of the field as many times as possible.

With this simple mental framework in place, we could teach our kids their jobs and they could understand why they had to do that job. The team needed them to do their job in order for us to get Coach Lane his ball back.

Easy-peasy.

“MY BALL!” made me rethink the game of football and more importantly, rethink how I studied and taught the game of football. Two simple words, one simple philosophy that helped our underdogs as they worked to become successful. David beats Goliath playing the game David’s way and not Goliath’s way.

Until next time.

WilsonFootball

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