Tag Archives: Football Coaching

Fun? What do you mean, fun?

There’s been a coaching riddle that has perplexed me since 2002. The concept of “fun” in sports. It started way back when a very talented group of players were underachieving and had fallen into poor practice habits. After a players-only meeting to figure out their ideas to achieve more from practice in order to perform better in games, one of the three things listed was they weren’t having “fun” at practice. More recently, I’ve heard many a player who chose not to go out for a particular sport they’ve participated in previously, give their reasoning as “it’s not fun.”

Over the years, I’ve gone from utter disbelief (What do you want, a cake and a friggin’ party?”) to old man-get-off-my-lawn (It’s this stupid video game generation?”) to finally over the last few years wanting to study and figure out what “fun” actually means to a youth athlete. 

What struck me earlier this year was in order to put my thumb on the problem of fun, I needed to quit looking at the issue from the perspective of a middle-aged, white guy and try to turn back the mental clock to think like a teenage boy. It was scary at times and it was not always family-friendly content, but what I discovered was very telling. I discovered from my experiences as a teenage athlete to my experiences as a sports coach to my ability to empathize with today’s young athletes, a definition of what they mean when they say, “it’s not fun.”

Fun means satisfying.

Fun doesn’t mean clowning around all the time or having no desire to compete like I used to think. Fun means they desire a satisfying participation experience that makes it worth the time they invest when there are a thousand other things they could be doing instead. Fun means a satisfying environment where they feel safe, valued, and among leaders who, first and foremost, want to make them better humans through athletics. 

Sure, nobody likes getting their ass handed to them in a sporting event but I don’t think winning and losing is anything but a small fraction of this new definition of fun. Then again, the environment of competing—the environment of doing things the right way and getting better every day—often depends on having that satisfying environment directed toward daily physical, mental, and emotional improvement.

As we end the fall sports season and transition to the winter sports with an eye toward spring and beyond, coaches (and parents) take a moment to honestly evaluate your program, your young student-athletes, and, in particular, get a gauge on how fun/satisfying their experience is or has been. Throw your ego aside and make the necessary changes. Study other programs. 

Develop a fun/satisfying program. Develop an environment to which young athletes choose to be there rather than doing any of those thousands of other things they could be doing. Develop an environment that respects their decision not to participate but, time and place accordingly, welcome them back into the fold without ramification if they’ve found out they made the wrong initial decision.

A coaching warning, though. Providing this type of environment takes work and effort every single day. It takes connecting with the athletes on more than just a sports performance level. It requires an energy level above and beyond the call of duty. You check your adult problems and adult ego/arrogance at the door when you walk into the locker room. You make a difference one kid, one day, one drill, one game, one play, and one season at a time through consistency and direction. Competing satisfies an inherent human trait. Tap into it with everything you do as a coach.

Provide a satisfying experience and young athletes will follow you to the ends of the earth. And it will be fun.

Finally, as so eloquently stated in Field of Dreams,

“If you build it, they will come.” 

 

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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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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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Purposeful Planning

(I’m ready for some sports ranting! It’s been a while. Here is the first of what may be many coaching rants on the concepts of program building using one of my favorite concepts, The Four P’s: Purpose, Pride, Passion & Performance, as a starting point.)

The bowl season is over. The Chiefs are out of the playoffs. MLB pitchers and catchers report in a few weeks. Time to relax, right?

Wrong.

If you’re a football or baseball coach or an ex-coach who still has football/baseball coaching blood flowing through your veins, it’s time to work. It’s time to get serious about a plan.

For the high school/youth baseball coach, you probably already have a good idea about who your kids are, what skills they have, and what they need to improve upon. Your goal is to develop a preseason plan that works all the fundamentals of baseball while infusing those skills with your philosophy or style of play. If you’re new to your program and unsure about what level your kids are, you still need the same plan. The difference is you won’t have the background data to customize your preseason plan as the returning coach does.

For a high school football coach, it’s time to get out those self-analysis notes you wrote down after your season ended last fall out for both you, your coaches, and your team. Review them honestly. Review them with purpose. Go back and watch each aspect of your team’s performance from the previous year. Be honest with yourself and remember this is not the time to sugarcoat anything. Burying problems doesn’t make you successful. Fixing the problems does.

What worked? What didn’t?

Who worked? Who didn’t?  

What can we do better?

What can each coach and player do better?

Now make a fundamental goal for the team. My football/strength & conditioning coaching fundamental goal was simple. Develop aggressive, athletic players who hit like a cannon shot. This meant making each of our kids a little faster, a little stronger, and a little quicker. With this in mind, EVERY single thing we did, every minute we did it, on every day we met absolutely had to be with the purpose of becoming a little more aggressive, a little more athletic, and a little more able to hit the opponent like a cannon shot every day.

The secret is in the PLAN!

For both the high school baseball and football coach, these next few months are vital to success. You need to have a purpose. You need to be able to sell that purpose to your kids every day. You need to have every coach in your program either on board with that purpose or on the job board looking for another job. These next few months are crucial to how well you compete. Take advantage of this time. It’s what separates success from failure.

  • Make the plan. I always say that you can’t deviate from a plan if you don’t have one to start with. Always be ready to move forward.
  • Make it detailed. Cover all the bases of what you want to accomplish.
  • Make it active, not passive. No wasted time, no standing around. Respect your players time as much as you respect them.
  • Generate excitement through your purpose. Kids and coaches will follow you if you convince them this is exactly where we want to go.

Good luck! Dream big and go do it!

Hard work is the magic.

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A good week ruined?

I used to LOVE college football bowl week.

Now I don’t.

I used to get an education in football by watching as many games as I possibly could over the course of the week. I’ve even written about this before with a post called, Crash Course.

I can’t really pinpoint the exact reason for my shift in Bowl Week fandom. My first thought is that ESPN, who used to do an exceptional job hosting the bulk of Bowl Week, has become too entrenched in the College Football Playoff politics. While watching a few minor bowl games this year on ESPN, I felt like the network’s sole purpose in broadcasting that particular minor bowl game was to talk about the College Football Playoff games. The CFP hung heavy over the 2018 Bowl Week.

Another reason that came to mind is there are just too many damn bowl games. The quality of matchup has been diluted to the point of a whole slew of bland and boring bowl games. Case in point for 2018? The 10-7 final, TCU/Cal Cheez-It Bowl. Plus, there rarely were multiple games broadcast at the same time, leaving thumb-happy remote control users like me, stuck with only one game on. Come on, man! I want to click-it action during Bowl Week!

And what’s the deal with all these NFL prospects choosing to skip their team’s bowl game. Okay, there’s always a chance you might break a nail before the NFL Combine but didn’t that school you’re leaving high and dry just sink a couple hundred thousand dollars into your development as a student-athlete? Besides that, how about the three most important things in team sports? Duty. Honor. Team.

Dear NFL prospect, play the damn bowl game.

Am I ready to give up on my lifelong fandom of College Football Bowl Week? Not hardly. But I do feel like Bowl Week is letting me and my desire to study & learn more about the game of football down on a more consistent basis.

And, for me, that is a problem.

Here’s to wishing for better Bowl Week product in 2019. Please don’t let me down, ESPN!

 

 

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