Tag Archives: Football Coaching

Live As If Your Players Are To Be Answered

I woke up this morning and stumbled bleary-eyed to the computer to check the latest numbers. No, not the 2020 Election numbers, the Kansas high school football playoff scores. 

When I opened up my laptop, my email program greeted me with its usual, “Hello, Hays. Here are your morning distractions!” On top of the inbox was one of my favorite daily emails, the American Football Monthly (AFM) Daily Newsletter. Today’s newsletter was titled, “How To Build A Winner”. I perked up. Everybody wants to win, right? Here’s a football coaching golden ticket!

I opened the email. The first thing to catch my eye was the AFM Daily Quote. In bright red font, it read, 

“Live as if your prayers are to be answered.” -Unknown

Fantastic life advice! One of those inspirational quotes to add to the bulletin board of quotes. Dream. Prepare. Be ready.

It would be nice to end it there but I have to be honest. I was, as I said, bleary-eyed while reading the AFM newsletter. My mind was focused on the “How To Build A Winner” article potential. My mind was on championships, plaques, trophies, being carried off the field by my adoring players…

Okay, okay. Back to reality.

I read the quote as, “Live as if your players are to be answered” instead of, “Live as if your prayers are to be answered.” 

One letter makes a big difference. I laughed off my error and clicked the link for the article. Then it struck me. That mistaken quote might just be the actual key to developing a successful program. That change in one letter can philosophically change an entire program. A coach should live as if their players are to be answered. Everything a coach does, from planning to development to schemes, needs to be done to provide an environment to allow the players to improve and give them a fighting chance to succeed.

No matter what a coach’s coaching style, he or she must have this basic relationship with their athletes. There must exist the understanding that the coach works toward answering their players’ needs. This is the trust that drives successful programs. This is the contract sealed by hard work and preparation to achieve a common goal. 

The players can trust the coach.  The coach can trust the players. It’s a two-way street.

If you want to know what the “How To Be A Winner.” AFM post said, check it out for yourself. I highly recommend signing up for the free daily AFM Newsletter. It’s great football nerd material that’s definitely worth your time.  

If you want a simple philosophy for turning your program around and developing better relationships with your players, then “Live as your players are to be answered.”

Who knows? Maybe your prayers will be answered.

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Walking Through Your Door

In professional football, a team of scouts determines which athletes from a pool of thousands of athletes fit into their team’s systems and they draft them. In college, coaches scour the region and the entire nation to find athletes that fit into their systems. In high school, however, most schools draw student-athletes from a fixed region. 

The smaller the school, the smaller the pool.

“Duh,” you might be saying to me right now. I know it sounds obvious but it means a lot for a high school football coach. It changes the way a high school coach must operate. It means you have to design and run a program with the ability to change as your talent pool changes. And your talent pool will change. 

You have to coach the kids who walk through your door.

Period. End of story.

This is where the work comes in. This is where it’s important to develop multiple packages in your offensive and defensive playbooks. It’s important to have the tools available to fit the pegs of multiple shapes into the proper hole instead of trying to force a square peg to fit into your fixed, round hole.

Coach the kids who walk through your door. Give those kids the best chance they have to compete. It’s not about the coach; it’s about coaching the kids. As I’ve said more than a few times before, the word “coach” is more of a verb than a noun. 

Develop a program and a philosophy with the power to adjust to your current athletes. Put your ego in your back pocket and get to work. Study your incoming athletes. Study high school programs you respect, study college and pro games on TV or in person. Do the work and make the preparations.

Sounds like a lot of work? I’m not going to lie. It is a lot of work. A whole lot of work. But, it’s a good kind of work. Rewarding work. Work that makes a difference in young men’s lives. Work that establishes relationships with your players. That, my coaching friends, is the Golden Ticket of coaching.

Do the work.

Load up your coaching toolbox.

Coach the kids who walk through your door.

Inside those doors is the Packer locker room - Picture of Lambeau Field,  Green Bay - Tripadvisor

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New Year, New You (Athlete Edition)

The New Year, New You (Athlete Edition) is the final part of a three-part series about improvement as we turn the calendar on a new year and a new decade. It’s short and sweet and to the point. Here are the links to the Coaching Edition and the Sports Parent Edition if you’re interested.

This one is simple. If you want to be better, do the work.

Aspire. Set a goal. Do the work. Fail. Do more work. Achieve. Repeat.

Trust in yourself and in your dreams. If you love a sport, play it until you can’t. Enjoy playing and participating. Please, if you are miserable playing and don’t enjoy any part of a sport, find something else to do with your time that you do enjoy. Don’t play a sport to make somebody else happy.

Learn to derive self-satisfaction and celebrate your accomplishments no matter if you’re all-world or fifth string. You are out there every day. 

Filter out negativity from peers, teammates, and/or adults. You can do this, people!

It’s a new year. It can be a new you if you want it to be.

Find a goal. Find support. Find a way. Find the will to do the work and you’ll find the magic.

Good luck to all athletes in 2020 and beyond.

New year, new you. 

 

 

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New Year, New You (Coaching Edition)

(Note: This is the 450th post on The Coach Hays blog. You would have thought I’d run out of stupid things to say around post #10, right? Thank you for reading and for your encouragement. As always, feel free to comment or share. Sports are awesome things that provide joy to our lives.)

A new, clean and fresh calendar stares you in the face. So much hope. So much optimism. This version says “2020” and it’s a whole new decade of promise. As a coach, what are you going to do? Do you feel confident in what you’re doing as you look at those blank future pages on the calendar? Are you concerned? 

If you’ve been successful, is what you’ve done good enough for continued success? If you’ve been banging your head against the wall and struggling with your program, are you taking the hard look internally and committing to making changes?

I hope every coach, at every level of a program, takes the time to assess everything you’ve been doing. Weigh every detail for its value and its contribution to making your team and each of your players better every single day of the year.

Former Nebraska coaching legend, Tom Osborne, had a quote about how everybody wants to win, it’s in our human nature. The difference, he said, was in who has the willingness to do the work and dedicate themselves to become better. Everybody wants to win but the difference is in who is willing to do the work. 

Winners do the things losers will not do.

This time of year for football coaches is generally the time of the year to evaluate and learn. There’s the bowl season, the NFL playoffs, the time to read the coaching literature, and there are the coaching clinics.

I used to tell our football players at the beginning of every summer conditioning session that we could stack offensive, defensive, and training manuals and playbooks to fill the entire weight room. There’s so much good information and creativity available to football coaches out there it is mind-boggling. I would tell our kids that what we are doing in our program for that summer and that season is what we believe is the best for them. 

I didn’t tell them the hours spent researching and reading and studying that went into planning a season. The kids don’t need to know that. They don’t really care. All they care about is the hope that the coaching staff is giving them their best shot at being the best athlete they can be. 

Coaches, new year, new you.

Look at everything you are doing, especially at the high school level. Ask yourself if what you are doing is the absolute best that you can do for the particular group of athletes walking through your door in 2020. If you’re doing what you’ve always done, the same way it has always been done because that is what you are comfortable with, you are failing your athletes. One thing that always grated on my nerves was the adherence to the strict legacy of the past. I called it “We do things THIS way because that’s what the Bear (Coach Bear Bryant) said to do.” syndrome.

Don’t get stuck in the coaching rut of rigidly sticking to an offense or defense run by a college program or another highly successful high school program. Remember, YOUR KIDS ARE NOT THEIR KIDS. Colleges recruit specialize talents into their system and most high schools don’t have that luxury. Your kids are the ones who walk through your door every day. 

Take bits and pieces from what you’ve done in the past and combine it with new ideas and concepts to take advantage of the incoming combination of skills and talents. Pay attention to everything at a coaching camp or clinic but pick out the things you feel can work for your program. Understand the fundamentals of what others are doing and avoid trendy sugar coatings. 

(True story. At the 2008 Kansas State coaching clinic, the keynote speaker was Kansas high school coaching legend, Roger Barta. I was stoked to hear his talk as I’d studied things he did at Smith Center with the belly offense for several years. At every coaching clinic, there’s something you see. The young bucks. The young coaches who strut around the clinic in their matching program gear and throw all the current and trendy buzzwords around in their every conversation. The crowd settles and anticipates the magic bullet of success from Coach Barta, the coach is introduced and walks on stage to an overhead projector and a marker. He begins to outline 36 points of what he considers are key to his success. I still have those notes. In my opinion, Coach Barta’s talk was pure gold. I also have the memory of a high percentage of those young buck coaches either getting up and leaving after a few minutes to hit the lunch buffet line again or are not even paying attention and are talking in small groups in the audience. There was no magic bullet so they quit being interested. They missed a treasure trove of fundamental information on coaching, scheme, program building, and life because it wasn’t trendy or flashy or loaded with bells and whistles. I still wonder, even after all these years, how many of those young bucks are still coaching and if they learned there are no magic coaching bullets or what kind of success they enjoyed in their career.)

Mold and create something that fits your current athletes. You wouldn’t wear Urban Meyer’s suit around as is if he sent you one, would you? No, you’d tailor it to fit yourself properly or else you’ll look silly wearing Urban Meyer’s ill-fitting suit. That’s what coaching is about. Finding the best fit for your current athletes and teaching them to perform it to the best of their abilities. Even your traditional, hang-your-hat on facets of your program can be tailored to the players on your practice field every day.

Don’t be afraid to create.

Be willing to tweak and change.

Do the work. Your athletes deserve it.

Learn and grow. Your athletes deserve it.

Coaching becomes exponentially more enjoyable and interesting that way.

Everybody comes out at least a little bit ahead.

New year. New you.

Good luck coaches in 2020! Have a great year!

 

 

 

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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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