Tag Archives: Football Coaching

Filtering

I listened to former MLB pitcher Mike Boddicker on a Kansas City sports radio this week and he said something that activated my coaching radar. With his years of pitching expertise, the host asked him to theorize why the Kansas City Royal’s young pitchers were struggling so much. Thoughtfully, he responded that perhaps too much information was being fed into their heads. He said with so much to think about swimming in their heads while on the mound, their physical performance suffers.

Bingo! I think Mike Boddicker might be onto something here. I’ve written many times about this before in sports. Most sports are doing things not thinking things. That’s why things like muscle memory and daily practice are so important. When a player is on the field in the action of a game, thinking, in particular overthinking, is bad news.

Professional sports and sports, in general, are becoming more and more data-driven. In my opinion, this is a very good thing. Having the information to make better choices about strategy and resources is never a bad thing. The problem we get into as coaches and as organizations is we fall in love with the data but we fail to implement the filtering of the data to our players or team members. 

Filtering?

It’s when the people at the top end of the organizational ladder analyze all the available data and “filter” the relevant data to the relevant people. In a perfect world, by the time the information gets to the individual player, only the most relevant information that individual needs to do their job is in their head. That player then practices within that context, repeating the action again and again until they improve, and then takes it to the field without having to actively think about it.

You can also think about filtering as an informed simplification. As Detective Joe Friday said, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

Filtering is a lesson I learned as a green, somewhat dumb, and often overly-enthusiastic baseball and football coach. The hitters I coached didn’t need to have the dozens and dozens of physical cues involved in a swing swirling in their heads as the pitch was delivered. They needed only to load, step, and swing to attack the baseball. The mind can be a terrible thing when bogged down with too much information.

From experience, I know if I’m in the box thinking about where my feet are, what position my hands are in, if my weight is transferred, and, on top of that, the scouting report on what this pitcher likes to throw 1-2, I’m probably going to be taking a leisurely walk back to the dugout leaving the tying run on second base.

Thinking too much diminishes performance.

Same for football. Fast (quick) explosive high school football is the way we wanted to play the game. It’s the way we developed our players every day with everything we did from warmups to conditioning. We also knew the value of scouting and film study in order to give us the advantage to make up for what we lacked in sheer size and speed. The hours and hours of film breakdown of an opponent was a lot of information. Too much information for your average high school male athlete. Hence, we learned to filter. 

Although we knew as defensive coaches that on third and four in a shotgun spread formation with the back on the left and the right guard, #63, sitting slightly back on his haunches meant they were going to run their bread and butter, QB counter to the left, pushing all that info into a 17-year-old’s head probably meant that the 17-year-old was going to freeze on the field. Coach Dail Smith used to call it, “paralysis by analysis”. Busy minds = Slow feet.

To avoid paralysis by analysis, what do you do? You filter. In the example above, we knew all that information as coaches. Since the QB counter seemed to be one of their bread and butter plays, it was put into the top 6-8 run plays for the scout offense to run all week. We’d teach the linebackers to notice when the guards were sitting back on their haunches and attack. Basically, we take the 4-5 scout details and break them down to one or two for the players, work the recognition and skills repeatedly, and give them the best chance of succeeding during the game. And if we forced the opposing team to go to something other than their bread and butter plays? That was the icing on the cake. 

If you can beat me with your second, third, or fourth-best packages, you deserve to win. If you beat me with your bread and butter packages, I deserve to lose.

Data is cheap in today’s digital world. Programs like HUDL are so freaking awesome and provide so much data to a coach at any level. Sabermetrics and analytics are a sports nerd’s dream. But the downside is the sheer, daunting amount of data we generate. The important work for the modern coach and organization is to sift through the data, decide what’s important and who it’s important to, and then pass it down. A little bit of salt makes the stew better, but a handful of salt ruins it.

Filter the information to your players. Give them the basic knowledge they need without throwing a wrench into the gears of performance. Too much on-field thinking, paralysis by analysis, is a dangerous thing. Prepare your players, practice, and turn them loose to perform. 

Mike Boddicker might be right about what’s wrong with all these talented, young arms in the Royals’ system. Simplify and let the physical talent shine.

Load. Step. Swing.

Sifting gold in a cabin, 13 Eldorado, Yukon Territory, 1898. (Asahel Curtis, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

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The Favorite Place to Play

Coaches should always have a favorite place to play. This favorite place should trickle down to their entire team and organization. Everyone from the assistants to the players to the support staff should share a passion for this place.
What is the place?
Simple. It’s wherever the next game on the schedule is.
Because that’s what it’s all about. Getting your team ready to play the next game wherever it is.
Any other concerns, worries, or complaints steer the ship off course. There’s already a lot of other stuff to deal with in getting ready to play a game, especially at the high school or youth sports level, to detract from the goal of reaching that favorite place. A coach’s actions and demeanor matter. Negative thoughts spread to teenage athletes before anything can be done to prevent it and affect performance.
There’s a certain special feeling going to a game and seeing the field or the lights or the arena waiting ahead. A favorite kind of place lies ahead.
Anticipation. A touch of nerves. The heart quickens. It’s a special feeling.
So what’s a coach to do?
Put their head down and go to work whether you’re playing on the most pristine of fields or on something barely suitable as a landfill site.
Get ready for the next game, wherever and whenever it is.
Make the places and spaces we inhabit better. Leave a mark. All day, every day.
Isn’t that what life’s all about?
Above all else, enjoy the ride!

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A Numbers Game

Football is a great game. Great not in a “Football Is Life” t-shirt kind of way but in a numbers kind of way. 

Most people understand the numbers game as it relates to statistics. How many yards did he run for? What is my team’s first down efficiency rate on 3rd and 8 plays? How many tackles did my boy have? Touchdowns? Catches?

What most people don’t realize about football is behind the curtain, the sport is all about a different kind of numbers game. The numbers of advantage. This is the side game that has always appealed to me. The coaching side of the game. On the coaching side, it’s all about the numbers and gaining a numbers advantage.

At its very basic level, offensive football is about gaining a numbers advantage in your favor where you want to run or pass the ball. Think about some of the different offenses out in the game today. Spread or air raid passing offense spreads out your defense and then reads how you align. If the defense leaves 5 or fewer in the box (at the LOS), the read is usually a run read because you have a blocking advantage. If the defense puts six defenders in the box, the offense will read where in the secondary the advantage of numbers or matchups occurs and then attack that.

In the zone read, option, veer, RPO, or other read-based offenses, at least one defender is left unblocked. The QB reads what those unblocked defenders do and reacts accordingly. Away from the unblocked defenders, the offense uses its numbers advantage to block or attack the defense.

As a former offensive line coach, one of the things I tried to do with blocking schemes was to use numbers and angles to give us the advantage and put one defender “on an island”. We were almost always undersized but athletic with our offensive lineman so gaining an advantage in our schemes was necessary. We used double teams, combo blocks, pulls, and fold blocks to give us different angles and favorable numbers to help our smaller players block larger defenders. We had more successes than failures because we understood the value of the numbers game.

Defensively, the numbers game is equally important. We have to neutralize the offense’s attempt to gain their own numbers advantage at the point of attack and then pursue relentlessly to regain the numbers advantage at the ball or spot. 

Two of our biggest challenges came against a team that ran the double wing another team that ran the double tight wishbone offense. Both teams ran their offenses to near perfection. The toss play in the double-wing offense and the belly play with the wishbone offense.

I still remember how Coach Paul Lane would tell kids about the double wing team’s toss play. He walked down the scout team’s double-wing formation and point to a spot between the tackle and the tight end and say, “They’re going to line up tight and then bring 600 pounds of humanity over to THIS point!” After walking over the two backside pulling linemen and the lead blocking fullback, he showed how vital it was for our defenders to neutralize and form a wall at the line of scrimmage and then pursue to the run alley to make the play. Against both offenses, if we were to have success, we had to neutralize their number advantage attack and establish our own numbers advantage.

Double Wing Toss Play

The numbers game. It’s the cat and mouse, nuts and bolts of football. 

As a coach, if you don’t understand the numbers game concept, then all the pretty diagrammed plays, graphs, and charts in your playbook are useless. Lifeless and worthless to the success of your team. 

Below is an example of the importance of understanding the numbers game from a recent high school game I watched.

Play One – The offense lined up in a TE left, wing left with twins to the opposite side. They pull the backside guard and hand it off to the RB on a power lead play. The defense lined up pretty well on this play with the corner aligned with outside leverage on the #1 receiver and the safety over the #2 TE. Although the ILB is probably a step too far outside for my liking with this formation, the alignment look is rather neutral on the numbers game. The defense allowed about 10 yards on the run because the pulling guard and the playside blockers don’t get neutralized well enough at the point of attack and the pursuit fills a bit slow. Nevertheless, the defense did a good job establishing numbers on their alignment. The problem was in the execution and fundamentals, two things that can be fixed.

Play One

Play Two – The very next play the offense flipped the formation and ran the same play. This time the defense does not align properly, The ILB, corner, and safety are all outside the frame of the offense, subtracting 3 players from the numbers game. Even before the snap, the defense was in bad shape. In this play, the pulling guard and blocking scheme gave the offense at least a +3 number in the run alley. The play went for a long touchdown. Numbers matter.

Play Two

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Creative Autonomy

I recently read a great nonfiction book by Adam Savage called, Every Tool’s a Hammer: Life Is What You Make Of It. He’s one of the guys from the Mythbusters show. The book is a roadmap to making. Better yet, it’s a roadmap of what he’s learned over a decades-long career as a maker. 

One of my favorite parts of the book is when he talks about visiting his friend and movie director Guillermo del Toro on the set of Pacific Rim. Adam was amazed at the scope and depth of the worldbuilding and creation going on with the hundreds of people working on the set. That night at dinner, Adam asked Guillermo how he’s able to manage a large group like that into a cohesive vision. The director replied, “You have to give everyone complete freedom within a narrow bandwidth.”

Adam calls it “creative autonomy”. He expands on the idea in regards to creating successful teams. After you get the team’s buy-in on the larger vision, you need to strictly define their roles in the fulfillment of that vision. Once everyone knows where they’re going, then you need to set them free to do their thing.

Within a good organization, an effective leader lets people do what they do while keeping them anchored to the overarching goal. Creative autonomy may be properly suited to only certain endeavors where creativity reigns but it’s equally important in managing or coaching a sports team. 

Creativity, in the case of the sports team, is talent unleashed. It’s using your tools to solve problems. Just as in making a movie, publishing a book, or designing a factory, the sports organization is a team of specialists with the goal of using their individual tools to successfully achieve or create.

In the two sports I’ve had the opportunity to coach, football and baseball, establishing creative autonomy is vital. Vital not only for ultimate success but vital to have athletes who enjoy participating and enjoy doing the necessary work to be successful. A culture of creative autonomy lets athletes feel part of something, which I believe is one of the major reasons we are drawn to these activities. 

In today’s world of teenagers, making them feel truly part of something is a foundational coaching skill. There are too many other places and activities calling their name and 99% of those are much less demanding activities than sports.

Building a successful program through creative autonomy means work on the coaching end. Take football for example. The offensive and the defensive schemes we implemented had to be simple enough for all our kids to understand but variable enough to give us the tools we needed to face anything an opponent threw at us. We had to not only understand all the facets ourselves as a coaching staff but we had to understand the specific job of each position. Once the specific jobs were defined, then we could break them down into teachable bites for coaching those particular athletes. 

One of the most overlooked coaching skills is the ability to teach a player they need to do this one thing, this is how you do it, and then trust them to do their job. One of the things I feel most proud about from coaching football is the way we played defense. We had more successes than failures and most of those successes were because of creative autonomy. The schemes were simple, yet multiple. The athletes, for the most part, knew their jobs. They were allowed to play with a physical, aggressive style that became our hallmark. Alignment. Assignment. Attack. 

Young coaches getting started or a coach looking to turn around a program, never underestimate the power of creative autonomy. Establishing this culture and philosophy up and down the ladder of your program, from the incoming freshman to the top of the coaching staff, is a huge leap toward excellence. Plus, athletes have more fun and more joy from playing in an environment of creative autonomy. 

And at the end of the day, isn’t your athletes enjoying playing sports the ultimate goal?

Happy athletes are more fun to be around every day and get more work done. They just need to know where they’re going, what they need to do to get there and to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves.

Teach your athletes; trust your athletes. 

Every Tool s a Hammer  Life Is What You Make It

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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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