Tag Archives: Football Coaching

The Youth Sports Conundrum

Sometimes I speak my sports mind.

Sometimes I tell people the “truth” on sports as I see it.

Sometimes this gets me in trouble.

Recently, I was asked at our youth baseball association meeting if I was excited as a former high school level coach to see all these local kids playing youth club baseball. I thought for a moment, looked at the floor trying to think of a politically correct way to answer this question.

I couldn’t—so I spoke the sports truth, “Yes…and NO!”

“Yes” because it’s great to see kids playing baseball, but “NO!” because I don’t think you should ever approach youth baseball for the purpose of someday having your dozen or so kids all becoming high school stars.

Eyes widened. Jaws fell open. I quickly tried to elaborate that, as I high school level coach, I’d prefer to see kids enter the high school program armed primarily with a love for the sport and the ability to throw and catch. There will be attrition. Even in the best case scenario, only about half of those dozen kids who play on a youth team will probably still be playing in their later high school days.

Kids will change, their bodies will grow and shift by the time they reach high school. If a kid has that love and passion for the game, I can teach them (or re-teach them) as they enter the high school program and mold them into the players best suited for their skill set. These kids will put the hours of hard work needed to be a solid player. They will use their love of the game to push through tough times and tough situations to get better every day.

That is what I want to see out of a youth sports program. Help kids love the sport, teach them the basic fundamentals of the sport, and give them the basic skills tool set to be successful. All the other pieces of the puzzle will fall into place with hard work and repetition.

Youth sports are not a minor league for high schools. The two bottom things on the list of priorities for a youth sports program are the emphasis on winning above development and a philosophy of making future high school stars. Most of the problems that grow out of youth sports are rooted in these two negative prioritizations. The “burnout” problem so often discussed as a major problem with youth sports most often grows out of these two philosophical approaches.

Youth sports exist to teach kids the fundamentals of a sport. Youth sports programs should teach the kids how to play the game, teach kids about the value of teamwork and the value of competition.

Above all else, youth sports need to teach kids to enjoy the sport and the opportunity to play.

Play hard and have fun!

Campbell Infield

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The Depths

Depth is underrated. The value of having quality people in your program is fairly obvious—you need good players to succeed. The number ones on the depth chart are important, but as a coach or leader of a program, one cannot ignore the value of depth and numbers.

Depth in the kids who fill the backup role and must step in when called upon when the starter goes down. Depth in the kids who stand on the sidelines on game night, seemingly for the sole purpose as a show of force in uniform.

Depth is more important than that.

Depth makes a program successful.

A program needs the kids on the third and fourth string—the kids on the low end of the depth totem pole— to make everyone better. These players are the ones who make a program stronger and a lot more fun to be a part of. The “filler” players are the ones who push the kids above them on the depth chart to get better. The challenge, the competition, and the friendly rivalry are the “magic” which makes a team shine.

I used to enjoy working with the football scout team kids in practice. It wasn’t easy for these kids to learn the opponent’s offense and defense on the fly. It was a daily struggle for them to stir up within themselves the intensity and effort to give the first and second string players a quality look in our preparations. We called ourselves the “Black Dogs”. We took pride in what we did. We learned a lot of football running all those opponents schemes and plays.

I’d challenge them to push the other players as much as possible, even if it got a little chippy at times. Honestly, I didn’t mind an occasional scuffle or melee as these mostly occurred when the third string player made a first string player look bad on a play. Oddly enough, after these incidents, the starter usually attacked their practice with renewed effort.

Everybody gets better.

Every day.

You build successful programs from the ground up. You recruit quality depth. You plant the seed of possibility within these kids when they show up at your door. You cultivate their talent with as much, or more, effort as is put into developing your number ones. You give them a sense of importance and value. Everybody sees the intricately carved and beautifully decorated top of the totem pole, but people rarely pay attention to the bottom of the totem pole, which provides the foundation. If the foundation is weak and gives way, the whole thing falls apart.

It takes a special relationship between coaches and these kids on the lower half of the depth chart. A coach needs to make these kids feel like they are an important part of the program and demand effort from them every single practice, workout, and game. These kids don’t get much attention and the attention they get is mostly negative. A classmate poking fun at them for “riding the pine”. A parent chiding them for not being a starter. It’s a tough life for a Black Dog. That’s why a coach needs to be there to encourage and develop them as players.

Every day.

Everyone gets better.

I salute the Black Dogs of the world. I salute the kids who practice hard and work to make themselves and the team better on a daily basis. Without you, a team has no depth. Without you, a team has no foundation. Without you, a program crumbles.

Have patience. Keep working hard. Make your position a better place. And never forget the light at the end of the tunnel. Your time will come.

Next time you see the players at the lower end of the depth chart, give them a high five. Pat them on the back in appreciation for their efforts and cheer them on. THEY are the keys to a successful program. As the old saying goes, “A chain is as strong as its weakest link.”

A program is built from the ground up. Talent is forged from upward pressure and challenge from below.

Everyone contributes. Every day.

CC@Abilene2009

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Meat & Potatoes

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about meat and potatoes. Am I that hungry? No (But that does sound good, doesn’t it, Mrs. Hays?).  I’m not talking about meat and potatoes as a hearty meal, I’ve been thinking a lot about football meat and potatoes.

WilsonFootball

It’s post-Super Bowl week. Usually, in post-Super Bowl week, I rarely think about football. The season is over. Time to take a little break and get ready for the baseball season.

Not this year.

What happened?

Super Bowl XLIX happened. An uber-exciting game with the best two teams in the league participating. A game where the outcome came down to one final play. And THAT final play is what has been bugging the heck out of me all week.

Meat and potatoes.

In the ultimate game on the ultimate stage and at the very pinnacle of their sport, one team had a chance to win the Vince Lombardi trophy for the second year in a row but had their hopes dashed at the goal line with an interception. The team came up short due in large part to choosing to go with a cute, trickster play call instead of their meat and potatoes play call.

Meat and potatoes?

It’s the play your team runs best. It’s the play you hang the personality of the whole team on. It’s the play your players believe in and trust above all others. Coach Eric Burks taught me this in my first year of coaching freshman football. Our best play, the one all our kids trusted and executed above all others was 34 Power.

34 Power was a run play. An in-your-face running play, in fact. We double-team blocked the point of attack, led the lead blocking back through the hole to block the first threat, and handed the ball to the tailback, who followed the blocking back into the hole and broke to daylight.

It was a good play. We ran it well. We had confidence in it as a team. It was who we were. Coach Burks called 34 Power whenever we need to gain important yardage, like 4th and short or on the goal line. He called it our meat and potatoes play—our staple play. The kids caught on to the meat and potatoes concept. They caught on so well and became so confident in the 34 Power, Coach Burks just started calling the play “Meat & Potatoes”.

If we were behind in the 4th quarter and stuck in an do-or-die fourth and short at midfield, he would send in the play call with the WR. Meat & Potatoes. Everybody knew what it meant, everybody knew what their job was, and everybody (usually) got the job done.

That’s what’s been bugging me all week. The Seattle Seahawks, with the game on the line, got too cute. They skipped their meat and potatoes and went straight for the all-you-can eat dessert bar. Instead of running the football with the best short yardage, touchdown scoring, legs always churning forward running back, they passed the ball. They turned their back on everything they built their success on and failed.

They ate too many chocolate fudge sundaes and got an upset stomach.

The Seahawks skipped the most important part of their Super Bowl meal. They skipped their Meat & Potatoes.

It was a great game. One of the most entertaining Super Bowls ever.

I just can’t get the meat and potatoes mistake out of my mind.

Hurry up baseball, save me from this strategic football dilemma that haunts me.

Meat and potatoes…

MeatPotatoes

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Hurry-Up Defense

I think I heard the on the radio the other morning, that in the College Football Playoff Semifinal game between Oregon and Florida State, the high-speed offense of Oregon averaged around 11 seconds between plays when the game was still competitive. That’s fast. The sports radio talk show hosts then reported when the Ducks built a big lead and went into a slow-down, time-killing mode, they averaged about 20 seconds between plays. That’s faster than most team’s normal speed!

This high-speed mode killed Florida State. They couldn’t keep up with the speed of the game. The Seminole defense looked confused, tired, and made one mistake after another. That is what these uber-speed offenses attempt to do in this age of modern defensive football predicated on match-ups and substitution packages. The high-speed offense does not allow the defense to adjust; it finds a weakness in a certain defense, either schematic or personnel, it pushes the limits.

I had a conversation with one of my coaching offensive mastermind friends, Coach Larry Wallace, about the offensive performance of Oregon. Both of us were impressed with the speed at which the Ducks ran their offense. Being a defensive minded, former football coach, I was intrigued about how a defense can counteract the up-tempo offense.

Me: “It has me thinking about how to develop a hurry-up defense that is proactive instead of reactive.”

Coach Wallace: “Yeah, good luck.”

Me: “Amen, brother!”

Seriously, is there a solid defensive scheme you can think of to consistently shift the power to dictate the game from the hurry-up offense back to where it belongs–in the hands of the defense? If you have any ideas, please share.

I think the key is to play an aggressive, ball-attack defense through a fairly set package of personnel, not one which relies on massive substitutions. We would need to develop athletes physically to play at this speed (See how Oregon approaches this in my Bullets Over Bowling Balls post from 2012.). A very important point to consider with any scheme in any sport is this—one cannot expect to play the game at a certain speed if they do not train and practice to play the game at that certain speed.

Following in the footsteps of Coach Paul Lane, I would first attempt to dictate the flow of the game from the defensive end. The defensive scheme would involve multiple fronts and alignments with a minimal of responsibilities for each position. Basically, each player would have one job on a run play and one job on a pass play, and that job would be the same no matter what the defensive alignment, or front, looked like. I would try to punch the offense in the mouth by hitting harder, hitting more often, and wearing them down one man at a time all game. Every man wins their job on every play.

The spread and speed offenses usually have a run/pass option depending on the number defenders in the box. It’s a numbers game. If they read they have more blockers than defensive linemen and linebackers in the box, they can call a run play. If defense has a numbers advantage in the box, the pass play is chosen. A good defensive scheme could align in such a way to force the offense into one option or the other. The defenders would need to understand this concept to allow for the advantage of what plays to expect.

Oregon Duck Zone Read

Pressure the offense, particularly the QB, from multiple angles and with the goal of corralling the offense into a small space. Face it, if you’ve watch much hurry-up offense, they are designed to get athletes in space and into one-on-one match-ups they think they can win. I think I would try to minimize this offensive advantage by forcing them to beat me by doing things outside their comfort zone.

For secondary coverage schemes, I would develop physical man coverage techniques first and foremost in all our training with these athletes. In game planning, use man coverage schemes and match-up zone schemes as a general rule. The important thing is to realize how an offense with attack each coverage scheme and convey these tendencies to your secondary personnel.

One of the great enjoyments of the game of football is this mental and strategic side of the game. Even though I don’t actively coach football any more, I still love to think about the game. When I watch a game on television or in person, I am constantly watching for blocking schemes, formation tendencies, blitz packages, etc. Watching the Oregon Ducks this past week triggered the defensive coach in me to figure out how I’d develop a hurry-up defense to try and stop this potent offense.

If you have any ideas, feel free to comment below.  There are definitely more than one way to skin a cat. I am pretty sure there will be a Part 2 to this Hurry-Up Defense post, maybe even a :Part 3, 4, or 5.

The “What if we tried this?” is one of my favorite parts of coaching and training athletes.

And in my humble opinion, that is the fun of football!

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Fill the Bottle

Your football season is over earlier than everyone wished it would be. A disappointing last loss. These things happen. Only one team per division finishes the season with a significant victory. One. Other than that, the rest of the players and coaches feel the stinging venom of defeat.

For high school football seniors, this pain is sharp. 95% of them will never play football again. 100% will never enjoy the camaraderie and pure joy of playing with their hometown peers, for hometown coaches, in front of hometown fans. Football for the few who are fortunate enough to move on to play collegiately will find it becomes more like a job and the innocence of the game fades.

The emotional aspect of a senior playing his final high school football game may seem petty in importance, but I’ve consoled many 6′ 3″, 250-pound linemen as they sobbed uncontrollably after they lost that final game and the reality of the end hits them like a ton of bricks. For many of these kids, it is the first time they have experienced loss at this level of emotion. If you have a senior, or know a senior, in this position, give them a hug. They deserve it no matter what their won-loss record was.

For the underclassman and for the coaching staff, that final loss also hurts. You are done. After a year of planning and working and practicing and playing, there are no more opportunities until next season. There is a letdown and probably a sense of failure. If the season went better than expected, there’s a consolation of hope. If the season fell below expectations, there’s often a firestorm of distraction.

What comes next?

Coaches and returners need to collect all the disappointment and the sting of failure. They need to collect the venom, that poison which burns your pride/your attitude/your confidence, bottle it up, and then seal it tight with a stopper.

Why?

Because you want to keep that bad taste around as a reminder of how bad this feels right after that final loss. You want to save that feeling to drive you through the next 365 days of preparation for next season.

Coaches need a place that bottle of nasty feelings onto their desk to fuel a deep, top to bottom, and HONEST analysis of every aspect of the program. From the daily approach and philosophy to tweaking the offensive and defensive schemes to best fit the returning roster, all the way to implementing the strength and conditioning programs necessary to physically, mentally, and emotionally develop each player so they will be ready to fill those defined roles to the next season.

Returning players, you have the toughest role. You can’t just forget how bad you feel right now. You can’t forget the pain and disappointment eating away at you after this last loss. You will, though. You are young and you have the ability to turn your back on the reality of what just happen and assume a rosy outlook to the future.

Believe me, you do. In a couple of weeks, you will move forward to the next thing which crosses your path. That’s why you NEED this bottle of nastiness more than anyone. You need to pull that bottle down every day, uncork the bottle, and drink one drop.

Every day, without fail.

You need to feel that drop of disappointment burn as it makes its way to your gut and reminds you of that moment when your season came screeching to a halt. You need that drop to remind you to work harder and to realize changes must be made.

That daily dose of a reminder will help you:

  • Get out of bed and to the weight room on the days you feel like sleeping in.
  • Work harder than everybody else.
  • Accept your role and do it to the best of your ability.
  • Be a leader, every day and in every way.
  • Develop into a player willing and able to carry the team on your shoulders.

Never give up and never give in to the disappointment of a loss. Approach everything with purpose, pride, and passion fueled by the fire of that pain which follows the final loss of the year. The loss pain you probably feel in your gut right now.

To the coaches and players whose football season is finished for 2014, thank you for your efforts this season. Learn from this past year, rethink everything you are doing, and attack next season with a new energy starting right now.

Get better, one day at a time.

Get better, one painful memory sip at a time.

Everybody gets better, every day.

(Coaches included.)

small-round-glass-bottles-with-corks-8-5-oz-pack-of-12-5

 

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Season of Thirds

Coach Paul Lane, in his infinite wisdom, indoctrinated the mini-seasons within the high school football season in all of us players and coaches during his coaching tenure. It was a great concept to incorporate with a state system where your postseason hopes depended solely on your performance in the three district games at the end of the nine game regular season.

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Season One: The first three games. Figure out who you are.

Every team has a personality, every team has things they are good at and things they aren’t good at.  Every team has things which lead them to victory and things which drag them to defeat. This is the time to figure out these things. And, hopefully, at least one of these games is against a quality team, a team good enough to expose the cracks in the team.

Personally, I always liked at least one slobber-knocker early in the season to “wake” the kids up and make them realize how much harder they needed to work.

CC@Abilene2009

Season Two: Games four, five, and six. Fixing cracks and finding your stride.

Repair the cracks you discovered in Season One and get better at the those things that shine from the team’s personality. This is the stage of patience and development. Everyone settles into their roles on the team and, magically, the whole thing begins to move forward and grow like a snowball rolling down the side of the mountain.

It is also when high school boys begin to tire of the routine of practice, so it’s time to throw in a wrinkle. Wrinkles? Things like having the Bubbas (offensive lineman) run “no holds barred” physical pass routes while the backs try to cover them for their daily warm-up (Note: Bubbas ruled these passing games) or playing a physical game of “goal line stand” in the mud.

Tigers @ Royal Valley 2008

Season Three: Games seven, eight, and nine. THE CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON

Districts. Four teams, three games, with the winner (and in our later years, the runner-up) advancing to the state playoff tournament.

The Championship Season.

During this stretch it’s time to press the foot to the floorboard and let the engine rev as the team heads down the road. It is time to get after it.

The time is now to put aside the bangs and the bruises, the nagging injuries everybody struggles with this time of year. It’s time to throw caution to the wind and get after it. An attitude of “take no prisoners” begins to flow through the really good teams and a fresh attitude of “second chance” excitement pervades the team who’s had a rough year thus far.

Everybody starts The Championship Season at 0-0.

Hope springs forward.

tigers @ Atchison 2006

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Touch The Sign

When I was just starting out as a Rule 10 football coach at Clay Center Community High School back in the year 2000, I was a mild mannered, timid, and completely clueless football coa…SCREEECHHH.

Sorry boys for the stretch of the truth, please let me start again.

Okay, when I was just starting out as a Rule 10 football coach back in the year 2000, I was an excitable, raving lunatic, who was completely clueless as a football coach. There, I said it. Then something happened. I read the Blackie Book and I read Coach Otto Unruh’s book, HOW TO COACH WINNING FOOTBALL.

The Blackie Book is a compilation put together (and updated each year) by Coach Blackie Lane. It contains virtually the entire historic record of high school football in Clay Center. It is an incredible piece of history and if you haven’t seen it, you should make the effort.

HOW TO COACH WINNING FOOTBALL by the long time Clay Center and Bethel College head coach is a valuable slice of wisdom, both in the schematic football knowledge of the day and in the timeless methodology of coaching young boys into young men.

I read these two documents and became transformed by the tradition of football in our town. I realized what a heavy responsibility fell on one who coaches in this program and I vowed not to be a disappointment. I worked and read, and read and worked. I research and studied football coaching, football theory, especially offensive and defensive line play. But most of all, I studied strength and conditioning.

We aren’t big in CC, we aren’t exceedingly fast, and never really have been. But tradition holds these truths; we play hard, we hit hard, and we come after you every play of every game.

Tiger Tradition.

Another thing we started doing back around 2002 (or one of those years) was having each player touch the Otto Unruh Stadium sign at the south end of the stadium prior to pregame introductions. Fans may or may not have ever noticed this, but they still do it.

I don’t coach anymore, mostly because of the excitable, raving lunatic descriptors I used earlier in this post. Out of curiosity, though, I asked a couple current players if they knew why they “Touch the Sign” before home games. They did not know, but they were eager to find out. So, here is the reason you touch that sign, boys.

We “Touch The Sign” before we take the field for home games at Otto Unruh Stadium as a tribute to all those who played Clay Center Football before us.

We pledge with that one touch we will play with honor, courage, intensity, and sportsmanship on our home field and in front of our community.

We promise we will leave the Clay Center mark on our opponent in defeat and in victory. They will know by their battered and tired bodies they played the Clay Center Tigers.

We play for 100+ years of Clay Center football:

  • 836 games, 453-337-46 record, a .542 winning %
  • 63% of all teams had a winning record
  • 10 undefeated seasons

We play for the early Clay Center Dynasties:

1. V.R. Vegades Era 1920-1926; 42-10-2, a .778 winning %

  • 1920 – 7-1 record
  • 1921 – 8-1 undefeated regular season. Lost to Topeka in playoffs.
  • 1922 – 7-1 Did not get scored on all season until last game, a 7-6 loss to Manhattan. Beat Concordia 101-0.
  • 1923 – 6-1, No TD’s given up the entire season. Lost final game to Manhattan 6-3 but only gave up 2 FG’s.
  • 1924 – 6-1, only gave up 3 TD’s all season.

2. C.A. Nelson Era 1930-1941; 69-27-13, a .670 winning % and 3 undefeated seasons.

We play for the Otto Unruh Era:

  • 1945-1966; 126-65-8, a .633 winning %
  • Won 3 Class A State Championships
  • 3 undefeated 9-0 seasons.
  • 1956 and 1957 teams went 18-0 and won 2 state titles.
  • 1963 team went 8-1 and won state championship. Only loss of year was to Manhattan, 7-6, on a missed PAT.

We play for the Larry Wiemers Era:

  • 1977-1994; 114-71, a .616 winning%
  • 1978, 1979, 1980 teams went 26-5, 2 District championships and 3 NCKL titles
  • 1980 team went 10-1, losing only to Andover in the regional final.
  • 1983, 1984, 1985 teams went 25-8, Substate, district and bi-district titles.
  • 1993 team went 10-1, NCKL champs, district, bi-district, regional runner-up

So, gentlemen, there’s the story behind why you Touch the Sign. Good luck and NEVER forget,

There is no #TigerFamily without #TigerTradition.

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