Archive for the ‘Memoirs’ Category

It’s a novel idea, really.

Grown men in their 30s, 40s & 50s, who are essentially overgrown kids themselves, teaching actual kids how to be good at playing a game; sure there’s heavier themes involved around the plight of maturation and development of accountability, circles of atonement, good versus evil (as some would have you believe) – but, for the most part, the foundation of enjoyment from a sport like football can usually be traced back to the yards and streets of rural and suburban America.

I can still visualize the playing field that my friends and I would so routinely take: two telephone poles about 50 yards apart marked the end zones, cars scattered on the edges to provide landmarks for play calling or defenders for passing windows; unique to our field though (maybe not) were the telephone lines that needed to be avoided on all deep throws and kicks.  Even when my friends weren’t around, I would find my way out there.  My dad would instruct me to run routes.  Each one of our favorite players had a different designated route.  Jerry Rice was always a “fly” pattern; Russ Francis, and later John Frank and Brent Jones was always a “button hook”; John Taylor was a “slant” and for a Mike Wilson, I had to get into a 3-point stance…you get the idea.  Man, pops would lay it out there for me and I would have to run under it, most of the time catching the perfect spiral in stride…we knew what Joe Montana to Jerry Rice felt like, and we could get that feeling any day, right there in front of our house.

Eventually, as my friends and I got older, we just took it to the fields at the junior high and high school and from there our love of competition, skill and camaraderie fueled a life-long obsession with this kids game…at least for me it did.  Sessions with dad turned into practice with dad, and the seeds of affirmation were readily planted.  Somewhere along the line there the fun part became a little less important.  The lines are blurred, really, as to when that was.  I can’t put a finger on it.  All I know is there was then…and there is now.

Now, football is a job.  It can be rewarding, but there are also times when I ask, “why…why am I putting so much into this kid’s game?”  Energy, passion and time – it’s all soaked up into this never ending abyss, and when you least expect it you find a way to put in even more.  More than you thought you had.  It just keeps regenerating.

And then you have the kind of day that reminds you why you love being a bigger kid teaching a little kid’s game.  And you think, “how in the world could I spend my time doing something else? this is what I do, this is what I am…I am a football coach, and I love my job.”

Carlos Rogers executes a break using the T-Plant technique

We have been moving rather slowly in our spring ball drills.  When I say slow I mean we are doing a lot of things in repetition.  This is a good thing for building stimulus response.  We have established our Every Day Drills (EDDs) and are starting to get a little more in depth in terms of attaching the techniques to the scheme.  Everything that we have established to this point stems from an off-man or zone approach.  When we start competing in 1on1’s we will need to be prepared to work on press footwork and techniques as well.

We have been very deliberate in working on the T-plant break though, as I want them to be able to have something to hang their hat on.  We know, and can be confident in the fact that, through repetition, we will be quick and efficient when we react to those visual cues that tell us to break on the ball.  There is more than one way to change direction but I am adamant that we will do it one way as a group and we will become experts at using the T-plant technique.  I believe that this will help to establish a standard for what we expect in terms of execution and provide the framework for the importance of paying attention to even the smallest detail as we progress.  It is just as important to condition the athlete’s mind-set as to how he views (thinks about) learning, practicing and perfecting the techniques necessary to compete at a high level, as it is to condition the neuromuscular patterning required to achieve desired levels of execution.

Fundamental drills that we have progressed to:

1.Swipe and secure when breaking through the receiver

2. Weaving to maintain inside leverage against a wide receiver taking an inside release

3. House turn and playing the ball at the highest point

Some of the extended concepts/drills that we worked in our last session included:

1. Reviewed wide receiver splits and correlating assignments

2. Reviewed quarterback profile and 3-step and 5-step drop (gun and center) reads

3. Combined the T-plant drill with an angle break drill to break on a hitch and slant route

4. Expanded 3/5-step reads to incorporate sink technique and angle break (defending the smash combo)

Drills that we need to introduce next:

1. In/Out of phase

2. High point take away

3. Feet, hips and hands (press techniques)

4. Reverse creep, jam and sink (collision & vision – hang and robber techniques)

5. Breaking through the receiver and recovery on double moves (hitch-go, slant-corner, post-corner & whip)

Communication to be addressed:

1. Sink in base/quarters

2. Trade in quarters

3. Hang and rob in bandit

4. In call by corner to OLB/SAF

5. Cross call by SAF/OLB to ILB

This off-season marks my second year working with the defensive secondary after eight years of coaching on the offensive side of the ball. The experience has been very rewarding in terms of re-invigorating my passion for teaching and coaching as well as pushing myself beyond my own limits of comfort and knowledge.  The intensity and devil may care attitude that defines the appeal of the defensive side of the game has been not lost on me.  Breaking down offensive game film was second nature for me and I was able to contribute to the development of our defensive coverage schemes.

Still, however, there is that pull that tugs at me when I catch a glimpse of the offense throwing routes on air, spreading out in formation, working on timing and execution, linemen in the chutes and on the boards . . . there’s just so many moving parts to work together; I miss the conformity of it all.

When I first started coaching defense I got caught up in approaching the defensive back position like the wide receiver position.  I tried to diagnose specific techniques for specific scenarios; offensively, techniques are designed by assignment and assignment is defined by scheme.   It’s all very neat and orderly, in a way, and I was able to develop a sound schema for coaching several positions on offense based on learning and teaching the techniques that would help to increase the efficiency of execution.

I soon found out that it was more important on defense to focus on things like run/pass recognition, change of direction, pursuit angles and other more general skills that would allow the defender to be in position to utilize his athleticism within the scheme of the front or coverage.  I was taking for granted the reactionary aspect of defensive play early on and it made my foray into coaching defense akin to learning how to coach all over again.

In retrospect, that is exactly what I needed…

DB techniques drilled during the first week of spring ball:

1. Stance

2. Creep

3. Tempo

4. Weave

5. Ball Drills

6. T-Plant footwork

In out first on-field spring practice session this year we worked on form running and sprint mechanics for the majority of the day.  Points of emphasis in this area included: arms bent at elbows at 90-degrees focusing on linear movement from the shoulder joint, opposite arm driving the opposite leg, erect spine, head and eyes up, legs turning over in a circular motion with the foot flexing and extending against the ground as the heel pulls through, and connecting the upper and lower body together in a kinetic chain to get the most out of our movements.

As with everything worth teaching, we broke the process of sprinting into drills to repeat the desired movements:

1. Stationary arm swings

A. Striders – :30

B. Stride/Sprint/Stride – :10/:10/:10

C. Spring/Stride/Sprint – :10/:10/:10

2. Stationary hip flexibility/range of motion

A. Leg swings front to back – 20 on each leg

3. Stationary circular motion/stride turnover

A. Standing (partner) “swipe & cycle” – 20 on each leg

4. Moving circular motion/stride turnover

A. Single leg quick step – every 3rd step right leg for 10 yards/left leg for 10 yards

B. Full cycle run – 20 yards

5. Striders/buildups – 20/40/60 yards

As we progress in our stability training in the morning we will gradually introduce change of direction drills throughout the spring as well.

When I started my coaching career I bought an instructional video by Urban Meyer titled Fundamentals of Developing the Complete Wide Receiver.  At the time the video was produced, the now high profile coach was still enjoying some anonymity as the wide receivers coach for Notre Dame.  He had yet to embark on his meteoric rise to the top of the college coaching ranks.  In terms of a nuts and bolts teaching tool for a young coach, I found the video to be very detailed, straightforward and informative (For a link to the DVD, click here).

Meyer’s video helped me to lay a foundation for how I wanted to approach coaching the wide receiver position.  Through 2010, I used his top of the route drill to teach a break technique emphasizing sinking the hips, planting and driving – promoting acceleration in and out of the break point.  It has been a great resource for me and I have followed Meyer’s career over the years, probably no closer than any other coach looking for examples of how to run an effective program, and collected several additional resources including clinic talk transcripts, playbooks and team manuals.

Thanks to smartfootball.com, I recently came across an excellent youtube clip of Coach Meyer speaking at an Ohio football coaches clinic.  The notes below summarize his beliefs on teaching and coaching, his definition of competitive excellence and the importance of developing a concise coaching progression.  Eleven of Coach Meyer’s former assistant coaches have become head coaches.  He is earnest in his belief that these men have earned their opportunities because they were teachers first.  According to Coach Meyer, effective teaching is the most important element of a successful program.  He also credits Coach John Wooden in helping him to develop his foundation for successful teaching and coaching.  He says that the foundation for building competitive excellence lies in the ability to build cohesiveness or alignment within a coaching staff, where personal agendas are set aside, and formulate direct teaching strategies aimed at creating an “on the edge of your seat” learning environment.

His process of direct teaching, rehearsal, mind/body reinforcement, situation specific drilling, and creating a game-like atmosphere around team practice segments is aimed at building what I like to term stimulus response In other words, when all is said and done, the athlete can take the playing field free of any mental barriers and simply rely on the neuromuscular patterning created as a result of the entire teaching progression.  The goal is to take the thinking out of the execution and to promote a series of actions and re-actions based on cognitive and kinesthetic conditioning.  The athlete will develop an automatic trigger mechanism through learning, applying, adapting and repeating the specific skills necessary to gain the mastery associated with confident, high-level, winning execution.

Notes from Coach Meyer’s 2012 Ohio High School Football Coaches Association Clinic:

“No lawyer or doctor ever approached the top of the ladder in their profession who did not love or have an unyielding enthusiasm for it . . . likewise; no man can be a football player and not love the game.  Half-heartedness or lack of earnestness will eliminate every man.  The love of the game must be genuine.  It is not devotion to a fad that makes men play football.  It is because they enjoy the struggle.” – Fielding Yost

TEACHING 101

Objective – To get the student to:

  • Retain information/skill
  • Use information/skill
  • Increase production because of information/skill

Style:

  • Clear: Organized & clear objectives
    • What are you asking that kid to do?
    • Is he getting it done?
    • Must be an objective to what you are asking him to do, or don’t do it.
    • Clean: Use of tools, tip sheets, video, etc.
    • Concise: Broken down to the smallest detail necessary – get to the point
    • Direct: Student engaged in discussion – ability to teach
      • Create an environment that puts students on alert – promote stimulation to the brain.
      • The difference between a teacher and a presenter is that a presenter presents information and fails the student if they don’t get it.  The teacher is creative and uses all resources at hand to help students learn.

Atmosphere:

  • Clean organized environment
  • Desk with notebook and pencil (no pen)
  • Both feet on the ground; no hoods/hats; no cell phones
  • Engaged – teacher moves around the room
  • Students are on edge

Every action is either taught or allowed, good and bad.

Presenters present information and hope it works out.

Teachers present information and find a way to make it work out:

  • As a coach, when you evaluate your players on film and what you see is not what you are teaching, you have to blow the whole thing up; don’t wait – something’s not right.
  • This is when a coach has to take the ego and put it aside and say, “Wait a minute, this is not working.”  It’s NOT the kid!  You never want to hear, “That damn kid didn’t do this or that.”
  • As a coach, it is your job to get that kid to do this or that, because you are a teacher, not a presenter.
  • Your job depends on your ability to help your kids figure out how to do things the right way.

Content is 20% of what a student learns.  How you get that [20% – content] into someone’s mind is more important; it’s the delivery, the passion, moving around using teaching tools.  It’s the ability to, after 15 minutes, get them up, stretch, and tell a joke, whatever stimulates that teaching environment.

It’s not just the content that is important in the teaching.  If it was the content, everybody would do the same stuff.   It’s the delivery, the passion, the way that a coach moves around the teaching environment that counts.

Become a head coach because of the passion with which you teach.

Competitive Excellence – the basis of who we are; developing players toward competitive excellence:

At the end of the day, when that number is called, are you ready?

1. Game reps vs. mental reps

  • 16 reps in team/skelly/scout; how to get the most out of those?

2. Teaching progression

  • Before a kid is ready to make a play it has been:
    • Installed in a meeting room, checkers, video, etc.
    • Direct teaching – it has been rehearsed back
    • Walk through – teach proper details; spacing, alignments, etc.; body learning
    • Individuals – developing the specifics
      • Developers – what are the fundamental skills of each position group to be developed every day
      • Specifics – job descriptions, put player in position to do exactly what we expect him to do, i.e. double team, kick-out, turnover circuit; you get what you emphasize
    • Group Work – QBs/WRs, RB/OL, etc.; scheme specific skills
    • Scout Work – teach tempo
    • Game Rep – preparing them for the main arena by creating a mini arena based in competitive excellence, O vs. D – backups get mental reps with unit coach
    • Showtime – “Rip the chains off and go play as hard as you can, you’ve trained your entire life for this moment, and you are officially at competitive excellence. You are ready . . . make all the mistakes you can, point A to point B as fast as you can go – 4-6 seconds of relentless effort and go play!  Get there in a hurry and be a little pissed…”
  • In the end, it’s all about building confidence so that players are ready to step in and compete at the highest levels possible.

“If you practice the way you play, there shouldn’t be any difference, that’s why I practice so hard.  Anything was possible once the game started . . . everything we did at practice became competitive.  I took pride in the way I practiced.” – Michael Jordan

Reminders:

Every phase of teaching for competitive excellence includes 1) a clear objective (meeting room; cone signifying finish in drill, etc.), 2) a clear expectation by the teacher and 3) concise planning and execution (broken down to the smallest point; what is your step angle; what is your hand placement, etc.).

Doctrine

Posted: February 12, 2012 in Coaching Chronicles, Memoirs
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The Doctrine

Respect all/fear none

Be genuine . . . be yourself

Be accountable to your brethren

Never give up in the face of adversity

Strive for perfection – seek daily improvement

Defend our cause with honor, principle and character

Represent those who have preceded you with class

Set the standard for those who will follow

Give great effort in all that you do

Take pride in your sacrifice

Humble in Victory and

Gracious in defeat

Suppositions

Posted: January 29, 2012 in Coaching Chronicles, Memoirs
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Never trust someone who has all the answers all the time.

One must know the difference between judgement and evaluation.

Actions are a better means of measurement then words.

Judging others will only define you as a person who needs to judge.

Speaking the truth is sometimes difficult.

Motivation does not always come down to being about incentives.

However, incentives matter.

Dealing in absolutes helps in clarity of vision.

Seeking the truth is a calling.

Finding the truth is a journey.