Posts Tagged ‘Stimulus Response’

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


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.

This video, featuring Coach Raphael Ruiz from CrossFit Football, adds considerable dimension to the old football cliche, “when the bullets start flying” as he draws an analogy to grouping shots on a target at a firing range versus firing at an actual live target with bullets actually flying back at you.  The idea behind the analogy is that training an athlete’s emotional response in situations of stress will improve said athlete’s “default” level of performance.  In terms of training for football, or any high intensity sport, taking the thinking or emotion out of rehearsed actions and re-actions so that production or performance is maximized is always the goal.

John Welbourn, co-founder of CrossFit Football explains the necessity for training for optimum performance further:

For football, we know the demands; football is a game of inches and seconds. We know that timeframe and scale, and we know when, where, and how game day is played. Knowing this, we can precisely prepare for the demands of the sport. What we cannot control is the player’s talent: his instincts, and his ability to react to stress, pressure, and the opponent. We know what weapons we need in our arsenal and we will know when and how to use them. Optimum training results in optimum performance, and the optimally prepared athlete is in the position to make the best use of his talent, and thus to fulfill his potential as a player.”

Ruiz refers to the desired final outcome, a product of stimulus response programming and training, when he asserts that “no matter if you’re on field, no matter if you’re in the weight room, you’re trying to develop the mentality that you’re a bullet in a gun. Squeeze the trigger . . . the bullet does what? Does it think? Does it hesitate? Does it go slow? It goes as hard, as fast as it can possibly go—no matter what.”

So, the trick for us coaches is to find a way to manage that emotion and stress that comes with competition so that your athlete’s training can take over “when the bullets are flying” and trust that he will do what is asked of him when everything is on the line…

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, 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


Objective – To get the student to:

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


  • 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.


  • 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


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.).

Bill Walsh innovated the planning and execution phases of the game of football

Some time ago, I was asked the question in an interview to give my interpretation of coaching theory and describe how it is applied to competitive athletics.  My initial thought was… wow, vague.

Maybe some of you who are reading this are coaches or teachers (or, maybe you just enjoy the sport and want a different perspective to draw from) and, if you are like me, you enjoy learning about the experiences of others in pursuit of similar goals, sharing ideas, searching for better ways to do things, and helping others out along their way… also acknowledging that only a fool thinks he knows everything there is to know about everything.  To this end, I have an anonymous quote posted on my office wall reminding me that:

A man doesn’t know what he knows until he knows what he doesn’t know.

With this logic, there is always going to be reason to continue to build your knowledge base, examine the way you think about things, and challenge the status quo.

Knowing the cat-and-mouse/dog-and-pony-show that interviews can be, I knew they were just waiting to see how I would respond to such an open ended question.  Could I think on my feet, make snap judgments, and ultimately decide a certain course of action and go down that road with confidence?

As far as coaching goes, I think it is fairly safe to say that many would agree there is definitely more than one way to skin a cat – concerning all things related to our profession: developing young men and women, teaching, leading, relating, explaining, demonstrating, evaluating, communicating, and much, much more.

I have found documenting and reflecting on my efforts to be extremely valuable in providing hindsight (paving way to foresight) not only in preparing for interviews, but also as a measure in evaluating choices, decisions, and actions.  When I reflect on my answer to the interview question regarding coaching theory, I ultimately felt that I did not think in global enough terms.  When I heard “coaching” and “theory” my brain automatically went to “scheme” and “philosophy.”

To compound the fact that I had just made a common interview mistake of hearing the question but not listening to it (as opposed to Woody Harrelson in White Men Can’t Jump), I was interviewing for a defensive coordinator position and the answer I provided was from an offensive perspective.  In a sense, I fell back to what I was comfortable with having coached offense for the entirety of my ten year career up to that point.

So, I answered the question with the following points from my coaching portfolio in mind as an outline to guide me – however, only briefly touching on some of the points in the following excerpt:


1. Protect the football and protect the quarterback

  • This is accomplished through various methods. Game planning and play-calling is set up with this philosophy at heart. Take external elements into consideration when deciding on play selection (weather, field conditions, score, field position, defensive strengths, etc.). Offensive line personnel strengths and weaknesses will be considered when evaluating potential use of full-slide, half-slide, man and hot principles; sprint-out, naked/boot, drop-back and play-action protection schemes. There will be simple rules and the quarterback must understand the workings of each protection employed. Also consider quarterback involvement in the run game (defensive players assigned on bootlegs, play-fakes, and options; involvement in inside/outside run game) and how that will affect his stamina, mental processing, and physical abilities during a contest.

2. Keep things simple for the offensive line

  • Maintaining consistency for this group is key in establishing any kind of offensive identity. Our base run schemes will consist of power, split flow/lead inside zone, strong and weak toss (outside zone), and fly sweep. Calls and techniques will reflect their similarities in the run (e.g., front-side power double team block mirrors technique with backside zone combination technique) and pass (i.e., front-side/back-side slide calls/techniques/assignments are the same regardless of full or half-slide) game to minimize the amount of concepts we ask the offensive line to execute. We will have the ability to carry one full-slide protection, one half-man/half-slide protection, and possibly one man protection scheme into a contest. Variations off those protections based on running back blocking responsibilities, quarterback/receiver hot adjustments, and directional calls can be made to fit into different passing concepts – but everything is still the same for the offensive line, regardless of the protection variation.

3. Put players in the best possible position to achieve success

  • Package run plays with quick screens and/or automatic quick pass check based on 1) single isolated defender 2) safety alignments and 3) number of defenders in the box. Also set up run plays to have the ability to check direction based on technique/angle advantage.
  • Work half of the field in quick passing game. Build confidence through repetition of identifying and reading isolated defenders varied by concept. Build in man-to-man automatic response process for single and double wide receiver sets.
  • Categorize drop-back and play-action concepts by route distribution and read principles (i.e., 3-man hot combos, Inside Hi-Lo’s, Outside Hi-Lo’s, Oblique, Vertical, and Horizontal stretches) and teach the quarterback the basic read principles. Once he can recall the read principles based on film study and practice repetition it does not matter how the routes are distributed. This insures that offensively we are consistent in what we are teaching, but from a defensive perspective, we are not always doing the same thing from the same looks. We can be diverse in personnel, formations, and motions but consistent in principles and rules.
  • Have a plan to get our most explosive play-makers the ball in the most effective method possible. Use of fly sweeps attached to base run game, bubble and fast screens, and special personnel packages for direct snap opportunities are all simple ways to attempt to let our best athletes make explosive plays.

As I stated previously, when I answered the question I was no where near this in depth.  I simply noted that coaching theory was such a broad area and it could encompass so many different things (as I was stalling to try to think of something profound to say).  Then, all that I could recall at the time was bits and pieces of the scheme and philosophy that I had scribed into my portfolio.  So I went with something to that end.  In retrospect, this would have been an acceptable time to physically bring out the portfolio and point to it as a reference.  Next time.

In the days following, I started to think about all the areas I could have done a better job in during the interview.  This question was one of the first things I toiled over.   There is so much regarding coaching theory in everything I do on a daily basis.  Essentially, I panicked, went blank, and reverted back to what I was comfortable with instead of digesting the question and really identifying some solid elements of true coaching theory and breaking it down.

Years ago a colleague, friend, and former teammate of mine brought up the concept of Stimulus Response (SR) in conversation as a reference to defensive line play.  The basic idea being that his defensive linemen were cued in to common offensive lineman techniques (ie, base, drive, reach, down, double, etc).  Each one of these techniques was considered a stimulus (a visual signal telling the brain to send a message to the body) to the defensive lineman’s response (the appropriate counter movement technique).

Since then I have engrossed myself in the details of applying this concept to all groups on the field, breaking it down position by position, drill by drill.  To take a closer look at some of the points in my Philosophy/Scheme section, there is an element of stimulus response built in.

In reference to keeping things simple for the offensive line:

“Calls and techniques will reflect their similarities in the run (e.g., front-side power double team block mirrors technique with backside zone combination technique) and pass (i.e., front-side/back-side slide calls/techniques/assignments are the same regardless of full or half-slide) game to minimize the amount of concepts we ask the offensive line to execute.”

The only difference between this example and that of my colleague’s is that here, our stimulus is not necessarily created by the movement of an opposing player.  In essence, an offensive lineman’s stimulus is created by the pre-snap alignment of the defenders they are assigned to and whether they are on the front side or back side of the play.

In theory, several layers of SR can be identified in terms of the play call creating stimulus to the athlete’s response –  the thought process of determining his corresponding technique/assignment.  And even deeper, the down and distance, field position, field conditions, score, etc, each present a stimulus to the stimulus (and so on) to the response.  Tony Blauer of Blauer Tactical Systems draws a correlation to this concept related to hand-to-hand combat (at the 2:10 mark he explains the SSSR model):

Ultimately I was disappointed that I hadn’t brought up anything to do with the principles of training the body and the mind for competitive athletics.  Looking back, I have a feeling that is closer to what they were looking for than some canned answers about putting people in position to achieve success, getting your play-makers the ball, and keeping things simple.

It really wasn’t a scheme question and I think that point has been established.  The real letdown is that I blew a good opportunity (by not listening and just assuming that I had the answer) to share my thoughts on a process (one of many processes including but not limited to concepts for visualization, motivation, goal setting, focus, and more; not to mention other principles such as motor learning theory and its foundation supporting skill development and application of practice, feedback, repetition, and mastery) that is crucial to coaching theory: essentially, through repetition, building stimulus response in the nervous system (reaction time) and the muscles (movement time) to improve an athlete’s overall performance.

In the end, to make a short story long, the main idea behind this anecdote is that I simply was not prepared to answer an open ended question regarding coaching theory.  As much as I wanted the job, and as prepared as I thought I was for the interview, I had simply never been asked that question before and surprisingly it never crossed my mind to connect these concepts to the context in which I was asked about coaching theory.

So all this begs the question…

I guess what they say about interviewing is true, right?  The more actual experience, the better off you are…

Well, I guess I can chalk this one up to experience.  I can tell you one thing for sure:

Next time I won’t be caught off guard by a question on coaching theory…

Those were the words of the Navy SEAL commander on scene, as he shouted the code-name for mission success, signaling Osama bin Laden was dead.

Former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens addressed NBC Today’s Matt Lauer when he was asked about the level of anxiety the elite troops must have been experiencing once they found out who their target was:

“The word is that when they heard that bin Laden was their target, there was a huge cheer that went up.  They were excited for the mission.  They had been practicing for it for months.  They’d been relentlessly going through every possible contingency.  Obviously adrenaline was high, extraordinarily excited, but these are professionals who were ready for this operation…”

The Navy SEAL Trident is a symbol of honor and heritage

As Americans we can be proud of the job that this group of men accomplished in the name of sovereignty.  After a lifetime of devotion to their chosen profession and way of life, and dedicating the last nine and a half years to the retribution of the 9/11 attacks, the men responsible for this significant moment in American History label themselves as, “the quiet professionals.”

In terms of training for this specific mission, it is safe to say that SEAL Team 6 DEVGRU was certainly coached up and ready for success.  Just look at the way they meticulously prepared for the raid, in which they actually only spent a total of 40 minutes on the ground after months and months of drilling different contingency plans and tactical skills.  What to do and how to react over and over again, essentially taking the thinking out of it once they got to game time.

They were creating a stimulus response process for Seal Team 6, in light of all possible scenarios they could encounter, to ensure that when the bullets started to fly they could remain calm and let their years of expert training combined with their pre-conditioned response for this event take over.

Ed Winters, Rear Admiral in charge of the Navy SEALs, released a statement concerning the plight of his quiet professionals:

“Today we should all be proud.  That handful of courageous men, of strong will and character have changed the course of history…the fight is not over”

According to Greitens, speed, surprise, and violence in action are the core SEAL principles in creating overwhelming force in their warfare tactics.  With a high alert for retaliation from al-Qeada loyalists, we will need to continue to call on SEAL Team 6 and others in defense of our freedom.  And I stand confident that they will be ready to accept that call:

“My loyalty to Country and Team is beyond reproach. I humbly serve as a guardian to my fellow Americans, always ready to defend those who are unable to defend themselves. I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions. I voluntarily accept the inherent hazards of my profession, placing the welfare and security of others before my own.”

– United States SEAL Philosophy

Great stuff.  These guys make me proud to be an American.

Here are some quality links to MSNBC’s coverage of the mission behind the termination of bin Laden:

Who are the men of Seal Team Six?

Retired Navy captain and former Navy SEAL, Dick Couch, discusses the Seal Team Six operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.

Practice makes perfect mission, former SEALs say

Former Navy SEALs Eric Greitens and Michael Sheehan discuss the intense preparation work the Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six carried out in advance of their dangerous mission to seize al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden at his hidden compound in Pakistan.

Behind the walls of bin Laden’s secretive compound

In Pakistan the bin Laden compound has become a focus for local curiosity seekers. He may have lived behind the walls there undetected for as long as six years. ITV’s Bill Neely reports from Abbottabad.