Thursday, April 23, 2015

Guest Blog Post: Jim Harshaw

One of the most difficult issues in sports is being able to communicate and build relationships with parents. When I first began coaching I had now clue what this would entail. It is one of the most important things we must do as coaches.  I have screwed up many times in my dealings with parents, and each time is a valuable learning experience.

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Jim Harshaw about a book he has written called Dealing Successfully With Sports Parents. Coach Harshaw has coached at every level of sports, and brings an outstanding perspective to this important issue. Jim has shared a guest post, and I have also included a link to his TED Talk. He offers tremendous insight that you can use to build stronger relationships with parents.

By: Jim Harshaw

Surveys show that dealing with parents is one of the top most time consuming and frustrating tasks that coaches deal with on a regular basis. 

Having coached for 15 years from youth through Division I, I've spent countless hours researching best practices on dealing with parents. I've read books and blogs, listened to audio podcasts and talked with dozens of coaches about it. Here's what I've found: it all boils down to communication and education. 

While these are simple concepts here are some practical solutions that you can use right away. 
  1. Let Them Talk: Many parents just want to be heard and by letting them talk without interruption you satisfy that need. Acknowledge that you've heard them and will consider their point of view and move on with your day. 
  2. Admit When You're Wrong: We all make mistakes. When we see a public figure make a mistake and try to explain it away or cover it up, we lose respect and end up talking poorly about them and even trying to undermine their authority. When they apologize and face the issue head-on, we are far more willing to give them slack and a second chance. It's the same with you. 
  3. How to Be a Sports Parent: Parents react with emotion instead of logic because they never took a class on how to be a good sports parents. It's your job to teach them things like how to be supportive at home, what kind of nutrition they should be providing and what kind of feedback is actually helpful for you. It will not only minimize the issues you have to deal with but also maximize the performance of your athletes.  
Get many more tips and tactics as well as worksheets and templates in the Dealing Successfully with Sports Parents ebook. Access to this proactive guide will help you spend less time reacting to criticism, responding to emails and looking over your shoulder... and more time coaching. Download his book here!  

This is a guest post by Jim Harshaw. In addition to learning how to deal successfully with parents as a youth, high school and college coach, Jim Harshaw learned many life lessons on the wrestling mat. He was a 3X ACC Champion for the University of Virginia, trained at the Olympic Training Center and competed overseas for Team USA. He lives in Charlottesville, Va with this wife Allison and four children. 

Here is a link to order Coach Harshaw's Book: Dealing Successfully With Sports Parents

Here is a link to Coach Harshaw's TED Talk...

Coach Harshaw is more than an outstanding speaker, he is also a very good coach who cares about the success of his athletes away from sport. He has great advice for coaches of all levels. I have screwed up many times, and this information will help me to be a better coach.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Coaching with Purpose

One of my favorite websites to check out is coachhuey.com, where coaches share their thoughts and insight. A topic that frequently comes up is "why coaches went into coaching." I have chimed in a few times, and recently I shared some information that I wanted to put into a blog post. For the next couple of minutes I am going to jump on my soapbox about what it truly means to be called "coach."

Coaching is about much more than teaching a sport. The same way that teaching is about much more than the results of a state mandated test or whether a kid can calculate an algebra equation. It is about teaching kids to be the very best that they can be, and they can do more than what they think they can. And it all starts with relationships. I watched my dad coach when I was growing up, and the love he had for his players was unconditional. He was a master at building relationships with kids that lasted a lifetime.

Building relationships is much bigger than just sending a text to a kid or an email blast. It is about caring for the kid outside of sport. it is about learning about his home life and background. it is about learning their hopes and dreams and fears and goals. I talked to guys my dad coached 40 years ago and they talk about him in very high regard. And, they never mention a win or a loss. They talk about how he helped them through difficult situations they faced in their personal lives. These are things that are not out in the public eye. Part of building relationships is about being available.

Many times I asked my dad why he taught and coached, and he never talked about winning and losing. He talked about giving kids something to believe in so you can impact them through sport, improving their life after sport. Do you care about the Jersey, or the Player wearing the jersey? Do you care about the kid as much when he is in ISS as much as you do when he is scoring touchdowns? Do you cast kids away when they make a mistake, or do you reel them in for a teachable moment?

I am blessed to work with a head coach who sets a great example for building a program based around love. Coach Jackson cares greatly about each player. He often says, "do you teach English, or do you teach kids?" The answer to that question says a lot. It starts with wanting the very best for every kid you coach. It is about loving them unconditionally. It is about caring about them for who they are, not what they can do. It is about looking deep inside each kid and finding the gold inside. We can't give them greatness, they already have it. Our job is to pull it out of them. And again, it all goes back to relationships. If they know you care about them, and I mean truly care about them as more than a player on your team, they will play their hearts out.

Why is this important? Because someone has to fill the void that left by the absence of fathers. Most of the kids we teach and coach don't have a relationship with their father. For most of them, we are the only positive male role models they might have in their life. We may be the only adult male role model who truly cares about them and loves them unconditionally. Many of our young people are surrounded by adults who break promises. We have an opportunity to be someone they can trust.

One thing I have learned is to never, ever talk negative about a player in public. It does not do you any good personally or professionally. It builds a disdain and a distrust within your current and former players. Guys are going to talk and share information. Imagine what you would think if you ran into a former colleague and he told you your former boss said you were a lazy S.O.B. with no heart... How would you feel? What if that same colleague came up to you and said, your former boss said even though you didn't see eye to eye he said he always loved and respected X, Y, and Z about you... Which is more effective? If you are going to use an example of a former player, leave out the name. Or, bring back the former player to share his story. Let him educate your players.

Tell your players you love them, then back it up with your actions. If they make a mistake, coach them through it. Tell them you believe in them, and remind them of this often. Ask them about their family... and then listen to what they say. Hold them accountable for their actions and explain to them how it benefits them in the long run to be held accountable. This doesn't mean berate them in public. It means privately talking to them about the behavior and telling them why you are holding them accountable.

Take 5 minutes a day, three days a week and have a character talk. Have a different coach deliver the message each time, and keep it to 5 minutes. Bring in former players to give the talk. This will be meaningful to the players.

But again, this all comes back to if you don't care. If you don't really care, then you may want to make a career change. If you don't care whether Johnny has food on the table, or you don't care whether Bill became a good father, then your players are right.

When I first started coaching it was all about winning and losing, and I did not care about my players outside of sport. I really didn't care about them inside of sport unless they were a good player. We took a losing baseball program in the mid 90's and won games, but something was missing. Then I went to work for a man coaching football who cared deeply about each and every player. It was a great lesson for me on why we do what we do. Do we do what we do for ourselves? Or do we do what we do to because we have an opportunity to impact kids? The answer to that question can change and evolve over time. My purpose for coaching continues to evolve as I grow as a person.

The biggest regrets I have don't have to do with a play call or a why we lost a game. They have to do with how I might have handled a situation differently. They have to do with the crappy example I set on handling adversity. They have to do with the stuff I said to and about kids. There are kids that I had a chance to impact and I chose to take the easy way out and break them down. Why? Because I didn't care. I had a chance to build them up and help them to believe in themselves. I let my ego get in the way of this opportunity. Don't let your ego get in the way of an opportunity to change the life of one of your student-athletes. Is what you are about to do going to satisfy your ego, or is it going to help that kid be successful? An instructor at West Point once said, "give em what they need, not what they deserve." 

There are some who would say this philosophy doesn't work. This is all kumbaya. That would be patently false. We coach our kids hard. We hold them accountable for every little detail. If we don't do something right, we do it again. But we try to do this without breaking them down. We work hard to coach with passion and enthusiasm each and every day. We bring energy and try to set that example for our kids. We don't sugarcoat things. We tell them the truth, but we do so with a twist about how it can change. We add that we believe in them. As John Wooden said, "a coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment." If you constantly break your kids down, they will play like they are broken down. More importantly, they will live their life broken down.

Here is the cool part... When we began to coach as transformational coaches nearly 20 years ago, we won more games. We were more consistent. Our kids believed in themselves. We had better leadership. We had trust between players and coaches and players and players. Our players could handle adversity. And, our kids learned values that have continued into adulthood. If you want to be champions on the field, you have to be willing to build champions off the field. You have to build  culture of love and trust within your program.

The best part about this is that how we coach is a choice. How much we care is a choice. I make mistakes each day. Yesterday I said something to  a kid I had to apologize for. I told him I shouldn't have said what I said and asked for his forgiveness. He responded that he forgave me. We hugged. He said, "thank you coach." I told him I loved him. He repeated it back. Our relationship is now strengthened because of it. He knows I care about him, and I modeled for him what you do when you make a mistake. Some would say that showed weakness. I would tell you that something like that shows great strength. That kid can now use that lesson when he is a husband or father and makes a mistake.

That is the real goal. What can we do to build young men that will be great husbands and fathers? What can we do to help them achieve more than they once thought possible What can we do to help them believe that they can overcome adversity they will face in life? And that all starts with the relationships you build.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

#txhsfbchat or the Future of Your Coaching Education

Today we have a guest blog post by a coach who has done a tremendous job of organizing Wednesday Night football chats on Twitter with the hashtag #txhsfbchat. Chris Fisher, or @coachfisher_rp as he is known on Twitter, took a few minutes to share his thoughts on how Twitter has impacted coaching.


#txhsfbchat or the Future of Your Coaching Education
By Chris Fisher

Traditionally football coaches have the opportunity to attend clinics in the Spring and Summer to learn from coaches at the top of their profession and network with coaches across the state. These clinics can offer insight into what has made these coaches and their programs successful.  College coaches offer additional educational opportunities by extending invitations to high school coaches to visit their facilities and attend Spring practices.  Together, these opportunities help to expand our knowledge about all aspects of football, developing successful programs and well-rounded athletes.

These clinics are typically well-attended, covering numerous topics in a lecture hall setting ending with occasional Q&A sessions.  Unfortunately, attendees must take their own notes from the presentation, and they have limited time to participate in the Q&A sessions. At the conclusion of the clinic, the presentations are also not readily accessible for coaches to review and archive for future reference.  

Coaches from all over the state and nation come together to share ideas and develop their professional network.  Outside of the clinic coaches have the opportunity to learn from each other through informal meetings and direct discussion.  We learn more from each other when we can directly engage someone in conversation. Coaches sharing thoughts, ideas, and philosophies about football promotes our professional growth and the development of successful programs.  

To create a forum for coaches to engage in continual professional growth, I began #txhsfbchat on Twitter.  Twitter is an amazing social network that gives you authentic, direct engagement with someone about whatever subject you wish.  A Twitter chat focuses that conversation and brings in a much larger audience that each participant can learn from while also providing their own voice to the learning process.  

Since #txhsfbchat began, coaches from Texas and across the United States come together Wednesdays at 8 pm CST to answer questions, engage with other coaches directly, and learn from each other.  Questions are provided for participating coaches to answer and interact with each other while driving their own professional development and expanding their personal learning network each week.  It is an amazing learning experience as this wealth of knowledge from head coaches to assistants is shared every week.  We have discussed position work, off-season programs, character education, offensive and defensive philosophies and many other topics in our continuing conversation.  Connections are being made with coaches all over the state of Texas as well as coaches from the rest of the nation.  All in the spirit of becoming better coaches, and to grow in this game that we all love.

Many school districts in Texas and all over the United States are recognizing Twitter chats as authentic forms of professional development and even crediting participants with PD hours for their answers and activity.  I believe that #txhsfbchat provides coaches with this same opportunity to be active participants in their continuing education.  Instead of waiting on those one or two weekends out of the year to cram as much info from each speaker as we can into our notepad, we can learn from each other every week by using social media.  It is a powerful educational tool when put to good use.

Please join us every Wednesday at 8pm CST and take control of your professional development as a football coach.  Just search for and follow #txhsfbchat.  The chat is always archived on txhsfbchat.blogspot.com.

Chris Fisher
@coachfisher_rp

Coach Fisher has created a trend, as #txhsfbchat has spawned a couple of additional chats for coaches. Twitter has become a great avenue for coaches to find and share tremendous information. It truly is amazing how far technology as taken coaching, and the amount of information readily available. Thank you Coach Fisher for sharing your insight, and for all you do for coaches across the country!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Building Unity Among Your Offensive Lineman

Anyone who coaches offensive football knows that success starts with your big boys up front. The better your offensive line plays, the better your offense tends to perform. Of course you still need good athletes, but a good offensive line will maximize the talent of your skill guys.

One of the most important tributes of an offensive line is unity. That group, more than any other, must be able to play as a unity. They must all be on the same page. I am blessed to work with a tremendous offensive line coach who is passionate about developing his group. He is one of the best at building offensive lineman into a unit. I asked Ty Palmer to write about how he builds unity with our offensive lineman, and he has put together a great article.


Building Unity Among Offensive Linemen

Ty Palmer
Offensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator
Seminole High School
Seminole, Texas

Offensive linemen are a very unique and special group. It is a fraternity to coach and/or play offensive line. We as a whole tend to stand up for and defend each other at all costs even if we do not know the other guy. The only thing we have to know is he is a lineman like me. This is what makes coaching the offensive line so special yet so challenging at the same time. There are not many kids in the backyards and parks of America that dream of being a center on 4th and 1 in a state championship game and getting a pancake block that keeps the drive alive. If you find that kid, please call me because I will adopt him right now. Most linemen grow up wanting to be quarterbacks and running backs whose dreams are crushed in the 7th grade when they get sent to the other end of the field. It is seen as a disgrace to be one of “us” by most kids. However, it is a badge of honor and courage to be one of “us.”

As an offensive line coach, you have a unique challenge ahead of you. You must be able to take a group of kids who may or may not like each other, come from various backgrounds and beliefs, and often did not grow up dreaming of being an offensive lineman and make them play as one unit. I believe to be an effective line coach, you must be a psychologist as well. You have to be able to figure out what makes your group run and how to get them to do it day in and day out in the most thankless role on the field. I am blessed that my head coach, Kent Jackson, was my offensive line coach in high school. He gets it. Our offensive coordinator, James Vint, has coached the line before, and he makes sure his quarterbacks make them feel appreciated. People do not realize how far this can get them in life with the hogs. They expect me to love on them, but it goes a long way when other people recognize them. I tell my guys, “Me and your momma are the only ones who know you exist and love you.” They have to learn to depend on both you as their coach and also themselves. I know you have all heard the universal “BLOCK LINE” from the stands, when ultimately, it is the back that hits the wrong hole. This is part of being a lineman; no one knows you exist until they “need” you.


I have done several things with my guys to promote unity and build togetherness amongst them. This year we started a Hog Meal every Tuesday night after practice. We would meet at a coach’s house to eat dinner and just get away from the field house together. I did not want to watch film at this meal or do anything related to football. They needed to get away from it and be around each other in a relaxed environment. It also allows your kids a chance to see you outside of coach mode and be yourself. This goes a long way in allowing them to see you care and love them as people and not just as football players. I have always heard, “Kids do not care what you know until they know you care." I firmly believe this statement to be true, and I think this is one of several ways to show them you care. It is amazing what some cheap hotdogs and cookies can do for a group of linemen. I know that sounds like a fat kid joke, but it isn’t. I think this is something that can be done with any position group.
 

Another thing I do is always have some sort of saying for the season or theme to bring them together. This varies from year to year to keep it fresh and new for my guys. I usually allow my upper classmen to help in this process.  Kids can be very creative if you let them help, and it means more to them when they have ownership of it all. We try to keep it a “secret” for the linemen, and it is our thing. It is funny to watch the skill kids trying to figure out what we are doing or what something means and how bad they want to know. I think this gives my linemen some pride in having “their thing” and helps bring them closer. Last year our rally cry became “LOCK THE GATE.” I was watching a show with Hugh Freeze, and he was giving a speech before the Alabama game and he told them, “They are good men, but we will lock the gate and go looking for a fight.” It just so happens that our field has a gate that locks during the game to keep people off the field and is right by our pre-game warm-up spot. The kids rallied around that and it worked for us. You have to find your thing and what will work for your kids. Each one had this hanging in their lockers and they loved it. 

Last season, I used a chain link as their rallying point. Everyone has heard the saying, “A chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link,” so I bought each one of my kids a chain link and they had it with them at all times. They wore it on a necklace, kept it on their key chain or even laced it on their shoe laces. I still hear from my seniors about how they have theirs with them still in college. Nothing is new in this profession, and most good ideas are stolen. It’s no exception that I stole this idea from my head coach in high school (he is a master of motivation). To this day, I still have a dog tag he gave us my senior year in high school on my key chain. Right beside it is my chain link from last year. I know these may seem like little insignificant things to you, but to your kids, they are huge. They give them a common battle cry and rallying theme, which is what a group of linemen need. 

I tell my kids, “You are five bricks but one wall,” all the time. I firmly believe it, and you must too as a line coach. You are their lifeline and their support; you must be bought in as a line coach. They know when you are not fired up to be a part of them. You have a challenge to make them love being linemen and staying out of the spotlight. This is why the Coaches Of Offensive Linemen (C.O.O.L.) association’s logo is a mushroom. Mushrooms grow in the dark and are fed garbage yet continue to flourish. That is the perfect picture of being a lineman. You must find a way to help them understand that and flourish through the garbage.

These are just some of the things I have done to help build unity with my guys. They may or may not work for you, but hopefully there is something here you can use to help you out. I always love hearing what others have done or are doing with their guys as well, so feel free to contact me. I love talking offensive line play and techniques.  My email is ty_palmer09@yahoo I can be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/OLCoach_Palmer, so feel free to contact me on either one. 




Sunday, January 11, 2015

Simple Concept, Explosive Plays

My background on the offensive side of the football is with Option principles. My first opportunity to be an offensive coordinator was running an I-Based offense that focused on running the Midline, Load, and Veer option concepts. When we evolved into a gun and pistol offense, we continued to be option based. We try to find new and innovative ways to read defenders.

Perhaps the easiest and most popular read play to install is the inside zone read. Offenses from youth football all the way up to the NFL have adapted some form of the inside zone read. While many programs have put their own stamp on this popular concept, the principles are the same. The offense is going to block the box defenders while reading the backside C gap defender. 

The inside zone read allows the offense to cancel a defender without having to block him. It can give you a man advantage. You essentially can get one more blocker to the second level. Defenses have to not only have to cancel gaps, but now they must make sure they account for the QB as a runner. Defensive coordinators have to make sure they have a player assigned to the QB and to the running back. When defenses have to account for the QB, they have to borrow from the secondary, or ask their defenders to react very quickly to get in a position to make sure the QB doesn't run free.

The bowl games were fun to watch as several teams employed different versions of the inside zone read. UCLA ran it well against Kansas State, hitting several big plays. Perhaps the biggest play came in the fourth quarter when K-State was mounting a furious comeback. UCLA needed a big play... and they got one. 

The Bruins aligned in a one back gun set with a TE. Essentially this is a pro set, but putting the H back in the slot to the open side forced K-State to have to essentially defend an extra gap up front. K-State's answer was to roll their safety down to 5 yards put him man on the H back.

As you can see from the picture below, Kansas State has a dive and a QB player by alignment. 
Because they had two players outside the read side tackle, one of them could play the dive, and one could play the QB. 


On the snap of the ball the QB meshed with the dive back and saw the defense had a dive player and a QB player. We teach our QB, "when in doubt, give it out." This is a principle we used back in our option days. We would rather have our back getting downhill and being physical. 
The problem for K-State is that both players worked to the QB. Instead of playing their responsibilities, they made a choice to do their own things. The two things that kill a defense faster than anything are blown option responsibilities and missed tackles. Both of these will get defensive coordinators pulling their hair out!

When both players went to the QB, they left a huge void in the C gap. The UCLA's read side guard and tackle did a great job of comboing the 3 Technique to the backside backer, leaving no one to play the dive back. 

With the secondary in man coverage, there was no one left when the RB got through the first and second levels of the defense. The result was touchdown run that put UCLA up two scores.

I am sure K-State spent many, many reps drilling their guys on option responsibilities. However, UCLA did a great job of mixing up their looks on the perimeter. That is one of the reasons I love the zone read game. You can show the defense several different looks without having to change your blocking scheme.

If you are looking at adding the Inside Zone Read, or looking for a new wrinkly you can use, 101 Pistol Option Plays is now available as an interactive ibook. It has play diagrams, slides, blocking scheme descriptions, and hours of video! It is divided into two books, and the IS Zone Read and other read game concepts are found in Part Two, which consists of plays 54 to 101 and can be found here:
You must have an ipad or Mac to view the ibook. It will not work on an iphone. If you have a Mac or an ipad, you need to check out this book!

I also have several videos on the pistol and spread offenses. They can be found here: https://coacheschoice.com/m-63-james-vint.aspx

If you are in the Northwest I will be speaking at the Washington State Football Coaches Mid-Winter Clinic January 23rd through the 25th in Seattle!

I can be found on twitter a www.twitter.com/coachvint


Thursday, January 8, 2015

101 Pistol Option Plays is Now available in ibook Form!

It is amazing how far technology has come in the last 15 years! The technology that is now available has made vast amounts of information available for coaches at all levels. We have come a long way from the days of waiting 5 hours for 16mm film to get developed!

My first year coaching I went to the MegaClinic in Atlantic City and bought a video by Jerry Campbell, who would become a great mentor to me. Jerry's video was a VHS tape on the installation of the option game. I played that video so much I wore it out! In about 2005 I ordered my first instructional DVD. You were able to skip from chapter to chapter and more easily find information. I thought that was high cotton! Little did I know what the future held.

Several years ago I was asked to record my own coaching DVD's with Coaches Choice. We started with a set of 4, then did another set, and all of a sudden we had about 18 DVD's. Dr. Peterson, who owns Coaches Choice, asked me to write a couple of books on the pistol. In 2012 we released 101 Pistol Run Plays and 101 Pistol Option Plays.

Last year Keith Grabowski called me and told me he was writing his own pistol book through the ibooks publisher. When he completed it he offered me a chance to download it. It was amazing! He incorporated videos and power point slides into the book. Coach Grabowski opened the door to the future of publishing! It is also a great book! 

This fall, Dr. Peterson called me and said we were going to transform my two pistol books to the ibooks format. I was ecstatic. After seeing the finished product, I am very pleased. 

101 Pistol Option Plays is actually so large that it had to be converted into two ibooks. There is so much video that one book would be too large of a file! Part 1 contains more traditional option concepts like midline and inside veer. Part 2 contains option concepts from the pistol that are more spread oriented. A large part of the book is inside zone read, power read, and counter read. Each chapter has a detailed description of the schematics of the concept being introduced.


One of the greatest features of the book is the ability to incorporate film room walk throughs! I will actually talk you through concepts just like if we were in the film room! It is an amazing way to interact. 

The coaches film room allows the author to talk you through a concept, brining the film room right onto your iPad! 

The ability to incorporate power point slides and full color pictures really brings the book to life!
This is going to be an exciting clinic season as the way you purchase books and videos has forever been transformed! You can now get a book that you can take anywhere, as long as you have a mac or an iPad. That is the one drawback to the ibook format, is that right now it only works on iOS products. The great thing as that you can find refurbished iPad 2's, 3's, and 4's for very reasonable prices!

In addition to my pistol books, there are several other books available using this same technology. Gus Malzahn's book on the Fast Paced No Huddle is also available. Rich Hargitt has some awesome air raid books available on the ibook platform.

If you are looking for more information on the pistol, check out 101 Pistol Option Plays! It has hours of video and hundreds of slides and pictures to go along with the diagrams and descriptions of each concept. Here is a link to 101 Pistol Option Plays Part 1: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/101-pistol-option-plays/id954947916?mt=11. Part 1 focuses on traditional option concepts like midline and veer.

And here is a link to 101 Pistol Option Plays Part 2: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/101-pistol-option-plays/id954951972?mt=11. Part 2 contains more spread concepts including inside zone read, outside zone read, counter read, and power read.

101 Pistol Run Plays will be released in the next few days. 

This is a tremendous platform for coaches to research new concepts, and I am very excited to see what will come down the pipeline in the future!

Ric Butler is leading the charge for Coaches Choice in their interactive media department. You can follow Ric on Twitter @coachchoicerick. He is working closely with @JamesALight

Monday, January 5, 2015

It's a Numbers Game

There is nothing I love more than bowl season! For a two week period there is football on pretty much non-stop on ESPN. If you are a football coach, bowl season is a great time to begin your winter research and development period. I love getting out a pad and paper and taking notes on what teams are doing on offense, defense, and special teams. I record nearly every game and go through each play several times. I firmly believe the inventor of DVR was a football coach!

There were several takeaways from this year's bowl games. First, it's all about numbers. Every offensive team was trying to gain a numerical advantage at the point of attack. If we can get one more blocker to the point of attack, we have a chance at a good football play. If we can get an angle here and leverage there, we can make a big play.

It seems nearly everyone is running some sort of a read or "option" concept. The premise is that it is easier to "read" a defender than to block that defender. By reading a defender, the offense can block a second level defender they normally wouldn't be able to block. 

One great example of the numbers game was UCLA running inside zone read against Kansas State. UCLA is aligned in a 1 back set with both the back and the H back to the boundary. Kansas State aligns to defend the field, putting only 3 defenders to the boundary side. They are going to be a gap short.
UCLA is going to be left a man short to the boundary. UCLA runs the inside zone read with the boundary end being the read. The end takes the QB leaving K State with no one to play the QB. The QB pulls the football and attacks the second level of the defense.
Three things are happening in the above illustration. First, the LG and LT from UCLA are executing a zone combination block perfectly. They are delivering the down defender to the linebacker. The linebacker is working to the A gap, but because the defensive lineman has been driven three yards off the ball, the linebacker is caught in traffic. 

The second thing in the picture is the read key is squeezing to take the dive back. If the read key squeezes to take the dive, Kansas State needs to have a player for the quarterback. Typically this would be the inside backer working over the top. However, the Kansas State linebacker is playing into the A gap. With no QB player, the defensive end should have played the QB.

The third thing in the picture is the outside receiver running a quick hitch route at the LOS, with the H back working to block the corner. The QB is going to attack the second level with the quick hitch essentially becoming the pitch man. The key is the quarterback getting downhill to stress the defense. Because K-State is playing to the field, they have no force player to the boundary. Essentially the corner has become the force player, and he is being blocked. There is no pitch player for K-State.

The QB sees the corner commit inside with the H back riding his hip. He flips the ball out the the #1 WR who sprints up the sideline for a big gain. This is a very simple triple option concept off the base inside zone read play. 

When the offense can get a numerical advantage over the defense, big plays are often the result. Offensive and defensive coordinators are matchup in a game of strategy trying to counter what the other is doing. 

In my 15 year career coaching football I have had the opportunity to be both an offensive and defensive coordinator. On offense we are trying to gain a leverage and numbers. On defense we were trying to cancel gaps while making sure we were not exposed in the pass game. With 11 players on each side of the ball there are a ton of factors that come into play on whether a concept is successful or not. It comes down to execution and athleticism! 




Friday, December 5, 2014

Why We Must Teach Character and Leadership

When I first started coaching I was all about feeding my own competitive spirit. I wanted to win because that's all I had really done. Every team I had been a part of had been very successful in the win column. My first coaching job was with a losing program that had no history of winning. The mentality was that of a downtrodden group that had no hope. While we won some games and changed the culture, we didn't do as well as we probably could have done.

My next job was at Christopher Columbus High School, a large, inner-city school in the Bronx, New York. I was hired by one of the greatest developers of character in coaching today, David Diaz. When Coach Diaz was hired, the program was in the midst of a 27 game losing streak. Participation was way down, and the players didn't believe they could win. As a coaching staff we were all very fiery, demanding, and enthusiastic, and that translated into some success. We had the first winning season in school history our first year, and in the second year went to the playoffs. We thought we had begun building a strong foundation for significant success.

We are at a point where we felt like we were ready to get over the hump and win a playoff game. We had taken a program that had never had a winning season to the playoffs. We had a talented group coming back. Everything seemed to be lined up for us to have a big year. Then we ran into a buzz saw. Our kids were making some very poor decisions off the field. We had to suspend several players and lost others to grades. It was one of the most disappointing seasons of my coaching career. We were mentally weak on and off the field.

After the season we were complaining about how we had a lack of leadership. It was about this time we met Dennis Parker at a clinic and he talked about implementing character education into a football program. We talked with him for an hour after his talk and decided this is what was missing. This turned out to be the most important clinic talk of my coaching career.

We made a decision that we were going to teach character and leadership with intent. We were going to be as intentional in teaching character as we were in teaching our guys how to squat. Too often we think the sport itself teaches character. If this were true, every kid that played football would demonstrate high character. Sports don't teach character, coaches do.

That was an important epiphany we went through. What are we teaching? Are we teaching them to act a certain way? We are, but it may not be what we intend to teach. If we wanted to develop a culture of high character, high energy, mental toughness, everything we had to do had to build this culture.

Too often we think that character and leadership just happen. We say things like, "this group just weren't very good leaders." Or, "this senior class didn't know how to lead." This is when a good self-evaluation is needed. These are the questions we need to ask:

1. What did we do to develop positive leaders in our program?
2. How much time did we spend focused on teaching character with intent?
3. What might we have done that was detrimental to the leadership and character of this group?
4. Where can we find time to improve the leadership and teach character lessons with this group?

The biggest hindrance for us was the worry about what we would have to give up to take time to teach character and leadership? How much time in the weight room would we give up? How much film time would we give up? Where would we make up the practice time?

After talking with Dennis Parker and D.W. Rutledge, we made a decision that we wouldn't have to give anything up. With stronger leaders and a better foundation of character, our workouts would be better and more efficient. We would have higher intensity and better focus. While we would use some of our time to teach leadership and character, this use of time was actually an investment. We would get a return far greater than what we put in.

It was early February when Coach Diaz made the decision that we were going to go "all in" on teaching character. We took one week where we went into the classroom, focusing on character. On Fridays we had our seniors to be go through  leadership development program. After the first week we spent 20 minutes a day, three days a week before workouts in the classroom. One of the reasons this was successful is that each of our coaches bought in to what we were doing and sold it passionately to our kids.

One of the first things we did in the classroom was had our athletes fill out a sheet that gave us some information on them that was deeper than simply who they are. We wanted to know who they lived with, what their home life was like, what their dreams were, and what their goals were. We wanted to learn about their hopes and dreams and fears. We wanted them to understand that we loved them unconditionally because of who they were, not because of what they did.

Up until this point we had coached in a very transactional way. We told them what do do and expected them to do it. If they didn't we expressed disappointment. Often we had conflict and there was a genuine mistrust. They began to fear screwing up because they would face our wrath. Because they feared screwing up, they began to taking any risks at all. They wouldn't try to break personal records in the weight room. They wouldn't try to make a difficult play on the field. They sometimes would freeze under pressure. How did we respond? We yelled at them more. And then we wondered by they weren't improving their performance.

Character education and leadership development changed all this. Instead of a transactional form of coaching, we began a transformational form of coaching. Not only did our players begin to change, we began to change as coaches. Instead of yelling at our players and berating them, we began to coach them through mistakes and remind them of how they can do it better. This doesn't mean we didn't yell. The difference was the purpose of our yelling. Our purpose was to uplift and build them up!

Part of our leadership component involved empowering our players to take ownership of the successes an challenges we faced. We wanted them to know it was their deal and all about them. Instead of us setting the goals, we had the players set team goals. We had them set our goals for the winter and spring, goals for the summer, and goals for the season. We had them come up with a framework of expectations. It was amazing to watch them blossom through this process.

The Results
The results were outstanding! They began to think about the man next to them and the good of the team when they made a decision. Their decisions began to improve both on and off the field. Our players began to walk a little bit taller.  Their grades improved and they began to show excitement for their future. When we first arrived most of our players were taking summer school to get eligible. After implementing a character education program we rarely lost a kid to eligibility.

Perhaps the biggest thing that happened was the trust that was built. They began to trust that we really cared about them as more than athletes. We cared about them in life. We cared about what happened to them when we weren't around them. Our relationships with our players improved and we built bonds that will never be broken. And the relationships they built with each other were strengthened. They began to care about each other and truly became a family.

Did we win more games? Yes we did. We enjoyed a very good six year run of sustained success. We won playoff games for the first time in school history. Our kids were much better at handling adversity. They learned to push themselves to new limits. They developed a solid mental toughness that powered them through challenges they faced. Most importantly, they learned it isn't about them. It is bigger than them. Everything they do and every choice they make will impact others.

Teaching character and leadership will help you leave a lasting legacy. Everything we do as coaches will have an impact on our kids. That impact can be positive, or it can be negative. By teaching character and leadership we can greatly increase the chances that our student-athletes will have a very positive, life-changing experience in our program.

My experience at Christopher Columbus High School gave me tremendous appreciation for the value of teaching character and leadership. While I was a coordinator at the college level we emphasized character and leadership with our student-athletes.

I was blessed to get hired by Kent Jackson when I moved to Texas, one of the best men in the coaching business. We teach character with intent at Seminole High School. We invested a lot of time during two a days introducing our players to the concept of our character and leadership component. We use each day teach character and life lessons with our players.

At some point the good lord will present a head coaching opportunity,  and you can be sure that character education and leadership development will be paramount to our program. It is our duty and responsibility as coaches to develop our players into great leaders with a strong moral compass.

The R.E.A.L Man Program
There are several character programs that are out there. One program I really like is called The R.E.A.L Man Program by Coach Frank DiCocco. It is simple to implement and all the materials are ready for use. I have used this with my athletes and in my classes. This program is being used by several high schools and colleges throughout the US. You can find more information clicking here: The Real Man Program

The Texas High School Coaches Association also has several resources available with their Game Changer Program. I highly recommend these resources as well! Game Changer Coaches

If you are looking for information on the Pistol Offense, I have written two books on the pistol offense with Coaches Choice. If you are interested in learning more about those, click this link: https://coacheschoice.com/m-63-james-vint.aspx









Friday, April 11, 2014

Champions Train Mentally and Physically

If you believe you can, then you have a shot. If you believe you can’t, then you won’t. Too often, we fill ourselves with negative thoughts. We justify why we can’t do something. We tell ourselves we are tired, too sore, too old, too young, too stupid, too smart, too tall, too short, too skinny, too slow, etc, etc, etc. We are defeated before we have even had a chance to begin.

The first person we have to overcome, before we can every think about beating an opponent, is ourselves. We have to be able to mentally tell ourselves we can accomplish what we set out to do. We then have to feed our confidence with positive words. We have to continually reinforce to ourselves that we have the ability. 

During my 19 years in coaching I have had opportunities to be a part of turning programs around. My first coordinator job was at a school that lost 27 straight games and was shutout 5 times the year before we got there. Our first task was not teaching an offense. That was the least of our concerns. Often the kids were beat down after years of losing. Our first priority was teaching our kids to believe they were capable of more than they thought possible.

The change in mindset was not overnight. It also was not by accident. It was a process of continual improvement. We dedicated time to training the mind as well as the body, and we did so with intent. We developed specific activities, both individually and as a group, that allowed our athletes to experience success. 

We started off in the classroom. It was in the classroom that we set very clear expectations, and defined things in a very detailed manner. We used a variety of avenues to provide our players with character and leadership lessons. We spent time each day talking to them about focus and mindset. We defined adversity and mental toughness. We asked them to create an identity. We had them come up with a list of qualities of a championship program. We then had them develop a set of standards of performance. Then, we helped them meet the standards they set.

We were very consistent while focusing on the process. The weight room and track were very important for our cultural transformation. We set up the situation each day, and clearly laid out the expectations. We talked about focusing on the process and the details. Our players began to learn that if you take care of the process, the outcome will be more favorable.

The key is that everything had to build confidence. As their confidence grew, we began to stretch them physically and mentally. We didn't ask them to climb Mt. Everest day one. We created situations where they were able to string small victories together. As they gained confidence, we begin to put them in situations that stretched their limits farther and farther.

When you empower young people and it becomes their deal, they will work harder. They will push through more adversity than what they thought possible. They take ownership, and once they take ownership, you have something special. 

The results spoke for themselves. We enjoyed tremendous success. We won 6 games our first year, scoring over 50 points three times. We went to the playoffs for the first time in school history our second year. The next year we won the first playoff game in school history. Each year we continued to improve. 

The important thing to understand is that beliefs and values can be taught. You are not at the mercy of your circumstances. There are so many things which we have complete control. We realized early on that we could control how we developed leadership. We could control how much we empowered our players. We could control the process of building a championship culture and mentality. 

If you want to change your program, take time to train the mind. Tie your strength and conditioning program into a character education and leadership program. Give your players ownership and watch them excel in ways you never thought possible!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Talent Isn't Enough

One of the funny things about athletics is that anyone can win on any given day. Sure, the team with the most talent is the team you would expect to win, but how many times have you seen the more talented team lose? How does a Mercer beat a Duke? How does an Appalachian State beat a powerhouse like Michigan? How does a program enjoy sustained, consistent success?

The fact is simple: TALENT IS NOT ENOUGH! And yes, I said it in all caps. Over the years I have had numerous players who had talent. A few of them went on to have an opportunity to play at the highest level on Sundays. Others went on to play college football where they earned a degree. And a few of them, unfortunately, thought they could get by solely on their talent. Most of them never had a chance to follow their dreams. Why did some of them enjoy great success while others did not?

They all had five things in common, that made them uncommonly good!

1. A Great Attitude
They were always positive regardless of the situation. They had tremendous enthusiasm. They had a joy about them that people were drawn to. They rarely, if ever complained about anything. They were always fully engaged in every activity we did. They listened and asked questions.

2. Relentless Work Ethic
The greatest players had the greatest work ethic. Those who enjoy great success rarely, if ever, miss a workout. They never cut a rep or set. In fact, they do much more than what they are asked to do. Every rep they put forth their best effort. They are drenched in sweat regardless of the difficulty of the workout. They learned to embrace the grind to the point it wasn't a grind.

3. Mental Toughness
They are able to overcome adversity without a loss of enthusiasm or effort. They like to be challenged, and in fact, thrive when they face pressure and adversity. They don't complain when things don't go there way. They are always searching for the solution.

4. Tremendous Discipline
They rarely put poison in their body. These guys all made a choice to avoid drugs and alcohol. They put their long term goals ahead of their short term desires. Self-discipline is simply about making right choices. When faced with a dilemma, they made the choice that would take them one more step towards reaching their goals.

5. Bring out the best in others
They were able to help those around them perform at higher levels. That is when you are truly a championship quality player. When you can help elevate the game of others, you are well on your way to being a great player. Michael Jordan exemplified this fact.

I have seen first hand what happens when players, coaches, and programs think that talent is enough. They consistently underachieve.

Our job as coaches is to do everything in our power to develop our student-athletes to be the best they can be. This takes time. It is hard. Putting a plan together is not easy. Coaching the details takes effort. This is why most programs are not able to enjoy tremendous success. They are not willing to do the things it takes to be their best.

As coaches, it is our job to do everything we can to help our players perform in the five areas listed above. It is our job to build a culture that leads our players to accomplish more than they should. If we expect them to outwork their talent, then we have to outwork ours.

There is nothing that disappoints me more than when coaches give mediocre effort. And then, they try to justify that mediocrity. We have to look in the mirror and know that we have done everything in our power to develop our players to be the best they can be. Anything short of that is cheating our athletes.






Friday, March 14, 2014

9 Things You Can Do Right Now to Improve Your Program

What are you doing right now to improve? Are you doing everything you can to improve yourself and your program? Do you strive to find new, more efficient ways of getting things done? Do you invest your time, spend your time, or waste your time?

What we do right now will have a huge impact on the success we enjoy in the fall. This is the time of year when you can have the biggest impact on your program. There are nine things you can do in the next 5 months that will have a huge, long-term impact on your program. These are in no particular order.

1. Visit another coaching staff to see how they do things. Pick an area of your program you want to improve and visit a staff who excels in this area. These visits can be from one to three days. I like to visit one school before spring football and one school while they are having spring football. I have not found a school at any level who was not very open with us visiting. However, I have never asked a district rival. They may not want to share much with you. Most coaches, I have found, are more than willing to share their success stories.

I like to visit coaches who have made huge improvements in their program. I want to see what they are doing in January and February. Programs are not built in September and October. They are built in the dark of winter. Second, I want to visit a program who does something on the field that we want to learn more about. These are schools I want to visit during spring football.

2. Perform a comprehensive data analysis of yourself from the previous season. I have about 6 reports I like to run give me a very good picture of what we did well and what we did not do well. Data can give us a very clear picture of things without any editorializing. For example, back in 1999 we were running load option 8 times a game. Unfortunately, we only averaged 3.4 yards a play. It was our least productive offensive concept. We didn't do a good job of self-scouting during the season at that time. I wish we had, maybe we would have done a better job of calling plays.

With the advent of HUDL, data is readily available. There is absolutely no excuse for not running a self-scout report each game during the season. You can also run a cumulative report. This takes literally no time to perform. In the old days we did this with a pen and paper. Technology has simplified this process. You can run multiple reports with the click of the mouse.

3. Prepare a scouting report on your opponents. The spring is a great time to learn about your opponents. You can run a schematic report and a personnel report. What do they run on offense and defense? What are their tendencies? When do they blitz? Who are their returning players? Who are their best athletes? If you have the information available, use it! Divide this up between your coaches and set a deadline to complete this.

4. Implement a leadership development and character education program. You are either coaching it, or allowing it. You have total control over whether you develop leaders. If you teach your players to lead, they will be better leaders. In 10 minutes a day, every other day, you can teach your players how to be better leaders. There is so much information available that you don't have to recreate the wheel. If you aren't sure where to start, think John Maxwell and Zig Ziglar. They are two great resources to get you started. There are also several programs like Coaching to Change Lives that and the Be a REAL Man Program.

5. Meet as a coaching staff. I am not talking about meeting to meet. I am talking about taking time to formulate a plan of action for the spring, summer, and fall. If you meet for 30 minutes, 2 times a week for 10 weeks, you will be much better prepared than if you meet sporadically. Again, don't meet to meet. Have a plan for what you want to accomplish in these meetings. This is a great time to discuss data from your self-scout and opponent scouting reports. You can prepare your installation schedule for the spring and fall, while having time to review and adjust it before you start practice.

6. Prepare your spring and fall practice plans. I had never done this until we went to a clinic in 2002. One of the college coaches was talking about how they prepare. We started putting our practice plans together well in advance. We then would make adjustments as needed. It helped us to make sure we had everything covered that we needed to. By having this done in advance we were not scrambling the night before trying to get our practice plans done.

7. Develop Speed, Strength, Flexibility Program. Again, have a plan. Don't just lift to lift, or run to run. Have a plan. Also, make sure you teach great technique. If you don't know where to start, go the the BFS or Bigger Faster Stronger Website. Their program works very well for any and every sport. Everywhere I have been we have used some element of their program. Be excited to be in the weight room with your players. If you want it to matter for them, it has to matter for you!

8. Teach Your Players to Set Goals and Develop a Plan For Meeting Them. Have your players write down individual goals they want to achieve. Then have them develop their team goals. Help them develop a plan for meeting their goals. Meet with them regularly to update their progress. Remember, you can't get anywhere if you don't know where you are going.

9. Create a Culture of Success. This is perhaps the most important thing you can do this off-season. You are going to get what you emphasize, so what will you emphasize this spring? Will you hold your players accountable? You create a culture of success be setting high expectations and holding your players to them. Everyone sets high expectations, but what are you doing to hold your players accountable to them? If they don't get to parallel are you letting it go? Or, are you taking the time to correct them until they do it to meet your expectation?

Part of your culture is competition. Create competition for your players. Set up competitive situations where there is a winner and loser. Create consequences for the losers, while rewarding the winners.

This is a great time of year to improve your program and make it better. If you are willing to invest your time, you can make huge strides right now that will make a big impact on your program!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Winning is a Process

Back about 15 years ago I had completed my first season as an offensive coordinator. We had just had our first playoff birth in school history. We improved tremendously in every offensive category. We averaged nearly 280 yards a game on the ground and another 140 through the air. We improved our points per game from 22 to 38. However, we struggled against quality opponents. We were blanked in the playoffs by the number one team in the state.

While we made great strides that season, we weren't there to be simply be competitive. We wanted to win. Many said we didn't have the athletes to compete. While this may have been true, we weren't going to use that as crutch. Our focus was on how we can make the most out of the talent we have. While searching for answers I had the opportunity to hear Nick Saban speak at a clinic. His clinic talk opened our eyes to what we were missing. We lacked a deliberate process on offense. We were not doing a good job of preparation. Don't get me wrong, we worked hard an put the time in. But at the end of the day, we were not very consistent when we played top-tier teams.

We realized we were basically shooting from the hip. We didn't have a specific plan. We were doing things as they came up, and realizing after the fact that we weren't prepared for certain situations. We had the, "I wish we covered that," moments. Also, we were focused on the big picture and not on the details. You see, if you focus on the seemingly insignificant details, you will give yourself a better chance to win regardless of talent. Our focus changed from solely being on the scoreboard, to the process. Our focus was not as much on our opponents as on ourselves. How could we maximize our talent? This was the question we asked each day. We needed to put a structure, or process in place for winning.

A process is often thought of as something mysterious. A process is simply a series of actions or steps taken deliberately in order to achieve a particular end. Whether you are coaching on the field, teaching in the classroom, or selling in the board room, you need to have a detailed process. You need to have a structure in place to get from point a to point b to point c.

Winning is more than simply an outcome. Winning is the result of following a detailed process the must be followed with grueling details. When I say this to some coaches they give me a blank stare. They think winning is simply the result of your players being better than your opponents. While good players are important, without a process in place to develop them into the BEST players they can be, they will be nothing more than talented players who lose games.

Recently Ron Roberts, head coach at Southeastern Louisiana, was interviewed for an article for X's and O's Labs. In the article Coach Roberts talked about how there are a lot of teams with good players that don't win consistently. We all have seen those teams. They are loaded with talent but lose football games. Why does this happen? How can teams loaded with talent lose football games? Often it is because there is no plan in place for them to become successful. With no plan in place, these teams lack discipline. They make silly mistakes at inopportune times. Their players will attack the wrong gap. And when things go bad, they will fold up like a tent.

On the other side of this coin you have teams that consistently win, year-in and year-out. Often they do so with less talent. When coaches see these teams get off the bus they ask, "how are these guys 11-1?" We have all seen these teams. They consistently beat teams with superior talent. How does this happen? The answer is simple, they have a process to prepare to be their best.

If you look at at the most consistent programs at every level of football, you will find they share something in common. They all have a detailed process to develop their players. They have a vision and they can articulate that vision to everyone in the organization. They are passionate and enthusiastic about the vision. Enthusiasm is very contagious. When people are enthusiastic, others want to be a part of the excitement.

A big part of the process is building relationships with players. Great coaches about developing their student-athletes on and off the field. Because they care about their players, they are willing to set high standards for them on and off the field. They then hold them accountable to the standards. You see, great coaches understand the correlation between character off the field and winning on the field. If you allow your players to be undisciplined off the field, it will result in mistakes on the field. One coach once told me, "never let discipline get in the way of winning." What he meant was, let your best players do whatever they want. This is precisely the reason some talented teams do not consistently win. If your best athletes are above the law, you will lose the rest of the team. What this coach should have said was, "don't let a lack of discipline get in the way of winning." When players are not held accountable for their actions, they are not going to help your team be successful. They are going to fold up the tent when things get tough. If you hold them accountable early, you will not have big problems later.

The third factor great coaches understand is that our job is to push our players to reach heights they never thought possible. This requires two things. First, setting a very high standard of performance. Second, it requires holding players accountable to this standard without exception. That is the part that gets many coaches. It's the without exception part. You see, that is what great coaches do. They are able to maximize the talent of their players. This does not happen by accident. This happens because they have a detailed process for helping their players reach new heights.

Where does this process start? 

First, you have to begin with a goal. As Stephen Covey says, "begin with the end in mind." Where do you want to go? What is your desired outcome? Once you know what you want your outcome to be, you need to develop a plan to reach your goal. A goal without a plan is just a dream. It isn't going to happen.

From there we build our process. We are going to start with a road map to our ultimate goal. We are going to break the year down into 5 parts: Post-Season Evaluations, Winter Strength and Conditioning, Spring Football, Summer Strength and Conditioning, and Fall Camp. We want to map the year during the Post-Season Evaluation period. We will adjust the calendar as the year goes. To build the calendar we make a list of all of the most important priorities for each aspect of our program.

One example of this was on offense. We made a list of everything we wanted to install in the spring. From there, we broke down the list even further by priority. What was most important? What did we need to make sure we installed? What situations did we need to work? From here we built our install schedule, coordinating with the defensive staff. Once we had our install schedule built we would begin to script practice. This was done well in advance of spring football. It allowed us to tweak and adjust as needed.

Why would we complete our spring football schedule three months in advance? When you are writing your practice schedule as you go, you are less able to make adjustments. I found we were much more efficient when we were better prepared. Each of our coaches were able to then build a drill menu based on the concepts we were teaching and the skills we needed to improve. We had three months to make adjustments and tweak our practice schedule.

As we went through spring practice we were able to make any daily changes or adjustments necessary. If we felt like we needed to review something we would make the change. We used this same principle for developing our process to help build strength and athleticism in our players. For example, we felt our players lacked in hip flexibility. We did some research and adjusted our strength and conditioning program to meet this need. We were able to build what we called a "pre-phase" into our training. This pre-phase focused on developing hip flexibility and our strength in the core. Again, we built our schedule in advance and spent six weeks on our pre-phase. We focused on the details that we previously overlooked. The results were noticeable and measurable.

We found the more we planned in advance, the better we were able to shift on the fly when we needed. In each area of our program we took the same approach. What do we want to achieve? What is most important? Once we have priorities and goals established, we would build our series of steps (process) to accomplish our goals.

Having a specific, detailed process allows you to be more prepared. Your players will be more consistent in their performance, which will translate into success on and off the field. If you don't have a process and structure in place, you are not going to be as well prepared. You are not going to have everyone rowing the boat in the same direction. However, if you take the time to prepare, and you focus on seemingly insignificant details, you will maximize your success. After all, if you focus on what you don't have you will never be successful. If you focus on maximizing the talent you do have, and you have a structure and a process, you will always get the most out of your kids.

What did it do for us? We took a school that had never been to the playoffs, and in fact, had never had a winning season, and advanced to the quarterfinals four times in six years. We were able to improve each year continually increasing our offensive production. We were very consistent year in and year out, regardless of our talent level.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Three T's (Updated)

This is an update of a post I wrote last year. I wanted to take a few minutes today to share a couple of important points that can help you win more football games. I hope this small piece will be of value to you regardless of what scheme you run. Regardless of which system you decide fits your players, your success will be determined by a few important factors. 

When I was a defensive coordinator, I installed our defense as more than a system. It was an attitude. Defense is about pursuit and passion. We installed our defensive attitude with a very specific process. I like to break things down into their simplest forms. Our defensive attitude revolves around getting the ball back as quickly as possible. There are three ways we can get the ball back: 


1. We can force our opponent to punt 
2. We can get a turnover or a turnover on downs
3. We can give up a score. 
Ultimately, the 3 T's will determine which way we get the ball back.

What are the 3 T's? The three T's are quite simply: Technique, Tackling, and Takeaways. Technique involves two things for our players. First, they must know how to line up right. They have to be able to get into a comfortable balanced stance. Second, they have to be able to control and dominate their gap responsibility, or their pass zone. If we can get our guys to line up right, we can be successful on defense. One misalignment, however, can be disastrous  To make sure we line up right we keep things simple. We have simple alignment rules for our guys.

There are only five things an offense can do to each side of your defense. They can give you a nub, a single, twins, trips, or quads. We have very simple alignment rules for our second and third level players to ensure we are always lined up right. From there, we use our individual and group periods to develop our ability to control our gap responsibility in the run game, and our pass rush or coverage responsibility in the pass game. We teach our players what to do, how to do it, and why they need to do it the way we teach them. 

The second T we emphasize is tackling. We have got to be able to tackle well on defense. Tackling is about more than how to contact a runner. It is about angles and leverage. If your defensive players understand angles and leverage, you will improve your tackling immensely. Every day we work on our pursuit angles. We cover every possible angle that we may face. We work the A gap run, the B gap run, the off-tackle run, and the sweep. We also work our draw and screen angles. We teach our players four concepts that will give us great angles to make efficient tackles.

First is our force concept. We have a player assigned to be the force player on every single play. We teach our force player that his landmark is the outside jersey number of the ball carrier. By attacking the outside jersey number of the ball carrier, our force player "forces" the ball carrier back into our players in pursuit. We tell our force player to take on the ball carrier as close to the line of scrimmage as possible. While we don't want to miss a tackle, our force player is coached to always take an angle where if he misses the tackle, he misses to his help. Our force player is typically going to be an invert/outside backer in our sky or cover 3 look, or a corner in Cloud or Cover 2.

The second concept of pursuit is our attack concept. Our attack players are going to be our defensive end and playside inside backer. They are aiming for the inside jersey number of the ball carrier. We want them to stay square as they approach the ball carrier. They work a slight inside out angle while pursuing the ball carrier. If the ball carrier is inside of them on an A or B gap run, they will work to the middle of the ball carrier's chest. Attack players always spill traps and counters.

The third concept of pursuit is called collapse. Our collapse players are typically our Mike backer and our defensive tackle or tackles, depending on our front. They are aiming one yard inside the ball carrier. They are responsible for the immediate cutback of the football. If they get a downhill run, they attack the middle of the man. They are spill players on trap plays.

The fourth concept of pursuit is chase/contain. Our chase contain players are typically our backside defensive end and backside linebacker. They play counter/reverse/boot on flow away. Once they are sure nothing is coming back, they take the best angle to the football.

Those four concepts of pursuit helped our leverage and angles, which greatly improved our tackling. When we installed this pursuit concept, we found ourselves much more successful on first and second down, which helped us greatly on 3rd down. 

Force Illustrated


One very important coaching point is to Stay square. We need to keep our hips and shoulders as parallel to the LOS as possible. By staying parallel we are able to increase the surface area we have to contact the ball carrier. We are also able to explode our hips into the tackle, allowing us to drive the ball carrier back. When our shoulders our turned, we give you yards after contact. This is not good for the defense. As you can see in the picture above, our collapse and chase players are not doing a great job of keeping their shoulders square. This creates space for the ball carrier to cut back and makes us less effective. However, our Force and Attack players are doing a great job of keeping their shoulders square. 

This brings us to our third T, Takeaways. Takeaways are vital to our success. Any time we can get a takeaway  we are changing momentum. Takeaways also change field position. Forcing a team to punt is great, but often the punt results in a 40 yard change of field position. When we get a takeaway  we are saving ourselves big chunks of yards. Every ten yards we gain on defense is one less first down our offense must gain to score. 

How do you increase your takeaways? We do a takeaway circuit each day. We spend 5 minutes working strip drills, tip drills, and interception drills. We then emphasize taking the football away in all of our indy, group, and team periods. We want to have a ball in every single drill. In our inside run, skelly, and team periods, we are trying to take the football away from our offense. Here is the kicker. The offense also gets better with ball security. I am a firm believer that you get what you emphasize. If you coach your team to get takeaways, and you expect to get takeaways  and you get them to expect to get takeaways, you will get takeaways. 

Our attitude on defense is that every play is an opportunity to score. We are allowed to score on defense. We are allowed to rip the football out from the ball carriers hands. We are allowed to intercept a football in the air. Turnovers don't just happen. We drill our players to know turnovers are created. We must purposefully work to create takeaways on defense.  We drill our linebackers on flying to the football when it is in the air. We had a situation a few years back where our Mike LB intercepted a ball thrown thirty yards downfield on a deflection. He got the interception because he was hustling to where the ball was being thrown. He could have done what many players do. He could have watched the ball and then half ran to where the ball was being thrown. He understood our attitude and has bought in. We teach our guys to read the Axis. The axis is the QB's hips and shoulders. His hips give you direction, his shoulders give you trajectory. Our LB read the axis and he accelerated with everything he had and he got within four yards of the receiver when the QB pulled the pin. The ball was tipped in the air, and our guy made the pick on the run. You can't expect takeaways to magically happen. You have got to drill your players and emphasize takeaways with every drill you do.

The three T's, technique, tackling, and takeaways, are the three key points we emphasize with our defense. They make up our defensive attitude. We are going to line up right, play hard and fast and relentless. We are going to have great technique to control the gap or zone we are responsible for. We are going to pursue the football with great leverage and consistently make tackles. We are going to do everything in our power to take the football away from our opponent. 

If we can line up right and play with great technique, tackle well consistently, and win the takeaway battle, we are going to give ourselves a chance to win every single football game.

The newest Odd Stack Video I have is out with Coaches Choice in conjunction with Nike. 
Basic Concepts of the 30 Stack Defense