All posts by Coach Dave

Plan your season before planning your practice.

To steal a phrase from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits book: Begin with the end in mind. I have been doing this with my team for many years but I never really had a title for it.

Envision your team at mid-season. Think this through thoroughly. What plays you want to be running at that point and the players’ thorough knowledge of it. What defense do you think you’ll be running? The mental and physical toughness you want your team to have. The hustle you expect at that point. The conditioning level you want to be at. Now with that mental picture in mind, start writing.

  1. To run offense A, we need to learn these specific blocking techniques. Drive blocks, double teams, pulls, downblocks, reach blocks, etc. Not all offenses employ all types of blocks there are. What are the steps needed for each type of block. If your offense does not use them, it would be a waste of practice time to teach them. Teach techniques specific to your offense. What backfield actions are necessary and what aren’t. What pass routes do you employ? Teach only those. If you decide to add a play at mid-season you never thought of, you can also add the elements of it as well at that time.
  2. Now that you have your list for your offense, make it for your defense and special teams. Obviously for defense, you will need to teach tackling. Other skills will depend on whether you have a reading defense or attacking defense. Do they need to learn block destruction or block evasion or both?
  3. Identify the drills you need to teach these skills. Write them down. If you don’t know what drills to use, either search the internet or design them yourself. I have designed many drills to teach specific game situations.
  4. Now that you have that list, you can plan what you need to accomplish each week to get to the mid-season vision that you started with. Remember to include drills for conditioning and physical toughness. Physical toughness gives birth to mental toughness. I will do some conditioning and drills specifically for this goal.
  5. You are now ready to do your daily practice planning based on the lists of drills you already wrote down. Do the ones you consider most important every day or at least every other day. Others may be once or twice per week. I will also include the lessons I teach my players during water breaks but that may not be your shtick. Analyze whether your players are “getting it” or not. Improve your teaching or number of reps if they are not. Whether you split into separate groups for linemen and running backs is up to you and the makeup of your coaching staff.
  6. Have multiple stations to run drills. Spend 5-10 minutes at each station but no more as that will greatly ratchet up the boredom factor for the kids. Keep each group to 8 kids or less to maximize reps at each station. I like to mix conditioning stations with learning stations. Too much of either makes Jack a dull boy. Players run from station to station. This sets expectations of hustle. If they don’t their whole group runs extra. Upon arriving at the next station, they perform 10 pushup, 10 situps and 5 seconds in a good 3 pt stance (from Derek Wade’s Impact book). We remind them by saying do your 10-10-5. We run to and from everything whether it’s the next drill or a water break
  7. Now you can execute team drills with the whole offense or defense. Repping plays on air for offense and pursuit angle drills for defense are a good start.

While this may be a short article to read, it is a long exercise if you do it.

Remember, not planning is planning to fail. Good luck and have a great season.

Is winning the next game all it’s really about?

For many years I had this expectation of winning every game we played. If we won the game, all I felt was relief. No feeling of happiness or joy, just relief. If we lost, I was crushed and felt awful for a few days afterward. I put that much pressure on myself. I noticed the boys didn’t have this problem. They might cry about it right after the game but in a few hours they were completely over it. Why can’t I be like that is what I thought?

I think I was not making the outcome of the game the main thing, I was making it the only thing. It left me feeling empty. OK, we won. That’s what I expected because I worked my tail off to make it happen. Now what? There has to be more to it than that or you won’t do this for very long. I probably would have quit coaching if I hadn’t figured out that it’s more important to do it in such a way as to benefit the kids beyond just wins and losses.

Once I decided I was doing it for them and not for me it changed my outlook. Now the most enjoyable time for me is practice. When I get to spend time with the boys, interact with them and teach them about the wonderful sport of football and lessons that go far beyond the football field. This has allowed me to create relationships with them for life. That is way more rewarding than any win can be. I also love when I get to share memories of battles won and lost on the football field with them. I have heard from many former players that the time spent with me was the best time of their lives (so far). I am encouraged and saddened by this. Encouraged because I helped to provide them with some of the best memories of their young life. Saddened because nothing else in their life has been better. It gives me incentive to keep going and doing what I’m doing. Also to keep learning and improving the process. I want the next generation to get even more out of the experience than my past players did.

So I implore you, find out ways to make it about them. You will still win ball games. We still do but we’re winning at much more than that now.

The Sword

Every good warrior needs a weapon. Your weapon is what does damage to your opponent. Our weapon of choice will be the sword. In football, our swords are our bodies. A sword starts out as a piece of raw iron, very soft and of not much use. A blacksmith takes this piece of iron and places it into a forge, which is a very hot furnace to make it softer so that he can shape it. We can’t even imagine the heat in the forge. He is preparing it for battle. He also places in the forge over and over, then into cold water to harden it. He then tempers it, by heating it again without cooling it fast. This is what we’re doing to your bodies. Your bodies are soft and weak. As we run and exercise, especially in the heat of the sun, your muscles become harder and harder, day by day. This cannot happen in a short time. It takes weeks. You have a choice in how strong you become. The harder you work the tougher and more battle ready your body will become. Just like the sword, the harder your bodies are, the longer they will last in the battle.

Now that we have a hard and tempered sword, we have to learn to wield it, to use it. If you were preparing to do battle with your sword as your weapon, you would train with it. You would learn from your coach how to block your opponent’s advances and you would learn to slash and cut (thrust and parry) with your sword. By the same token, we learn how to battle within the confines of the rules of football. This mainly consists of blocking and tackling. These are things the coaches teach.

Now that we have a hard sword and know how to use it, we need to sharpen it so that it cuts deep. Proverbs 27:17 says that “As iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another.” That means it’s up to you guys to sharpen each other’s swords. To compete hard against each other to make each other better. When we all do this, we make the team better. Now we can go out and cut our opponents apart with our shoulder pads.

Who is wielding the sword of our body? Our Warrior Heart is. It is what is in control of the sword. How tough and cunning we are is dependent upon how much we have developed our Warrior Heart. We may have the knowledge of how to use the sword but do we have the courage to do it? That’s what comes from your Warrior Heart.

Storytime

What is a Storytime? It was named that by the players not by me. I decided to use water breaks to give 2-5 minute lessons for the players. Sometimes the lessons are full of imagery, a word picture, to help the boys understand a concept or to motivate them. Sometimes they are Bible stories to teach them a life lesson. Sometimes they are stories from my life that teach a lesson and bring us closer together. Our brains are designed to learn by hearing a story to illustrate a point. Jesus taught in parables. The word parable means to lay one thing down against another. Analogy is another term for this. Jesus knew this and used it very wisely.

I have stopped doing Storytimes at the start of practice because the players don’t need a break at that point so it’s more time efficient to tell them we’re going to have a break anyway. The boys love these times and if I haven’t done a storytime in a few days, they will remind that it’s been too long. So when you see things categorized as storytimes in this blog, you’ll know what it means.

Life is better with a Soundtrack

While I was driving at work one day, I was thinking about the evening practice plan and listening to Metallica. The more this combo mixed in my head, the more jacked up I got about the evening practice. I thought if this is doing this to me, it will do this to the MINI-MEs that I coach. I am a man and they are little boys and we share the same Warrior Heart. Thus having music for certain drills at practice was born.

I bring an old style battery powered boom box to practice. I play mostly hard rock/heavy metal music on it. I’m careful of the lyrics of the songs to exclude profanity and other situations. We use it on certain drills. Board drills for sure. That was the first one I used it for. We now use music for Power hour, Bronco, and most fun drills. Music really adds to the intensity of the drill. You’ll see the kids in line’s heads bobbing up and down in rhythm to the beat and you can see the increased intensity in their eyes as they put their hand on the ground, ready to fire out and engage their opponent in a block.

The music also adds a bit of fun to the whole practice. It does not distract. Sometimes, “it’s fun” is the only reason I do some things at practice. The boys don’t need any more justification than that to do certain things in their life and this practice is for them so why shouldn’t I embrace that. That’s not to say we don’t do the important things at the expense of just having fun but you can do both.

I encourage you to try this. I promise you the first time you drag your boom box onto the field, you’ll get a bunch of smiles from your players.

The POISON lesson

This lesson started in 2008. I had a few players that had grown up very close to each other and they picked on and fought with one another like they were brothers. Their feuding also bled over into the rest of the team with detrimental results. The POISON lesson is what I came up with to teach them what they were doing to the team.

 

I got a large clear bottle of water and filled it two-thirds full. (An empty 2 liter bottle works well for this) I also had a smaller bottle of clear water and small bottle of green food coloring. I held up the big bottle and explained that this was the “team spirit” that we all drank from. We had no choice. I took a drink.  I hear the running back coming back to the huddle saying “nice hole line, way to go”. I poured some of the water from the smaller bottle into the larger and said that adds to the team spirit. Getting up from a tackle, one of the teammates pats the other on the back and says “nice hit”. A little more spirit goes into the bottle. “Sorry guys. I missed my block, I promise to get him next time”, a little more spirit goes in. As long as we’re complimenting each other and helping each other, we add to the positive team spirit. Now… “How come Joey got to carry the ball three times in row and I didn’t?” POISON!!…in goes a drop of the food coloring. Wait…. watch it go throughout the clear water tainting all of it. “I don’t like the running back who’s carrying the ball on this play so I’m not going to block.” POISON!!… in goes another green drop. Swish it around, watch it mix up. “Coach doesn’t like me like as much as he likes you.” POISON….in goes another drop. Swish it around. By now the water is about the color of Mountain Dew. I take a drink, reminding them that this is still the team spirit. I hold my stomach and tell them. I don’t feel so good. I decide that I’m not going to block hard on the next play because Johnny didn’t hustle on the last play so I shouldn’t have to either. Nobody else cares about this stupid team so I don’t either. Down goes the attitude on the team.

 

Boys, do you see how this kind of POISON spreads to the whole team? Heads nod. Do you see what I’m getting at? Heads nod. You have to ask yourself; with everything I do in a practice or in a game, am I putting more good positive spirit into the team or am I the POISON?

 

I shared this lesson around 2009 on the internet so it may not be new to you. Dave Cisar shares it in his newsletter.

 

I now extend this lesson (minus the visual effects) to my player’s parents during our parents meeting. They need to understand that they can poison the team as well by badmouthing the coaches all the way to and from practice. How is a boy going to listen to me if he doesn’t respect me? They contribute to the team spirit for good or bad but they don’t realize it.

How to Love your players

If you’ve been reading this site, you’re thinking that this old man is crazy and you can’t talk about this stuff with a bunch of boys. No doubt what I’m talking about will scare off a lot of men. By our nature we want to be mechanics. Something is broken and I’ll fix it. That’s why so many of us frequent the Xs and Os webpages trying to fix the problem with our team. If I just find the magic offense or defense, we’ll be so much better. These magic bullets don’t exist. We are not comfortable dealing with our player’s feelings or team chemistry. We just ignore the issues hoping they’ll go away. We don’t really understand how to fix those things so we let them go. Much to the detriment of our team.

Ok coach I get that I need to bite the bullet and learn how to love my players but exactly how do I go about that. You’ve given me reasons and theory but I need some nuts and bolts that I can get a hold of. OK, let’s get down to how to accomplish this.

The definition of love I use is “you are set to do what is right for the other person”. Sentimentality is how you feel towards someone else. To love someone is a choice you make. Most of the time what is best for someone else isn’t necessarily what they want to happen. Such is the case with our players.

Since we are football coaches and we’re doing what is right for our players, we need to first be well educated coaches. That’s where visiting the Xs and Os sites comes in handy. Learn as much about coaching the sport as you can. Buy books, attend clinics, talk to your fellow coaches, and ask the stupid questions if you don’t know the answer. Too many coaches think they already know everything about the game and you can’t teach them anything. Don’t be that guy. Be a sponge. Take it all in. You’re asking your players to be coachable, you should be coachable as well. That way you can make informed decisions when the time comes.

Now that you have all that head knowledge, you have to be able to put that knowledge in the heads of your players. Be patient with them. It took you a while to learn it and it will take a while for them to as well. Teach all the techniques it takes to execute your offense and your defense. Teach them the Xs and Os. How to execute the offense and the defense.

While you’re teaching the mental part, you need to also be preparing them for the physical part. That means to use drills to make them more competitive and aggressive. You must also not forget the conditioning part. We play our games on Sunday afternoons at 1pm so we see some very high temperatures. Last year near the end of our first game of the season, many players on the other team were throwing up due to the heat. My players never had a problem. I made the mistake of not conditioning hard enough many years ago. I don’t make it now. Your players will whine and complain but you are doing what is best for them not what they want. Stick to your guns. You can condition creatively and not just make it all wind sprints. We have a hill that’s about 20 yards long and very steep. We build up to running the hill 20 times. 4 sets of 5 reps. I give a short talk between sets. My kids learn the phrase “Fatigue makes cowards of us all” and what it means to the point that when I yell “Fatigue” they yell back “makes cowards of us all”. We take pride in how many hills we’re able to do. I once had a team beg me to do 30 hills so that their record would not be broken by future teams. They did it and none have done it since. I had a player a few years ago in tears not wanting to run another hill. I told him I haven’t killed anybody yet doing this and I don’t think you’ll be the first.

Too many coaches want to be their player’s friend. I do too but I’m their coach first. Make the hard decisions about who’s playing where. Dish out the punishment when they act up. No need to embarrass or demean them. Just state: You broke this rule, you’re going to be punished in this way. No need to yell. Just carry it out. You are loving them more if you discipline than if you let things go. The boys will respect you for it. Make sure the punishment is the same for the best player as it is for the worst.

I tell my players I reward your effort and ability with playing time not with a position. The position you are playing is what this team needs you to play most to make it the best team we can possibly make it.

I didn’t use to have the players address me as Coach Dave or sir. I didn’t think that was my style until I experienced another coach do it. Now I wouldn’t do it any other way. It instills respect for authority into the players immediately. It pays off in so many ways. This will really help them now and later in life.

Physical affection scares the crap out of most coaches because of our society and all the problems in it but hugs are a common sight at my practices. No player is ever required to hug the coach. I just let them know that it’s OK to do it if they’re comfortable with it. Sometimes the most important thing you can do is give your player a hug and tell him it’s going to be OK.

I remind them often that the reason we just did an especially hard drill was because I love them enough to do what is right to give them every opportunity to win on Sunday afternoon. To set them up to lose would be far from the most loving thing I can do for them. Then after the game, we discuss how what we did in practice prepared us for what we experienced in the game. After they see the payoff of the hard work then they’re willing to work even harder.

The difference between me and them is that I understand what it takes for them to get to their goal. I understand the pain, the sweat, the toil it takes. They do not understand. It’s my job to push them into territory they never knew existed and if they did, they never thought they could accomplish. It is the most loving thing I can do for them. I am their football coach and it’s what they came to me for.

I started incorporating most of this stuff a few years back in an effort to bless my players. I got much more back in return.

Warrior Heart explained

Intensity

I teach my players that God has placed a Warrior Heart in them and it’s my job, with the help of the sport of football, to strengthen that Warrior heart so that it’s strong when they need it later in life to withstand the struggles of life.

Me to the team: When a boy learns how to ride a bike and they get a little confidence in their ability to ride what happens next? They see how fast they can go and then they race their buddies. When that’s not fast enough, they find the biggest hill they can to ride down and go even faster. Next they build a ramp to jump the bike in the air. When a girl gets a bike, she rides to her friend’s house to play. It’s a useful tool for her where for the boy it’s all about the bike and making it more challenging, competitive and fun. This is just one proof of the Warrior Heart within. There are many more.

For us coaches, how do we tap into this desire the boys have and satisfy it with our practices and the way we approach the game? Well, we do have an inside track. We were boys once so we need to think back on this and use our “inside info” and apply it to our team.

Some of the things I have done:

Every practice and before each game we start with our team chant:

Coach- “Good Evening Warriors!”   Boys- “Good Evening Coach!”

Coach- “What’s our job?”   Boys- “To Love Us”

Coach- “What’s your job?”   Boys- “To Love each other”

Coach- “What are we doing here tonight?”   Boys- “Preparing for Battle Sir!”

After our chant, we get close together in a sort of a circle with our arms out and around someone near us then we say a prayer. I say each sentence and the boys repeat it. After the last sentence, I pray a normal evening practice or game prayer.

Prayer -The Lord is a warrior, the Lord is His name. God created me in his image. I can do all things thru Christ who strengthens me. Thank you Lord for giving me a Warrior Heart.

The Warrior Heart idea came from John Eldredge’s “The Way of the Wild Heart” book. The prayer reinforces the idea. Exodus 15:3 is The Lord is a warrior, the Lord is His name. Genesis 1:27(b) is God created me (man) in his image. If God is a warrior and I am made in his image then I carry the Image of the Warrior God within me. Pretty powerful stuff when you think about it. The boys hear this every night and they believe it and buy in.

One note here; you, as a coach, have to sincerely believe in everything you teach or the boys will sniff out the insincerity and you’ll lose them. I sincerely believe what I teach is real and tangible. A transactional coach cannot fake this stuff and have it work. You have to be a transformational coach and be fully bought in yourself for it to work. Do not try to go beyond where your heart will let you.

I have specially made T-shirts with a Warrior Heart logo on the back that I and a friend designed. On the front, it says “I have a Warrior Heart”. These shirts have to be earned. Not everybody gets one. I have to see your Warrior Heart in action. I determine when and where that happened. These shirts are highly prized by my players.

We also do a fun drill every night. This is to satisfy the heart of the boy and prove to them that I value them above winning a game and trying to grind them into purely a performance machine to glorify me and satisfy my ego. We play Sumo, Hurricane, Run thru the Jungle, Sword fight, Deer Hunter to name a few. These games do also serve another purpose. It puts them on a stage and makes them perform in front of others while being competitive. It also reinforces the idea that you only get one shot at each play in a game. You win or lose on every play. In most of our games, winner stays on.

Remember that I design practice for the heart of a 12 yr old boy. Not to entertain the parents or myself. I have had parents tell me that my practices are boring for them to watch because they like to watch scrimmages. I told them practice wasn’t for their entertainment and what were the results they saw in the team at gametime. They agreed that it works.

Another thing I do is that the players that lead the group in the very few calisthenics we do are the first ones to finish the warmup lap. Most teams put their captains up there no matter their effort. You can be the smallest and youngest on my team and lead these exercises if you’re willing to hustle. Willingness to compete develops the Warrior Heart and we start competing at the start of practice.

The Error of using Rage and Revenge to motivate your players

I believe this subject will cause some controversy among coaches because it’s what they’ve done for years and let me say that I have too. I have only in the last 3 or 4 years learned the error of my ways and I want to save you from venturing down that path.

In what school subject or life lesson would you teach that you should take your anger, turn it into bitterness and rage to reach a solution to the problem at hand. This goes along with revenge as well. Revenge does not solve problems, it only creates an ever escalating feud. Yet we teach these 2 as solutions to football problems every day on the field. How many times have we as coaches said “I couldn’t get little Johnny to play hard until I pissed him off”. Again, what other arena is this a possible teaching scenario? I’d venture to guess no other arena is this a solution to the problem. I can just see you teaching your son or daughter to drive. That guy just passed you on a double yellow line. Now get mad and chase him down and hang on his bumper! I’m willing to bet that will get them a failing grade on their driving exam.

We say that we are teaching life lessons in football and we are so we do we want this boy to learn that rage and violence will fix other problems in his life too? I doubt any of us agree with that statement. I understand that football is a violent sport and I teach that it is. We just need the right motivation behind it and not the wrong motivation.

We know why we try to use this mechanism to increase intensity on the football field. Because it was done to us so we think it’s the right thing to do. We also get frustrated with little Johnny and start yelling because it is the natural outlet for our frustration. Let me explain why I believe it’s the wrong thing to do.

Romans 12:19, in quoting Deuteronomy 32:25 says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”. It’s in there twice! Paul reiterates it quoting the Old Testament. But the world we live in tells us “Revenge is sweet.” Who is right? Why does God not want us to avenge ourselves? Is it because He wants to have all the fun himself? I’m going with no on this. God knows that revenge is more than our souls can handle and will do damage to our souls by leading us down an evil path to accomplish it. It will require us to devalue the other person and harbor bitterness towards them before we can get the revenge we desire. Our God, who loves both parties, knows what is best for both of us and in His mercy wants us to forgive because we can’t handle revenge without damaging both sides. I believe revenge is what Jesus was addressing when He told us to turn the other cheek. He never said not to protect or defend yourself or others from further harm. Only not to retaliate. An eye for eye, so to speak. Jesus never rebuked any soldiers for the job they do.

Paul also says in Ephesians 4:26 “In your anger, do not sin”. He’s not saying that anger is a sin. Anger is a useful emotion. It lets you know when something might be wrong. At this point, you have to decide whether to give in to letting the anger go to the next level and be wrong or to take heed of the warning and see what the correct response to that anger is.

Another more practical and less spiritual reason not to use rage and revenge to motivate your players is that this emotion is unsustainable for a 2 hour football game. It’s only good for maybe 2-3 minutes into the game and then the normal rhythm of the game takes over.

So…now do you still want to use rage and revenge to motivate your players? If you do, then at least you know the consequences. I also believe this is where a lot of team discontent and fighting originates from. It goes uncontrolled by the coaches mostly because they encouraged it in the first place and now they don’t know how stop what they started. Then the coaches yell at the kids to stop it and the cycle continues.

I’ve had many opportunities to use revenge as a motivator and years ago, I used the old “BOYS, THEY’RE COMING IN TO OUR HOUSE AND TRY TO TAKE SOMETHING AWAY THAT IS OURS!!!” or they got us in the regular season and now let’s go get them back for that loss!! How many times have you beaten a team and thought “I took what was theirs”? That thought has never crossed my mind and I doubt it has ever crossed yours. You both set out to play and win a football game and one of you won. That’s all there is to it.

A few years ago, we lost in the regular season to 2 teams that we were going to have to beat in the playoffs to win the championship. Not once did I mention revenge to our players. I just kept telling our kids that we had fought thru a tough season and we were getting better every game and I thought that we would be a better football team the next time we faced them. I was building confidence in us instead of bitterness and rage. I was putting bricks into the confidence wall. We also prepared with drills specific to the talents of those 2 teams. This also built even more confidence in my kids. No negativity. Only positives. By the time we got to the games, my boys had no fear of their opponents, only respect. We blew out the first of the 2 undefeated teams and got a 1 point win over the other in the championship. A team that beat us by 4 touchdowns in the regular season. I am sure that both teams had more talent than we had but we were having more fun playing football the way it should be played. Aggressive and with emotion, sustainable emotion. That emotion is love for your team mates, your coaches and the game itself.

I can hear it now. If I can’t use anger to motivate my players, how will I motivate them? I didn’t say not to use anger at all. Only in small doses and used wisely but do not let it elevate to the upper levels of bitterness and rage and cause damage to your players’ souls. I will show you how I accomplish this in later articles/posts.

Unconditional Love Speech

This is the first speech I give to the team. It happens at the start of the first practice and sets the tone for the kind of culture they’re going to be in for the next 3 months.

I’m going to tell you that you that I love you, each of you unconditionally. Does anybody know what unconditionally means? It means that no matter how bad you screw up, no matter how frustrated I may get, no matter how poorly you perform, I still love you. I may not be happy with you at that time but I still love you. You may have cost yourself some punishment with what you’ve done. I love you before, during and after the punishment. There’s a verse in the Bible, Hebrews 12:5-6 (the Message), My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child that he embraces, he also corrects. So we see that if I truly love you, I will correct you. I will make you get it right. I will not let you coast. We have a lot of games to prepare for. If we just came out here night after night and goofed off and had a good time, we would get killed on gameday, wouldn’t we? So by being tough on you and disciplining you and preparing you for the battles ahead, I am proving to you that I love you.

Now what I expect of you is to extend that kind of love to each other. No matter how bad your team mate messes up, you forgive him and love him. I define the word “love” as being set to do what is right for someone else. Hollywood and the music industry have given us a distorted version of the word love. That’s not what I’m talking about.

As a start to the discipline, we practice respect for your coaches. The way we will do this is to address the coaches as “Coach” or “Coach Dave” or “Sir” but never as “Hey Dave”. When you respond to one of us, it will be “yes sir” and “no sir”. If you do not, you will drop and give me 10 pushups. I will give you one night, tonight, a night of grace to learn this. You will never talk back to your coaches. Every coach has the right to deliver punishment to you. You know and understand the rules. When you break rules, you are punishing yourselves. We, as coaches, are just carrying out the punishment.