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.

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