Tag Archives: How To Coach

Changing behavior from the inside out

If we want to change our inner self, we cannot do it by wishing it to be so. We have to actively pursue it. To correct an outward behavior we don’t like, we have to attack its source. That source is our heart. If our heart has taken a bad direction for a while, the only way to “fix” it is to give it a different direction to go in. We can’t get rid of a bad behavior by just trying to stop that behavior. We have to replace it with a good behavior. Once again, we have to change the heart first to go on this new path otherwise our efforts will be fruitless. We have to imagine the new behavior we want and then start practicing it just like we would any other skill we want to learn. We are apprenticing to Christ here and if you were apprenticing to a master of any skill, you would emulate them doing it until you master that skill. Jesus teaches us that in the example about washing the inside of the glass and that the outside will get clean in the process. (Matt 23:26)

Apprenticing is a long and arduous task. It does not happen overnight. We did not develop our bad attitudes overnight and they will not be transformed overnight. We must pull up beside our Master and ask him to guide us in this journey. He longs to complete this task in us so He will be glad to be there every step of the way.

If you’re angry with someone. Instead of thinking of all the things they’ve done to harm you, imagine Christ beside them and how He loves them. How would He reconcile this situation? First off, He wouldn’t be mad at them. He loves them when they do right and when they do wrong. That is the definition of grace. How can you extend this same grace to them? First forgive them for what they have done then do the most loving for them. Pray for them. Pray that they come to love and serve Christ in the way He wants them to. That is the best life for anybody so it must be for them too. You’ve now replaced bad intentions for good ones (with God’s help). Do this over and over for them and others.

If you lust for someone, imagine Christ in between the two of you. That makes it really hard to lust now with Him in the picture doesn’t it? Now pray that God will help you see this person as He does and love them as He does from the inside out not from the outside in as you have been doing.

When we apply this to coaching, we want to replace a bad behavior with a good one instead of just yelling at someone and telling them not to do that anymore. We must give them a positive behavior and drill it into them until it’s a habit.

If we want them to be respectful, we teach them how. All coaches will be referred to as Coach or Sir. Proper responses are yes sir, yes Coach _____. If they give a proper response then the relationship is as we want it and we can positively reinforce that in many ways. If they don’t give a proper response then they do pushups or some other form of punishment until the response is automatic. They must understand that our desire to change their behavior comes from a point of love otherwise it will be interpreted as meanness towards them. Remember to change behavior we must first change their heart so that the desire to do right lives there first. If we try to change just the behavior then we are imparting a type of legalism on them that Jesus warned the Pharisees about.

If we want them to not commit a holding penalty in a game then we need to teach them how to block without holding. Teach hand and shoulder placement without grasping the opponent’s jersey. Punish when they don’t achieve this and reward with praise when they do achieve this. So many coaches try to teach how to hold without getting caught and then are amazed when their guy gets called for holding. You taught him to hold so he did! Don’t be amazed when he gets caught. They have to intend not to hold without trying because that’s all they know. They only know the right way because that’s all they’ve been taught.

If we want our players to not jump offsides, we must teach them to focus while in their stances instead of telling them the negative “don’t jump”.

When trying to correct a negative behavior, first imagine that behavior as it is when it is positively exhibited then come up with a way to teach that and to drill it until they do it from the heart. This is real coaching and not just screaming out of frustration.

These thoughts come from my present study of “Renovation of the Heart” by Dallas Willard.

Aggression Training

I hear the question all the time. How do I make Joey more aggressive? I hear it from other coaches and I hear it from parents. Well there is no magic pill you can give him or a miraculous speech you can make to get it to happen. What you can do is make a concerted effort with your team and you’ll make your team as a whole more aggressive. Most of the players will ride this wave and become more aggressive than they were. It is a slow process. You as a coach have to be willing to wait for it but work diligently towards it.

As I’ve said in some other articles, there is little to no testosterone in these little fellas so trying to get them to “man up” isn’t going to work. Challenging their nonexistent manhood is not going to work. You need to get the fear of hitting out of them. You must replace it with confidence. Teach them the skills first with coaches holding bags. Blocking or tackling. Be patient and teach by showing. Encourage them to hit the bag hard and drive. They need to learn that this doesn’t hurt. Keep encouraging to hit it harder and harder. Brag on them on how much harder they’re doing it than when they first tried it. Replace their fear with confidence in what they’re doing. Once they’re hitting the bag hard, you can move onto board drills. If you have a sled, it would be the next natural step but we don’t have one. A board drill is where two players try to drive each other straight back while having a board placed between their feet so that they keep their feet wide while driving. I stopped using boards a few years ago. I think it’s safer and I haven’t noticed any difference in performance of the players. Plus I think we’re more aggressive because we don’t fear slipping on the board. Divide them into groups of 5-8 equally matched players. If you mismatch your players, you can undo some of your progress you’re making. Keep the groups small to get more reps. Make sure you mix up the matchups in the group. Place a coach with each group. Have about one yard between them when they start. About like they’d have in a game. You can have some fun with this. Hoot and holler, get them hyped up and excited as they’re doing it. Brag on the winners and encourage the losers to work harder. You can move a player up to the group one better than the one he’s in if he’s dominating his group. They like these promotions but it also makes them work harder and get better. Just don’t do it before he’s ready. I recommend playing music during this. It automatically increases the intensity. You can play King of the boards if you have time. I usually plan to do board drills for about 15-20 minutes in the practices we do them. When you play King, You have all the players stand side by side facing you. Pick your 2 weakest and let them go first. You declare the winner. Winner stays on. Loser gets behind you. Encourage the team to root for them as they go at it. Keep going until there’s only one. He’s your King. A side bonus to this game is if the parents are watching they learn the pecking order on the team. The players pretty much already knew it.

The younger they are, the more of this they need. I think that board drills are the heart of our aggression. They allow a lot of contact and one on one battles with little chance of injury.

Another part is mental. Not that gaining confidence in board drills isn’t. Convince them how tough they are. Build them up, don’t tear them down. That’s why my practice starts with “Good evening Warriors”. The coach whom I highly respect (that’s you if you lost track) just called me a Warrior. If he believes I am then I must be. These little guys long to be powerful. They long to be a superhero. You just put a helmet, shoulder pads and a jersey on them. That’s just one step short of a cape. Teach them to fly and revel in it with them. Build this warrior mentality into them at every opportunity. Remind them that Iron sharpens Iron and that’s why we do so many board drills.

One of the biggest mistakes youth coaches make is to brag up the other team. They talk about how big they are, about how hard they hit, how fast they are. Sorry coach but in your attempt to challenge your players’ manhood, you scared them to death and they will play against them the same way…scared. And there you stand not understanding how the game went that way and asking me how can I make my players more aggressive. By NOT scaring the crap out of them for one is my answer. When you talk about the other team talk about how they do this but what we’re going to do to counter that is this and convince them that what we’re going to do is better than what they’re going to do. You have to have confidence in your plan for your players to buy into it.

Don’t call them little guys. Beware of your language in this regard. I cringe when I hear a Mom call her son “My Little Man”. She’s doing it innocently and thinks it’s cute but it tears at the fabric of what we’re trying to build up.

As I said in another article on here, remember that you’re building a wall of confidence in them brick by brick. Be patient.

Another drill I like for aggression training is Who’s ball. I learned this drill and many other things from Coach Dave Potter. It’s simply a fumble recovery drill but you let the players wrestle for the ball for an extended period of time. I do this at a station and we usually let them go at it for 30 seconds. They get to do another aggressive and competitive drill in a fairly safe and controlled manner. Hootin and hollering by the coach is encouraged here too.

One drill I love that is like real football is the Bronco Drill. I have seen it called a multi-level Oklahoma drill too. You set up 3 levels. 1st level is your linemen. 2nd level is your linebackers and the 3rd level is your secondary personnel. Make your 1st level about 3-4 yds wide, 2nd level 5 yds wide and the 3rd level about 8 yds wide. Place the levels about 5 yds apart. Adjust these distances based on the age and size of your players.

On the snap count the offensive man attempts to block the defensive man in one direction or the other. The running back has to read the blocks to make the cuts to score. The defensive man is to shed the block and make the tackle. Try to keep the matchups as equal as possible. Last year, one night when we had some players and coaches missing, I put us all into one group and we ran Super Bronco for the first time. We put 2 of each at each level so we ended up with 13 in the drill at once.  2 O-linemen and 2 D-linemen, etc. Still only one ballcarrier. This is now our staple on how we run it. It is fun, chaotic and intense. Everybody loves it. Coaches and players. By keeping the matchups equal, we are increasing each player’s growth as much as possible. There are many other competitive drills you can do. These are just a few. Remember to build up slowly.

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.

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.

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.

Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you are getting

This is a saying in business. So if you don’t like what results you are getting, you better change your system. How does this apply to youth football? If you don’t like what you see on the field when your team is out there, maybe, just maybe it’s not their fault but it is your coaching that is producing these results. Actually most of the time, this is the case. So what do you do? CHANGE WHAT YOU DO!

The average youth practice is 20-30 minutes of calisthenics and sprints. 20-30 minutes of the whole team doing one-on-one tackling. Each player getting one rep every 3-5 minutes. All of this followed by 1 hour of scrimmaging the 1st team offense vs second/ third string defense. If this is your practice then you won’t have a very good final product on the field. You can have so much talent on the field that you win even with this practice plan but they’re not nearly as good as they can be. This practice plan was reinforced to me when I watched the recent season of “Friday Night Tykes”. These 3 elements are about all I ever saw.

Why is this ineffective? Why do the kids not have fun at practice? Why are they not getting better?

Some calisthenics, some conditioning are both necessary but not every night and they are boring to the kids. They’d be boring to you as well. When doing drills, split the team up into groups. Groups of equal size and ability. When competing against someone of equal ability, you both improve. Mismatches in size and ability don’t improve either participant. And smaller groups get everybody more reps.

Scrimmaging first vs second string is almost useless. Your starters can easily push your second stringers around and are not working as hard as they can. You are programming this level of intensity into them hour after hour, day after day, week after week. Then comes gameday and you give the most inspiring speech of your life and they go out there and play mediocre. What just happened? Why don’t they play harder? Because they are playing exactly the way you programmed them to. Your system is producing the results it’s designed to. You have burned mediocre effort into them. It’s the only way they know how to play. They are giving all they know how to. No amount of inspiration can change this. In addition to this, your second stringers get discouraged and want to quit. Why? Because they spend half of practice getting their butt kicked every night. Night after night. Most of the time, your second stringers get smart and make an agreement with the starter to just let them push them around. It keeps the starter from getting yelled at by you and the second stringer gets off easy. Does this sound like either side is getting better or enjoying football? I’d hate practice too if this is what practice is.

If this is starting to sound like your team, you have to decide if you’re willing to put in the work to fix it. You can’t fix this problem in one day with one technique. It takes commitment by you and a holistic approach to coaching. This website is about how to fix this and other problems. I’ll do some small articles and videos on how I do things. It’s up to you to decide what and how much of this info you use.