Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Team Building...

Team building is an often used, yet little understood axiom in the world of football these days.  I want to take the time to look closer in to this all to often overlooked topic.  I think coaches should invest as much time as they can in to building their teams, even if you feel your team is a tight knit unit, you can never really do too much team building.

Team building has many key elements, the most important elements, in my opinion are earning trust, communication, and teamwork.  These elements can be built in many different ways, however I feel the order they are listed in above, is how you should approach team building.  A great book, that helped me when I was a young coach was 101 Teambuilding Activities.  This book is a must have for any coach that is about to implement an off-season team building experience in their football program.  Let's look closer at these items.

I joked in my last article about trust falls, but I've actually done this, and it works quite well.  Simply put trust falls involve either pairs or groups of players that are set up where an individual allows himself to fall and be caught by his teammates or teammate.  Seems simple, but it's a very good bonding experience and is simple and easy to do.  A twist I added, was that when I had the players pair up, every time a player caught another player he had to make the statement "I got you".  This reinforced the element of trust between the 2 players.

Trust fall!

Another excellent trust builder is an exercise I called "What you mean to us".  Every player was given sheets of paper, and at the top of the paper was a player's name on the team.  This was usually done with the varsity only, and should be done in small groups as it does take some time.  The players then write a positive element that their teammate brings to the team.  The papers are then compiled by name and distributed to their owners to read.  The idea here is that people are more likely to write things than say them, and it shows the important elements that individuals bring to the table as a teammate.  I have left it at this stage, or even opened the floor for discussion.  There is no right or wrong way here, the key is to keep things positive.

Be positive, stay positive...Banana Hands!

Another exercise is 1 you can do anytime, but is a very good graphic exercise.  Take a box of toothpicks and wrap with a rubber band.  Call up a player and have him try to break this banded group of toothpicks.  As we all know, this will not happen.  Now, call another player up, remove 1 of the toothpicks and have him break it.  What this illustrates is that together we can't be broken, and are strong, however by ourselves, we are weak, and easily broken.  Another way to do this, if you don't have toothpicks is simply to have a player stand up, make a fist and have another player come up and try to dig out 1 of his fingers and bend it (obviously not to the point of breaking it or anything).  This will be nearly impossible to accomplish.  After a few attempts, have the player who initially made the fist hold his fingers out and retry the exercises.  Obviously this will end quickly as the fingers will bend easily.  Again, this shows the team, separate we are vulnerable, yet together we are strong.

Can't be broken...

As coaches all know, without communication, you cannot possibly achieve success.  Communication is 1 of the most underrated skills that humans have.  How many times have you seen a wide receiver on television get behind a defensive back for a touchdown, only to have the defensive back throw his hands up and argue with another teammate about what the coverage was?  Clearly there was a lack of communication there.  Here are some things I've used to facilitate and show the importance of communication.

Good communication is essential!

The old "telephone game" is a very easy way to show the effects of communication in a group setting.  What I did was put the team in a room, then take one of the captains, and whisper in his ear a statement.  This player was then to transfer this message to the next teammate.  The message would get passed around the room until the final player was asked what the message was.  99% of the time, the answer you would get was not the original 1 you started with.  This exercise shows the importance of listening, and how listening relates to communication.  Another good idea is to also do this between the coaches.  I did this when I was a head coach in front of the team.  This showed the players the coaches were only human, and that we too had to work on listening to facilitate communication.

Learn to listen before you speak.

Another game I used to have the players play, was what I simply called the noise game.  We would create an obstacle course, usually in the gym, but you can do it anywhere.  Players were paired up with a teammate and one was blindfolded.  The partners could not touch, and the commander (unblindfolded) player could not whisper instructions.  The remaining members of the team would surround the obstacle course and would begin shouting when I blew the whistle to start.  The objective was for the pair to navigate through the obstacle course from beginning to end with the best time.  The commander could only give directional commands to the blindfolded player.  If an obstacle was struck it was a 10 second penalty.  What the underlying goal of this drill was is it taught players to focus on the communication by having to listen through the "noise" of the commander.  It also had a competitive element to it as well, which made even more fun.

There are a myriad of teamwork drills out there, and I've used several.  The general goal of these drills is to see the group develop a leader, and then follow instructions, work through problems, use multiple ideas and work through problems for a common solution.  There's one in particular where each team is equipped with a bucket of water, and a bungee cord. The goal is to navigate an obstacle course from one end to the other and dump the bucket of water in a larger bucket without spilling the contents.  This drill involves creating a device, with only the supplies provided, that the group comes up with.  You will easily see who the alpha males are and who are the followers.  Too many alphas can lead to indecision and arguing.  Not enough, or none at all, lead to indecision through lack of communication and effort.  As a coach it's a great tool to see who sticks out as a leader.  To the team, though, this is a chance for guys to step up, that may have otherwise been quiet or withdrawn.  It also puts some of the players out of their comfort zone by forcing them to work with the others.  All of these items are important to facilitating the development of teamwork. 

Alpha Male

Again, I'm not going to list all the drills, as there are so many it would be pointless.  The general idea with teamwork drills are what is paramount.  Find a drill you can do, and then execute it.  Always remember to evaluate the end result of every drill.  This way, you have some ideas who may give you problems in the future, who you can lean on, and who you don't need to put too much pressure on.  As you can clearly see, teamwork drills do more than just facilitate teamwork, they give you, the coach, a clear window into the leadership and cohesiveness of you overall team's framework.  This is why it is so important to record the results, either written, or actually recorded (yes I've videoed these exercises).

Now, I'm going to step on my soap box here some, and if you don't care for religious views, click the little "x" at the upper right corner of the screen!  The Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) is a great resource when it comes to team building.  FCA also does good with the building of individuals, and is the best resource I have found in all my years of coaching.  Their camps are second to none when it comes to team building, and team building exercises.  I went with the team last summer to a team camp, and what an experience!  I felt our team came out of that camp much closer and more bonded than when it went in.  I also felt, certain individuals really benefited from going to the camp, and got a lot out of the spiritual portion of the camp.  You can go to these big college camps, or NFL camps, and get good at running the zone read, or defending the Air Raid offense, but those camps ability to help build your young men pales when compared to the FCA.  Like I said, I'm "soapboxing" it here, so I apologize, but there's something to be said for a camp that you can work the game of football, and also receive a great spiritual message at the same time.  Ok, I'm going to climb down off this soap box, and talk about some very good team building exercises I've done in the past.

I want to show how I rolled all the above into my preseason team camp.  This camp was the highlight of many kids years, and marked the beginning of the fall, and football season.  This camp was very important to our team for many reasons.  Please read further and I will explain more about our preseason camp.

Team Camp
At first look at the heading, most would think..."Duece, you've already mentioned this?!", however I'm not talking about a team camp you go to, I'm talking about team camps you host for your team only.  I mentioned in a previous post (found here) about a team camp lock-in I did for several years when I was a head coach.  I can truly say it was one of the best experiences I've been able to be a part of as a football coach.  The basic layout of the camp was that the team would report in the middle of the week, usually on a Wednesday night.  The team would come to the high school and check in to our gymnasium.  Now, you have to remember, these guys were going to live here for the next 3 days, so they had to have bedding, clothes, towels etc.  We made them live together with their position group, they could not group up based on who their friends were.  We did this based on defensive positions usually and spread the guys out through the gym.  I usually tried to get 2 coaches per position group (yes, the staff was expected to be there as well) so that there would be plenty of supervision.  I had an orientation to let the players know of the rules of the camp, and we handed out our summer awards that evening after everyone had been officially checked in.  Then we got ready to practice!  At the stroke of midnight, we were on the game field with the lights on and practicing!  We called it "Midnight Madness"!  The basic layout of the day was 3 practices per day with 2 being 2 hours in length and one being an hour-and-a-half.  In between this time was meals, free time, or speakers.  I tried to get anyone I could to come talk to these young men, with most being local business men, or pastors of local churches etc.  The best 1 I got was a young man who was born a paraplegic, yet managed to be the assistant manager at our local McDonald's.  He talked to our guys about adversity, and how to handle adversity in the face of crisis.  In the evening, after our last practice we would gather the team, and our resident FCA member (my JV offensive line coach) would work on team building.  He had a message, and delivered, very carefully, through use of scripture.  Obviously in today's world of separation of Church and State, you have to be careful, but we walked that line closely and quite well over the past 3 seasons.  On the last night of the camp, we had Senior Night, where each senior would get up and talk about their time as a football player in the program, what they wanted to accomplish, and what they remembered most about their time in the program.  This was a very important bonding experience between the older players, and the young incoming freshmen players.

The overall goal of the team camp was team building.  In order to get the camaraderie that you are looking for, you need to take the players out of their comfort zone somewhat.  I did this by having them room with guys they were not used to hanging out with.  We also had them eat by position, instead of class, so they were not all mixed in with guys their same age.  I had several portions of the camp that involved players getting up and speaking, which involved communication, and getting the player out of his comfort zone.  I also did exercises that were mentioned above in both a teambuilding setting, and a football setting.  Don't get me wrong, we did football, but for the coaches, it was a chance for us to take the temperature of our team, see how they got along, and where potential pitfalls could be. 

I know the team camp seems like a lot to organize and you would be right to assume that.  However, it is like anything else that requires hard work, it's worth it!  You will find that players will look forward to this portion of the season with earnest, and participation is easy to come by.  In our area, the rules said we had to have this open to the public, which was no problem, since we were rural we didn't share the camp with other teams.  If you're in an urban setting you might have to get creative, but then hey, that's why we make the big bucks right?!  Our rules also said participants had to pay admission, our camp was usually one dollar!  We then turned around and used that money on a pizza or movie night during the camp.  The basics here is that it's worth it to help develop your team.  If you have any more questions on the team camp, email me, I can probably dig up an old brochure or schedule somewhere I can share with you.  At the very least we can chew the fat about how to set one of these things up.

Well, news on the job front, I may be working after all!  I have a friend who may be getting a local junior high head coaching gig, and wants me to head up the defense.  I feel it's definitely a step backwards, however it's coaching, it's local, and it's not as pressure packed as the higher levels, which is what I need right now.  We'll see, nothing is set in stone, but I have to get my head wrapped back around being a DC and what defense I want to use.  The league is spread oriented, but spread to run, not spread to pass.  I'm thinking either the 46 Nickel for it's simplicity or the 4-2-5, with 1 high principles utilizing Rip/Liz/Mable principles.  Anyhow, that's what I'll be working on in the next few weeks.  I do have a good post on offense (I know, been a while) that I want to share.  Should be ready some time next week so check back in and see what you think of it.

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July!!!

I pledge allegiance to...