I really have to apologize to the coach that sent me as it's almost been two months since I got the idea for a blog post. I've been so busy with spring football and making the transition into my new job, I totally forgot. So to the coach that sent this in, I apologize, hopefully this isn't too late. Anyhow, I had a coach that is in his first gig and was asking for just some basic advice for a new coach getting into the game. I figured his question alone would be good for a blog post, so it's the only question I'll focus on for this mailbag post. Let's take a look at what advice I'd have for the guys just getting started.
Like Your Job, Love Yourself
I start here, because many coaches get into the profession seeking success and recognition to fill a void in their self awareness. I hate to be blunt here, but if you're trying to fill some void and you think winning coaching a sport is going to help, you have big problems. Sure, winning is fun, and the job can be fun, but you need to be true to yourself first and foremost. I think you've got to have a good handle on what you think of yourself and what you want to accomplish. I'm not talking about coaching either, I'm talking about what YOU want to accomplish as a PERSON. When I first started, all I wanted to do was prove people wrong. I'm still driven by this, but it doesn't consume me as much as it used to. See, I was a small offensive lineman in Nowhere, USA that was always told "Too short", "Too fat", "Too slow", "Too weak" etc. That crap burned me up as a player, because I gave absolutely everything I had when I played. I had an old baseball coach nickname me "Charlie Hustle", mainly because I worked my ass off for what little playing time I got. Football was no different for me, especially once I got to high school. This drive to prove folks wrong drove me to get a college scholarship to play for a small NAIA program. Now, in the early 90's the recruiting game wasn't what it is today, so exposure was rare (if any where I was from), so to get recruited and get a scholarship was big news. Still, I had people telling me "You'll never stay", "You'll be back", "You won't make it". Well, it kept me fired up all through college, and despite having to leave the game early due to injury, I finished school and earned a degree. All of this led me back full circle to coaching, and even then I was told the words "can't", "won't", "shouldn't". All of this consumed me to win, and prove others I could do it. It's one thing to have this negativity consume you as a player, because you can use it as fuel for motivation. However, if using as a coach, you're now bringing the lives of your players into your motivation. I was actually using my player to achieve my goals. This is bad...very bad. I lost a lot of players in my first few years as a coach, and I couldn't figure it out. A conversation with an old college coach opened my eyes to the fact that I was coaching for all the wrong reasons. My last season as a youth coach was one of the best, because I put my goals second to the goals of my players and I opened up and began to love and care for my players. This epiphany opened my eyes to the wondrous world of coaching to make a difference. As I evolved, I've learned this, you must at least care for your players, no matter how much of a turd you think a player may be, you can and will make an impact on this person's life. You cannot do this, if you don't first love yourself. You must feel comfortable in your own skin in order to help make a difference in anothers life. I wasn't happy with people doubting me, and it was making me miserable. In turn, I was making my players miserable. Once I realized the doubters are always there, and the only person whose opinion of me mattered was the guy staring back at me in the mirror, I became a much better coach. I still have to revert back and remind myself sometimes of this very thing, because in the back of my mind is that little voice telling me about what the doubters are saying. Once I squash that voice, I'm better for it, and since learning to trust and believe in myself, I've been a much better coach. Learn to love you, and then you can truly love others and make a difference in their lives.
Care For Your Players
Like I said above, when I first started, the players were simply a necessary evil in me achieving my goals. This will not take you far, and you're coaching career will be a hollow shell. All players, if they are playing for you, deserve to have you care about them. You, as a coach, cannot impact these players if you're not at least remotely involved in their well-being. In some cases, the coach is the closest thing to a true parent that many of these kids may ever have. Many coaches get squeamish when you begin speaking about "caring" (yeah man, that's Dear Abby crap coach?!), but caring is a crucial component to being a good coach. Listen, I was a part of a team that won a total of two games in a three year period, but I still have players on those teams, that when I see them they hug my neck and actually say things like "Man I miss those days", "Coach, we sure had fun". What??? How the heck can you go 2-28 and use those words?! It is because despite the situation they were in, the players knew they were cared for, and they knew the men that were leading them were attempting not to win a football game, but to change their life. This is why you must have an interest in your players well-being, from there you will begin to build trust, which will allow you to build not only the player, but the individual.
Coach the Individual, not the Player
If I look back on my career, I've taught as much about life as I have X's and O's when it comes to being a football coach. I've had players get arrested for selling drugs, doing drugs, I've had them get girls pregnant, get into an accident and become paralyzed and even worse. In the course of all of this, I'm hoping that I've been able to help these young men. Now I know what you're saying, "Coach this is supposed to be a technical blog, why are we talking about this?". Well, I'll tell you, why. If you can't coach the individual, you'll never coach the player. Young adults are very hard to earn their trust these days, and if you can't earn that trust, then you'll never get these individuals to be the player they need to be. This idea of coaching the individual, the person, instead of just the football player will create trust. One thing I've always done is ask my players questions like "How are you doing?", "How was your day?", "Is everything ok?". The other thing, always shake their hand. A coaching mentor of mine started this a few years back and it has had such a tremendous impact on the people we've both coached. It's the single smallest gesture that says to the player "I care about you". Still, to this day, I have players that will come up to me and shake my hand. I had a defensive back this past season, I had to bench because of a poor attitude, that ultimately led to him being removed from the team, that came up to me at a function later in the year and still shook my hand. Again, he and I may have had a difference of opinion, but he respected me, and I respect him. Try the handshake thing. You'll be surprised. Kids are just wanting any recognition they can get, and sometimes the littlest gestures, such as a handshake, pat on the back, or a simple "How are you?" will go a long way. Sometimes, you even have to do it to players you don't like. You'll be surprised, maybe the player with the bad attitude will soften a bit, and start coming around to your way of thinking.
The biggest part of my coaching philosophy deals with not what offense or defense we are running, compared to the how are we making these kids better people?. In my coaching manual, that I have prepared for any coaching job that I interview for, this statement is right in the front, under my mission statement. I'm not here to coach these players to win a football game, or to learn how to kick slide, I'm here to coach them to be productive citizens, good husbands, and fathers. When I learned this, I instantly became a better coach, because players see this. Young adults are VERY GOOD at finding out who's real, and who isn't. If you're fake, they'll find it out and find it out quick. You have to refocus and direct your attention to making better people before you can EVER make them better players.
Never Stop Learning
Learning, whether it be coaching techniques, or actual technical aspects of the game, should never stop throughout a coach's career. This is why you pay all those bucks for the clinics, the books, DVD's and pod casts. The whole idea is to learn and keep learning. I think the big thing here is don't stop at the standard methods of learning (what I mentioned before DVD's, books etc.). Dig deeper, visit coaches you respect, visit schools who run schemes you are interested in or maybe run the same thing you do. Listen, I had trouble defending the wing-t, many moons ago, so I went and visited two high schools that ran that offense. All it cost me was gas money and some money to pay for their lunches and I had more information on the wing-t than I could shake a stick at. It was worth it, the following season we held a very good wing-t team to their lowest offensive output of the season. These things can and will pay off. Many coaches tell me "Oh, I wouldn't ever ask Coach So-and-So if I could visit his place.". Why? You'd be surprised how many would be flattered that you asked. My new job is at a place where I had a coach ask me this very thing. He had seen a scheme we ran against another team and liked it, so he called me. When I say called, he cold called me. I didn't know this guy from Adam's house cat and he calls me. We hit it off, have been friends for several years now and he's gone and gotten me a job at a very prestigious program here in the area. Again, this all led back to learning. He was trying to learn what we were doing, and in turn I've learned a bunch about what they are doing (TGOG for one thing).
Nothing wrong with traditional methods of learning, but don't be afraid to think outside the box. One learning tool that seems to have declined here in recent years is the message boards, such as Coach Huey. I cannot tell you the amount of stuff I've learned from the interaction on that site. I've also met several great coaches through the Internet as well. One problem I had, early on, was I thought my crap didn't stink, and my way was the BEST. This is all a part of the big ego's many of us coaches have. Once I got humbled a time or two I was ready to listen to some of the guys on the Huey board (such as OJW, and jgordon). Those guys have passed on some invaluable lessons, that I'm not sure you could get out of a book.
Network, Network, Network
Networking sort of ties into continuing education. If you visit coaches, or interact on the Internet, this leads to networking. Rubbing elbows with coaches is a great way to learn, but it's also a way to keep doors open for you. In my case, like I stated above, it's led me to a new job. Networking has also led me to some very interesting people, and some very good people. The yearly clinic we have with OJW has been a great experience. Some of those guys have helped me make some crucial coaching decisions that either my staff, or the people around me couldn't help me make. Many of us collaborated on the flexbone posts on Coach Hoover's board, which led us to meeting each other. These guys are great, they know a TON, and are willing to share. All of this keeps doors open for your future. I have no doubts that if one of them called me for a job, or for a reference, I wouldn't hesitate to help them. I'm also sure they'd do the same for me. Networking is what makes a people profession like coaching go around. Don't be in a shell, get out to clinics and talk to folks, meet coaches, ask them questions, share stories etc. All of it has the potential to benefit you, or the the person you're talking to.
Run What You Know
I hear this all the time, and I do feel it's VERY important. Now, only knowing one or two offenses or defenses is probably not going to help you very much, especially at the high school level. Not being able to recruit leaves the high school coach needing to have a bit of repertoire when it comes to scheme knowledge. Now that doesn't mean when somebody asks you what offense you run you tell them the "Split back veer, power shotgun, five wide offense" (lol, OC's, got to love em'). What it means is, as the varying degrees of talent enter and exit your program, you as the coach have not only the ability to fit schemes to ability, but have a way to tie the schemes together so that it's not like a scene from the movie Fifty First Dates where you're learning something new every fall.
Knowing your stuff, allows you to fix it when it's not working. Listen, game plans on paper always work. However, in-game, is a different story. Being able to adjust your scheme because you know it inside and out, is essential to helping your players have success. Many of us watch a coaching DVD on the 4-2-5, or read a blog post, and think "Man I want to run that!". In reality, a blog post or a DVD doesn't do a scheme any justice. To be honest, I don't care if you buy Pat Narduzzi's entire DVD collection on his 4-3 defense, if it is your first time involved with the defense, you will not KNOW it. You need to coach in it, see it succeed, see it fail to really know it. You need to talk to coaches that have run the scheme you're looking at for quite some time, and had both failure and success with it. When I switched to the 4-2-5, I jumped early, and really didn't know it. Luckily for me, through networking, I was able to work through my problems with the help of my friend and made things work. This caught me off guard, because I honestly thought I knew the scheme, but when it comes to the actual running of the scheme and fitting the pieces together and getting it all coached up, I was a rookie. Since then, I've been very cautious with what I learn and how I implement it. I've learned to study the scheme and then try to break it. I've gone and discussed with other coaches how they'd attack that certain scheme. I've asked what weaknesses they thought were inherent to the scheme (all offensive and defensive schemes have strengths and weaknesses). If I feel comfortable with these weaknesses, and have an adjustment, then I'll go with it, but if I can't account for this weakness, I won't install it.
Another thing about knowing your schemes is knowing what it takes, personnel-wise, to run it. In high school, it is very difficult to have a scheme that is tied to certain body types, and/or athletic ability. I've always looked at the schemes that didn't take the great athletes to run, or were built for lesser talent and then worked from there. I always felt it was easier to upgrade a scheme, or add something into a scheme for when the cupboard was full, versus trying to pare down the scheme when the cupboard was empty.
|Better have a scheme for these guys...|
Also, don't be afraid to adapt. I'll give you an example. With the spread coming about, I had to find a way to get my best pass covering OLB to the pass strength. I tried to make this work, but good OC's would find a way to put this guy into the boundary or away from their best receiver etc. and then exploit it. I actually had a good coach figure this out, and BEAT me with it. After that I poured through books, DVD's etc. and found NOTHING. What I did do, was visit a local small college that ran a 4-3 and learned a neat little adjustment they ran vs. 1 back offenses. When they faced a 1 back offense the OLB's aligned with the safeties instead of with the front. This allowed the better pass covering OLB to go to the pass strength and the weaker OLB to be away from the pass strength. It was eerily similar to what Gary Patterson does with his strong safety in the 4-2-5. This one little adaptation has paid huge dividends here recently, allowed me to stick to my 4-3 roots, but be as adaptable as the 4-2 everybody's so crazy about. Learn to be flexible and learn to be adaptable and your schemes will really take shape.
Know Your Job
Whether you're hired to coordinate or hire to assist, know your assignment and your role within the team structure. If you're an assistant in charge with coaching linebackers, know how the DC wants it coached and COACH IT EXACTLY THAT WAY. I can't tell you the amount of times I've told a guy how I want things done, only to look over in practice to see them doing something totally different. Then get the worst answer in all of coaching, "That's the way we did it at...". Nothing burns me up more. I don't really care how you did it at your last stop, do it the way I'm telling you to do it. Now, I don't mind suggestions, but after I've told you how I want it done, you do it that way. Nothing looks worse to a player than getting coached one way, only to come to group or team drills and have the coordinator talking and teaching to a kid completely different. Everybody has got to be on the same page. Whether you agree with it or not, you coach the way you've been instructed to by your superior.
If you're the superior, demand the assistants coach it the way YOU want it. If you let this slide, there will be issues, I can guarantee that. Be clear in your teaching of your assistants. Make sure you know they understand their assignment. If they have a suggestion, by all means, listen to it, consider it even. You may end up finding out there's a better way to to do things. I always like listening to guys that join my staff from elsewhere to see how others do it. Nothing wrong with that at all. I had a guy tell me once it made me weak as a coordinator taking suggestions from assistants. I told him, not at all, it actually makes me a better coach. First, it gives a bit of ownership to the assistant, which at the end of the day is what they want. Most guys want to contribute and know that their knowledge is being utilized to achieve the team goal of winning. Second, you never know when a different way of presenting the information to a high school player may help the player better understand their assignment. I always give this example, and it is so simple of a change, that it becomes comical, but this one little change made all the difference in the world. I've told it before, but many years ago, when I was first coaching and we were teaching block down, step down (BDSD), our defensive line coach was using the term "wrong arm". We were implementing the 4-3 for the first time at a place that was used to running the old 50 defense, so it was something new they were having to get used to. Anyhow, long story short, I'm at the water cooler during a water break and hear a kid say "Coach Jimmy doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. Why is he telling us how to do it wrong?". So I asked the kid, what he meant by that, and he told me our defensive line coach was telling them to wrong arm things. The kids were confused. Look, I know it is semantics, but from that day forward, we've never called it wrong arming. We changed the term to "splattering", and the kids seem to understand. It is quite comical how one little change in the way information is presented can make the light bulb go off in a kids mind.
Another part of knowing your stuff, is knowing when you don't know. I wrote about this over on The 12th Man Blog, because I've been a part of a staff that had some guys that if they didn't know, they simply made up what they thought it should be. Nothing could be worse. We were recently teaching what the TE does on midline, and the offensive line coach was actually teaching it backwards. The players actually knew their assignment from using and reviewing their Hudl playbooks. They were calling the line coach out on it, and it got ugly at one point with the line coach telling the players, basically, they didn't know their ass from a hole in the ground. I was privy to all of this, and had the chance to discuss this with the head coach and we got it corrected, but the damage was done. See, with kids, sometimes you only get one chance, so you better get it right. The better thing for the assistant to have done would've been to simply state that he didn't know what the TE did on midline, but that he'd find out. The EVEN BETTER thing the assistant could have done, is to know the damn playbook backwards and forwards! If you're charged with coaching a position, you HAVE to KNOW it better than the players. However, I get it, we all forget, or sometimes are coaching in a scheme that we may not be familiar with. Don't be afraid to EVER tell a kid you don't know it. Then follow that up with, but I'll find out for you. Again, that goes back to creating trust. The kid may be disappointed that his coach doesn't know, but he'll trust that you're going to make it right. Kids will have a lot more respect for you if you tell them you don't know, than if you make something up. They can tell when you're not being truthful with them.
Help Where Needed
I can't tell you the number of places I've worked where when the last period of practice was over, the coaches beat the players off the practice field. Here recently, 15 minutes after practice was over, I'd look around and it would be just me and the head coach left on campus with 50 kids under our charge. Guys would only coach during practice and then when practice was over, they were gone. Let me tell you, nothing looks worse to a head coach than a guy that just coaches. Listen, I get it, nobody likes putting away the water coolers, or opening up the locker room, or putting up the sled dummies, but it's got to be done. There were many times when I was a head coach, if I didn't do that stuff, it wouldn't have gotten done. This isn't good. When you're an assistant, you're needed in many more areas than just the practice and game fields. Help the head coach with anything and everything you can. If he needs someone to run to the store to get tape, do it. I find it comical that we had a coach, talking to some of our incoming freshmen about when they get to high school they need to volunteer for everything when at practice. He'd say, "If coach calls out for a kickoff team, jump up and get out there, get noticed". I agree with this mentality 100 percent, however, when it came to this coach doing extra work around the school, he was nowhere to be found. The same holds true for coaching, if the head guy or a coordinator needs help with something, jump up and help them. It will get YOU noticed, and generally, the boss man will be appreciative for your extra efforts.
Have Respect for Your Job and for Your Organization
I can't tell you the number of young coaches I've had to tell this to. Basically, if you working for the program, you're doing it all year round. Don't embarrass the program. I've had to hire guys fresh out of college, and in some cases, younger to help coach, and you've got to instill this from day one. As an assistant, you've got to realize that accepting a position with a high school program, puts you under the microscope, right along with the coordinators and the head coach. There are many places where certain social activities are frowned upon. If you, as a person, like to do these activities, you may have to curtail how you do them in public. Drinking is probably the number one issue I've seen with parents and the community when it comes to coaches. I mean, who doesn't like to blow the frost off a cold one right? Especially after a long hot practice in August. Well, if you've coached in small town America, like I have, this may be an issue if you choose to do this in public. If there are places you can go, and not be so visible to the community, it is probably a good idea if you go there to peel the top of some "bluegills". I know I know, the big city coaches are reading this and going "What the hell?". Listen, this issue isn't as prevalent as it is in small town America, but there's other things to consider too. Social media, and the negativity it can create is a HUGE issue among coaching staffs and their players in today's world. The idea here, is remember that you're a part of something bigger than just yourself. Extremely young coaches seem to have an issue with this as they are still in "party" mode, but this is the sacrifice you make when you take the job. One rule I always taught both my players and coaches was "Never bring a negative light on the program". Keeping that rule simple, makes people think, and gives me the boss the leeway to remove a player or coach from the program for doing something that isn't condoned. Just as a general rule, remember you're doing more than just representing yourself when you take on the job of being a coach.
|Do it my way, or hit the highway!|
Marry a Football Wife
Probably the single most important item on this list. I can't tell you how many coaches I've lost to the fact they married a woman that simply did not understand the man's love of the game of football. I have been SUPER fortunate. I can, without a doubt, say my wife is a football wife. She's coached for my youth team, and has always been my Filmer from day one. She is very supportive of what I want to do with coaching and football. If you can't find this person, then you need to be up front with her about the time involved in being a football coach. The good ones, don't mind, and even actually like seeing their husbands involved in the changing of young men's lives. Others, well, they can't handle any competition to their husband's affection, so they tend to get jealous, which usually leads to one of two things and both of them are bad.
Don't forget child rearing either. Many women are fine with the husband coaching in the beginning, however once the little ones show up, it's time for "daddy" to give up his hobby and grow up. The good ones realize you'll be there for the family when football gets over with. I have a friend that is raising five boys, yes FIVE BOYS and is the DC at a very prominent high school. His wife is an ultimate trooper. She understands the time involved, because in the beginning this was communicated to her. I did the same with my wife. My wife understands my love for the game, and ultimately she has grown to love the game as well. Anyhow, be up front with the woman in your life. As they say, behind every good man is a great woman. Whoever said that must have been talking about a coach's wife.
Know Who You're Working For
I think this is one that's probably burned me more in my coaching career than anything else. I'm a very open and trustworthy person, so I have a tendency to get close to people without ever first diagnosing what they're about. Lately, I've gotten better at this, but I'm still vulnerable when it comes to assessing just what somebodys motivational factors are. I think many young coaches, when they go through the interview process, are just so thankful somebody called them about their application, they forget that this job is what is going to help define and shape their careers. I was exactly like this when I interviewed for my first head coaching position. I failed to ask all the right questions that a coaching candidate needs to ask. There are certain items you will need in order to be successful, DO NOT take any of these for granted, just because YOU think they're important.
There are numerous sites you can go to about interviewing for coaching jobs. One of the best I've seen is Coach Fore's website and consulting service. He does a good job breaking down interview questions, as well as coaching the coach on what questions they should be asking during the interview process. Remember, it's a lot like buying a car. The people interviewing you, in my experience, rarely want to be there. They look at having to look for a football coach as a necessary evil of their job, and many just want to get it over with. I find that these types, generally aren't worth working for. The ones that ask you what you think they need to build a successful program, or maintain a successful program are the ones that pique my interest. Folks that are goal-oriented, and are always striving to get better are the ones I like to be around. The reason is, these people are generally constant thinkers (much like myself). Nothing is ever good enough, but not to the point that they demean the current system or way things are being done. These people are just generally always trying to build a better mousetrap.
You really need to know where your boss is coming from and what their perception of the football program needs to be. Many will give the generic answer of "successful", "winning tradition" etc. Few ever delve into what they really are thinking. You need to know how this potential superior will handle situations in which he or she should have your back. How are these folks going to handle an altercation with a player or parent? What about an altercation with a coach that may need to be reprimanded or, even worse, removed? These answers are tough to find, but you would be surprised what talking to current and former teachers and coaches will lend itself to yielding in terms of valuable information. All-in-all this is just you doing your homework on a potential job. I think of it as no different than me reading magazines, and the Internet to determine, from reviews, what's the best cell phone, or automobile to buy. Don't approach it any different than you would any other large commitment. Take your time and make sound decisions based on your research. You'll be happy in the end that you did.
Keep Good Records
I don't mean wins and losses either here guys, what I'm referring to is keeping good notes and documentation that may aid you in the future. I have just about every scouting report I've ever prepared still at my fingertips. I have kept just about every scheme I've ever run in a file somewhere. You never know when that one small tidbit will help you in the future.
I generally store this information by year and then by team. One thing I add, if I know it, is the name of the OC, DC, or head coach I'm facing. These guys move around, so you never know where you may come back across them in your coaching journey. Most guys philosophy's don't change, so you'll have a leg up on getting prepared for them when you come across these guys later.
Don't Take Things Too Seriously
Those that know me, just spit out their coffee! Yeah, I know, I'm the grinder, the guy that the losses take me two to three days to get over, you know, the guy who takes this game way too serious. I've gotten better in my older age, but I still have to deal with this. One thing I remember a coach once told me, is that "Nobody will care as much as you do". Man that hit home. I was mired in a losing situation and could not figure out why it felt like I was digging a hole, only to have 10 different people throwing dirt back in. Well, my friends, nobody was caring as much as I did, because it wasn't their ass on the line every Friday night!
You've got to realize at the end of the day, it's still just a game. Sure, people lose their jobs because of it, but that's just life. There are people losing their jobs elsewhere that can't get new ones as quickly as us coaches can sometimes. There are going to be moments when you simply have to sit back, and realize this stuff is not the end of the world. One thing I constantly had to tell myself is "The sun will come up tomorrow". I still have to do that, some, to this day. If you are as passionate as I am about your craft, you will too. Take it in stride, readjust, and continue forward with your goals, just realize they are YOURS. Not everyone else will share your passion. Learn that early on, and it'll help you deal with the folks that surround you. It'll help you understand where these people are coming from, which, in turn, will help you do what the good ones do, and that's to get them to be as passionate as you.
I could go on for days about advice for young coaches. The ones I've listed here are items that are important to me. They are pieces of information I would've like to have had when I first started coaching. Experience is the greatest teacher, but there's nothing wrong with being able to read about other's experiences to help you out. I hope this mailbag post was a good help to all the new and aspiring coaches out there!