As athletics have grown in general the level of competition in high school football has risen dramatically. Better athletes, stricter rules, higher scores, larger crowds, increased college scholarships and increased complexity in schemes are all bi-products of the growth. However, this increased competitiveness has also lead to higher stakes and in some cases a lack of perspective from coaches.
Most coaches enjoy coaching and working with kids, helping them wherever they might go, doing everything they can to help their team reach lofty goals. They understand that football is a medium through which we can learn other lessons like perseverance, teamwork, and character. It's a way to teach young men the value of hard work and to possibly open doors to future opportunities. A lot of coaches aren't even just looking out for their own kids but for all the kids. Coaches are here to help kids reach goals, and one coach has a connection that can help a kid from an opponent often the coach will agree to help. I encountered that this past year season on one particular example; one coach offered to call a few college coaches on behalf of a receiver from the opposing team. He was genuinely wanting to help an opponent and help all kids reach their goals.
This type of behavior accounts for a large percentage of high school coaches - coaching for the right reasons, helping kids become good football players and even better people, giving help wherever they can. Unfortunately, there is a leftover percentage of coaches who don't always see things that way. They coach for ego, so they can feel like Vince Lombardi amongst their town. They consistently yell at the kids for making mistakes instead of coaching them how to do it better. Their own bravado and pride becomes more important than the kids and any shot to those traits becomes personal.
I've seen it too much over the last 5 years or so; a coach has an opportunity to help a kid, but because the coach felt slighted in some way he turned it down. He only looks out for his favorite players, doesn't uphold his word, and carries himself with less class than we would hope for. It's unfortunate that two kids at different high schools could have drastically different experiences based on who their coaches are. One kid could have wildly positive experience and learn life values, the other could feel consistently down-trodden and beaten. One could be well coached, prepared for every game, and develop confidence. The other could end up working on fundamentals on his own, struggle through college camps, practices and games as he falls through the cracks, and develop insecurity.
With that in mind, my hope is that the percentage high school coaches that have forgotten their role can begin to remember what it is they are there for. Help the kids, all the kids, not just the ones you like or who suck up to you. Carry yourself with class at all times, teach positive values and develop good young men, not just football players. Keep football in perspective with grades and personal character, and be unwilling to sacrifice a child's future values to earn a quick win right now. Push the kids to get better and give them the best opportunity to succeed on and off the field. Do your best for every kid, both on your team, on a rivals team, and elsewhere. These are, after all, kids, who need guidance and leadership, role models and life lessons. Everything you do becomes a learned behavior for those you lead.
Here's to hoping every kid will benefit from their coach, and every coach learns to work only for good.
Entitlement in Athletics
Entitlement is a term thrown around often today, generally to describe modern youth. In my experience, there are a large number of kids who have a sense of entitlement, thinking they deserve credit simply for being around. In sport, many kids think they deserve a starting spot, regardless of the work they put in. And indeed, many kids who do put in work end up without starting jobs and feel slighted despite the fact that someone outperformed them. Sport is a competitive medium, and not every athlete handles it well. Even worse, though, are the parents.
One of the toughest things any coach has to do is a tell a kid he or she isn't going to play, to say that they lost their job to someone else. When a coach is forced to do that, a lot of parents' reaction is to blame the coach, say that somehow the player was slighted, that the coach is biased, to blame politics (despite the fact that the coach probably labored over the decision and hated having to tell the kid they weren't going to play). This mindset trickles down to the players themselves, and we create a standard in which kids blame someone else for their shortcomings and challenges. Instead of working hard to fix the situation, to try to earn that job, or pushing hard to get better, the kids get bitter, and the parents get nasty. This is the first manifestation of entitlement in sports, blaming someone else for the fact that a child didn't get a starting spot. This diffusion of responsibility also stems from a lack of perspective; not starting for your team doesn't change the fact that you can help your team, whether that's at practice, in supporting your team during the game, in being ready to play if someone else gets injured or needs to rest, or in teaching your teammates the plays. Not starting isn't a failure, but not being a good teammate is. Not starting isn't a failure, but not giving your best is. Not everyone can be a star, but everyone can be a good teammate and give their best. Parents need to be reminded that humility and backbone are important traits to instill in today's youth. The belief that we aren't owed a starting job, and the perseverance to continue working hard when we don't get one needs to replace the misguided traits of entitlement and "swagger" (maybe my least favorite word).
The second manifestation of entitlement is laziness. Many athletes, talented or not, think they get a job for showing up so they don't put in the work. This works for the extremely talented player to an extent - he or she doesn't have to put in hours in the weight room, in the film room, or in the classroom to be the best player on the field. This might hold true through middle school for some, through high school for a few, through college for even fewer. And, it's difficult to convince the best player that they need to work harder. In this case, entitlement again leads to a lack of perspective - they are comparing themselves to their peers instead of their own potential.
In the case of the athlete who is entitled, therefore lazy, and lacks talent, there is generally a rude awakening when they don't start. They haven't put in the work, they don't have the ability to get by without working, and end up riding the bench and giving up on trying all together, sometimes even quitting. Sometimes they were brought up in such a way that they didn't feel they needed to work, that they were constantly told they were the best even though they weren't. In other cases they just don't care enough to put in extra time. In both cases, they don't yet have the values of humility and backbone, and are only losing whatever potential they do have to entitlement.
So what is it that we as coaches and parents can do? We have to reinforce consistent work ethic and focus towards a goal. We have to remind players that they aren't owed anything besides a fair shot, and that to make the most of that shot they need to work hard. We need to push every player to get better and to reach their potential, regardless of their ability relative to the competition. We must tell them that effort doesn't take talent, anyone and everyone needs to give their best effort. We need to crush entitlement out of every kids' persona, and replace it with humility, backbone, and a team-first attitude. It will serve them well in sports and more importantly in life.
We've written before on the importance of a full off-season program, utilizing the time away from the field to improve physically. But, when you reach the waning months of the off-season, what is it that you need to be doing? Let's start by examining what should already have been done:
1) You should have gotten healthy. A bit of time off right after the season is a good start; doing proper developmental exercises or rehab for any in-season injuries continues that direction. If you had surgery, you are probably starting to round back into health right about now.
2) You should have done your major strength and hypertrophy workout phases. If you're just trying now to get big and strong for football season, it's too late. Not that you shouldn't try (better late than never) but that needed to take place back in January and February. If you're just starting to pick up a weight, you won't see much significant progress, if any, in terms of gaining bulk before the season starts.
3) Particularly in quarterbacks, you should have improved your mechanics and fundamentals. It takes thousands of reps to truly learn and re-learn skills. If there were fundamentals you needed to improve from last season, whether for reasons of health or performance, it should have already been done. Again, better late than never, but at this point it will be difficult to get the reps you need to truly change a motor program.
With that in mind, here's what you should be doing now to get ready for the start of football season:
1) You should be in a speed, power endurance and conditioning heavy workout program. This doesn't mean that there should be no strength work, it just means the volume of strength exercises should be a bit lower than usual to allow for extra speed, power endurance, and conditioning. Speed work should include drills done at full speed with enough rest to allow full speed and effort on the next rep as well. Power endurance should include exercises with continuous rest, like doing three straight broad jumps or most medicine ball work. Conditioning should include 3 days or so of quick bursts and relevant intervals, like a 30 yard sprint, followed by about 20 seconds rest before the next sprint. Do NOT do long distance running thinking it will get you in shape for football - long distance trains your body to run slowly for a long time; in football, we run quickly for short times.
2) You should be perfecting your skills, not changing them (assuming you did improve them earlier in the off-season). Like we mentioned before, it takes a lot of quality reps to truly learn to do something right. If you've now learned to do something right, then it's time to get reps. However, if you're still doing something wrong, for instance a quarterback whose elbow drops to low on the throw, you still have to work on getting it right; getting tons of reps doing things wrong leads to poor motor programs and potential injuries.
3) You should be burying your head in your playbook and film. Knowledge is power; the more natural and instinctual your understanding of the game becomes, the quicker you can make decisions and the more conviction you can play with. You can't always control how big or fast you are relative to your opponents, but you can always control your football IQ. Get to studying.
4) You should be with your teammates. Football is the ultimate team sport. Hopefully during the off-season you've been able to spend time in the weight room or elsewhere with most of them, but as the season gets closer it's more likely that more of them are going to be around and in football mediums. Developing both personal and football chemistry with teammates is important. Study film and the plays together, go throw the football around, have fun, and be excited that the season is right around the corner.
Hard work, directed to the right actions, is a surefire formula for improvement and eventually success. Keep putting in the work and make 2015 a great year.
The Evolution of Football
Football, a sport so rooted in tradition, run by coaches from a by-gone era, characterized in cinemas by ego and arrogance, is perhaps the fastest evolving medium in sports. Each and every year, new and innovative ways pop up across the country. You only need to look as far as last night's National Championship Game between Oregon and Ohio State to see how quickly the game changes. Adapt, or die.
Oregon has been known to be on the forefront of offensive innovation for the past decade or so. Many onlookers and pundits believe the Oregon "system" is truly unique, holding secrets unknown to the rest of the coaching world. The truth is, their system is really a living, breathing, adapting organism. In watching last night, I was amazed at how different the offense was from the one Chip Kelly left two years ago. Yes, the components of speed and tempo remain. So does the read option, screen and bubble actions, playaction, and so much more. However, the intricacies of each play have adapted to stay one step ahead of the curve. They don't run the read option the way they did two years ago; they don't read the same defender they did last year; they don't set up the playactions from the same formations. Mark Helfrich has continued to grow the offense to make sure success doesn't lead to complacency.
Ohio State and Urban Meyer are good example of the same. When Urban Meyer last won the National Championship with Florida and Tim Tebow, he ran many pinch and pull concepts, using Tim Tebow as a multi-faceted weapon. His offense since then has changed immensely. Yes, they still use the wide receiver sweeps and screens the way they did with Percy Harvin, yes they pinch and pull, but they have adapted those schemes to isolate different players, create better angles, and utilize different personnel to their strengths. While the tenants and beliefs remain the same, it is clear to those breaking down the film that how Urban Meyer imposed those beliefs on opponents has changed.
The point here is that in order to stay relevant in football, we must be willing to study and change. This goes for both players and coaches. A player watching Oregon today, thinking he understands their offense, will face them three years from now and end up three years out of date if he hasn't been studying film. A coach who thinks all the same schemes from years ago will serve the same purpose today and in the future might be rudely awakened when defenses know how to stop them now. Even the best, at the highest level, know that their knowledge today isn't better than their opponents tomorrow. Adapt and progress, or fall behind.
This is true in most fields - the medical field, the sport performance field, the nutrition field, and yes, the football field. To be the best, you must enjoy the process of studying, thinking objectively, and changing with the times.
Player File: Marcus Mariota
I get lot of football dads that like to ask me about certain college or NFL quarterbacks, and with the national championship coming up Marcus Mariota is a hot topic. I had a dad ask me if I thought Mariota could make it in the NFL, and what makes him such a great football player. There is so much young quarterbacks can learn from the model Mariota sets that I thought it would be worth a blog post.
Most obviously, Marcus has some serious physical ability. His speed and acceleration is electric. When he runs read option, one of Oregon's go-to schemes, he carries a bigger threat with the ball in his hands than his runningbacks do. As far as how this translates to the NFL, it's a nice luxury more than a necessity, but it certainly adds a dimension that many coaches are looking for. He needs to make sure it's a skill that's used in moderation and to help him complement his passing ability.
His arm talent is very good, too - he has the ability to make every throw, be consistently accurate down the field, and make the wide throws outside the numbers. In addition to that, his reads defenses very well. He doesn't have to throw into too many tight windows because he reads coverages well and finds the open man. Many draft pundits are holding his open receivers against him instead of saying he reads the field well.
Most importantly for this post, though, he has a humble confidence that is so hard to find in today's game. He deflects credit, builds up his teammates, always looks for what he can do better, and accepts blame even when it's not his to take. This contrasts strongly to the two previous Heisman winners, Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston. We seem to be in a day of age where most stars mistake arrogance for confidence. They feel the need to tell everyone how good they are, don't deal with failure very well, and have a sense of entitlement to preferential treatment and fun. Arrogance and overconfidence create a player who becomes complacent, somewhat evidenced by Johnny Manziel's admission that he needs to work harder than he did his rookie season with the Browns. Marcus Mariota is a great example of what confidence really is. He doesn't need to tell everyone how great he is. He doesn't run up to cameras and pose for the front page. He doesn't draw extra attention to himself. That's what much of today's youth defines confidence as - bravado and "swag." Marcus Mariota doesn't do those things, but does anyone doubt that he believes in his abilities? He has confidence because he has put in the work, is thorough in his preparation, and is ready to perform. He just isn't arrogant enough to tell everyone about it.
We currently have a lack of good role models in sports, but Mariota is a much brighter beacon of hope for that cause. His skills are tremendous, but his character is even greater. I know there isn't a player I've rooted for harder in recent memory. If I were picking first overall, I'd have zero reservations about picking Mariota as the face of my franchise.
Thoughts from 2014
As football continues to prosper and grow, looking back at great year leaves me with a few thoughts to share.
1 - Here's to hoping we're beginning to see the return of the humble star. This past year saw Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston, with no shortage of bravado and confidence, have considerable on field college success. However, their off field issues continue to overshadow their accomplishments. In Manziel's case, the off field issues are now hurting his NFL chances. Contract those two with the Heisman candidates from this year, Marcus Mariota, Melvin Gordon, and Amari Cooper. Those young men carried all the confidence that Manziel and Winston did, but without the arrogance and sense of entitlement. Mariota, quietly passing credit to others, Gordon doing the same, Amari Cooper telling subdued stories of how his mother taught him values; they are much better role models. Hopefully, everyone is taking notice of the amount of respect those young men commanded from their team and community without ever asking for it. Arrogance and confidence are divided by a fine line, one that is found more easily when someone is humble. Hopefully this is a model for future classes.
2 - The game continues to adapt at an incredible rate. The play concepts, carry such a strange combination of similarity and diversity. Coaches are continually reinventing existing concepts to make them new and different, finding success in being one step ahead of the opponent. From the zone read, to tried and true power running, to triple option screens, to drop back passing, the game finds more diversity than ever all rooted in the same concepts. This goes on down to the high school level too. Learning to game is becoming increasingly more important, as players will be expected to not only know the basic concepts, but be able to manipulate them in their minds to utilize all different variations of them. The mental knowledge accompanying the physical demands is growing, making football a truly unique endeavor.
3 - Football has become a business at all levels. We've always know that the NFL was a business. More recently, people had begun to say the same about the college level. Now, even the high school level is a business. With recruiting aids, combines, camps, private coaches, etc, high school football is a big money business too. There is a lot riding on every game - reporters make their living covering only high school sports. Some of this is for the better, as some of it helps the kids get better, programs grow, athletes get scholarships and an education, and the community enjoy a great team effort. Some of it is for the worse, as folks are looking to make a quick buck off of some kids playing football. I hope we don't lose sight of the fact that we should be involved in this game because we love it, and keep football in perspective.
4 - Parents are crazy. And this isn't directed at any one set of parents, either. Not just football parents. All parents want so badly to see their child succeed, on and off the field. Sometimes, it's caused a lack of perspective. I saw a great poster on a facebook picture, reminding parents that their kids ability to hit a baseball doesn't define their parenting skills, but how well their kid takes coaching, treats others with respect, and is willing to work hard, does define their parenting. Here's to hoping more parents realize that whether or not their kid can hit home runs, play college ball, run for touchdowns, or even start for their team doesn't matter. What matters are the values that their kids learn: work hard, play fair, show respect and pursue greatness.
2014 was a great year all around - here's to a great 2015, where we all get better and achieve whatever it is we set ourselves to achieving.
In this blog post, I want to look at the importance of a player's surroundings as relates to their success. Too often, we look at a player's success or failure as a final statement on their capabilities. However, any coach worth his salt will tell you that a player being win the right system and right teammates can succeed, and even good players who lack that situation can fail. As Winston Churchill enlightened us, "Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts."
Let's start with Mark Sanchez. I was never Sanchez's biggest fan, all the way back to when he was drafted by the Jets who traded up to get him. However, how quickly we have all forgotten that he was a part of back-to-back AFC Championship game visits, and in many of those games or games leading up to, he wasn't just a "system" quarterback. He made game winning plays, and in the process became the Jets record holder for post-season touchdowns and is 2nd in post-season passing yards. He was in the right situation; solid defense, good defense, experienced receivers.
Let's point out that he's not the first to benefit from that combination. When Ben Roethlisberger stepped into the starting role, he had the same basic template - a good defense, a good running game, and experienced receivers. In Sanchez's situation, when he lost those assets he ended up with a new offensive coordinator and less than ideal weapons. The media claimed he had regressed. I would put it more on the system and situation. I don't think he got worse.
The same goes for Kurt Warner. He was a star in St. Louis, then moved on to the New York Giants, where he faltered. He went from a good situation to a bad one. Then, his career revived when he went to Arizona and made another trip to a Super Bowl. The situation makes all the difference. There are countless high draft picks who failed for reasons other than their own personal vices (see Jamarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf). Guys like David Carr and Joey Harrington are players who by all indications had great work ethic, leadership qualities, arm talent, toughness, etc. However, a bad situation led to little success, and eventually backup duties.
Let's apply the same tenant to high school quarterbacks: does situation play a large role in success? The answer would have to be a resounding yes. Quarterbacks who end up playing for bad teams with smaller team rosters have less guys to help them be successful and football is, in the end, a team sport. But, beyond the obvious lack of surrounding talent issue, there is also a more prevalent system issue. In the NFL, offenses require largely the same skill set, and while there is some diversity, it doesn't nearly compare to that which we see in high school offenses. From the Wing-T, to the spread option, to a pro-style, to triple option, to traditional, to spread passing games, high schools have a vast diversity in what they ask a quarterback to do. How does this affect a high school quarterback?
My first concern would be the skill set they learn. A quarterback who asked to learn an offense that doesn't teach the requisite skill set for the next level of play may see his future options severely depleted. If a quarterback never learns basic throwing mechanics, footwork, and passing concepts because his team runs exclusively an option offense, what are his chances to learn what he needs to be successful long term?
My second concern would be recruiting. College coaches look primarily at tape for their evaluations of high school prospects, and if that tape doesn't show the skills they need for their offense, they aren't going to waste their time on that prospect. And, as combines and camps become a bigger part of recruiting and gaining national recognition, lacking the skill set most of the combines try to showcase will become even more evident. A lack of throwing mechanics and accuracy, rough footwork, and patchy fundamentals will be exposed.
My third and most important concern would be for the quarterback's experience. How much fun would it be for a player to play his entire career wondering what he could be while trapped running an offense that doesn't suit him? It would be terrible to have to look back on what could have been without a true answer.
So, what can we do about these issues? Both coaches and players have to consider the situation. High school football coaches, notoriously some of the most stubborn on the planet (myself included), need to do a good job of adapting their offense to the skill set of the players they have, most notably the quarterback. And players need to look at their opportunities and see which one puts them in the best situation to reach their goals, whether that be having a positive high school experience or getting prepared to play at the next level. The truth is, there are always additional options and opportunities if you look. Instead of walking into a program, thinking it's all you have and trying to make the best of it, search out other opportunities which might give a better chance at success.
It is amazing the difference the right situation can make. Here's to hoping as many players as possible find a good one for them.
About this time every year, everyone begins buzzing about combine training, obviously due the NFL Combine's television coverage. The top collegiate players, looking to improve their draft stock, begin working out at facilities across the country to try and gain that small edge that they didn't have before. This trickles down to the high school level, as combines and select camps have grown into a powerful recruiting tool and all participants want to be at their best as they go through testing and position drills in front of scouts and selection committees.
It seems only natural that when something is on the line, people get focused. What has bothered me about the process is that athletes start training harder and more often leading up to a combine, and they train for the combine's specific events. First, if you truly want to be better at your craft, shouldn't you always be training hard? If you feel the need to pick up your training regimen leading up to a camp or combine, then how hard were training beforehand?
Second, when players begin training for a specific event at a combine, they lose sight of what the sport is really about. For example, take the NFL's Bench Press test, where players try to press 225lbs as many times as they can. Some players reach as high as 50 repetitions, which is truly a feat in and of itself, but how well does that translate to football? How often are we on our backs pushing objects off of ourselves 50 times? High repetitions on the Bench Press becomes strength endurance, not maximal strength. In football, we utilize maximal strength more than strength endurance.
The same principle is in place for most tests, like the 40 time, the most highly scrutinized test of them all. We change a linebacker's "stock" based on a fast or slow 40 time, but more often than not, linebackers are moving laterally, backpedaling, changing direction, flipping their hips, etc. All that time spent towards improving a 40 yard dash may help their draft stock, but work on change of direction and mutli-directional speed would have made them a better football player.
My end point is that while combines and camps are an integral part of our game, and a great scouting tool, don't lose sight of the game in favor of the combines. Work hard all year, not just in the weeks leading up to the event. And, train to become a better football player as opposed to just training to be better at a particular test. If your limiting factor happens to overlap with a test, then it's a happy coincidence. Train hard, train right, all year!
SPU's Alex Drayson writes the SPU Football Performance Blog.