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.
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.
Many young quarterbacks turn on the TV today to watch their favorite NFL players and try to emulate what it is they do. They focus on the furiously-quick pattering feet of Peyton Manning; they see the cannon arm of Matthew Stafford dropping in sidearm; they see Mike Vick launch the ball downfield with a flick of the wrist. In all this, sometimes we lose perspective. The guys on TV do some great things, but just because they can do it doesn't make them the model. Many quarterbacks succeed because of superior athleticism, not because of superior fundamentals. Let's identify who's worth copying, and who's not.
Poor Model: Matthew Stafford - The Lions quarterback has some of the best tools in the game, and perhaps the strongest arm of any NFL quarterback. However, his footwork and ability to go match his feet to his progressions is awful, which leads to very inconsistent performance, lots of turnovers, and poor accuracy. The throwing motion derives power from the ground (as does every athletic movement). When you're feet are out of position, the rest of the body has to compensate. While we do need to make throws under pressure from different foot positions and arm angles, these unique cases should be the exception, not the norm, and when the pocket is good, we should have good mechanics from the ground up. Failing in this area can decrease performance and potentially create a bad habit that leads to an injury. This is Matt Stafford's issue; his feet are often open and his stride doesn't work towards his target, forcing his lower body to over rotate, giving him open shoulders at the release point, which causes his arm to drop low and wide. This makes the ball float downfield and have a flatter trajectory, i.e. an inaccurate ball thrown straight to the safety.
Copy Instead: Andrew Luck - The heir apparent to Brady and Manning, Andrew Luck may have the best footwork in the NFL. His feet match his reads whenever possible, maintaining a throwing-ready base and setting him up to be able to stride properly to his target. This gives him consistency and a discipline to his progressions. He's accurate and on time with his throws. When the pocket does break down, and he's forced to make throws from unusual positions, he still somehow manages to get his arm into the right slot despite his misaligned feet, which speaks to Luck's incredible strength and athleticism. Copy Andrew Luck's feet and aim to be as physically capable as him.
Poor Model: Michael Vick - Ever since Mike Vick entered the league, an increasing number of young quarterbacks have been trying to play with the "wing and flick," as I call it. That is to mean that they wing their elbow above the ball, then release the ball with a bent arm and strong wrist flick. Not only is this inaccurate, it's also bad for the shoulder (any throwing mechanics expert will tell you that "wing" is a bad thing). Vick might be able to pull it off at a high level sometimes, but he has been prone to inconsistency and has never been thought of as a great passer of the ball despite his incredible arm strength. I am actually surprised that he has not needed to have shoulder surgery to this point.
Copy Instead: Aaron Rodgers - Perhaps the best throwing motion in the game, Aaron Rodgers does a great job throwing with minimal wing (having zero is very rare), proper extension through the power channel, and turning the wrist down and pronating. This allows the axis of the spiral to follow the path of the ball's natural trajectory, making downfield throws turn down properly (the nose of the football should point down towards the receiver when it begins it's descent). Aaron Rodgers is thought of as the most accurate downfield passer in the game; Michael Vick is known for having a loose cannon when the throws the ball downfield. That's the difference copying the right model makes.
It is true that all NFL quarterbacks do some things extremely well - they have made it to the highest level. What we must decipher is whether they play at that level because of their fundamentals, or in spite of their fundamentals. When we figure that out, we know who to copy, and who not to copy.
The rivalry of Ohio State and Michigan goes well beyond the sports fields – it extends into the classroom, and in this particular example, into leadership research. Both schools conducted study on what qualities comprise a leader. They both compiled huge, long lists of the behaviors a leader could show, and began to try to categorize those behaviors into categories. And, both schools narrowed it down to two categories, coined by Ohio State as “Personal Consideration” and “Initiating Structure.” These terms are now largely referred
to as Concern for People and Concern for Product, as seen on Blake and Mouton’s Leadership Grid. Essentially, these studies showed that leader behaviors can either be directed at developing relationships and showing concern for followers, or be directed towards reaching an end goal, to accomplishing the task. Michigan initially stipulated that those two behaviors were indirectly linked, meaning if a leader was good at one, they were bad at the other. They were wrong, and eventually adapted to see these items as separate, so that a leader could be good at one and not the other, be good at both, or be bad at both. That basic premise is what leads to Blake and Mouton’s Leadership Grid.
While this leadership theory does not relate itself perfectly to effective leadership, it starts taking a step in that direction. If a leader has both concern for the product and concern for the people it is considered the optimal leadership style. The leader who cares only for production and not for the individuals involved is considered a drill sergeant. The leader who cares only about the people, and not about the organization’s effectiveness is called a “country club” leader. Those who lack concern for both product and people is referred to as impoverished.
This does relate to football quite well – a coach like Bill Belichick would very much be considered a drill sergeant. A coach like Tony Dungy might be considered a bit more of a balanced leader. And, those coaches who only care about the players, and not about the outcome, and more well suited to younger levels of football, where the stakes aren’t quite as high and individual empathy is more important.
I would highly encourage anyone interested in leadership theory to look up Blake and Mouton’s Leadership Grid, and read through their questionnaire on determining concern for product and concern for people.
This entry marks the first of a few entries on leadership theories. The idea is to present a few different theories on the topic, and allow readers to take what pieces they like from each. No one theory is definitively right or wrong, or even comprehensive in nature, but they each allow some insight into what makes a good leader.
This entry is going to talk about trait theory, which is based on a very simple concept: leaders possess certain traits. This line of research and discussion gained momentum around WWII, as there was an interest in what made a good military officer or leader. Initially, traits were very straightforward; being tall, strong, attractive, having a deep voice and other similar items were considered beneficial for leadership. These traits certainly help cast a good first impression, however, it is quite obvious to see that they do not carry muster much beyond that without the good to back them up.
Trait theory has since that point developed into more of a personality inventory. Tests like the Myers-Briggs and NEO-PI identify the personality traits of an individual, which help indicate what roles the individual would be well suited for, including leadership. Many organizations use this for incoming employees, team building, role distribution, and other purposes, and with some level of success. It is a good tool. However, most leadership experts will tell you in isn’t necessarily a great test of leadership.
The next few entries will discuss some more leadership theories that will help better uncover the sort of leader an individual might be.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below or email me at adrayson@SportPerformanceU.com.
This blog article will about the role of the football coach. Before we get into the principles, I feel I should add a disclaimer that this is an opinionated entry – these are my own personal feelings, so please, take them as you see fit.
The first and most important role of the coach is role model. This is true for any level of football, from Pop Warner to the NFL. Coaches have a very profound and unique impact on their players, and by extension the community around them. This impact can be good or bad, depending on the values and principles he instills in his players. Before any of us are football players, or coaches, or fans, or businessmen, or anything else, we are people, and our greatest responsibility lies in treating other people properly. Football coaches have a visibility above that of most others within the community, and when that visibility is used to present a hardworking, disciplined, high character individual, the community benefits. Furthermore, a team full of hardworking, disciplined, high character individuals is likely to be a good team; winning will take care of itself when the individuals involved have the right mindset.
The second role is as a trusted teacher. It is a coach’s responsibility to pass down the correct information. When an athlete hears a coach’s instruction, those words become law. The coach must seek out the right information. A coach who teaches fundamentals incorrectly, schemes incorrectly, conditions his players incorrectly, is doing a disservice to his players. A coach must be objective and proactive in seeking out the best coaching methods. Don’t be stuck in the past, using methods of yesteryear, because your players are members of a different era, one with more available research, science, and empirical data to improve the level of coaching.
The third role of the coach is to help the team achieve success. This is ranked last for two reasons. First, I believe it is less important than showing character and coaching the players properly. A coach who wins, but in doing so promotes bad character, a lack of discipline, and other undesirable traits, is really doing more harm to his team than good. A coach who sacrifices fundamentals and proper scheming for a win is really not setting a good foundation for future success; he is likely to fail sooner or later, even if he won early on by taking shortcuts instead of teaching good football. The second reason achieving success is third is because if the first two things get taken care of, winning will come easily. That said, achieving success is most certainly part of the coach’s job, one of the three roles I would list under their job description.
So, what are the roles of a coach?
1) Be a role a model, a benefit to the community.
2) Teach players the right way to play the game.
3) Lead the team to success.
Those are three thing I would list, and in that order.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SPU's Alex Drayson writes the SPU Football Performance Blog.