The Decline in Youth Football Participation

2019-10-10 Youth Participation in Tackle FootballFootball participation numbers are dropping at an alarming rate nationwide.  In Vermont, we have had two traditional state powers, teams who have won multiple state championships in the last 10 years, have had to forfeit games due to low participation.

But why?  Are more kids specializing in one sport?  Is the 3-sport athlete a thing of the past?  Or have Hollywood movies and biased national narratives caused parents to fear head injuries and prohibit participation in youth programs?

Here are some facts:

The Sports Neuropsychology Society states “At this time, there is no research that causally links youth contact sport participation with a risk for CTE”.

A consensus statement from the 2016 Consensus Conference on Concussion in Sport states, “A cause-and-effect relationship has not yet been demonstrated between CTE and sport-related concussion or exposure to contact sports.”

In an opinion-editorial in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, more than two dozen medical experts publicly asserted, “The scientific evidence linking youth casual sports play to brain injury, brain injury to CTE, and CTE to dementia is not strong…To be clear, CTE pathology could be present in a normal person.”

While I understand the inherent risk of injury involved in participation in contact sports like football, I truly believe that the benefits far outweigh the risks.  I am not only a football coach but a father of three sons who all played football. Parents make risk-based decisions about their children daily, and God forbid a parent should endure the pain of a poor decision resulting in a child’s injury, but the risks of injury or death in a motor vehicle accident, a fall, or from drowning far exceed other categories.1

Youth Sports (particularly team sports) teach teamwork, interdependence, character, and inoculate young athletes against concepts like fear and loss they are likely to encounter later in life. Building a Football Development Model, like we discussed in last week’s blog, may help communities bolster football participation by creating an entree point centering on fun and athleticism. Programs like these are taught in a smart progression, are designed to develop the whole person, while focusing on fundamentals but reducing contact.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at richalercio@gmail.com and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time!

Flag Football

2019-10-03 StJ Flag Program

A follow up to a blog post in the Spring when we announced that our 2018 Gatorade Player of the Year, Jake Cady, elected to create a 3rd & 4th grade Flag Football Program with the $1,000 donation Gatorade provided in his name.  Our town already has a very strong tackle program for grades 5-8, but we were looking for a non-contact entry point to football for the younger grades.

We created our Flag program following USA Football’s Development Model, instilling solid fundamentals, developing better players, providing multiple entry points, and game options creating developmentally appropriate skill instruction.

Jake’s generous donation allowed us to purchase all of the equipment needed to start the program.  The next step was to see if we had interested players.  We offered the program through our recreation department and had 36 kids sign up.  Now we had to find a field and coaches.

When we brought the idea to the Palmieri Family, who run our youth tackle program, head coach Tony Palmieri said that they were already planning on giving his players and coaches off on Wednesdays so his field and possibly his coaches could be available.  In the spirit of volunteerism and giving back to the game, all of his coaches decided not to take off Wednesday, but rather spend that night developing the future players in our community.  As an added bonus their players followed suit by also coming in on their night off to demonstrate the drills and skills to the next generation.

Now, every Wednesday in the Fall, 36 3rd & 4th graders are being taught the game in a fun and engaging way while focusing on players’ developmental needs consistent with their individual stages of growth and development.  All under the supervision of the coaches who will lead them through the next four years of development before sending them to us at the Academy.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at richalercio@gmail.com and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time!

Situation + Reaction = Outcome.

2019-09-26 Situation Reaction Outcome

Those words are written on the top right-hand corner of the whiteboard in my office.  I read them every day as a reminder that how we react to situations determine the outcome.  Never have I heard of anyone implementing those words so perfectly as I just did in a phone conversation with one of my closest friends.  One of those “brothers” who came out of that small corner of the freshman football locker room at Toms River High School North 40 years ago. One of the teammates and lifelong friends I referenced in a blog just a few weeks back, had a situation that he turned into a terrific outcome.

Situation:  After 25 very successful years with his company, a company with over 22,000 employees worldwide, he had risen to the position of Regional Vice President.  In the past fiscal year, he was the company’s third-ranked Regional Vice President in the world.  During the week marking the anniversary of his 25 years with the company, he was called in by the President and Human Resources Director and told that the company was eliminating his position.

Reaction:  Instead of being angry, resentful or bitter, he drew on his football and life experiences to craft the perfect response.  As a high school football coach for decades, he has taught his players to overcome adversity, difficulty, and tragedy in their lives.  Now it was his turn.  He informed the President and HR Director that he had been blessed to work for the company for 25 years.  That he was grateful for all he had learned during his tenure. Then… he took it to another level.   He offered to pay back the company by volunteering to stay on for one year at no pay, only requesting they cover his business expenses, so that he can serve his regional sales team and customers during the transition.

Outcome:  After wiping away tears, the HR Director offers him to stay on the remainder of the year at full pay and a re-positioning anywhere in the company in 2020.

In Victor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning,” the author, a holocaust survivor who endured three grueling years in Nazi concentration camps, states “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

The adversity players endure in a high school athletic career most certainly pales in comparison to a holocaust survivor, and often times pales in comparison to the challenges and struggles we endure decades after hanging up our helmets and cleats. But the lessons we hope to have taken away from our experiences (as displayed by my friend), and in turn those we try to convey to our players today; are lessons of dignity, respect, grace, and the ability to choose with character and integrity in the space between stimulus and response…

As I have told players for years, “the hand that gives gathers.”

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at richalercio@gmail.com and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time!

National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

There are two things that I have learned about the topic of suicide: No one is comfortable talking about it, and someone in your life who you least suspect is considering it as an option.2019-09-19 National Suicide Prevention Month Families, schools, communities have conducted far too many candlelight vigils, remembrances, and shed far too many tears in response to a national epidemic. Use this month shed light on this highly taboo and stigmatized topic.

Prior to the start of the football season, I, like every high school football coach, took the following certification courses on https://nfhslearn.com/courses: Equipment Fitting, Blocking, Tackling, Heat Illness Prevention, Sudden Cardiac Arrest, and Concussions. While all of those are critically important to the safe playing of our sport and crucial for their successful battles on the field, nothing is required to help coaches deal with the battles so many of our student-athletes experience off the field.

After completing the required courses, I decided to take an additional course on Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. It has helped me better understand the warning signs of anxiety and depression as well as the strategies to help overcome them. Some alarming statistics: Half of high school students report being “very stressed.” 1 in 5 students has an anxiety disorder and experience depression. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for ages 15-20, and more than 650,000 people in America (more than the population of the state of Vermont) are treated in Emergency Rooms every year following a suicide attempt.

If you work with students, you need to arm yourself with all the artillery you can muster to help them with their most difficult battles. There is most likely an event happening somewhere in your community. Get involved. Get educated. It could save a life.

On Saturday, September 21, RecFit (the fitness center owned and operated by St Johnsbury Academy) and Northeast Kingdom Human Services are working together to raise funds and awareness for Suicide Prevention with their Step Up for Suicide event. (Click the link for more info)

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at richalercio@gmail.com and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time!

Battling Back

2019-04-25 compass

This past weekend we returned to the field where our season ended last year in the state semi-finals, competing against the team that stopped us from repeating as Vermont Division I state champions.

Despite a great week of practice following our home-opening week 1 win, we found ourselves going into the locker room at halftime down by 14 points… a circumstance few veteran players and no rookies had ever encountered.

After more than 30 years of coaching, and 40 years of experience (counting playing the game), I knew what we had to do, and knew our young men were capable.

I also knew THEY needed to know/believe they were capable more than I did. While our staff was confident in the quality of our adjustments, the game hinged on our team’s ability to execute; building both momentum and confidence.

And execute they did…

Though down by two touchdowns late in the game, our players did not quit. We tied the game in the 4th quarter only to fumble and lose the ball inside our own 20 on our next possession… But despite what appeared to be a reverse in momentum and return to the adversity of the first half, our defense held them to a field goal.  On our next possession, our offense marched 80 yards down the field for the game-winning score with little time left on the clock.

That type of win will serve our players well as we navigate the remainder of a challenging schedule; but more importantly, lessons like this pour one more drop into the reservoir of experience they can draw upon when facing adversity later in their lives. Athletics in general, and team sports in particular help inoculate us from setbacks, help us confront our fears, and builds self-confidence in circumstances that might otherwise erode our belief in who we are and what we are capable of.

Shepherding our student-athletes through these experiences is one of the greatest privileges (and most important responsibilities) we as coaches strive to achieve. As we build teams, cultivate culture, and develop student-athletes’ character, we do so with an eye for their future. They will undoubtedly encounter adversity, difficulty, and tragedy over the course of their lives and if an experience like the Hilltoppers battling back last week furthers that goal even a little, it will all have been well worth the effort.

One final note as I write this week’s blog, a close friend, former football player/coach and decorated American Veteran is drawing on his football and life experiences to battle back from a heart attack, surgeries, and a week of intensive care…  Tough times don’t last but tough people do. Please say a prayer for his recovery as he applies the lessons he’s learned and battles back yet again.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at richalercio@gmail.com and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time!

Selfless

When asked by our local sports reporter to provide one word to describe each of our players selected to the 2018 Maple Shrine Sugar Bowl, I used the word “Selfless” to describe my son Shane.  While the word “Dynamic” would have suited him well for his athletic ability on the field, his greatest value to our team was his Selfless-ness.  He later shared with me he was somewhat disappointed in my choice of adjectives but changed his mind on his first day of Training Camp at the University of New England.  During a slide presentation to players and parents, Head Football Coach Mike Lichten, listed the characteristics they most desire in a Nor’easter football player.  There atop the list was the word “Selfless.”

My favorite definition of the word is as follows:  having little or no concern for oneself, especially regarding fame, position, etc.  Perhaps no position in football, or athletics for that matter, better exemplifies selflessness like the offensive line.  The sole purpose of their job is to make others successful and all they concern themselves with is doing their job.  Their only rewards are the team’s success and the brotherhood they develop working together in anonymity.

2019-09-05 StJ-OLine

This season is a rare treat for me as an offensive line coach.  Never in my 30+ years coaching offensive line, have I ever had the pleasure of coaching five returning starters.  As we have noted throughout the summer’s posts regarding the evolution of teambuilding, we’ve been striving to cultivate interdependence and the understanding that together, we will always be more powerful than any of us could be alone. These gentlemen embrace their interdependence, recognize their collective strength, and pledge their very best to each other and their teammates. Their ability to work together, speak in a language only they understand, and have each other’s backs will propel others to achieve levels of success and local fame while they remain loyal, dependable, and most of all; selfless.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at richalercio@gmail.com and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time!

Little Eyes Upon You

When I saw this photo of my youngest son, Trey, and Hugh, the boy who is responsible2019-08-29 Little Eyes Upon You for our kicking tees on gameday pictured on the front cover of our sports page, I thought of a poem that the photo so perfectly represents.  It is entitled Little Eyes Upon You.

 As we enter the first week of the season, I encourage all coaches to share this poem with all their players as a reminder of what it is to be a hero in the eyes of a child:

There are little eyes upon you and they’re watching night and day.
There are little ears that quickly take in every word you say.

There are little hands all eager to do anything you do.
And a little boy who’s dreaming of the day he’ll be like you.

You are setting an example every day in all you do.
For the little boy who’s waiting to grow up to be just like you.

Leadership is a privilege, and sometimes a title like Coach, Captain, Principal, or Manager, or Chief Executive Officer serves as a reminder of the responsibilities of leadership. In reality, we are all afforded opportunities to lead by example every day.

There are little eyes upon you. Sometimes children, sometimes peers, sometimes employees, or faculty, or members of the community watching to see in a moment of choice…Whether or not you’ll choose integrity.

Be the example every day in all you do.
For the little boy, (or girl, or staff, or faculty, or family member…) who’s waiting to grow up to be just like you.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at richalercio@gmail.com and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time!