One Huddle

American Football Coaches Association “One Huddle” Patch

The State of Vermont has announced it has moved to Step 3, which will allow high school athletes to compete inter-scholastically.  This weekend, schools all over Vermont will compete in high school athletics for the first time since March.  When players, coaches and officials take the field, all will be wearing masks.  But the football coaches at St Johnsbury Academy will be wearing something else as well: AFCA One Huddle patches.

For a fourth straight year, football coaching staffs all over the country will wear American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) patches on their opening weekend games to help raise the general public’s awareness of the association, its initiatives, and goals. This year’s patch states “One Huddle” which represents the unifying aspects of football in today’s social climate.  It doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are, your socio-economic background, or how you choose to identify yourself. Everyone in that huddle is there for one united purpose: to place the goals and good of the team above their own self interest. In the huddle we are all stronger together than any one of us could ever be alone.

The following is an excerpt from NFL All-Star, and legendary coach Bill Curry’s piece entitled “The Huddle” which he wrote following the September 11th terrorist attacks.  He shared it with the National Football Foundation at their annual awards dinner on December 11, 2001:

“The football huddle is a metaphor of our culture; imperfect like all metaphors… In that huddle are a bunch of folks who are black, brown, white, red, yellow, liberal, conservative, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu. We are slim, fat, short, tall, fast and slow… We are analytical people, and we are impulsive people. We have some of the finest men on Earth, and heaven knows, we’ve got a few rounders.”

In the huddle, we find far more in common with one another, we elevate and commit to the team’s goals, and our differences do not matter.  

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!

Traditions Return

Students are back in school, and players are back on the field.  Things may look a little different but our players have adapted well.  Our players report to a designated meeting area to wait for their time to go into the fieldhouse to change.  Tarps hung around court #3 of our fieldhouse create our makeshift locker room.  Players bring all their belongings to the field.  Weightlifting equipment is moved outside at the end of practice for our athletic performance training, and thoroughly wiped down when complete.

Some things haven’t changed.  We ended our first week of practice by lining up all of our first-year players then invited our returning players to pick a rookie they want to go up against in a best-of-three game of Rock-Paper-Scissors.  Losers had to carry the winners’ helmets and cleats back to the fieldhouse. While such an event may at first seem insignificant, it does two things: veterans and rookies interact face to face (appropriately distanced, of course), and each has equal opportunity to compete and win. New and old members of the team interact, establish rapport, and are reminded of both the importance of competition, equal opportunity, and interdependence amongst teammates. 

We also were able to give back to our community.  For the past five years, we have met as a team on a Sunday in September to join the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.  For health and safety reasons, this year’s walk was not a large in-person event.  Instead, we walked as a team along our cross-country trail to our stadium before practice wearing purple leis, the color of the Alzheimer’s Association. Such an event reminds us to be grateful for our blessings, to be mindful of the challenges others face, and remind us of the importance of pulling together as a team while helping others and giving back to our community. 

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!

Plugged In

Every season provides a new set of challenges: replacing starters, cultivating new leaders, forming, storming, and norming a new team.  This season presents never seen before challenges: no linemen in 7v7, no running game, no blocking and tackling, no locker room, no weight room and no opportunity to again compete for a state championship.  

The culture of our program is born in our weight room, thrives in our locker room and is driven by the pursuit of championships.  We use the complementary effects of these elements to reinforce character, culture, and commitment. Without those things, both players and coaches may have a perception this year is different, and therefore brings a different level of expectation…

The guiding principles and core values of our program will never change.  Adherence to the culture remains the expectation and the standard. Common vision, common purpose, common values… Together, we are so much more than any of us could be alone.   

In a recent conversation on this topic with a friend of over 40 years who now coaches football in Florida, he  shared an analogy with me “Commitment is key… A plug that is halfway in and halfway out of an outlet does not work.”  Every year we adopt a slogan or motto that we put on every practice schedule so that the players are reminded of it every day.  This year, despite the difference in circumstances, the Hilltoppers will be “Plugged In,” and committed.

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!

Butterfly Effect…

American Football in Finland has named former St Johnsbury Academy standouts Carlos Carrasco ’15 and Lamin Latikka “19 as back-to-back Defensive Players of the Week. 

It is always rewarding to see former players having success as they move on in all walks of life.  As coaches, we trust the lessons we impart on our student-athletes last a lifetime and that they share what they learned with others throughout their life.  The Cambridge dictionary defines the butterfly effect as a situation in which an action or change that does not seem important has a very large effect, especially in other places or around the world.

I like to think that the culture we have created and the lessons we have taught in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont are having an impact on the lives of people we will never meet almost 4,000 miles away by the examples set by our former players. 

One additional note this week: You can view my recent discussion with WCAX News regarding Vermont’s upcoming football season here: WCAX Sports

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!

Focus…

Focus on what you have, not on what you lost.

In Vermont, we still have an opportunity to play 2018-10-11 FocusFall sports, work with our athletes, and to motivate them to be the very best version of themselves on and off the playing fields.  This year, that will include managing distractions like COVID safeguards, playing 7v7 football, wearing a mask during practices and games, and tuning out the naysayers.

Each season brings a set of challenges we must overcome. As the saying goes, “If it was easy… Anyone could do it.” Although this year brings a couple new twists, and what we see on the field may look different, what we do as coaches remain the same.  We take a group of individuals, unite them, and develop them as a team.  We set goals and build focus in our players to overcome obstacles and achieve those goals.

An email below, from a mom who has two sons in our program, provides me with the motivation to embrace what we have, seek the good we find in both the game and each other, and reminds me not to fret over things we may have lost (things largely outside of our control anyway).

As an educator and parent, I understand the challenges and time this (7v7 Football) took. Sometimes the criticism overshadows the positive. My observation over the past couple years is that you and your team have cultivated a culture of brotherhood that at times like these surpasses the actual game.  At least for my own sons the opportunity to still be part of that in a non-traditional manner is a true blessing.”

Helmets or not… Seven players, not eleven…the list of changes could go on, but the essence of developing a shared vision, shared values, shared understanding of where we want to go, who we want to be, and how we want to judge ourselves remains the same. The 2020 Hilltoppers will take the field with a sense of confidence, interdependence, and shared belief that together, we can do far more than any one could alone, and God willing, we will all carry those feelings and lessons forward for decades.

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!

Things Are Different

With colleges across the country canceling 2020-08-13 Gov Scott quoteFall sports, I was both thrilled and relieved to hear Vermont Governor Phil Scott announce “We want to make it clear, there will be Fall sports.” It is evident the Governor, the Agency of Education, and the Vermont Principals Association understand how vital extracurricular activities are in the lives of so many students and families.  It is critical to their physical and mental health.  Cancelling cannot be an option.

When Governor Scott followed with, “but things will look much different”, what I had imagined seemed to become a reality.  We are not going to play “traditional” football.  It appears the option will be 7v7 football which will be played without offensive and defensive linemen as well as traditional protective equipment (e.g. helmets, shoulder pads, etc.)  As someone who has made a career out of coaching offensive line, it pains me to not coach the “Bigs”, to miss seeing them block for their running backs and protect their quarterback, to miss seeing five individuals form a brotherhood like no other, for the individuals to melt away, uniting to selflessly work as one.  Football will not be the same, but then again what is the same these days?

I wish we could play “traditional” football.  I wish our students could go back to school every day during the week.  I wish they could gather in the cafeteria to socialize.  I wish they could be closer than 6 feet apart.  I wish they did not have to wear a mask or have their temperature taken.  But things are different now.

  Things will continue to be different.  7v7 football is a temporary solution to a devastating situation, but a very workable one nonetheless.  I am thrilled to still be able to coach football.  I am thrilled our kids and teams across the state will be able to participate and compete.  I am thrilled they will have something to do after school to keep them fit and engaged.  I am thrilled my staff and I have an opportunity to lead, teach, and develop student-athletes to maximize their potential on and off the football field. And, during these challenging financial times, I am relieved our coaches will still receive their stipends. Cancelling cannot be an option. Now it’s up to us to make the most of the opportunity we’ve been given.

For more on Vermont’s 7v7 program check out the coverage from WCAX, Burlington here:  “High School Football This Fall; Is 7v7 The Answer?”

2020-08-13 Is HS Football the Answer

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!

2020 Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl

2020-08-06 Shriners team

The top football players from the state of Vermont gathered on Saturday, August 1 in Hanover NH, but it was not to play in the 67th Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl vs the all-stars from New Hampshire.  It was for a picnic.  Players, parents, coaches, and Shriners gathered to honor the best of the Green Mountain State.  Players were presented game jerseys with their names on the back, as well as jackets and t-shirts.  Coaches were given their gameday polo and t-shirts.  While the Shriners went above and beyond to make the players feel special, it will never replace what they missed.

Tom Haley, of the Rutland Herald, used Joni Mitchell’s lyrics in his article this week to remind us, “…You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” Players and coaches echoed those sentiments discussing their excitement, anticipation, and ultimately disappointment at the loss of what for many young athletes has been a long-standing goal.

As Phil Collins sings, “I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord… and I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life, Oh Lord!”  Vermont football players dream of someday playing in the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl. From the moment they hung up their cleats last winter, they’ve looked forward to one last chance to represent their teams,  the honor of wearing VERMONT across their chests, seeing parents and friends in the stands, and the excitement in the air moments before kickoff.  One last chance to celebrate all they’ve accomplished over the last four years, one last transformation to something bigger than self, and the magical experience of turning former opponents and rivals into teammates and brothers.

Despite the obvious disappointment, we took the time to reflect on all we have to be grateful for: To be thankful for teams and teammates who helped us earn selection to the Vermont team, the parents, coaches, and communities supporting these young men, and the Shriners who set such a great example of giving back to make others lives better.

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 sharehttp://www.olineskills.comwith your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time!

Photos from the team picnic hosted by the Shriners:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Would It Help?

Neither the Executive Director of the Vermont Principals Association, the Vermont Secretary of Education, nor the Governor of Vermont have called me to ask how I want to conduct the fall high school football season…

At some point in the coming weeks, they will make a decision about fall sports that is out of my control.  In the meantime, I will not worry about it.

I will continue to focus on those things I do control:

  • Continuing to get our players mentally and physically prepared to play through our Summer Organized Team Activities (OTAs)
  • Preparing practice & installation schedules for Mini Camp and the start of practices whenever they begin
  • Remaining flexible in implementing the ever-changing guidelines to keep our kids healthy, and hopeful high school sports and activities remain part of our students’ lives (even if they do not look the same as they have in the past)

In the 2015 movie, “Bridge of Spies,” Tom Hanks plays a lawyer counseling a Russian spy whose life is on the line while the two superpowers consider whether to conduct a prisoner exchange or have the spy executed. At the conclusion of a tenuous court scene where things are looking particularly bleak, Tom Hanks’ character asks, “Don’t you ever worry?”  The Russian responds stoically, “Would it help?” Tom Hanks smiles at the simplicity and accuracy of the candid response…

No doubt, these are challenging times… There is plenty to fret about if we choose to. Do not make life more difficult and stressful by consuming yourself with worry about things you do not control. Put your thoughts and efforts directly into those things you can influence and let the chips fall as they may, knowing you’ve done your best.

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!

 

Rewards…

2020-07-23 StJ Youth FB Camp Team

The rewards of coaching have magnified during these challenging times.  That was never more evident than last week as we hosted our annual youth football camp at St Johnsbury Academy.  We had 32 kids (31 boys and 1 girl) grades 3rd-8th in attendance.  Coaches wore masks, wiped down balls and bags, and did their best to maintain social distancing.  Kids learned the skills and drills associated with each offensive, defensive, and special-teams position; but, more importantly, they played, they smiled, they had fun with their friends again.  The biggest smiles were on the faces of the moms and dads at drop-off and pick-up, seeing their kids so happy again.

My favorite smile of the week was worn by the mother of the one girl who attended our camp.  However, her smile did not really shine until the middle of the week.  Early days were filled with concern of how her daughter would fit in as the only girl in a football camp.  Those concerns were quickly erased when she saw both her daughter’s success on the field as well as how well she fit in with the other kids.  Now, Ahna and her mom are looking forward to flag football this Fall.  She will be every bit as good as any boy out there and will hit the field with newfound confidence and skill.

Girls like Ahna are the future of football.   Hopefully, by the time she reaches high school, girls’ flag football will be a varsity sport.  Maybe she will go on to play college flag football, and along the way enjoy all the benefits of character development, team building, and interdependence so integral to the game at every level.

For now, I was just happy to see the smiles on her and her mother’s faces as well as the faces of all the other kids and parents who participated in the St Johnsbury Academy Youth Football Camp. The smell of fresh-cut grass, the warmth of the sun, and the sounds of kids laughing and playing were welcome alternatives to so much of what has dominated most recent days. Best of all, they remind me again of the rewards of this job and the game of football.

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!

Determining Best Plays

Last week, we discussed simplifying your offense to focus only on your best plays (the ones that bring you joy).  But how do you objectively determine your best plays?  We use a combination of Mean, Median, and Mode along with an Efficiency Percentage to give each play a Value.  That value determines the return on investment of each play.

We start by placing the yards gained for every play in a spreadsheet.  Then we determine a Mean by adding up the total yards gained by a play divided by the total number of times it was called.  We then put the yards gained for a play in ascending order to find the Median value.  The Median is the middle value of the yards earned by each play when listed lowest to highest.  While in ascending order, we look for a Mode.  A Mode is the value that occurs most often.  We then add the Mean, Median, and Mode together and divide by three to get what we consider the true Average yards a play produces.  Note: sometimes there is no Mode or there are several Modes.  In those cases, we do not include a Mode average and just add the Mean and Median then divide by two.

The reason we use all three (Mean, Median, Mode) is that most plays do not have a large enough sample size to determine a reliable Mean. (You may recall the old maxim, “The larger the sample, the truer the mean.”)  A play yielding one really long gain or loss will skew the average when there is not a significant sample size.

The Efficiency Percentage is determined by taking the total number of plays that were efficient, divided by the total number of times the play was called then multiplying by 100.  A play is considered efficient when it yields 4 yards, a first down or a touchdown.

Lastly, we add the true Average and the Efficiency Percentage to get a Value.  The higher the Value, the better the return on investment for the time it takes to install the play.   We are looking for Values of 80 or higher.  For example, A play with a 5-yard average and is efficient 3 out of 4 times (75%) would have a Value of 80.    The chart shown here lists the values of our Running Plays from 2019.  Some gave us great joy.  Others need to be reevaluated.  There is no time to teach all nine plays this year.

2020-07-16 PlayEfficiencyAssessment

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!