Look, Listen, Learn…

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”  That Sun Tsu quote still applies today for teams preparing for competition as it did thousands of years ago when armies prepared for war.  For us, at St Johnsbury Academy, it starts with knowing ourselves.  As coaches, we need to know our audience.

PESOS“- Prepare, Explain, Show, Observe, Supervise… As we work through these steps we also look, listen, and learn in order to make our player’s experience better, more productive, and more fun.

I recently watched a presentation on “ADInsider” where the presenter shared there has been a 43% increase in students diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) following the Pandemic’s impacts over the last two years.  The presenter went on to state that no drill in any sport at any age should exceed 10 minutes as student-athletes will begin to lose focus.  

We tested that theory at our Youth Football Camp this week.  We intentionally scheduled our dynamic warm up at the start of practice to be 15 minutes.  The players lined up and very attentively went through all the warm up exercises as we as coaches monitored their behavior.  At the first sign of kids beginning to goof off, I looked down at my watch.  We were exactly 12 minutes into the drill.  For the next hour, we did 5 minute rotations with water breaks scheduled every 20 minutes and the attention and performance of the players grades 3-8 were outstanding.  No loss of focus.  Then we scheduled a 15-minute “Heads Up Tackling” session focusinging on technique and safety, while again observing the camper’s behavior.  They lasted 9 minutes before losing interest in the task at hand and beginning to goof off with each other.  

Now I’m no child psychologist, and our youth camp isn’t an FDA approved double blind study. Maybe we saw hints of something like ADHD, or maybe we just saw kids being kids… The important part is we consciously tried to watch, learn, and adapt the environment to create the greatest opportunity for both learning and fun and ultimately success.

We will finish our week-long Youth Football Camp with no period exceeding 10 minutes and will take that into our high school team’s OTAs, Mini Camp, Training Camp, and in-season practices. As Coaches, part of our responsibility is to create the conditions and provide the resources the team needs to flourish. Attentive eyes, ears, and some thoughtful consideration go a long way into helping our team know itself, creating space for us to begin to know our adversary.

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!   

Starting Anew

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”

As we wrap up the Vermont Alercio OLine Clinic and begin our Summer OTAs, I reflect on that quote from Henry Ford.  It was extremely rewarding to see so many players and their coaches make the long drive to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, spend 4 hours going through drills together, having lunch as a group, then making the return trip home or our own players gathering for the first time since Spring Ball, teams are coming together.

While I sincerely hope coaches and players find value in the instruction received at my OLine Clinics and our OTAs, perhaps the greatest value comes in the players forging relationships that will keep them together.  With the class of ’22 graduating, ’23 taking the role of rising seniors, and a few from the class of ’26 stepping up to high school level play, everyone feels a sense of energy and potential. Each player (and coach) now looks to channel that energy in the right direction… to develop the feeling of being part of a team, of being a part of something bigger than themselves… to build cohesion, interdependence, and allegiance while forging bonds and ultimately staying together.  

The gates have been opened. Many stepped through and renewed a commitment. Now it is incumbent upon them to work together all summer to achieve the desired success. 

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!  

Photos of this years’ Vermont Alercio O’Line Clinic follows:

St Johnsbury
Oxbow
North Country
Mt Abe Vergennes
Fair Haven
Essex
BFA Fairfax
On the Line!
Bird Dogs!
Base

Our June OLine Clinic is here!

The Alercio OLine Clinic at St Johnsbury Academy (VT) is this Sunday, June 12.  I look forward to sharing the skills of offensive line play with the players and coaches in attendance.  As I referenced in a previous blog using the Liam Neeson line from the movie “Taken,”: “these are a very particular set of skills that I acquired over a very long career.”  I am blessed to have been mentored by and learned from so many great offensive line coaches during my career.

Join us This Sunday the 12th in St Johnsbury, Vermont

In 1991, I had the good fortune of working with Jim Pry at East Stroudsburg University.  Jim had worked with the guru of all offensive line coaches, Jim McNally, when they were together at Marshal.  Jim Pry spent a year teaching me everything he learned from Coach McNally.  In the summer of 1992, I had the pleasure of meeting Coach McNally.  Jim Pry and I loaded into an ESU van for the trip to Cincinnati and the C.O.O.L. Clinic.  C.O.O.L.  stands for Coaches Of Offensive Line.  Every OLine coach should make that pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime.

On the first night of the clinic, I found myself bellied up to the bar with Jim Pry, Jim McNally, Pat Flaherty, and Mike Maser.  All these years later, I remember exactly what I was thinking at the time: “just keep your mouth shut, your eyes and ears open, and don’t go to the bathroom or you may lose your front-row seat” to some of the greats discussing/arguing about every little detail of OLine play at their annual meeting.  

Not many football coaches in the Green Mountain State have access to learn from coaches of that caliber. Not that we don’t have talented coaches, it’s just tough to get so many coaches of such high caliber when we don’t have the population density of other locales. …and while I will never be in the same category as those great OLine coaches, I sincerely hope to share with others as these giants of the game so willingly shared with me.  

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! 

Happy Endings & New Beginnings

This is graduation week on the campus of St Johnsbury Academy.  It is both a happy time and a sad time.  It is also a beginning and an end.  Perhaps I am a glass-half-full kind of guy, but I choose to look at graduation as a happy time and a new beginning.  Some of our graduates will begin service to our country, some will start their vocation, and others will begin a path towards their next graduation. Emotions soar as graduation caps are thrown skyward, and seemingly just as fast, they fall to Earth reminding us there is a road ahead beckoning us to come and see what’s next…

The root of the word graduation is from the Latin word “grad” which means “step.”  Graduation is just another step in their lives. The term commencement refers to the actual graduation ceremony, but the word commencement comes from the stem “commence” which means to “begin.”  It is the beginning of the next step in their lives, or new chapters, opportunities, and journeys. While there is certainly recognition for successes of the recent past, the focus is on the untapped potential available in the not-too-distant future.

As their teachers, coaches, and mentors, we know we only have four short years to make an impact on their lives before they move on to their next chapter(s).  We trust the lessons they learn on the fields, in the classrooms, and on-campus, coupled with the friendships they forged will make them better members of their communities. We hope those little “inoculations” against fear and loss will serve them well in the face of life’s more daunting challenges. As noted in last week’s blog we occasionally have the opportunity to celebrate those who have embarked on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, “wrestled dragons,” and returned proving their transformation. Many more ripple outward serving as “Good Samaritans” in ways we may never know, but still appreciate.

Unlike parents who become “empty nesters” as children graduate and move on, coaches look to the depth chart and find new student-athletes replenishing the nest. The 8th graders of 2022 graduate providing us with another group of young men and women craving pride in belonging and role models as examples.  I am happy for the seniors who move on, proud of who they are today, of their evolution in our program, and for having the privilege to contribute to the process.  Concurrently, I look forward to the new season, the new faces, the continuing evolution of our players, team, and culture, and the opportunity yet again to commence team building and take steps toward who they and we will become together… to build upon the legacy of what it means to be a Hilltopper, and to remember, “Tradition Never Graduates!”

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! 

Ripples In Time…

“We never know how what we say, do, or think today will affect the lives of millions tomorrow.”  A life-long friend and high school teammate recently shared that quote when I told him about a former player’s recent visit.  This player’s four years as a Hilltopper coincided with the most successful stretch in our long and proud football history.  We earned our way into three state championship games, winning one of them, and made it to the state semifinals the other year. 

However, the young man who visited wasn’t the star quarterback, a team-leading lineman, or dominating linebacker. In fact, he never started a game. He made the most of his opportunity to play late in games when the outcome was often already determined. Yet, he felt something significant about his place on the team, his pride in belonging, and the opportunity to contribute.

After a few minutes of small talk, he said, “Coach, there’s a reason for this visit. There’s something I want to give you.” He reached into his pocket to reveal a patch and two challenge coins.  Then proudly shared he had become a United States Marine, and the patch and coins were from his new team; the Helicopter Squadron that flies the President on “Marine One.” 

He went on to relay he initially did not want to play football as a freshman, but his mom made him. Despite his reluctance, he found teammates and a culture instilling pride in being part of something special. He felt “strength in numbers,” as the team overcame deficits or rallied to lift the motivation of a struggling teammate. He closed by saying “he owes who he is today to his high school football coaches and teammates who gave him both the courage to become a football player, and the confidence to become a Marine.”  I am so very thankful for his visit, for his mom’s understanding that the rewards of the game: the lessons about oneself and one’s team are worthy of the sacrifice whether one plays all 48 minutes or only four. 

As my long-time friend went on to say, “In hindsight, we see the incredible impact sports had on our lives and the lives of our teammates. We learn as young men the leadership and mentorship of a good coach is life-changing.” He went on to say, “But we have no idea how many of these stories exist… and in a world so frequently dominated by divisiveness and acrimony, isn’t that potential for good, just incredible?” 

It warms my heart to know that there is one story such as this, and I trust there are many more.    

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! 

Earning Victory

“Football games are not won on weekends in the Fall.”  That is the philosophy of our program here at St Johnsbury Academy.  And it has led to a lot of wins on weekends in the Fall.

This week, we released our Summer Calendar detailing the schedule that will take our players from graduation through the start of the next academic year.  OTAs (Organized Team Activities) start on Monday, June 13, and continue every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for 6 weeks.  The first two weeks of OTAs will be Strength and Speed training followed by 7v7 practices to prepare for the Vermont All-Star Camps 7v7 tournament at Burr & Burton Academy on Saturday, June 25.

The next four weeks of OTAs will continue with coach-led Strength and Speed training but the sessions will conclude with player-led practices.  This allows our players an opportunity to not only work on their steps, routes, coverages, and passes, but also on their leadership skills.  During the Fall of 2021, we implemented the Marine Corps’ 14 leadership traits.  This provides an opportunity for our rising seniors to act on those learned traits and demonstrate by their personal example, their readiness to lead.  

After the six weeks of OTA, we host our week-long Mini Camp.  With 7v7 practices solely focused on pass offense and defense, the first three days of Mini Camp will have a heavy run emphasis.  The last two days will go back to pass as we prepare for our annual 7v7 tournament.  We host the Northeast Kingdom 7v7 Tournament, Strongman competition, and OLine challenge every year on the last Saturday in July.  

After the event, we observe the Vermont Principal Association’s mandatory “Dead Period” to rest and recover before starting Training Camp.  This is the time we encourage families to take their well-earned vacations.  When players report to Training Camp on Monday, August 15, we trust that they are ready to hit the ground running with their minds and bodies well prepared for the 2022 season, and oriented on our goals for success.

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! 

Draft Philosophies & Picks!

A bird in the hand or two in the bush? 

What measures drive your draft choices?

Production or potential? 

Aidan Hutchinson of Michigan or Travon Walker of Georgia???  It may take a while to know if the Jacksonville Jaguars got it right by choosing the latter in each scenario…

In previous years, we have shared blogs detailing a practice our staff does annually inspired by the NFL draft.  We draft our own team.  I share an alphabetical list of all returning players and request each coach return the list to me in their draft order.  Some NFL teams will draft based on need, others draft best available regardless of position, and some over or under-value certain positions.  We will see those same philosophies within our staff.  Personally, I make what we call Evidence Based Decisions when preparing my draft order.  I do not let the “measurables” cloud my decision of who makes plays on the field.  The undersized lineman who gives great energy, effort, and enthusiasm on every play and has demonstrated dependability, diligence, and passion in the weight room all winter will be drafted higher than the bigger player who lacks heart. 

Whether quoting Admiral William H McCraven’s famous University of Texas commencement speech stating, “measure a person by the size of their heart” or Samuel 16:7 “for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart,” and the heart is my number one measurable when evaluating players.

Once all the coaches have returned their draft list, we assign a score to each player based on their draft order from all coaches to create a staff draft order.  We also check each coach’s draft against the others to see what deviations we have in evaluating players.  Double-digit differences are a red flag.  For example, one coach has a player in the 8-spot while another has him at 18.  The situations need to be discussed at our first meeting to prepare for summer training to see what one coach is seeing and what the other is not.

At the end of summer Organized Team Activities and Mini Camp, we will create an initial depth chart going into Training Camp.  The last exercise is to see how our staff draft aligns with our depth chart to see if we have the best 11 on the field.

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! 

Leadership; Setting A Positive Example

We spent 14 weeks together last year discussing our “Leader In Every Locker” program, and the character traits essential to leadership success. I’ve often commented on leadership as a privilege, and how fortunate we, as coaches, are to help develop leaders whose impact will reach far beyond the confines of the gridiron.

Sam Begin (pictured with Coach Alercio) was the 2022 Vermont Chapter of the National Football Association, Scholar-Athlete Hall of Fame Award winner.

I’m so very pleased to share, Sam Begin becomes the 5th Hilltopper to be inducted into the Vermont Chapter of the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame as a scholar-athlete. When your best athlete is also your best student and the most exemplary person on the team, you have a special leader. In leadership, personal examples matter… Players consistently see Sam doing the right thing… Right on the field, in meetings, in the weight room, in the classroom, and in our community. He has the passion and the work ethic to excel in everything he does including sports, academics, and student leadership. I was proud to see Sam recently recognized, and thrilled to see him join the legacy of Hilltoppers who set such a positive example on campus and in the community.

Sam joins Collin Urie-2017, Jasper Rankin-2018, Renwick Smith-2019 (also named to the National Team of Distinction), and Trey Alercio-2020.  In 2017, Shane Alercio was named the Most Courageous Athlete for battling a rare vestibular disease called Dandy’s Syndrome that negatively impacts balance and ocular tracking.  In 2019, Jake Cady received the Community Service Award for his efforts in creating a non-profit called Team Sullycat that had raised over $40,000 to help support families battling cancer.

We are immensely proud of the successes of our student-athletes on the field, in the community, and in the classroom.  Their legacy lives on, and as we like to say, “Tradition Never Graduates.” We trust the examples of excellence in those who have been honored will inspire future Hilltoppers to strive for excellence, overcome adversity and put others’ interests above themselves.

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! 

 



 

 

 

 

20, 5000, & 1

After over 20 years and more than 5,000 participants from all over the northeast, the Alercio OLine Clinic experienced a first.  Fami Olorunnisola, a sophomore from Bordentown high school in NJ, became the first girl to attend a clinic.  She was joined and supported by a dozen of her teammates working through all the drills under the watchful eyes of their coaching staff.

Coach Alercio & Fami Olorunnisola

Similar to the experience referenced in an earlier blog post about the two girls who joined our Spring practices at St Johnsbury Academy, Fami was welcomed into the group, given the same opportunities to learn the basics, build a solid foundation, and refine techniques of OLine play. As we discussed last week, players focused on proper execution rather than speed, developed a fundamental understanding and smooth approach to offensive line play, and ultimately the complementary effects essential to teamwork. Though the first female, Fami was a teammate, learning, demonstrating, and playing just like any other offensive lineman.  

Aside from those in her immediate training group, most players had no idea she was even there until the end when we circled up.  After thanking the coaches and players for their efforts, I invited Fami into the circle and recognized her for being the first female to join us at a Clinic. I then shared what I so often say, “girls are the future of football because they become mothers who will allow their children, regardless of gender, to play the game.”   Lastly, I commented on just how brave she must be and how much courage it must have taken to participate in such a large clinic knowing that she would most likely be the only female participant.  As the boys clapped and cheered loudly for her, we finished the day with all the boys huddling around Fami as she broke them down with “OLine on Three…one, two, three OLINE!!!

I look forward to seeing Fami at the 2023 New Jersey OLine Clinic and hope more female student-athletes join her as they too learn brilliance in the basics and a love of this great game.

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! 

Photos from the 2022 New Jersey Alercio OLine Clinic

2022 New Jersey Alercio OLine Clinic Group 1
2022 New Jersey Alercio OLine Clinic Group 2
2022 New Jersey Alercio Oline Clinic Group 3
2022 New Jersey Alercio Oline Clinic Group 4
2022 New Jersey Alercio Oline Clinic Group 5
2022 New Jersey Alercio Oline Clinic at The Hun School, Princeton, NJ

Brilliance in the Basics

You have to learn to walk before you can run.  That idiom encapsulates the philosophy of this Sunday’s Alercio OLine Clinic at the Hun School of Princeton.  We call the event a clinic rather than a camp because it is learning-based.  We teach the coordination and execution of learned physical tasks and then build upon them.    

Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Learning Brilliance in the Basics With Coach Alercio

Racecar drivers, gymnasts, dancers, and any athlete or performer who has to string together a series of movements, efforts, or tasks to be successful know, “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast…”

That’s why we do not go full speed.  We use a pace I call theory speed.  It emphasizes a focus on proper execution rather than speed, develops an understanding and ultimately a smooth approach. Using the above idiom, we start out walking, build context and confidence, and then advance to a jog.    

As we have mentioned in previous blogs, whether I am coaching my own players or attendees at my clinics, the focus is always on becoming adept at the basic skills and technique before moving on to that which requires greater skill. Fundamentals… Building blocks… a solid foundation from which to begin… 

Just as Nietzsche said, “one cannot fly into flying.” I would argue one cannot excel as an offensive lineman without brilliance in the basics.

Join us at the Hun School in Princeton this Sunday and let’s work together on the best possible foundation for the upcoming season.

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!