Looking Back & Looking Ahead…

When I reported to my first college football training camp as a player in the 1980s, we had triple sessions. “Triples” equated to 40 practices in 2 weeks… Sunday mornings were the only respite. I’d like to tell you we spent the time in Church, but we were more likely praying for rain to cool the scorching August afternoons, or to hide cuts, scrapes, aches, and bruises from the coaches evaluating our performance.   

Next week, we begin our 2-week training camp and by comparison, have only 15 practices scheduled.  Gone are the days of double and triple sessions in the blistering heat.  We have 2-a-days every other day and cannot begin them until day #3.  

While I do recognize it is better for player health to minimize the number of practices and concurrently the number of exposures to contact, I do miss the solidarity formed through the shared privation of a team going through such a difficult training camp.  As the saying goes, misery loves company… and with 3 practices each day for 2 weeks, there was a lot of misery to be shared.  

In hindsight, it seems like the Team’s bonding happened organically during “the old days.”  Nowadays coaches need to be very intentional about creating team building opportunities.  With only one practice scheduled every other day, there are ample opportunities, and we reinforce the tenets of character, culture, and interdependence at every turn.

Just as we “formed, stormed, normed, and (finally) performed” more than 30 years ago, the team we’ll field in 2022 will have their own stories of “how hard it was…” and “remember the time we had to…” When they inevitably look back, I’m sure the obstacles will seem bigger, coaches louder, and challenges more daunting than they could have ever imagined. And just as we do today, I sincerely hope they find the struggles endured today better prepared them for the struggles yet to come, and the recognition they are stronger as a team than anyone could be alone.

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!  

Competition & Encouragement

Coaches always say that games are won and lost in the trenches but most spend the offseason and summer sending their “skill” players to passing camps and 7v7 tournaments.  That is why I started my OLine Clinics over 20 years ago, and why we host a Strongman Competition and OLine Challenge at our annual Northeast Kingdom 7v7 tournament.

The Strongmen compete in the following events:

1. Log Press (Max Reps in 1 Minute)

2. Farmer Carry (Best time)

3. Hexbar Deadlift (Max Reps for 1 minute)

4. Seated Sled Pull (Best time)

Our OLine Challenge has 5-man teams competing in the following events:

1. Standing Slam ball Toss (Total distance)

2. 1-man Sled Drive Relay (Best time)

3. Tire Flip Relay (Best time)

4. Sandbag Carry Relay (Best time)

5. Team Tug-of-War (Seeded Single Elimination)

While I am proud to say that one of our guys was the overall winner in the Strongman competition and our team won the OLine Challenge, I am more proud of how spirited the event was throughout the day.  The 7v7 games were very competitive, but the competition at times was contentious.  The Strongman and OLine Challenge events were also very competitive but players from different schools were all very supportive of each other.  Players wearing a rainbow of colors representing schools from all over Vermont and one from New Hampshire circled around each other and cheered as individuals they may have never met pushed themselves to the limits and beyond in the spirit of competition.

There is truly something special about offensive linemen.  Simply stated, they are selfless. That’s not to say others can’t be selfless as well, but as we’ve noted previously, the nature of the roles on the offensive line often rewards selfless interdependence more frequently and more consistently than other positions. Some roles tend to be more “supporting,” while others tend to be more “supported.” It was great to see the OLinemen “supporting” each other throughout the competitions.

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!  

Simplify

As we wrap up OTAs this week and finalize practice schedules and scripts for Mini Camp next week, I am reminded of something that I have shared this time of year in previous blogs.  It is my advice when packing for a vacation.  Lay out all the clothes you want to take and all the money you think you need then put back half the clothes and double the money.  

You cannot install every play, scheme, coverage, blitz, and drill in your arsenal during a 5-day mini camp just like you cannot fit all of your clothes in that suitcase for a 5 day vacation at the beach.  Ask yourself, what do you really need?  What do you really need to be good at?  What would make it simpler? Try to cap everything at three:  Run plays, Pass plays, Screens, Fronts, Coverages, Blitzes, Stunts, Tackling Drills, Ball security drills, and Takeaway drills. 

My goal on vacation is to never return home with a single article of clean clothing.  That would mean that I packed something that I just did not need.  My goal for Mini Camp is to not spend time on any play, scheme, or drill that we will not use, and use often, throughout the season this fall. If we can simplify the process and reduce the friction, we’re more likely to succeed.

Simplifying the plan builds flexibility and time into the program. Flexibility and time afford us the opportunity to focus, reinforce, and ensure foundational concepts get the emphasis they need. As we revisit elements of team building and culture common to this part of the season, everything has a place, time, and the attention it’s due. We consciously simplify to reduce friction and confusion while reinforcing the essential elements of 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!  

Giving A Little More…

As we noted last week, If the hand that gives gathers, then the hand that gives more should gather more.  Even if by accident. 

Before posting last week’s blog, I created a fundraising page on Facebook to raise money for Ryan’s Quest and the fight to find a cure for DMD.  I wanted to be the first to make a donation so I typed in a generous amount and clicked the blue DONATE button.  When I returned to my computer moments later, it appeared that I may not have done it correctly… 

I had never created a fundraising page before.  So I clicked the blue DONATE button again.  It was then I realized I made two (2) generous donations.  My immediate response was “Oh (Shoot)” as I wondered how I might recall or rescind the second donation.  Then… I realized that despite the financial impacts of two sons in college (undergrad and grad school) and disposable income in limited supply, I had given to a good cause and trusted “karma” would work its magic, compounding the goodness.

Later that day, with a lifelong friend and his family visiting us in Vermont, my wife and I took them to “Kingdom Trails” for an afternoon of mountain biking with Noble Fox Adventures.  We were only there to make the introductions and “get the wheels turning,” then we were headed elsewhere.  My friend convinced us to join them and share the adventure, renting us bikes, and helmets, and even buying us lunch.  We shared and enjoyed an incredible day at no cost.  We had given generously and gathered twofold.  

For years, I’ve told my children, friends, colleagues, and players that life is hard enough by itself. Putting some good into the world makes the world a better place, and whether we see the direct impact or not, we’re better for having made the effort. I don’t give with the intent to gather… It’s not a transactional pursuit. I’m simply amazed by how often giving of one’s time, talent, and treasure, finds a way to bring gratitude and happiness to the giver. I’d love to hear how doing good for others has brought appreciation and happiness into your lives.


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!   

The Hand That Gives, Gathers

“The Hand that Gives Gathers” is something I have told players for many years.  I learned that lesson as a child when my neighborhood friends and I used to host carnivals to raise money and donate to the Jerry Lewis, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Labor Day Telethon.  One year we hosted it in my front yard and raised a lot of money.  (A lot of money for a bunch of kids in the 1970s), and I brought it to the local telethon collection site.  A month later, I received a package in the mail from MDA with gift certificates from many of the telethon sponsors including free Slurpees at 7-11 and free tickets to Six Flag Great Adventure to actually meet Jerry Lewis.  

We hosted the carnival because it was fun and we knew we were raising money for a good cause.  Unlike Sally, Charlie Brown’s selfish sister in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” who said, “I want what I have coming to me, I want my fair share,” we expected nothing in return. 

Almost 50 years later, I am still raising money to find a cure for Muscular Dystrophy, although now the reasons are much more personal.  On July 16, my wife Kim and I will join Team Ryan’s Quest to compete in the NJ State Triathlon in an effort to raise money and awareness to find a cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.  

Please consider giving and perhaps you will gather in some way in the very near future.  To donate and to learn more about Ryan’s Quest Click Here:  Donate to Team Ryan’s Quest

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!   

Independence Day Lessons & Leadership

Some thoughts on why we celebrate the 4th of July and what we as coaches and leaders can learn from it to avoid being a cliche like “Coach Kilmer” from the movie “Varsity Blues.”

This weekend we celebrate The Declaration of Independence. The ideas of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” were central to the Colonies’ desire to throw off the yoke of tyranny from Great Britain.

Americans have a long history of not tolerating Tyrants and such stories are told and retold in books and movies. As Coaches, we have to lead our teams, and there can be no doubt as to who is in charge, given the responsibility for all things stops with the Head Coach. However, as noted in the opening, characters like Coach Kilmer from “Varsity Blues” are closer to tyrants like King George III of England. Just as the Colonists reacted to tyranny, players ultimately react negatively to tyrants as well.

Over the last five years, much of the content of this blog has surrounded aspects of leadership, team building, and character. While as a coach I believe these traits and skills to be essential to success, it’s obvious King George didn’t perceive the same need when dealing with the Colonies.

The Colonies just wanted to have a say, their voices to be heard.  They wanted to be part of a team, share interdependence, and become more than any could alone. Members of a team are no different.  Tyrannical coaches and leaders eventually fester resentment and often face revolt. 

As we think about this 4th of July Holiday, consider what this day means to our country and the founding fathers’ hopes of what we could become. Think also about your players, the team, and your collective aspirations. Celebrate Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, and encourage a vision of who and what your team could become; United, Purposeful, Resilient, Capable, and Committed to the best we might be together.

Happy Independence Day!

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!   

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!