Variety is the Spice of life

As we close the 2019, football season and meet individually with each player, one question we always ask is what sport they are playing in the winter and/or spring.  We encourage all our football players to be multiple sport athletes, especially our freshmen and sophomores who are still developing as athletes and members of our campus community.

I recently saw a social media post stating that Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, 2019-11-21 Multi Sport Athleticsand Christian McCaffrey were all 3-sport athletes in high school.  They seem to be doing very well for themselves…

While I understand the thinking behind specializing in one sport, I believe there is much more to gain (mentally, physically and emotionally) by staying a multi-sport athlete.   Participating on multiple teams helps students expand their social circles and increases opportunities for social interaction.  It also diminishes the opportunity for emotional burn-out caused by playing one sport year-round.

Variety is the spice of life.

There is also a great deal of pressure to succeed for the one-sport athlete who has invested so much time, and often money, into success in that sport.  Playing multiple sports also allows athletes to experience different roles.  The star in one sport may be a bench player in the other.  That experience may make the athlete a better competitor and will most certainly be a lesson in humility.

As for the physical benefits, growing bodies are often stressed by repetitive physical activity and often experience injuries that might be avoided by granting their bodies a break from repetitive movements associated with only one sport.  There are way too many young girls with ACL injuries and young boys getting “Tommy John” surgery.

Lastly, there is a financial benefit to families.  Participation in multiple sports at the high school level comes with little to no cost to the family.  The year-round, single-sport athlete, who must play on clubs and travel teams, can add thousands of dollars in financial burden to their family.  Encourage the multiple sport athlete at the high school.  The price is right and so are the benefits.

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!

True Rewards…

At this week’s Vermont Interscholastic Football League coaches meeting, St Johnsbury2019-11-15 VISL Trophy Academy proudly accepted the VIFL Division I Championship Trophy.  It is a rotating trophy presented annually to the team that wins the regular season and earns the #1 seed in the state.  Regrettably, we did not win the state championship trophy.  While trophies and championships are the most obvious goal for most coaches, the true rewards of coaching are the impact we have on the lives of our players.  For all the players and parents both past and present who have recently reached out to me with kind words regarding the influence I had on them or their children, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

The highlight came from a parent from another school whose daughter I got to know while I was coaching girls golf for the Academy in the Spring of 2014.  It reads: “You probably don’t hear this from many parents from other schools, but my family and I are forever grateful for the respect and support you showed (our daughter) when she was an insecure freshman.  Thanks for all you did, do and will do.”

Seasons come and go… Wins are great… Trophies are nice… But a friend of mine’s grandfather used to say, “There’s no luggage rack on a hearse.” If we are to leave a legacy of enduring value, it’s in the hearts and minds of those we serve. To have just such an opportunity is the real privilege of being a coach.

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!

Back to the Ship… All Hands On Deck

Our win over Essex in the state semi-finals brings us to our fourth state championship appearance in the past six years, and our third in the past four.  Interestingly, each of the four starting Quarterbacks during my tenure at STJ Academy has taken us to a state championship game:  Colton Hudson 2014, Collin Urie 2016, Jake Cady 2017, and Trey Alercio 2019.

When my sons began playing sports, a coaching2019-11-06 Family mentor of mine shared a quote with me, “when you are your son’s football coach, you are the two most important people in his life.”  While I believe that my wife plays a more important role in their lives, I can see how a teenage boy might see things as my mentor described.  I recall the important roles my coaches played in my life and recognize I may play a similarly important role as a football coach and, at times, a surrogate father.

As a college coach, when addressing parents before they left their sons on the first day of training camp, I would let them know that over the next four years I would spend more time with their sons than they likely would and unfortunately, more just as likely, time with them than with my own sons.

The opportunity to come to St Johnsbury Academy, coach these great kids as well as coach two of my three sons, and share the journey to multiple state championship games has been an extraordinary blessing.

After 18 years of baseball and/or football coaching my kids, Saturday marks the last time I will coach one of my sons in an organized sport… time flies.

Each year as the season closes, natural transitions take place. I’m proud of all my sons. They are young men of good character and while sad to see this chapter close, I look forward to the many years to come and opportunities to lead, teach, and coach other people’s sons. If I work hard and am a little lucky, I’ll have the kind of impacts my coaches had on me, and play an important role in their lives.

Thank you for allowing me to briefly reminisce on the joys of coaching my sons, and the privilege of coaching this great game. Now, on to the task at hand…

You who have followed me here, and most certainly our athletes and staff have heard, “Championships are not won on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons in the Fall…” As we approach Saturday’s State Championship, we will reflect on the days, weeks, months, and years invested into building this team, what it means to be a Hilltopper, and to each of us individually and collectively. We carry with us the benefits of investing in ourselves, each other, and our team. We are richer in mind, body, and spirit for the commitment to team and purpose bigger than any one of us alone.

If you knew you couldn’t play tomorrow, how hard would you play today?

All Hands on Deck… The Championship is here… Let’s do this!

Spirit Week Hangover

We were victorious in our playoff game on Saturday (Oct 26th) and 2019-10-31 Spirit Week Hangoverthe final score would lead one to believe it was an easy win, but that was not the case. Challenges crept in despite my efforts to avoid them.

Around the “Northeast Kingdom” (a colloquial name for our area of Vermont), some people refer to a phenomenon called “Spirit Week Hangover,” following the 115-year rivalry game and the Spirit Week that precedes it. Of course, the problem with such a “hangover” is it lingers through the practice week preceding the opening round of the Vermont State High School Football Playoffs.

As referenced in my blog two weeks ago, there is so much pageantry associated with the playing of “The Game,” (the 115-year rivalry between St Johnsbury and Lyndon Institute).  The parade, pep rally, bonfire, all the media attention on radio, internet and in the paper all culminate in “The Game,” and once complete we find ourselves combatting the subsequent let down following all the hoopla.

Though practice and preps following “The Game,” should be just another game week, it wasn’t. It was the first game of the State playoffs… Win and advance. Lose and your season is over. Winner takes all. Nonetheless, our playoff game had an anticlimactic feel.  Where was the parade? Where were all the people? Our players did not initially play with their usual enthusiasm but our opponents from Colchester certainly did. They came in with an excellent game plan and executed it well through the first quarter.

It was not until the end of the opening quarter that our players began to realize that this game is not about all the people on the outside who lined the field 3 deep for “The Game,” or those who lined the streets for the parade.  It was about them… About the brotherhood cultivated over hundreds of hours of training in the weight room and on the field. About the bonds formed through shared privation of summer heat, sacrificing personal time and attention to build interdependence… It is all about winning so they can spend another week together. It is all about the team…

This week, we are on to the state semi-finals with hopes of earning yet another week together with our “brothers.” For as Shakespeare’s Henry the Fifth states just before the battle of St. Crispian’s Day, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me, Shall be my brother…”  Though this week’s potential consequences are thankfully far less severe than Henry’s, nonetheless we few, we happy few Hilltoppers… look forward to daring greatly together in the arena and earning our piece of the legacy.

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!

PLAYOFFS!!!

In Vermont, the snow comes early so the high school football playoffs do as well.  We finished the regular season last week and begin playoffs this weekend.  2019-10-24 State Championship PlayoffsQuarterfinals, semifinals, and finals…3 more weeks for those who win and advance.  (Although we will focus on one game, and one week at a time!)

We are thrilled to have secured the #1 seed and home-field advantage for the quarters and semis.  Our senior class has played particularly well at home.  We have only lost two home games in their four years and both to the same team, our rivals the Hartford Hurricanes.

There is an excitement in our community, on our campus, and within our team.  Our job as coaches is to keep it that way and channel that energy.  Although we will maintain the same schedule and focus as we did all season, we will cut back on rep and set ranges for our Monday and Thursday lifts; and we will end practices earlier each day.

We want practices, meetings, and training sessions to be fast and fun.  There will also be less yelling.  If a player does not know his assignments at this point in the season it is our fault not his, so no sense yelling.

We want our players to enjoy every and cherish every minute they are together.  Enjoy the camaraderie of the locker room and the brotherhood on the field that they have cultivated over the weeks and years together.

The worst thing about the playoffs is that only one team will end their season with tears of joy.  All others end with tears of sorrow.  Not so much because they lost… but because all they have come to love, the pride in the team, and their contributions to it, comes to an end.

Best of luck in the Playoffs!

Earn your victory!

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 Game”

This weekend marks the 115th playing of “The Game.”

St Johnsbury Academy vs. Lyndon Institute is one of the oldest football rivalries in the country. The entire week, on the Academy campus, is named “Spirit Week.” Hallways are decorated, skits to be performed at the pep rally are practiced, and floats for Friday night’s parade are built. The week brings our diverse community together in celebration of our school spirit.

2019-10-17 Tradition Never Graduates

We kick off the weekend with a pep rally on Friday during the last two periods of the school day. The rally includes traditional cheers lead by our cheer team, skits performed by each class, a musical performance by the Academy’s administrative team, the naming of the royal court (Homecoming Queen/King, Princess/Prince, Duchess/Duke) and speeches by the football captains and head coach. After practice, teams, the royal court, students, floats, and the St Johnsbury Fire Department line up for the parade along Main Street.

As the parade returns to campus, the bonfire is lit. Once the flames are out, everyone in our community is invited to the school cafeteria for a pizza party. The night ends with an alumnus social at the St Johnsbury Elks Lodge where stories, myths, and legends of past games are told, and truths are occasionally stretched…

One thing never stretched is the pride in belonging to a community, team, or family where traditions, culture, and commitment to something bigger than self is still alive and well.

To quote one of my closest friends after he saw a picture of my son Shane two years ago riding in the back of a convertible as the Homecoming Prince with the rest of the parade behind him, “that is the best of small-town USA.”

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 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!