Rest and Recover!

Break week should be a break.  With the increased focus schools now have on students and their mental health, schools schedule break weeks throughout the year to decrease stress levels and allow students to recuperate mentally before returning to the classroom.  I have never understood the teacher who assigns a project for their students to complete during break week, undermining the very purpose of the week.  

The same thinking applies to student-athletes and their athletic performance training.  Well planned and executed exercise programs intentionally stress muscle groups and individual muscles in order to stimulate recovery and growth. Regularly scheduled breaks in a strength training regimen are good for recovery and ultimately, mental and physical health.  The law of reversibility, during a detraining period of only one week, will not come into play.  The athlete who worked so hard for the past 6 weeks to get his deadlift 3 rep max to 385 will still be able to perform that lift after a one-week break.  Just like the math student who solved the algebraic equation correctly during his midterm prior to break can still solve the problem after break week.  

We think of our athletic performance training schedule as a football game.  From the time we return from Holiday break until Winter break is the 1st quarter.  From Winter to Spring break is the 2nd quarter.  Spring break to graduation is the 3rd quarter and Summer is the 4th quarter.  After each quarter of a football game there is a break.  A time for players to catch their breath, to hydrate and to refocus. On several occasions we talked about the importance of “Half-time adjustments” and breaks from training give the body a similar opportunity to assess and adjust. No football coach would ever elect to go from the opening kickoff to the final play with no scheduled breaks.  Players would burnout, performance levels would decline and goals would be harder to achieve.  Take advantage of the breaks and come back as a stronger, more motivated student and athlete.

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! 

Offseason Assessments; What Gets Measured, Gets Done!

As we discussed in last week’s blog post, (Hilltopper’s Train Heroic”) we assess every player through a combine test at the beginning of training camp; but we also test them in a variety of lifts throughout our training season.  Just as in the classroom, we teach before testing. Our strength coach and I are certified Olympic weightlifting coaches through USA Weightlifting, and I would encourage anyone interested in teaching the Olympic lifts to earn a certification. Learning and teaching lifts correctly maximizes both athletic performance and athletes’ safety. 

The techniques for all of these lifts have been taught to the players through a teaching progression at the start of the season and reinforced during in-season training. We believe the Hang Clean and the dumbbell 1 arm Snatch and Jerk enable our athletes to train the benefits of functional power through the extension of the ankles, knees and hips known in O-Lifts as “Triple Extension” while doing so safely. 

We test the week before Winter break, the week before Spring break and the last week before graduation week.  This week is our first testing week. The tests give us a baseline for younger players allowing us to measure growth through future tests.  Tests also allow us to compare results by position group, year in school, veterans and rookies, starters and non-starters.  The results will also identify weaknesses and allow us to alter program design as we phase through the off-season’s natural breaks

Testing in athletic performance training is as important as testing in the classroom.  Academic testing measures learning progress, evaluates the effectiveness of curriculum, and provides both student and teacher with feedback to see that they are on course to achieve their goals. Strength testing provides the same information.  Testing only once or twice a year is akin to a teacher only giving a final exam.

Weekly Training Schedule

We do a 1 Rep Max for the Olympic lifts since the athletes are not lifting very heavy weights (relatively speaking).  We do a 3 Rep Max for the Power lifts to use a lighter weight and minimize risk of injury. Over the years we’ve seen players who commit to the program realize solid progress and subsequently reinforce personal motivation as well as encouraging teammates to do the same.

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! 

Hilltoppers Train Heroic!

In an earlier blog post (“Far From Bright Lights,” 16 Jan), we shared the expectations of our players and the point system we use to track their participation through the Winter and Spring seasons.  We ask those who play another sport to attend that team’s practices as well as strength train for football at least once a week.  Those who do not play another sport are expected to train three times a week.  We post player workouts and track them in the “Train Heroic” app.  

Also mentioned in the earlier blog, those who comply earn a point for themselves and concurrently, a point for the team. Each week of the training season represents a game week for the coming Fall season (Intra-squad scrimmage all the way to the State Championship game).  The total number of team points earned during the week determines whether we win that week’s game.  

The number of points we need to score, as a team, is 24.  Not because it is a certain percentage of our total roster.  Not because it is the number of points we need to score in a regular-season game to win.  But rather as we have shared in other blogs, we hold ourselves to a standard of making evidence-based decisions. 

To that end, on Day 1 of training camp, we will put every player through our combine test measuring them in Speed, Agility, Quickness, Power, Strength, Fitness and Muscular endurance.  Maximum score is 160 points.  During previously successful seasons, we have had an average of 24 players score 100 or more points.  We need an average of 24 players demonstrating their commitment to our training program and the results of maximizing their genetic potential through athletic performance training. In addition to the score, time spent together reinforcing one another’s commitment to personal growth also reinforces commitment to the team and our culture.

Our players know the number we need and encourage each other to help the team reach the score and achieve the win, but we do not fret over those who choose not to.  We give everyone equal opportunity and encouragement and recognize such a commitment may be too much for many of them.  As the saying goes, “I’d rather 10 Lions than 100 Sheep”.  We are looking for 24 Lions.

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! 

Perspectives on Mentorship

I recently read a social media group post from a coach who stated he played offensive line in high school then began coaching right after high school and that he knows a lot about offensive line.  My first thought was “oh no…”  But then I read on as he also relayed, he is now looking for a mentor to learn more about offensive line play.  To that I say, “Alleluia!” 

Those who went before us have the potential to offer hard won wisdom if we will commit to the mentor relationship.

Certainly playing this great game and being influenced by coaches can naturally lead to a desire to stay close to it and look for the opportunity to pass on to others the benefits enjoyed as a player. However, where you sit determines what you see… If you only played high school football and then began coaching right away, you most likely still have a great deal to learn. Your “view” is based on your experience and as a player, it’s often a narrow one. Finding a mentor, (the right mentor!), can have an enormous impact on your career. Perspective, experience, opportunities, and often an understanding of the second and third order effects of decisions or circumstances you may be considering are all potential benefits of a mentor relationship.

I have been blessed to have been coached by and to have coached with some great men who have taught me much about life and football.  If you were not so fortunate, find someone who is an expert and seek their assistance as a mentor. Be candid about your interests, but be equally so about your commitment to the relationship with a mentor and your willingness to pay forward the investment your mentor offers you. Then, as you learn to view the game and its nuances from their perspective, start copying what they do.  Fashion Designer Yohji Yamamoto  is credited with saying, “Start copying what you love. Copy, copy, copy, copy. At the end of the copy you will find yourself.”    

When New Jersey football coaching legend Warren Wolf once put his arm around me and said, “Rich, you are a young George DeLeone” it was most likely the result of how much time I spent observing and copying Coach DeLeone.  When American Football Monthly named me a Guru of offensive line play in the Northeast, it was the result of my studying under my mentor Jim Pry who was similarly mentored by the guru of all offensive line coaches, Jim McNally.  

The time spent listening to, learning from, and observing men like Coach DeLeone, Coach Pry, Coach McNally and Coach Flood, (who is now the OLine Coach at Texas), formulated how I teach.  Now, I appreciate and take great care of any opportunity I have to reinforce the investments of these great men by stepping in where I can and helping other coaches.  

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! 

Building and Sharing Wisdom

As professional development opportunities for football coaches go virtual, I’m concerned some coaches will believe watching a video clip of a play or listening to a pre-recorded presentation will enable them implement and successfully coach the play they just “learned.”  To quote French Renaissance philosopher Michel de Montaigne We can be knowledgeable with other men’s knowledge, but we cannot be wise with other men’s wisdom.” The key component of wisdom is experience.  Experiences can be shared in live presentations and often spill out into hotel lobbies, on fields interacting with players and coaches, or in offices on whiteboards.  

Our eyes can deceive us… The play a coach views once in a recording was run successfully against the most ideal defense.  When researching a play, we need to see the Good, the Bad and the Ugly… To see it against 3 down and 4 down, versus Zone and Man, with 1 High and 2 High, versus 5 and 6 man pressures.  Video clips in live presentations will likely skew to the optimal as well, but multiple coaches asking multiple questions: (e.g.  how to block the play against 4i Defensive Tackles, when Linebackers walk up in the A gaps, versus a defense that drops eight…) offers the greatest opportunity to clarify and confirm understanding and expectations.  

If there is something you see online and would like to install,  email the coach with your questions.  Try to set up a Zoom meeting as a follow up.  Learn what he has learned. Knowledge is knowing.  Wisdom is so much more…  It is not enough to diagram and know the rules of a play.  You need to understand the intricacies of the play and how they may be impacted by defensive adjustments.  Wisdom involves an integration of knowledge, experience, and deep understanding, as well as a tolerance for the uncertainties one is likely to encounter.

If you have any questions about any of the things I have online, I would look forward to the discussion.  Feel free to reach out, and please offer to share something of your own as well.

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! 

New Starts and Extraordinary Examples

The third Monday of January is the day we honor the life of a man who fought for racial justice and equality and dreamed of a color-blind world free from segregation.  While we have come a long was as a nation since Dr. King shared his dream; the recent social unrest reminds us of how far we still must go.

The Team Reminds Us of Who and What We Can Become.
(Photo by Paul Hayes)

The third Monday of January also marks the start of the football clinic season and my annual trip to Bergen County NJ for the honor of speaking at Fred Stengel’s annual offensive line coach’s clinic. Regrettably, for the first time in over 20 years, Coach Stengel’s clinic will not happen.  Nor will so many others.  I am hopeful that invitations I had to speak at the 2021 New England Nike Clinic, Glazier Clinics, and the Big New England Clinic will be extended to me again in 2022.  As I have said in other blogs, one of the greatest things about our profession is the willingness of coaches to share their knowledge with others.  While I love to speak and share those things that have brought our program success, I find equal joy in learning from other coaches.

The game of football and the young people we coach are ever changing and we, as coaches, must adapt to those changes and stay current to have continued success and to better relate to this generation of players.  We must have open minds that are accepting of new ideas and better ways of doing things.  To have an open mind, we must possess the virtue of humility.  Arrogance leads to a closed mind and the belief that we are already in possession of everything worth knowing. If I’ve learned anything in more than 30 years of coaching, it’s actually how much I still have left to learn! 

While Glazier, Nike and Big New England have all gone virtual, I remain optimistic the vaccine coupled with herd immunity will allow the Vermont Football Coaches Clinic and the Alercio OLine Clinics, usually scheduled in March, to be hosted live in May.  I am ever hopeful the coming months will allow us to gather as coaches to share ideas with open minds for the betterment of our players, teams, and the game of football. Opportunities to learn and share excite me and re-kindle the optimism and promise of the new season and all we can achieve together. In his “I have a dream” speech, when Dr. King said, “We as a people, will get to the promised land…” I think he was speaking of the hope and potential for all to achieve the best of themselves, and the best of society. While my aspirations for the team pales in comparison to Dr. King’s monumental task and achievements, I feel fortunate to have his example to emulate and guide from as we begin again to strive to be our best as players, coaches, and teammates.

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! 

Far From Bright Lights

The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses…in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.  Muhammad Ali

The same can be said for football games.  The philosophy of the St Johnsbury Academy Football program is built on a similar mantra: “Games are not won on weekends in the fall.”  They are won in our weight room and on our fields, on cold winter mornings, and hot summer afternoons.

Hilltopper football players begin their winter training season this week.  Those not playing a winter sport are expected to train 3 days/week.  Winter sport athletes are expected to participate in all their team activities as well as train for football 1 day/week.  We encourage the multi-sport athlete and believe there are both physical and emotional benefits to multi-sport opportunities.  There are two training options each day.  One can be performed in a gym and another can be done at home.  No Excuses!   Those who fulfill their expectation earn 1 point for themselves as well as 1 for the team. 

Each week, over the next 13 weeks, will represent a week during the 2021 football season.  This week is our Green v White intra-squad scrimmage.  Next week is our game condition scrimmage, followed by our 8 regular season games, then playoffs.  On Mondays, I will inform the team of who we are “playing” that training week based on our 2021 schedule (which has not yet been revealed.)  I will also inform them whether we accrued enough team points to have “won” the previous week’s game/scrimmage.  We have a predetermined score, based on the total number of players on our roster, that we must reach to “win” each week.  As a conscious decision, we do not determine team captains or group leaders in the training season.  Every Hilltopper is accountable to themselves and their teammates.

Individual points will be tracked through the Winter, Spring and Summer.  Those players, with the highest point totals, will be the first in training camp to choose jersey numbers, locker locations, helmets, and shoulder pads.  There is no repercussion for those who do not participate.  This is purely a reward system focused on positive reinforcement.  There are no negative consequences imposed by the program though I have heard players express regrets when they fell far short of their own expectations. As we have described in five previous starts to off-season training, (going back to 2017 on Olineskills.com), culture is comprised of thousands of small choices and actions taken daily, and culture matters. Each player has the opportunity to set a personal example of work ethic, commitment, and establish foundations of leadership.  

If we want to win on weekends in the fall, each individual needs to commit to their athletic performance training and encourage their teammates to do the same… 

…Long before we dance under those lights.

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! 

Adapt and Overcome

Six months ago, Fall Sports were in doubt due to the Coronavirus…

Then I heard Vermont was going to allow soccer to be played in the Fall of 2020, but not football. It took all of two seconds to realize that if we can play soccer, we can play 7v7 football…  Thankfully, those in position to make that decision were of like thinking.  All our Fall student-athletes were able to practice, play, and engage with their teammates, and coaches.  They had a place to go after school and something to look forward to.  They were motivated daily to attend classes in-person or virtually and succeed academically.  We worked our way through the team-building process, reinforced culture and character, and during a very difficult time, players had the daily support of the teammates and coaches.  I was surprised other states did not follow suit.  Many states choose to not play rather than give up “traditional” 11v11 tackle football.  Their plan was to push the football season to the Spring.  The semester has begun, and though the vaccine offers a light at the end of the tunnel (likely for Fall ’21) states are still battling many of the same COVID concerns this Spring.  

It now appears at least one state is considering what we did in Vermont.  Over the weekend, I was contacted by a writer from SBLive Sports, a network of high school sports websites across the nation, who was working on a story for their Oregon site regarding the options the OSAA might take if state health authorities do not approve the spring high school football season as planned.  The reporter’s interest was less about what we did and focused on how Vermont’s 7v7 program was received by players, parents, and the community.  

Simply answered, if the coach is enthusiastic and optimistic, it is well received.  As coaches and leaders, part of team building is creating a unifying vision of a hopeful future. If we know who we are, what we face, and that together we can accomplish our objectives, student-athletes are resilient and adapt well to change.  They will embrace the challenge, pull together as a team, and pursue their goals. They just need a little guidance, and someone to reinforce the best of who they can become.  Those who would say “7v7 is not real football” are letting their own biases interfere with the interests of their players. On this blog I’ve often mentioned the effects of football range far beyond the confines of the field or the season, and I speak from first hand experience when I say the 7v7 program we ran in Vermont this year helped us build teams, win games, and develop young men (and for the first time women!) who will be better off for the experience.

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! 

Reflections Not Resolutions

Instead of making a New Year’s resolution that most likely won’t last past Groundhog’s Day, consider welcoming 2021, with reflections on 2020.  Despite the challenges of the passing year, think about three things that brought you joy and plan to do more of them (Actually right them down!) Then write down three things that brought on disappointment or frustration and simply choose to do less of those.  

A year filled with quarantines and stay-at-home orders allowed for more and even unexpected family time.  As we go our separate ways in 2021, I want to be intentional in planning, get-togethers more frequently, as well as planned vacation time as a family.  My wife, sons, and I are taking the time to put markers on the calendar, block out time, and commit to spending it together. The travel restrictions of 2020 facilitated new and easier ways to get together with long lost friends and distant relatives through Zoom and FaceTime.  I want to make sure those rekindled relationships stay strong and ongoing.  Minutes on Zoom and Facetime are fine. Don’t feel compelled to spend hours… make it easy on everyone, and everyone will be more likely to participate. 2020 allowed me more time to read.  I do not typically read for entertainment but rather improvement.  I am already working on my 2021 reading list focused on helping me be a better husband, father, son, brother, coach, teacher and mentor.

The most frustrating thing of 2020 has been wearing a mask.  Not because they are uncomfortable and steam up my sunglasses, but because they hide the smiles of those we encounter daily.  I look forward to being able to greet people and letting them know how happy I am to see them without saying a word. (Please note, as long as Masks are in the public interest, we will comply, but I do look forward to fewer days with a mask as we beat back the pandemic.)  I missed conducting the 19th annual Alercio OLine Clinics and speaking at the Nike and Glazier Clinics.  I remain hopeful we will be able to share what we do with others so that they can achieve the same levels of success we have been so blessed to experience over the years.  Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the loss of human contact was a source of frustration.  Not being able to greet someone with a firm handshake, or put your arm around someone in need of support, or give someone a hug to let them know how much you care about them.  

There is much to learn from 2020 and even more to look forward to in 2021.  I encourage you to seek the good, and enjoy more of it, while minimizing the impacts of frustrations. As the ball drops tonight, and the clock turns midnight, I wish you and those you hold dearest a safe, healthy and happy New Year, and all the best in 2021!

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! 

Socrates & The Solstice

Long before Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Las Posadas were celebrated and gifts were given, Socrates is credited with saying,  “Be less concerned with what you have than with what you are.”

A Coach’s Interpretation of Stonehenge on the Solstice

It is easy to get caught up in material things this time of year.  To focus on who can get the bigger, better, and more expensive presents for their kids and spouses.  Socrates reminds us it is much more important to be a better spouse, parent, friend, teammate, mentor, or leader than gift giver.

It is easy for us coaches to also get caught up in material things and to be more concerned with what we have (winning records, trophies, championships) than with who we are (team builders, developers of student athletes, and shapers of team culture).  While I understand the former often determines whether we keep our jobs or not, I know from experience when the latter becomes our primary concern, it’s a mindset and a manner ultimately leading to our success.

It’s not the latest video game, meme, or fad found under the tree. It’s not me first and bend the rules to win at all cost attitudes, it’s the selfless gifts to others… investing in a person or a team’s potential… truly putting team above self… That’s where the true gifts are found.

Whatever Holiday you celebrate this season, I wish you the very best with those you hold dearest. I’m taking a break next week to enjoy the season with my family and will be back on New Year’s Eve with some thoughts looking forward to 2021.

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!