Work Smarter Not Harder

As we wrap up our two weeks of training camp and prepare for our game condition scrimmage this weekend, I reflect on training camps in my past and how they differ from today.  The days of double and triple sessions are over.  Drills like “Bull in the Ring,” “Oklahoma.” And “Blood or Bone,” are no longer on our practice schedules.  Practices never end with conditioning.

We now incorporate a five day acclimatization period that does not have us doing two practices in the same day until day three and we never do double sessions on consecutive days.  We do not put on full pads until day 4 and never wear full pads in both practices of a double session day.  Although getting accustomed to our pads is important, it does not allow us to practice as fast as we want.

With so much emphasis on player safety and concussions, 2019-08-22 smarter light bulbwe have removed any drills that have full contact collisions at any position other than Offensive and Defensive Line, and we never do live tackling in practice drills or from scrimmage.  Rather we focus on technique, leverage, and emphasize decision making.

We get all the conditioning we need with our defensive pursuit, fast-paced offensive, and special teams coverage drills.  We log a lot of miles at a fast pace, but we will never waste time having all of our players run across the field in a linear fashion just to “get them in shape,” or to “toughen them up.”  Every minute of practice is critical, and every minute is scheduled with football-related drills enabling both fundamentals AND the conditioning required for success.

I remember lining up in high school while a coached donned a black executioner’s mask to commence what felt like hours of physical (and in many ways mental) conditioning…  Given prevailing philosophies at the time, I can understand the rationale, but as football has evolved, I’m confident we have a better way…

Instead of ending practices with demoralizing conditioning drills that do not translate well to playing the game of football, we end practices with a game that is fun, builds teamwork, fosters interdependence, and stresses communication.  These games also incorporate logging miles at a fast pace in a variety of movement patterns.  The best part is that the players work harder and run faster than they ever would lining up and waiting for a whistle to send them across the field and back.  I shudder at the distant echo of “Don’t hate me, hate the whistle” (just prior to the next sprint) and instead enjoy the competitive spirit and camaraderie of teammates coming together to meet a challenge while putting forth their best efforts.

One note about last week’s blog commemorating 40 years of team building and friendship… A colleague commented on the image of a team of individuals extending hands to climb a mountain, noting that at varying times each of us fulfilled many of the rolls conveyed in the image; sometimes helping, sometimes being helped, or even just supporting. Recognizing the opportunity and taking the action makes all the difference. The hero and the coward feel the same thing… the differentiator lies in the decisions and actions that follow in spite of those feelings.

Thanks for all your comments!

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!

Foundations of Friendship and Success

It was 40 years ago this week that I reported to my first high school training camp as a freshman entering Toms River North in Ocean County, New Jersey.  I remember how intimidated I was by the varsity players who would go on to win a state championship later that year.  They occupied a large locker room in the field house opposite the small space for the freshman team.  But in that small space friendships were being forged that would last a lifetime.

As coincidence would have it, I’m writing this blog early in the morning of Day 3 of our camp, and just received a text from one of those friends who is also a football coach. 2019-08-15 FrnshpSeveral other of our teammates were included.  It read:  “You guys don’t know how much you inspired, encouraged and motivated me.  I love you and thank you.  40 years…damn.  Mr. Nani looked so big.” Mr. Nani was our coach and the most intimidating looking man in the locker room.  He is now a dear friend as well, and each of us in our own ways has tried to emulate the positive impacts he had on us and so many during his career.

I know the techniques, schemes, and plays I teach to my players today will likely be forgotten over time, but I pray the time spent together now will yield the kind of friendships we enjoy so much later. Friends that I have been blessed with for four decades who were by my side during the most celebrated moments in my life, and more importantly the most difficult times as well.  I love them.  They are my brothers.

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 Home Team…

Coaching is a demanding profession.  The hours during the season are long and family time is limited.  Practices and games often conflict with family functions, school plays, recitals, and more.  A lot of sacrifices need to be made by a lot of people, and our families work just as hard (or even harder) as we do picking up the slack caused by our absence.

Stephen Covey’s book “First Things First,” very rightly reminds us to prioritize our time, and to be thoughtful in doing so. Please make sure you carve out family time. Resources permitting, take a week or more vacation with your family every year.  During that week, put the laptop and tablet away, don’t take any calls from other coaches, and focus on your family. Though it sounds cliche, you’ll blink, and children will be grown and opportunities lost…

In Vermont, we have a 10-day “dead period” where, as coaches, we are not allowed to schedule any organized team activities.  It is the ideal time to take a vacation, recharge the batteries and invest in those who support your coaching endeavors all year long.

As I prep for my vacation and complete this week’s somewhat shorter than usual blog, I’ve also completed practice schedules and scripts needed when I return. With a clear slate, I can truly relax and enjoy my family.  I’m genuinely looking forward to our family time together and wish you the best with yours.

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!

Mini Camp & More…

Our week of Mini Camp followed by our 7v7 tournament, Strongman competition, and Oline Challenge saw our team reach the performing stage of Tuckman’s Model sooner than expected, and not just on the field.  The first sign came after the first day of mini camp.  I saw a group of our senior, returning starters taking a few incoming freshmen out with them to Wing Night at a local restaurant, a Monday night tradition.  Welcoming new team members, making them part of the whole is a great indicator of turning “me” oriented individuals into “we” oriented teammates.

As we discussed in last week’s blog, we played (non-football) games to develop team chemistry, increase conditioning and work on agility.  An interesting thing happened on the second day of mini camp, we concluded practice by going into our fieldhouse and breaking up our players by their offensive positions to play pickup basketball.  We did not tell the players the rules or how to pick teams.  We just gave them a court and a ball and told them to play.  On Court 2, the Wide Receiver court, I saw two of our senior, returning starters elect themselves captains and align the others in a pool so that they could select their team.  At first, I thought, “oh no…”  This is exactly what I did not want to happen until I saw what these two seniors did.  They picked their teams in what I would consider reverse order.  The first pick was a young man who has most likely been the last pick every time teams were picked.  They then continued in that manner until the best player in the pool was left.  They clearly understand the shared vision of our program and a strategy of how to execute it.

Mini Camp ended with our 7v7 tournament, Strongman competitions, and OLine Challenge.  Our team went 5-0 on the day, winning the championship game against a very good Mount Mansfield Union team.  On the day, our varsity offense scored on every possession except one, and our defense never gave up more than one touchdown in a game.  Our Tight End/Defensive End won the Strongman competition in the heavyweight division, taking first place in every event.  The OLine Challenge came down to a tie-breaker.  A spirited tug-of-war between the Hilltoppers and the Falcons of North Country Union.  With great energy, effort, and enthusiasm, the Hilltoppers prevailed.  Players in both the OLine Challenge and on the field for the 7v7 showed a high level of interdependence we had not yet seen.

2019-08-01 7v7 champs1

After the first four games of our 7v7 tournament, one of the officials came up to me and said, “this is so much fun.  I do not know why there is not one of these tournaments every weekend all over the state.”   Good question.

The following pictures are the teams from Mount Mansfield Union and North County Union High Schools who earned 2nd and 3rd place, respectively in this past weekend’s tournaments.

2019-08-01 Mount Mansfield 7v7

2019-08-01 North County Union 7v7

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!

Time Flies…

Time flies during the summer.  We have already completed our 6-weeks of OTAs and are now in our 1-week Mini Camp.  At the end of Mini Camp, we will host the Northeast Kingdom 7v7 Tournament, Strongman Competition, and OLine Challenge.  We then give our players and staff two weeks off before they report to Training Camp.  Players will have a Monday-Saturday workout program during those two weeks but they are free to do it on their own.

With only five days of Mini Camp and the 1-day tournament, prioritizing our efforts is essential. Our number one priority is to continue to focus on the development of an “us” mentality within our team. As we progress through the Forming Stage of Tuckman’s Model of Group Development, building cohesion and interdependence is key.  We have included games (not football games) into our practice schedule to allow our kids to just play and have fun together.  Our (not football) games are usually fast-moving team games intentionally incorporating speed, agility, and conditioning so we are killing two birds with one stone.

Second to team building is the teaching of safe and sound technique.  Xs & Os take a backseat to technique during Mini Camp.  Regardless of how many innovations have come to football it is still a game of fundamental blocking and tackling and both can be dangerous if not taught properly.  2019-07-24 tackling safetyAll our coaches have successfully completed their online USA Football Certification courses prior to Mini Camp to ensure we are up to date and teaching the safest techniques in our sport.

Lastly, we want every one of our players to feel that they are a part of something fun and special.  Everyone who participates in our Saturday Tournament will be invited out to a local lake to play spikeball and cornhole, go wakeskating, tubing or kneeboarding, canoeing, kayaking, or stand up paddling, or just swim out to the swim platform and relax. The team will look back on all they’ve accomplished in 2019, and ahead to the season in front of us.

Players and staff then enjoy a well-earned break before Training Camp.

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

Us, and Never Them

Last week’s blog was about “Us” and “Them,” and how kids from different backgrounds came together to be a part of “Us” when it would have been easier to look at each other as “Them.”

When Al Groh, who is now the Head Football Coach at the University of Virginia, was on the New York Giants staff with Bill Parcells and Bill Belicheck, he used to label players as OOUs (One of Us) or OOTs (One of Them).  When these great coaches first got to the Giants, there were too many OOTs and not enough OOUs.  They began the weeding out process that lead to their Super Bowl Championships.

At a school as diverse as St Johnsbury Academy,2019-07-18 St J Huddle as Us it would be very easy to look at others as “Them.” 25% of our student body are dorm students from all over the world.  We have players on our team from Canada, Mexico, Germany, Finland, Spain, Hungary, China, Thailand, Taiwan, and even Rwanda.  The largest population on our team is from local students;  players whose families have lived in the area and attended the Academy for generations.   Then there is another population whose parents are Faculty/Staff.  Many of these students live on campus and their parents serve as dorm proctors.  Our campus is truly an amazing intersection of cultures. Our student-athletes have exposure opportunities my teammates and I could never have dreamed of back in New Jersey in the early ’80s.

When our week-long Mini Camp begins on Monday, we will not be just teaching blocking and tackling but also teaching our players to view each other as Us and never as Them.  The Norming Stage continues.

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!

More in Common…

I hope you had a wonderful Fourth of July and were able to celebrate the Holiday with family and friends while focusing on more of the things we have in common than the things many outlets suggest divide us.

While our varsity players continue with their summer OTAs and the process of working through the Norming Stage of Tuckman’s Model, the next generation of football players in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom recently joined together to participate in the Hilltopper Youth Football Camp.

In a Fall 2018, blog post, I shared the historic rivalry between St Johnsbury Academy and Lyndon Institute.  Our rivalry is one of the oldest in the nation and it runs deep through the families who have been living in this area for generations.  2019-07-11 More in CommonBut for one week this summer, boys from St Johnsbury’s youth football program, the Rodliff Raiders, and those from the Lyndon Vikings youth program came together as teammates and friends.  Kids from both towns did not look at each other as “them” but rather as “us.” That which could have so easily divided us was set aside for a greater good; for teamwork, camaraderie, and mutual benefit.

Team sports (football in particular), provide a prime opportunity for youth to work together, rely on each other and interact with teammates from a variety of backgrounds regardless of their perceived differences.  By the end of the week, we saw rivals become best friends, forging potentially lifelong relationships.

A child’s social circles have an impact on their identity perspectives.  Being a part of a diverse group of friends, prepares kids to deal with people who may not share the same background or perspective. When one thinks about all the different seats in a sports stadium, and all the potential angles of view, it really is true to say “Where you sit determines what you see.” Youth sports are a great way for children to expand and diversify their social circles, creating opportunities to view the game of life from different seats, with different views.

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!