Thoughts on Training Camp

The “transformation” is about to begin…2018-08-02 year Transformation

Earlier this week, I was invited to attend Jets training camp by my longtime friend, Jets coordinator of pro scouting, Greg Nejmeh.  Greg played for me and coached with me at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ).  While I was watching the team stretch at the beginning of practice, I saw them all begin to clap in unison as they looked towards the indoor facility.  They were welcoming a new player wearing a red jersey with number 14.  It was Sam Darnold.  He had just signed with the Jets and was transitioning on to the team.  As he made the long jog to the far grass field where the team was stretching and the clapping began to fade, you could hear one veteran cry out, “get your a$$ on the field” and everyone else begin to laugh…  At that moment, I was reminded that Training Camp is as much about building your team as it is about teaching offense, defense, and special teams. Culture matters… becoming a teammate is a process… and coaches must guide the process

Training Camp is the rite of passage for our program.  It is the welcoming of new players into our culture as well as the transitioning of the team from spring/summer work into the new season. As coaches, we’ve experienced firsthand, as well as observed multiple iterations of a team’s transformation from what was before, to what will be moving ahead. Although upperclassmen may have a leg up on offensive and defensive schemes, terminology, and practice routine, Training Camp begins the same way for everyone: with lots of focus, guidance, and direction for our players.

We revisit the common stages of teambuilding and by in large, most of camp is centered around “forming” and “storming.” When it goes well, we get to “norming,” and in a few instances, coaches and players see glimpses of “performing.” However, the final step is rarely widespread before the start of our first game-week of practices. The phases are however important, and Camp serves a role in clearly delineating a transition point in our season.

Leadership emphasis and “personal example” are imperative. If we are to help our new teammates grasp what it means to be a “Hilltopper” and to buy into our culture, upperclassmen and coaches’ words, decisions, and actions must overtly set the example and reinforce our character and culture.

Camp is intentionally hard. Players are stressed both physically and mentally, and each day serves a variety of individual and collective opportunities to confront personal fears, anxiety, and adversity. We program both success and failure in order to slowly build commitment, momentum and belief in ourselves, our teammates, and the team. We come out different than when we began and the transformation occurring during this rite of passage is an awesome thing to witness.

It’s important to note, Training Camp is our one rite of passage. Planned and executed in detail, there is only one transformation we strive to achieve. Both prior to, and during Training Camp the coaches and I take the opportunity to address the issues of hazing and bullying, and emphatically state there is no other rite of passage on our team. Team building reinforces the very best of character, culture, and interdependence. Hazing and bullying are its antithesis and are never tolerated. Nothing destroys a team faster.

For the Hilltoppers, Camp is a culminating event marking the transition from offseason to in-season, and the shared experiences on and off the field serve to solidify the vision, values, goals, and purpose behind who we are as a team. Coaches state our specific intent going in, and emphatically denounce any other effort by teammates, students, community members, or other entities who might try to create a separate initiation, rite of passage, or event that could rapidly deteriorate into a hazing incident. Hilltoppers treat one another with dignity and respect and reinforce the notion that individual words, actions, and decisions reflect on the whole team’s identity.

I look forward to discussing our transformation in the coming weeks, highlighting the lessons learned during Camp, and describing how the 2018 Hilltoppers rally together to start the new 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 and share with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for your time!


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