Second Chances

There is only one thing in life you do not get a second chance at, and that’s making a first impression.  For almost anything else, everyone deserves a second chance… Especially kids.  

Kids decide to leave teams for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes influenced by parents, some by friends who lure them away with options that seem easy but are ultimately not so positive. Others leave because they would rather work (sometimes because families need them to work).  But many choose to leave a team because they were just not ready for their first chance.  

I tell our players at the start of every season, “football is not for everyone and Hilltopper football is for even fewer.”  Not everyone is prepared for the demands placed upon them. We ask for commitment to team and to teammate, and to place the good of the team above self, and to confront adversity, sometimes even fear… It’s a lot to ask, and for some, it’s more than they expected, and can be overwhelming. So they take what they think is the easy way out and quit.

On the morning after Thanksgiving, while I am still reflecting on how much the great game of football has given me, I look to give a second chance to those kids who left the program on good terms.  Those players who may have left for a variety of reasons are added back to the roster in “Hudl,” and are offered a second chance.  I understand many may choose not to return, and others may return only to leave again.  I also understand most of those kids will not help our football program nearly as much as our football program has the potential to help them.  Ultimately, that is the reason they are given a second chance.  What they do with it is entirely up to them.

Our mission is to build teams, win games, and develop quality citizens. A mission and ultimately a community that benefits from second chances.

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 Thanks

I’m so Thankful for so many blessings, but the love and support of my family tops the list!

During this time of Thanksgiving, I want to share how appreciative I am for the number of readers who take the time every week to visit olineskills.com, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, or read our weekly email blog posts.  I appreciate you sharing them with your friends and colleagues, but I am most thankful for the replies I receive through email, text, or social media with thoughtful comments of how a blog impacted them.  Below is a social media comment from a fellow football coach and friend, Jim Hill, who shares how last week’s blog caused him to reflect on how his team helped him through a dark time in his life.   

In 2016, my life was turned upside down with the death of my mother in June, and then 3 months later my wife left me… My team saved me that year. I was supposed to be their leader as the head coach of the program but that year they picked me up and led me out of the darkness.  I am forever grateful to the 2016 Otter Valley football team. Football is so much more than just a game.

Our great nation reserves the fourth Thursday of November every year as a time for us to give thanks.  I live every day with gratefulness in my heart, that I have the privilege of being a football coach, to have learned so much from this great game, and have the blessing of sharing with others, the way so many shared with me.

Thanks for reading, for caring, and contributing to others. It is my most sincere hope you are able to enjoy this Thanksgiving and have the opportunity to give some thought to being grateful. Even without extended family, friends, and colleagues around the table this year, we still have so much to be thankful for.

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!  

Dark Places, Teammates, & Salvation

In a recent email from one of my oldest and dearest friends, he references a “dark place” in his life and how football and his teammates, now lifelong friends, helped him overcome it.

In a football game, we conveniently have a scheduled break allowing us to evaluate our situation and make changes accordingly. It is called halftime. Good coaches and good teams use this opportunity to make halftime adjustments enabling them to achieve a more desirable outcome. We solicit feedback, discuss observations, and cultivate concepts and ideas.

In our championship game a week ago, we found ourselves only up by 1 point at halftime. The first half of our game had not gone the way we planned.  We needed to make some adjustments and fortunately had the halftime to do so. Refocusing our players on expectations, clarifying and confirming their commitment to each other, and belief in their collective potential, we scored the game’s next three touchdowns and finished the game with a comfortable win.

Life rarely offers such a convenience. There is no scheduled halftime, and chaos often relentlessly assaults us. Yet, to be successful, you must make and take the time to evaluate your life to determine if it is one well lived. Your current situation does not need to be your permanent situation. But sometimes it’s hard to see a way ahead and not everyone has a coach to help them make timely adjustments.  As we have described before, “where you sit determines what you see…” However, we rarely find our best selves when inwardly focused, and benefit most when helping others. As my friend described, teammates helped him see a different view, and he found a better outcome.

It’s easy to cocoon, and particularly so in times like these. Seek the help of your family, friends, teammates, teachers, mentors, bosses, clergy to help you make positive changes in your life and the lives of those around you. In doing so, you may just find the very thing we help new teams discover every year: “Together, we’re always stronger than any one of could ever hope to be alone.” Draw on the strength of your team, and accomplish more than you ever thought possible.

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!

Alotta FISH!

“That is a lot of FISH, Coach”

I have heard the term “GOAT” used to refer to someone as the “Greatest Of All Time,” but it was not until this weekend, when I received a text from our former headmaster and now assistant coach, following our win last weekend, using the acronym FISH to describe things as First In School History.  

The following is his list of FISH:

  1. Two father-son duos win a championship (Tom and John Lovett, Rich and Jake Alercio)
  2. Coach has won a championship with all three sons (Shane and Trey as players in 2017, Jake as a coach in 2020)
  3. Championship game win on Fairbanks Field. (Championship games are usually played on neutral sites)
  4. 7-on-7 Championship.  
  5. Beating our rivals, Lyndon Institute, twice in a season.

In a pregame speech just prior to our first game this season I told our players, “This would be an historical season; remembered for generations to come.”  They would always be known as “the team who played through the pandemic.” That much we knew… But I asked them, “how do you want to be remembered? What are you willing to commit to? What do you pledge to yourselves and your teammates? And how will you measure yourselves against your commitment and pledge?”

Throughout the season I saw young men, (and for the first time, young women) demonstrate their commitment to each other, to the team, and to becoming something worth more than an asterisk about a pandemic. As the 2020 Hilltopper story arced across the season, we encountered challenges and rebounded in the face of adversity. When circumstances tried to pull us apart, we saw cohesion and interdependence pull us back together… This past weekend, we wrote the final chapter of the story. This resilient team of Hilltoppers, led through these challenging times by our three seniors, will always be known as the 2020 Northeast Regional Champions.

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!

Senior Recognition…

On Saturday, we recognized our senior football players prior to our last regular season game.  One of those seniors, Zelin “Aiden” Chen, who was unable to return for his senior season due to COVID, attended the ceremony at 1am over 12,000 miles away on a Zoom call.  While the best I could offer is a “virtual hug,” we did our best to reinforce our appreciation for his contributions to the team. Below is the email I received after our game:

“Coach, after the recognition, I just kept watching the videos that I recorded from Zoom over and over again, tears just came out of my eyes, I just can’t stop missing you guys. ☹ Last night in my dream, I was warming up with my teammates on the field and getting ready for the LI game, although I forgot all the details, but we won the game just like we always did. Just hope I can do more for the team, just let you know, Aiden Chen is always here and ready to do everything for the team. Thank you coach, you taught me a lot, when I was a new student in the dorm, you and Mrs. Alercio were always help me. Playing football is the best decision I have ever made. The team made me feel like home, every time when I fell down on the ground, there was always a lovely hand in front of me. The relationships in this big family are like the sunshine after rain, just always keep touching and warming my heart. I can still remember once in practice, when we were doing the lineman steps, after finishing all the steps, you suddenly pointed at me and your face looked so serious that I was so nervous about what I did, however, I saw a big smile on your face, “Aiden, you are pretty good on those steps.” And after the practice you said to everyone in the team “Aiden Chen had a great practice today.” Because of your encouragement, I began trying harder and harder on every drill, every practice and every game. What’s more, because of your motivation, I lost 80 pounds right now, during the summer, I knew I couldn’t be professional but being on the varsity has been an honor for me, so it has been my motivation in the gym. I know I’m not the best one in the team, but this team means a lot to me. I am so upset I can’t be physically on the team this year but thank you very much for letting me participate virtually today. I MISS you coach, I miss all the memories with you, Mrs. Alercio, Trey and JJ! I can’t wait to go back to StJ, bring the best tea to you, we can sit on the couch in Green Dorm, having a cup of tea, watching an exciting football game. Good luck with the game. Thank you for EVERYTHING! And I hope everything is good with you.

Thank you Aiden for so perfectly encapsulating what is most important about playing and coaching football.  While we left the field that day with a victory over our rivals, the true reward of the job came after I got home, settled in, and read this email with tears in my eyes.

Using Zoom to recognize Hilltopper Senior Aden Chen from 12,000 miles away

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!

Most Important Attributes

One of the players from our 2020 Vermont Shrine Team, who is now a college student, contacted me to do an interview for one of his classes.  His assignment was to interview someone who works in athletic  administration.  The last of his questions was, “what is the most important characteristic and skill needed for a successful career in athletics?”  I replied that the most important characteristic is humility.  The more successful you are in athletics the more humble you need to be. As wins, championships, and accolades accumulate, hubris and vanity repeatedly try to infiltrate one’s personality. As for the skill, it is communication.  You need to be an effective communicator to everyone in your organization. If a coach is going to lead, guide, and direct a team to success he or she must build a culture. Thoughtful and effective communications are imperative.

After the call, I reflected on what my answer would have been if he had asked “what the most important characteristic of a team should be?”  The answer is something that we showed in two recent games…Resilience.  Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.  Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity.  In those recent games our teams faced adversity and responded well.  Erasing a two touchdown halftime deficit in one, and pulling out a win in the last minute of the other, after trailing the entire game.  While we have enjoyed many lopsided wins over the past half a dozen years, our real growth occurred when we have had to overcome adversity.  Adversity plays a vital role in growth for teams and individuals.  

I often say that helicopter parents who shield their children from adversity are doing them a tremendous disservice.  The failure that kids experience in athletics inoculates them against the fear of failure that they will inevitably experience in life.  While I do not wish challenging times on anyone, I do recognize the value in the growth of having to overcome those difficulties. Like the events of one’s life, footballs bounce in unexpected ways. As coaches, we must prepare our team for the game, we don’t try to prepare the game for our team.

As we speak about resilience, I would recommend a book that was recently suggested to me by my dear friend and former headmaster.  The book is entitled “Resilience.” It is a compilation of the letters Eric Greitens sent to a fellow Navy Seal team member who was struggling with adversity in his life.  

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!

Yet Another Change In Perspective

The COVID environment we’ve all endured has changed many perspectives over the last seven months. As I noted in earlier blogs, some for the better… some for the worse… But it’s been our specified intent to seek the good and find the benefits of new experiences and perspectives. One distinct change from my perspective is after coaching boys for more than thirty years, I’m now coaching girls as well.

Given this change, I felt a need to better understand how to coach the opposite sex.  While the expectation to adhere to the performance standards of our culture remain the same regardless, I recognize communication (both verbal and non-verbal) may indeed be different.  I have learned over three decades you cannot coach Generation Z the way you coached Millennials.  Nor can us Generation Xers coach the way we were coached by Baby Boomers.  

The key to coaching is communication. To effectively communicate with players you need to understand their differences.  In doing some research on the topic, I found some excerpts from the book “You Just Don’t Understand” by Deborah Tannen.   She states, “boys focus their communication on independence, self-reliance, and the avoidance of failure, while girls focused on connection, preserving intimacy, and avoiding isolation.”   She goes on to state, “female athletes generally respond better when you avoid yelling and ask them for their input, while male athletes often respond well to motivational yelling or concise demands from a coach.  Lastly, Tannen states that while the content of what you say may be the same, the way you deliver the message can make all the difference.  That was just the advice that I needed to read.  

Similar themes are echoed by Anson Dorrance, Hall of Fame head coach of the UNC Chapel Hill Women’s soccer team. Coach Dorrance has led the lady Tarheels to 21 of the 31 NCAA Championships ever awarded, and has amassed more than 800 wins, (a >90% winning percentage!) Coach Dorrance is very candid about the early lessons he learned transitioning from coaching young men to coaching young women. While concepts of common vision, values, understanding, and goals remain the same in developing team culture, Coach Dorrance helped me understand how differences in communication styles, humility, and perception are better tools for building trust, cohesion, and interdependence.

I’ve commented before how our role as coaches is to build teams, win games, and develop quality citizens who will graduate and contribute to our community. While there are many aspects of the COVID environment I have found frustrating, another silver lining has been learning how to create opportunity and serve the young women on our team who will contribute equally to our success and go on to be leaders in our communities 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!

Lineman’s Dream

Every offensive lineman’s dream is to score a touchdown…

But that is not in their job description.  Their role on the team is to selflessly block so that others can have the glory of reaching the end zone.  Their running backs, quarter backs, and receivers are lauded by cheering fans while the offensive linemen anonymously return to the sideline.

When we have had athletic offensive linemen in the past, we have rewarded them with the opportunity to experience the glory of crossing the goal line.  During our 2017, season, our Right Tackle scored several rushing touchdowns aligned as a running back in a goal line package.  In that same season, during the state championship game, on a 4th and 1 on the goal line, just before halftime, we threw a screen pass to our left tackle for a touchdown.

Playing 7v7 football in Vermont this season allows all offensive linemen the opportunity to get in the end zone.  Our lone returner from last year’s offense, a 2-year starter at Left Guard, is now a senior running back.  He always wanted to play running back but selflessly assumed his role on the offensive line because that was what was best for the team.  With two games under our belt, that Left Guard has 9 receptions for 80 yards and two touchdowns.  

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!

Seek The Positive

Not long after it was announced that Vermont high schools would be playing 7v7 football in place of traditional tackle football, I was invited to do a radio interview with Sports Saturday hosted by Jeff Paul, on 101.3 THE GAME in Burlington.

One of the topics of conversation centered around the positives of this temporary change.  One of those positives for many teams may be a negative for us, since we already pass the ball.  Vermont is a run oriented state.  Teams in the Green Mountain State run the ball and defend the run very well.  7v7 affords those teams an opportunity to work on their passing game as well as their coverages to defend the pass.  Without the physical mismatches of traditional football, it also allows big schools and small schools to play against each other allowing for teams who would never normally play each other to get together and compete.  Only one team on our 7v7 schedule was on our original schedule.  I look forward to playing those other teams.

The last, and most important, benefit is that 7v7 allows an entry point to football for those who may have never played tackle.  At St Johnsbury Academy, we were fortunate to acquire two additions to our team that we would not have had without 7v7.  During the summer prior to the decision to go 7v7, I was contacted by Fritz Hauser who was transferring to the Academy as a junior and entering our boarding program.  He is a basketball player who always wanted to play football. A week later, he informed me that he would not play.  His parents did not want him to risk injury before basketball season.  While that is an understandable concern, I am happy to say that we have never had an athlete miss their winter sport due to a football injury.  Soon after the announcement we would play 7v7, Fritz reached back out to say he was going to join us.  He has proven to be a quick study, a hard worker, and a great teammate.

After the first week of the season, I received an email from a mother indicating her child, Brooke, was interested in joining the team but had never played football.  I invited her to have Brooke join us the next day to observe practice.  After watching us that day, Brooke decided to join us.  The next day Brooke put on a football helmet and jersey for the first time and took the field, (although admittedly a little nervous and apprehensive). Our players quickly brought Brooke up to speed on drills and techniques.  Brooke has worked as hard as any player on the field and harder than most in her video and playbook study while catching up and learning a new sport.

As we referenced in last week’s blog, personal differences do not matter.  In the huddle, we are all Hilltoppers.  Brooke and Fritz make us a better and stronger team.  I am hopeful that both of them decide to stay with us when we transition back to tackle football.  For now, I am just happy to have the opportunity to coach them.

You can hear my entire interview with Jeff Paul from 101.3 The Game here:

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!

One Huddle

American Football Coaches Association “One Huddle” Patch

The State of Vermont has announced it has moved to Step 3, which will allow high school athletes to compete inter-scholastically.  This weekend, schools all over Vermont will compete in high school athletics for the first time since March.  When players, coaches and officials take the field, all will be wearing masks.  But the football coaches at St Johnsbury Academy will be wearing something else as well: AFCA One Huddle patches.

For a fourth straight year, football coaching staffs all over the country will wear American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) patches on their opening weekend games to help raise the general public’s awareness of the association, its initiatives, and goals. This year’s patch states “One Huddle” which represents the unifying aspects of football in today’s social climate.  It doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are, your socio-economic background, or how you choose to identify yourself. Everyone in that huddle is there for one united purpose: to place the goals and good of the team above their own self interest. In the huddle we are all stronger together than any one of us could ever be alone.

The following is an excerpt from NFL All-Star, and legendary coach Bill Curry’s piece entitled “The Huddle” which he wrote following the September 11th terrorist attacks.  He shared it with the National Football Foundation at their annual awards dinner on December 11, 2001:

“The football huddle is a metaphor of our culture; imperfect like all metaphors… In that huddle are a bunch of folks who are black, brown, white, red, yellow, liberal, conservative, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu. We are slim, fat, short, tall, fast and slow… We are analytical people, and we are impulsive people. We have some of the finest men on Earth, and heaven knows, we’ve got a few rounders.”

In the huddle, we find far more in common with one another, we elevate and commit to the team’s goals, and our differences do not matter.  

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!