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!

Traditions Return

Students are back in school, and players are back on the field.  Things may look a little different but our players have adapted well.  Our players report to a designated meeting area to wait for their time to go into the fieldhouse to change.  Tarps hung around court #3 of our fieldhouse create our makeshift locker room.  Players bring all their belongings to the field.  Weightlifting equipment is moved outside at the end of practice for our athletic performance training, and thoroughly wiped down when complete.

Some things haven’t changed.  We ended our first week of practice by lining up all of our first-year players then invited our returning players to pick a rookie they want to go up against in a best-of-three game of Rock-Paper-Scissors.  Losers had to carry the winners’ helmets and cleats back to the fieldhouse. While such an event may at first seem insignificant, it does two things: veterans and rookies interact face to face (appropriately distanced, of course), and each has equal opportunity to compete and win. New and old members of the team interact, establish rapport, and are reminded of both the importance of competition, equal opportunity, and interdependence amongst teammates. 

We also were able to give back to our community.  For the past five years, we have met as a team on a Sunday in September to join the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.  For health and safety reasons, this year’s walk was not a large in-person event.  Instead, we walked as a team along our cross-country trail to our stadium before practice wearing purple leis, the color of the Alzheimer’s Association. Such an event reminds us to be grateful for our blessings, to be mindful of the challenges others face, and remind us of the importance of pulling together as a team while helping others and giving back to our community. 

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!

Plugged In

Every season provides a new set of challenges: replacing starters, cultivating new leaders, forming, storming, and norming a new team.  This season presents never seen before challenges: no linemen in 7v7, no running game, no blocking and tackling, no locker room, no weight room and no opportunity to again compete for a state championship.  

The culture of our program is born in our weight room, thrives in our locker room and is driven by the pursuit of championships.  We use the complementary effects of these elements to reinforce character, culture, and commitment. Without those things, both players and coaches may have a perception this year is different, and therefore brings a different level of expectation…

The guiding principles and core values of our program will never change.  Adherence to the culture remains the expectation and the standard. Common vision, common purpose, common values… Together, we are so much more than any of us could be alone.   

In a recent conversation on this topic with a friend of over 40 years who now coaches football in Florida, he  shared an analogy with me “Commitment is key… A plug that is halfway in and halfway out of an outlet does not work.”  Every year we adopt a slogan or motto that we put on every practice schedule so that the players are reminded of it every day.  This year, despite the difference in circumstances, the Hilltoppers will be “Plugged In,” and committed.

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!

Butterfly Effect…

American Football in Finland has named former St Johnsbury Academy standouts Carlos Carrasco ’15 and Lamin Latikka “19 as back-to-back Defensive Players of the Week. 

It is always rewarding to see former players having success as they move on in all walks of life.  As coaches, we trust the lessons we impart on our student-athletes last a lifetime and that they share what they learned with others throughout their life.  The Cambridge dictionary defines the butterfly effect as a situation in which an action or change that does not seem important has a very large effect, especially in other places or around the world.

I like to think that the culture we have created and the lessons we have taught in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont are having an impact on the lives of people we will never meet almost 4,000 miles away by the examples set by our former players. 

One additional note this week: You can view my recent discussion with WCAX News regarding Vermont’s upcoming football season here: WCAX Sports

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!

Focus…

Focus on what you have, not on what you lost.

In Vermont, we still have an opportunity to play 2018-10-11 FocusFall sports, work with our athletes, and to motivate them to be the very best version of themselves on and off the playing fields.  This year, that will include managing distractions like COVID safeguards, playing 7v7 football, wearing a mask during practices and games, and tuning out the naysayers.

Each season brings a set of challenges we must overcome. As the saying goes, “If it was easy… Anyone could do it.” Although this year brings a couple new twists, and what we see on the field may look different, what we do as coaches remain the same.  We take a group of individuals, unite them, and develop them as a team.  We set goals and build focus in our players to overcome obstacles and achieve those goals.

An email below, from a mom who has two sons in our program, provides me with the motivation to embrace what we have, seek the good we find in both the game and each other, and reminds me not to fret over things we may have lost (things largely outside of our control anyway).

As an educator and parent, I understand the challenges and time this (7v7 Football) took. Sometimes the criticism overshadows the positive. My observation over the past couple years is that you and your team have cultivated a culture of brotherhood that at times like these surpasses the actual game.  At least for my own sons the opportunity to still be part of that in a non-traditional manner is a true blessing.”

Helmets or not… Seven players, not eleven…the list of changes could go on, but the essence of developing a shared vision, shared values, shared understanding of where we want to go, who we want to be, and how we want to judge ourselves remains the same. The 2020 Hilltoppers will take the field with a sense of confidence, interdependence, and shared belief that together, we can do far more than any one could alone, and God willing, we will all carry those feelings and lessons forward for decades.

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!

Things Are Different

With colleges across the country canceling 2020-08-13 Gov Scott quoteFall sports, I was both thrilled and relieved to hear Vermont Governor Phil Scott announce “We want to make it clear, there will be Fall sports.” It is evident the Governor, the Agency of Education, and the Vermont Principals Association understand how vital extracurricular activities are in the lives of so many students and families.  It is critical to their physical and mental health.  Cancelling cannot be an option.

When Governor Scott followed with, “but things will look much different”, what I had imagined seemed to become a reality.  We are not going to play “traditional” football.  It appears the option will be 7v7 football which will be played without offensive and defensive linemen as well as traditional protective equipment (e.g. helmets, shoulder pads, etc.)  As someone who has made a career out of coaching offensive line, it pains me to not coach the “Bigs”, to miss seeing them block for their running backs and protect their quarterback, to miss seeing five individuals form a brotherhood like no other, for the individuals to melt away, uniting to selflessly work as one.  Football will not be the same, but then again what is the same these days?

I wish we could play “traditional” football.  I wish our students could go back to school every day during the week.  I wish they could gather in the cafeteria to socialize.  I wish they could be closer than 6 feet apart.  I wish they did not have to wear a mask or have their temperature taken.  But things are different now.

  Things will continue to be different.  7v7 football is a temporary solution to a devastating situation, but a very workable one nonetheless.  I am thrilled to still be able to coach football.  I am thrilled our kids and teams across the state will be able to participate and compete.  I am thrilled they will have something to do after school to keep them fit and engaged.  I am thrilled my staff and I have an opportunity to lead, teach, and develop student-athletes to maximize their potential on and off the football field. And, during these challenging financial times, I am relieved our coaches will still receive their stipends. Cancelling cannot be an option. Now it’s up to us to make the most of the opportunity we’ve been given.

For more on Vermont’s 7v7 program check out the coverage from WCAX, Burlington here:  “High School Football This Fall; Is 7v7 The Answer?”

2020-08-13 Is HS Football the Answer

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!