National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

There are two things that I have learned about the topic of suicide: No one is comfortable talking about it, and someone in your life who you least suspect is considering it as an option.2019-09-19 National Suicide Prevention Month Families, schools, communities have conducted far too many candlelight vigils, remembrances, and shed far too many tears in response to a national epidemic. Use this month shed light on this highly taboo and stigmatized topic.

Prior to the start of the football season, I, like every high school football coach, took the following certification courses on https://nfhslearn.com/courses: Equipment Fitting, Blocking, Tackling, Heat Illness Prevention, Sudden Cardiac Arrest, and Concussions. While all of those are critically important to the safe playing of our sport and crucial for their successful battles on the field, nothing is required to help coaches deal with the battles so many of our student-athletes experience off the field.

After completing the required courses, I decided to take an additional course on Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. It has helped me better understand the warning signs of anxiety and depression as well as the strategies to help overcome them. Some alarming statistics: Half of high school students report being “very stressed.” 1 in 5 students has an anxiety disorder and experience depression. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for ages 15-20, and more than 650,000 people in America (more than the population of the state of Vermont) are treated in Emergency Rooms every year following a suicide attempt.

If you work with students, you need to arm yourself with all the artillery you can muster to help them with their most difficult battles. There is most likely an event happening somewhere in your community. Get involved. Get educated. It could save a life.

On Saturday, September 21, RecFit (the fitness center owned and operated by St Johnsbury Academy) and Northeast Kingdom Human Services are working together to raise funds and awareness for Suicide Prevention with their Step Up for Suicide event. (Click the link for more info)

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!

Battling Back

2019-04-25 compass

This past weekend we returned to the field where our season ended last year in the state semi-finals, competing against the team that stopped us from repeating as Vermont Division I state champions.

Despite a great week of practice following our home-opening week 1 win, we found ourselves going into the locker room at halftime down by 14 points… a circumstance few veteran players and no rookies had ever encountered.

After more than 30 years of coaching, and 40 years of experience (counting playing the game), I knew what we had to do, and knew our young men were capable.

I also knew THEY needed to know/believe they were capable more than I did. While our staff was confident in the quality of our adjustments, the game hinged on our team’s ability to execute; building both momentum and confidence.

And execute they did…

Though down by two touchdowns late in the game, our players did not quit. We tied the game in the 4th quarter only to fumble and lose the ball inside our own 20 on our next possession… But despite what appeared to be a reverse in momentum and return to the adversity of the first half, our defense held them to a field goal.  On our next possession, our offense marched 80 yards down the field for the game-winning score with little time left on the clock.

That type of win will serve our players well as we navigate the remainder of a challenging schedule; but more importantly, lessons like this pour one more drop into the reservoir of experience they can draw upon when facing adversity later in their lives. Athletics in general, and team sports in particular help inoculate us from setbacks, help us confront our fears, and builds self-confidence in circumstances that might otherwise erode our belief in who we are and what we are capable of.

Shepherding our student-athletes through these experiences is one of the greatest privileges (and most important responsibilities) we as coaches strive to achieve. As we build teams, cultivate culture, and develop student-athletes’ character, we do so with an eye for their future. They will undoubtedly encounter adversity, difficulty, and tragedy over the course of their lives and if an experience like the Hilltoppers battling back last week furthers that goal even a little, it will all have been well worth the effort.

One final note as I write this week’s blog, a close friend, former football player/coach and decorated American Veteran is drawing on his football and life experiences to battle back from a heart attack, surgeries, and a week of intensive care…  Tough times don’t last but tough people do. Please say a prayer for his recovery as he applies the lessons he’s learned and battles back yet again.

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!

Selfless

When asked by our local sports reporter to provide one word to describe each of our players selected to the 2018 Maple Shrine Sugar Bowl, I used the word “Selfless” to describe my son Shane.  While the word “Dynamic” would have suited him well for his athletic ability on the field, his greatest value to our team was his Selfless-ness.  He later shared with me he was somewhat disappointed in my choice of adjectives but changed his mind on his first day of Training Camp at the University of New England.  During a slide presentation to players and parents, Head Football Coach Mike Lichten, listed the characteristics they most desire in a Nor’easter football player.  There atop the list was the word “Selfless.”

My favorite definition of the word is as follows:  having little or no concern for oneself, especially regarding fame, position, etc.  Perhaps no position in football, or athletics for that matter, better exemplifies selflessness like the offensive line.  The sole purpose of their job is to make others successful and all they concern themselves with is doing their job.  Their only rewards are the team’s success and the brotherhood they develop working together in anonymity.

2019-09-05 StJ-OLine

This season is a rare treat for me as an offensive line coach.  Never in my 30+ years coaching offensive line, have I ever had the pleasure of coaching five returning starters.  As we have noted throughout the summer’s posts regarding the evolution of teambuilding, we’ve been striving to cultivate interdependence and the understanding that together, we will always be more powerful than any of us could be alone. These gentlemen embrace their interdependence, recognize their collective strength, and pledge their very best to each other and their teammates. Their ability to work together, speak in a language only they understand, and have each other’s backs will propel others to achieve levels of success and local fame while they remain loyal, dependable, and most of all; selfless.

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!

Little Eyes Upon You

When I saw this photo of my youngest son, Trey, and Hugh, the boy who is responsible2019-08-29 Little Eyes Upon You for our kicking tees on gameday pictured on the front cover of our sports page, I thought of a poem that the photo so perfectly represents.  It is entitled Little Eyes Upon You.

 As we enter the first week of the season, I encourage all coaches to share this poem with all their players as a reminder of what it is to be a hero in the eyes of a child:

There are little eyes upon you and they’re watching night and day.
There are little ears that quickly take in every word you say.

There are little hands all eager to do anything you do.
And a little boy who’s dreaming of the day he’ll be like you.

You are setting an example every day in all you do.
For the little boy who’s waiting to grow up to be just like you.

Leadership is a privilege, and sometimes a title like Coach, Captain, Principal, or Manager, or Chief Executive Officer serves as a reminder of the responsibilities of leadership. In reality, we are all afforded opportunities to lead by example every day.

There are little eyes upon you. Sometimes children, sometimes peers, sometimes employees, or faculty, or members of the community watching to see in a moment of choice…Whether or not you’ll choose integrity.

Be the example every day in all you do.
For the little boy, (or girl, or staff, or faculty, or family member…) who’s waiting to grow up to be just like you.

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!

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!