Winter Meetings & Preparations Continue

In its simplest form, football is a game of blocking and tackling.  In week two of our Winter Staff Meetings, we focus on the latter.  We will do an evaluation of all generic (non-position specific) drills we teach our players on defense.  We always want our drill work to translate to the field so we first identify all the situations a player must analyze on a given play and the questions he must determine answers to in a fraction of a second.

1. Where is the ball?  Drills for pursuit, tracking a ball carrier, and maintaining leverage.

2. Do I have to contend with blockers? Drills for both block destruction and block avoidance.

3. Do I have help?  Drills for 1v1 open-field tackling, 2v1 Vise tackling with a teammate, and 1v1 Vise Tackling using the sideline.

4. What is the ball carrier’s Size and Speed?  Drills for Surface shoulder tackling as well as Rugby shoulder tackling.  

5.  Is the ball secure?  Drills for stripping the ball and recovering the ball. 

6.  Is the ball carrier defenseless?  This is a relatively new question as the focus of the game has shifted so favorably in protecting defenseless players.  For example, a QB in the pocket, a RB who just received a pitch or a WR who just caught a pass.  

For the purposes of this blog, the specific drills we choose to incorporate into our Spring practices are not nearly as important as answering these six questions and the implementation of any drills allowing our players to answer questions on the field. At its core, football is a time-competitive game of decisions. The coaches and players who make the best decisions given time constraints, win.

As coaches, we expect players to make decisions and execute plays; but they must be properly trained to do so.  When discussing the value of training, the Navy SEALs mantra reminds us, “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.” 

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!  

Winter Meetings & Preparations

This week begins our football staff’s Winter weekly meetings in preparation for Spring practices in March.  While everyone on the staff is eager to talk X’s & O’s, meeting one focuses on the non-football-specific drills used during Spring practices: Dynamic Warm-up, Movement Training, Plyometrics, Sprint Mechanics, Conditioning Games, and Static Stretching.  

Doing an annual audit of these categories is equally important as auditing our offense, defense, and special teams.  We’ll certainly get to those elements in due time, but our “continuous process improvement” or “CPI” efforts need to take a holistic view of the program. Reviews help us stay current with newer trends in athletic performance training, implementing them in our practices and removing or replacing outdated elements.  These drills are critically important in creating a safer athletic environment and minimizing injuries, especially non-contact injuries.  We’ve found these exercises create a more efficient athlete, and the diversity of activities also maintains interest and motivation.  Not every athlete is going to have a 40-yard dash that starts with a 4, nor do they need to.  We emphasize training our athletes’ ability to accelerate, decelerate and change direction more efficiently.  Think of the Shuttle Run, also known as a Pro Agility or a 5-10-5.  That is a drill where we want all of our starters, regardless of position, to have a time that begins with a 4.  

Over the years we have found a player’s Shuttle Run score is a much stronger indicator of athletic ability and pre-determinant of on-field success than the 40-yard dash.  The Shuttle puts demands on the body at a neuromuscular level we cannot duplicate with linear sprints.  The other point of emphasis is coaching techniques in warm-up and stretch with the same attention to detail we do in our football-specific drills.  Standards are standards, and if we expect our athletes to meet them in large endeavors, we need to ensure they meet small ones as well. For example, we coach and hold our athletes accountable to only change direction with their lower legs and feet, and NEVER permit them to touch the ground or cone with their hand while changing direction.  (We wouldn’t expect an athlete to put their hand down while changing direction on the field, so do not do it in the drill… We want our athletes to practice the way we expect to play!)

Next week, we will turn our focus to defense and the drills we use to make our players better on that side of the ball.

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!  

Athletic Performance Training Starts the New Year!

The first order of business for every new year is the implementation of the athletic performance training program.   When our players return to school next week, all those not playing a winter sport are expected to train Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays with our athletic performance coach.  

The philosophy of our program is that athletes train movements, not muscles.  We do not break up our workouts into Legs, Chest & Tris, Back & Bis.  We train the entire body at every workout with multi-joint ground-based movements, core stabilizers, squat derivations, hip hinges, vertical or horizontal presses, and vertical or horizontal pulls.

We start with ground-based multi-joint movements: Snatch, Cleans, or Jerks.  Because of the complexity of the Snatch, we modify it by using a 1-arm Dumbbell Snatch.  We superset each of those Olympic lifts with a core stabilization exercise such as planks, dead-bugs, bird-dogs, Paloff presses, etc.  

In our next lifting block, we superset a squat movement (back or front squat, hex-bar deadlift, forward, backward, or walking lunges, Bulgarian split squats, etc) with a vertical or horizontal press (barbell or dumbbell bench, incline or push press). 

Our last lifting block is a hip hinge lift (barbell deadlift, 1-leg or 2-leg Romanian deadlifts) coupled with a vertical or horizontal pull (pull-ups, chin-ups, barbell, or dumbbell rows). 

We encourage our players to do 30 minutes of cardio on Tuesdays and a sprint workout on Thursdays.  All of their workouts are in an app called Train Heroic where they can record their weights, reps, times, and other information pertinent to their training so that we can track their progress through the winter months.

We want to be sure the training our players are doing translates to increased athletic performance on the field and not just to them looking better in the mirror. While there are obvious benefits to training in the off-season, perhaps the best one of all is getting those players who are not on a Winter team back together with their “brothers” and giving them something positive to do after a long Christmas break.

Speaking of returning after Christmas Break, it was five years and nearly 230 blog posts ago (around New Year’s 2017) that we started Olineskills.com. Whether you’re new to the site or have been along for the entire ride, I wanted to say thank you for the opportunity to entertain conversations about the game I love and have dedicated more than 40 years to playing and coaching. I look forward to all 2022 brings to us, and hope you and yours enjoyed the Holidays, and are excited about the New Year, new teams, new challenges, and new victories!

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!  

Presents Vs. Presence

Both words sound alike to me, but for many, they are drastically different.  This year, as you gather with your colleagues, community, friends, and family, try to be thoughtful about these words and their meanings.  Instead of focusing all your attention on what “presents” you may give or get, consider giving the gift of your “presence.”  Whether the soundtrack for “It’s a Wonderful Life” or the background for the “Ball Drop” on New Year’s Eve, “Auld Lang Syne” reminds us to recall special memories of relationships and occasions we cherish.

Those memories are born from attention and presence. Bring your full self to every conversation, handshake, or hug.  Forget about yesterday.  Stop thinking about tomorrow.  Put your phone away.  Know that every day is a gift and enjoy the moment for the moment’s sake. What your family and friends really want for Christmas is YOU. 

Your presence is the greatest gift you can give your loved ones.  Take in every sight, sound, and smell of Christmas whenever, wherever, and with whomever you gather. You may just find the gift of your presence to those you love, may also be the greatest gift you give to yourself.  Merry Christmas.

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 Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

When Andy Williams sang, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” he was referencing the Christmas season.  When ESPN plays his song, they are promoting Bowl Week which is now almost three weeks (making it even more wonderful in my opinion!)  Including the NFL on Sundays, there are football games to watch every day from December 17 through January 4.  For football fans, this is purely entertainment; but for football coaches, it is an opportunity for research and development.  

A cornucopia of learning opportunity

Research and development is the generation of new knowledge.  In the business world, it is the development of new products and services.  In football, it is the creation of offensive, defensive, and special teams alignments, schemes, and plays.  R&D is an essential function for many businesses.  Launching new offerings or improving existing ones is a way for a business to remain competitive.  Experimentation and innovation are widespread at this point in the season.  

With upwards of a month to prepare for these games, coaches design new plays, blitzes, and returns.  They mask common schemes with variations on formations, motion, and last-second adjustments. Many of the newest trends in football are first seen during these bowl games as coaches know opponents have been studying films and tracking tendencies.  Coaches who want to remain competitive will be able to pick up ideas during this wonderful time of the year.  

Even after more than three decades of focused study, learning, and practical application, I’m sure to glean something new we can apply to our schemes. Thankfully, I am blessed with a wonderful spouse who loves football and truly understands what it is to be a coach’s wife. However,  even she is tested by too much football this time of year, so I will put the DVR to good use and watch some of these games after the New Year.  She and our boys all have their own sense of what makes this “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and our ability to each enjoy it in our own way is also part of the fun!

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!  

Banquets, Letters, Recognition, & Reward

This weekend, we will gather for our year-end football banquet.  Like most teams, we will thank our players, coaches, parents, and administrators.  We will recognize those players who most exemplify the character and values our team holds highest.  We will reflect on and celebrate the successes of the season.  We will motivate returning players for next season and remind them of the dedication and sacrifice required in preparation.  We will also hand out  Varsity letters and pins to those players who earned them this season.  As our staff puts together the list of lettermen, I am reminded of the poem “The Man on the Bench.”  The poem recognizes the rewards of playing football far exceed the material things we may receive on the night of the banquet.  An edited version of that poem follows:

The man on the bench is the man for me
He’s not the star, but he’s the key.
Without his aid and help each day,
I doubt if there would be a play.

He comes to the banquet with a little prayer,
Hoping this year the “letter” is there.
As he squirms wishfully in his chair.
And he suffers a little along with his coach,
As the names are read and no approach
Is made to him there is a wrench
In his heart. But his teeth will clench,
As he says, “next year”, this man on the bench.
What happens to all the men like these.
Who seem all elbows, thumbs, and knees.
Don’t feel sorry for their frustrations,
They are the men who head corporations,
And sit on the councils of great nations

They learn the value of raw sheer grit, The determination that won’t say quit

                                                       To the man on the bench, I give my hand                                                     With the greatest respect, ’cause he’s my man,
Please don’t worry, he’ll go far
Somewhere in life, he will be a star.

I’ve seen many players overcome adversity over the years. In many ways, their grit, determination, and resilience amaze me more than “All-League Honors” or “Championships.” Some of my very closest friends and I share four years playing together with only a handful of wins. I’d like to think we found some of the same purpose, dedication, and resilience displayed by “the man on the bench” in overcoming our own adversity. If outcomes are any measure, amongst the players he and I both describe, the author’s forecast of success despite adversity, is right on target.

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!   

Changing Seasons…

One of the things a college football coach quickly learns is the office he occupies, the chair and desk where he spends countless hours… even the locker he hangs his coat in, are not his (or hers). Those resources belong to the school, and you are given the privilege to occupy/employ them as long as the school permits.  

As high school football coaches, we also learn the players are not “ours.”  When your season is over, they become basketball players, wrestlers, indoor track athletes or pursue other opportunities.  Student-Athletes who do not play a winter sport, often shift their focus to preparing for Spring sports like baseball, lacrosse, Track & Field, or other interests.

Just like that office, desk, and chair, the players are not yours either.  They (the players) all belong to the school and are led, guided, and directed by others after the football season concludes.  While we would like to see them keep up with football-specific strength training programs and know if they did, they would be better prepared for next Fall, we have to leave training up to their in-season coach.  If that coach does not understand the value of athletic performance training, speak to your athletic director.  It is her/his job to ensure all coaches in the department are doing what is best for the athletes regardless of what sport they play, what season it is, or who their coach is at the time.  Do not discourage the football player from being a multisport athlete because you think that is what is best for your program.  In fact, as we’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, most athletes (and ultimately most teams) benefit from the complementary skills and lessons learned in other sports. As coaches concerned about the overall growth, potential, and wellbeing of those in our charge, it is our obligation to help develop the “whole person.”  

Playing other sports allow athletes to develop different muscle groups and movement patterns, avoid burn-out with the intense emphasis on only one sport, develop different skills that can be applied from one sport to the other, and increase socialization by having another peer group and further evolve the elements of character we’ve discussed this Fall.  Lastly, go see them play.  Encourage their success whether on the court, mat, or track, or in other endeavors like drama, debate, or music. Let them know they are important to you all year, not just in the Fall.

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!   

A Leader In Every Locker; Bonus Week 15, Gratitude

Over the last 14 weeks, we have focused on the character traits underpinning leadership success. While we have largely focused on leadership in a sports team context, as we stated at the beginning, these traits underpin a broad variety of leadership in sports teams, businesses, families, and life in general.

Week 15 arrives alongside Thanksgiving. A holiday I hope finds you surrounded by those you love and appreciate. Therefore, “Gratitude,” is our bonus trait this week.

Leadership is a privilege. It is a privilege to have the opportunity and responsibility, to lead, guide, and direct a group of people to accomplish a goal or objective. I am grateful to have such a privilege, and even more so, I am grateful for the many blessings of health, family, friends, and a myriad of others.

The vast majority of us are who we are because someone (usually multiple people) cared enough to invest in us and help us see in ourselves the potential they saw, even when we often couldn’t. They were loyal, dependable, showed integrity, courage, and judgement. They dealt with us justly and unselfishly helped us grow. They shared knowledge, enthusiasm, tactfully pointed out areas for improvement in our judgement and decision making, and encouraged us to maintain a positive outlook and bearing despite enduring adversity.

This Thanksgiving, I encourage you to think about who those people may have been in your life and to thank them. Whether face-to-face, phone, text, or perhaps even a prayer to those who have passed, let the important people in your life know how much they matter. How you are better off for having met them and quite simply; you’re grateful.

Thanks for reading and being a part of the Olineskills.com Community.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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! 

A Leader in Every Locker, Week 14; Endurance

The 14th and final leadership trait in our series A Leader in Every Locker is Endurance.  Endurance is mental and physical stamina measured by the ability to withstand pain, fatigue, stress, adversity, and hardship.  This quality allows one to withstand physical and emotional discomfort, pain, and distress while persevering to achieve a goal, objective, or desired outcome. 

Endurance; A Riveting Story!

(Many years ago) When I was a player, coaches often quoted the legendary  Vince Lombardi who said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” When I was speaking at a Nike Coach of the Year Football Clinic several years ago, I attended a session presented by a United States Marine Corps Captain who shared a complementary phrase that I have embraced ever since: “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” 

Football is a game of mental and physical adversity and stress.  Either can be a lot to bear, but the combination is even more daunting. Hot or cold, tired and sore, bruised and sometimes bloodied, combines with mental and emotional pressures to perform against a determined foe, and an unrelenting clock. This is the type of mental and physical pain players who lead by example, must endure to stay on the field of play and contribute to the good of the team.  It must be noted if a player sustains an injury, they must be evaluated by a certified athletic trainer before their status is assessed determining their ability to return to play. We try hard to help our athletes make a distinction between pain and injury and would rather err on the side of caution and safety.

In previous posts, we’ve talked about the ways team sports “inoculate” student-athletes against fear, loss, and adversity. From both my own experience, and from decades of witnessing others encountering circumstances requiring “endurance” and the willingness to push through the “uncomfortableness” of physical, mental, and emotional stress, it’s clear a little “uncomfortableness” now, seeds the ability to endure more later in life. I have a close friend who gave me Alfred Lansing’s book “Endurance, Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage,” which recounts Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 Antarctic expedition and their 24 months locked in an ice flow, battered by the Southern Ocean, and yet undaunted, they endured returning to England without any loss of life.

Football is said to be a game of inches.  Those inches are earned by the team who finds a way to give one more try, one more ounce of strength, and who (after every possible consideration) admits defeat last.  The game is often won by those who persevere one run, block, tackle, or catch longer than their opponents. The game of life requires endurance 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! 

A Leader in Every Locker, Week 13; Loyalty

In week 13 of our series A Leader In Every Locker, we focus on the leadership trait of Loyalty.  Loyalty is the quality of faithfulness to team, teammates, coaches, friends, and family.  Though difficult to put the good of the team above one’s own interests, one’s commitment to the team and teammates enables a player to set aside his or her personal feelings for the good of the team.  

(Photo by Paul Hayes)

A player who sincerely wants to play quarterback or running back is asked to fill a role on the depth chart where the team needs him.  Although he will not receive the recognition due the positions he wished to play, he does his best to deliver on the responsibilities of the new position and support the betterment of the team.  

Sometimes a player’s role is to be a backup and provide depth at a position.  A sign on the locker room wall at a small high school in South Texas reads, “I’ll practice and get ready, and then my chance will come.”  Despite a player’s desire to take a starting role, he remains loyal to the team and coaches, practices hard every day, gets ready, and is able to deliver when called upon. 

Such sentiments are easy to think or talk about but are much harder to deliver on. In the vast majority of cases, we find ourselves visualizing the impossible catch, the unfathomed run, or tackling a speeding giant just short of the goal line. Many aspire to be the player everyone depends on, yet few realize it may very well be the second-teamer, or even the freshman a coach reaches for in a moment of necessity whose loyal preparation makes all the differnce.

Practice, get ready, and when your chance comes, be the teammate who studied, prepared for, and took care to deliver when called upon. Loyalty to teammates, to purpose, to ethics, and culture leads to a calling higher than oneself, and is a leadership trait to which we can all aspire.

I would be remiss If I don’t note today (Nov 11th) is Veteran’s Day. Given this week’s trait is loyalty, it’s hard to think of loyalty without recalling the men and women who served our country so we could enjoy a day like today… Men and women whose selfless sacrifice placed the rights of our citizens and society above their own safety and security. Who spent holidays like today away from family and (civilian) friends while setting an example of loyalty to missions and causes bigger than themselves. Who espoused and adopted all 14 of the leadership traits we’re teaching and discussing in this series, and who regularly place the interests of others above their own. The Marine Corps’ motto is “Semper Fidelis,”… “Always Faithful.” I remain in awe of the loyalty demonstrated by friends, family, former players, and colleagues who have served over the years, and hope by teaching traits like loyalty and so many others, I can in some small way, contribute to our team, and their mission. Happy Veteran’s Day.

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!