A Leader In Every Locker; Week 6, Tact

Tact is this week’s Leadership Trait for our 14 week “Leader in Every Locker,” Program. Tact is the ability to deal with others in a manner that will maintain good relations, avoid offense, and yet convey the concept, idea, or point germane to the circumstance.  More simply stated, tact is the ability to say and do the right thing at the right time in consideration of the effects of one’s words and body language.  Tact allows commentary, guidance, and opinions to be expressed in a constructive and beneficial manner. This deference should be extended under all conditions regardless of personal feelings.

As we have noted in other Blog Posts, Victor Frankl, Holocaust survivor, author, and psychologist notes, “there is a space between stimulus and response where we find character, and choose how we will react.” Though sometimes far easier to describe than to do, dialing back emotions, and using tact is an essential communications skill.

A player may find him or herself frustrated by the unsportsmanlike play of an opponent. Rather than retaliation, the player should ask his team Captain to address the concern with the official and request additional oversight on the next play.  Similarly, despite the frustration with the outcome of a grade on a test, a student should ask his/her teacher for some time to speak privately after class.  During the subsequent meeting the student can express their genuine desire to understand the material, walk through the problem with the teacher, and ask for clarification on the steps to uncover the error.  

At a time in our history where many seem all too quick to jump to conclusions, attack with name calling and argue in headlines and soundbites, a little patience and tact has the potential to go a long way both on and off the field. As Isaac Newton said, “Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.”

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 5, Decisiveness

In Week 5 of our 14 week series A Leader in Every Locker, we focus on the leadership trait of decisiveness.  Decisiveness is the ability to make decisions promptly and to convey them in a clear, impactful manner.

This quality of character guides a person to accumulate all available facts in a circumstance, weigh those facts, (while accounting for time) and then choose and announce an alternative which seems best.  And timing is key… We can almost always expect less than ideal (sometimes conflicting) information, and limited time. However, it is often better to decide promptly rather than pursue a potentially “better” decision at the expense of more time.  Whether trying to avoid “delay of game,” or the play clock winding down late in the 4th quarter, time is not a luxury afforded on a football field. (And often times not a luxury in life either!)

This past weekend was our home opener, under brand new lights on brand new turf. We had run our “Power Read” play with success and had double teamed the play-side 3 technique (Defensive lineman). As the drive continued, we earned our way to the one yard line where I thought we would take advantage of our earlier success and repeat the Power Read. However, the defense aligned in a “Bears” front.  With little time to react, the offense approached the line of scrimmage. As the play-side Guard and Tackle were calling for their double team on the 3 technique, our Center promptly and forcefully decided to cancel the double team, directed the Guard to block down on the Nose, and Tackle to block down on the 3 technique, enabling the center to block back for the pulling Guard. Our Center considered the circumstance, and with an understanding of the desired outcome, made and communicated his decision. The linemen executed the plan, we got everyone blocked, and the running back walked into the end zone.  

When players use good Judgement, are Dependable, take Initiative, and are Decisive, the outcome leads to success on the field.  We ask our players to be decisive both on and off the field and look for opportunities to highlight both good decisions, and ones we might have made better. In both cases, we learn from, and build a reservoir of experiences from which we will draw later to make future decisions.

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 4, Initiative

In week 4 of our 14 week series of a Leader in Every Locker, we focus on the leadership trait: Initiative

We define initiative as taking action in the absence of immediate guidance or direction.  If we share a common understanding of our goals and objectives, and regularly communicate to share and balance situational awareness, we should be able to make decisions independently and arrive at the collectively desired outcome. Initiative becomes all the more important as time compresses and stress increases.

Once the play is called and the teams align, it falls upon the players to make decisions and appropriate communication to execute the play.  There are no coaches on the field on gameday.  Initiative is particularly important in the early weeks of the season when we have little or no quality video of our opponents to prepare our players.  Offensive linemen will see unexpected fronts causing them to communicate changes to blocking schemes.  Receivers will see Safety rotations requiring them to convert routes.  Defensive fronts will see unbalanced lines causing them to adjust ensuring all gaps are accounted for.  Defensive Backs and Linebackers will see empty sets forcing them to ensure all receivers are covered. And Quarterbacks will see defenders out of position or receivers uncovered and must change and communicate the play. These actions must occur in near real time and with the knowledge opponents are attempting to deceive us (or at least mask their intent). 

With only 3 timeouts per half, coaches cannot use one every time an opponent shows something new.  Tying in previous traits/themes, we as coaches (as well as teammates on the field) depend (Dependability) on players to assess a situation, make good decisions (Judgement) and to take action in the absence of further guidance or clarification (Initiative).

Life demands the same… Successful people, regardless of role, have a bias for action and are willing to exercise the initiative to seize fleeting opportunities. It’s unlikely every decision or action taken will turn out perfectly, but the old adage, “a good plan executed now is better than a perfect plan executed later” certainly applies.

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 3: Dependability

As we wrap up training camp and prepare for our season opener on the road against rival Hartford High School, (who we lost to in the 2016 state championship game but defeated in the 2017 title game), we will rely heavily on our week #3 leadership trait: Dependability. 

Together, We Achieve More!

We define dependability as the certainty one will accomplish what they are tasked to do or said they would do.  This quality allows a coach to assign a task or role to a team member with the understanding that it will be accomplished with minimum supervision.  

Football is a game of “interdependence.”  Each of us depends on our teammates to do their job, complete their assignment, and make good decisions. Linemen make good blocks, quarterbacks make good decisions and deliver well thrown balls. Linebackers slip from head to shoulder, deliver a blow, wrap arms, and make good tackles. Running Backs secure the ball…

If you are dependable, coaches and teammates can focus on their respective responsibilities and trust your work will be done.  The team is always stronger when teammates consistently demonstrate their dependability. 

Dependability matters on and off the field. We depend on one another to abide by traffic laws… We depend on one another to do what they said they would do… we depend on husbands, wives, friends, parents, and children…

We depend on our teammates…

When we recognize our dependence on others, and we trust our teammates, partners, families, and friends to do their part, we’re free to focus… to accomplish… and to achieve.

When we focus, accomplish, and achieve as part of a greater good, we all benefit, and in depending on one another, we prove ourselves worthy of trust while accomplishing more than we ever thought possible alone.  

If everyone can be depended on to perform their assigned tasks, we stand a much better chance of leaving White River Junction with a successful outcome.

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 2: Judgement

In week 2 of training camp we may introduce a few new concepts or ideas on the field, but on the field and off, we remain focused on the fundamentals of success. Whether stance, blocking angles, strike targets, simple situational decision making, we believe brilliance in the basics sets the foundations for future success. Concurrently, we also move forward in our “Leader in Every Locker” program reinforcing the leadership traits essential to building the character we’ll rely on this fall as well as for the rest of our lives. Week 2 focuses on the trait, “Judgement.” 

Judgement is the ability to weigh facts and circumstances, develop and consider alternatives and potential outcomes in order to make sound decisions.  Sound judgement enables a leader to make appropriate decisions in accordance with the intended outcomes and consistent with the character and values of the individual and the team.  A leader who makes good decisions weighs options and makes his or her best choice to achieve the desired outcome.  

For example, a teammate sees a fellow team member in need of assistance.  He or she assesses the situation, considers alternatives, and offers a way to help.  This could be as simple as recognizing the need for a spot while lifting in the weight room or more complex issues like realizing a teammate is struggling to contend with family issues, anxiety, or depression.  Good judgement could also be exercised in avoiding bad situations, or in choosing “the right thing,” even when it may not be “the easy thing.”

Judgement and decision making as elements of character sound simple in theory but can be quite complex in practice. We work hard to help create opportunities to exercise good judgement, make good decisions, and when appropriate to learn from choices we might change if given the opportunity. It’s the sum of a myriad opportunities that builds the reservoir we draw from when making a good judgement, and good leaders consistently make good judgements.

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

As Training Camp opens this week, we roll out our leadership program entitled “A Leader in Every Locker.”  The purpose of the program is to highlight aspects of leadership, culture, and character underpinning success on and off the football field.  It presumes Leadership can be both taught and learned, and emphasizes every player on the team has a leadership role and responsibility.  Those who accept their role will make the team better while learning leadership lessons extending well beyond football and high school.

Our program draws heavily on the tenets of one of the most successful leadership institutions with which I am familiar, the United States Marine Corps. For nearly 250 years, the Marine Corp has taught selflessness, and servant leadership as expressed in one’s personal example. In collaboration with a few Marines who also happen to be very close friends, we’ve tailored some of the foundations of the Marine Corps’ program to suit our players and circumstances. Rest assured, I take very few liberties with such a proven program, and often merely substitute “player” or “teammate” for “Marine” where appropriate in the program’s context.

First, let’s settle on the definition of leadership… While Webster may only cite “The ability to lead,” I like (and will teach) the Marine Corps’ definition: “The combination of intellect, interpersonal skills, and character that enables an individual to guide a group of people to successfully accomplish a goal or objective.”  

It seems to me as a coach (or teacher, or mentor, etc.), that’s exactly the kind of young man (or lady) we as coaches aspire to help recognize their full potential.

Doubling down on the importance of “character,” and the elemental aspect of “character traits” underpinning the foundation of individual and collective success, we will (weekly) step through each of the next 14 weeks of the season, (taking us from Week 1 of Training Camp through the playoffs), focusing on one of each of the Marine Corps’ 14 leadership traits.  

We begin week 1 with “Justice” encouraging all players regardless of grade, level of experience, or years in our program to offer recognition and positive reinforcement of good performance, decision making, and teamwork. We also ask them (players and coaches) to provide constructive criticism or corrective action offered thoughtfully, impartially, and oriented on performance, actions, or decisions, and to do so without personal attacks. (Your block, tackle, catch, throw, route, decision, etc… (i.e. performance) may not have been very good, but we will not criticize one another as a a person.)

As we approach the topic of justice on the field, off the field, and in our community, we’ll have abundant opportunities to have pre- or post-practice, as well as in-meeting discussions with players about situations of justice or injustice, discussing elements handled well or those that could have been handled better. In doing so, we hope to help our players and staff develop a reservoir of examples from which they can draw when faced with circumstances warranting justice moving forward.  

I claim no stake in perfection of character. We all grow and learn while recognizing our imperfections. However, we can aspire together to be better and realize our potential. We welcome your perspectives and participation in this conversation. The more diversity of thought on character and character traits, the more we all benefit.

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! 

I Hate Conditioning…

I hate conditioning.  Always have.  I hated it as a player and believe it is a waste of time as a coach.  We only have so many minutes with our players on the practice field and every one needs to be used to better prepare players for gameday.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am a firm believer in the benefits of cardiovascular conditioning, and recognize the endurance and resilience necessary for a team’s success, but it should happen throughout the 2.5 hours of practice with football related skills and drills.  It should not be done during the last 10-15 minutes with torturous sprints or long distance runs translating poorly to increased athletic performance on the football field and demoralizing kids while leaving a poor last impression of practice.  Moreover, it should not be one size fits all.  Asking offensive linemen to do the same conditioning as defensive backs is unfair, impractical, and yield sub-optimal results for both.

Integrating Cardiovascular Training Throughout Practice

Up tempo drills focusing on acceleration, deceleration, change of direction, and lateral movement should be incorporated into every position group. On defense, they should be done with reaction to a stimulus.  On offense, drills reinforcing technique and schemes with a work to rest ratio of 1:5 can simulate drives at every position. Integrating both cardiovascular exertion with decision making is far more like the on field realities we need our student athletes able to face.

My long-time friend, Todd Zimmerman, who coaches the offensive line at Florida state champion Atlantic High School, recently shared what he does with his “Bigs.”  He calls it “Learning & Burning.”  He scripts 10 plays, places the ball on the -20 and runs them 8 yards at a time moving the ball from hash to hash all the way to the endzone then has the 2nd OLine do the same sequence coming back.  All while he confirms line calls, steps, assignments, and expects decisions and communications throughout. Again, combining physical and mental endurance yields the most game-like simulation, and ultimately the greatest benefits.

When we make our players run we always make it fun.  New coach to our staff, Kirk Becker, who brings a background in physical education to us from Illinois, shared a game called Sharks and Minnows.  Everyone lines up on the sideline (Minnows) as if they were going to do Gassers (everyone’s least favorite activity) with 3 players (Sharks) in the middle of the field.  When the whistle blows, the minnows have to get across the field while eluding the sharks.  If they get tagged, they become sharks.  The last minnow is the winner.  

Incorporating skill development and competition to achieve conditioning causes individuals to work harder, better prepares players for gameday, and builds teams.  That is the best use of our 2.5 hours.  

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! 

Competition Rounds Out OTAs

This year’s Northeast Kingdom 7v7 Tournament, Strongman Competition and OLine Challenge saw our largest field of Strongmen with 30 contestants from Vermont and New Hampshire.  Competitors were divided into two weight classes, over 220lbs and under 220. and competed in four events: 

1.  Log Press (Max Reps in 1 Minute)

2.  Farmer Carry (Best Time)

3.  Hexbar Deadlift (Max Reps in 1 Minute)

4.  Seated Sled Pull (Best Time)

Athletes compete in St. Johnsbury’s annual 7-on-7 football event at Cary Field on Saturday, July 31, 2021. (Photo by Michael Beniash, courtesy of the Caledonian Record)

Players from Hanover High School in New Hampshire took first place in both weight classes with a repeat winner in the under 220 class.  Hilltoppers took second in both classes with Freshman Josh Quad in the over 220 and Senior Brayden Payeur in the under 220.

In the OLine Challenge, the Hilltoppers proved what we have said so many times in our blogs reinforcing we are always stronger together than we are alone.    The Hilltopper OLine took first place by a wide margin working together in five events

1. Seated Slam ball Toss (Total distance)

2. Sled Drive Relay (Best Time)

3. Tire Flip Relay (Best Time)

4. Sandbag Relay (Best Time)

5. Team Tug-of-War (Seeded Single Elimination)

Hanover High school also had a good day in the 7v7 battling back from the 3 Seed in pool play to make it to the Finals before ultimately losing to Lebanon NH the team that beat us in the semifinals.

Hilltopper Linemen proving “The Strength of the Pack”

Our players now have two weeks of no organized team activities before reporting to training camp on Monday, August 16.  Both coaches and players have earned a well deserved break from team activities. As we dedicate some time to recovery, we create a space for both physical and mental recuperation and renewal. Having set the initial building blocks of team culture in place, demonstrated the value of interdependence and strength of a unified team, players and coaches have been tasked with 1) rest and relaxation, and 2) to return with a focus on the forthcoming season, and a dedication to realizing their individual and collective potential.   

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! 

New Beginnings

The inaugural Vermont All-Star Passing Academy / Alercio OLine Clinic on Sunday July 25th was a great day for football in the Northeast Kingdom.  Players who will be opponents in the coming months were teammates for a day and became friends.  Hopefully many of them will be teammates again on the Vermont North v South State All-Star Teams or the Vermont Shine team.

It was particularly rewarding to see two of my former offensive linemen show up to refresh themselves on the drills, techniques and schemes we use in preparation for their roles coaching our local 5th and 6th grade team.  As I have said in previous blogs, I began a career in coaching to impact the lives of my players the way my coaches impacted my life.  I like to think Caleb and Jack are getting into coaching for the same reason, and am confident they’ll enjoy the same satisfaction.

Our focus this week is on our week-long Mini Camp which concludes with our 7v7 Tournament, Strongman Competition and OLine Challenge on Saturday July 31st.  The week allows us time to teach the fundamentals of football: blocking, tackling, running, passing, and receiving; but more importantly, it provides us time to build our team, reinforce our culture and develop leadership. It’s always interesting to see who rises to the occasion, seizes an opportunity, and stands out as a leader. Our staff are thrilled to have the opportunity to channel that energy and form the nucleus of who we will become over the coming weeks.

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! 

Signals, Both Near & Far

Signals Near & Far

It’s been quite a week here in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. While July has provided all one would expect of the peak of summer, I had a few unexpected arrivals this week. One, a text message from the parent of a new player, and the other, an email from a returning veteran.

As I contemplate this week’s blog, I was a little hesitant to post it as one could possibly read it as me congratulating myself… Please know that is the farthest thing from my intent. As I have repeatedly presented in many of the nearly 200 posts over the last few years, I try to share successes and challenges as exactly that: an opportunity to share with others, as so many coaches have shared with me. Further, I think it is important to reinforce themes of culture, values, and vision to present what’s possible AND achievable! Teachers, coaches, parents, mentors, managers, and others have the opportunity to apply the same tenants, processes, and procedures to build cohesive teams and achieve more than they thought possible.

So with that preamble out of the way the first of two “signals” indicating the culture, character, values, and vision are taking hold.

I received the following from the parent of a player who is new to both the team and school this summer.

One day last week after a practice ending with a long hot run down by the baseball field, Josh came back to the truck completely soaked with sweat on what had been a very humid day. I expected him to say something about the heat or being exhausted or something along those lines, but the exact first words out of his mouth were exactly this.

“I love everything about this place… I love my coaches, my teammates, the campus… I love it all. I’m so glad we made it here. I finally have a place where I can really be an accepted part of the team… I finally have a place to call home.”

All the way home I fought back tears thinking how grateful I was for his happiness and how blessed he felt to be welcomed into the Hilltopper family. All the culture you have built and established over the years is now something Josh gets to share in and he is extremely grateful (as am I). I am glad he is working hard for you thus far. His love of the game has been rekindled and that feeds his desire to work. Thank you for welcoming us with open arms. 

The second note came quite literally from across the world… We have a returning Hilltopper who had spent much of 2020 and all of 2021 at home with his parents in China. Although he was looking forward to returning, he was writing to relay his disappointment that continuing COVID protocols were delaying his return and he was concerned about missing camp and letting his teammates down.” Further, he went on to relay the work he had been doing in the meantime to stay both strong and fit, as well as describing how he had been playing with a local team in his hometown. (The pictures he sent sure looked a lot like American Football!) I let him know how much I appreciated his concern for the team and reassured him both the staff and his teammates understand the challenges he’s facing, and know he’s working as hard as possible to be able to contribute once circumstances permit. During the email exchange, I asked where he was thinking about playing this year, and his response was the second signal in as many weeks that we are reinforcing the culture and character that will enable success on the playing field, and far beyond the confines of the season or even the high school experience:

“At last spring’s practices I played Tight End, and I think I am good at catching and running with the ball; however, I am familiar with offensive lineman (OL) drills and plays so OL will work for me as well! The interests of our football team is the most important, so if we have enough tight ends or we need experienced lineman I will be honored and happy to be OL for my senior year.”

From literally thousands of miles away came a message of selflessness, commitment, and a desire and willingness to put the good of the team above his own personal interests. Key to our culture is “pride in belonging,” and a “team first” mentality. I hope your team is sending similar signals and the investments you are making in the betterment of others results in teamwork, cohesion, and ultimately success both on and off the field.

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!