Norming Our Team

Playing on the turf of a Division I football stadium 2019-06-27 UMass 7v& Tourneyversus a team from national power Bergen Catholic in our first game of the UMass 7v7 tournament was more than our newly formed team was ready for.  But it was just what we needed.  As the day went on, we witnessed our team go from the Storming Stage of Tuckman’s Phases of Team Development to the Norming Stage.

The Hilltoppers began to perform with lowered anxiety, became more engaged, more supportive of each other and communicated at a higher level.  The energy level of the entire team increased dramatically as we competed from game to game.  There was an emergence of team harmony that we had not yet seen in this group of young men.

When we think about the characteristics of a team working through the Norming Phase we look for:

  • Increasing Interdependence
  • Role awareness
  • Contextual decision making
  • Employing measures of effectiveness to reinforce progress & success
  • Commitment & Unity

Leadership roles became clearly defined as did positions on the depth chart.  Players began to make decisions not just in relation to the defensive scheme or offensive formation, but in context with, and in relation to each other. In doing so, they demonstrate more and more interdependence and by doing so, reinforce commitment and unity.

During our discussion of the “Forming” stage, we talked about the importance of challenging but attainable goals individuals could accomplish in order to build momentum and reinforce success. As we work through a phase like “Norming,” we see the scope of challenges grow to a competition like a 7v7 tournament where success is predicated on cooperation and the realization no one can win by themselves.

We have two more weeks to prepare for our next 7v7 at Spaulding high school in Vermont.  The venue will not be nearly as imposing nor will the opponent, but it will allow our team another opportunity to bring us closer to the Performing Stage.

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 and share with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time!

The Storming Stage…

Most couples have a good relationship during their courtship, wedding, and honeymoon (the Forming Stage), but there is a reason for the expression, “The honeymoon is over”.  The same applies to teams.

In week #2 of our OTAs, we see differences arise over roles on the team.  As we prepare for our first 7v7 at UMass on Friday, we have multiple players competing at almost every position.  We are also asking players to learn 2 positions.  This competition naturally causes some animosity among players and at times negatively impacts communications.  We are also seeing some seniors attempting to step up as leaders but others not yet being willing to follow.

Our returning starters, returning seniors, returning underclassmen and rookies are all asking themselves the same question, “What is my role on this team?”  The UMass 7v7 will provide the first opportunity for players to define their role in leadership as well as on the depth chart.

Last week we talked about “Forming” the first stage of Teambuilding (using Tuckman’s model), and this week we discuss “Storming.” It’s important to note that while all teams go through these stages, the stages occur at varying paces and group dynamics evolve based on multiple variables. 2017-07-25 leading-multiple-generationsWhile I may be discussing these stages in weekly posts, I don’t mean to suggest I think our team (or many others) moves from stage to stage in one-week intervals. The goal is to work through Forming, Storming, and Norming (essentially assembling the pieces of the puzzle) before the real season kicks off. “If” we time it right (always an “if” given the variables we juggle), we’ll hit the “Performing” stage about a week before our season opener and move through the season refining our performance.

Last week in the “Forming” Stage, we talked about reliance on routine and discipline. Coaches are very prescriptive and establish baseline expectations for performance, commitment, and in my mind most importantly our culture.

When we discuss the “Storming” Stage, our coaches focus on

  • Reinforcing process, structure & discipline
  • Developing fundamental skills
  • Cultivating a shared awareness of purpose, values & circumstance
  • Fostering Interdependence

It’s important to note that while we discuss these stages as sequential elements, there are occasions where individual, small unit, or the entire team’s performance may warrant revisiting the direction and discipline of the “Forming” stage or the elements highlighted above as “Storming.”

Through all the stages of teambuilding, it is essential to emphasize the importance of treating players, teammates, and members of our staff with dignity and respect. Anyone who has played or coached with, or for me can attest the passion I try to convey in my approach to the game. However, Coaches, players, parents, and faculty should remember any constructive criticism offered on or off the field is directed at a player’s performance, execution, or decision making, never at a person or group of people.

If we are to be collectively successful at this game, and (more importantly) in life, we have to understand the importance of our interdependence and the value of mutual respect. Only then can we develop and reinforce concepts like shared values, purpose, and situational awareness.

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 and share with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time!

Forming the Team

This week marks the first week of our summer OTAs (Organized Team Activities).  From the outside looking in, our evening training sessions appear to be 30+ high school athletes working hard to get bigger, faster and stronger. We are installing read progressions, match zone coverages and beginning to build the base of repetitions that will in time, become second nature.  Simultaneously, we are building our 2019 team and developing this year’s culture as we go through the five stages of Tuckman’s Model of Team Development (Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, Adjourning).

As is always the case, forming takes time, and coaches are the most prescriptive. Undoubtedly fundamental components are emphasized, as is attention to detail in every aspect of preparation and practice. 2019-06-13 StormingEven returning veterans of the program benefit from the mental adjustments catalyzed by sharp, pointed direction, and the shrill of a coach’s whistle. Life is no longer “normal.” Players are reminded “games are not won on Fridays and Saturdays in the Fall…” Players new and old are candidly reminded of their responsibilities and commitments to teammate and team. Coaches relay the importance of setting a personal example… an example of what it means to be a Hilltopper on and off the field, as well as in the community.

This early in the process, tasks are relatively simple, initial goals have an element of challenge, but are largely attainable on individual levels as we begin to build incremental momentum born out of success. Friction will intentionally be injected into the routines of formations, schemes, and techniques, but it will be surmountable. These initial “forming” steps serve a distinct purpose. Mental placement… mindset… is equally if not more important than foot or hand placement. If we don’t get the mind aligned to the team’s goals and objectives, and clearly convey our expectations for the character traits at the core of who we are, the best playbook on Earth isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

Who will be the Hilltoppers of 2019? Last year’s seniors are gone, replaced by this year’s incoming players.  This is a new team with new talents. As we begin OTAs, team members’ roles and responsibilities may be unclear.  As coaches, we will provide this newly formed group with guidance, direction and baseline expectations.  Standards will be set and adhered to. We will see some of our older, returning players step up to welcome new players to the group.  As coaches, we want to see the example they set for younger teammates or players potentially brand new to the game. It can be said that integrity drives us to do the right thing whether someone is watching or not…

Coaches will indeed be watching, and so will players. Some we expect to step into leadership roles will do so. Others may not. Some may surprise us and rise to levels of leadership unanticipated, but all will need to put the interests of the team above their own. All must recognize starting positions are earned, and the opportunity to lead their teammates is a privilege.

As we forge the common vision of who we want to be and what we want to attain. We reinforce that vision with common values and beliefs in our ability to measure up to the challenges that confront us. We develop belief in ourselves and one another. We instill trust, respect, and forge the bonds of relationships capable of seeing us through adversity and success. Good team culture is founded in relationships.  The process of building effective relationships begins this week. I invite you to join us for this year’s journey!

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 and share with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time!

What it Takes to Coach

Any man “can” father a child but not everyone “should” be a father…

It is much the same for coaches.  Just because someone was a great player with both knowledge of the game and skill to apply it doesn’t naturally translate into coaching potential. Leading, guiding, and directing a team…building and reinforcing a culture…helping teammates come to realize they are more potent and capable together than they could ever hope to be alone, requires far more than the talents that may have produced hometown headlines in years past.  2019-06-06 Coaching Tools

To have what it takes to be a football coach at St Johnsbury Academy, you need to first and foremost be able to Teach.  One of the best compliments I ever received was from Mike Kuchar, X&O Labs Senior Research Manager, and Co-Founder when he told me, “The clarity of your teaching simplifies the game tremendously.”  The game of football is complex but as we discussed a couple weeks ago in the “Occam’s Razor” post, coaches must simplify the concepts, strategies, and techniques necessary for the players to both individually and collectively understand and apply them.

Next, you must have a passion to positively impact the lives of those players in your charge and often, a willingness to develop life-long relationships with them. As I’ve noted in other posts, it’s the positive impacts my coaches had on me that fuel my desire to re-invest in my players and staff. I love the John Wooden quote, “A good coach can change a game, but a great coach can change a life.”

Lastly, a commitment to put in the work.  Coaching is not a Monday through Friday,  9 to 5, kind of job.  Hours spent in video analysis, preparing practice schedules and scripts, coaches meetings, game plans, scouting reports, and more,  afford your players a greater opportunity for individual and team success.  My mentor, Jim Pry is often heard saying, “Never let anyone outwork you, or outlast you.” It’s as true in the coaches office and practice field as it is on game day.

If you can teach, love your players, and are willing to work hard, you can be a great coach in any sport at any level.  Just be sure to start by checking your ego (and Glory Days) at the door. With a nod to Coach Wooden, I’d like to suggest the product of a coaches efforts are measured more in graduates and decades of service, than wins and losses.

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 and share with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time!

What It Takes…

If you looked at the top of the STJ Football Summer Calendar posted last week, you saw the words “What It Takes.”  Our defensive coordinator, John Lovett, took it upon himself to write those words when he created the document.  We never discussed it.  He just did it on his own.  Coincidentally, I was planning on using those same words as our motto for the season.  Perhaps after working together for a half a dozen years, we are rubbing off on each other.

Although we chose the same inspirational words we both had a different idea of what they meant.  As Coach Lovett explained the calendar at our Spring meeting, he informed our players that following the schedule of OTAs, 7v7s, camps, etc is what it takes to be successful and get us back to another state championship.  For me, it was not about doing what it takes but rather having what it takes.

While at the USA Football National Conference this year, I heard University of Minnesota football coach, PJ Fleck, recommend John Eldredge’s book “You Have What It Takes.”  Those 52 pages inspired me to begin seeking those on 2019-05-30 you-have-what-it-takesour team who have what it takes and identify those who can be inspired to have what it takes.  Our job as coaches is to help those who have it to reinforce it, and those who don’t yet know, to find it, and to recognize both that they “have what it takes…” and that it must be both cultivated and for all to know it must be protected.

Having what it takes can be defined in a number of ways.  For the Hilltoppers, having what it takes means you are willing to work hard on the field, in the weight room, and in the classroom, you are tough physically, mentally and emotionally, you make good decisions in practice, in games, and in the community.  Ultimately, it means that we can count on you to do what is expected of you; to place the interests of the team above your personal gain.

Do you have what it takes?  Do your coaches?  Do your players?

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 and share with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time!


Summer Calendar

Today marks my 100th Blog Post on Hard to believe when I started this experiment 2.5 years ago it would turn into such a wonderful dialogue with players, parents, faculty, community members, and other coaches. I believe coaching is a privilege and as I’ve stated before, my efforts have, and continue to be an endeavor to pay forward all the investments others have made in me. I’m convinced getting the culture of a team right is a prerequisite for success and a coach’s primary responsibility. It’s been great to share such perspectives with all of you, and in keeping with the theme of culture and communication, let’s get on to the meat of our 100th conversation. Whether this is your 100th blog post, or your 1st, thanks for taking the time to join me on this journey.

The culture of our football program is built on the philosophy that games are not won on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons in the Fall.  Games are won with the work done from January through July with the lion’s share of the work in June and July.  2019-05-23 Summer CalendarIf you want better participation numbers for your summer organized team activities (OTAs), be sure to create a calendar and get it into the hands of your players and their parents as soon as possible.  We distributed ours on Friday of last week.  With family vacations, other sports travel teams and everything else kids can do these days, we need them to know in advance when and where they need to be.

Our summer calendar includes the days and times of our OTAs, 7v7 tournaments, Strongman competitions, and camps.  We include reminders to update their physicals and the closing date of our online team store so that they have their shorts and tees ready for training camp.  We also include the date of our Meet the Coaches parent meeting.  More to come on that in a future blog.  Scrimmage dates and our first game are also listed.  Most importantly, we intentionally schedule weeks where we have no OTAs.  Players are on their own the weeks of June 3, July 29 and August 5.  Those are the weeks we encourage our families to take their vacations.

If you want your kids to participate and your parents to buy into your program, open the lines of communication and give them the information they need so that they give you what you need…their kids with you Monday, Wednesday and Fridays through the summer. Culture begins with (and is underpinned by) communication of standards and expectations. If we share common goals, common awareness, and a common vision of success, we can make consistent decisions for the team’s best interests. (Save the surprises for opponents!)

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 and share with your colleagues and friends.

Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations over these 100 blog posts, and as always, thanks for your time!

Occam’s Razor

The principle of Occam’s Razor states that one should not make more assumptions than the minimum needed.  It also states that the simplest solution tends to be the right one.  Although Occam’s Razor is intended to be used to solve a complex problem with competing hypotheses, we use it to determine our summer 7v7 installation schedule.

What could be more complex than a teenage boy trying to decide which of 5 receivers he should throw the ball to while they are being covered by 7 opponents? 2019-05-16 Simplify Even more problematic, we coaches have a funny way of making things more difficult than necessary…

We love to prove (largely to ourselves) how smart we are and how much football we know.  Unfortunately, as I have stated in earlier blogs, it is not about what you know.  It’s is about what you can get your players to understand and execute.

As we prepare our summer 7v7 installation schedule, we need to keep in mind we will have a new quarterback this season.  Therefore, we need to minimize assumptions and simplify solutions.  Regardless of how much we may like a play or pass route combination, if it does not fall into one of our three basic Quarterback read categories, it will not be installed.

Similarly, regardless of the backfield action, we group every route combination into one of three quarterback read categories:

  • Triangle Reads
  • Curl-Flat Middle Reads
  • Level Reads

We have 42 different route combinations that we can lump into these three reads.

42 route combinations are a complex problem for defenses, but we “simplify” them for our Quarterback; tipping a hat to Occam’s Razor.

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 and share with your colleagues and friends.

Thanks for your time!