Tips for Summer Training Success

Thanks for all the great feedback on last week’s blog about preparing for summer Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and the value of a strength and conditioning coach. Building on last week’s success we have a guest post from Coach Adrian Guyer CSCS, USAW-2, CSAC. Coach Guyer brings an extensive athletic background coupled with over a decade of training experience. He’s been an invaluable colleague and helps both teams and individuals excel in their fitness and conditioning goals.


With Coach Guyer’s guidance, this summer our training program will have:

  1. A focused plan of attack- We’ll apply specific exercises, techniques and philosophies to individual and team goals.
  2. We’ll stay “Consistent” in execution, and measure success. Valuable progress takes both work and time.
  3. We’ll plan in time to recover and refuel. The body is an amazing thing and with the right balance of exercise, recovery and refueling, can exhibit extraordinary success!

Coach Guyer has more great info available at his website

I look forward to letting you all know how our OTAs and Coach Guyer’s strength and conditioning program support our development this summer.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss summer OTAs, 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.

Summer OTAs: Winning Begins Here…

As the school-year comes to an end, our focus turns to summer Organized Team Activities (OTAs).  Although we have made numerous changes to our program in the past 4 years, nothing has made more of an impact on our success than the physical development of our players.  We tell our players, “games are not won on Fall Friday nights and Saturday afternoons in front of thousands of people…  They are won in the off-season when nobody is watching…”

2017-06-06 Agilities
Our student athletes begin training 3 days a week the week after graduation.  On Mondays, we work speed development (acceleration, deceleration, change of direction, lateral movement, as well as linear speed) followed by a 7v7 practice.  On Tuesdays, we work strength then have an OLine practice.  We have another strength training session and 7v7 practice on Thursdays.  We do not want to compete with weekend family plans and summer baseball or AAU basketball so we intentionally avoid Friday and Saturday.

What we do and how we do it is even more important than that we do it.  In college, you have a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS); A luxury frequently unaffordable at most high schools.  CSCS are professionals who apply scientific knowledge to train athletes with the primary goal of improving athletic performance.  If you don’t have one, find one in your area and recruit him/her to get involved with your athletes.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking you know enough to do it just because you get in the gym 3-4 days a week.

I came to that epiphany this winter when I was invited to join a round-table discussion of Strength Coaches at Burke Mountain Academy.  BMA is the premier alpine ski academy in North America.  Their strength coach, Darrell Gray, has become a friend and is a valuable resource. Also in attendance were strength coaches from the US Ski Team, the Philadelphia Eagles, Sherbrooke University in Canada, and a local coach who owns a training facility nearby.  I was awed by the scientific approach and level of detail each coach incorporated into their training.  It was far beyond my level of understanding.  I was with them when they addressed incorporating unilateral and bilateral lifts and movements in the sagittal, transverse and frontal planes.  They started to lose me when they discussed Rates of Perceived Exhaustion (RPE) and Undulation, and completely lost me when they shifted to Block vs conjugate periodization training!

2017-06-06 strength and conditioning
Even if I found block vs conjugate periodization training daunting, I’m perceptive enough to recognize a need for experts when I see one. We’re fortunate to have an all-star supporting the Hilltoppers when we start on June 12: Adrian Guyer CSCS, USAW 2, CSAC of XIP Training Systems, will implement our summer program and instruct our players on their warm up, speed training and strength program.  It seems the more letters after their name, the more qualified they are to create and instruct your program, but we’re equally lucky to have a professional who cares deeply about our team’s success and players’ development.

Over the next few weeks we will go into more detail on our athletic performance training, our OLine practices and our 7v7 preparation. We’ll conduct camps, clinics, host and participate in 7v7 competitions, and have fun working hard together. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, exchanging ideas, and preparing for all the new season brings.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss summer OTAs, 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.

Talking the Talk!

As May comes to a close, I want you all to know how much I’ve appreciated your feedback on the “Making Your Program the Big Time” series of blog posts. “Big Time” programs use a variety of tools to help reinforce team culture and commitment. Over the past few weeks we’ve reflected on setting standards, building traditions, innovatively managing equipment and budgets, and how many of the concepts underpinning coaching apply regardless of the level of play.

This week I’d like to reflect on “Talking the Talk.” It may sound cliché, but words have meaning. Words, phrases, and sayings underpin every team’s culture, and an early measure of team and culture building can be assessed by the transition from students’ common speech patterns to the way teammates speak individually and collectively.

“Big Time” words matter. When we refer to things in our program, we use the same terms that our kids hear on ESPN.  In two weeks, we begin our summer schedule but we do not call them Summer Workouts.  We refer to them as OTAs or Organized Team Activities.  When we host our July camp we call it Mini Camp.  We never use the term 2-a-days but rather call it pre-season training camp.

2017-05-30 OTAs

On the first day of training camp, we will put our players though a Combine test much like the one we all see on TV. We also divide our players not as upper and under class men, but as Veterans and Rookies.  When one of our players gets hurt they are either placed on the Injured Reserve (IR) or Players Unable to Perform (PUP).  The IR list is for those who are out for an anticipated period of time.  The PUP list is for those who are day-to-day.

2017-05-30 Combine

Lastly, we no longer use the term Strength & Conditioning as everyone despises conditioning.  We call it Athletic Performance Training.  During the season, we train on Monday afternoons and Thursday mornings.  Since the boys do not have the opportunity to get breakfast on Thursdays, my wife sets up a table outside of our weight room with breads and muffins she baked the night before along with fresh fruit and drinks.  We call it our Team Training Table.

When my coaches and I hear our Veterans teach the Rookies our teams’ words and phrases, I know they are helping new teammates learn to talk the talk so they can walk the walk of a Hilltopper. When I hear Rookies talking the talk, and explaining our words to parents and friends, (with pride and a sense of belonging), I know we’re on the way to building something special; a Big Time program even in a small school in Vermont.

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. I look forward to continuing our conversation!

Big Time Standards

For the last few weeks I’ve been exploring the idea of how to make your program “The Big Time,” for your team, school or community even if you’re part of one of the thousands of relatively small programs in cities and towns across the Country. We talked about helmets, traditions, and how in programs large or small, the passion to make a positive impact in the lives of our student athletes makes “Coaching, coaching regardless of the programs budget (or lack thereof!)

My favorite part of these last few posts have been the responses from colleagues, players, faculty, and communities near and far. This week I’d like to share the perspectives of a colleague who was in position to see firsthand some of the things we’ve done to help make our program “The Big Time,” for our school here in the hills of Vermont. I hope you find his perspectives enlightening and can apply some of the same tenets to make your program “The Big Time,” for you!


May 2017

Coach Alercio,

Having read your piece on changing the helmet to change the culture of the program, I wanted to share the biggest change I have seen in our program over the last 4 years.  In the first year you set expectations high, players and coaches understood what was expected of them and you let people fail (and understand the consequence of their failure).  The thing you did not do was change expectation or standard.  

People lost privileges and responsibility, and unaccustomed to such accountability, some left the program.  Others worked very hard to meet or exceed the expectation.  That work either built those who remained into people who could sustain the program or broke people who eventually decided to leave so that the program could be what it would become (pruning).  

This was the hardest, but best thing for me to watch.  I knew then and there that I was not ready to be a head coach but wanted to be the best assistant I could be.  I knew I would have to find my own way to push and prune if I were ever to have a program to be proud of. The “Big Time” allows coaches to cut, recruit, or draft, all while drawing from deep pools of talented athletes.  Our school is open to everyone as is our football program… but we must remember football (and its inherent personal challenge) isn’t for everyone (lesson learned). 

It is our job as educators and influencers in the lives of young men; to both get the most out of those for whom football can be a formative positive experience, and help guide those for whom football will have a negative impact (either on themselves or others) away from the sport.

Football in the “Big Time” is about building the collective.  Being a judge of character is very important, and it is most important to think of character as a collective; effectively a culture.  I (as you know) think of those for whom football can be a good experience.  I think of football as a tool to form individuals, to build character, and to inoculate young athletes against the fear and failure they will unavoidably encounter in life.

What I have learned about “The Big Time” is that football as a game sometimes exists in a vacuum apart from character formation.  It has its necessities and mandates set by a program, with the central goal of winning well and secondary goals of being tough, smart and working hard (or commitment, competitiveness, and classiness).  

Within that vacuum there is the necessity of building the individuals committed to these goals as full rich human beings, but the goals of the program cannot be sacrificed for humanitarian efforts in fixing attitudes or building morals or ethics that do not already exist (if not in practice than at least in will).  These humanitarian goals are noble but come at an expense to the team. In a sport where placing service to team and teammates above self is a core tenet, such an expense can never be a worthwhile bargain.  For me this has always been family and religion, and now I include football (more specifically Team) in this area as well.  To use football as humanitarian aid steals that experience from the many to serve the needs of the one.  This is counter to good football culture.

 I would love to see sometime in this vein in your evaluation of making every program “The Big Time.”  A piece on program standards and their role in the education of young people might be eye opening to other coaches.  I have learned how sometimes exclusion from participation or challenging young people can be formative in their development; even if it is uncomfortable or difficult in the moment.  

Playing in your program should matter, and if it does, you are the Big Time, no matter where you are.  If kids are ready to fight (in thought, word, and deed) for your program, then you are The Big Time.  

Football would be easy if it was for everyone. The truth is football is not for everyone. Football is “Big Time” when people become special (not better, but special) through their commitment, courage, and belief that together we are so much more than any one of us could be alone. I know this email is a bit of a rant, but outside of X’s and O’s this has been the best thing I have learned from you.  

Hope this is useful.


Please keep the feedback coming! If you’d like to learn more about making your program “The Big Time” for you, please stay with us on We’ll be discussing more of the changes we implemented to cultivate success in 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 and share with your colleagues and friends.

PS: The Football Toolbox recently featured my presentation Special Teams:

Click here to learn more:”Going for 2 With the Swinging Gate

Going for 2

“Big Time” Traditions

More on making your program the “Big Time” for you, your team, school, and community.

Football is a copycat game.  We imitate (copy, borrow, replicate, clone) plays, schemes, formations, alignments, stunts, coverages, blitzes…why not traditions?

Heading into the 2014 season, after changing our helmets, we reinforced success by starting new traditions.  We looked at the best traditions in college football and sought the help of other coaches for creative ideas.

Since we are the Hilltoppers, my good friend and fellow coach who is an exceptional motivator/leader suggested we emulate Clemson’s run down the hill as they enter into “Death Valley.” We have a cross country trail that goes down a hill through the woods and exits at the entrance of our stadium.

2017-05-16 Down Hill Tradition

Then, we borrowed the “We Are…” call from Marshall and Penn State.  Now, before every home game we take the XC trail into the woods and at the top of the hill above our stadium, I yell “WE ARE” and the team responds “HILLTOPPERS”.  Then we run down the hill to enter our stadium.

To further enhance our look, we borrowed the Ohio State tradition of awarding helmet stickers.  Since we are not buckeyes and no one knows what a Hilltopper is, we use little white footballs as our helmet stickers.  Kids love the look and it causes them to watch more video as they email me on Sunday with how many stickers they believe they have earned.

2017-05-16 Helmet Stickers.png

To finish out the gameday experience, we introduced tailgating.  Please let me emphasize, tailgating does not mean alcohol or unruly behavior. It’s about family, fellowship, and team cohesion. We create an environment where parents, players, students, and faculty extend the Hilltopper team culture into the local community. We section off a parking lot that overlooks our stadium.  Our player’s parents set up a smoker, grills and tables.  Every parent brings something to share and contributes to the event.  The parents of our freshmen players often staff the smoker and grills so the parents of our older players do not miss seeing their sons play.  Win or lose, our staff, families and players head to the parking lot to tailgate after every home game. They share the Hilltopper spirit, extend the Hilltopper family, and reinforce the Hilltopper Tradition. If we do this right, players, parents, teachers, coaches, and the community may come and go over the decades ahead, but “tradition will never graduate.”

Thankfully, we win more than we lose.  Since the 2014 season, when we changed our helmet color and instituted these new traditions, we have gone 13-3 at home including a 4-0 playoff record.

Recent posts about “Making the Big Time Where You Are,” have really spurred great feedback and comments from readers. I look forward to sharing one reader’s reflections on our program in an upcoming blog post. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I did!

If you’d like to learn more about making your program “The Big Time” for you, please stay with us on We’ll be discussing more of the changes we implemented to cultivate success in 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 and share with your colleagues and friends.

Make the “Big Time” Where You Are.

Make the “Big Time” Where You Are.

Last week I began a conversation with you about making your program “The Big Time” for you, your players, your school, and your community… Some approaches are external, some internal, and some combine an outward facing symbol to help cultivate an internal change in team identity.

Few of us enjoy the bright lights or big budgets that seem to go hand in hand with an ESPN SportsCenter highlight reel. Big stadiums, celebrity coaches, and marquis branding seem to dominate the highest levels of collegiate and professional athletics. One of the hottest trends in Big Time college football is the changing of helmet color and design.  Programs seem to have a different helmet or uniform every week, and players project images or identity with little care or concern over the costs of such a metamorphosis.  While most high schools and small colleges may not be able to change every week, they can change every year at little or no additional cost. There are ways to emulate the “Big Time,” without the big budget.

SJA_Football_gray helmet
When I arrived at St Johnsbury Academy in the summer of 2013, the team had endured seven consecutive losing seasons.  The eighth, my first, was no different.  We made the playoffs but suffered a quick exit.  During all eight of those losing seasons, the team wore silver helmets with a grey face mask, green logo and green stripe.  Heading in to the 2014 season, the program needed a change; an outward expression of evolution and improvement.

One of the first, and most noticeable of several program changes that year was our helmets.  As a relatively small school in northern Vermont, we did not have the budget to make big changes. The same creative problem solving we emphasize on the field for our players would have to become the basis for what initially appeared to be an insurmountable fiscal challenge. Working closely with our reconditioning partner, Stadium Systems, we explained our intent, conveying both the importance of the change, and the reality of our limited resources.

We knew the helmet reconditioning process includes repainting every year and seized the opportunity to paint our helmets a new color.  Similarly, we order new logos each year, so instead of ordering green, we chose white. Although we could not afford to have our face masks dipped to change color, Stadium Systems worked with other clients and arranged a swap with a school who had white facemasks looking to go to grey.  Trading our facemasks for theirs, we found a “win/win solution” with no cost to either school!  The only additional cost was the painting of helmets not used the previous season in need of recertification, but that nominal expense was well worth it.

Beginning with their new look, our kids felt “Big Time” entering the 2014 season. They knew opponents would first see, and subsequently feel the change in our identity upon first contact. With our new found confidence, the Hilltoppers played like a “Big Time” program, going 10-1, and earning the school’s first trip to the state championship in 20 years.

SJA_Football_green helmet

If you’d like to learn more about making your program “The Big Time” for you, please stay with us on We’ll be discussing more of the changes we implemented to cultivate success in 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 and share with your colleagues and friends.

Coaching is Coaching…

Coaching is Coaching

You’ve heard the saying before and it is true.  Coaching is coaching.  If you can coach, you can coach at any level.  I have had the good fortune of being invited to join training camp as a “visiting coach” with an NFL team when I was in between jobs, and I have had the pleasure of coaching my youngest son’s 5th & 6th grade flag football team.  I also coached my middle son’s padded flag team.  I have been an assistant, coordinator, and head coach at the high school level; and I have been a graduate assistant, assistant, coordinator, and head coach at the college level.  I have worked at both scholarship and non-scholarship schools.

I have worked with great coaches and below average coaches at every one of those levels.  Yes, there were a few coaches on that NFL team that were just off the charts in their ability to coach, but I worked with high school coaches who could have been very successful college coaches, and college coaches who could have been successful in the NFL.  The biggest difference I have found is in how much time you want or are able to commit.  As you know, the sun rises early and settles late during the summer months.  Every day of that NFL training camp, the staff reported before the sun came up and departed long after it had set.  We ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the training facility.  It was great as a visiting coach, but sure would be tough on a family.  The life of a college coach is extremely time consuming as well, even more so when you add recruiting across multiple states into the mix.

Over the past 30 years, I would say that I had the most fun back in 1991, as a part-time assistant at East Stroudsburg University while working 2 other jobs, living with 2 other coaches, barely able to pay the electric bill, but learning and coaching football every day.   But I have never been happier than I am now as an Assistant Athletic Director and Head Football Coach at St Johnsbury Academy in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont coaching 2 of my 3 sons.  We all dream about coaching in the “big time” but make the big time where you are.

Over the next three weeks, I plan to share some thoughts about how I make my current role “the big time,” to me. I hope after 30 years of coaching I can share some of the lessons learned and help you avoid some of the obstacles I encountered along the way. I don’t presume to have all the answers, but just as my mentors shared their lessons with me and helped me grow as a coach, parent, and person, I’d like to reinforce their efforts and share some thoughts with you. Hopefully, together we can explore ways to maximize the best the coaching profession has to offer. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

Contact Coach Rich Alercio at