The Real Rewards of Coaching…

Earlier this week, I heard a knock on my door.  I looked up to see a young man proudly standing in my doorway adorned in his Marine Corps Dress Blues. 2018-11-08 Rich & Nck

Two years ago, this young man lacked confidence in himself and his abilities.  He questioned what he could accomplish and couldn’t see the potential our staff knew was buried deep within him. Even though he was a varsity starter on our offensive line, his lack of self-esteem often negatively impacted his game-day performance. We worked hard on teamwork, interdependence, and conveying our team’s reliance on the offensive line’s (and his) performance.

I’ll be candid: I made it very clear I expected more from this young man. When Senior year presented itself and we had a chance to speak one on one about expectations, I tried to make it clear: “If I hold you to a higher standard, it’s because I believe in your potential, and the greatness you can accomplish.” By his senior season, he gained confidence in himself and took personal pride in his teammates’ reliance on his performance. He became a two-way starter on dominant offensive and defensive lines ultimately leading our team to a state championship.

As he stood in my kitchen this week, he thanked me for the impact football had on him and how it prepared him for the rigors of Marine Corps’ boot camp.  He talked about how his training at Parris Island opened the view to his potential and helped him realize he was far more capable than he originally thought.  Then he informed me that he had a goal to become a Drill Instructor so that he can help others realize their reach, far exceeds their grasp.

As Coaches with careers spanning decades… some years you win, some years you don’t.

Some seasons end with championships, and even if you’re lucky, many end with playoff losses.

But every year comes with the blessing of having the opportunity to positively impact lives beyond football… (as my coaches did for me, and countless other do for student-athletes nationwide.)

Best wishes young man. You raised the bar of what you thought possible for yourself, and in doing so, set an example for others. Your leadership matters, and if in some small way, the staff here at St Johnsbury contributed to helping you find that potential, it was our privilege.

Now go do good things!

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!

The Best Ability…

…is availability!

There is a saying is athletics: “the best ability is availability.”  That is never more true than during the post-season.  At this point of the season,2018-11-01 Availability every player deals with bumps and bruises compiled during a long and hard season.  With no bye week on the high school football schedule, there is no time to “get healthy”.

Thankfully, we have an outstanding athletic trainer at St Johnsbury Academy who works collaboratively with our players, their families, and our physicians to determine who is injured, who is just hurting, who can play, and who must stay on the sideline come game day.

The relationship between the coach and athletic trainer must be one of mutual trust and confidence with both working toward a common goal: to return the athlete to safe participation as soon as possible.

Effective communication is the bedrock of this relationship.  Our athletic trainer meets with me daily and often sends text messages throughout the day to update me on the status of our players.

This type of relationship and open communication ensures the athlete will not be put in conflict with the coach telling him, “we need you to play so that we can win” and the athletic trainer offering conflicting guidance, “you need another week to recover.”

Our athletic trainer is a highly educated health-care provider who has the overwhelming responsibility of providing care for hundreds of athletes all by himself. We do not want to make his job any harder than it already is.  We support his decisions and coach the players who are available to play.

Ultimately as a coach, we must balance the imperative to win against the longer-term health of our student-athletes. As with most things in life, the long-term good outweighs the short term (perceived) benefit. I’d rather lose a championship this year and have a player return 10 years from now to tell me about how the program benefitted his development than apologize for career-ending injuries, chronic conditions, and the perception that short-term gains supersede doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason.

I believe God injects people and situations into our lives for reasons, for seasons, and for lifetimes. I don’t say that to thrust my opinion upon you, but rather to reinforce there are concerns far more important than any individual player or game at stake here. How a student-athlete pursues his/her life and its meaning is far more important than Friday’s final score. I feel fortunate to have such a competent and conscientious trainer looking out for our team and managing “availability” of our student-athletes.

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!

Defend The Ship!

The state football playoffs and our defense of the Vermont Division I Championship begins this tonight.  In Vermont, we start and end early because the snow comes early in the Green Mountain State.

2018-10-26 Never Quit

As we prep for the playoffs, our number one priority is to stick with the same routine that has gotten us to this point in the season (and served us well in three of the last four state championship games).  We continue to strength train on Monday afternoons and Thursday mornings.  We continue to run the same tackling, pursuit & takeaway drills on defense.  We continue to drill our blitz pickups, read progressions and route conversions on offense.

As the season goes longer and the days get shorter, keeping players motivated and emotionally engaged can become a challenge.   We may throw a wrinkle into our offense and defense to keep our players sharp.  We also focus on the brotherhood, supporting our teammates, and celebrating the successes of others. We reinforce the commitment, sacrifice, and interdependence that has been the foundation of our season together thus far, and the expectations of those who went before us and established the Hilltopper reputation.

I’ve often heard other coaches say the football season is a “Grind.”  It can never seem that way to our players, especially this time of year.

This time of year should be the most exciting.

With every playoff win, comes the gift of another game and another week together.

Enjoy this time.  It, as so many seasons have before, will too soon come to an end.

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!

“The Game”

2018-10-18 Tradition Never Graduates

Football’s greatest rivalries: Ohio State v Michigan, Auburn v Alabama, Army v Navy…

St Johnsbury Academy v Lyndon Institute???


Two high schools in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont have one of the oldest football rivalries in the country.  “The Game”, as it has been named, dates back to 1894, with St Johnsbury having the edge 63-44-6.

In 2013, USA Today conducted an online poll to determine the greatest rivalry in the nation.  “The Game” easily won the Vermont, New England, and Eastern Regions, before finishing fourth in the nation.

Tradition matters… We all want to belong to something. Family, Team, Church, Fraternity or Sorority, or other associations or societies.  My friends who are Marines love being part of The Few and The Proud. Other Service members have their strong affiliations, and all are underpinned by traditions, accomplishments, and myths handed down with almost legendary reverence.

When we talk about “team building,” and putting the good of the team above self-interest, examples of those who went before us serve as a reminder of both what is possible, and what is expected. There is added responsibility to uphold the traditions of those who went before, and occasionally the responsibility to right some wrong or restore the best aspects of a tradition.

The Hilltoppers will look to get series win 64 on Saturday, October 20.  The Hilltoppers have won the last four meetings outscoring the Vikings 240 – 20.  Before you accuse us of running up the score against our rivals, please note that we have not scored a 4th quarter touchdown during that 4-year stretch.

Regardless of records or standings, this rivalry brings out the best of both towns, schools, and teams.  Homecoming events welcome alumni back to both campuses from all over the world.  Parades go down Main Street in each town, ending back on campus for bonfires, and the memories of games past, families, and friendships.

As the Fall Foliage Season comes to an end in Vermont, the focus in the Northeast Kingdom turns to the 114th annual clash between St Johnsbury Academy and Lyndon Institute. The Hilltoppers stand ready!

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!


Ifs and Buts…

“If ifs and buts were gifts and nuts, everyone would have a Merry Christmas…”

Your record today is what it is.  You cannot go back and get a “do over.” Focus on the game ahead.  There is a reason why your car’s windshield is much larger than its rearview mirror.  When you are driving the car, you need to spend your time looking forward.  It is OK to look back every once in a while; but if you spend too much time looking in the mirror at what is behind you, you will eventually crash into what is ahead of you.

2018-10-11 FocusFocus your coaches and players on this opponent, this week. Control what you can control. I’ve noted before, I love the game of football for its parallels to life. Life is unpredictable, and when a ball has points on its end, the ball doesn’t always bounce the way one expects. Football forces us to confront those unanticipated bounces and decide what to do next. Further, football often hands us the unexpected when confronted with daunting combinations of fatigue and stress.

What are you going to do now Coach? (The whole community is watching…)

What’s next Quarterback? (Your teammates are looking for your example…)

How about you Senior Letterman? (Every underclassmen’s eyes are on you…)

This game, like life, demands mental toughness, the ability to endure and to focus on the goals and objectives you’ve led your team to pursue. Jack Clark, the University of California Rugby Coach who holds more NCAA Division I National Championships than any coach, in any sport, defines mental toughness as the unrelenting ability to identify and execute the next most important thing… no matter what.

Put down the ifs and buts…

The next most important thing is this week’s game and this week’s opponent.

Get after ‘em!

That Ain’t It!

How a simple mantra reinforces culture…

Throughout the nearly two years I’ve been sharing thoughts on this blog, and for more than 30 as both a player and a coach, I’ve learned and emphasized the importance of “culture” as a core component of success. Culture will develop one way or another. As a head coach, part of the leadership responsibility is to ensure the development of the culture you want your team to emulate.

Common vision, values, purpose, and goals unite teams and build cohesion. Those attributes are underpinned by character and personal example. Personal example is often reinforced by words; words that sometimes take on “mantra’ like status. I was told by a friend who is both a leadership expert and a US Marine Corps General, “When you’re just about tired of saying it, they’re just starting to hear it.”

We have established a culture at St Johnsbury Academy of how we do things as Hilltopper Football Players.  You’ve heard me say (or read here previously) “Do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason.” There is a very specific way we do everything whether it is football related (blocking, tackling, running, catching) or personal conduct on and off the field.  When any players’ action fails to uphold our performance standards, I often say the phrase, “that ain’t it.”  Apparently, it has been picked up by our students as noted in the email below from our defensive coordinator, John Lovett, who is also a history teacher and dorm proctor at the Academy.

FYI, the phrase “that ain’t it” has permeated the culture of the school. Three times today alone, and many other times before I have heard students say this about behaviors or ideas that are not what we are looking for. Your words are famous! Most of these students have no relation to the football program and still understand the idea of meeting a standard of thought and behavior.

Observable behaviors or actions that do not meet expectations are now being corrected with a simple phrase, “that ain’t it.” It’s become our way of reinforcing “do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason,” and the adoption of the phrase and its use by students other than our players is a great sign of the positive effects of our team on campus-wide culture. How do you reinforce culture in your team, family, partnership, or organization? What are the signs your efforts to develop culture are beginning to stick?

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!


Coach to Cure Muscular Dystrophy

2018-09-27 Coach to Cure MDThis weekend, football coaches all over the country will wear a Coach to Cure MD patch on their sleeve during games.  Coach to Cure MD is a partnership between the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) and Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy. One reason the AFCA was drawn to Coach To Cure MD was because of the unique parallels between Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a disorder which robs young men of precious muscle strength, and football; a game where young men are at the peak of their muscle strength.  The goals are to raise national awareness of the disorder and raise money to fund research for a cure.

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) is a devastating and progressive muscle disorder that only affects boys, causing a loss of both muscle function and independence. DMD affects approximately 1 out every 3500 boys born worldwide. It is the most common, lethal genetic disorder diagnosed during early childhood. Nearly all boys with DMD die by their late teens or early 20s from respiratory and/or cardiac complications.

When I was the offensive coordinator at The College of New Jersey, news of this disease rocked our hometown of Hamilton, NJ.   Our son Shane’s first-grade teacher shared the news that her son Ryan had been diagnosed with DMD. Maria and David Schultz have fought every day to bring awareness to and raise funds for a cure for DMD through the creation of Ryan’s Quest.  To make a donation and bring hope to families you can visit or 2018-09-27 Coach to Cure MD Ryans Quest

When I was the head coach at Castleton State College, the Schultz family drove up to Vermont so that Ryan could be an honorary captain at a home game when we brought awareness through Coach to Cure MD.  Last season, at St Johnsbury Academy, we had one of our students afflicted with the disease join us for the coin toss and we collected donations during the game. Although we will be on the road for this weekend’s game, our staff will be wearing the patch and we will take the opportunity to share how very fortunate our players are to have been blessed with such strong bodies and the ability to play this great game.

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!