New Starts and Extraordinary Examples

The third Monday of January is the day we honor the life of a man who fought for racial justice and equality and dreamed of a color-blind world free from segregation.  While we have come a long was as a nation since Dr. King shared his dream; the recent social unrest reminds us of how far we still must go.

The Team Reminds Us of Who and What We Can Become.
(Photo by Paul Hayes)

The third Monday of January also marks the start of the football clinic season and my annual trip to Bergen County NJ for the honor of speaking at Fred Stengel’s annual offensive line coach’s clinic. Regrettably, for the first time in over 20 years, Coach Stengel’s clinic will not happen.  Nor will so many others.  I am hopeful that invitations I had to speak at the 2021 New England Nike Clinic, Glazier Clinics, and the Big New England Clinic will be extended to me again in 2022.  As I have said in other blogs, one of the greatest things about our profession is the willingness of coaches to share their knowledge with others.  While I love to speak and share those things that have brought our program success, I find equal joy in learning from other coaches.

The game of football and the young people we coach are ever changing and we, as coaches, must adapt to those changes and stay current to have continued success and to better relate to this generation of players.  We must have open minds that are accepting of new ideas and better ways of doing things.  To have an open mind, we must possess the virtue of humility.  Arrogance leads to a closed mind and the belief that we are already in possession of everything worth knowing. If I’ve learned anything in more than 30 years of coaching, it’s actually how much I still have left to learn! 

While Glazier, Nike and Big New England have all gone virtual, I remain optimistic the vaccine coupled with herd immunity will allow the Vermont Football Coaches Clinic and the Alercio OLine Clinics, usually scheduled in March, to be hosted live in May.  I am ever hopeful the coming months will allow us to gather as coaches to share ideas with open minds for the betterment of our players, teams, and the game of football. Opportunities to learn and share excite me and re-kindle the optimism and promise of the new season and all we can achieve together. In his “I have a dream” speech, when Dr. King said, “We as a people, will get to the promised land…” I think he was speaking of the hope and potential for all to achieve the best of themselves, and the best of society. While my aspirations for the team pales in comparison to Dr. King’s monumental task and achievements, I feel fortunate to have his example to emulate and guide from as we begin again to strive to be our best as players, coaches, and teammates.

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! 

Far From Bright Lights

The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses…in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.  Muhammad Ali

The same can be said for football games.  The philosophy of the St Johnsbury Academy Football program is built on a similar mantra: “Games are not won on weekends in the fall.”  They are won in our weight room and on our fields, on cold winter mornings, and hot summer afternoons.

Hilltopper football players begin their winter training season this week.  Those not playing a winter sport are expected to train 3 days/week.  Winter sport athletes are expected to participate in all their team activities as well as train for football 1 day/week.  We encourage the multi-sport athlete and believe there are both physical and emotional benefits to multi-sport opportunities.  There are two training options each day.  One can be performed in a gym and another can be done at home.  No Excuses!   Those who fulfill their expectation earn 1 point for themselves as well as 1 for the team. 

Each week, over the next 13 weeks, will represent a week during the 2021 football season.  This week is our Green v White intra-squad scrimmage.  Next week is our game condition scrimmage, followed by our 8 regular season games, then playoffs.  On Mondays, I will inform the team of who we are “playing” that training week based on our 2021 schedule (which has not yet been revealed.)  I will also inform them whether we accrued enough team points to have “won” the previous week’s game/scrimmage.  We have a predetermined score, based on the total number of players on our roster, that we must reach to “win” each week.  As a conscious decision, we do not determine team captains or group leaders in the training season.  Every Hilltopper is accountable to themselves and their teammates.

Individual points will be tracked through the Winter, Spring and Summer.  Those players, with the highest point totals, will be the first in training camp to choose jersey numbers, locker locations, helmets, and shoulder pads.  There is no repercussion for those who do not participate.  This is purely a reward system focused on positive reinforcement.  There are no negative consequences imposed by the program though I have heard players express regrets when they fell far short of their own expectations. As we have described in five previous starts to off-season training, (going back to 2017 on Olineskills.com), culture is comprised of thousands of small choices and actions taken daily, and culture matters. Each player has the opportunity to set a personal example of work ethic, commitment, and establish foundations of leadership.  

If we want to win on weekends in the fall, each individual needs to commit to their athletic performance training and encourage their teammates to do the same… 

…Long before we dance under those lights.

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! 

Adapt and Overcome

Six months ago, Fall Sports were in doubt due to the Coronavirus…

Then I heard Vermont was going to allow soccer to be played in the Fall of 2020, but not football. It took all of two seconds to realize that if we can play soccer, we can play 7v7 football…  Thankfully, those in position to make that decision were of like thinking.  All our Fall student-athletes were able to practice, play, and engage with their teammates, and coaches.  They had a place to go after school and something to look forward to.  They were motivated daily to attend classes in-person or virtually and succeed academically.  We worked our way through the team-building process, reinforced culture and character, and during a very difficult time, players had the daily support of the teammates and coaches.  I was surprised other states did not follow suit.  Many states choose to not play rather than give up “traditional” 11v11 tackle football.  Their plan was to push the football season to the Spring.  The semester has begun, and though the vaccine offers a light at the end of the tunnel (likely for Fall ’21) states are still battling many of the same COVID concerns this Spring.  

It now appears at least one state is considering what we did in Vermont.  Over the weekend, I was contacted by a writer from SBLive Sports, a network of high school sports websites across the nation, who was working on a story for their Oregon site regarding the options the OSAA might take if state health authorities do not approve the spring high school football season as planned.  The reporter’s interest was less about what we did and focused on how Vermont’s 7v7 program was received by players, parents, and the community.  

Simply answered, if the coach is enthusiastic and optimistic, it is well received.  As coaches and leaders, part of team building is creating a unifying vision of a hopeful future. If we know who we are, what we face, and that together we can accomplish our objectives, student-athletes are resilient and adapt well to change.  They will embrace the challenge, pull together as a team, and pursue their goals. They just need a little guidance, and someone to reinforce the best of who they can become.  Those who would say “7v7 is not real football” are letting their own biases interfere with the interests of their players. On this blog I’ve often mentioned the effects of football range far beyond the confines of the field or the season, and I speak from first hand experience when I say the 7v7 program we ran in Vermont this year helped us build teams, win games, and develop young men (and for the first time women!) who will be better off for the experience.

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! 

Reflections Not Resolutions

Instead of making a New Year’s resolution that most likely won’t last past Groundhog’s Day, consider welcoming 2021, with reflections on 2020.  Despite the challenges of the passing year, think about three things that brought you joy and plan to do more of them (Actually right them down!) Then write down three things that brought on disappointment or frustration and simply choose to do less of those.  

A year filled with quarantines and stay-at-home orders allowed for more and even unexpected family time.  As we go our separate ways in 2021, I want to be intentional in planning, get-togethers more frequently, as well as planned vacation time as a family.  My wife, sons, and I are taking the time to put markers on the calendar, block out time, and commit to spending it together. The travel restrictions of 2020 facilitated new and easier ways to get together with long lost friends and distant relatives through Zoom and FaceTime.  I want to make sure those rekindled relationships stay strong and ongoing.  Minutes on Zoom and Facetime are fine. Don’t feel compelled to spend hours… make it easy on everyone, and everyone will be more likely to participate. 2020 allowed me more time to read.  I do not typically read for entertainment but rather improvement.  I am already working on my 2021 reading list focused on helping me be a better husband, father, son, brother, coach, teacher and mentor.

The most frustrating thing of 2020 has been wearing a mask.  Not because they are uncomfortable and steam up my sunglasses, but because they hide the smiles of those we encounter daily.  I look forward to being able to greet people and letting them know how happy I am to see them without saying a word. (Please note, as long as Masks are in the public interest, we will comply, but I do look forward to fewer days with a mask as we beat back the pandemic.)  I missed conducting the 19th annual Alercio OLine Clinics and speaking at the Nike and Glazier Clinics.  I remain hopeful we will be able to share what we do with others so that they can achieve the same levels of success we have been so blessed to experience over the years.  Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the loss of human contact was a source of frustration.  Not being able to greet someone with a firm handshake, or put your arm around someone in need of support, or give someone a hug to let them know how much you care about them.  

There is much to learn from 2020 and even more to look forward to in 2021.  I encourage you to seek the good, and enjoy more of it, while minimizing the impacts of frustrations. As the ball drops tonight, and the clock turns midnight, I wish you and those you hold dearest a safe, healthy and happy New Year, and all the best in 2021!

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! 

Socrates & The Solstice

Long before Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Las Posadas were celebrated and gifts were given, Socrates is credited with saying,  “Be less concerned with what you have than with what you are.”

A Coach’s Interpretation of Stonehenge on the Solstice

It is easy to get caught up in material things this time of year.  To focus on who can get the bigger, better, and more expensive presents for their kids and spouses.  Socrates reminds us it is much more important to be a better spouse, parent, friend, teammate, mentor, or leader than gift giver.

It is easy for us coaches to also get caught up in material things and to be more concerned with what we have (winning records, trophies, championships) than with who we are (team builders, developers of student athletes, and shapers of team culture).  While I understand the former often determines whether we keep our jobs or not, I know from experience when the latter becomes our primary concern, it’s a mindset and a manner ultimately leading to our success.

It’s not the latest video game, meme, or fad found under the tree. It’s not me first and bend the rules to win at all cost attitudes, it’s the selfless gifts to others… investing in a person or a team’s potential… truly putting team above self… That’s where the true gifts are found.

Whatever Holiday you celebrate this season, I wish you the very best with those you hold dearest. I’m taking a break next week to enjoy the season with my family and will be back on New Year’s Eve with some thoughts looking forward to 2021.

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!

Like No Other…

After a football season like no other, St Johnsbury Academy will host a football banquet like no other… 

On Thursday, December 10 at 6pm, we will host our banquet virtually.  

The annual banquet is more than just an opportunity to hand out awards and varsity letters.  It is a time for our football family to gather before the Holidays, to celebrate a season, to recognize our seniors, and to encourage our student-athletes to have a strong finish to the Fall semester.  With the start of winter sports on hold, so many of our athletes who enjoyed football and were looking to the start of winter athletics are experiencing a void in their lives.  As coaches, we hope the positive words shared through Zoom serve as an inspiration to our team to finish strong in the classroom just like we do on the field or in the weight room.

Other than not being present with each other, the banquet will be conducted as usual.  We will screen share our highlight video (and there are a lot of highlights from an 11 game 7v7 season). We will announce those players who earned a varsity letter, We will recognize our seniors (personally my favorite part of the banquet, because I get to sit back and listen to our assistant coaches talk about their position players and the bonds they forged over their four years together.)  Lastly, we give our individual awards.  Those recipients will have their names listed in our gymnasium amongst those who have received them from past generations.  Those awards are as follows:

  • Most Improved Player.  The person who made himself into a good player through hard work and commitment to the program.  
  • Outstanding Lineman:  Games are won and lost on the line of scrimmage by young men who seldom if ever receive any recognition.
  • Outstanding Back:  While this award obviously dates back to a time when teams just ran the ball with two and three back sets, we have expanded it to all offensive ball handlers as well as Linebackers and Defensive Backs.
  • Most Valuable Player:  Seems self-explanatory but we bring it beyond a players contribution to our offense, defense and special team and include what he means to the team and his teammates.
  • Hilltopper Award:  The person who most exemplifies who we are and how we want to be represented on the field, in the classroom and out in the community.
  • Coaches Award:  The player who is most coachable.  The one you wish you had 11 of so that you could play him at every position.  

We trust the announcing of these awards will serve as an inspiration to our returning players. Each, who when he or she walks through the gym this spring and next fall, sees the names of those who went before and set examples of character, sportsmanship, teamwork, and performance. While seasons end, tradition never graduates, and the opportunity to contribute to the legacy of all it means to be a Hilltopper is renewed once again.

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!  

Second Chances

There is only one thing in life you do not get a second chance at, and that’s making a first impression.  For almost anything else, everyone deserves a second chance… Especially kids.  

Kids decide to leave teams for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes influenced by parents, some by friends who lure them away with options that seem easy but are ultimately not so positive. Others leave because they would rather work (sometimes because families need them to work).  But many choose to leave a team because they were just not ready for their first chance.  

I tell our players at the start of every season, “football is not for everyone and Hilltopper football is for even fewer.”  Not everyone is prepared for the demands placed upon them. We ask for commitment to team and to teammate, and to place the good of the team above self, and to confront adversity, sometimes even fear… It’s a lot to ask, and for some, it’s more than they expected, and can be overwhelming. So they take what they think is the easy way out and quit.

On the morning after Thanksgiving, while I am still reflecting on how much the great game of football has given me, I look to give a second chance to those kids who left the program on good terms.  Those players who may have left for a variety of reasons are added back to the roster in “Hudl,” and are offered a second chance.  I understand many may choose not to return, and others may return only to leave again.  I also understand most of those kids will not help our football program nearly as much as our football program has the potential to help them.  Ultimately, that is the reason they are given a second chance.  What they do with it is entirely up to them.

Our mission is to build teams, win games, and develop quality citizens. A mission and ultimately a community that benefits from second chances.

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!  

Giving Thanks

I’m so Thankful for so many blessings, but the love and support of my family tops the list!

During this time of Thanksgiving, I want to share how appreciative I am for the number of readers who take the time every week to visit olineskills.com, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, or read our weekly email blog posts.  I appreciate you sharing them with your friends and colleagues, but I am most thankful for the replies I receive through email, text, or social media with thoughtful comments of how a blog impacted them.  Below is a social media comment from a fellow football coach and friend, Jim Hill, who shares how last week’s blog caused him to reflect on how his team helped him through a dark time in his life.   

In 2016, my life was turned upside down with the death of my mother in June, and then 3 months later my wife left me… My team saved me that year. I was supposed to be their leader as the head coach of the program but that year they picked me up and led me out of the darkness.  I am forever grateful to the 2016 Otter Valley football team. Football is so much more than just a game.

Our great nation reserves the fourth Thursday of November every year as a time for us to give thanks.  I live every day with gratefulness in my heart, that I have the privilege of being a football coach, to have learned so much from this great game, and have the blessing of sharing with others, the way so many shared with me.

Thanks for reading, for caring, and contributing to others. It is my most sincere hope you are able to enjoy this Thanksgiving and have the opportunity to give some thought to being grateful. Even without extended family, friends, and colleagues around the table this year, we still have so much to be thankful for.

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!  

Alotta FISH!

“That is a lot of FISH, Coach”

I have heard the term “GOAT” used to refer to someone as the “Greatest Of All Time,” but it was not until this weekend, when I received a text from our former headmaster and now assistant coach, following our win last weekend, using the acronym FISH to describe things as First In School History.  

The following is his list of FISH:

  1. Two father-son duos win a championship (Tom and John Lovett, Rich and Jake Alercio)
  2. Coach has won a championship with all three sons (Shane and Trey as players in 2017, Jake as a coach in 2020)
  3. Championship game win on Fairbanks Field. (Championship games are usually played on neutral sites)
  4. 7-on-7 Championship.  
  5. Beating our rivals, Lyndon Institute, twice in a season.

In a pregame speech just prior to our first game this season I told our players, “This would be an historical season; remembered for generations to come.”  They would always be known as “the team who played through the pandemic.” That much we knew… But I asked them, “how do you want to be remembered? What are you willing to commit to? What do you pledge to yourselves and your teammates? And how will you measure yourselves against your commitment and pledge?”

Throughout the season I saw young men, (and for the first time, young women) demonstrate their commitment to each other, to the team, and to becoming something worth more than an asterisk about a pandemic. As the 2020 Hilltopper story arced across the season, we encountered challenges and rebounded in the face of adversity. When circumstances tried to pull us apart, we saw cohesion and interdependence pull us back together… This past weekend, we wrote the final chapter of the story. This resilient team of Hilltoppers, led through these challenging times by our three seniors, will always be known as the 2020 Northeast Regional Champions.

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!

Most Important Attributes

One of the players from our 2020 Vermont Shrine Team, who is now a college student, contacted me to do an interview for one of his classes.  His assignment was to interview someone who works in athletic  administration.  The last of his questions was, “what is the most important characteristic and skill needed for a successful career in athletics?”  I replied that the most important characteristic is humility.  The more successful you are in athletics the more humble you need to be. As wins, championships, and accolades accumulate, hubris and vanity repeatedly try to infiltrate one’s personality. As for the skill, it is communication.  You need to be an effective communicator to everyone in your organization. If a coach is going to lead, guide, and direct a team to success he or she must build a culture. Thoughtful and effective communications are imperative.

After the call, I reflected on what my answer would have been if he had asked “what the most important characteristic of a team should be?”  The answer is something that we showed in two recent games…Resilience.  Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.  Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity.  In those recent games our teams faced adversity and responded well.  Erasing a two touchdown halftime deficit in one, and pulling out a win in the last minute of the other, after trailing the entire game.  While we have enjoyed many lopsided wins over the past half a dozen years, our real growth occurred when we have had to overcome adversity.  Adversity plays a vital role in growth for teams and individuals.  

I often say that helicopter parents who shield their children from adversity are doing them a tremendous disservice.  The failure that kids experience in athletics inoculates them against the fear of failure that they will inevitably experience in life.  While I do not wish challenging times on anyone, I do recognize the value in the growth of having to overcome those difficulties. Like the events of one’s life, footballs bounce in unexpected ways. As coaches, we must prepare our team for the game, we don’t try to prepare the game for our team.

As we speak about resilience, I would recommend a book that was recently suggested to me by my dear friend and former headmaster.  The book is entitled “Resilience.” It is a compilation of the letters Eric Greitens sent to a fellow Navy Seal team member who was struggling with adversity in his life.  

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!