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

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! 

Camp Reflections

Last week was our week-long Youth Football Camp.  Our Defensive Coordinator, John Lovett, does all the planning and orchestrating of the camp, and does a tremendous job making football fun for the kids.  Below is an email I received from him recapping the week:

I wanted to write to you and give you a couple observations from another successful youth camp. First, I was incredibly happy the campers were so excited to experience the weight room and our speed and agility training. Numerous campers cited learning to increase speed, strength, and agility was their favorite part. It really hit home with them that both our coaches and players believe the mantra “games are not won on Friday nights in the fall, rather they are won with each rep in the summer.”  

Coach John Lovett with Campers Emma & Liam

A funny consequence of this success was echoed in a comment from Emma (John’s daughter) as I left for OTAs (Organized Team Activities with our High School players) on Monday night. She said, “Daddy have fun at your happy place.” I told her I would certainly make the most of the OTA but asked her what made her call it my “happy place?” She told me that Coach Alercio said, “the weight room was our collective happy place.”

All three of my children are excited to be included in the benefits of athletic performance training, and I have your authentic love of the process and our players’ belief in your program to thank for that. It is incredible that with all the games and fun we program into camp the youth in our area are more excited about the promise of success earned through hard work.

My second observation is followed by a sincere thank you. As you know, this was Emma’s first year at camp. She has made sure I know that although she does not wish to play football in the future, she does hope to do football camp each year. She is so proud of her athletic improvement and it’s amazing to see the confidence she has gained. She is equally proud of proving she can do everything the boys can. She commented her favorite part of camp was that no one (neither coaches nor fellow campers) treated her like a girl. When I asked her what that meant, she let me know each drill had an expectation that was the same for everyone. She was coached to do things right (without accommodation), and expectations of her were the same as everyone else. Her campmates also made sure to include and encourage her just like anyone other teammate. She was asked to move and make contact, to do everything everyone else did, and she was coached based on a standard rather than her gender.

Like the camper who had just moved to the area and showed up in tears but left with a smile on his face, or the time taken to talk to campers about attitude as much as aptitude, camp has given my daughter a gift. Equity is a gift that escapes so many in our communities and I am proud to be part of a program that creates equity not through accommodation for one, but in creating expectation and inclusion for all. I am so proud of my daughter, and I am so proud of Hilltopper football.

My Sincerest Thank you,

John Lovett  

I’m thrilled to hear both John and Emma’s perspectives on this year’s Youth Camp. I remain convinced culture and consistency underpin successful teams regardless of pursuit. It’s our privilege to offer area youth their first taste of Hilltopper Culture and I’m even more encouraged by the way they responded.

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 Hires & New Perspectives

This week, I had my first meeting with a newly hired assistant coach on our staff.  He brings a dozen years of high school and college coaching experience from schools in the mid-west.  While he seemed excited to join our staff and learn what we have done to achieve our past successes, I am equally thrilled to hear what he knows and to have him share with our staff what he has learned during his tenure.  

New plays and new ways of thinking.

Some advice for head coaches hiring assistants and for that matter everyone in leadership hiring anyone to their staff:  Do not surround yourself with sycophants.  Obsequious assistant coaches may be good for a head coach’s ego, but they offer little value to a program.  There is a saying, “if we are all of the same opinion then there is no need for all of us to be here.”  Surround yourself with assistants who will offer their thoughts and challenge yours.

While it’s common for interviews to include questions about an applicant’s “strengths and weaknesses,” as leaders it’s often more important to know your own than to listen to an applicant offer platitudes about “working too hard,” or “being a perfectionist.” Particularly after a leader has developed some tenure and a reservoir of experience, knowing your weaknesses helps you hire to fill them.

Be the best you are at what you do, and reinforce your core strengths while hiring to fill gaps in capabilities. In a stadium, where you sit determines what you see… Perspectives matter. As leaders we don’t need someone sitting over our shoulder with the same view and perspective. We need those whose strengths, views, and perspectives differ if we are to truly build complementary staffs, and ultimately teams.

We have stated in previous blogs that together our team is always stronger than any one individual. The same applies to our staff.

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! 

Measurables & Immeasurables…

In previous years, we have shared blogs of a practice our staff does of drafting the players on our team in the order we would choose them if we were picking teams.  We do it around the time of the NFL Draft.  The post-draft staff discussions are always interesting as reasons are shared as to why one coach ranked a player so much higher than another.  

Measurables & Immeasurables…

It is not uncommon for coaches in our draft or executives in the NFL draft to get caught up in the “measurables”.  College coaches do it as well in the recruiting process.  Quarterbacks need to be 6′ 3″ or taller and offensive linemen need to be at least 6′ 4″.  The athletic test know as “The Combine” tests players in the 40 yard dash, vertical jump, bench press, broad jump, shuttle, and three cone drill.   Coaches have rows and columns of “measurables” yet some players find ways to surprise. Personally, I became a fan of the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers when I saw their offensive success with a 5′ 9″ Center.  As a former 5′ 9″ college Center, I have an appreciation for overcoming those stereotypes and delivering above cursory expectations.

While the NFL draft and the college recruiting process affords coaches the luxury of being picky in player selection, high school football does not offer such indulgences.  We coach the boys who live in our town and try to put the best 11 on the field regardless of their size. As my high school defensive coordinator, Ed Heffernan used to say, “do not prejudice a player based on his size.” 

A “higher maxim” found in 1 Samuel 16:7 teaches us, “…the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Others seem to echo similar sentiments as in Admiral William H McCraven’s famous University of Texas commencement speech stating: “if you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart.”  Unfortunately, the NFL has yet to find a way to track heart size as a measurable. While I claim to be no better at measuring heart, I would like to emphasize the importance in a high school coaches’ role in leading, guiding, teaching, and mentoring our student athletes to build as big a heart as bench press or squat. When adversity finds our players later in life (as it finds us all), adversity never checks the tangibles. Our athletes’ hearts are measured in resilience, endurance, and perseverance. As coaches, our charge is to help them do more than they thought possible, so that some day when tested by adversity, they will find themselves equal to that task (Combine or no combine!)

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! 

The “I Test”

When most coaches here “I Test,” they’re more likely to think “Eye Test.” Not like the Optometrist or Optician, but rather their own discerning eye. An eye that helps a coach compare a potential player against years of accumulated context and understanding of the characteristics of a successful student athlete. For example, just by the “eye test,” DaVonta Smith, the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner is 6’1″and (generously) 175Lbs. Many coaches “eyes” wouldn’t have picked him to be the Division I All-Star he turned out to be. While his case brings to mind the adage, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” I’d like to focus on a different kind of “I Test.”

I recently listened to a podcast with Joanne Mccallie,  the only Division I women’s basketball coach to lead two different programs to 30-win seasons with three National Championship game appearances, and she earned National Coach of the Year in 2005. Coach talked about what she referred to as “The I Test,” she teaches her teams.

Regardless of sport, Coaches help players achieve more than they believed they could achieve on their own. Coach Mccallie’s “I Test” is a great example of a philosophy underpinning student athlete success, and is one I’ll look to impart to the Hilltopper Football team this summer and fall.

Coach Mccallie’s “I test” consists of three “I’s” and establishes a quick pattern to focus players’ (and coaches’) attention:

INTENSITY– Am I focused and dedicated to being the best I can mentally and physically be in this very instant?

INTELLIGENCE– Am I being thoughtful, applying all I’ve learned, practiced, and making good decisions to help my team achieve our goals?

IMMEDIACY– Am I playing in the now, focused on this instant, and avoiding distractions of past mistakes or things pulling me away from my team and our purpose?

The three “I’s” of Coach Mccallie’s “I Test” offer a quick check whether making decisions in practice, on game day, or in life.  Sometimes, we all need to step back and assess our perspective, decisions, and actions. “The I Test,” offers a quick and focused assessment of where we are versus where we want to be.

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! 

The Score Takes Care of Itself

Alercio OLine Clinic Brochure

Legendary coach Bill Walsh had a saying, a philosophy, “the score takes care of itself”.  As you have read in earlier blogs, we embrace a philosophy that “games are not won on weekends in the Fall”.  Those players and coaches who attend Alercio OLine Clinics months before they will ever play a game truly embrace these philosophies.

I am always impressed with the hundreds of players and scores of coaches who travel far and wide to brave the weather on a field rimmed with mounds of snow as we usually host our clinics in March.  The forecast for this year’s New Jersey  Clinic at the Hun School of Princeton is 78 and Sunny.  A far cry from what we are accustomed to.  

As Spring shakes off winter’s cold renewing the Mid-Atlantic, and we all shake off a year of isolation, I look forward to returning to my home state, coaching my clinic for the 20th year, seeing so many coaching friends, reconnecting with former players and teammates and to working with the young men who so selflessly give of themselves for the betterment of their teams by honing their OLine Skills.  Click the Brochure and register today!

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! 

Today & Tomorrow

In her song “Greatest Love of All,” Whitney Houston sang “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” 

Alercio OLine Clinic Brochure

That is particularly true when it comes to high school football.  Unlike college football where you can go out and recruit the players for size, speed, skill, or position, in high school, coaches develop the student athletes resident in one’s community.  The children in community youth programs are the future of your high school program.  To borrow a phrase, “Teach them well and they will lead the way.”

At the Alercio OLine Clinics, we provide college level instruction to high school players; but every year we have several schools that bring their 7th and 8th grade players.  Coincidentally, those teams who involve their youth players always turn out to be the top ranked teams in their state.  

Not only do those young players benefit from learning proper techniques and schemes of offensive line play, but they do so alongside their heroes, the upperclassmen on the varsity team they want to emulate and hope to someday be.  All under the watchful eyes of their future high school coaches.  

As leaders, teachers, mentors, and coaches, we set expectations, develop cultures, and a belief in something bigger than any one of us. I encourage coaches to invest in their program’s future by sharing our brochure with local youth coaches, players, and parents.  Let these young athletes train alongside the varsity and JV players and reinforce to them how important they are to the future of your program. In much the same way we build confidence, commitment, and optimism about the Fall of ’21, including youth program participants today, plants seeds of optimism for many Falls to come.  

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! 

20th Anniversary Alercio OLine Clinic

Over 5,000 players from NJ, NY, PA, MD, VT, NH, CT have attended Alercio OLine Clinics since the inaugural clinic at The College of New Jersey on Sunday, March 17 2002.  This year’s clinic, at The Hun School of Princeton on Sunday, May 2, marks the 20th year we have hosted an Alercio OLine Clinic in New Jersey.

While I would like to take credit for the idea, it all started with a suggestion by Jim Meert, who was the head coach at Hunterdon Central HS at the time.  During a recruiting visit in December of 2001, while talking OLine play, he suggested I run an offensive line clinic for players noting most high schools do not have a qualified offensive line coach and the job often falls on the head coach. He followed by suggesting I host clinics in the Spring and not in the summer like most other player camps.  Lastly, he suggested I invite the high school coaches to attend as my guests and observe the techniques, drills and schemes taught.  It turns out Jim was a visionary.  We had 333 players participate in our first OLine Clinic under the watchful eyes of dozens of their coaches. 

March 17, 2002 was a great day for me professionally, but few knew the personal hardship I was experiencing that day.  My father, who got me started as a football player by hosting a youth football camp along with NJ coaching legend Al Saner, had passed away only two days before that first OLine Clinic.  Knowing how proud I was making him, was what got me through that day. In many preceding blog posts I’ve mentioned how much I’ve benefited from so many coaches who took the time to invest in me and help me grow. As fortunate as I consider myself in those circumstances, no gift compares to the love, encouragement, and confidence my father gave me. I work hard to make him proud every day but on those special days, give my OLine Clinics a little extra enthusiasm in his honor.    

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!