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! 

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! 

Alercio OLine Clinic Teams Up!

Alercio OLine Clinics partners with Vermont All-Star Football Camps to bring offensive line training to each of their three 1-Day Passing Academies in Rutland (July 11th), South Burlington (July 18th) and now St Johnsbury (July 25th), Vermont. 

The Passing Academy will focus on the development of mental and physical skills of QB, RB, WR, TE, LB and DB.   The event will include position specific drills coached by college coaches, position specialists and local high school coaches.  There will be footwork development, position mechanics, agility and speed training along with the X’s & O’s of the position, 1-on-1 competitions and 7v7 games. 

The Alercio OLine Clinic will teach the true “Skill Players” in football the learned physical tasks that allow linemen of any size to achieve both individual and team success.  Run and pass blocking techniques and schemes will be taught with an emphasis on footwork, visual targets and strike points.  

To register for either the OLine or Passing Academy portions of the clinic, click here: REGISTRATION

I am also finalizing a date in May for our 20th New Jersey Alercio OLine Clinic at the Hun School of Princeton.  More details to follow.   

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! 

Follow Up Q&A

After sharing 10 Rapid Fire Game Planning Ideas and hearing my fellow panelists share theirs during last week’s Glazier Zoom Clinic, there was a Q&A session.  The coaches in attendance asked the three most common questions I hear as a high school football coach: 

  • How do you change a culture? 
  • How do you deal with parents? 
  • What do you do for team building?

You change a culture by increasing the level of expectation and the demands on the players.  Set your standards high, and hold them; those who are committed will remain.  Those who are not will weed themselves out.  Do not fret over those who leave.  Better they leave in July than October.  Let those who remain know you believe in them. Then make them believe in you by showing them your tireless commitment to their preparation.  

Parents want to be involved.  Let them.  Give them something non-football related they can control and take it off of your plate.  Our parents take turns hosting Thursday night team dinners throughout the season.  After every home game, they organize a post-game tailgate in our reserved parking lot feeding all of the players and coaches.  On gameday, they sell player pins (headshots of players on a pin) to raise money for our year-end banquet.  These are all very important events to our program that our parents organize and lead allowing me to focus on preparing the team.

We do a team building event on the second day of training camp when we are only allowed a single practice and no walk-thru.  Doing it early allows the new players to have a fun introduction to our program before things become more demanding in the coming days.  When we have had a sponsor, we have taken the team bowling.  When we don’t, we have gone to a lake or had coaches bring in yard games like cornhole, can jam, washer toss, and spikeball then let the kids play and compete.   We do not organize the games.  We let the players take the lead.  

Through a life in football beginning as a player in the 1970s, I have seen what has worked and what has failed.  These are a few things that we have implemented with success and I am always eager to share with fellow coaches.

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! 

Rapid Fire Game Preparations!

On Thursday, March 11 at 7:00pm EST, I will be one of three panelists in a Glazier Clinic Zoom webinar entitled 30 Rapid-Fire Game Planning Ideas.  I look forward to joining Coaches Dante Jones of Early College High School in Dover, DE and Victor Floyd from Chester High School in Chester, SC.  Each of us is responsible to share 10 ideas and are allotted 1 minute to discuss each topic.  With a rule that no panelist is allowed to repeat another coaches’ game planning idea, attendees are assured to leave the webinar with 30 different ideas they can implement into their game planning this Fall.  

I will share how we use self-scouting to determine our scripts, how we use analytics to both create our gameday call sheet and allocate practice time during the week, how we scout and prepare for opponents, our countdown to kickoff and how we make road games as similar as possible to home games to mention a few.  I will be prepared to share at least 15 ideas in case another panelist addresses a few of my top 10.  While I am excited to share my 10 ideas with coaches from all over the world, I am equally enthusiastic about leaving the webinar with 20 new ideas from my fellow panelists. 

While Spring is still more than a month away here in Vermont, Coaches across the country are starting anew, building hope, and energizing their programs with thoughts of the Fall of ’21. Collaborations like this one add energy and excitement to the possibilities inherent in the fresh starts Spring brings to us all.

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! 

Inspiration Comes In Many Forms

Our players enthusiastically returned to the gym this week after Winter break and like usual I joined them for their training session in our Racquet & Fitness Center that is also open to the public.   While working out alongside one of our Senior WR/DBs who is training for Lacrosse season, I was also realizing the workout was kicking my butt and I almost turned to him and said “it sucks getting old.”  But I held my tongue… 

As The New Day Begins, What Inspires Us To Be Our Best?

A moment later, Jim entered the room.

Jim is an 80 year old member of our fitness center and a “regular.”  Jim suffers from Multiple Myeloma Cancer.  From what I understand, his cancer affects the white blood cells in the bone marrow leaving him with debilitating pain in the bones of his spine.  It is managed with Chemotherapy which not only leaves him in pain but physically exhausted.  As I recognized he was really struggling walking into the room, I went up to ask how he was doing and why he wasn’t resting.  He replied, “gotta get my workout in!”  I told Jim what I was just about to say to that player and thanked Jim for inspiring me.

Jim is a military veteran and a former athlete.  I trust the officers and coaches who mentored him, also inspired him to have such an indomitable spirit.  While we prepare our athletes in the off-season for the games they will play next fall, we also prepare them for the lives they will lead and the impact they will have on others.  I pray I am able to inspire our players the way Jim’s mentors inspired him, and the way he inspires me.  

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! 

Offseason Assessments; What Gets Measured, Gets Done!

As we discussed in last week’s blog post, (Hilltopper’s Train Heroic”) we assess every player through a combine test at the beginning of training camp; but we also test them in a variety of lifts throughout our training season.  Just as in the classroom, we teach before testing. Our strength coach and I are certified Olympic weightlifting coaches through USA Weightlifting, and I would encourage anyone interested in teaching the Olympic lifts to earn a certification. Learning and teaching lifts correctly maximizes both athletic performance and athletes’ safety. 

The techniques for all of these lifts have been taught to the players through a teaching progression at the start of the season and reinforced during in-season training. We believe the Hang Clean and the dumbbell 1 arm Snatch and Jerk enable our athletes to train the benefits of functional power through the extension of the ankles, knees and hips known in O-Lifts as “Triple Extension” while doing so safely. 

We test the week before Winter break, the week before Spring break and the last week before graduation week.  This week is our first testing week. The tests give us a baseline for younger players allowing us to measure growth through future tests.  Tests also allow us to compare results by position group, year in school, veterans and rookies, starters and non-starters.  The results will also identify weaknesses and allow us to alter program design as we phase through the off-season’s natural breaks

Testing in athletic performance training is as important as testing in the classroom.  Academic testing measures learning progress, evaluates the effectiveness of curriculum, and provides both student and teacher with feedback to see that they are on course to achieve their goals. Strength testing provides the same information.  Testing only once or twice a year is akin to a teacher only giving a final exam.

Weekly Training Schedule

We do a 1 Rep Max for the Olympic lifts since the athletes are not lifting very heavy weights (relatively speaking).  We do a 3 Rep Max for the Power lifts to use a lighter weight and minimize risk of injury. Over the years we’ve seen players who commit to the program realize solid progress and subsequently reinforce personal motivation as well as encouraging teammates to do the same.

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!