Letter to the Editor

I was truly grateful when last week’s blog “Hope For The Best and Plan For The Worst,” was republished by The Caledonian-Record, a local newspaper here in the Northeast Kingdom of New England. Yesterday, I was even more so when I saw Lucy Hayworth’s Letter to the Editor discussing my post. I started this blog with the intent of sharing thoughts and ideas with other coaches, players, and the broader community who have so frequently shared so much with me. I’m truly grateful this experiment in thinking out loud continues to help others and does so at times, places, and in ways I wouldn’t have thought of nearly four years ago at its inception.

Thank you, Ms. Hayworth, and thanks to the Caledonian Record for sharing last week’s blog and the permission to reprint her letter to the editor.

Coach Alercio’s Wisdom – Lucy Haworth

May 18, 2020

Coach Alercio’s Wisdom

To the Editor:

I would have missed the copy of Coach Rich Alercio’s post, Hope for Best and Plan for Worst (CR May 15) if it had not been staring me in the face this morning two days later, Sports Section B saved so I could do the Rumble and Sudoku puzzles. Amid the coronavirus pandemic,the title caught my attention. Ordinarily I probably would not have read a piece about coaching high school football.

Several years ago, I told my son I thought watching football was stupid: a bunch of men lined up bumping into each other, falling down in a pile, and then doing the same thing again. He acknowledged it could look like that. The only excitement came when a player caught a long pass, the fans went crazy; but no, the officials called “pass interference.” I thought that was the point! Since then, I have asked questions, learned more about the game and watch with appreciation. My children and their families are all Patriots’ fans. They now live in Charlotte, NC and Austin, TX. Our time together is limited. Watching the Patriots with them has become precious. Quarantined, I feel the loss.

Coach Alercio’s article is so much more than his ideas about what the upcoming Academy’s football season may look like. His hopes and alternate plans are clearly stated. But it is his outlook that offers all of us something worth thinking about during these difficult times. It challenges us to find reasons to work harder, seize opportunities to learn more about each other and ourselves, stay optimistic, “say a prayer for those whose list of ‘worsts’ include the real tragedies so many encounter.”

Coach Alercio also reminds us to be grateful. I thank The Caledonian-Record staff person responsible for printing Coach Alercio’s post. I thank the Academy for hiring such an outstanding person. Most of all, I am thankful for Mr. Alercio’s wisdom that I happened upon, merely, or maybe not, quite by chance. His example inspires me to be and do better.

Gratefully,

Lucy Haworth

St. Johnsbury, Vt.

Thank you Ms. Hayworth, and thanks again to the Caledonian Record. I’m so thankful for such a response, and even more so for the opportunity to help the students, faculty, and our local community hope for the best in each other, and all we can accomplish together.

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!

Reach out…  Reconnect

“We human beings are social beings. We come into the world as a result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others.” Dalai Lama XIV

While it is imperative that we exercise social distancing during these unprecedented times, it does not come naturally to us.  We, as humans, must connect.  Last weekend, I joined 4 of my best friends (friends of more than 40 years!) on a Group FaceTime call.  While we talked, the miles between Vermont, New Jersey, Virginia, 2020-03-26 Connecting Across 40 yrs & 1000MiNorth Carolina, and Florida disappeared and it was if they were sitting with me in my kitchen.  After 90 minutes of catching up on everything from our children’s accomplishments to our home projects, we ended the call grateful for our friendships, time together, and with plans to schedule the next one.

Find ways to be social.  Use this time as an opportunity to connect with someone with whom you have lost touch.  Check-in on someone who you know is alone in your family or in your neighborhood.  While the elderly are most threatened by this pandemic, they are also the most impacted by the epidemic of loneliness.

Reach out.  Reconnect.

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!

Seek The Good

It is difficult not feeling sorry for yourself these days.  Especially for those of us dealing with high school students.  Schools are closed, meals and health services are no longer accessible, friends are in self-quarantine, classes are online, sports seasons are canceled, proms and graduations are threatened.  These are difficult times.

But my concerns were put into perspective today when I was exiting our school’s publicly accessible fitness center.  An elderly couple I had never seen before was coming in.  I thought it odd that with all the social distancing they would enter an often crowed space, especially at their age.

So I stopped and asked, “how I could help them?”  The reply, “we were just hoping we could come in and get warm.”  We welcomed them into our lobby and gave each of them a hot cup of coffee.

Though we easily find ourselves consumed by the uncertainty around us, and may unfortunately only have the stressors of the day sensationalized and amplified by myriad channels, I was reminded today, of the importance of doing for others. Part of our teambuilding culture is to put the good of the team (quite literally the good of others) ahead of our own interests.

A welcoming smile, a warm lobby, and a hot cup of coffee in and of themselves may not be much, but we found a way to give others something to be grateful for amidst the stressors of the day. In moments such as these, the cacophony of a 24hr news cycle, staccato of social media feeds, and a world where toilet paper and milk disappear from supermarket shelves fade away and afford us the opportunity to give some time, some attention, and some relief to others.

As I say to my team quite often, (and you may have read a few times on this blog), “The hand that gives, gathers.” These are difficult times but be thankful for your many blessings and look for opportunities to help others be thankful for theirs.

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!

Reflecting and Giving Thanks

This week, I share a Facebook post from the mother of one of our senior offensive linemen who suffered a tragic loss in their family a year ago.  I paused before posting because one could easily jump to the conclusion, I’m taking the opportunity to “toot my own horn.” In fact, I’m simply trying to reinforce the very best football has to offer. If in some small way through the lessons I hope to share on and off the field, as well as here on the blog, I even slightly inspire someone to lead, teach, and coach the way my coaches inspired me, it will be worth all the effort. So please forgive the laudatory comments and realize the mother of this senior student-athlete perfectly captures what is so good about football, the culture it can create in a community, and the impact it has on the lives of the players.

I attended my son’s football banquet on Sunday night. For those of us with graduating seniors, this year is bittersweet and full of emotion. It is a year of “lasts.” Football, in particular, is extremely hard to let go of not only for Lane but for me as well. Many of these boys have played together for 8 or more years and during that time a family was formed. No other sport any of my children have participated in has fostered the type of relationship among the parents, siblings, grandparents, etc. the way that football has. I am very grateful for the support of this ‘football family” during the most difficult time in my family’s life. Many of us joke, “our social lives are over now that football is done…”

My friend attended the banquet with me. When we got home I asked him what he thought of it. He said he thought it was great. He enjoyed hearing all of the speeches about the boys but he was surprised as he thought there would be an ovation at the end for Coach Rich Alercio. “After all,” he said, “he’s the heart of the team.”

He is right. You, Coach Alercio, were thanked throughout the evening by different individuals but you were not lauded to the extent you deserve. Because of you and the team of coaches you have picked I am confident my son will go forward a better person, — a better man. I wholeheartedly believe the choices he will make, the paths he will take will be forever influenced by the impact you have had on him.

You had high expectations – expected no less than his best both on and off the field. You have his best interest at heart. You have been tough when Lane needed you to be tough, and you have held him up when he needed it most.

I truly thank you for your dedication, your time, and the brotherhood you have nurtured among all these young men.

 I am humbled by such kind words, and by the privilege to contribute to the lives of our student-athletes. I share these words here in hopes of showing you what’s possible… If a high school coach from a small town in Vermont can positively impact the lives of those around him, so can you. We all share such opportunities and I hope you’ll make the most of them.

Though Thanksgiving has recently passed and the 2019 football season has come to an end, I want to relay my thanks and gratitude for all we’ve shared this season, and for the privilege to start it all over again as we look ahead to 2020. Games aren’t won on Fridays and Saturdays in the Fall… Let’s get back at it!

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 Game”

This weekend marks the 115th playing of “The Game.”

St Johnsbury Academy vs. Lyndon Institute is one of the oldest football rivalries in the country. The entire week, on the Academy campus, is named “Spirit Week.” Hallways are decorated, skits to be performed at the pep rally are practiced, and floats for Friday night’s parade are built. The week brings our diverse community together in celebration of our school spirit.

2019-10-17 Tradition Never Graduates

We kick off the weekend with a pep rally on Friday during the last two periods of the school day. The rally includes traditional cheers lead by our cheer team, skits performed by each class, a musical performance by the Academy’s administrative team, the naming of the royal court (Homecoming Queen/King, Princess/Prince, Duchess/Duke) and speeches by the football captains and head coach. After practice, teams, the royal court, students, floats, and the St Johnsbury Fire Department line up for the parade along Main Street.

As the parade returns to campus, the bonfire is lit. Once the flames are out, everyone in our community is invited to the school cafeteria for a pizza party. The night ends with an alumnus social at the St Johnsbury Elks Lodge where stories, myths, and legends of past games are told, and truths are occasionally stretched…

One thing never stretched is the pride in belonging to a community, team, or family where traditions, culture, and commitment to something bigger than self is still alive and well.

To quote one of my closest friends after he saw a picture of my son Shane two years ago riding in the back of a convertible as the Homecoming Prince with the rest of the parade behind him, “that is the best of small-town USA.”

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!

Norming Our Team

Playing on the turf of a Division I football stadium 2019-06-27 UMass 7v& Tourneyversus a team from national power Bergen Catholic in our first game of the UMass 7v7 tournament was more than our newly formed team was ready for.  But it was just what we needed.  As the day went on, we witnessed our team go from the Storming Stage of Tuckman’s Phases of Team Development to the Norming Stage.

The Hilltoppers began to perform with lowered anxiety, became more engaged, more supportive of each other and communicated at a higher level.  The energy level of the entire team increased dramatically as we competed from game to game.  There was an emergence of team harmony that we had not yet seen in this group of young men.

When we think about the characteristics of a team working through the Norming Phase we look for:

  • Increasing Interdependence
  • Role awareness
  • Contextual decision making
  • Employing measures of effectiveness to reinforce progress & success
  • Commitment & Unity

Leadership roles became clearly defined as did positions on the depth chart.  Players began to make decisions not just in relation to the defensive scheme or offensive formation, but in context with, and in relation to each other. In doing so, they demonstrate more and more interdependence and by doing so, reinforce commitment and unity.

During our discussion of the “Forming” stage, we talked about the importance of challenging but attainable goals individuals could accomplish in order to build momentum and reinforce success. As we work through a phase like “Norming,” we see the scope of challenges grow to a competition like a 7v7 tournament where success is predicated on cooperation and the realization no one can win by themselves.

We have two more weeks to prepare for our next 7v7 at Spaulding high school in Vermont.  The venue will not be nearly as imposing nor will the opponent, but it will allow our team another opportunity to bring us closer to the Performing Stage.

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!

Jimmies & Joes…

There is an old saying in football, “it is not the Xs & Os, it’s the Jimmies and Joes”.  If your Jimmies & Joes are better than your opponents’, you’ll likely to win most games.

2019-04-18 Xs & Os vs Jim & Joe

That is why, over the past three months, I traveled to Bergen County NJ, Princeton NJ, Mystic CT, Windsor CT, Biddeford ME, and Orlando FL to attend clinics, conferences, and spring practices.  

In the NFL, you can draft better players.  In college football, you can recruit better players.  In high school, you have to coach the Jimmys and Joes who go to your school and you have to make them better than the Jimmys and Joes walking the halls of the schools on your schedule.  

The drills, techniques, and schemes we learned at Glazier and Nike Clinics, the USA Football Conference, and UNE practice will help us to make our players better.  We appreciate those coaches who were so willing to share what they do with us so that we can share it with our players and make them better Jimmys and Joes!

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 your time!