Presents Vs. Presence

Both words sound alike to me, but for many, they are drastically different.  This year, as you gather with your colleagues, community, friends, and family, try to be thoughtful about these words and their meanings.  Instead of focusing all your attention on what “presents” you may give or get, consider giving the gift of your “presence.”  Whether the soundtrack for “It’s a Wonderful Life” or the background for the “Ball Drop” on New Year’s Eve, “Auld Lang Syne” reminds us to recall special memories of relationships and occasions we cherish.

Those memories are born from attention and presence. Bring your full self to every conversation, handshake, or hug.  Forget about yesterday.  Stop thinking about tomorrow.  Put your phone away.  Know that every day is a gift and enjoy the moment for the moment’s sake. What your family and friends really want for Christmas is YOU. 

Your presence is the greatest gift you can give your loved ones.  Take in every sight, sound, and smell of Christmas whenever, wherever, and with whomever you gather. You may just find the gift of your presence to those you love, may also be the greatest gift you give to yourself.  Merry Christmas.

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 14; Endurance

The 14th and final leadership trait in our series A Leader in Every Locker is Endurance.  Endurance is mental and physical stamina measured by the ability to withstand pain, fatigue, stress, adversity, and hardship.  This quality allows one to withstand physical and emotional discomfort, pain, and distress while persevering to achieve a goal, objective, or desired outcome. 

Endurance; A Riveting Story!

(Many years ago) When I was a player, coaches often quoted the legendary  Vince Lombardi who said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” When I was speaking at a Nike Coach of the Year Football Clinic several years ago, I attended a session presented by a United States Marine Corps Captain who shared a complementary phrase that I have embraced ever since: “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” 

Football is a game of mental and physical adversity and stress.  Either can be a lot to bear, but the combination is even more daunting. Hot or cold, tired and sore, bruised and sometimes bloodied, combines with mental and emotional pressures to perform against a determined foe, and an unrelenting clock. This is the type of mental and physical pain players who lead by example, must endure to stay on the field of play and contribute to the good of the team.  It must be noted if a player sustains an injury, they must be evaluated by a certified athletic trainer before their status is assessed determining their ability to return to play. We try hard to help our athletes make a distinction between pain and injury and would rather err on the side of caution and safety.

In previous posts, we’ve talked about the ways team sports “inoculate” student-athletes against fear, loss, and adversity. From both my own experience, and from decades of witnessing others encountering circumstances requiring “endurance” and the willingness to push through the “uncomfortableness” of physical, mental, and emotional stress, it’s clear a little “uncomfortableness” now, seeds the ability to endure more later in life. I have a close friend who gave me Alfred Lansing’s book “Endurance, Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage,” which recounts Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 Antarctic expedition and their 24 months locked in an ice flow, battered by the Southern Ocean, and yet undaunted, they endured returning to England without any loss of life.

Football is said to be a game of inches.  Those inches are earned by the team who finds a way to give one more try, one more ounce of strength, and who (after every possible consideration) admits defeat last.  The game is often won by those who persevere one run, block, tackle, or catch longer than their opponents. The game of life requires endurance as well. 

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 11; Courage

Courage is a mental quality recognizing the fear of physical injury and danger or the emotional fear of criticism and humiliation, yet courage enables one to proceed in the face of danger or concern with calmness and resolve.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the recognition of its existence, and the willingness to take decisive action in spite of it. Note: The Hero and the Coward feel the same feelings, the distinction between the two is the decisions and actions one takes despite the fear.

This past weekend our entire team faced the fear of criticism and perhaps humiliation as we played one of America’s oldest high school football rivalries. The 116th playing of “The Game” between St Johnsbury Academy and Lyndon Institute; a rivalry reaching back to 1894. In the past 6 seasons, the Academy has accumulated a comfortable 388 to 48 scoring margin winning those six games by an average of 55-7. No Academy team wants to be the one to end the winning streak. This year the Vikings brought in a talented team, bigger and stronger than ours, but we were able to come out on top 31-14 in a game actually far closer than the score reflects.


During the game, we had several players returning from injuries having missed the previous game and multiple practices. While they were all medically cleared to play, each faced understandable concerns of being reinjured or whether their performance would be worthy of the trust of their teammates. Despite their fears, they played well and contributed to our victory.


We also had several physical mismatches on the line of scrimmage. Our 176 lbs Sophomore Left Guard, who lives in Lyndon but chose to attend the Academy, faced a 300 lbs Senior Defensive Tackle all game. Knowing the opponent was bigger, stronger, more experienced, and understanding the threat of harm, our Sophomore Guard showed great resolve to do his personal best, utilize the techniques he has been taught, and relied on communication with his fellow offensive linemen to get help when needed.

Undoubtedly we will all face situations in life calling for courage. Sometimes physical, sometimes moral… The physical actions of first responders and our military are often top of mind, but many also show the courage of compassion while helping a friend or colleague in need, or the courage of conviction while taking a stand on moral issues where opinions significantly differ. Athletics offer student-athletes opportunities for small inoculations against fear (physical or moral) and helps prove their resilience, increasing self-confidence, reinforcing the importance of discipline and sacrifice, and ultimately readying them for much of what may lie ahead.

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 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!