Most Important Attributes

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

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

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

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

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at richalercio@gmail.com and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time!

Yet Another Change In Perspective

The COVID environment we’ve all endured has changed many perspectives over the last seven months. As I noted in earlier blogs, some for the better… some for the worse… But it’s been our specified intent to seek the good and find the benefits of new experiences and perspectives. One distinct change from my perspective is after coaching boys for more than thirty years, I’m now coaching girls as well.

Given this change, I felt a need to better understand how to coach the opposite sex.  While the expectation to adhere to the performance standards of our culture remain the same regardless, I recognize communication (both verbal and non-verbal) may indeed be different.  I have learned over three decades you cannot coach Generation Z the way you coached Millennials.  Nor can us Generation Xers coach the way we were coached by Baby Boomers.  

The key to coaching is communication. To effectively communicate with players you need to understand their differences.  In doing some research on the topic, I found some excerpts from the book “You Just Don’t Understand” by Deborah Tannen.   She states, “boys focus their communication on independence, self-reliance, and the avoidance of failure, while girls focused on connection, preserving intimacy, and avoiding isolation.”   She goes on to state, “female athletes generally respond better when you avoid yelling and ask them for their input, while male athletes often respond well to motivational yelling or concise demands from a coach.  Lastly, Tannen states that while the content of what you say may be the same, the way you deliver the message can make all the difference.  That was just the advice that I needed to read.  

Similar themes are echoed by Anson Dorrance, Hall of Fame head coach of the UNC Chapel Hill Women’s soccer team. Coach Dorrance has led the lady Tarheels to 21 of the 31 NCAA Championships ever awarded, and has amassed more than 800 wins, (a >90% winning percentage!) Coach Dorrance is very candid about the early lessons he learned transitioning from coaching young men to coaching young women. While concepts of common vision, values, understanding, and goals remain the same in developing team culture, Coach Dorrance helped me understand how differences in communication styles, humility, and perception are better tools for building trust, cohesion, and interdependence.

I’ve commented before how our role as coaches is to build teams, win games, and develop quality citizens who will graduate and contribute to our community. While there are many aspects of the COVID environment I have found frustrating, another silver lining has been learning how to create opportunity and serve the young women on our team who will contribute equally to our success and go on to be leaders in our communities 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!

Lineman’s Dream

Every offensive lineman’s dream is to score a touchdown…

But that is not in their job description.  Their role on the team is to selflessly block so that others can have the glory of reaching the end zone.  Their running backs, quarter backs, and receivers are lauded by cheering fans while the offensive linemen anonymously return to the sideline.

When we have had athletic offensive linemen in the past, we have rewarded them with the opportunity to experience the glory of crossing the goal line.  During our 2017, season, our Right Tackle scored several rushing touchdowns aligned as a running back in a goal line package.  In that same season, during the state championship game, on a 4th and 1 on the goal line, just before halftime, we threw a screen pass to our left tackle for a touchdown.

Playing 7v7 football in Vermont this season allows all offensive linemen the opportunity to get in the end zone.  Our lone returner from last year’s offense, a 2-year starter at Left Guard, is now a senior running back.  He always wanted to play running back but selflessly assumed his role on the offensive line because that was what was best for the team.  With two games under our belt, that Left Guard has 9 receptions for 80 yards and two touchdowns.  

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 Positive

Not long after it was announced that Vermont high schools would be playing 7v7 football in place of traditional tackle football, I was invited to do a radio interview with Sports Saturday hosted by Jeff Paul, on 101.3 THE GAME in Burlington.

One of the topics of conversation centered around the positives of this temporary change.  One of those positives for many teams may be a negative for us, since we already pass the ball.  Vermont is a run oriented state.  Teams in the Green Mountain State run the ball and defend the run very well.  7v7 affords those teams an opportunity to work on their passing game as well as their coverages to defend the pass.  Without the physical mismatches of traditional football, it also allows big schools and small schools to play against each other allowing for teams who would never normally play each other to get together and compete.  Only one team on our 7v7 schedule was on our original schedule.  I look forward to playing those other teams.

The last, and most important, benefit is that 7v7 allows an entry point to football for those who may have never played tackle.  At St Johnsbury Academy, we were fortunate to acquire two additions to our team that we would not have had without 7v7.  During the summer prior to the decision to go 7v7, I was contacted by Fritz Hauser who was transferring to the Academy as a junior and entering our boarding program.  He is a basketball player who always wanted to play football. A week later, he informed me that he would not play.  His parents did not want him to risk injury before basketball season.  While that is an understandable concern, I am happy to say that we have never had an athlete miss their winter sport due to a football injury.  Soon after the announcement we would play 7v7, Fritz reached back out to say he was going to join us.  He has proven to be a quick study, a hard worker, and a great teammate.

After the first week of the season, I received an email from a mother indicating her child, Brooke, was interested in joining the team but had never played football.  I invited her to have Brooke join us the next day to observe practice.  After watching us that day, Brooke decided to join us.  The next day Brooke put on a football helmet and jersey for the first time and took the field, (although admittedly a little nervous and apprehensive). Our players quickly brought Brooke up to speed on drills and techniques.  Brooke has worked as hard as any player on the field and harder than most in her video and playbook study while catching up and learning a new sport.

As we referenced in last week’s blog, personal differences do not matter.  In the huddle, we are all Hilltoppers.  Brooke and Fritz make us a better and stronger team.  I am hopeful that both of them decide to stay with us when we transition back to tackle football.  For now, I am just happy to have the opportunity to coach them.

You can hear my entire interview with Jeff Paul from 101.3 The Game here:

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!

One Huddle

American Football Coaches Association “One Huddle” Patch

The State of Vermont has announced it has moved to Step 3, which will allow high school athletes to compete inter-scholastically.  This weekend, schools all over Vermont will compete in high school athletics for the first time since March.  When players, coaches and officials take the field, all will be wearing masks.  But the football coaches at St Johnsbury Academy will be wearing something else as well: AFCA One Huddle patches.

For a fourth straight year, football coaching staffs all over the country will wear American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) patches on their opening weekend games to help raise the general public’s awareness of the association, its initiatives, and goals. This year’s patch states “One Huddle” which represents the unifying aspects of football in today’s social climate.  It doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are, your socio-economic background, or how you choose to identify yourself. Everyone in that huddle is there for one united purpose: to place the goals and good of the team above their own self interest. In the huddle we are all stronger together than any one of us could ever be alone.

The following is an excerpt from NFL All-Star, and legendary coach Bill Curry’s piece entitled “The Huddle” which he wrote following the September 11th terrorist attacks.  He shared it with the National Football Foundation at their annual awards dinner on December 11, 2001:

“The football huddle is a metaphor of our culture; imperfect like all metaphors… In that huddle are a bunch of folks who are black, brown, white, red, yellow, liberal, conservative, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu. We are slim, fat, short, tall, fast and slow… We are analytical people, and we are impulsive people. We have some of the finest men on Earth, and heaven knows, we’ve got a few rounders.”

In the huddle, we find far more in common with one another, we elevate and commit to the team’s goals, and our differences do not matter.  

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!

Traditions Return

Students are back in school, and players are back on the field.  Things may look a little different but our players have adapted well.  Our players report to a designated meeting area to wait for their time to go into the fieldhouse to change.  Tarps hung around court #3 of our fieldhouse create our makeshift locker room.  Players bring all their belongings to the field.  Weightlifting equipment is moved outside at the end of practice for our athletic performance training, and thoroughly wiped down when complete.

Some things haven’t changed.  We ended our first week of practice by lining up all of our first-year players then invited our returning players to pick a rookie they want to go up against in a best-of-three game of Rock-Paper-Scissors.  Losers had to carry the winners’ helmets and cleats back to the fieldhouse. While such an event may at first seem insignificant, it does two things: veterans and rookies interact face to face (appropriately distanced, of course), and each has equal opportunity to compete and win. New and old members of the team interact, establish rapport, and are reminded of both the importance of competition, equal opportunity, and interdependence amongst teammates. 

We also were able to give back to our community.  For the past five years, we have met as a team on a Sunday in September to join the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.  For health and safety reasons, this year’s walk was not a large in-person event.  Instead, we walked as a team along our cross-country trail to our stadium before practice wearing purple leis, the color of the Alzheimer’s Association. Such an event reminds us to be grateful for our blessings, to be mindful of the challenges others face, and remind us of the importance of pulling together as a team while helping others and giving back to our community. 

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!

Butterfly Effect…

American Football in Finland has named former St Johnsbury Academy standouts Carlos Carrasco ’15 and Lamin Latikka “19 as back-to-back Defensive Players of the Week. 

It is always rewarding to see former players having success as they move on in all walks of life.  As coaches, we trust the lessons we impart on our student-athletes last a lifetime and that they share what they learned with others throughout their life.  The Cambridge dictionary defines the butterfly effect as a situation in which an action or change that does not seem important has a very large effect, especially in other places or around the world.

I like to think that the culture we have created and the lessons we have taught in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont are having an impact on the lives of people we will never meet almost 4,000 miles away by the examples set by our former players. 

One additional note this week: You can view my recent discussion with WCAX News regarding Vermont’s upcoming football season here: WCAX Sports

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!

Determining Best Plays

Last week, we discussed simplifying your offense to focus only on your best plays (the ones that bring you joy).  But how do you objectively determine your best plays?  We use a combination of Mean, Median, and Mode along with an Efficiency Percentage to give each play a Value.  That value determines the return on investment of each play.

We start by placing the yards gained for every play in a spreadsheet.  Then we determine a Mean by adding up the total yards gained by a play divided by the total number of times it was called.  We then put the yards gained for a play in ascending order to find the Median value.  The Median is the middle value of the yards earned by each play when listed lowest to highest.  While in ascending order, we look for a Mode.  A Mode is the value that occurs most often.  We then add the Mean, Median, and Mode together and divide by three to get what we consider the true Average yards a play produces.  Note: sometimes there is no Mode or there are several Modes.  In those cases, we do not include a Mode average and just add the Mean and Median then divide by two.

The reason we use all three (Mean, Median, Mode) is that most plays do not have a large enough sample size to determine a reliable Mean. (You may recall the old maxim, “The larger the sample, the truer the mean.”)  A play yielding one really long gain or loss will skew the average when there is not a significant sample size.

The Efficiency Percentage is determined by taking the total number of plays that were efficient, divided by the total number of times the play was called then multiplying by 100.  A play is considered efficient when it yields 4 yards, a first down or a touchdown.

Lastly, we add the true Average and the Efficiency Percentage to get a Value.  The higher the Value, the better the return on investment for the time it takes to install the play.   We are looking for Values of 80 or higher.  For example, A play with a 5-yard average and is efficient 3 out of 4 times (75%) would have a Value of 80.    The chart shown here lists the values of our Running Plays from 2019.  Some gave us great joy.  Others need to be reevaluated.  There is no time to teach all nine plays this year.

2020-07-16 PlayEfficiencyAssessment

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!

Strong Legs Run That Weak Legs May Walk

That is the motto of every Shrine Football Game. 2020-06-04 Trey's Shrine Game The Vermont – New Hampshire Shrine committee is working hard to see that the 67th Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl Game will be played on August 1.  Seventy-six of the top graduated high school seniors from New Hampshire and Vermont will square off in the annual football game where the real winners are the Children in the Shrine Hospitals.  Shrine Hospitals provide care for children up to the age of 18 with special health care needs.

Please consider supporting the game and Shrine Hospitals by visiting our son Trey’s First Giving Page.  (Or click on his picture here) If it doesn’t present when you click the link, go to firstgiving.com type Trey Alercio in the search bar then click Search.  Click on Trey Alercio’s Page then click on the green Donate button.  Any support is greatly appreciated.

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!

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!