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! 

Competition Returns!

Hilltopper Teammates and Coaches

Thank you to Chris Redding of Vermont All-Star Football Camps and Tom McCoy, head coach at Burr & Burton Academy, for hosting the Inaugural Vermont All-Star Football 7v7 Tournament.  Congratulations to Mount Anthony Union High School and Coach Chad Gordon on taking home the championship.  We were able to find a way to get a win in Game #1 vs Mt Anthony before they went on a tear winning their next 5 games including knocking us out in the semi finals.  

Join us Sunday, July 25 at St Johnsbury Academy for the Vermont All-Star Football Camps Passing Academy and Alercio OLine Clinic

Now, I look forward to working with Chris Redding to host the Vermont All-Star Football Camps Passing Academy and Alercio OLine Clinic on Sunday, July 25 at St Johnsbury Academy.  I was excited to meet linemen from Mt Anthony and Burr & Burton who shared how eager they are to make the trip to STJ to hone their OLine Skills.  I am also thrilled to bring college coaches and position specialists to the Northeast Kingdom to work with all position players.  

The Math and Science teachers of those attending the Alercio OLine Clinic will appreciate how we set and maintain optimal geometric angles in the ankle, knee, hip and elbows in run blocking and the leg angles used in pass blocking.  They will also be happy to know that we incorporate Newton’s Third Law that for every action in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction.  We call it Ground Force Reaction as we time our run punch with the grounding of our second step and pass strike with the grounding of our third. Lastly, we’re not shy about teaching “Inertia” either. A pass rusher will continue on his path (to sack the quarterback) unless acted upon by another force; ideally an Offensive Lineman imparting a vector of sufficient force and direction to change the rusher’s predetermined course!

Competitive and instructional opportunities like these are commonplace in many states but are a rarity in Vermont, especially in the Northeast Kingdom. To take advantage of this opportunity, visit https://www.vtfootballcamps.com/events/vermont-all-star-passing-academy/

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 Fond Farewell…

Farewell Fairbanks Field

Farewell Fairbanks Field.  You were good to us.  In the past eight seasons you saw us post a 34-4 home record while going 10-0 in home playoff games.  In the last five years, only one school in the State of Vermont has walked off your grass with a win.  You truly gave us a home field advantage.

More importantly, you saw players enter your gates as boys and leave them four years later as men and leaders in their community. You saw individuals come together as a team, a family, a brotherhood.  You saw us work as hard Monday through Friday as we did on Saturdays.  

Over the coming weeks, we will lay down an artificial turf field and erect lights.  Games this fall will move from Saturday afternoons to Friday nights. While I am thrilled for our program, I am equally excited for our local community.  The residents of St Johnsbury and surrounding towns will now have their own version of “Friday Night Lights.”  

Kenny Chesney’s song “The Boys of Fall,” includes the lyrics:

“When I feel that chill, and smell that fresh cut grass
I’m back in my helmet, cleats, and shoulder pads
Standing in the huddle listening to the call
Fans going crazy for the boys of fall…”

Thank you to the past Hilltoppers whose hard work and dedication lead to the success that made this possible.  While you may never play on this new field, you are the reason future Hilltoppers will.  Future teams might not “smell that fresh cut grass” but they will most certainly work as hard as you did, uphold the legacy you left, and it is my most sincere hope they will look back as fondly as so many of you do.  

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

New Hires & New Perspectives

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

New plays and new ways of thinking.

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

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

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

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

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

Measurables & Immeasurables…

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

Measurables & Immeasurables…

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

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

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

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

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

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! 

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! 

Hilltoppers Train Heroic!

In an earlier blog post (“Far From Bright Lights,” 16 Jan), we shared the expectations of our players and the point system we use to track their participation through the Winter and Spring seasons.  We ask those who play another sport to attend that team’s practices as well as strength train for football at least once a week.  Those who do not play another sport are expected to train three times a week.  We post player workouts and track them in the “Train Heroic” app.  

Also mentioned in the earlier blog, those who comply earn a point for themselves and concurrently, a point for the team. Each week of the training season represents a game week for the coming Fall season (Intra-squad scrimmage all the way to the State Championship game).  The total number of team points earned during the week determines whether we win that week’s game.  

The number of points we need to score, as a team, is 24.  Not because it is a certain percentage of our total roster.  Not because it is the number of points we need to score in a regular-season game to win.  But rather as we have shared in other blogs, we hold ourselves to a standard of making evidence-based decisions. 

To that end, on Day 1 of training camp, we will put every player through our combine test measuring them in Speed, Agility, Quickness, Power, Strength, Fitness and Muscular endurance.  Maximum score is 160 points.  During previously successful seasons, we have had an average of 24 players score 100 or more points.  We need an average of 24 players demonstrating their commitment to our training program and the results of maximizing their genetic potential through athletic performance training. In addition to the score, time spent together reinforcing one another’s commitment to personal growth also reinforces commitment to the team and our culture.

Our players know the number we need and encourage each other to help the team reach the score and achieve the win, but we do not fret over those who choose not to.  We give everyone equal opportunity and encouragement and recognize such a commitment may be too much for many of them.  As the saying goes, “I’d rather 10 Lions than 100 Sheep”.  We are looking for 24 Lions.

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!