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!

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!