Adapt and Overcome

Six months ago, Fall Sports were in doubt due to the Coronavirus…

Then I heard Vermont was going to allow soccer to be played in the Fall of 2020, but not football. It took all of two seconds to realize that if we can play soccer, we can play 7v7 football…  Thankfully, those in position to make that decision were of like thinking.  All our Fall student-athletes were able to practice, play, and engage with their teammates, and coaches.  They had a place to go after school and something to look forward to.  They were motivated daily to attend classes in-person or virtually and succeed academically.  We worked our way through the team-building process, reinforced culture and character, and during a very difficult time, players had the daily support of the teammates and coaches.  I was surprised other states did not follow suit.  Many states choose to not play rather than give up “traditional” 11v11 tackle football.  Their plan was to push the football season to the Spring.  The semester has begun, and though the vaccine offers a light at the end of the tunnel (likely for Fall ’21) states are still battling many of the same COVID concerns this Spring.  

It now appears at least one state is considering what we did in Vermont.  Over the weekend, I was contacted by a writer from SBLive Sports, a network of high school sports websites across the nation, who was working on a story for their Oregon site regarding the options the OSAA might take if state health authorities do not approve the spring high school football season as planned.  The reporter’s interest was less about what we did and focused on how Vermont’s 7v7 program was received by players, parents, and the community.  

Simply answered, if the coach is enthusiastic and optimistic, it is well received.  As coaches and leaders, part of team building is creating a unifying vision of a hopeful future. If we know who we are, what we face, and that together we can accomplish our objectives, student-athletes are resilient and adapt well to change.  They will embrace the challenge, pull together as a team, and pursue their goals. They just need a little guidance, and someone to reinforce the best of who they can become.  Those who would say “7v7 is not real football” are letting their own biases interfere with the interests of their players. On this blog I’ve often mentioned the effects of football range far beyond the confines of the field or the season, and I speak from first hand experience when I say the 7v7 program we ran in Vermont this year helped us build teams, win games, and develop young men (and for the first time women!) who will be better off for the experience.

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! 

Socrates & The Solstice

Long before Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Las Posadas were celebrated and gifts were given, Socrates is credited with saying,  “Be less concerned with what you have than with what you are.”

A Coach’s Interpretation of Stonehenge on the Solstice

It is easy to get caught up in material things this time of year.  To focus on who can get the bigger, better, and more expensive presents for their kids and spouses.  Socrates reminds us it is much more important to be a better spouse, parent, friend, teammate, mentor, or leader than gift giver.

It is easy for us coaches to also get caught up in material things and to be more concerned with what we have (winning records, trophies, championships) than with who we are (team builders, developers of student athletes, and shapers of team culture).  While I understand the former often determines whether we keep our jobs or not, I know from experience when the latter becomes our primary concern, it’s a mindset and a manner ultimately leading to our success.

It’s not the latest video game, meme, or fad found under the tree. It’s not me first and bend the rules to win at all cost attitudes, it’s the selfless gifts to others… investing in a person or a team’s potential… truly putting team above self… That’s where the true gifts are found.

Whatever Holiday you celebrate this season, I wish you the very best with those you hold dearest. I’m taking a break next week to enjoy the season with my family and will be back on New Year’s Eve with some thoughts looking forward to 2021.

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!

Like No Other…

After a football season like no other, St Johnsbury Academy will host a football banquet like no other… 

On Thursday, December 10 at 6pm, we will host our banquet virtually.  

The annual banquet is more than just an opportunity to hand out awards and varsity letters.  It is a time for our football family to gather before the Holidays, to celebrate a season, to recognize our seniors, and to encourage our student-athletes to have a strong finish to the Fall semester.  With the start of winter sports on hold, so many of our athletes who enjoyed football and were looking to the start of winter athletics are experiencing a void in their lives.  As coaches, we hope the positive words shared through Zoom serve as an inspiration to our team to finish strong in the classroom just like we do on the field or in the weight room.

Other than not being present with each other, the banquet will be conducted as usual.  We will screen share our highlight video (and there are a lot of highlights from an 11 game 7v7 season). We will announce those players who earned a varsity letter, We will recognize our seniors (personally my favorite part of the banquet, because I get to sit back and listen to our assistant coaches talk about their position players and the bonds they forged over their four years together.)  Lastly, we give our individual awards.  Those recipients will have their names listed in our gymnasium amongst those who have received them from past generations.  Those awards are as follows:

  • Most Improved Player.  The person who made himself into a good player through hard work and commitment to the program.  
  • Outstanding Lineman:  Games are won and lost on the line of scrimmage by young men who seldom if ever receive any recognition.
  • Outstanding Back:  While this award obviously dates back to a time when teams just ran the ball with two and three back sets, we have expanded it to all offensive ball handlers as well as Linebackers and Defensive Backs.
  • Most Valuable Player:  Seems self-explanatory but we bring it beyond a players contribution to our offense, defense and special team and include what he means to the team and his teammates.
  • Hilltopper Award:  The person who most exemplifies who we are and how we want to be represented on the field, in the classroom and out in the community.
  • Coaches Award:  The player who is most coachable.  The one you wish you had 11 of so that you could play him at every position.  

We trust the announcing of these awards will serve as an inspiration to our returning players. Each, who when he or she walks through the gym this spring and next fall, sees the names of those who went before and set examples of character, sportsmanship, teamwork, and performance. While seasons end, tradition never graduates, and the opportunity to contribute to the legacy of all it means to be a Hilltopper is renewed once again.

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!  

Second Chances

There is only one thing in life you do not get a second chance at, and that’s making a first impression.  For almost anything else, everyone deserves a second chance… Especially kids.  

Kids decide to leave teams for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes influenced by parents, some by friends who lure them away with options that seem easy but are ultimately not so positive. Others leave because they would rather work (sometimes because families need them to work).  But many choose to leave a team because they were just not ready for their first chance.  

I tell our players at the start of every season, “football is not for everyone and Hilltopper football is for even fewer.”  Not everyone is prepared for the demands placed upon them. We ask for commitment to team and to teammate, and to place the good of the team above self, and to confront adversity, sometimes even fear… It’s a lot to ask, and for some, it’s more than they expected, and can be overwhelming. So they take what they think is the easy way out and quit.

On the morning after Thanksgiving, while I am still reflecting on how much the great game of football has given me, I look to give a second chance to those kids who left the program on good terms.  Those players who may have left for a variety of reasons are added back to the roster in “Hudl,” and are offered a second chance.  I understand many may choose not to return, and others may return only to leave again.  I also understand most of those kids will not help our football program nearly as much as our football program has the potential to help them.  Ultimately, that is the reason they are given a second chance.  What they do with it is entirely up to them.

Our mission is to build teams, win games, and develop quality citizens. A mission and ultimately a community that benefits from second chances.

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!  

Giving Thanks

I’m so Thankful for so many blessings, but the love and support of my family tops the list!

During this time of Thanksgiving, I want to share how appreciative I am for the number of readers who take the time every week to visit olineskills.com, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, or read our weekly email blog posts.  I appreciate you sharing them with your friends and colleagues, but I am most thankful for the replies I receive through email, text, or social media with thoughtful comments of how a blog impacted them.  Below is a social media comment from a fellow football coach and friend, Jim Hill, who shares how last week’s blog caused him to reflect on how his team helped him through a dark time in his life.   

In 2016, my life was turned upside down with the death of my mother in June, and then 3 months later my wife left me… My team saved me that year. I was supposed to be their leader as the head coach of the program but that year they picked me up and led me out of the darkness.  I am forever grateful to the 2016 Otter Valley football team. Football is so much more than just a game.

Our great nation reserves the fourth Thursday of November every year as a time for us to give thanks.  I live every day with gratefulness in my heart, that I have the privilege of being a football coach, to have learned so much from this great game, and have the blessing of sharing with others, the way so many shared with me.

Thanks for reading, for caring, and contributing to others. It is my most sincere hope you are able to enjoy this Thanksgiving and have the opportunity to give some thought to being grateful. Even without extended family, friends, and colleagues around the table this year, we still have so much to be thankful for.

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!  

Dark Places, Teammates, & Salvation

In a recent email from one of my oldest and dearest friends, he references a “dark place” in his life and how football and his teammates, now lifelong friends, helped him overcome it.

In a football game, we conveniently have a scheduled break allowing us to evaluate our situation and make changes accordingly. It is called halftime. Good coaches and good teams use this opportunity to make halftime adjustments enabling them to achieve a more desirable outcome. We solicit feedback, discuss observations, and cultivate concepts and ideas.

In our championship game a week ago, we found ourselves only up by 1 point at halftime. The first half of our game had not gone the way we planned.  We needed to make some adjustments and fortunately had the halftime to do so. Refocusing our players on expectations, clarifying and confirming their commitment to each other, and belief in their collective potential, we scored the game’s next three touchdowns and finished the game with a comfortable win.

Life rarely offers such a convenience. There is no scheduled halftime, and chaos often relentlessly assaults us. Yet, to be successful, you must make and take the time to evaluate your life to determine if it is one well lived. Your current situation does not need to be your permanent situation. But sometimes it’s hard to see a way ahead and not everyone has a coach to help them make timely adjustments.  As we have described before, “where you sit determines what you see…” However, we rarely find our best selves when inwardly focused, and benefit most when helping others. As my friend described, teammates helped him see a different view, and he found a better outcome.

It’s easy to cocoon, and particularly so in times like these. Seek the help of your family, friends, teammates, teachers, mentors, bosses, clergy to help you make positive changes in your life and the lives of those around you. In doing so, you may just find the very thing we help new teams discover every year: “Together, we’re always stronger than any one of could ever hope to be alone.” Draw on the strength of your team, and accomplish more than you ever thought possible.

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!

Alotta FISH!

“That is a lot of FISH, Coach”

I have heard the term “GOAT” used to refer to someone as the “Greatest Of All Time,” but it was not until this weekend, when I received a text from our former headmaster and now assistant coach, following our win last weekend, using the acronym FISH to describe things as First In School History.  

The following is his list of FISH:

  1. Two father-son duos win a championship (Tom and John Lovett, Rich and Jake Alercio)
  2. Coach has won a championship with all three sons (Shane and Trey as players in 2017, Jake as a coach in 2020)
  3. Championship game win on Fairbanks Field. (Championship games are usually played on neutral sites)
  4. 7-on-7 Championship.  
  5. Beating our rivals, Lyndon Institute, twice in a season.

In a pregame speech just prior to our first game this season I told our players, “This would be an historical season; remembered for generations to come.”  They would always be known as “the team who played through the pandemic.” That much we knew… But I asked them, “how do you want to be remembered? What are you willing to commit to? What do you pledge to yourselves and your teammates? And how will you measure yourselves against your commitment and pledge?”

Throughout the season I saw young men, (and for the first time, young women) demonstrate their commitment to each other, to the team, and to becoming something worth more than an asterisk about a pandemic. As the 2020 Hilltopper story arced across the season, we encountered challenges and rebounded in the face of adversity. When circumstances tried to pull us apart, we saw cohesion and interdependence pull us back together… This past weekend, we wrote the final chapter of the story. This resilient team of Hilltoppers, led through these challenging times by our three seniors, will always be known as the 2020 Northeast Regional Champions.

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!

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!

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!