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! 

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!