Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Indecision - the greatest detriment to a quarterback's play. Are you teaching it?

Over 22 years of researching, teaching, organizing, and practicing the flexbone, I have come to realize that more failure comes from quarterback indecision then anything else. This is true of any quarterback decision heavy offense whether it be the spread, a pro style attack, the split back veer, or the wishbone. When the quarterback makes decisions that control the success of the entire offense, any hesitation, lack confidence, or lack of focus will cause severe consequences.

The problem is that most coaches, including myself over the years, teach these recipes for disaster without even realizing it. They handcuff their quarterback without even knowing they are the culprit. In reality, their efforts to refine the offense, give help, and correct only make the matter worse. How do they do this? Let's look at some of the mistakes I have made and learned to correct over the years!

1. Verbiage, verbiage, verbiage! Most coaches I've talked to don't realize the value of CONSISTENCY in verbiage throughout their staff. If I teach the quarterback "give unless the handoff key makes a direct path in front of the fullback." and you say to him "give the ball unless the handoff key tackles the fullback." you have in essence given too very different messages to the quarterback. He now has two very succinct, different pictures in his head. So as he goes through his reads, imagine the indecision in the thought process, "well, um, he made a path in front of the fullback but is he going to tackle the fullback?" or "he looks like he's made a path to arm tackle the fullback but, um, wait.....that path doesn't bring him in front of the fullback." You can see his dilemma with just this simple example. Now imagine him with a more overt difference or many coaches on your staff saying the same thing in a different way.

If you study cognitive theory at all, you realize that the mind records everything as photographs. Every time he hears a different phrasing, he gets a different picture to interpret it. The difference is like trying to find the right piece to a jigsaw puzzle with only one piece (the right one) on the table and trying to find that same piece when there are many to look at on the pile. (and remember, every one of these phrases are subject to his interpretation.) The phrase "perception is reality" holds true here. So he has a better chance of getting it right if everybody is onboard with the same phrasing.

2. Verbiage, verbiage, verbiage! No, we're not being redundant here. In this part we're going to talk about too much and too technical of talk. Coaches love to show how much they know. They like to dazzle in their use of terms. The key though is for the quarterback to understand it and be able to process it in a split second. The mind has been proven to not be able to multitask. Instead, it jumps back and forth rapidly from one task to another. It does this so rapidly that it gives the appearance of multitasking but gives neither thought process enough time to amply finish the task.

To explain this in simpler terms, I am going to use an example of an interview I had for a college offensive coordinator job. We were discussing how they taught the "all curl route." First, he said the quarterback must preread the coverage to get an idea as to which way he MIGHT be throwing. (now you must understand that their presnap recognition system for the passing game was totally different then for the run!) Then as he dropped back his first thought was the hot read. If the hot read wasn't there then he would focus on the safeties to make sure that he was going to the right side (oh, so the presnap read was an educated guess!) Once he set and finally decided where he was going to he read mike because it seemed that mike could rechange the direction he was going. Once that was understood (if it ever was because I was lost now!) he focused on a flat defender read and threw opposite him. (I love that expression, "throw opposite." What happens when he sits half way? More indecision for the quarterback! We'll deal with that problem later in the article.) Finally, if he had not thrown an interception yet or gotten sacked or panicked and ran out of the pocket, he would now have the option of coming back to the middle hook if the inside linebacker ran under the curl. But wait we're not done yet! If the safety robbed the curl that brought him to a whole other read! And to think the quarterback had to execute proper footwork and throwing mechanics while simultaneously he was feeling the rush and keeping the play alive. It was no wonder that the coach told me my most pressing issue, if I came, was to cut down on interceptions and improve the quarterback mechanics. DUH!!!

Instructions to the quarterback so be as simple as possible, as short as possible, as solid as possible (very little ifs and buts), and in as much of "normal" language as possible. They don't need to know titles and complex designs; they need to execute complex designs through a simple pattern.

When I was asked how I would teach the same read, my reply was that with a limited quarterback I would first not hot read it (take some of the pressure off him and put in on others) then I would decide which side I would throw to presnap and stay with it (maybe not the best play but it was still a sound play). After executing my footwork I would tell him to "throw the curl unless the flat coverage went there." (we've taken away the indecision of the halfway player on defense.) if as he hitched up to the curl he didn't like it, he could come back down to the middle hook(put the responsibility on the receiver to get open.)

The funny thing was that after all that he said "that's exactly what I said!" this further proves my theory that sometimes we forget we are in "coach speak" and they're not!

3. Give the player a one way decision! This is easy to explain. The human mind does not work like a computer. We've already decided that when we talked about multitasking. That becomes even more in play when dealing with a muscle memory movement tied into the thought process.

Let's use a baseball batter as the quintessential example. When one is up at the plate, he does not say I'm going to hit it if it's a strike and take if it's a ball. If he did that he would never have enough time to trigger his swing once the ball is pitched. Rather he approaches the at bat with the thought that "I'm going to swing unless the ball is outside the strike zone." These two statements may sound the same but they're not. In the second he has started his mechanics as the pitcher is delivering. He only has to adjust (stop his mechanics) if the pitch is not a strike. In the first he has to make two decisions and reactions. If it's a strike start his swing and if it's a ball don't swing.

Now imagine the hitter going to the plate with the thought process "I will swing if it's a strike. I will take if it's a ball. However, if it's a low and inside fastball or a curve on the outer half I will take." You wouldn't handcuff one of your batters that way but you do when you teach the read. Many coaches teach each individual read independently, filling the quarterback's mind with multiple pictures causing indecision. These are the ones you heard that say "if he sits give, if he crashes the mesh then pull, if he squeezes flat pul, if he does an up move give, if he steps square and pushes the tackle give, etc. etc."

I've always believe in a one way decision that covers all situations but leaves an easy thought process. Ours is "give the ball unless the handoff key makes a direct path in front of the fullback." That's it! Nothing else! It doesn't matter how you word it as long as it is a way way decision that covers all situations. The example above ends up coming out the same but the thought process and initiating the mechanics are greatly hampered. It's like having the quarterback use speed dial versus having him check through the rolodex.

4. Let the quarterback know you have his back. There are just times the quarterback is going to struggle with a certain read or combination of reads. If you've coached this offense long enough you know what I'm talking about. It's a muscle memory skill just like shooting a basketball and even Michael Jordan had an "off" day. (well - off to him) If he thinks he will have to pound his head on the wall over and over again, possibly causing his team to lose then he'll get more and more indecisive. However, if he knows you have a way to get him out of the bad read, he will be honest on his ability and he'll continue to try and conquer the problem, knowing his teams outcome doesn't solely rest on it.

An example of this would be the 1 - 2 exchange commonly known as the stack read. We always try to read our way out but there have been times either due to athletes on the other team or whatever (we must remember we are dealing with humans here - not robots!) our quarterback just plain "kicks the pooch" on it. He know though we always have our loaded tag to go to. (one that takes away the stack read from him but keeps our triple alive.)

5. All quarterbacks are not the same. The beauty of our system, the triple option in general, and any complete system is the ability to keep within the structure / philosophy of the design, yet, adapt it to the strength and weaknesses of the individuals in the system. Many coaches ignore this aspect. We do it through our check system and / or the "packaging" of plays. Some coaches expect all quarterbacks to execute the offense equally; regardless of the personal on defense or their individual abilities. If two, totally unequal quarterbacks are forced to deal with a problem with the same answers they will have unequal results and come away with a very different attitude to the same situations.

To illustrate this let's take a commander in war. He's in his foxhole when he says to his troops "okay when I count 5 with jump over the edge and attack!" Now if his troops are massive, elite special forces with overwhelming firepower and, most importantly have had continued success in this maneuver they will probably follow their commander with unending loyalty and energy.

Now, picture the troops in the foxhole who are outmanned, outgunned, and outnumbered. (and they know this) More importantly, every time they followed this command previously, the results were disastrous. I can guarantee you there will be some trepidation and indecision about putting that first leg over the front of that foxhole.

The same is true with athletes. It's even more extreme because they know their ability (firepower) The more they are asked to do something they can't, the more trepidation and indecision.

The answer is to individualize the offense or packages for each quarterback's skills. This can be yearly for what you have as a group or individually within a year as per the individual quarterbacks. (we did this at William Paterson, where we had 2 quarterbacks of very different abilities. Although they ran the the same offense, not causing any additional teaching time, their answers / checks were totally different to fit their abilities. In this way, they both approached the line of scrimmage with confidence they could execute the calls in the situations they were put in. Confidence allows a player to play faster and without indecision.)

Take the curl / flat example given before. We've had some rocket armed quarterbacks we've taught "throw the curl unless." and we've had some noodle armed ones that we taught "throw the flat unless." sometimes there we're one of each of these in the same year.

6. Don't let the situation surprise the quarterback. This is one of the biggest I've seen over the years. A team runs an offense as "plays" and not a system, syncing their whole practice into one look they expect from them opponent. Then, even when playing a team you are much better then, a "surprise defense of the week" pops up and chaos breaks out. Not only is the line confused but you now ask the quarterback to execute something that he probably hasn't practiced in many weeks.

By having a compact system and a systematic way of practicing, you should be able to handle any situation that occurs. In ours, we practice every look that he may see. (yes, even the strangest looks can be categorized in some fashion. Also our rules allow for confidence in execution.)

This methodology is harder at the beginning and during the week as more is thrown at the quarterback. However, once the game begins, the fun starts.

(I have found that most "flexbone" systems have this method built in, from the early Ballard's to the latter day Georgia Tech's)

7. You can't coach a decision maker the way you coach a player whose position is built by rote. This was perhaps the hardest thing I had to learn when I switched over to the option from the wing-t. In my previous coaching, everything was nice, tight, and rote. There was a double team here and you hug the double as you made your 90 degree cut, etc. Mostly you were coaching execution of a motor pattern. If a player didn't get it right, he usually heard my wrath.

With a triple option quarterback it's totally different. You are now asking him to make decisions and decisions are made by what he sees, not what you told him. Simply stated the quarterback has to go by what he sees in a split second, not what you see when the film room 2 days later. Correction is necessary but it's different. Your
wrath won't get you anywhere. As a matter of fact, I'd be glad to wager anybody that a "baggering" "what are you doing? Don't you know that was a give." will only get you a predetermined give on the next play - regardless of the reaction. Do it enough and you'll have so much indecision by a quarterback who doesn't trust his eyes, you better start checking the prices of moving companies.

Instead, you must coach through HIS eyes and mind. Questions like "what did you see?" or "what was your thought process?" are essential. Reiteration of proper thought processes and walk through visualizations and reps are the only way to correct the mistakes and build confidence.

As a final note on this, remember from above, all quarterbacks are not born the same. Although, through reps, any quarterback can read at a certain degree of efficiency; some will never get to an elite level. For those you must be ready to rely on your non-option plays. Additionally, as mentioned before, reading is like hitting a baseball and like the hitter who has trouble with the curve, certain quarterbacks have trouble with certain reads. (I.E. Cross charge, back to back, etc.) To build confidence you must reps this "sticking point" at a rate of 2 to 1 and have an answer built into the system so as to have your quarterback's back.

There are many mistakes we've all in coaching the quarterbacks. These are a few that I had to correct over the years to be successful. I am sure there are many others that could be added. Regardless of the system you run, if decision making is part of it then indecision is a major problem.

I hope this helps.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Jerry said...

Great Article Coach..emailing to all my coaches after I send this ..THANK YOU

jsteph said...

Dude, for the love of god, good article but that background is so distracting.

steve sharik said...

Enjoyed it very much. Thanks.sesses