Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The most important lesson I ever learned about winning

Over the years I always felt X's and O's were overrated for winning. (Yeah seems strange coming from me!) That might seem drastic. It's not that they are not important - they are. If you are not sound and well coached, you're season will be disastrous! They keep you from losing. But if you want to win on a grand scale - the biggest games you need more. When you get against the best teams - they will be sound and well coached too! Think about it - how many times have X's and O's themselves allowed you to win a big game. There was usually something else - something bigger that separates the great teams from the next tier down. And this brings me back to perhaps the most important lesson I ever learned in how to win as a coach!

(Don't get me wrong - sometimes the mismatch is just that great but that's really rare.)

When I was a very young I first heard the following quote:

"What you see on the field you created. EVERYTHING! You either taught it, cultured it, or ALLOWED it!" At the time it seemed prolific but you get bombarded with a million quotes in those old clinics. Besides I was there to learn the "magic play!" just as every young coach has gone to a clinic for.

Over the years, I kept hearing this quote over and over again. One day it dawned on me that there was a common thread in all the times I heard this quote - it was the people saying it. They were all the upper echelon of coaching. The mythical figures with the mythical winning numbers. I had heard it from Lombardi (actually read it from him), Bryant, Hayes, and Schembechler. Pretty elite company. made me think this must be important.

(Went to Michigan and met Schembechler - he use the quote directly and talked about the Michigan way!)

Recently, I read a book on Parcels and he talked about "willing" victories. When you think about it - he's talking the same aspect - in this case - not allowing to happen what you don't want to happen.

If I had to pick one piece of advice that shaped my philosophy and allowed me to win in places that hadn't won before or after - this is it. But this way of coaching has its drawbacks - for you're not going to make everyone your friend, you'll never be labeled a "player's coach'" and sometimes to accomplish what you need to be successful you'll have to roll against the tide.

Everyday you are a head coach (or even an assistant for that matter) you are making decisions that will affect the outcome of your team in the short term and long term. You are deciding what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. You are creating a culture by enforcing your "will" on that team. When you run a rep and you see the three tech run up the field and get trapped, you can have three responses: 1) There he goes again - he will never listen (passive acceptance.) 2) verbal reinforcement on what was correct but not emphasis by repeating of rep (active acceptance.) (Do you think he's gonna take the correction seriously if you blow it off by just a verbal correction? NO!) or 3) correction running the play over till he gets it. (active correction!) Now the battle of wills comes in.

Do you think the guy in the game who runs up the field and gets trapped is doing it for the first time? That's like believing that Hillary didn't know she shouldn't delete her emails!!! No. Of course not. I guarantee you that somewhere in practice that player got trapped and it was accepted!

Now I'm old school. I still believe that sometimes practice and discipline is a battle of wills. You may have a battle on your hand forcing your will. You may have to go multiple reps - over and over again. But you never accept it.

The same is true with team discipline.If you think the player who got arrested never did any lesser before the incident - your crazy. It was accepted because of his ability, school rules, or some other reason to look the other way. Do you think the player who rebels against a coach has never tested how far he can go before or has seen somebody else who's bad behavior was accepted.

Now, at times this old school mentality may cause crossroads. At times, what you have to do may cross with administration who wants you to be more accepting. You have a choice here but if you take the low road - you can never complain about performance. I'm not saying your decision is wrong - there are many factors to consider, some bigger then football. (family, job security, relationships with administration, etc.) It's just a decision but as with any decision (or in this case either decision) it's a two edge sword. Either way has his plusses and minuses and as you reap the benefits you must live with the negatives.

The second crossroad comes with the player himself. What many coaches don't realize is they have all the power to force their will on the player - PLAYING TIME. This may mean sitting a great athlete but your program will benefit from it.  (Parcel would let players go in a heartbeat if they didn't buy in! Lombardi, it was written, once let a player go during the very first pre-practice run because he didn't perform it with the "Packer excellence." that he demanded.) Now, I'm not in favor of throwing players off the team - I have one steady rule here: if it only effects the individual - punish him but work with him. If it begins to affect the team (i.e. they start mimicking his actions) you have to let him go.

I know this sounds extreme but most of the situations I've taken over were extreme (In one case they hadn't won a championship in 70 years. The administration told me in the interview "If you come here you must accept the fact you are never going to win big!" (How's that for an accepted behavior.)
We won or tied for two league titles and appeared in two state playoffs, also a first in the school, in the first four years.)

Along with this, before one blames the play, the coach must look at himself to see if he "taught it."  This not only includes the obvious but how did you structure teaching and your verbiage. Did you teach the assistants properly?What do you emphasize? How is practice structured.

This part carries to the non-technical also. you are always teaching an attitude! A way of life!

I once was paid to come and watch spring practice as a consultant at a high school. First thing I noticed was the number of stragglers out late to practice. When asked the head coach said "yeah, we've been fighting this for years." The next day they had early lifting. We (the coaches) stopped picked up breakfast and proceeded to be late. Where do you think the kids learned it from? They learned what is accepted by behavior of other.

So if you don't like what you're getting - look at everything in your program, from how you dress to how you set up your office. You are always teaching some lesson!

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