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How my coach readers misinterpret my coaching books

Posted by John Reed on

1999 is the first season since 1989 when I have not been coaching. There are two reasons: my youngest son, who is twelve, announced he is through with all youth sports. My middle son quit youth sports when he was eight. I have never coached youth sports except when one of my three sons was in the program.

The other reason is my oldest son is a freshman tailback at Columbia. The Ivy League allows no scholarships except for financial need. Columbia says by their criteria we have no financial need (if we sell our house, I guess), so I have to scramble to increase my income to cover the extremely expensive tuition, board, and travel costs to and from New York City. As a result, I have neither a son in youth football, nor the time to coach youth or high school football. I figure it cost me about $10,000 to $20,000 per season to coach. Can’t afford that luxury anymore.

I get to visit other coaches’ practices

However, being a non-coach does permit me to do something I have not had the opportunity to do before: visit other coaches’ practices. In September of 1999, I visited about eight teams practices. Two of the head coaches are readers of my books and follow some or all of my advice. Both of those teams were undefeated and had no close games so far.

I could tell which coaches were readers of my books within a minute or two of arriving. In each case, there were four or five teams practicing on the same field. But I would see some teams doing brutal full-speed tackling drills that I said not to do or some similar non-Reed approach and walk to the other team’s practices to ask for the guy who had invited me. In each case, the team I went to was indeed my reader.

The practices run by the non-readers of my books were awful. See my article on the most common mistakes coaches make for more on that.

The practices run by my readers had the general idea, but I was surprised and disappointed at the details. Clearly, I did not explain everything carefully enough. Here are a number of general ways in which readers whose practices I visited are misinterpreting my books.

Practices not efficient enough (Minimize standing around time, run at a three-plays-per-minute pace, etc.)

Practices not varied enough (I said in the strongest possible terms that drills must not last more than ten minutes, but coaches who read my books are running much longer drills. As warned, the kids get bored and misbehave.)

Practices not disciplined enough regarding the share for offense, defense and each of the six special teams. Roughly speaking, there should be about 35 minutes a night for offense, 35 minutes for defense, and fifteen minutes each for two special teams per night (three-night practice schedule). I suggested ten minutes a night max for head-coach emphasis time in which the head coach could spend extra time on some problem area. The coaches I have observed are spending most of the practice on one or two areas. In my practices, we always covered four areas per night including 15 minutes on two of the six special teams.

Coaches settle for less-than-perfection standards. I said in my book that calling a competent football coach a perfectionist is redundant. Apparently, I have not gotten that point across to my readers. One was running some of my drills, but I suspect my players would not have recognized one drill at all and they would have noticed that the other one was different from the way we did it, and that the players were getting away with murder compared to what would happen at one of my practices.

In my tackling drill, the tackler must pick the ball carrier up over a round dummy about 14 inches in diameter and the two of them must land on a landing pad on the other side of the dummy. At one practice, they did away with the dummy and were just doing a side-tackling drill. Except for getting the helmet on the right side, it was all wrong. The tackler was too high, not wrapping tight enough, leaving his feet too soon, etc. All of that is discussed in my book, but the coaches were doing a close-enough-for-government-work version of my drill.

Football coaching ain’t government work. You cannot achieve acceptable tackling in games unless you insist on perfection in the form-tackling drill and send all who tackle incorrectly to remedial tackling during scrimmage.

You are getting ready for the playoffs

Remember I said these coaches were both undefeated and had no close games. So they must be tackling OK, right? Wrong. Eventually, they will get to the playoffs where the running backs are extraordinary. Then, every little flaw in the tackling technique will become a huge and glaringly apparent weakness. You must insist on perfect tackling all season, even though sloppy tackling will get you by with most teams, because you are really preparing for the playoff teams, not most teams.

One coach told me he thought gang tackling was saving his team from the consequences of poor individual tackling technique. He was right, but gang tackling is not always an option. You must teach every player to tackle as if he had no help whatsoever and you must teach the team to behave as if the first guy to each tackle stinks and needs all ten of his teammates to help. In other words, the first guy to the ball carrier must tackle as if he were the only guy and the other ten guys to the ball carrier must tackle as if the first guy has never made a tackle in his life. Gang tackling is great and must be achieved. But gang tackling is Plan B. Plan A is the players are all excellent solo tacklers.

Not enough repetitions. There are a number of skills which take forever to learn to do correctly. They are the quarterback-center exchange, long snapping, correct tackling, the low defensive line charge, the option, and timing passes if you have them. At one practice, the coach said they had put in my 10-1 defense. (They also had six down linemen. There are only four down linemen in the Gap-8. Two of the guys they had down in four-point stances had man pass coverage responsibilities! You cannot cover a receiver starting from a four-point stance.) But when we ran the 10-1 against a scout team, the defensive linemen stood up for every single play, with the devastating results I promised in my book. The defensive line must bear crawl two stops into the offensive backfield. Their shoulder pads MUST be below the pads of the offensive linemen.

This is normal. It takes weeks, if not months to get the defensive linemen to charge at a bear crawl instead of standing up. We practiced it ten minutes a night every single night from the second week on. They will do it wrong for five or six weeks before they finally start doing it right. It takes great patience and faith to keep pushing them for ten minutes a night day after day week after week. When we first started we wondered if they would ever do it right. But we only had one defense so we had to make it work. To our great relief, they kids finally got it.

You must insist

Actually, I think they got what we wanted the first night. They simply hated doing it that way. What took six weeks was convincing them that we would not accept anything less than their being low man every single time in the line collision. Kids are good at whining and dragging their feet to get out of doing things they do not want to do. Truth to tell, what you are probably doing with the nightly repetitions of The Drill is overcoming years of bad parenting in which the kid was allowed to get out of almost anything simply by dragging his feet or screwing it up. The same is true of good tackling technique.

Do it right or do it over. If a kid stands up in the d-line in scrimmage in practice, take him aside and have him bear crawl five yards. Next time he stands up, make it ten yards, then fifteen, then twenty. You don’t need to get nasty about it. You can say, "Doggone, Scott. I thought we gave you enough practice on that. I’m sorry. Bill. Would you give Scott a chance to work on his bear crawl for about five yards. He stood up on that last play." Eventually, it will penetrate Scott’s consciousness that bear crawling two steps on the snap beats bear crawling twenty yards between plays.

What you demand, you get. What you tolerate, you encourage.

Coaching is teaching. But it is also drilling and insisting. Too many inexperienced coaches fail to understand the insisting part.

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