I am known for posing questions to players and coaches alike that make them question their current approach and even sometimes their role & existence in the game; at all times attempting to prompt some sort of paradigm shift. Sometimes I get answers that make some sense…but in almost every conversation, we inevitably reach a point where the individual says to me, “but this is the way we’ve always done it.” As if that is going to make it okay that they’re able to justify it with the biggest ‘monkey see, monkey do’ cop-out excuse ever.
As I type this, it’s only Wednesday morning and I’ve only been to two Training Camp practices so far this week. But I’ve witnessed so many ‘this is how we’ve always done it’ moments already that I am highly contemplating not leaving the confines of my office walls today (though I’m almost positive this feeling will go away because I will find the overwhelming need to go watch my boys ball). It doesn’t have to be this way though…it’s time to break the ‘this is how we’ve done it’ chains and move into a realm of ‘this is a better way to do it now’ where it can actually be explained to enhance the performance of the athlete.
Today I want to share with you some of the ‘this is the way we’ve always done it’ moments that seem to reoccur across the country and probably need to change sooner rather than later. I will also attempt to suggest a few changes to each of those to instantly boost the performance for your team not only in practice but also when it counts on the field on gameday.
#1 – Incorrect/insufficient feedback
When someone misses a play, it’s always fascinating to me to listen to the communication & feedback that the coach chooses to utilize in attempts to elicit positive changes to the next time. For example, yesterday, several drops occurred from a given player (2 in a row on the same route that they required him to go run it again during individual time).
His position coach barked at him, “84…catch the damn football!” after the first drop. After the second, “do you even know how to catch?” After each drop, the player obviously got more and more dejected & frustrated. Finally, on third ball, he ran his route at about half-speed (with less than optimal focus on the mechanics off the line of scrimmage all the way to the top of his route), and caught the ball…though he displayed anything but confidence when the ball got to his hands.
Mind you; this was all from the same coach that had just told the players in his group that they were going to specifically focus on a new, particular & foreign way of performing the breaks in & out of the routes. I understand the player (who happens to be a Wide Receiver) is paid to make plays by catching the football, but if you want him to do so (catch the ball), I believe that there may be a better way to go about it than the route this coach took.
If someone asks me to play a piano, and I only know how to play an electric keyboard, will yelling at me, “tickle those damn ivories already!” allow me to play that piano with a greater ease and efficiency? Hell no. Maybe I am doing my damndest to learn the strokes of the keys but I just need someone to help me understand the finer nuances of the differences between my sweet Casio keyboard and this grand piano in order for me to take that next step in my development.
So instead of telling a player to “catch the damn ball” or “tackle that guy” maybe we could try a little reinforcement of a different sort…one that is actually going to take steps to allow that guy to develop a higher level of mastery as well as attain the result that we are searching for.
#2 – Attempts to make all guys look the same
There are 7 billion-plus people on the planet and each of them is different. The 1,696 that play in the League are not an exception to this rule. So, even if a guy plays the same position and has close to the same anthropometric features he is more different than he is similar to the guy standing next to him on the sideline.
Thus, let me shout it from the rooftop for all position coaches to hear: there is NOT one optimal method of execution that should be used as the only way to perform any given technical movement task at each position. Do you hear me?!
The exact execution of a given movement task can differ greatly and still be optimal per the respective individual and within the context of that task. It’s not about fitting every guy of your position group into the same box. It’s about finding the right execution for that guy to get the job done sufficiently & effectively given his individual circumstances!
I implore football coaches (like I haven’t done so before) to study ways to make that movement more optimal beyond the technical execution that you have always sought out. It’s not a stretch to simply say that many of the blanket statements that are made regarding the traditional execution of common position movement demands are incorrect for the vast majority of players.
Each position and the execution of the tasks he performs can be tweaked positively (and sometimes very easily) in order to immediately increase performance and decrease the risk of injury. And if you don’t know or you don’t understand how to do it, it’s OK to ask someone who specializes in that realm. In fact, I may just know someone pretty decent at it….
#3 – Coaching every guy the same way
To piggyback the point above, we must remember that player is more than a number on his back or on the depth chart. He’s a human being who has been influenced by countless factors that we can’t even begin to fully grasp. However, we cannot understand the display of something without understanding how it emerged. Unfortunately, the current state of the NFL doesn’t allow GMs and coaches to fully understand that guy (both his personality and who he is as a player). But we must do more than we are doing if we expect to get more out of him.
If you treat one guy in a certain way you will get one result. Treat another guy in the same way and it’s likely that you will get an entirely different result.
On top of that, these guys are adults for gosh sakes. Swearing at them and belittling them is not usually the answer. Yeah I know they are big tough men who get paid lots of money. But do you like getting cussed at by your boss? I didn’t think so.
Now, I am not suggesting we play favorites. But what I am saying is that you have to figure out the right buttons to push for the guy that will elicit the performance you’re searching for.
All in all, as a coach you are doing yourself, that athlete, and your entire team a huge disservice if you only coach one way at all times.
If the highest levels of performance are your goals, start by getting to know the player. Show ownership in who he is as an individual beyond what it means to your Win-Loss column. What does he want in this life and what approach & communication style is necessary for him to respond appropriately to help him achieve it. Once you do that, it’s almost certain that your Win-Loss column will see the positive benefits from it, as well.
#4 – Lack of applicable drills
You ever been to a practice and watch the true lack of intention that is taken by most players as they run through drill after drill? This is most apparent when watching Individual Position Group work. It’s almost embarrassing. Yet, the coach is also usually going through his own motions at this time as well. However, everyone is flabbergasted when the player isn’t able to execute with the most optimal display of moves when live team time rolls around or worse yet, on gameday.
I often watch the running backs group at any practice. Now, running backs are notorious for being a lazy bunch at times…more-so allowing the game to come to them based on their instincts when the other 21 guys get on the field.
However, you can’t help but wonder how much the applicability (or lack thereof rather) of the drills being performed contributes to this lackluster effort. Ask many players what a drill does for their performance and you often get, “I have no idea…I only do it because the coach tells me to.” Yes, that happens even at the NFL level.
If the drill isn’t specific to what you are asking of the players once the ball is snapped for real then it’s highly unlikely that they will give their full attention to the details that the drill requires of them. Instead, look for ways to help the player relate to the drill (whether it is conscious or subconscious) and make sure that the movement demands it requires for completion are optimizing that display you want to see later on. This is the only way we can expect on-field mastery.
On that same note, the drills you select need to match the level of qualification and mastery where the athlete currently resides; meaning, if it’s being done at the NFL level for a RB, it should include a certain degree of perception, anticipation, and reaction to a stimulus all while requiring the athlete to display the most optimal biomechanics to those changing conditions.
#5 – Punishing with exercise
When did this idea start? Yesterday I saw a team that was very apparently fighting a great deal of fatigue. Their hands were all on their hips. They were executing their common behaviors in a very slow, lethargic nature. They were making ‘mental’ mistakes filled with a lack of focus.
So…like any good, high-ranking Head Coach would do, the team’s Coach elected to make everyone get down and rattle off push-ups. This occurred much to the crowd’s enjoyment (of course because they don’t understand exercise and sports science). Once the entire team got up, he yelled out, “it’s time for everyone to do their job or you won’t like what I tell you to do next.”
If you are a coach, I would propose that the next time you witness a majority of your team behaving as I described above; a team fatigued that lacks focus…attempt to understand why it is that the team may be fatigued and lack focus…don’t just assume that they are lazy and punish them with a means that should be reserved for enhancement of the athlete.
It’s been said in many football circles that “fatigue makes cowards out of all of us.” I don’t disagree. But it’s not usually a conscious decision or necessarily anything controllable by the player. The involuntariness of his nervous system is now in control and it’s likely that you won’t like the result that is coming if you keep pushing it.
Watch your athletes; witness small changes to demeanor. Talk to them; ask them what they are feeling. And when they are overly run down and lacking performance, take an active role to find out what you can do to help. It’s likely that the answer is not, “get down and give me 20 push-ups!”
#6 – Non-Specific Warm-ups
It’s 2014. And you have 90 players on a roster. They do play the same game. However, they move very differently in order to play that game at the highest levels of their potential. So, how is it that you can pull all 90 guys together and do a ‘team stretch’?! You mean to tell me that both the wide receivers and the offensive lineman need to do high knees…or butt kicks…or a standing hamstring stretch?
Then, on top of that, most of the time the Strength & Conditioning Coach (who is typically the one in charge of this) is doing nothing but yelling out the drill name and then either counting or watching his stopwatch. No one is doing anything to impact the actual movement and the drills put together lack any semblance of anything but the coach going into his cookbook of warm-up activities and flipping through the pages.
Don’t understand what a purposeful, specific warm-up looks like? Take a peek at this blog post on the topic that I originally whipped together last camp:
There are a numerous additional examples I could’ve gone over that would have adequately displayed the ‘because we’ve always done it this way’ mentality that runs rampant across the NFL. However, I have only been to two practices so far this week! I am proposing that it’s time to take some action on these or any others that fit within this approach. If you can’t explain how (or if) what you are doing is positively impacting the performance of your players and your team, then it’s time to find an alternative because I can almost promise that there is a better way!