As I talk from coaches time to time, I often ask them about ideas and plans for training their team in leadership, character development, and other important factors that have little to do with scheme.
In doing so, I have become a big believer in walking a team through a 'mental mindset'. If we can discuss these situations together BEFORE we get into the thick of the battle... it may help us keep us in the best competitive attitude for the entire game.
Though this post is geared toward football.. a lot of this transcends to other team sports.
My first category is the "Mindset of Each Week"- and this is the one that coaches squirm over. The 'conventional wisdom' or 'word on the street' can influence a team before the first meeting or practice of the week ever takes place - the so called ‘rat poison’ that Coach Nick Saban coined in 2017. The old-school approach to this is to build up the opponent each week to motivate your team. I think a better approach is to address the 'conventional wisdom' head on- because each scenario requires a true competitor to give maximum effort and attention each week.
Games Where You are 'Favored' by a Lot- this is the scenario that all coaches hate. I believe it is ok to acknowledge that it is the 'message' they will hear all week and how dangerous and foolish it is to buy into that message. So address it- don't speak of the other team much and work hard. Now here is my BEST advice here. No matter how hard you try... you are going to have a game where your team did not listen to you and they are playing like crud and you come in at halftime with a game that is closer than it ever should be. You will be tempted to do the biggest "I told you so" and put on a temper tantrum performance like no other. But if you are the better team, the only way you will lose is to eventually kill yourself. Wait and do the I told you so AFTER the game and preferably not until the next team meeting at the beginning of next week. Don't waste your halftime screaming... instead, give them a plan to win it in the 2nd half and teach them to drop a bad half. Even a win by 1 point is still a win... an ugly win is a win-
Games Where You are Favored or a Toss-UP- I don't mind these- learn to embrace these as a competitor- I believe it is OK to treat it realistically, but avoid the pitfall of what others/media might think. Again, part of training this current generation is to keep them positive if the early part of the game doesn't go well. Again, talk about these things during the summer and teach your team how to not get lulled into thinking that they can just show up and win a game.
Games Where You are a Big Underdog. I don't know why I have excelled in these over the years, but part of it is that I always have had a plan to win and found a way to sell my teams on it. I only remember 1 time in all of my years coaching that I did not handle this well and that was showing doubt to my coaches at halftime one game where we were man handled. The biggest challenge in these games is to admit that the other team is good, but NEVER allow yourself to build them up too good. Show your team a route to win it. And the bottom line is to always fight to the very last second.
My Next Category is "TYPES OF GAMES" I believe again that you can do a lot of this teaching in the summer and pre-season. Might be good to show examples of these types of games using college or pro cut-ups.
Early momentum or early difficulty: Talk about not easing up with an early or easy lead and not giving up with an early deficit.
Sloppy Slugfest: Sometimes games ARE ugly- teach the mindset to 'just win'. I used to get a big laugh when I talked about how we 'shot ourselves in the foot, then stabbed ourselves in the head, then cut off our legs... and then bandaged it all up and found a way to win"
Mistakes: This is a big one. Talk to your guys about screaming at a teammate who makes a mistake. If he isn't hustling or needs an attitude adjustment, that's one thing. But a hustling error isn't worth a chewing. Teach them how to support one another in that. Now, coaches may choose to 'intensely correct' but again make sure they know their player and what type of motivation is good.
Down by more than 1 score/ or more: Teach your team how to handle that. I used to ask our guys to use a hand signal and point to their eyes which was an indication that we had our eyes up and still confident. Sometimes I would stop a film in the 3rd quarter of a previous game and ask, 'right here, how many of us still believed we could win?". If it is a halftime deficit, remind the guys to grind away and chip away- you need to be patient in a comeback. As coaches, you have to be patient as well, becoming a riverboat gambler may actually put the game out of reach. Also, don't start going for two too soon.
Down by a ton: I encourage every coach to teach your team how to keep their reputation and class when the game is over before it is over. Remind them that they can lose a lot more than a game if they decide to quit or begin plying like thugs, throwing helmets... competitors need to know that sometimes you get beat, but you don't have to respond like a loser.
Defensive showcase: Some games will be a 6-3 or 7-6 or 3-0 game. Teach your guys how to embrace that. Try to keep the offense engaged and confident. teach the value of field position.
Offensive showcase: Some games are just 'last team with the ball'. Teach your guys to embrace that. Keep your defense encouraged- keep preaching 1 stop or 1 turnover can win it for us. Fight even harder in the red zone- don't let explosive plays become scoring plays.
Weather impacted: I have written on this before. Never complain.. both teams have the same conditions... don't adjust normal game plan too soon.
Crowd Noise/ Band Noise: Explain how to handle it - have helps built into your system- discuss how to embrace it without causing additional problems
Injury shake-up: Discuss how to rally together as a team but stay focused on the game. Players AND coaches.
Bad Official's Call: Discuss how getting angry at an official can cause you to lose focus. Let only the head coach bark at the official. Don't develop a losers mindset to use officiating as an excuse.
Overtime: Tell your guys that we LOVE an opportunity to win an OT game. Those are the wins you remember. Discuss how we call overtime situations.
Pressure Packed: Don't get too caught up in the stakes, just play it one play at a time. You have rehearsed this and you can do it as a team.
Again, I think you can spread this out during pre-season and discuss BEFORE you encounter.
Bottom line is the 'don't get wrapped up in the storyline/message/ outside talk/ scoreboard - just play the game- embrace the competition of winning each play- and fight to the finish.
Situations a Lot of teams don’t handle well
Finally, here are some game situations I think coaches need to re-think
- Sky kicks and kick-offs into a big wind
- a defensive 3rd and long/ 4th and long/ or hail mary- blitz the short side corner
- Kick-off with a 15 yard penalty help- use a deep squib or onside.
- Team expecting an onside but have time and time-outs- corner squib
- 4th and short- be careful on defense
- practice pinning teams inside the 10 or 5 (FG punt)
- 2 min drill/ 4 min drill
- red zone mindset vs spread- bend but don’t break
- resting players is an art
Have you ever considered how many factors work against the dynamics needed for team success?
These factors are external AND internal.
And, the foundational principles required for team success are found primarily in traditional values that are being lost in our secular society.
THE GOLD STANDARD:
Let me begin by saying that there is no such thing as a perfect team and I have NEVER watched a perfect football game. It's funny how mistakes that can cost you from winning are often made in games you win- it's just that a team overcame those mistakes.
But the reality of never achieving perfection is no excuse from an intentional and passionate pursuit of perfection.
A Championship Team:
Is made up of individuals who are pursuing an ideal of a TEAM- where group success will be valued higher than individual success. But group success is enhanced by individuals giving their individual energy and talents with everything they have.
TRANSCENDENT VIRTUES OF ALL CHAMPIONSHIP TEAMS:
TRUST/ A JOURNEY WITH A DESTINATION and a BROTHERHOOD
FAITH IS TRUST- AND TRUST IS A FRAGILE FUEL THAT GROWS IN A POSITIVE ENVIRONMENT- HONESTY/INTEGRITY/ AND A POSITIVE ATTITUDE- OPTIMISM
HOPE IS WHAT YOU ARE PURSUING- EVEN IF THE GOAL IS NOT SEEN- TRUST FUELS THE INDIVIDUAL TO NEVER LOSE THAT DESTINATION- IT GIVES POWER TO THE JOURNEY
LOVE IS THE HIGHEST TEAM VIRTUE- IT IS NOT NATURAL- AND REQUIRES SELFLESSNESS AND VULNERABILITY
ANY COMPETITOR UNDERSTANDS THAT HONEST PUSHBACK AND DISCIPLINED CORRECTION IS NEEDED TO GROW. A COACH WHO TAKES TIME TO PUSH YOU SHOWS THAT HE CARES FOR YOU. DON'T MAKE HIM THE ENEMY, LEARN TO BE CHISELED AND MOLDED...
I tip my hat to ALL coaches this day and age... social media, rapid spread of opinion, a soft and selfish culture... keep fighting the good fight! You are making a difference!