Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Mental Mindsets and Football- Offseason Challenges

Now that high school and college football is over and we begin to prepare to watch what should be exciting playoff games of NFL football, I wanted to write some thoughts about areas we can all continue to press in on and develop as coaches.

As I spend time with other coaches and dive into the amazing content available online, I think the schemes we use today in the game are as complex and diverse as in any time in the history of the game.

No doubt football is a scheme game- but scheme alone can not consistently win games. And I think a scheme is only as good as the players ability to execute it. It doesn't matter how much I know as a coach, what can my players realistically do with explosive effort and confidence?

I am also continuously challenged to see if I can explore how the new generation of players I coach think, learn, see, interpret, interact, and adapt. This is a generation of smart phones and social media. These students have more screen time than reading time. 

I also think we can explore ways of preparing them for situations BEFORE we encounter them as a team. Can we find time and communication to process these situations and pre-dispose them to respond in the best way possible as competitors?

Mindset of Each Week

As much as I admire the process that Coach Saban has brought and the ability to prepare and play each play without expectations of the eventual outcome, even he admits that the preparation for that type of play can be influenced by rat poison, and we even learned this season about the 'yummy' rat poison. So there is a chance to address the climate of a week of preparation be exploring the team dynamics of these types of weeks.

Types of Weeks
  • Games Where You are Favored by a Lot
  • Games Where You are Favored
  • Games that are a Toss Up
  • Games Where You are a Big Underdog
It isn't enough to say 'control what you can control, don't read the social media chatter, don't listen to the talk in the hallways, etc. Instead talk about the reality of the prognosticators, how it affects teams, how it impacts 'inner talk ' and discuss strategies to preparing well and being ready to compete at the opening kickoff.

Once the game gets going, all of the 'talk' about the game is now over and the flow of each game takes on its own narrative. But we can also prepare teams on how to respond to each and every game flow by mentally rehearsing those moments and how to best respond as competitors on a team and the unique role each participant plays to create the best opportunity to win. We need to talk about these situations BEFORE the storm arrives.

Types of Games
  • Early momentum or early difficulty
  • Sloppy Slugfest
  • Mistakes-
  • Up easy early
  • Down by more than 1 score
  • Down by a lot
  • Defensive showcase
  • Offensive showcase
  • Weather impacted
  • Crowd noise
  • Injury shake-up
  • Big Hole but digging out
  • Overtime
  • Pressure Packed Do or Die Plays
Discussing these things, and not all at once can create mindsets to keep teams in the best mental condition to win.


One thing I will do with my players from time to time is to stop the film at some point in a game and ask questions: What were we thinking? How did we feel? What were we saying to one another? What was our body language like? Did we BELIEVE? If you had it to do over, what would you do differently? Did you encounter this in practice? Can this help you prepare differently in the future?


These types of mental rehearsals should also take place among coaching staffs. Over the years I have made a list of game situations that we don't handle well because they are rare and sometimes hard to process because of  the speed of the moment.

Situations a Lot of Teams Don’t Handle Well

Sky kicks- If you study teams that like to sky kick, you can steal a big return against them if you are willing to work on it. 

Kick-offs into a big wind- prepare your team for what I call the big drop.... these kicks are often muffed

Kick-off with a 15 yard penalty help- a lot of coaches just bang it out of the back of the end zone. These are great opportunities to squib kick or sky kick or even do a surprise onside. 

Team Expecting a Onside Kick but you have time and time-outs- Against most hands teams, a kick-off team can squib or corner kick deep and rally down to pin the other team deep. Then you can use timeouts and force a punt and may be in better shape to score. 

4th and short- on defense, be careful about using your all out goal line calls to stop a 4th and short in the regular field. I have seen teams break out into a long TD without back end run support.

Pinning teams inside the 10 or 5- in high school football, you ought to consider experimenting with your field goal team and angle kicking out of bounds. It is a scrimmage kick and you can coffin corner better with your FG unit.

Overtime and 2 point plays- do our players know what we believe in?

2 minute and 4 minute situations- it's funny how much we talk about these situations... but do we really practice them live with clocks and real game situations?

Red zone mindset, especially versus spread teams- I think coaches should continue to preach a need to dig in deep as the field shrinks. A lot of teams move well from 20 to 20, but spread teams have a hard time scoring TD's if the defense knows how to use the smaller field to play in less space. A lot of spread teams have no answers for corner and safety blitzes when the top of the defense is no longer a problem.

Resting players is an art- I have always suggested we study basketball coaches and how they steal time for a good player to reserve energy. Sometimes we think running them on and off is a help, but running on and off the field can wear out a lineman if you aren't careful. I have always cringed when I see a big defensive lineman run around and celebrate a big sack in the 1st quarter of a hot early season game. Would it serve him better to save that energy?

Finally, exploring the mysterious realm of human nature and the human heart.

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.

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.

As we deal with the dynamics of the reams we coach, we HAVE to spend time on the "inner man' the place where fear, anxiety, and doubt war against the desire to fight and win. 

We have to spend time (without being boring) working with our players the transcendent virtues of championship teams.

We have to take time and find creative ways to teach trust, brotherhood, integrity, encouragement, perseverance, relentless optimism, hope, forgiveness.

For the average football player, talking about these issues in a way that is more than cliche' is almost impossible. It means learning to honestly communicate and learn vulnerability.

Without a commitment to these shared values, a team can never really become a team. 

Take time this off season to think through HOW we can accomplish these things in a way that is creative, fun, and more than ritual. It could be the missing piece of your team and the ultimate winning edge.

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