elitefts™ Sunday edition

3 Mistakes Made by High School Football Head Coaches

I've been around football for practically my entire life, and most of that has centered around high school football – three years on varsity as a player, and over 10 years as a coach. I've never been a head coach, which is something that works two ways. I can't say I've ever walked in a head coach's shoes, the "final pressure" hasn't ever been directly on my shoulders, and I've never been responsible for making the final decisions about major stuff. I understand that.

The other side of the coin, however, is that I had the chance to closely observe, without all that pressure on my head, a number of head coaches in action. I've been through some shit seasons, and I've been through some championship seasons, and I think I have a good idea of the mistakes head coaches make with regard to meddling (I hate using such a loaded word, but that's what it is) with the physical readiness of their teams.

Mistake No. 3

They don't know how to delegate, and they don't allow the Strength and Conditioning (S/C) coach to simply do his job.

I don't know if this is the biggest mistake, because I haven't figured out what the next four mistakes are yet, but this is one I always had a problem with. Most head coaches at least played the game , which helps in terms of tactical and technical coaching, but it hinders them in terms of knowing what to do with the strength program. I've said this before, but it's the, "That's the way I did it when I played," dilemma. This is especially true if your head coach had a successful playing career. Hang cleans 'til you puke were good enough for him, so now it's time to pass it down and make his team do the same thing.

So, as the S/C coach, you'll be up on all of the latest information, you'll meet with other S/C coaches, and you'll painstakingly make a plan to help your kids get better – all based on other plans that are proven to get kids better, and your head coach will walk into the weight room, stop the music, and demand that everyone pick up a bar and start doing hang cleans.

If you're a head coach, don't do this. If you're going to do this, don't hire a strength coach. Yes, if he's working with your athletes, he damned well better present his program to you beforehand and justify his rationale for everything he's doing, but once he's done so, and once you've agreed to give it a chance, don't walk into the weight room after your first loss and decide to change the whole program around because your drill sergeant high school coach did things a different way. Learn to delegate. Let your assistants do the jobs you hired them to do, and focus on the bigger picture – managing your team.

I see this season after season, but I can say with certainty that the head coach who gets involved with programming the strength and conditioning for his team after a dedicated strength coach has already started the process is doomed to a losing season. It happens every time.

Mistake No. 2

Allowing too many chefs to spoil the broth.

This, once again, falls into the "everybody's an expert" category where everyone has "input" into the job of the strength coach. On any staff, no job is completely delegated. The defensive coordinator is going to have some input into the linebackers coach's job, and the head coach is going to have some input into the DC's job. Depending on the program, this input is either a lot or a little, but it happens everywhere. And depending on your rank in the staff's chain of command, you'll be stepping on some toes if you're commenting on what drills a coach is running in practice, etc. It still happens, though.

When you're a strength coach, however, all of this is amplified. In all probability, the defensive coordinator knows a LOT more about coaching linebackers than he does about putting together strength and conditioning programs. He will, however, offer the same level of input when things start going sour–- and that goes for every assistant on the staff.

You'll agree to a bunch of shit in camp, you'll set up an intelligent program the way you think it should be, but then after your first loss, you can be damn sure your defensive back's coach is talking to your head coach about you, telling him the reason you lost is because the kids haven't been doing hang cleans.

And if you're REALLY in a shit situation, you'll have a mutiny on your hands, where some coach will convince your kids you have no idea what you're doing and work with them "privately." Meanwhile, he won't tell you he's doing this, the kid won't tell you he's doing this, and now he's doing extra work with some dude who has no idea how to take into account the stresses the kid is already under.

And then, when you find out about it and tell the head coach, his philosophy on the whole thing is, "You can never do enough work."

This has never failed to piss me off as a coach. When you're hired to put together a program to get the kids stronger, faster, and better conditioned, and you have to submit whatever you're doing to a panel of other coaches who have no idea what they're doing...and you can guarantee there will be at least two or three other guys on the staff that need to put their "stamp" on whatever you're doing. You can have James Smith and Buddy Morris come in and give a three hour presentation on "organisms" and "PASM" and sing the Soviet national anthem, and some slap dick history teacher coach will STILL come out and say the program sucks because you're not doing enough seated calf raises.

Reference my butt kick example I always use, where one of the JV coaches started flipping out about the pre-practice and pre-game warm-up I designed because it didn't have butt kicks in it. I thought I was in the f-ing Twilight Zone.

My best advice having sat through this shit for more than 10 years? Tell your positional coaches to leave the strength coach the f--k alone. And if you have assistants who don't currently lift weights or train and are completely out of shape? They shouldn't be going within 100 feet of a kid who's lifting or running.

Mistake No. 1

Confusing purposes of practice drills.

Football players need specific things out of drills at certain points of each individual practice, at certain points of the week, and at certain points of the season. As anyone who played the sport knows, a coach can turn virtually any football-specific drill into a nightmarish puke festival where the only thing going on is some coach's half-assed version of "conditioning."

The problem I see comes when coaches don't understand the purposes of their drills, and an example of this comes every summer in camp. The idea in training camp is to get as much done as possible over a set period of time. You're essentially trying to cram five pounds of shit into a two pound bag in every practice, hoping enough will get in to get the kids ready for their first game.

What you also probably know is that if you're doing certain drills to enhance a player's speed, power, or game skill, the idea is to go through each evolution at full or near-full recovery. That won't always happen, but if we're saying, "These are drills we're doing for speed," then that's the way you have to run them, because full recovery, with relatively long rest periods, are essential to running drills for speed – whether they're sprints, plyos, jumps, reactive drills, or whatever else you might want to do.

Tons of coaches don't understand this concept, and when they come over to your station during camp and see kids standing around between drills, their first instinct is to assume the kids aren't working and the whole thing morphs into some bizarre, medieval up-down convention where everything you planned to get out of this particular drill period goes out the window. If I had a nickel for every time I saw this happen, I wouldn't have to work again.

Without going into the scientific explanation for this shit (and if I did, it would be pretty funny), when I have my receivers and defensive backs lining up for one-on-one drills, I want them going full speed because I need them to be able to master certain skills. I need my receivers to make their releases as fast and explosive as they can be. I need my defensive backs to learn their breaks, backpedals, etc, etc, as fast as they possibly can. Sure, there's a time and place for doing this shit when you're tired, but coaches, do we really need to get the kids outright exhausted from the get-go by using these football-specific periods to make them throw up?

Best advice? Go through every drill you do in practice. On your schedule, write a subheading that indicates the purpose of the drill. If the purpose of a particular drill is to "make the little f---ers puke," then make the little f---ers puke. But don't make the little f---ers puke if that subheading says, "Teach offensive line how to kick slide."