By: James Vint
Seminole High School
Back about 16 years ago I had completed my first season as an offensive coordinator. We had just had our first playoff birth in school history. We improved tremendously in every offensive category. We averaged nearly 280 yards a game on the ground and another 140 through the air. We improved our points per game from 22 to 38. However, we struggled against quality opponents. We were blanked in the playoffs by the number one team in the state.
While we made great strides that season, we weren’t there to be simply be competitive. We wanted to win. Many said we didn’t have the athletes to compete. While this may have been true, we weren’t going to use that as crutch. Our focus was on how we can make the most out of the talent we have. While searching for answers I had the opportunity to hear Nick Saban speak at a clinic. His clinic talk opened our eyes to what we were missing. We lacked a deliberate process on offense. We were not doing a good job of preparation. Don’t get me wrong, we worked hard an put the time in. But at the end of the day, we were not very consistent when we played top-tier teams.
We realized we were basically shooting from the hip. We didn’t have a specific plan. We were doing things as they came up, and realizing after the fact that we weren’t prepared for certain situations. We had the, “I wish we covered that,” moments. Also, we were focused on the big picture and not on the details. You see, if you focus on the seemingly insignificant details, you will give yourself a better chance to win regardless of talent. Our focus changed from solely being on the scoreboard, to the process. Our focus was not as much on our opponents as on ourselves. How could we maximize our talent? This was the question we asked each day. We needed to put a structure, or process in place for winning.
A process is often thought of as something mysterious. A process is simply a series of actions or steps taken deliberately in order to achieve a particular end. Whether you are coaching on the field, teaching in the classroom, or selling in the board room, you need to have a detailed process. You need to have a structure in place to get from point a to point b to point c.
Winning is more than simply an outcome. Winning is the result of following a detailed process the must be followed with grueling details. When I say this to some coaches they give me a blank stare. They think winning is simply the result of your players being better than your opponents. While good players are important, without a process in place to develop them into the BEST players they can be, they will be nothing more than talented players who lose games.
Recently Ron Roberts, head coach at Southeastern Louisiana, was interviewed for an article for X’s and O’s Labs. In the article Coach Roberts talked about how there are a lot of teams with good players that don’t win consistently. We all have seen those teams. They are loaded with talent but lose football games. Why does this happen? How can teams loaded with talent lose football games? Often it is because there is no plan in place for them to become successful. With no plan in place, these teams lack discipline. They make silly mistakes at inopportune times. Their players will attack the wrong gap. And when things go bad, they will fold up like a tent.
On the other side of this coin you have teams that consistently win, year-in and year-out. Often they do so with less talent. When coaches see these teams get off the bus they ask, “how are these guys 11-1?” We have all seen these teams. They consistently beat teams with superior talent. How does this happen? The answer is simple, they have a process to prepare to be their best.
If you look at at the most consistent programs at every level of football, you will find they share something in common. They all have a detailed process to develop their players. They have a vision and they can articulate that vision to everyone in the organization. They are passionate and enthusiastic about the vision. Enthusiasm is very contagious. When people are enthusiastic, others want to be a part of the excitement.
A big part of the process is building relationships with players. Great coaches about developing their student-athletes on and off the field. Because they care about their players, they are willing to set high standards for them on and off the field. They then hold them accountable to the standards. You see, great coaches understand the correlation between character off the field and winning on the field. If you allow your players to be undisciplined off the field, it will result in mistakes on the field. One coach once told me, “never let discipline get in the way of winning.” What he meant was, let your best players do whatever they want. This is precisely the reason some talented teams do not consistently win. If your best athletes are above the law, you will lose the rest of the team. What this coach should have said was, “don’t let a lack of discipline get in the way of winning.” When players are not held accountable for their actions, they are not going to help your team be successful. They are going to fold up the tent when things get tough. If you hold them accountable early, you will not have big problems later.
The third factor great coaches understand is that our job is to push our players to reach heights they never thought possible. This requires two things. First, setting a very high standard of performance. Second, it requires holding players accountable to this standard without exception. That is the part that gets many coaches. It’s the without exception part. You see, that is what great coaches do. They are able to maximize the talent of their players. This does not happen by accident. This happens because they have a detailed process for helping their players reach new heights.
Where does this process start?
First, you have to begin with a vision. As Stephen Covey says, “begin with the end in mind.” Where do you want to go? What is your desired outcome? Once you build your vision you need to articulate it to everyone in your program. Then, need to develop a plan to achieve your vision. A vision without a plan is just a dream. It isn’t going to happen.
From there we build our process. We are going to start with a road map to our ultimate goal. We are going to break the year down into 5 parts: Post-Season Evaluations, Winter Strength and Conditioning, Spring Football, Summer Strength and Conditioning, and Fall Camp. We want to map the year during the Post-Season Evaluation period. We will adjust the calendar as the year goes. To build the calendar we make a list of all of the most important priorities for each aspect of our program.
One example of this was on offense. We made a list of everything we wanted to install in the spring. From there, we broke down the list even further by priority. What was most important? What did we need to make sure we installed? What situations did we need to work? From here we built our install schedule, coordinating with the defensive staff. Once we had our install schedule built we would begin to script practice. This was done well in advance of spring football. It allowed us to tweak and adjust as needed. Everything we did was with specific intent. We didn’t want to do anything that didn’t directly help us to reach our end goal.
Why would we complete our spring football schedule three months in advance? When you are writing your practice schedule as you go, you are less able to make adjustments. I found we were much more efficient when we were better prepared. Each of our coaches were able to then build a drill menu based on the concepts we were teaching and the skills we needed to improve. We had three months to make adjustments and tweak our practice schedule. It is much easier to deal with adversity when we already had a plan in place.
As we went through spring practice we were able to make any daily changes or adjustments necessary. If we felt like we needed to review something we would make the change. We used this same principle for developing our process to help build strength and athleticism in our players. For example, we felt our players lacked in hip flexibility. We did some research and adjusted our strength and conditioning program to meet this need. We were able to build what we called a “pre-phase” into our training. This pre-phase focused on developing hip flexibility and our strength in the core. Again, we built our schedule in advance and spent six weeks on our pre-phase. We focused on the details that we previously overlooked. The results were noticeable and measurable.
We found the more we planned in advance, the better we were able to shift on the fly when we needed. In each area of our program we took the same approach. What do we want to achieve? What is most important? Where do we want to go? Once we have priorities and goals established, we would build our series of steps (process) to accomplish our goals.
Having a specific, detailed process allows you to be more prepared. Your players will be more consistent in their performance, which will translate into success on and off the field. If you don’t have a process and structure in place, you are not going to be as well prepared. You are not going to have everyone rowing the boat in the same direction. However, if you take the time to prepare, and you focus on seemingly insignificant details, you will maximize your success. After all, if you focus on what you don’t have you will never be successful. If you focus on maximizing the talent you do have, and you have a structure and a process, you will always get the most out of your kids.
What did it do for us? We took a school that had never been to the playoffs, and in fact, had never had a winning season, and advanced to the quarterfinals four times in six years. We were able to improve each year continually increasing our offensive production. We were very consistent year in and year out, regardless of our talent level.