Adversity

My first year of coaching a few years ago was tougher than I expected. We have been getting drilled, and didn’t have a lot of depth or resources. The kids we had were mostly underclassmen. But it is tough keeping them going week after week, and even though they haven’t one a game in several years, the community is not being patient. Don't know how much history you know, but every American learns about Valley Forge, and it would help you to know about it, too. There are lessons in it for every football coach, because at Valley Forge, George Washington had a lot more on the line than turning around a football program or keeping his job.


A few miles outside of Philadelphia, Washington was at his absolute lowest - he was defeated by the British at Germantown and many of his troops deserted to go back home and harvest their crops. Those who remained were freezing their tails off with little or no shelter to keep them out of the elements . They got no help from the Continental Congress, and I know we can all relate to that. They also had no sympathy from the nearby farmers, who wouldn't accept the Americans' funny money and wouldn't sell them food on credit, but were only too happy to sell their produce to the British.


The British, meanwhile, were partying and having a great time with the ladies of Philadelphia (the ladies like winners - it's always been that way), while Washington's men were dying of smallpox, starvation and frostbite, walking around in the snow with rags wrapped around their feet because they'd boiled their boots and eaten the leather. Of the 11,000 men he started out with, more than 3,000 died. Many more deserted. But miraculously, when spring came, they were ready to fight. A German, Baron von Steuben, had drilled the healthy ones and whipped them into a unit. And, most important of all, Washington knew that the men who had made it through that long, cruel winter at Valley Forge with him were going to be with him for the long pull.


They were a lean, mean fighting' machine - thanks, in large part, to Washington's leadership. If it weren't for him and the way he kept those men focused on the main goal, we'd all be interrupting our cricket matches for tea and scones, and playing a different type of "football" altogether on something called a "pitch." Not to make any references to your players, but Washington once made a great statement on the importance of leadership- "A pack of jackasses led by a lion will defeat a pack of lions led by a jackass." This may be your winter at Valley Forge. We are in our first year of trying to turn around a perennial loser, and we are struggling with the offense. And the defense. And we have a losing attitude. Our younger kids are doing fine, but the varsity is struggling. We have yet to win. When you take over a losing program, you have to resign yourself to the idea that things are going to take time, because there are just so doggone many things wrong and even if you fix one of those things it's not usually enough to get things turned around. You buy a beat-up old house and you fix the plumbing, but there's still so much else to be done that nobody even notices. I have usually found - having gone through a few such situations, and going through one right now - that it is important that you to be the one to retain his perspective - to constantly be on the lookout for signs of improvement, however small ; to believe as a staff that you are making improvement, and to you keep looking for ways to show the kids where they are getting better doing the things that you are teaching them.


Forget about how ready the kids say they are, how much they say they want to win. It is almost certain, no matter how much bluff and bluster you hear from them, that deep-down, they think of themselves as losers and believe in their hearts, going into a game, that something bad is going to happen to them. (I tell our kids before every game, "something bad is going to happen to you tonight." The point is that football games - just like life - are chock full of unpleasant surprises, but they're only killers if we let them be. Often, what separates winners from losers is how they react to adversity.) I also know that it is very rare in a turnaround situation for things to happen quickly. Rather than miracles, it takes drudgery, hard work to eliminate the things that beat you - turnovers, foolish penalties, missed assignments, big plays by opponents, poor tackling, mistakes in the kicking game. And don't ever feel locked into the personnel situation - it is perfectly natural for you still to be making personnel changes. It's possible, in a new program with a new offense, for you to be making such changes right down to the final game. I am always looking for a way to do something better.


Fortunately, a relatively simple, easy-to-learn offensive system can make this possible. And whatever offense you are now running, assuming that you had given it the amount of thought and research it requires, I would urge great caution in making any drastic change in the system. That's because of the way it would be perceived by the kids - "the coaches are already panicking. " Chances are, if they've been losing a while, they've seen vacillating leadership before. I think it can give kids the idea that turning things around is the coaches' job, and not theirs. You certainly don't want the kids to get the idea that you are looking for a miracle cure, because in football, there is no such thing. What these kids need, I think, is clear and unequivocal signals from the staff that (1) it knows what it is teaching and (2) believes completely in the soundness of what it is teaching and (3) isn't going to accept anything less than their best. A staff that says, "


This isn't going away. You can't make it go away. You might just as well make up your minds to run it correctly, because the same plays you're running now, you're going to be running the last week of the season, and next year, too." Remember Bill McCartney's great quote - "you have to convince the kids that the reason a play failed was that they failed to execute."


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