“The devil is in the details, and everything we do in the military is a detail.”
“For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost, For the want of a shoe, the horse was lost, For the want of a horse, the rider was lost, For the want of a rider, the battle was lost, For the want of a battle, the kingdom was lost, And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” ― Benjamin Franklin
If you are taking over a program that has underachieved there are undoubtedly several areas you must address, but one of them you must have the stamina to tackle is the EVERYTHING MATTERS mindset.
‘For the Want of a Nail’ resonates with me because it is a warning about the importance of little things and is told in hindsight. People who do not pay attention to detail oftentimes are the ones who look back on a situation and think, ‘if only we would have nipped that in the bud’ or ‘I should have known that behavior was going to get worse.’
Everything matters could be an entire book for me. I learned from great coaches as a player and as an assistant that ‘attention to detail’ is an edge. In this chapter, we will look at how ‘Everything Matters’ has been emphasized by some legendary coaches and how we stress it every day at North Forney.
I have been guilty of going too fast (I do love repetitions) and not making sure everyone is on the same page with a scheme (O, D, or kicking game) but when it comes to discipline not much gets past me. I’ve had more than one assistant tell me, “I don’t think about checking for earrings,” or “I got busy and didn’t notice my position player was wearing the wrong undershirt” (insert about anything there). I still don’t understand when
everyone doesn’t see everything. It must be a priority. Everyone is different and I’m sure many of you reading this don’t worry about what undershirt your guys wear in a game but for me, it represents much more than a shirt. If you can’t get your guys to wear the same thing then you are getting them to think, speak and act the same either.
“THE SECRET TO SUCCESS IS FOUND IN OUR DAILY AGENDA. WHATEVER YOU INVEST IN COMPOUNDS OVER TIME LIKE INTEREST.” TAG SHORT
100% is EASY, BUT 99% IS TOUGH
What did we need to focus on the most to get them going in our direction? The little things had to be addressed daily. Nothing could be viewed as minor because it’s all major when you’re finding who can live without it and who can’t.
What do discipline and acting right in the classroom have to do with tucking their shirt in during workouts? EVERYTHING. Everything you ask them to do is important. The key to core values is emphasizing them daily, and the key to attention to detail is demanding 100% daily. We have the greatest military in the world because nothing is enforced one day and not the next. None of us would want to find out who we can count on after we’re assigned to be in a foxhole with them. I will always do my best to determine who is ‘all in’ before we go to battle with them.
Back to ‘For the Want of a Nail.’ The battle that was lost was the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. King Richard III (the last English king killed in battle) was left stranded and horseless. He was defeated and ultimately killed, all because of a faulty horseshoe nail. William Shakespeare writes in his epic play “Richard III,” it was alleged he was thrown from his horse in battle because the blacksmith put one too few nails into the horse’s shoe.
A PENNY IN THE FUSE BOX AND THE COLOR OF THE CARPET
‘Back in the day,’ homes had fuse boxes instead of the circuit breaker panels we have now. When a fuse burned out, it was protecting us from the risk of a house fire because each circuit is designed for a certain amount of current. The problem with this system was higher current created more heat and more heat could start a fire. So, they put fuses in, that were designed to burn out before the wire would get hot enough to be dangerous.
One of my favorite phrases is everything is ‘good and bad’ and this is certainly the case because a good solution for a burned-out fuse was to put a penny in its place until you could go to the hardware store and replace it with an actual fuse. The problem was all too often people would forget they put the penny in the fuse box and leave it long term instead of going to the hardware store the next day and putting in a correct fuse. Back then, pennies were made of actual copper and they would keep the ‘juice’ flowing at all times. When an overloaded circuit became overheated there was nothing to stop the heat from continuing to rise and eventually start a fire. An untold number of house fires were started before modern circuit panels replaced them.
Many times, coaches think something is not that big of a deal and either don’t want to deal with it or believe it will go away. We did not stick pennies in the fuse box at North. I read this analogy a few months ago in an article about the fall of Enron. The books were ‘cooked’ years before the public knew about the accounting issues. They kept finding ways to put Band-Aids on the problems and eventually it caught up to them. We do not win every game just like everyone reading this book does not, but everyone can do the extra, go to the proverbial hardware store, and address issues head-on before they become a crisis we could have avoided.
I had a pastor once tell me that churches split all over the world because church members do not agree on minor things that should not matter, like the color of the carpet. He used the analogy of a closed fist and an open hand on things churches should be focused on. The color of the carpet is an open hand item. Not that you can’t have an opinion but certainly not a big enough deal to cause a rift. If the music minister is wearing jeans or a suit is (for me) an open hand issue. Jesus Christ being the son of God and dying for our sins is a closed-fisted belief that all members of our church should agree on. There can’t be a gray area on this for a Christian-based church.
What leaders of any organization have to do is determine what is open hand or close-fisted for them. As you can gather, for me most things are closed-fisted in our program, especially anything that relates to discipline. Our creed is our core values defined and we will live them daily. All we have to ask ourselves is ‘does this represent our values or are we sticking a penny in a fuse box and letting something slide that will bite us later?’
“If anything matters then everything matters.” William Young
WAYS WE LIVE ‘EVERYTHING MATTERS’ AT NORTH
You will get what you emphasize on a daily basis from your team. Daily may not be a strong enough description. I am continually going to fight the good fight to not stick a penny in a fuse box when it comes to discipline and attention to detail. I polled our players and coaches while writing this chapter of what they believe are ‘everything matters’ standards for us and things we demand constantly. There were lots of great answers of things we stress, like touching the line but not on it described in Chapter 1 but here are what they responded as closed-fist beliefs we use daily that help us achieve our culture of discipline and everything matters.
Finish through the line – I have an out of body experience when someone does not finish a drill at full speed. If I could only choose one thing on this list it would be ‘finish.’ As coaches, we must set up our drills so there is a finish line and not some gray area of when an athlete can stop performing. A finish line is a physical line on a field or a cone. A whistle can also be a definitive end to an activity. I’ve seen tackling drills where a defender will execute the technique and then stop when he feels he has gone far enough. This is something I stress to all my new coaches — when we tackle, they are to run their feet until they hear a whistle! Coaches must stand where they can see the finish line. The beginning of the drill is important but not as much as the finish. We make sure we don’t stand where they start and focus only there. Stand in the middle or towards the back of the drill and make sure you can see the burst through the line. If you allow an athlete to slow down before the finish, you’re engraining in him/her a bad habit. When we do agility drills at North Forney, I’m prowling around looking at one thing – FINISH. On the rare occasion ‘finish’ doesn’t happen to our standard, it will be addressed every time.
Red shirt system – In the first Culture Defeats Strategy I described our ‘?’ shirt system and how we have our guys earn their way into the Elite locker room in the offseason. This past year, we added another shirt to our system – the red shirt for guys who have any type of discipline issue in the classroom. If any coach hears from a teacher that ‘Johnny’ needs to improve his attitude, he is given a 3x red shirt (doesn’t matter how small he is because we want him to not enjoy wearing the shirt) and will wear it until the teacher tells us things have improved. We also have a count up clock we reset every time an athlete has to ‘wear red.’ What you measure you can improve. The clock is where we have our leadership academy/team meetings so all can see us take it back to zero and start the count up again. This season we will implement a reward, probably some type of food for the team, every time the clock hits 30 days without a red shirt issue.
The ‘Pit of Misery’ – in addition to our system of wearing a red shirt to make our guys feel mentally uncomfortable we ensure they are also physically uncomfortable when they have a discipline issue with a teacher or administrator, late to workout (we are a morning practice team) or have an unexcused absence. The ‘price of irresponsibility’ has to be paid and we collect every day. I will always have a coach who will take care of our discipline issues in the same place and at the same time. Our assistant coaches help make sure those on the list go to the pit. I will also discuss who is ‘on the list’ in front of the team during our daily Leadership Academy team meetings (we will discuss in detail in Chapter 3). I do not mandate the exact ways for our ‘tough love’ coach to enforce our standard in the pit. I just tell him to make sure it is safe, but uncomfortable. Some of the things we have done in the past are plate pushes (45 lb. plate pushed on the turf with both hands), lunges with a plate overhead, and bear-crawls, etc. I’m sure most of you understand the types of drills I’m referring to. We attempt to use activities that will benefit our guys in some way by adding strength or endurance. We used to jog a mile for an unexcused absence but we decided this only trains slow twitch muscle fibers so we no longer have them run for distance as a punishment for the ‘price of irresponsibility.’
Fist-to-Chin – University of Minnesota head coach PJ Fleck uses the phrase, “the ball is the program.” He uses this stat to back it up; since 1950, 78% of all college and professional football games have been won by the team who is +1 or more in the turnover ratio. In any sport, more games are lost than won. We are going to do everything we can to take care of the ball. The term we used to use was, ‘high and tight,’ referring to the position of the football when we carry it. Now we use ‘fist to chin.’ This is a more concrete term with no gray area. We are always striving for clarity and ‘fist to chin’ achieves it. How often do we remind our guys to be ‘fist to chin?’ All The Time. Every time a receiver catches a ball and is jogging back to get in line he must be ‘fist to chin.’ We don’t allow them to throw the ball back but they must jog it back with correct ball position and hand it to the coach or injured player who is snapping the ball. Now the drill is not only teaching our guys how to run the route but reinforcing how to protect it after the catch.
‘Count On Me’ Priorities and what constitutes an excused or unexcused absence –. One of the best systems we use are our ‘Priorities’ system for absences. If one of our players is not present, it certainly matters. For years I thought I had a pretty good way to communicate the difference in excused and unexcused, but I have been using this for a few years and it has taken the clarity of this to another level.
‘Count On Me’ Priorities in Goonville, Texas
1. God / Church
3. North Forney Extra-curricular
5. Everything else
Our athletes and parents know exactly what will be excused and what won’t.
Miss for church activity? Priority #1 - excused Miss for a dentist appointment? Priority #5- unexcused
Miss to participate in our school One-Act play?
Priority #3 - excused
Miss to go back-to-school clothes shopping? Priority #5- unexcused
*Before any workout where an athlete is going to be absent, excused or unexcused, he must text or call his position coach before it begins. It is not ok for a parent to text three hours after we are finished to let us know her son has a fever and wasn’t able to join us. I tell our guys if they aren’t present when we begin, I worry something might have happened to them on the way to practice, and I don’t like to worry. Hopefully the ‘pit’ will help them remember to let us know where they are.
Go on the Whistle – sometimes we will get our guys tired and not only have them stand where they are ‘touching the line but not on it,’ but also make them listen to certain commands to start the drill. My favorite and easiest version of this is just “go on the whistle.” The drill begins with their hand behind the line (you must make sure because everything matters) and go when they hear a whistle. Simple, right? It’s much tougher than it sounds. They are already tired, like they will be in the fourth quarter, they are wanting to compete and must resist the urge to go on the command they have heard since they were old enough to comprehend language – the word GO. Coaches, try this with your team and see if they can resist the ‘go’ command. If they can’t on a continual basis, you will struggle with discipline in your sport. Your team will have more penalties and commit more unforced errors than the team who has the discipline to go on the whistle. The whistle matters.
“Practice the philosophy of continual improvement. Get a little bit better every single day.”
When a rocket ship takes off it requires 75% of its energy to get it off the ground and into orbit. Once the vessel is cruising in the earth’s atmosphere it still requires energy but getting it outside the earth’s gravitational pull is the most stressful on the engines. When you’re taking over a program, don’t compromise the ‘now’ for the long-term. When you do this, you’re not only enabling your people – which will hurt them in the future – but you’ll keep your team from winning the close games most of the time. Your team will not have the discipline and attention to detail needed to outplay an opponent without an ‘everything matters’ foundation.
This is not an easy way to run a program. It takes constant monitoring, constant reinforcement and constant effort. But, if you will commit to it and find like-minded coaches who will join you in ‘the daily cultural fist-fight’ with you the little things will add up to big changes in your program.
Head Football Coach
North Forney High School