Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Communicating with players at practice

At my son's sixth-grade football practice last night, I had the chance to observe how different coaches communicate with their players.

At one station, a particular coach consistently used the words "I" or "my."  "I want you to do this" or "At my drill, you will...," etc.   During a three-minute drill, he must have used "I" or "my" 10 times or more.

It brought back one of the greatest coaching  lessons I ever received.   One day in Orlando, Tim Walsh (pictured above with Vince Carter), the Magic's trainer at the time (now with the Nets), pulled me aside.  His advice was this:

1.  When talking to a team or a group at a station, always use "us" and "we" rather than "I" and "me." 

2.  At the end of the drill/station, ask your players to "Please go..." to the next drill, etc.  

3.  And when they respond, always tell them "thank you."

Respectful and professional.  Great advice that I've never forgotten.

While watching my son's football practice, it was also clear that coaching in an enclosed gym with 10-12 guys is much different than coaching on a 100-yard football field with 50-60 players -- all of whom are wearing helmets.  To top it off, at last night's practice, the wind was blowing pretty good.

You can see how it would be necessary for a football coach to raise his voice in order to (1) get his players' attention and (2) make sure they hear his instruction.

This past spring, I was in Dallas visiting my sister for a few days and stopped by the SMU campus to watch June Jones and his staff go through their Spring Game (which was more of a practice than a traditional Spring Game).  

It was interesting to see SMU's special teams coach use a headset and PA system while he was coaching the punt teams, who were spread over most of the field.   He kept the guys active, his instructions were positive, and his teaching always to the point.  I only watched about 45 minutes of the practice, but I remember admiring the way he communicated with his players during the drill.  He was a master.

On the subject of football coaches, Tampa Bay Bucs coach Jon Gruden is the best I've ever seen when it comes to command of a practice field.