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Champions have no "off" season!

George Allen was a long-time NFL coach who is a member of the NFL Hall of Fame. His coaching tree of former assistant coaches who went on to become head coaches in the NFL is extensive. Like all great coaches, George Allen, never really bought into the whole "off season" thought process. Common sense says teams have to be committed to a year-round approach to their sport in order to be highly successful.

The challenge at the high school level is never really about "why" but more about "how." At our school, we have over half of our players participating in second and even third sports. It is awesome to see all of those kids go and compete at a varsity level. Whether it is wrestling, basketball, baseball, track, or soccer there are always physical demands on those athletes because they are "in" season in that sport. Coach Tucker Barnard, our head coach, is also our athletic director. He encourages (at a high level) any athlete that has any ability to help other sports win, to do so. Chad Cawood (Offensive Coordinator) runs our strength and conditioning program and does an awesome job of developing our football players all year. We love that many of our players are in varsity competition beyond football and know all of our players have an awesome strength and conditioning program.

The question then becomes what am I doing to continue to create and drive an attitude of dominance among our defensive players as well as drive an expectation of greatness in terms of studying the game? Our players do an amazing job during the season of preparation. As we monitor how much time our players spend on digital resources available to study our opponents, our defensive playbook, and their specific positions during the season, it is always impressive. Attendance in nightly Zoom calls to watch both our practice and opponent game video is awesome. And the questions our players generally ask are high level, make the coach think, type questions. But what am I doing to keep those players from losing all of the information they process, learn, and even master during the season? Some research suggests that people lose up to 75% of the information they learn in as little as 6 days if that information is not used! So by the time our players come back for the second semester, I should assume that we are back to square one in regards of knowing and understanding our defensive system. To think that I can have a 30 minute meeting before our first spring practice is a caveman approach to teaching. Belief that a player is a senior, therefore he "gets it" is equally moronic on my part. We expect greatness from our players and our players take exceptional pride in their knowledge of our (fairly complex) defensive system. It is my job to position them to RETAIN and MASTER the information necessary to have incredible confidence. Confidence eventually leads to dominance and developing that confidence is what I view as my #1 priority.

I am certainly no expert in any area, but I do want to be a GREAT coach/teacher to our players and give them every opportunity to be successful. I am also self-aware enough to know that my coaching style "in" season could potentially be stressful to players who do not fully understand the end game. I have an awesome opportunity to help our players retain all of the information they work so hard to learn in the fall, continue to cultivate our attitude of dominance (some might call it "culture" because that is such a hot topic), and let our players see me continue to invest in them during the "off" season. We have a very intentional and intensive approach during these months. I am attaching an article regarding retention of learning and am actually using information in that article to help you get an idea of why our plan looks like it does:


When students learn a new piece of information, they make new synaptic connections. Two scientifically based ways to help them retain learning is by making as many connections as possible—typically to other concepts, thus widening the “spiderweb” of neural connections—but also by accessing the memory repeatedly over time.

Which explains why the following learning strategies, all tied to research conducted within the past five years, are so effective:

  1. Peer-to-peer explanations: When students explain what they’ve learned to peers, fading memories are reactivated, strengthened, and consolidated. This strategy not only increases retention but also encourages active learning.

  2. The spacing effect: Instead of covering a topic and then moving on, revisit key ideas throughout the school year. Research shows that students perform better academically when given multiple opportunities to review learned material. For example, teachers can quickly incorporate a brief review of what was covered several weeks earlier into ongoing lessons, or use homework to re-expose students to previous concepts.

  3. Frequent practice tests: Akin to regularly reviewing material, giving frequent practice tests can boost long-term retention and, as a bonus, help protect against stress, which often impairs memory performance. Practice tests can be low stakes and ungraded, such as a quick pop quiz at the start of a lesson or a trivia quiz on Kahoot, a popular online game-based learning platform. Breaking down one large high-stakes test into smaller tests over several months is an effective approach.

  4. Interleave concepts: Instead of grouping similar problems together, mix them up. Solving problems involves identifying the correct strategy to use and then executing the strategy. When similar problems are grouped together, students don’t have to think about what strategies to use—they automatically apply the same solution over and over. Interleaving forces students to think on their feet, and encodes learning more deeply.

  5. Combine text with images: It’s often easier to remember information that’s been presented in different ways, especially if visual aids can help organize information. For example, pairing a list of countries occupied by German forces during World War II with a map of German military expansion can reinforce that lesson. It’s easier to remember what’s been read and seen, instead of either one alone.

Here is our very strategic plan to both retain and grow our players' football acumen while also continuing to drive an attitude of dominance:

  1. We have a Google Classroom created that is specific to our Eat the Captain Defense. It has 6 lessons. 1 lesson per week for 6 weeks. Each lesson has Voice-Over instructional videos, playbook pages, cut-ups of the installation, and position specific technical/assignment sections. (This would fall under the #2 and #5 ideas above)

  2. Players take quizzes over each of those assignments weekly. The quizzes provide feedback to incorrect answers and the expectation is that everyone take their position specific quizzes until they make a perfect score. Many of our players take multiple position quizzes and some critical players (MLB's, Safeties) actually take all 3 quizzes. (#3 above)

  3. We (ALL defensive players/even those in other in season sports) meet, 30 minutes in person, as an entire defense 1 day a week before school to review that week's lesson. Shark School! I provide breakfast and we start the meeting with each player reporting his exam grade in front of his peers. It is awesome to hear the FS, for example, report that he took all 3 position quizzes and made 100% on each. This meeting, in general, doesn't really fall under any of the ideas listed above but the benefits are far reaching and I will hit that briefly later.

  4. 3 players are assigned the responsibility of teaching their position's alignments, assignments, responsibilities, and techniques to the entire group. They also have to answer any questions that the room, including myself, may have. I will have formations drawn on the board when players arrive and have the drawings labeled for who has to complete each one. This week our MLB had to draw all 11 players' assignments on 5 formation based pressures against 7 formations. That is a total of 385 variables he had to process. He actually got everyone of them correct. (this would meet #1, and #5)

  5. Then we watch cut-ups of that day's installation. I ONLY use great examples on video. I want our players to see it being done exactly right across the board. I want to continue to drive home the expectation of excellence and for them to visualize excellence.

  6. Last, I take pictures of the players teaching and post on social media. It is cool to see the parents "like" the posts of their sons teaching.

  7. When we complete all 6 weeks of the Google Classroom assignments we start right back over and will repeat the process of meeting weekly. Those meetings will look a little different in that we will start to walk through those installations vs. barrels instead of peer to peer teaching.

*I have attached a few pictures of Shark School.

Our players hear a consistent message that when we hit the practice field the job of learning "what to do" should be mostly complete. Practice is when they should be learning "how to do it." We expect incredible attention to detail regarding assignment, technique, and communication. We have no chance of ever teaching and developing those and nuances of the game if our players don't know what to do. Also, I don't buy into the notion of "you may mess up but mess up going full speed." My experience has shown me that players who don't know what to do or how to do it play ridiculously slow or not at all. WE PLAY FAST AND PHYSICAL!

The final thing I would add is that our "off" season process provides some ancillary benefits. The first is that our players see me investing in them year round. I get a chance to model the dedication required to be highly succesful. This is also a safe environment with no exposure to failure so players can grow and develop without the stress of gameday competition. Finally, our players see and visit with each other! Guys in other sports, players who are taking concurrent enrollment classes off campus, and players who may be working jobs don't see each other during this time of year. This is our opportunity to maintain our sense of community!

I know our players and coaches work hard during "in" season to learn and grow. If I don't provide an opportunity to continue that process, I should expect that we will simply start over annually and we as coaches will wonder why our players "don't get it." The reality is....There is NO "off" season for us!

Here is a link to the article I referenced.

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