Step #2: If you coach to develop players, then you will be able to coach to win with those developed players.

This is part #7 of a multi-part series covering all aspects of player development. This is part #6 of a multi-part series covering all aspects of player development.  In part #1, I talked about the development of coachesIn part #2, I talked about exactly how coaches can get themselves going the right direction. In Part #3, I discussed one of the major impediments to player development. Then in part #4, I started talking about truths and player development. In part #5, I finished setting the stage to begin to dive head-first into player development. Last week, in Part #6, I began with the first-step in Player Development.This week, in Part #7, i continue and discuss the next-step in Player Development. 

     Player Development is dependant upon using your most powerful tools.  I believe with everything within me that your most powerful Player Development tool is your experience.  Ideas, strategies, goals, vision, focus and even creative thinking are vastly important, but until you get control and full use of who you are as a coach and more importantly, what made you, in order to develop players, you will not develop players and will not improve the game of football.  Some of you might inherit developed players or even an entire team of quality, but that is dumb luck, not a proven plan to Proper Player Development.  To develop players, YOU will have to regain control of your experience.

Identifying the Enemy

     The bottom line is that it is easy to win if you have players’ that someone else has already developed.  You may get sick of hearing it, but the key to winning any battle is to identify the enemy.  The reason I am so passionate about you properly developing your players is that I have seen how many coaches make huge strides towards being successful in the short time after they focus on properly developing their players.  If you had players’ with an intelligent first-touch, the ability to play out of pressure with a purpose, the ability to drive a ball 30 yards on a rope, the confidence to attack with the ball at their feet and technique to finish, you could win very quickly.  I know that may seem like a faraway place for some of you.  You might feel like a 350-pounder looking at Mr. Universe, shaking your head, thinking it will never happen for you. Let me assure you, I have walked with many 350-pound coaches into Proper Player Development, so stay with me.

     Many of you reading this are convinced that you could become successful if you could coach quality, sound players.  The problem now is that you are feeling more and more trapped by what you haven’t done in the past to develop your players or your inadequacy in doing so.  I have great news! I have a foolproof, but very difficult, method for getting yourself back on track and developing your players they way you should be.  Most coaches won’t do it, because they are average, but not you.  You have already figured out that IF YOU COACH TO DEVELOP PLAYERS, THEN YOU WILL BE ABLE TO COACH TO WIN WITH THOSE DEVELOPED PLAYERS. You are sick and tired of being sick and tired, so you are willing to pay the price for greatness.  This is the toughest of all the Baby Steps.  It is so hard, but it is so worth it.  This step requires the most effort, the most sacrifice and is where all your losing coaching comrades and friends will make fun of you (or join you).  This step requires you to shave your head and drink the Kool-Aid.  Just kidding, but not by much.  Your focused intensity has to go off the scale.  Remember the Albert Einstein quote I used in an earlier blog entry? (THE MAN IN THE MIRROR: Denial – the Kryptonite of player development) “Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds.”  If you really believe that focusing on developing your players properly will no longer be a coaching dream, but a reality, if you teach your players what you already know and even what you aren’t aware you know.  You should be willing to do bizarre and sacrificial things to develop your players.  Time to develop players and WIN!

Baby Step Two: Start the Technique Fire Burning

     The way we develop our players properly is called the Technique Fire.  The Technique Fire process is simple to understand but will require truckloads of effort.  Remember what my pastor said, “It isn’t complicated, but it is difficult.” (THE MAN IN THE MIRROR: Coaching Myths – The (Non) Secrets of the Greatest) We have discussed that Player Development is 80 percent behavior and 20 percent head knowledge.  The Technique Fire is designed the way it because we are more concerned with modifying our coaching behavior than the “X’s” and “O’s.” (You’ll see what I mean shortly).  Being a certified soccer nerd, I always used to start with breaking things down for my players so they know I know what I’m talking about and will have a reason to listen to me.  I have learned that respect of your players is needed, but sometimes motivation is more important than your credibility. This is one of those times.

     The Technique Fire method requires you to isolate on a very specific need of your players.  Consider this the little spark that starts the embers glowing.  As you train your players on this specific aspect of their development and they begin to master it, you add another piece to the puzzle, which is like adding a little more fuel to those glowing embers, which in turn will make them glow even more.  Then when your players begin to master that, you move forward which is like adding more fuel to the embers.  The more aspects of your players’ game that you continue to build upon are like adding fuel to the fire.  The more your player’s can master, the bigger the fire gets.  It’s controlling the growth of the fire and thus the rate of development of your players that is the key ingredient here.  If you were so fabulous with Developing Players, you wouldn’t be having issues, so try this my way.  I’m asking you not to argue about it; just decide where you want to start, teach that singular technique and build on top of it and each piece thereafter.

     The reason we start with one singular technique and then add to it as the players’ begin to master each technique is to have some quick success.  This is the “behavior modification” part I referred to before.  Face it, if you go on a diet and lose weight the first week, you will stay on that diet. If you go on a diet and gain weight or go six weeks with no visible progress, you will quit.  Your players are the same way.  When training salespeople, they try to get them a sale or two quickly because that will fire them up.  When you start the Technique Fire and in the next few weeks you see your players effectively using the technique(s) that you have been focusing on and, more importantly, the player’s see themselves using them, it lights both fires; yours and your players.  I don’t care if you have a Master’s Degree in Psychology; you need quick success to get fired up.  Your players need the same and getting fired-up is super-important.

     One coach would keep track of the different pieces of her Technique Fire on a chart and took it to the local copy shop to have it enlarged to supersize. She then put her huge Technique Fire chart on the wall of her office.  Every time her players began to master a technique, she drew a big-red line through that technique and added the next one underneath it.  She told me that every time she walked out of her office and looked at that large chart on the wall, she would yell, “Oh yeah, we are getting better!” (not literally, of course…or at least not on a regular basis) If that sounds corny to you, then you are still not getting it.  This lady has a PhD.  She is not a dumb person.  She is so sophisticated and intelligent that she got it. She understood that Player Development was about a change in behavior and that behavioral change is best enhanced by some quick (although small) wins.

     When you see your players begin to consistently receive the ball across their bodies or start making touches into positive space, your players’ game is not changed that much tactically yet. You have, however, begun a process that works and you have seen it work and you will keep doing it because you will be fired up about the fact that it works.

     After you list the technique that you are working on, every ounce of effort and as much time as possible should be spent going towards your players’ mastering of that specific technique.  Once they master the base, starting technique, it cannot be forgotten when you move onto the next one.  Each technique should build off the previous one and thus remain incorporated into the mastery of the current one.  This will keep the fire burning and also allow it to be controlled as fuel is added and it grows. Trust me, once you get going, you will understand.  So, attack! Every time a new technique becomes the primary focus, the fire grows and by the time you get deeper and deeper into your Players' Development you’ll have a bon-fire, then a forest fire and then eventually an exploding volcano – an erupting volcano of technically savvy and tactically intelligent players!

     Most coaches get a ways down the list and find out how much better their players are and how quickly it has happened.  At that point, it won’t take long to bust out and increase your players’ learning curve rapidly.  That is Baby Step Two: Get Really Good, Really Fast!

The Elements of Making It Work

     When I first started developing this concept of Proper Player Development, I didn’t understand what all of the elements of success were or all the clarifications that would be needed.  The major elements of making the Technique Fire work are player identification and evaluation, getting current with the game before you start, technique, sacrifice and focused intensity.  Total sold-out focused intensity is possibly the most important.  This means saying to yourself (and meaning it), To the exclusion of virtually everything else, my players’ are going to be developed properly! If you take an old-fashioned magnifying glass outside and set it near some crumpled newspapers, nothing will happen.  If you point the sun’s rays through the magnifying glass but move it around or wiggle it, nothing will happen.  If you hold really still and focus the sun’s rays totally on that crumpled newspaper, things begin to happen.  Focused intensity will cause you to smell something burning and soon you will see an actual fire.

     If you think this Technique Fire stuff is cute and you might sort of give it a try, it won’t work.  Total, sold-out, focused intensity is required to win.  You have to know where you are going and by definition know where you aren’t going, or you will never get there.  I fly a lot and I never get on a plane and think to myself, I wonder where this plane is heading? I know where I want to go and if I’m heading to New York City, I stay off the plane heading to Chicago.  When I get off the plane, I don’t catch the first cab I see and say, “Why don’t we just drive around a while because I don’t have a plan?"  I tell them the hotel and street where I want to go.  I then ask how long that will take and what the fare will be.  My point is that we don’t wander aimlessly around in any other part of our lives, but we seem to think that will work with coaching.  You can’t get ready; fire and then aim in coaching and you can’t try to do six things at the same time.  You are trying to develop your players. Period. You will have to focus with great intensity to do it.

     One day I was surfing channels and hit the Discovery Channel.  I noticed they were filming gazelles.  The gazelles were peacefully gazelling around.  Of course, you know the Discovery Channel wasn’t there just for the gazelles.  The next camera shot was of Mr. Cheetah sneaking upon the bushes looking for lunch in all the right places. Suddenly, one of the gazelles got a whiff of Mr. Cheetah and became very aware of his plan.  The other gazelles noticed the alarm and soon also were on edge.  They couldn’t yet see the cheetah, so out of fear of running at him, they froze until he played his cards.

     Realizing he had been discovered, Mr. Cheetah decided to give it his best shot and leaped from the bushes.  The gazelles all yelled, “Cheetah!” well, not really, but they did run like crazy in fourteen different directions.  The discovery channel that day reminded viewers that the cheetah is the fastest mammal on dry land; he can go from zero to forty-five miles per hour in four leaps.  The show also proved that because the gazelle will outmaneuver the cheetah instead of out running him, the cheetah would tire quickly.  As a matter of fact, the cheetah only gets the gazelle burger for lunch in one out of nineteen chases.  The gazelles primary hunter is the fastest mammal on dry-ground, yet the gazelle wins almost every time. Likewise, the way to develop your players is to out maneuver the enemy and run for your life.

     As I observe coaches I have developed the keen ability to predict who will become successful based upon how “gazelle-intense” they are.  If they are looking at a red-line on their office wall and yelling, they have a really good shot.  However, if they are looking for a win-quick scheme or some intellectual theory instead of sacrifice, hard work and total focus, I give them a really low gazelle rating and a low probability of becoming successful.

     An obvious step to working the Technique Fire is to stop rationalizing what you’re doing.  Otherwise, you’ll just be changing the names of the problems you are facing.  So you must draw a line in the sand and say, “I will develop my players.” As soon as you make that statement, there will be a test.  Trust me.  A player will get injured. Illness will spread throughout your team. It is almost as if God wants to see if you are really gazelle-intense.  A permanent change in your view of coaching and its direct relation to Player Development is your only chance. No matter what happens, you have to pursue the opportunity to solve the challenge by developing your players. Taking the shortcuts has to stop.  If you think you can become successful without huge resolve to really develop your players, you are wrong. You can’t get out of a hole by digging out the bottom.

How to Get the Technique Fire Burning

     Sometimes your Technique Fire won’t ignite. When coaches evaluate their players, they find so many technically deficient areas that need attention, there is barely enough time in an entire season to even introduce them all.  There is no push to stoke the amber colored embers into a full-fledged fire.  Let me offer another image to help you better understand this problem and solution.  My wife’s great-great-grandfather ran a timber operation in the hills of Kentucky and West Virginia.  In that bygone era, after cutting the timber, they would put the logs in the river to float downstream to the sawmill. The logs would build up at a bend in the river and a traffic jam of wood occurred.  This would continue as long as the jammed-up area stopped the progress of the other logs.  Sometimes the loggers could break the jam loose by pushing the logs. Other times they would have to get radical before a real mess occurred.

     When it got real bad, they would break the logjam by throwing dynamite into the middle of the logs that were blocking the progress.  As you can imagine, this created a dramatic effect. When the dynamite blew, logs and pieces of logs would fly into the air.  After working so hard to cut the trees, some of them were a total loss.  They had to blow up some of the timber to get the rest of the crop to market.  That’s the sacrifice the situation required.  Sometimes that is what you have to do with the stopped-up areas of need. You have to dynamite it.  You have to get radical to get started developing your players.

     In watching coaches get started with this new plan of developing their players with gazelle intensity, believe me, I have seen them do some crazy things. Yet, they knew they had to dynamite the logjam!  Trying to develop your players with there needs all jammed up is like running a race wearing ankle weights. When it comes to developing your players, you may have to make the decision to train them like no one else, but remember, later you will be winning and succeeding like no one else.

     The number of coaches I talk to about this who will not throw dynamite into their logjam to get things rolling makes me sad.  They can see that the logs will never get to market, they will never see the benefits, but they just can’t stand the thought of blowing up a few of them so the rest will get down the river. Translation: “I love my stupid way of coaching more than the idea of developing my players so we win so much more than we lose.”  Don’t make that mistake.

     There is another method of breaking your logjam that the lumberjacks didn’t have available to them.  More water would have pushed the logs around that corner, too, if they could have flooded the river.  I may be stretching this metaphor, but in situations where you can “recruit” or “add to your roster,” more talent will also break-up your logjam; it will also intensify the fire.  If your teams’ needs are too voluminous to get the technique Fire started, you need to do something to increase the teams’ technical proficiency. Proper recruiting or the addition of new players into the fold can increase a team’s overall proficiency which will help the other player’s on the team improve as well.

     I don’t like the idea of adding ‘better’ players to your team as a means to disrupt the logjam, however, sometimes, extreme situations require extreme solutions.  This should never, under any circumstance, replace your responsibility to develop your players and this option should not be used as a scapegoat reason to short cut your players.

     Think about it.  Why are all of these successful and wining coaches smiling? They work hard and unbelievable extra hours, so why would they smile? They smile because they have caught the vision, the vision of IF YOU COACH TO DEVELOP PLAYERS, THEN YOU WILL BE ABLE TO COACH TO WIN WITH THOSE DEVELOPED PLAYERS.

What About Tactical Preparation While the Fire is Burning?

     Josh asked me once about another subject coaches have trouble with on Baby Step Two. Josh wanted to know if he should stop spending so much time on technique in order to prepare tactically for an upcoming game.  He really didn’t want to stop building on the technical needs of his players, especially because he had seen so much growth out of them in such a short period of time.  I have been in his position many times before and I know what he was thinking and going through.  However, I have seen something more powerful-focused intensity.  If your are going to be gazelle-intense and do everything in your power to properly develop your players and do is as efficiently as possible, then you may have to sacrifice the time needed for any tactical training to continue with the technical training.  The power of focus and seeing quick results is more important to your players in the long term than is the upcoming match.  This is only for coaches who have not already pulled-out all the stops and are ready for “anything goes” to develop their players.

     If you are radically gazelle-intense, the speed of your players’ development will enable you to deal with those same tactical issues with much more efficiency in just a matter of time.  Imagine how much your players will be able to accomplish the more they improve technically.  The average coach who throws the dynamite and is gazelle-intense will see their players’ rate of development triple within 18 weeks.  Some coach’s take longer and others less, depending on their experience, background and coaching personality at the time they start Proper Player Development.  If for some reason you are stuck in an extremely deep hole, you may want to consider requesting help from a coaching friend or someone with more experience.  An extremely deep hole is NOT defined by your unwillingness to apply yourself.

     With gazelle intensity, great focus, extreme sacrifice, your experience and your willingness to be radical, you develop your players, fast. Again, if you are fired up, normally this will happen within eighteen to twenty weeks. Some coaches will develop their players faster and some will take a little longer to develop their players.  If your Fire appears that it will burn longer, never fear; it may not take as long as it seems to indicate.  Many coaches find a way to shorten the time with sheer intensity and God tends to pour blessings on people going in a direction He wants them to go.  It is as if you are walking or running at a fast pace and a moving sidewalk suddenly appears below you to carry you faster than your own effort would.

     The Technique Fire is very possibly the most important step in your plan for two reasons. One, you free up your most powerful Player Development tool, YOU, during this step. Two, you take on the entire coaching culture by declaring war on coaching ineptitude in this game.  By developing your players properly, you make a statement about your stance on the issue. By properly developing your players, you show that you’ve had a coaching change of heart, paving the way for the best and most effective development of your players.

This is part #7 of a multi-part series covering all aspects of player development. This is part #6 of a multi-part series covering all aspects of player development.  In part #1, I talked about the development of coachesIn part #2, I talked about exactly how coaches can get themselves going the right direction. In Part #3, I discussed one of the major impediments to player development. Then in part #4, I started talking about truths and player development. In part #5, I finished setting the stage to begin to dive head-first into player development. Last week, in Part #6, I began with the first-step in Player Development.This week, in Part #7, i continue and discuss the next-step in Player Development.