How Football Can Level The Playing Field

Kevin and I couldn’t be more different. Kevin was a black kid from rural Georgia. I was a white kid from a beach town. Kevin grew up in a mostly black community. I grew up in a mostly white community. He wore his hair in dreadlocks. I wore a shaved head.

We were alien to each other, something painfully obvious from the first time we met. I had to ask him to repeat his name three times before I understood him through his thick country accent.

Kevin wasn’t someone I would have interacted with regularly. Mostly because we were from different worlds. Ordinarily, our paths never would have crossed. Fortunately, we were forced to spend time with each other because we had a mutual love – football.

For all the differences we had, we were able to find just as many similarities. We both loved football. We both played in the secondary. We both liked some of the same college teams. Over time we found plenty of things to bond over – girl problems are universal.

When we played alongside each other we had to get to know each other. When he came to the team, I thought he was a bit smug. He thought I was a brown-noser and a know-it-all. But over time we grew to respect each other. He came to respect me because I understood the schemes. I could help him get a better grasp of what to do and how to earn playing time. I returned that respect because he pushed me to get better in order to keep my starting spot. We riffed off of each other’s energy and we stood up for one another when the offensive guys threw cheap shots.

Our mutual respect budded into a casual friendship as we spent more time with each other. We roomed together on road trips, giving us time to talk about anything and everything young men talk about. If he didn’t have a ride after practice, I’d offer to pick him up. The seed of respect grew into a lasting friendship. Because of football.

The great thing about football is that your skin color doesn’t matter. What matters is how you play the game. If you’re lazy, you don’t get to play. If you work hard, you’ll earn opportunities to get in the game. I’ve seen lazy guys of all colors get benched and I’ve seen hard-working guys of all colors earn playing time. Everyone is given the same opportunities to shine.

Through sports we can teach our youth they should judge people based on their character or their work ethic instead of the color of their skin. We can teach them not only to respect people from different backgrounds, but how to earn respect in return. Sports, more than anything else, bring people from all walks of life together for a common purpose. That purpose gives people a common goal. When we have a common goal to work towards, we can put aside our differences and figure out a way to reach that goal.

Ten years later, at a reunion, Kevin and I greeted each other with bear-hugs and smiles as wide as uprights. I asked about his son, who I’d seen on Facebook, and he asked me about work. We chatted and we caught up like no time had passed. Kevin and I have remained friends because of the bond we created through football. We never would have met each other if we didn’t have football in common.

“Unprejudiced” is defined as not having or showing a dislike or distrust based on fixed or preconceived ideas. The meritocracy of sport allows us to be judged on our work ethic rather than our skin tone. And it is through that process we have a chance to see the lives of people who may be nothing like us.

I am not claiming that putting kids in sports will eliminate the racial issues that plague this country. But I am saying it is a step in the right direction.

Why the most skilled players don’t always start

James showed up to Spring Practice and it was like a celebrity had joined us. Teammates gawked as he warmed up. Whispers about his skill ran rampant through the locker room. When it came time for the Spring Game, he even performed like an All-Star: One interception and seven tackles at safety.

But that was the only Spring Practice James was on the team.

James isn’t alone. I have played with and coached dozens of talented players who never saw the field. Some became ineligible because of grades. Others got distracted and trouble found them. Still some just faded away and stopped caring.

James was one of the most physically talented players to step on a football field. But he never stuck with it. Instead, players who worked hard year-round and didn’t give up were the ones that got to play in games. James didn’t want to put in the work through the hot summers so he quit.

Young players who haven’t honed their skills can be intimidated by more mature athletes. Some young players look at the larger ones and think, “I could never be that good. Why even try?” Of course, as coaches and parents, we know this isn’t a healthy mindset. We want every player to practice and compete like they are preparing for a starting role.

Here is how we ingrain the belief that the most persistent players, not necessarily the most naturally gifted, are the ones who achieve success.

1) Approach new players with what I call “healthy skepticism.” Everyone gets a fair shot, but don’t give new players more credit than they deserve until they have proven commitment to the team. Players can see when we play favorites and it is demoralizing. Overhyping a player who makes one good play or anointing them a starter before they’ve made a full week of practice can damage the morale of the team.

2) Reward hard work. Not every player is going to be tall and fast. But, everyone can learn to run hard and to be aggressive on the field. Reward players who make plays, but don’t forget about the second stringer who beat everyone in sprints or the newbie who isn’t afraid to get in the weight room.

3) Don’t compromise team rules. I saw this first-hand in a large high school: two players violated the same team rule. One was an All-State performer and the other a backup. Guess who was punished and who wasn’t? We, as coaches, cannot grant special privilege to our star players. This may be a controversial topic because cutting playing time on a super star could cost you a win. If that’s the case, opt for some sort of physical punishment like duck walks, bear crawls, or some other punishment named after an animal. Don’t let the rest of the team see that one player is “better” than the rest, even if they are a more talented individual. This discourages the players who follow the rules and sets the precedent that All-Stars can do what they want without consequence.

4) Encourage everyone. Ben was a skinny, but consistent cornerback. He showed up every day to work, he was the first one to win conditioning drills, and he was patient. But, he didn’t start for a couple years. When he finally got his chance he broke his collarbone just a few games into his junior season. Finally, in his senior year, he flourished. All his hard work paid off. He had become well-respected by his teammates for his consistency. He was in such great shape from all his hard work that he only came off the field for the occasional special teams play. He knew the schemes so well from paying attention as a backup that he became a leader on both sides of the ball. He was elected team captain by his peers and was an All-Region selection. Use stories like this to motivate the players who aren’t starters but have the drive to improve.

Winning teams are not always the most talented, they are the ones who work together the best. Use these strategies to get the most out of your players who need to rely more on hard work than natural talent.

Defensive Philosophy: How to Play With Eyes and Feet

Imagine you are playing Free Safety. You are playing the deep middle third of the field. You line up 10 yards deep with one Receiver to the right and a Tight End with a Receiver to your left. Two Running Backs plus a Quarterback get set in the backfield. The ball is snapped. What do you do next? Well, that depends on what your coaches have taught you.

Some coaches harp on technique, others stress the schemes, and still others believe hustle cures all. Every coach should have a coaching philosophy that helps explain to their players the “why” of their tactics. A coaching philosophy is not a tactic, it is the tool used to bridge the gap between tactics and why you’re choosing to coach that particular way.

For example, my defensive philosophy is to “Play with eyes and feet.” Every opportunity I get, I ask my players, “What do we play defense with?” To which they (should) respond, “Eyes and feet!” I ask the players this question when we install a defense, I ask them during drills, and I ask them at the end of practice. I try to make this phrase as memorable as possible for them.

A philosophy is something the players can easily remember and quickly recite. The philosophy should express to the players what you, as a coach, want them to do while they’re in the game. A philosophy does not take the place of a scheme, X’s and O’s are always needed. However, a philosophy could serve as a reminder if a player forgets his job.

Eyes and Feet

Before I continue with this example, I’ll explain my defensive philosophy so you can begin thinking about your own. I use this doctrine with both my middle and high school teams, simplifying it for my younger players. If you have one, I’d love to hear it in the comments. If you don’t have one, I urge you to create one for your players. Using this defensive philosophy as a teaching tool has helped my players understand their jobs more clearly and ultimately improved their play.

The first part of “Eyes and Feet” is our eyes. When we play with our eyes, this means we are reading our keys. Cornerbacks, Strong Safeties, and Outside Linebackers typically read the end man on the line of scrimmage (Tight End or Tackle) to determine if the play will be a run or a pass. Inside Linebackers read the Guards to determine where the ball is headed instead of Running Backs because blocking is almost always needed for a successful play. Whereas a Running Back doesn’t have to get the ball, they could simply be a decoy.

The second part of “Eyes and Feet” is our feet. We practice reacting as often as possible. As soon as the defensive players see that the play is a run by reading their keys, they find the ball carrier with their eyes. Then they use their feet to get to the ball carrier as quickly as possible. Conversely, if the Offensive Linemen show pass by standing up tall, the defensive players know to get to their drops and find the men in their zones. We play more zone-based defense than man-to-man, so keys would be different if we were playing a man-to-man coverage.

In the opening example, if the same Free Safety does not remember what he is supposed to do, he should revert to the philosophy: “Eyes and feet.” He would remember that we use our eyes to read our keys and once we read our keys, we use our feet to take us to the action. He should find his key as soon as possible to tell him what to do next in my defense.

Trickle Down Effect

The key to a good philosophy, on either side of the ball, is to come up with one that has a trickle down effect. Many of us have heard about the coach who never punts. Coach Kelley’s philosophy is simple: “Keep possession.” He rarely punts and he onside kicks after every touchdown. He wants to keep the ball in his team’s hands at all times. His philosophy trickles down with a positive effect. If he doesn’t turn the ball over, his opponents cannot score. If his opponents cannot score, he wins the game.

Using “Eyes and Feet” as our philosophy, we are teaching players to read their keys and always move their feet. Always moving our feet had a trickle down effect on our players’ hustle. Because they were always trying to get to the ball, we forced massive amounts of turnovers (+22 on the season). Having this many turnovers helped contribute to our ability to win eight games throughout the season.

Better feet means more hustle. More hustle means more turnovers, better gang tackling, and ultimately a more effective defense. Whatever philosophy you choose to employ, be sure it has a positive trickle down effect for your players.

A United Front

Creating a philosophy for your team or your unit is helpful not only for your players, but for your coaching staff. Sometimes coaches are not on the same page when teaching schemes and can give players conflicting advice on how to play their position. If your staff has trouble with this, adding a philosophy to your unit’s play may help smooth things out.

By adding a clear coaching philosophy, you are giving your coaches and players an overarching theme to how they should be performing in the system. Each of my position coaches knows to start teaching players based on their eyes first, then their feet. If players’ eyes are not reading their keys, their feet won’t take them to the correct spot.

Having a philosophy can also help you make decisions clearer and quicker. Coach Kelley, the coach who never punts, rarely has to debate whether or not he’ll punt. On top of that, his offensive coaches know they need to practice fourth down situations and his defensive coaches need to practice being put in tight spots if the offense cannot convert on fourth down. Working together becomes easier when the whole staff is on the same page.

The best teams and units have a uniting theme that helps them win. Some put it on T-shirts, others know it by heart. The benefits of a direct philosophy are clear communication, positive trickle down effects, and the ability to make clear and quick coaching decisions. What does your team’s philosophy look like?

15 life lessons from football that should not be overlooked

Playing football can be painful.

Ten years of football cost me a broken thumb, three hernias, a sprained shoulder, torn MCLs in both knees and countless other bumps and bruises. Nearly all of these injuries came during my college years when the speed and intensity ticked up a few notches.

And I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything in this world.

I played football from the time I was 12 until I was 22 years old. I earned a full scholarship to play safety at Charleston Southern University, and I was fortunate enough to have my education – a bachelor's degree and the better part of an MBA – paid for because of my physical abilities.

The lessons I learned from football are priceless. These lessons have helped me in my post-football career (Yes, there is life after football). I learned how to tackle people and catch a leather ball, but more importantly, I learned to lead others and the value of practice. I learned life skills that many of my peers are still trying to figure out at 30 years of age.

I was given an unfair advantage because of the time I spent playing football. Not only did I have a support group of peers who looked out for me, I was blessed with a number of mentors who cared about me and wanted me to succeed.

I concede, people get hurt playing football. But do those who ride a bike without a helmet. The media endlessly talks about the risks of this sport and the danger of collisions. What is often overlooked are the benefits that come from this game. The life lessons that young men learn while they are playing this game are priceless.

Here are 15 things football taught me that I use every day.

How to compete. There are two types of competition: competition with others and competition with yourself. Football teaches both. When you face an opponent, you have to study film (research) and think critically about how to beat them (game theory), then you have to come up with a game plan (planning), and finally you have to make that plan come to life (execution). Sound familiar? Individually, you have to improve your body to become a better player. If you don't learn to compete with yourself and improve every day, you will be the weakest link in the chain. That in itself is pressure enough to improve.

How to be disciplined. From the schemes our coaches drew up to the early morning workouts to the focus required to keep my grades above a certain level, discipline was needed for every aspect of the sport. By the time I was finished with football, I had no choice but to understand discipline and enforce it throughout the rest of my life.

How to work (really) hard. 99.9 percent of resumes say “hard-working” somewhere on them. Think about your workplace, are 99.9 percent of your co-workers hard-working? Probably not. This isn't to say sports are the only way to learn hard work, but it's a great place to start. In football, you can earn a name for yourself by outworking your teammates. It's an unfair advantage accessible to everyone simply by changing attitude.

How to lead. Leadership is a billion dollar industry. Managers pay for leadership training, and they pay to learn how to lead themselves. Coaches lead teams but only to a certain extent. Go to any high school football stadium on a Friday night, and you’ll be able to see more than a few leaders encouraging their teammates when the score isn’t in their favor. Leadership is learned in many ways. And in football it is learned early.

How to follow. With the apparent lack of respect for others we see in the news, this is extremely important. Before you can lead, you have to know how to follow. You have to study how other leaders do it. How they inspire others. How they motivate the people around them. When to stand up for something and when to let the coach do his job. Leadership is rare, but everyone needs to know how and when to follow.

How to be accountable. Individuals don't win football games. Teams do. To be on a team, you must learn to be accountable to the people around you. We had a "one fail, all fail" policy on one of my teams. If one person was late, the whole defense was punished. In life, if you don't carry your weight, your whole organization can potentially be punished.

How to push others. During fall conditioning, when I was exhausted and wanted to collapse, I figured out how to get through the discomfort. I turned my focus to others and I encouraged them. Americans spendbillions each year on self-help books, seminars and courses. People are in search of something or someone to help motivate them. Through sport, we can mold future generations to know how to help each other.

The value of practice. Football requires practice. We lift weights, we watch film, we run sprints, and we practice until our legs wobble. And because of that practice, we improve. Many people have goals in life but don't know how to reach them. They search for quick answers on the internet and attempt to avoid the part where they pay their dues. Football taught me how to put in my time and learn to improve my skills incrementally.

How to sacrifice. I didn't have a typical college experience. Many of my mornings started at 4:55 a.m., and I had sweat out my body weight in fluids by the time regular students rolled out of bed. In high school, I sacrificed extra time with friends and family because I wanted to get to the next level, and that goal required extra workouts. I learned to sacrifice that “normal” experience for something great, a chance to play college football.6.5 percent of high school football players go on to play in college,and I was one of them. That honor was bestowed on me because I was willing to sacrifice.

How to accomplish something bigger than oneself. When players show up for preseason camp in August we are required to leave our egos at home. In order to accomplish something larger than ourselves, we had to submit to the goals of the team. If every players had his own agendas, we would have gone all different directions. But when we all had one agenda, we were able to accomplish unimaginable feats.

To control what I can control. Injuries are a part of sports. Football is no exception. Through my injuries I realized I could handle adversity one of three ways: I could be bitter, I could quit, or I could make the best of my situation. I saw some players quit after injuries, most of whom regretted their decision. I saw others carry a negative attitude wherever they went, like a ball and chain slowing them down. And then I saw an upper-classman play his senior year with a broken hand and enjoy every minute of it. He told me, “There’s no use in complaining. It won’t change my situation. All I can do is strap up and play the next play.” That stuck.

How to stand for something. By working out, running sprints and watching film, we become committed to our team. We take pride in what the decal on our helmet stands for. We care about the people we’ve sweat with, and we listen to the coaches who lead us. By playing football, we learn what it means to make an unwavering commitment to something.

That there are no shortcuts. As part of a growing program, we received a new strength coach each year. Each coach brought his own style and workout preferences. As budgets improved, the school was able to pay more qualified coaches. Each coach brought better technique and more effective training with each passing year. But one thing remained: If we didn’t hit the weight room and work hard during the offseason, we wouldn’t win games. There are better ways of doing things, but there are no shortcuts.

How to finish something you start. I was benched for the first time in my career during my junior year. I was distraught and angry, but I didn’t allow myself to be beat by those feelings. I knew that being benched was merely an obstacle I had to overcome – no different than an opponent taking the lead in the fourth quarter. I recommitted myself to my passion and started every game as a senior before being elected captain by my peers.

How to be selfless. Every player has his own unique talents. Some are blessed with speed, some agility, others with strength. The list goes on. I was a smart player who knew how to play multiple positions. Because of this, I was able to move around when other players were injured. I played three different positions during the course of my career because that’s where my team needed me. Had I chosen to be selfish, I could have hurt the team.

4 Reasons To Stop Kicking Deep

Last year one of our coaches sent me a video about a coach who never punts (see video below). Turns out he also has system for onside kicks. Needless to say, I was intrigued. 

We talked through this process and we decided w wanted to follow Coach Kevin Kelley's lead and only onside kick. Here is the video if you've never seen it, plus our justifications for stopping the deep kick. 

4 Reasons To Stop Kicking Deep

1.) Save Energy

The main reason for having an 8 man team (in our state at least) is because of a lack of bodies available to the team. By only kicking onside kicks, we are saving the players legs.

2.) Save Practice Time

If you only practice one kick, an onside kick, you are able to get more reps in practice. Deep kicks take a long time to run. With practice time being as valuable as it is, the more reps, the better we perform.

3.) Turnovers!

 It's simple, you increase your chances of regaining the ball exponentially by onside kicking every time you step on the field. 

4.) Confidence Building

When you, as a coach, bring an aggressive gameplan to the table, your players feed off of it. Your players will see you aggressively trying to get the ball back, something they will attempt to replicate on other special teams and defense. 

8MD Spring Updates

8 Man Offense

Spring 2015 will include some new developments for 8 Man Defense. We will be rolling out an entirely new site dedicated to the offensive side of the football: 8 Man Offense! 

One of the coolest parts about 8 Man Offense is the fact that it's products will be brought to you by a conglomerate of coaches instead of just one. More to come on 8 Man Offense soon.

winning By Committee

If you have products you'd like to sell here on, feel free to contact us via the contact page and inquire about the process. Each coach's material has to be validated and approved before uploading to the site for sale.

If you are interested, please contact us today about selling your 8 man football defensive schemes, blitzes, and special teams plays.