Often times, people can learn important lessons from animals. This is true for individuals or groups of individuals who come together with a common purpose. As a defensive group, I think our players can learn important lessons about teamwork and survival from the Wild African Dogs of East Africa. If our defense can reflect some of the character traits exhibited by these dogs, we will be a very effective and productive unit. Let’s see what we can learn from these animals. All members of the Star Chamber will become familiar with the following facts. As a group, it will be our goal to exhibit these characteristics in our defensive play

FACT: The Wild African Dog hunts in packs of about 11 dogs, the same number of defenders that we play with at any given time. Each dog is a distinct individual with a certain personality that can affect the other dogs. We too have distinct personalities on our defense. As such, we need to play in a defensive scheme that takes advantage of these personalities.

For example, a man named Hugo Van Lawick made a four year study of wild dogs in Tanzania. He studied a pack of dogs that hunted zebras because two of the dogs were big enough to hold the zebra while the others attacked. When the two dogs died, the pack quit hunting zebras. The personality of these two dogs affected the whole group

Our defense functions in the same manner. We are usually not a big defense in terms of size, but we are a smart and quick defense. All of our players are very active and for this reason we play a defensive scheme that takes advantage of this strength. Every defensive player is expected to cover the field and arrive at the point of attack. For this reason, it is a defensive goal to not get any last frame points. Like the Wild African Dogs, our defense will play fast and smart. Never wait for the ball carrier to come to you.

 This is one of our defensive strengths. It is something all defenders have to exhibit. We can give each other physical help on the field, but we can’t think for you. You have to think for yourself. Some day, if we have a different type of player, perhaps we will change

FACT: The Wild African Dogs are successful in their kills about 85% of the time. Once the dogs feed, others move in to steal and eat what is left. Birds eat last.

An 85% win percentage would be great for any team. As a team our goal is to win every game, but over time, striving to maintain an 85% win percentage is a great goal. It is the job of all current members of our program to set the tone for all future players. You need to set high standards so that the athletes who follow you will want to keep a winning tradition going. In this regard you all have a tremendous influence and responsibility.

Like the Wild African Dogs, take pride in being first. As an individual defender, take pride in leading by example. Be first in everything. When you come to practice, be the first one on the field. When you condition, be first. When you tackle the ball carrier, get there first. Never be last, don’t be a bird!

FACT: The wild dog packs are “extended” families. They tend to fight less than most animals and when they do fight it is usually for sex!

I never want any of our defenders fighting with each other or with anyone else for that matter. Our defense needs to play together and support each other. The coaches will decide who will play and the players will respect their decisions. It is very important that we never have any individuals on the field. The quickest way to defensive failure is to have players on the field who are not part of the “team” concept. These players will impede the success of the group because they are selfish and are more concerned about how they are doing or how they look.

As for fighting for sex, I am confident that there won’t be much, if any, of that. However, if there is a fight, it better be over sex and she better be worth it!
FACT: Wild African Dogs discipline their own when one screws up

This is a great character trait and I want all our players to take charge and let each other know if someone is not doing a good job. One of the biggest problems that we often encounter as coaches is when players fail to condemn the actions of their teammates even when they know that what they did is wrong. This is not positive leadership. Sometimes the worst criticism that one can receive is criticism that comes from our own peers. By failing to condemn the wrongs of an individual you are in fact supporting him

Part of being a good leader is not being afraid to break ranks when you know that something is wrong. When I speak about “condemning” the actions of an individual, I am simply talking about taking a stand and letting others know that you don’t approve of their actions and that you do not support them. That is all that a good leader will do. You don’t need to get into a confrontation and you do not need to become enemies. It will be up to that individual to accept the criticism and make a sincere effort to better himself.

FACT: Some animals are resigned to take a beating at the hands of the dogs sensing that it would be more dangerous to run.

This fact about the dogs is the ultimate in intimidation. It is our defensive goal to have all our opponents thinking this way by the 4th quarter and beyond. A good example of this occurred in 1999 when we played Hoover in the playoffs. That evening after the game I had the opportunity to talk with some coaches who saw the game including Hoover’s head coach. The observation that all these coaches made was that the Hoover players hadn’t been hit that hard all year. For three quarters Hoover’s players played with limited enthusiasm and appeared to be resigned to take the physical punishment. Unfortunately, the game is four quarters long and in the fourth quarter the mental advantage switched. Suddenly it was our team that lacked the confidence and enthusiasm. Our defense appeared to be resigned to take the physical punishment that now Hoover was handing out.

This is something that should never occur if you understand one thing. The game of football is much like the hunt that wild dogs engage in when they stalk their prey. The hunt is in many ways like a football game, you have both good and bad moments, but you never lose your focus. When something goes wrong you keep on hunting with the same mental attitude that you had before. Just like the dog continues to hunt with enthusiasm and confidence, so should you. The physical punishment should continue and if at the end your prey gets away, it won’t be because you surrendered your mental advantage. This is very important. Think about how many games are lost, or are almost lost, after it appears that you have them won. You need to finish what you start.

Lastly, don’t forget about the wild dog’s hunting style. Think about the cheetah and how the dogs catch them notwithstanding the fact that cheetahs can reach speeds of up to 65 to 70 miles per hour and the dogs can only reach speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. Yes the cheetah can go 70 miles per hour, but it can sustain this speed for only a short period of time. The dogs will take off after the cheetah in a pack. One dog will go to the front and go as fast as he can for as long as he can. When he tires, he will fall back into the pack and another dog will take his place. The dogs repeat this teamwork until the cheetah stops and sits down. At this point, the dogs will attack as a pack and eat it up! This is the ultimate in intimidation

FACT: Some Wild African Dogs specialize in certain game, they won’t even bother with other game

As a defense we want to be able to defend against any type of offensive scheme that we face. In addition we want to be able to welcome and meet the challenge of specific schemes. Right now, Wing-T offenses are very popular. It is very important that we play with confidence against teams that run this offense. The basic design of our base defense, the 50 over, was in fact designed to defend Wing –T teams. We want to be able to specialize against these teams not only because we will have to play against a number of them during the regular season, but also because there is a very good possibility that we will have to face some of these teams in the playoffs. As such, we will always place an emphasis on Wing-T preparation. We will not wait until game week to try to get ready

FACT: Some animals have been known to flee into lakes and rivers and drown themselves in an effort to get away from the dogs.

This is a goal that we absolutely have to achieve. One of our defensive goals is to not make more than six mental mistakes in a game. Mental mistakes will prove to be the undoing of even the most talented defensive ball clubs. It is important that we not hurt ourselves with mental mistakes. Things like jumping offside on third down and giving an opponent a first down are inexcusable. We must see to it that our opponents self-destruct and beat themselves. We will not beat ourselves with blown assignments. Just like with the Wild African Dogs, our opponents will destroy themselves in their effort to overcome our defense

FACT: Wild African Dogs are nomadic and sleep in a different den each night. They cover a 600 mile radius.

It is very important to note that there is no such thing as a home field advantage. People who ascribe to this theory are looking for excuses. A football field is a football field. The place where you play or the time of day is of no significance. Far too many players buy into the theory that they can’t play their best football in the afternoon or on the road. How weak is this excuse! None of our defenders will ever bring up this subject during practice week. We will play with the same determination that the Wild African Dogs have. Home or away, evening or afternoon, we will play with the same effectiveness and with a positive frame of mind. No excuses.

FACT: Wild African Dogs drink very little, they get their liquids from their kills.

Viking defenders will not rely on alcoholic substances to get high. Alcohol consumption has brought nothing but disruption to our program in recent years, yet some players continue to violate our team rules and weaken our ball club. In regards to this problem, someone has to step forward and show some leadership. It is obvious that our coaching staff has had very little influence on some of our players when it comes to discouraging alcohol abuse. This is a major problem not only for our program, but also for many programs in our county. Coaching staffs deal with this problem in different ways. We have been very tolerant with our players and have given them every opportunity to succeed. However, to me, it is apparent that we are not getting the point across. As such, I have come to the conclusion that I must institute a zero tolerance policy for our defensive players. If you are involved in an alcohol related violation, you will have to suffer whatever disciplinary measures have been put in place for all players and in addition, if you are not dismissed from the team, you will no longer play on the defensive side of the ball. 

Don’t be afraid to lead by example. Once again, if one of your teammates is breaking this team rule and you fail to condemn his actions, you are in fact supporting him. It is your choice. Some parents in defense of their children argue that there is just too much peer pressure involved and that it is very difficult to make a decision to not drink. This is nothing but a bad excuse. Have some courage and do what is right. It takes great strength of character to be different.

FACT: Wild African Dogs need 5 to 10 pounds of meat per day and will settle for nothing less. Other animals turn to mice, insects and plants in hard times

This is a very important aspect of our defensive mentality. Yes there are going to be hard times on the field. Turnovers and adversity are part of the game. It is critical that we react positively in the face of adversity. A defensive goal that we are going emphasize next year is “No Touchdowns After Sudden Change.” We need to keep our composure on the field whenever we are placed in a difficult situation. This is the time that we have to step up and play with the most confidence. Every time we take the field defensively we will first meet on the sideline and discuss the situation. We will make a defensive call and we will take the field with confidence and with the full knowledge that we will be at our defensive best in these situations. Just like the Wild African Dogs, we will settle for nothing less than what we want…defensive domination.

We can learn many things from these dogs. I love their style and determination. We will talk up all aspects of their demeanor and it will be no secret that this is how we intend to play. It will be your job to see to it that all our young players buy into this concept.