IMPROVING STUDENT-ATHLETE SUPERVISION

 

 

 

RELECTIONS ON AMERICAN BOWL 2015

 

REFLECTIONS ON AMERICAN BOWL 2015

 

STARS AND STRIPES vs. MEXICO’S UNDER 19 ALL-STAR TEAM

 

By Rey Hernandez, Retired College and High School Coach

On December 18, I had the opportunity to coach on a football staff that prepared a group of San Diego County high school seniors who were representing the United States in a game played between Mexico’s National Under-19 All-Star team and the Stars and Stripes. The bi-national showcase was made possible through the combined efforts of the Inter-California Youth Athletic Association (IYAA) and Mexico’s Federation of American Football (FMFA). The hard work of IYAA board members Ruben Sanchez and Derek Dahlen, who also served as head coach for the American team, provided the participants an opportunity to gain international exposure while at the same time expanding the game of football across our borders. Equally important was the hard work of Mr. Jose Jorge Orobio Rosas, President of the FMFA and Mexico’s Head Coach, Rafael Duk.

The game provided me with an opportunity to do some on the field coaching for the first time since my retirement from high school coaching in 2012. It also provided me some personal insight into the growth of American football in Mexico. It comes as a surprise to many to find out that American football has been played in Mexico for close to 100 years. I remember when I was in elementary school our flag football coach, Mr. Guillermo Garcia, told us that he had played American football in the 1940’s when he was a college student in Mexico. The popularity of the sport has grown immensely since that time. The players who represented Mexico in this all-star game were selected from a nation-wide pool of 1,300 athletes who tried out for the team. These players will be representing Mexico in the next World Championship that is scheduled to be played in China in 2016.

The improvement in the quality of play on the youth level in Mexico was very much evident on the field on game day. For many years, Mexican high school teams have been coming across the border to play San Diego Section teams. Early on the games were often a mismatch on the field but as the years have gone by these teams have become much more competitive. We were able to mount a 20-0 lead midway through the second quarter but the Mexican squad was able to battle back before dropping a hard fought 27-21 game to the Stars and Stripes.

Unlike other all-star games that I have been a part of in the past, this game had an international flair as well as a patriotic feel that permeated the stadium. The evening began with a precision parachute team jumping at 4,500 feet and onto the field carrying the flags of the United States and Mexico. The popular singer-actress Agina Alvarez performed stellar renditions of both national anthems and set the tone for what would be a very spirited game. Her singing performance also inspired the crowd’s “USA, USA, USA” chants that filled the air just prior to kickoff.

For me, it was very satisfying to see the excitement and pride exhibited by the teenagers on both sides of the line of scrimmage. It was even more satisfying to see the respect and camaraderie that was visible all over the field when the final whistle blew. It gave me a sense of hope knowing that the challenges and disagreements that our two countries share might perhaps one day be resolved by this young generation of teenagers who will one day be entrusted with the future of both our countries.

As I walked of the field I also had a chance to reflect on the week that I spent coaching on the field. After the game some of my friends and colleagues asked me what I miss most about coaching. I thought about the many San Diego Section Championship games I had the great pleasure to be a part of. I also thought about the many hard fought playoff games that I experienced during my 33 years of high school coaching as well as the many league titles that I experienced during my career. These things are certainly memorable and cherished moments but it wasn’t very difficult to realize that what I miss the most about coaching is the time I spent on the practice field coaching my players and hearing them call me ‘coach.’

The short five days I spent back on the field helped me realize just how great the game of high school football is. Coaches across the country need to be advocates for the game. High school football has been cast in a very negative light in recent years. The safety of the game has been called into question and many parents are understandably fearful of letting their children play. There is too much good that comes from high school football to simply stand on the sideline and not get involved in the ongoing national discussion regarding the future of the sport at the youth level.

I’ll leave you with one final thought. In our quest to crown mythical national champions, state champions, regional champions and local champions, it isn’t difficult to get caught up in the winning aspect of competition and forget about all the other rewards the game of high school football can deliver. I once coached an all-star game in the early 1980’s and we were able to walk off the field with an upset win over a very talented squad. As we were leaving the field we saw one of our players standing alone and crying. We were of course concerned and asked him why he was crying. He responded, “Coach, I never won a game.” This boy had played four years of high school football and all the teams he played on went 0-10. There must have been something in the game of football that this boy very much loved. It certainly wasn’t the winning that kept him playing. My guess is that what he loved the most was what I loved the most too. We both just wanted to be on the field with coaches and teammates and being a part of the best game that was ever invented.

 

 

 

 

ACL INJURIES- WHY THE INCREASE?

 

 

Oct15

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ACL Injuries in Football – Why The Increase?

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears have become the focus of much attention across the nation as football programs on all levels have seen an increase in a knee injury that used to be pretty rare among young athletes. There are numerous theories that have been proposed to help explain the rise in ACL tears. Researchers have cited genetic reasons, neurological explanations, proprioception, the rise in artificial playing surfaces, athletic footwear, the role of fatigue, an increase in the number of adolescent participation in sports, one-sport specialization and, on the professional level, collectively bargained changes in the way football teams practice that reflect safety initiated reductions in practice time, the elimination of two-a-days and the reduction of padded practices.

This article will center on the changes in training that have occurred over the years on both the youth level and the high school level. Could it be possible that many athletes on this level are training in ways that perhaps contribute to the destabilization of the knee joint and an increased risk of future ACL injuries? One of the ways that an ACL tear can occur is when an athlete quickly stops moving and changes direction while running. Dr. Robert Litchfield, medical director of the Fowler Kennedy Sport Medicine Clinic at the University of Western Ontario, has studied videotape of ACL injuries and has found a pattern. His discovered that those who tore their ACLs all did the same thing with their legs when they were avoiding a defender or reacting to an offensive player. He explains that the injured player throws the injured limb out to the side and then tries to make an upper-body move where they move away from the side they just planted on. See Neal Gabler, The Nastiest Injury in Sports, Grantland, Dec 10, 2013, http://grantland.com/features/derrick-rose-rob-gronkowski-rise-acl-tears/.

The transitional movement pattern described by Dr. Litchfield accurately describes two of the most popular measureable movement drills that many youth level athletes start practicing in various training scenarios at a very early age. One of these drills is the three cone drill that is used to measure an athlete’s ability to change directions at a high speed.

The other drill is the shuttle run or 5-10-5 drill which is used to test an athlete’s lateral quickness and explosion in short areas. One of the biggest changes that has occurred over the last four decades has been the proliferation of football combines and showcases that allow youth level football players to display their football skills as well as their speed and agility. The ultimate goal for many of these athletes is to receive a scholarship offer that will allow them to attend college and play at the next level. The shuttle drill is also part of the testing battery conducted at the annual NFL combine that had its beginnings in 1982 and in the 21st century has become a very popular television presence. The 21st century also brought with it an increase in the number of youth level combines and showcases that have also become popular with television audiences.

The desire to post high scores in these drills can often evolve into an obsession that can consume an athlete to the point that their training becomes counterproductive and perhaps even a physical liability. On the high school level it is not uncommon for some athletes to dedicate a vast majority of their time attending summer camps, combines and training with their personal coaches. For skill position players one must also factor in the time spent participating in passing leagues. A concern for many coaches then becomes the amount of time that an athlete is absent from the team’s weight room activities.

Improving strength and flexibility within the knee joint is a critical component of ACL injury prevention. Addressing musculature imbalance is also a very important component of strength training and sacrificing the time set apart to address these two important aspects of injury prevention and comprehensive strength development could perhaps be a precursor to future ACL problems. The continuous repetition of these measureable movement drills over time may very well improve an athlete’s score but one has to wonder if these improvements might not also be accompanied by some unintended physical consequences.

Another change that might also be contributing to the increase in ACL injuries is the proliferation of the passing game that is mirrored by the number of teams that now run the spread offense and teams that run fast tempo, no huddle offenses. American Football Monthly’s State Championship Team Profile in their July 2014 issue lists the spread offense as the base offense that team’s ran the most during their championship season. Forty-two percent of 2014 state championship teams ran the spread and 58% of junior high schools and middle schools ran the same offense. These offenses have also seen a surge in popularity on the collegiate level and some professional teams have also implemented fast tempo, no huddle schemes on the offensive side of the ball. The increased popularity of these offenses combined with the fast-tempo pace that accompanies them means that an increased number of players on both sides of the line of scrimmage are now having to react in more one on one situations in space. The adoption of these offensive schemes has also changed the way that many teams practice and this increase in one on one situations in space has increased in practices also.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers assistant team physician Robin West has noted that studies show that about 70 percent of ACL tears result from non-contact injuries. See Jenny Vrentas, 2013: The Year of the Injury, Muscle and Medicine, December 4, 2013, http://mmqb.si.com/2013/12/04/. With this in mind coaches must also account for the fact that conducting non-contact practices does not necessarily lessen the possibility that athletes will suffer an ACL tear.

Perhaps it is time for coaches to start tracking the number of repetitions that their skill position players take in practices, passing leagues, summer camps, workouts with personal coaches and combines. It might also be of benefit to limit the number of repetitions your athletes take practicing measurable movement drills such as the three cone drill and the shuttle run. This inventory combined with a weight training program that addresses any musculature imbalances will hopefully provide some positive results.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMPROVE YOUR PASS DEFENSE BY STEALING THE QUARTERBACK'S TIME

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ZONE DEFENSE ON THE GOAL LINE

 

 

 

 

 

 

LIVE LIMITS ON LIVE TACKLING IN PRACTICE - GOOD OR BAD FOR THE GAME?

 

Limits on Live Tackling in Practice – Good or Bad for the Game?
by: Rey Hernandez

AUGUST / SEPTEMBER 2014

Copyright American Football Monthly

National player safety concerns prompted in great part by the National Football League’s (NFL) response to player lawsuits and scientific research data that is calling into question the safety of the game has led to numerous efforts to implement changes that will hopefully make the game safer on all levels of play. The California Assembly by a vote of 50-22 has approved AB 2127 a bill that will prohibit high school and middle school football teams of school districts, charter schools or private schools that elect to offer an athletic program from conducting more than two full-contact practices per week during the pre-season and regular season.

The bill was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown and will take effect on January 1, 2015. The new law will prohibit the full-contact portion of a practice from exceeding 90 minutes in any single day and completely prohibit full-contact practice during the off-season.

Public policy activist Philip Howard in a talk at the Washington Policy Center on July 27, 2010 expressed the opinion that one of the problems in education today is that our schools have been transformed by law. Based on my experience as a teacher and coach that dates back to the mid-1970’s, I would have to agree that the intrusion of the law in the educational setting has played a significant role in creating what Howard calls the legal minefield that now exists on our campuses. Educators today must take into account a wide range of legal mandates that address due process, special education, zero tolerance, No Child Left Behind, work site rules and in states such as California one can now add full-contact practice planning limitations in the sport of football.

One important reality that perhaps has not been considered throughout the legislative process is the fact that high school programs throughout the state can differ in many ways and although one program might be able to implement this legal mandate with little or no difficulty there are others that might be impacted in a much more significant manner. High school football programs can vary in size and total number of participating athletes throughout the varsity, junior varsity and freshman levels. In addition, the total number of on-campus and walk-on coaches on each staff can vary from program to program. Another very important difference is the configuration of the academic school year that includes both traditional and year-round calendars. Additional differences can also include but are not limited to facilities, total funding, district pre-school bus transportation availability and the availability of athletic trainers. In addition head coaches that work at schools that do not have last period athletic classes could possibly have additional scheduling problems that will only be complicated by the two full-contact per week practice limitation.

In programs that consist mostly on off campus coaches, the two-practice full contact per week limitation could possibly create a situation where head coaches might not be able to adequately prepare their teams from not only a strategic standpoint but also from a player safety standpoint. Head coaches in these type of programs have to design practice schedules that take into consideration the availability of off-campus coaches depending on their distinct employment schedules. These coaches are often school district employees that work at schools with different bell-schedules, coaches in non-education related professions that have varying employment hours and coaches that might have to travel longer distances to get to the school where they coach. This constraint could be especially burdensome for head coaches when they plan their pre-season practice schedules when classes are not in session yet. In these programs scheduling a double-day practice session might be even more complicated when the staff consists of one or more coaches who work in professions that have traditional work hours that make it difficult to attend practices in the mornings or early afternoon.

In order to highlight some of the concerns that might arise now that AB 2127 has been signed into law, I took a look at the pre-season practice schedule that I put in place for the 2012 season which was my last year of coaching. If AB 2127 had been in effect that year, the weekly full-contact practice limitations in the new law would have allowed for only four full contact practices prior to our scheduled four-way scrimmage on August 24th. In a program such as ours I would have been particularly concerned about the many freshmen football players that came into our program with no tackle football experience. One cannot ignore the legal issues associated with placing athletes on the field under game conditions with too little live transitional tackling practice. This is a potential source of tort liability that seems to be escaping legislators as laws similar to AB 2127 have been enacted throughout the country. The problem however is not just a tort liability concern but also a player health and safety concern for all coaches.

One of the problems associated with the national concussion and safety discussion is that too often the discussion centers mostly on the quantitative minutes of live transitional tackling practice that takes place but does not adequately account for the quality of the live transitional tackling that takes place. Because not all programs are alike a one size fits all approach such as that provided in AB 2127 is probably not the best way to go about making high school football as safe as possible for the student-athletes. Practice scheduling decisions are best left up to the coaches as they are the ones who are best able to make decisions that will be tailored to meet the needs of their own individual players while taking into consideration any special constraints that are associated with their programs. Laws should set boundaries regarding what is unreasonable without stripping coaches of their authority to run a productive and safe practice based on their personal experience.

If legislatures across the country want to make changes that will have help improve the health and safety of student-athletes participating in interscholastic football, they should start by enacting laws that will require school districts to hire certified athletic trainers, fund baseline concussion testing and appoint experienced athletic directors that will be able to adequately monitor a school’s athletic program.

 

 

HOW UNIONS UNIONS WOULD DRAMATICALLY ALTER THE PLAYER-COACH RELATIONSHIP

 

How unions would dramatically alter the player-coach relationship

Rey HernandezMonday, April 07, 2014

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How unions would dramatically alter the player-coach relationship

On March 24, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for Region 13 held that student-athletes receiving scholarships at Northwestern University are "employees" under Section 2(3) of the National Labor Relations Act.

If upheld on appeal, the ruling will allow all football players receiving football grant-in-aid scholarships and not having exhausted their playing eligibility to vote and decide whether they desire to be represented by the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) for purposes of collective bargaining.

The decision in this case applies only to private institutions such as Northwestern University that fall under the jurisdiction of the NLRB, but it is probably only a matter of time before public universities will have to address similar issues under the laws of their jurisdiction and their respective public employment relations board.

These issues give rise to complex legal questions that will require expertise in numerous legal specializations, including (but not limited to) federal and state labor law, education law, employment law, taxation law, workers' compensation and antitrust law. Title IX issues will also need to be addressed.

The purpose of this article is not so much to discuss the legal issues, but rather to take a look at what some of the practical implications might be for both coaches and student-athletes if the unionization of college players ever takes place.

Student-athlete or employee?

As a starting point, it is probably best to examine the definition of the term student-athlete. The Northwestern NLRB decision held that Northwestern scholarship players are not primarily students who spend only a limited number of hours performing their athletic duties.

NLRB Regional Director Peter Sung Ohr pointed out that these players devote 40 to 50 hours per week on football-related activities while only spending 20 hours per week attending classes. As such, they are "employees" under the language of Section 2(3) of the Act. The decision also noted that the coaches at Northwestern are not part of the academic faculty and that the scholarship players do not receive academic credit for playing football.

If scholarship players are successful in their attempt to unionize, the player-coach relationship would then become one that would be better described as an employee-player-coach relationship. The practical implications discussed herein will center on the purpose for seeking union representation in the first place.

The National Labor Relations Act gives a union the right to negotiate with an employer concerning wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment. An examination of the Northwestern case will provide some insight into how the player-coach relationship might be affected should CAPA's efforts to unionize the players be successful.

Northwestern is already operating under NCAA restrictions related to the time programs may spend on athletically-related activities. The NCAA limits countable athletic related activities (CARA) to 20 hours per week from the first regular-season game and the final regular-season game, or until the end of the fall quarter should the school qualify for a bowl game. In addition, the CARA total cannot exceed four hours per day, and the players are required to have one day off per week.

The NLRB decision in the Northwestern case stated that the Northwestern players did in fact devote well over 20 actual hours per week on football-related activities. The decision did note, however, that this is not a CARA violation because numerous activities such as travel, mandatory training meetings, voluntary weight conditioning or strength training, medical check-ins, training tape review and required attendance at training table are not counted by the NCAA. Additional CARA time restrictions are also in place during spring practice and the offseason.

The unionization of players would give a union the right to address CARA time limitations at the bargaining table, and this might operate to infringe on a head coach's ability to schedule the aforementioned activities at his sole discretion even when he schedules them within the scope of the NCAA's CARA limitations.

Remember that the NCAA is a private association that a university agrees to become a member thereof. From a collective-bargaining standpoint, it is quite possible that a conflict might arise where CAPA might seek to bargain a condition of employment with Northwestern that could give rise to a potential CARA violation.

The fact that this condition of employment is a mandatory subject of collective bargaining would probably preclude Northwestern from refusing to negotiate on this point as required by the federal labor laws.

What is interesting here is that the U.S. Supreme Court has held on more than one occasion that the NCAA does not in fact "control" its members. See NCAA v. Tarkanian 488 U.S. 179 (1988) and NCAA v. Smith 525 U.S. 459 (1999). These cases held that the fact that these institutions make decisions cognizant of NCAA sanctions does not mean that the NCAA controls them, because they have the option, albeit unpalatable, of risking sanctions or voluntarily withdrawing from the NCAA.

It should be added here that this is probably one of the major reasons that the commissioners of the five most powerful conferences have made a call for significant changes to the NCAA's governance structure that would allow the conferences to regulate themselves.

Settling rule violations

The Northwestern Athletic Handbook and the Team Handbook also set forth certain team and athletic department rules that the football players must abide by. Addressed herein are special rules related to housing restrictions, outside employment, social media restrictions and a media interview policy. Other rules address swearing in public, drug testing, antihazing and antigambling policies and a dress code policy.

Even player discipline for less egregious things such as being late to a meeting or failing to weigh-in after a practice will now fall under the scope of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA). and this could also possibly complicate a coach's ability to address these matters. As one can see, there are numerous terms and conditions of employment that could possibly expand the administrative duties of a head coach and his administrative team.

An important function of a union involves servicing the needs of the employees it represents. If an employee feels that his rights under the CBA have been violated, the union may intervene on the employee's behalf. A local union may try to settle these issues informally, but if not successful it may file what is known as a grievance.

In the college football workplace scenario, an informal attempt to address these issues could possibly involve a meeting with the head coach and what is sometimes referred to as an association representative. In the college football union scenario, the association representative's role could be filled by a member of the collective-bargaining unit or better stated one of the members of the team who is currently on scholarship and has not exhausted his eligibility.

Having served as an association representative during my career as an educator, I can state from experience that this could place a strain on the player-coach relationship.

Many college football programs have in place a leadership council that often consists of freshmen, sophomore, junior and senior players who are voted on by their teammates. These players meet with the head coach to discuss any issues that arise on the team, but the head coach retains the final decision on any matter that is raised.

Should the players vote to unionize, the position of association representative might be assumed by one of the players who serves on the leadership council. The selection of this representative will, however, take place under specific union rules and regulations and will not be controlled by the head coach.

The major difference would be that any final decisions in this regard would no longer rest with the head coach, and a minor issue such as a dispute regarding a violation of the school's social media policy could possibly turn into one requiring the use of the formal grievance process.

It is probably safe to say that other more serious issues such as the revocation of a scholarship would almost certainly become the subject of a grievance and would involve not only the head coach but also other university administrative employees.

Currently, a university can at any time revoke a player's scholarship for cause as defined under NCAA rules in the scholarship tender offer signed by the recruit, but with a a union it would have to be done pursuant to the grievance process as defined in the CBA. Thus, a coach's decision to revoke a scholarship could possibly become a much more complex matter.

Under the policies that are now in place in many universities, a head coach might determine that a scholarship should be revoked. This decision would then proceed to an administrative process that will involve an administrative review, a final determination by the athletic director and an appeal process that will involve other administrative employees.

The unionization of college football players would give rise to a much different scenario. Pursuant to the terms of a formal grievance procedure, the revocation of a scholarship would involve several different steps, with each step involving higher levels of management.

If the grievance cannot be settled through this mechanism, the union may — if the CBA allows — place the matter before a neutral arbitrator whose decision will be final and binding upon both parties.

2 groups emerge

A final observation will center on the possibility of a job action or perhaps even a strike by the players. In a typical employment scenario when CBA talks fail to lead to a contract, a union will often resort to certain types of job actions that it hopes will prompt the employer to rethink its position.

Examples of this might include sick-outs, working to the contract or picketing where union members will attempt to expose some negative aspects of the company. Anyone following Northwestern case is already familiar with the negative publicity in regard to the money generated by college football for many universities and the NCAA, and what some believe are the inadequate benefits that flow to the players.

Player media interview restrictions and team social media policies might be effective in limiting this type of player involvement under the current operating conditions, but should the unionization efforts be successful, the rules would dramatically change. It will be interesting to see how many athletes would be willing to publicly criticize their coaches and the university that employs them.

The possibility of a strike would also raise some interesting questions. The NLRB decision in this case held that walk-on players at Northwestern do not meet the definition of "employee" for purposes of determining who is eligible to vote in an election to determine if the employees desire to be represented by CAPA for collective-bargaining purposes.

The NLRB decision also held that freshmen football players would not be allowed to vote until they begin to perform services for the employer. The end result of this legal classification of athletes is that coaches would now have two distinct groups of players on their roster.

On one hand, there are those who are recognized as "employees" for collective-bargaining purposes and those who are not compensated for their services and can best be referred to as "student-athletes." In the event of a strike, how many of these student-athletes would be willing to honor a strike line and perhaps pass up an opportunity to actually play in a game as starters?

For that matter, how many second- and third-string employees would also opt to honor a strike line and pass up an opportunity to play as starters? This scenario alone serves to illustrate how the unionization of college athletes might serve to change the definition of the word "team" in the future.

Many of the questions and issues raised herein are mostly speculative in nature, and only time will tell how the courts will ultimately rule on these matters. The courts will resolve the issues from a legal standpoint, but it will be up to coaches to abide by all the legal directives and still be able to bring the team together and play to the best of its ability.

Perhaps it will not be as difficult as one might think, but it is also possible that the coaching profession on the collegiate level will change in many ways that are not evident today. My suspicion is that the unionization of college players will also have a trickle-down effect to the high school level where many student-athletes could possibly be preparing to sign employment contracts before they even graduate.

If college athletes have the ability to market their image for financial gain in some form or another, one can safely conclude that more high school athletes will want to graduate early not only to get a jump start on their collegiate playing career but also to start reaping the benefits associated with playing on the next level.

As such, the role of player agents and lawyers will also have to be addressed on this level.

 

 

NCAA 10-SECOND SUBSTITUTION RULE: LOOKING FORWARD

NCAA 10-second substitution rule: Looking forward

Rey Hernandez Monday, March 31, 2014

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NCAA 10-second substitution rule: Looking forward

The NFL's concussion litigation problems have given rise to a number of rule adoptions that have seriously impacted the game of football on all levels. Unfortunately, these rule adoptions have had a number of unintended consequences as is often the case when one attempts to micromanage a fast-paced game such as football.

What is interesting is that there appears to be some inconsistency when it comes to adopting changes that will hopefully make the game safer without negatively affecting the competitive balance of the game.

On the collegiate level in 2013, the NCAA Rules Committee made an ejection part of the penalty for targeting fouls. These plays were subject to review, and the ejection could be overturned.

The problem with the penalty as enforced in 2013 was that even if the ejection was overturned, the 15-yard penalty still stood. The result was that this penalty as enforced clearly gave the offense a competitive advantage as it became the beneficiary of a 15-yard penalty even when the review showed that no foul had taken place.

It is interesting that many of the same coaches who now oppose the controversial 10-second rule on the grounds that it would negatively impact the competitive balance on the offensive side of the ball, a year earlier appeared to be quite willing to accept the 15-yard penalty notwithstanding the fact that it negatively impacted the competitive balance of the game on the defensive side of the ball.

The rule has now been revised for the 2014 season, but as originally adopted it is a clear example of a rule modification that appears to have been missing meaningful input from those coaching on the defensive side of the ball.

From strictly a safety standpoint, advocates of fast-paced offenses note that no data currently exists linking fast-paced offenses to increased player injury. Injury awareness and prevention is an important part of the game on all levels and should be a concern.

Player safety concerns must include effective concussion detection and management, as well as an understanding of heat-related incidents that include both heat exhaustion and heat stroke as well as sickle cell trait precautions.

As the game of football changes coaches, trained medical professionals will have to keep pace with these changes. One should not have to wait until there is scientific evidence that fast-paced offenses are responsible for increased player injury before safety precautions are implemented. At the same time, it is not necessary to implement a 10-second substitution rule to slow these offenses down without first looking at other ways to address all safety concerns.

Huddle discipline

The traditional huddles that were once part of football have been slowly disappearing as the game has evolved. As a defensive coordinator, I would address huddle discipline before I would ever implement any defensive sets and schemes.

Huddle discipline included how the huddle was formed, where the players stood based on their position, who was allowed to speak, what specific visual cues came into play as a defensive call was communicated and how the players broke the huddle.

I always kept one player out of the huddle who would serve as a communication link with the other 10 players in the huddle. This player was the corner closest to our sideline, and he was identified as the field corner.

This allowed me to make late changes in a call and spared me the frustration of having to yell at the defense in an effort to get their attention when late adjustments needed to be made. The field corner would move to his position only after I pointed to him.

An interesting safety point that is often missed in this context is that throughout my coaching career I would at times find out about a possible grade-one or grade-two concussion from players coming to me and telling me that a teammate appeared to be demonstrating some type of transient confusion or inability to maintain a coherent stream of thought.

With the disappearance of traditional huddles, there has come an increased likelihood that this source of concussion detection will be somewhat diminished due to the decreased personal interaction between defenders between plays.

There is still a need to maintain huddle discipline on the field. Huddle discipline from a defensive perspective in the fast-tempo scenario is an essential component of defensive communication, defensive play-calling and defensive substitution strategies.

Defensive coaches need to be reminded that they don't have to ask for the opposing offense's permission to substitute defenders. In this regard, a defensive coordinator can run his substitutes onto the field the second an offensive play is over, as long as the players coming off the field were informed one play ahead of time that they would be replaced.

These substitution strategies and communication protocols could be implemented in much the same way that fast-tempo offenses communicate with their players on the field. A quick defensive substitution strategy will require the offense to either account for the new personnel on the field (in which case they might want to make personnel changes of their own) or ignore the defensive substitution.

If a counter substitution is made, the fast-paced tempo has been compromised to a certain degree. If they don't make a counter substitution, the defense will still have addressed any exhaustion concerns that might have required a substitution in the first place. In addition, the defense will have a call in place that at least on paper is structurally sound from a strategic standpoint.

Conditioning and practice planning

There are two other defensive coaching strategies that need to be addressed if defenses are going to be more effective against fast-tempo offenses. The first one involves the way coaches condition their defenders.

Modern conditioning centers on developing football speed with a secondary emphasis on stamina. Coaches might start rethinking the value of interval training for their players on the defensive side of the ball.

As a defensive coordinator, I had to factor this component into our conditioning program out of necessity. Coaching in a small program, I knew we were going to have to rely on a number of players going both ways as well as playing on special teams.

Our summer training testing would end with a test that would require the players to run 12 consecutive 40-yard sprints. Their rest interval was a walk back to the starting spot, and passing the test required that no time in the series be more than two-tenths of a second slower than their best time.

If, for example, their best time in the 40 was 4.7 seconds, in order to pass this part of the test, no time in the series could be slower than 4.9 seconds. After the 12th 40, he would get a five-minute rest interval and then hit the track to run 10 220-yard sprints that had to be run within a certain time that was based on their position and weight. Defensive backs for example had to run them in 35 seconds or better. The rest interval was one minute.

My coaching colleagues would often ask me why I made my players run 220-yard intervals in preparation for playing football, and it was a legitimate question. It was something that worked for us, and one of the best compliments I often received from opposing coaches centered on their admiration of the way our defenders always ran to the ball and played hard for the entire game.

This is not to say that this method of training is the answer for all defensive coaches, but there is something to be said about the psychology of conditioning. Defensive coaches need to decide how to best approach the exhaustion issue so they won't have to ask for a 10-second rule change to help their players catch their breath.

The second defensive strategy involves the way defenses practice. I am a firm believer that defenses need to practice some live transitional tackling in 11-on-11 scout sessions. The bottom line is that on game day your defenders will have to tackle ball carriers and bring them to the ground.

This is a practice-planning decision that will ultimately have to be decided by the head coach, and I fully understand the injury concerns that need to be factored into this decision. As fast-tempo offenses have become more effective over the years, there has been a decrease in defensive efficiency marked by passive defensive play and poor tackling.

Dead-ball officiating

Another important but sometimes overlooked component of fast-tempo offensive play is dead-ball officiating, which is critical to effective execution on both sides of the ball.

In the fast-tempo scenario, the officials have responsibilities that are just as important as those they have when the ball is in play. Some of the officiating mechanics that come into play here include spotting the ball, looking for offensive substitutions, giving the defense three seconds to substitute and getting a new ball from a ball boy when necessary.

The two most important factors in this regard are consistency by officiating crews when executing dead-ball officiating mechanics and ensuring that coaches allow officials to execute proper dead-ball officiating mechanics without trying to influence the tempo officials employ.

As long as there is consistency in this regard, the competitive balance of the game will not be compromised in favor of either the offense or the defense.

Final thoughts

I was recently speaking with an executive member of our local officials association about the 10-second rule as I wanted to hear his thoughts from an official's perspective.

I value his input not only because he is a well-respected official in our county, but also because he is someone who is close to the action on the field. In addition, he is someone who has no vested interest in who wins or loses a game, nor does he have any particular allegiance to either the offensive or defensive side of the ball.

His comment that most resonated in my mind regarding fast-tempo offensive play addressed the physical contact that occurs when the ball is in play. He said there is a tremendous amount of physical contact that occurs for about eight to 10 seconds on every down, and the fact that the players turn around and do it all over again in such a short period of time is a concern to him.

The fact that players are getting bigger, faster and stronger cannot be ignored by coaches when rule changes and related policy changes are being considered. The game of football on the high school and collegiate level is much safer than many will have the public believe, and it is the coaches who are best able to keep it this way. This can best be done by working together to do what is best for all players as a whole without regard for what side of the line of scrimmage the players are lining up on.

 

The changes that are adopted on the professional and collegiate levels are also important, as these changes can often operate to dictate future policy decisions on the high school and youth levels. In 2014, the National Federation of State High School Associations has adopted a definition for "targeting," which will be penalized as illegal personal contact.

My concerns now center on what type of effect it will have on high school games from an overall safety standpoint. In the NFL, the targeting rule has created a certain amount of discontent on the part of offensive players who have suffered serious knee injuries and an equal amount of discontent on the part of defenders who felt they had few options left in light of the penalties and fines that are being assessed.

These are concerns that need to be raised as attempts are made to make the game safer on all levels.

One of these proposed rule changes made public on Jan. 20 addressed the possible elimination of the extra point on the professional level. The day before the NFL made this announcement, San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman suffered a gruesome knee injury in the red zone just short of the goal line in an area where most extra points are attempted.

I found it interesting that in light of its safety concerns, the NFL would consider replacing what is one of the safest plays in the game with one that can result in this type of injury.

 

 

GEMBA WALK: HOW TO STAY IN TOUCH WITH YOUR PLAYERS

Gemba walk: How to stay in touch with your players

Rey HernandezWednesday, February 19, 2014

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Gemba walk: How to stay in touch with your players

When I first started teaching in the 1970s, we had a principal at our local high school who would visit the physical education department on almost a daily basis. He told the teachers he did this because the PE department was the best place to go to find out what was going on in the school.

With experience, I have learned that this makes a lot of sense. The PE department is the one place that all the students in the school visit on a daily basis. The coaches have to work with all the students. This included gifted students, second language learners, students with special needs and many students who had no special designation or classification.

Building relationships and learning to work with a diverse group of students prepared many coaches to move into administrative positions. In my long career, many of the best administrators I met came out of the physical education ranks.

I didn't know it then but the principal was "going to the gemba." The concept of a gemba walk is most closely associated with a management style applied in the manufacturing context wherein executives will visit the manufacturing floor to find out firsthand what is really going on in the work place. The word gemba is a Japanese term that literally means "the real place." I prefer view it as a place where the action is.

There are multiple reasons why a football coach might want to take a gemba walk. A gemba walk might reveal what is really happening within a coach's team. It is a purposeful attempt to learn something about the players that perhaps one would otherwise not be able to discover absent the visit.

In the manufacturing context, a gemba walk allows executives to build relationships with their employees. In the coaching context, it will allow one to better build relationships with their players and better identify any existing problems.

Early in my coaching career and for a long time thereafter, I was under the impression that by going to the practice field I was going to the gemba on a daily basis. I inherited more responsibilities from the time I was a position coach to becoming a defensive coordinator and finally a head coach, and I came to realize that the practice field wasn't the only place where the action was.

There are a number of locations on a campus that a coach might want to take a gemba walk to. Examples include the lunch court or a student patio or perhaps just some benches where students like to hang out and socialize.

There is, however, one location that can be easily overlooked once one becomes a head coach. This location is the locker room. It is probably just as important as the football field, and at times it can be even more important. There is an old saying that perhaps you have heard: "He who controls your locker room controls your team." This is one reason why it is so important to always be informed about what is happening in your locker room.

One interesting thing I discovered over the years is that a locker room can tell you many things even when there are no athletes in it.

Close to the time I took a head coaching job after a long career as an assistant coach, our school district was in the process of making budget cuts and decided to eliminate the position of locker room attendant. The job up until then had been staffed by one of our assistant coaches who besides performing all his assigned tasks also served as a father figure to all our players.

We always knew who was in control of the locker room because his presence there allowed us to monitor it on a daily basis. Once he was gone, it became my responsibility to assume this role, and I realized how important it was to take a gemba walk to the locker room on a daily basis.

My expanded list of things to do included cleaning the locker room and securing the building once practice ended. It was while I tended to these duties that I would often find out a number of things I would have never known if I had never gone in there.

First of all, I had an opportunity to talk to some of our players who were still in the locker room at that time, and quite often these talks centered on either team matters or personal matters that were of importance to both of us.

Closing a locker and securing the combination lock can prove to be a tremendous challenge to a teenager. While performing this chore, I was able to find numerous texts and entire book-filled backpacks that were not being taken home in the evening. At times I would find small bottles of ibuprofen, which of course was of concern to me, too. These are just a few of the things I was able to find out by going to the gemba.

Interscholastic sports have evolved much over the years, and many programs on the high school level have taken on a quasi-corporate structure that includes expanded coaching staffs, administrative staffing, certified trainers, strength coaches and facilities that resemble college athletic complexes. With it comes a delegation of responsibilities that will reduce the time a head coach will spend with the players.

Modern advances in digital communication can also contribute to a decrease in personal interaction with your players. As such, it is important to make every effort to maintain a personal connection with every athlete on your team and not rely exclusively on others to make an emotional connection with your players.

Making this connection will help a coach bring his football family together and create an atmosphere of trust that will prove to be invaluable when a coach has to ask the team to make the right decisions in the football family context.

Much has been made about the macho mentality associated with contact sports such as football and the dangers associated with concussions on the interscholastic level. It is the job of the head coach to treat his football family as he would his own family at home.

This involves creating an atmosphere of trust and concern among all family members, and it starts by making an emotional connection with all your players. Just like a brother wouldn't let one of his siblings do something that would endanger his health or perhaps even his life, the members of a football team should have the same concern for each other.

As a coach, one hopes all the players will be willing to self-report an injury. But it will be even more reassuring if a coach knows his athletes have a common concern for each other and that the family's health and well-being is more important than any game or championship.

Going to the gemba is a practice a head coach might want to consider not only on the youth level but also in the collegiate and professional levels as well. As one climbs the administrative ladder in education, one often becomes less and less accessible to the students and the teaching staff.

I would venture to guess that this is equally applicable in the coaching context on the higher levels of coaching. So even on this level, coaches might want to take an occasional gemba walk.

 

 

 

CONFUSE THE QUARTERBACK AND STOP THE ZONE READ PART 1 AND PART 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COLLEGE FOOTBALL RECRUITING: ASSESSING 4 TYPES OF INTELLIGENCE

 

College football recruiting: Assessing 4 types of intelligence

Rey HernandezThursday, October 10, 2013

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College football recruiting: Assessing 4 types of intelligence

I was speaking a few years ago to a good friend who was coaching at a major Division I FBS school, and we were discussing the college recruiting process. I asked him how perennial powers like the program in which he was coaching could have a year when these programs failed to compete at expected levels and finish with a losing record.

One of the contributing factors he felt was the common practice of making early offers to high school students who still have two years or more to play before graduating. Since the time we shared this conversation, these early offers have been extended to student-athletes as early as the eighth grade.

What he told me then still applies today: Many of these offers are simply being made too soon. The question then becomes what should coaches look for in prospective scholarship student-athletes, and what are the mental and physical traits that coaches need to assess prior to investing an athletic scholarship in a teenager?

As a career middle school teacher and longtime high school football coach, I have had the opportunity to work in a professional capacity with student-athletes both in the classroom and on the football field. I have been fortunate enough to have coached many young men who have gone on to play on the next level and a number of them have entered the collegiate and professional coaching ranks.

As such I have been able to observe how the recruiting process works, and I have also had the opportunity to see when it doesn't work. The ensuing commentary will center on this assessment process and the type of inquiries that collegiate recruiters might want to make in an effort to conduct a more comprehensive evaluation.

High school student-athletes and their parents today invest a tremendous amount of time and money in improving physical skills. The potential recruit’s physical profile is a starting point for many recruiters.

Does the recruit pass the eye ball test? Is he tall enough and big enough to play a specific position at the next level of play? If the answer is yes, the evaluation process will proceed to the next phase.

If a student-athlete fails the eye ball test, recruiters will then perhaps look at the recruit's combine test scores that will usually include a 40-yard dash time, a vertical jump, a pro agility shuttle and some type of strength score. High test scores might be sufficient to generate some recruiting interest.

This initial evaluation along with the recruit's game tape will be instrumental in deciding whether this student-athlete’s name will make the initial cut and be placed on a shorter list of possible scholarship recipients.

Along with this assessment of physical measurements and game tape, there will be an evaluation of the recruit’s academic achievement and test scores. Their grade point average in combination with their standardized test scores will determine if the recruit meets the NCAA or NAIA eligibility requirements.

This part of the assessment process is in my opinion the easiest to conduct. The more difficult part of the evaluation process will come once this initial screening has been completed.

There are four types of intelligence that recruiters should evaluate to make a more accurate assessment in this difficult process. Here is a look at each type:

1. Technical intelligence

The first type of intelligence is the one most everyone is familiar with: measuring the student-athlete’s technical intelligence and logical reasoning ability, or better put their IQ.

An academic transcript and standardized test scores will provide a fairly reliable indicator of how prepared the recruit is to meet the academic challenges at the next level. Recruiters, however, must also measure a recruit’s football intelligence, also known as “FBI.”

The best recruiters I met would find ways to ask the potential recruit a few position specific technical questions about the offensive or defensive schemes their high school team employed. These recruiters would ask the questions when the recruit least expected them.

If after asking such questions, the response comes in the form of prolonged silence, there might be an FBI deficiency that will have to be taken into account. Of course, once the recruit makes an on campus visit, a position coach will have more time to meet in a more structured one-on-one classroom setting and conduct a more formal interview.

2. Emotional intelligence

The next type of intelligence that needs to be evaluated is emotional intelligence. A deficiency in this type of intelligence can cause serious problems for a program. Emotional intelligence deals with a player's awareness of his own feelings and the feelings of others. How well does an athlete regulate these feelings? Does he use emotions that are appropriate to specific situations? How well does he build relationships with others?

Recruiters who were better able to assess this type of intelligence were the ones who paid more attention to what happened between plays during competition and who closely observed how the student-athlete interacted when he came to the sideline.

Did he argue with his coaches or teammates? Did he pout or throw equipment on the ground? Did his teammates interact with him on the sideline? Did they congratulate him after a great play? Did he spend an excessive amount of time talking with people in the stands, or worse yet did he spend time receiving coaching points from parents or personal coaches?

These observations will give a recruiter a good indication of the student-athlete’s level of emotional intelligence. These observations can also be made in the practice setting when a coach has an opportunity to make an on-campus visit.

3. Moral intelligence

The next type of intelligence that needs to be evaluated is moral intelligence. We are dealing here with things like character, integrity, responsibility and compassion for others. Most of the legal troubles that athletes on all levels have reflect a lack of moral intelligence. I often tell recruiters to look beyond the transcripts when possible.

With student and parental permission, schools will release a student’s grades and test scores to recruiters, so why not ask for a bit more information? Today’s electronic data bases provide a very comprehensive student profile dating back to middle school.

Recruiters could ask parents to provide them with their son’s behavioral and attendance profile. In it coaches will be able to find out if the recruit has been able to stay out serious trouble. These reports will often document things like having a cellphone confiscated, disruptive behavior in the classroom or cheating in class.

Recruiters could also ask for the student-athlete’s attendance profile. It will help ascertain if the student-athlete has a poor attendance record or if he has a tardy or truancy problem. If possible, recruiters should make an attempt to stop by the student-athlete’s first- and fifth-period classes and touch bases with their teachers. In a school with a traditional school bell schedule, these are the classes that students are tardy to most often.

Excessive tardiness to first period might be due to an inability to get up on time, and tardiness to fifth period might reflect a habit of hanging out with classmates or girlfriends long after lunch is over. If a parent is unwilling to provide the recruiter with this documentation, there is probably a reason that reflects poorly on the student-athlete. Perhaps a recruiter might want to think twice before they make an offer.

Visits with classroom teachers will also allow coaches to further assess the student-athlete’s emotional intelligence as these visits will provide them with information about how the student-athlete interacts with classmates outside the athletic setting.

4. Body intelligence

The fourth type of intelligence is body intelligence. This will reflect the student-athlete’s knowledge about his body, how he feels about it and how he takes care of it. Unfortunately, performance enhancing drugs have been the center of much media attention for many years now, and high school student-athletes have had their share of problems.

Coaches on all levels need to work at improving body intelligence in their athletes, and recruiters should not be hesitant to touch on this important subject in their conversations with potential recruits and their families.

Perhaps one of the risks associated with making early offers is that the student-athlete has yet to fully develop all four measures of intelligence. This is especially applicable when the offers are being made to eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th graders.

The best advice for recruiters would be to proceed with caution and make certain that all four measures of intelligence are being closely scrutinized before their program makes an investment in a high school student-athlete.

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COACHING ON THE CYBER-FIELD: SOCIAL MEDIA IN THE INTERSCHOLASTIC SETTING

 

THE BATTLE OF THE CONCUSSION EXPERTS: COACHES CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE

 

ADDRESSING PLAYER SAFETY WITHOUT AFFECTING THE COMPETITIVE BALANCE

To access video footage of Jonathan's Mincy's tackle go to: <www.youtube.com/watch?TNinL0S3xXJs>

 CONCUSSIONS IN YOUTH SPORTS - ARE WE THINKING CLEARLY?

INSTALLING A PRE-SEASON EMERGENCY RESPONSE PLAN IN YOUR PROGRAM