Hooked up, Hard Work, High Expectations
Depending on your perspective, the Missouri Tigers are halfway finished or halfway started in the 2020 football season. Of course, this season has been unlike anything any of us has seen before. In actual time, the season has been longer in terms of days/weeks of preparation. Coach Drinkwitz has emphasized to our team that we must maximize our preparation time and never waste even a single rep. The question for many coaches is how do we keep our team focused and engaged during a long and trying season.
When I was hired at Edmond Oklahoma, the first place I went to visit was Plano, Texas. Coach Tommy Kimbrough had built a powerhouse program at Plano High School. He was nice enough to give me a good bit of time during one of his off-season workout days. Since Texas high schools play 16 weeks to get to the finals, one of my main questions was, “How do you keep your kids motivated during a long 16 week season?” “Do you ever cut back the workload or time commitment for your players later in the season?” I’ll never forget Coach Kimbrough’s response. He looked at me, with a certain amount of disgust and said, “Coach, at Plano, we expect to play 16 weeks every season. We will never cut back our preparation time.”
While I understood that mentality, we developed a few ideas that helped our team stay fresh and stay engaged for our expected playoff run.
1. From the start of off-season, in January, we constantly told our kids that we were preparing for a 14 game season. After week 7, we took a half-season break by not having the kids come in for Sunday workouts after our week 7 game. It helped our players understand the mentality of a 14 game season.
2. When we got to the conference schedule, we made a deal with the team. We went from 5 minute periods to 4 minute periods with the understanding that if they were called for a “loaf” during any play at practice, the entire team would have to run a sprint. At the end of practice, we would count up the loafs and the entire team would run one sprint for every loaf we had accumulated during the practice. In my opinion, this was the “secret sauce” to staying consistent and fresh during a long football season. We were very specific about how we did this. Feel free to reach out to me if you would like more information about “The Loaf System”.
3. Develop little traditions to keep when you get to the play-offs. A simple and fun one was the lineman punt catching challenge. At the end of Wednesday practice during the play-offs, the o-line and d-line would pick 5 guys from the other group to catch punts. O-line would pick 5 d-line guys and vice versa. First team to three were the winners. By the way, the opposing team would get to pick the order of players attempting to catch the punt. Losing side, all the offense or all the defense, would have to run a couple sprints. We would line up our punt team and have them cover 20 yards in their lanes, so we got a little extra punt team work in the session as well.
4. Over the years, our teams have decided to not shave during the play-offs and one year, we even went Southlake Carroll and dyed our hair blonde(I hope/expect that all evidence of that year has been lost over time), another year, the team decided we would all grow play-off mustaches. It was ugly, but it also was fun for the players. Having these “little” traditions help to make the playoff experience a little more special.
The bottom line to keeping our guys “hooked up” is to create a culture of hard work, sacrifice, and high expectations, without your players feeling they are being punished by having to practice another week. That is not something done over the 4-6 weeks of a play-off run. That mentality is instilled throughout our football program from the time our players are playing youth football in the 3rd grade. For those of you with little or no control over your youth or feeder program, it starts when you get them. Good luck to all of you that are still lucky enough to be playing.
Go Tigers! Beat Georgia! Or as COVID has it next, Beat South Carolina!