The "twittersphere" themes (tweets, retweets, likes, and reactions) of those that I follow in the football world usually fall into three distinct categories:
What I rarely, if ever see is a proactive solution for making the game better. I seldom see a healthy dialog for continuing football's growth with solid plans attached.
There have been plenty of reactive "safe" measures implemented. I feel, however, the unintended consequences of some of these "knee jerk" safety reactions will actually have opposite and negative effects toward the things they're intended to fix.
EXAMPLES OF SAFETY REACTION PROTOCOLS AT ALL LEVELS OF THE SPORT
In part, some of the reactions are positive. There have been coaches that have gone too far in the name of winning, and it has led associations to limit and curtail all of us. Some do practice too much and hit too much. Across the board, dead periods and time constraints have been put in place.
As for tackling, it needs to be taught properly, and it has probably become a "lost art" of technique. However, the unintended consequences for some of the measures have not been thought out in the name of "safe". Pressurized decisions and mandates often and ultimately lead to a game that produces the opposite of their intended, "better and safer".
Mandatory and arbitrary limits often do just that, limit proper preparedness for the physical demands of the game, thus actually causing more harm. Some "standardized" tackling mandates do not take into account strength, athletic ability, and size mis-matches that occur in every player and in every game. Again, some of these reactions have not been thoroughly thought out in the name of all things safety.
MY MOTIVES FOR OFFERING A SOLUTION
I was a fortunate kid in that I knew my vocational destiny before most kids could even dream about wanting to be an astronaut, fireman, or a cowboy. My earliest memories were of my Dad coaching football and interacting with his players. I drank in everyone of those moments and dreamt of the day I would be able do the same. Coaching football, and everything related to it was truly the only work I've ever wanted to do.
I clearly remember in the early 1970's, when I was about 10 years old, and asking my Dad what I thought was a scary question. "Daddy", I asked, "do you think football will still be a big thing when I get old enough to coach?" His answer was both reassuring and believable. In short, he said yes, and he gave me evidence of why it would be even more popular by the time I reached the coaching appropriate age. Indeed, the game would continue to grow in both numbers participating and in popularity throughout the time I began my career in 1986. Football kept growing to the point of bypassing the American past-time and turned into the Nation's Primetime. This trend continued until the second decade of the 2,000's, when concussions and head trauma became a cause, and football became the scapegoat.
So for the most part, my Dad was right, except for the fact that he probably far under shot just how big football has become. Case in point, for the vast majority of my Dad's career he was a Division 1 College assistant football coach. When he retired in 1995 he had never made over $50,000 per year in coaching salary. In comparison, now in 2018, there are many high school coaches making over $100,000.
My Dad was a positive thinker, and he pretty well predicted the prolific growth of the game of football. What he did not predict, and had no way of knowing, was the equally prolific attack the game is experiencing, and therefore, in many places, its noticeable numeric decline, thus my motivation for offering a solution.
I rarely if ever see rationale suggestions to improve and continue to grow the game in an intelligent way.
The "game" is all I've ever really known and cared about in terms of a vocation. I don't have to tell you what it's taught me and given to me, and if you've read this far, I certainly don't have to convince you here of what it has done for the fabric of American society and the countless young people it has molded.
My motivation is to be able to answer my two young grandsons the same way my Dad answered me, "Yes, son, the game will be bigger and better when you're old enough."
BACK TO THE BAD NEWS
This is where the "bad news" part of this blog post's title needs to be addressed. The bad news is that a decline in the game is directly being felt due to the proliferation of reports of CTE and head trauma (SPOILER ALERT - this part is nothing new). We all know football unfairly takes the brunt of the media negativity when it comes to this bad news. Head injuries are head injuries, and few physically demanding team sports are spared from their trauma, but our game of football takes the vast majority of the negativity related to this subject.
Through news outlets and social media, their is a daily barrage of CTE and football related "hit" pieces. There is an almost equal amount of "social media influencers" pushing back with posts of "PROTECT THE GAME!" Headlines and provocative "clickbait" hashtags prevail on both sides, but I rarely if ever see rationale suggestions to improve and continue to grow the game in an intelligent way.
MORE bad news.
Headline this summer (June 2018): Washington State football player who committed suicide had extensive CTE and the brain of a 65-year-old
The family of the Washington State University football player who died of suicide in January said the 21-year-old quarterback had extensive brain damage that's been linked to concussions from playing the sport. Tyler Hilinski was found dead in his apartment with a gunshot wound and a suicide note on Jan. 16.
NOTE: Stay with me here, remember I love football, and I derive my livelihood from it.
The Tyler Hilinski news "rocked" me, and I confess I've either ignored most other reports of this nature, or "blown them off" due to lack of scientific support, or a bias in reporting. But something in being just 21 years old, and a fresh autopsy of evidence got my attention. Even the most brazened football tough guy should take pause in this report.
NOTE: I do believe the Hilinski related articles are filled with bias of both PRO and CON for football.
And MORE bad news (remember, stay with me here), actually this news may turn out to be more goofy than bad. Instituted in the off-season of 2018: NFL institutes 15-yard penalty, possible ejection for lowering head to make hit
I don't know if the NFL is having a knee jerk reaction or if the implementation of this rule will impact the game in a positive manner, the 2018 season will prove out a lot. Needless to say, our game has changed, and it's not going back to my childhood of the 1970's.
Before we get to the good news (finally!), let's face some realities for the game of football as we know it in 2018 and moving forward into its future.
We are not going back to the Jack Lambert (Dracula in cleats) and Jack Tatum (see assassin references) days of football. Society and culture have changed, and this isn't the blog to delve into all that. Many believe that today's generational society, if faced with World War III, would not come out victorious like our predecessors of the "Greatest Generation" in World War II. Football is changing and it needs answers, not knee jerk reactions, not goofy unenforceable rules, and certainly not a pollyanna "rose-colored glasses guy" telling you "everything is OK (see twitter posts of many of these).
THE GOOD NEWS -SOLUTIONS
Full disclosure: I am a founder in The Surface To Air System (S2A). We are an offensive consulting service specializing in spread offense and we specifically teach and consult about RPO's. I hope you don't stop reading here. This is not a veiled attempt at a commercial for S2A. However, my hope is to offer the beginnings of a dialog and thought process that can and will lead to ideas that will both make the game safer and better. I will use some things we do within S2A to make my case.
I am a spread offensive minded coach, but regardless of the tactical philosophies one may employ and believe in, we still need to enter into a frank discussion of determining solutions for saving and growing our game. Again, I'm tired of the empty rhetoric that starts with, "our game is under attack", let's drop the phrases and enter into solutions.
MAKING THE CASE FOR WHY SPREAD AND RPO ATTACKS ARE A SOLUTION
1. THE CASE FOR SPREADING IT OUT
Let's briefly breakdown each case/solution by first looking at a typical RPO.
The concept shown allows for the ball to be placed in as many as five spots between pre-snap and post-snap reads. The formation stresses the defensive structure to spread itself into areas it may not want to go. The Sniffer (Y) is counted as a third receiver to the trips side of the formation, thus causing the defense to devalue the box by only leaving five defenders. The result of the play is the ball being handed off to the T on the inside zone. The offense has the advantage in the box.
It can be argued that any option chosen in the play above allows for space and one on one situations across the field.
The general scheme shown checks the boxes on solutions of saving the game for safety sake in terms of creating open space and morphing the game into more one on one match ups. For time and space sake I won't post the numerous other RPO schemes that produce the same effect, but suffice it to say the spirit of the Run Pass Option lends itself to safety above other schemes I have been involved in.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING STATEMENTS MAY PROVE TO BE VERY UNPOPULAR
I have served as both a head high school coach and as a college offensive coordinator. In 30 seasons from serving in both of those roles I have been exposed to and have run almost every scheme in modern football. I have employed the I, the Wing-T, the Veer, and the Spread. These four offensive approaches arguably are still the most popular and most utilized in the game today.
The unpopular part (hide the women and children), these offensive attacks may go the way of the current kickoff. Let's face it, the act of kicking the ball off is going away. The NFL has already begun the legislation of putting this thought in motion. The offensive schemes mentioned above tend to create (no, not entirely) a tough line of scrimmage point of attack mentality of "knock em off the ball" teaching. No play in football is any tougher than the old ISO. I have heard many coaches refer to it as a "man maker". Each of the offenses mentioned incorporate some form of the play. The inevitable result is compressed space, more bodies, and more pile ups.
Before the hate mail starts, allow me to ask a couple of questions: When is the last time you went to a football practice at the high school level or above and witnessed the old Oklahoma drill? This drill used to be THE DRILL, not any more. It is seldom to ever used in today's practices. Speaking of practice, when's the last time a team at any level has incorporated 2-a-days for two days in a row into there pre-season schedule? Not too long ago, in the 80's and into the 90's, we would have two full weeks of 2-a-days.
OK, I'll just come out and say it, (and believe me, it hurts) "smash mouth", "blood and guts" staples of the I, Veer, and Wing-T are going away, and going away with them will be the very essence of the I, Veer, and Wing-T and the schemes they employ. Sorry it's the truth because it's the trend. It's the trend just like the way of the death of network TV is the trend. Did you ever think there would be a day when almost everything we consume is through a phone? When was the last time you sat down and watched the 6:00 o'clock news? It's just the truth.
I can't say as a current coach that I embrace all the changes. I can even go as far as agreeing that many of the alterations to the fabric of the game are a result of the pacification of today's society, but as a former player, and now somewhat from the perspective of a parent, I feel most of the changes are healthy.
2. THE CASE FOR MORE FUN AND EXCITEMENT
The logic for fun and excitement lends itself to getting more participation. Football still does and will always attract people that want to be tested, pushed, and challenged. No other team game has ever come close to what football produces in these areas. However, there is no doubt that numbers are down in participation from the high school level down.
The game has challengers like never before:
It's getting tougher and tougher to attract the speed and skill athletes off the basketball courts and off the track team. This is nothing new, but it has developed a larger problem due to football receiving a lot of bad press - kids want to touch the ball and utilize their skill in space. Why don't we embrace that?
An offense that allows for the opportunity to accentuate skill (running, jumping, catching) is more conducive to participation. Again, looking at a typical RPO, as many as five athletes on one play can anticipate the opportunity to receive the ball.
3. PRACTICE PROCEDURES THAT LEND THEMSELVES TO SAFETY
The Surface To Air System has created a procedure of practice that by its very nature creates safety as its main by-product. The S2A System has coined the phrase: S2A GPS. This new style of practice lends itself to solutions for the problems being discussed here. GPS stands for Guided Practice System.
The cornerstone of the S2A GPS lies in the "Shells" portion of the practice that allows for game simulation in terms of speed and decision making, while limiting contact and hitting. The game speed simulation checks all the boxes for what current sports scientist are decreeing as essential for team preparation, while also checking the boxes of controlled safety concerns.
The above diagram shows a typical RPO concept being taught through the S2A GPS Shell. The Shell is a variation on the practice staple of the 7 on 7 drill, but with the added dimension of run reads, run plays, and pre snap/post snap RPO's.
In GPS Shells the offense is faced with game like speed and decision making in space, and within controlled game-like one on one skill development. Both the offense and defensive players are challenged to compete, think, and produce through the concept of the offensive call and the shell of the defensive coverage.
The GPS can be utilized in any offensive and defensive scheme. To learn more about the intricacies of utilizing the GPS leave a comment with your questions or email. We will be glad to share full schedules and examples of how we utilize this as a full practice (start to finish) format.
A BETTER WAY TO 7 ON 7: THE ADVENT OF S27
The gripes and complaints have always been the same: The defense doesn’t play their coverages honestly, the linebackers play at 8 yards deep, the defense doesn’t respect play action, and what about the linemen? Maybe the loudest current complaint is that 7 on 7 has taken good coaching out of the equation and put it into the hands of an AAU like basketball environment.
By its nature, 7 on 7 is a reasonably safe way to practice some portions of the game like passing concepts and pass defense. Then why, it may be argued, is 7 on 7 being discussed in this blog post? The answer, because of what it's turning into and what it's taking away from. The drill (7 on 7) has morphed into a business. It has opened the door for the high school team to lose some control, and that control is leaving the confines of amateur governing bodies and slipping from the oversight of good high school football coaches. Quite simply, that is dangerous, and the bottom line is that it's detrimental to our game.
This blog post, at it's outset, attempts to protect the game by offering real solutions and not hyped up talk. S27 offers yet another solution.
The difference in S27 and 7 on 7 is that S27 combines the passing of 7 on 7 with some run aspects of a flag football game. This provides the coach the ability to utilize his mental skills to teach, execute, and perfect RPO's. Something quite frankly, a "street coach" can't apply because of his part-time application and limited study of the game.
Everything works like 7 on 7 except:
In the diagram below the offense employs a 3 x 1 set and executes an inside Zone Read RPO package. The QB has no fewer than 6 legitimate options to go with the ball.
The defense has to honestly align to the 3 x 1 set. Then the defense has to decide whether to widen R2 and LM (devaluing the box), or tighten down R2 and LM back into the box.
Again, the rules of S27 dictate that it is a hybrid drill that combines the best of 7 on 7 and flag football while allowing for a coach to instruct a full RPO scheme. Most importantly, it forces the defense to align and react in a similar fashion to that of a game, thus forcing them to play honest and play similar to that of a normal 11 on 11 game.
In the same vein of providing more information on GPS above, we will also provide a full write up on S27. To learn more about the intricacies of utilizing the S27 and seeing the rules leave a comment with your questions or email.
To restate the title of this post: Protect the Game? I've got bad news, and I've got some good news.
The good news is that we have listed reasonable and tangible ideas to accomplish the goal of protecting the game. Society is changing (changed), and young athletes are growing up now with a different prospective than those of their Fathers and Grandfathers. We as coaches need to determine with our eyes wide open the solutions that will both save and grow the game. Unfortunately the battle will not be won with mantras, slogans, and a love for the game.
Oh yea, the bad news? Just read the headlines, follow the twitter posts, talk to moms, and watch a few episodes of Outside The Lines. In other words, "yes", clearly the game is under attack. We must provide real solutions to fix it.
Protect the game? I've got bad news, and i've got some good news