TEAM CHEMISTRY: The Most Overlooked Key To Success












After the all of the 2011 State Champions were crowned, I started a groundbreaking research project on their success.  I tracked down more than 300 of the State Champion Head Coaches three questions about their success.  108 State Champion Head Coaches from 42 states responded.  I wrote a book about the top ten characteristics of the 2011 State Champion Football programs.  It’s called: BUILDING CHAMPIONSHIP-CALIBER FOOTBALL PROGRAMS: Inside the Locker Rooms and Minds of State Champion Football Coaches.

Coaches Choice is publishing it; it’s due out this Fall.  You can pre order it here, save 20% by ordering it now!

Team Chemistry was one of the top 10 characteristics.  I titled this chapter TEAM CHEMISTRY; THE MOST OVERLOOKED KEY TO SUCCESS because I firmly believe that it really is the most overlooked component of a championship team.


Here is a brief look at this chapter:






























































I wrote a book about the 2011 Football State Champions.  108 coaches from 42 states responded to my survey and interview.  I learned SO MUCH!  It is in the final publishing state with Coaches Choice, and will be available this Fall.  You can go here to read more about it.   Listen to my interview on High School Football America about this groundbreaking project.

As reported by more than 100 State Champion Head Coaches, one of the top ten characteristics of State Champion Football Programs is Team Chemistry.

What are YOU doing about Team Chemistry in your program this coming season?

Are you doing anything?  Some “old school coaches” think that coaches do not need to do anything, that Team Chemistry just happens naturally in the locker room and during practice.  I could not disagree any more with that philosophy.  I’ve only been a Head Football Coach at the Varsity level for eight years here in Southern California but one of the most important things I’ve learned in this short time is that YOU MUST DEVELOP TEAM CHEMISTRY as the Head Coach.  It doesn’t just happen.  

Here is an excercise that I have spent time doing in my Training Camps in August in the past.  I schedule an afternoon to do this towards the middle to end of camp.  A lot of programs aren’t doing two a days anymore.  But back when we would go two weeks of two a days, I would usually do this exercise on Tuesday or Wednesday of the second week, when I knew their bodies needed a bit of a rest.



I’ve used this Teambuilding Exercise a few times over the years, and it is one of my favorite things to do to help build team chemistry.   Athletes fill out a questionnaire about another teammate.  That teammate will then read what has been written about them.  The purpose of this teambuilding exercise is for teammates to encourage and challenge the other members on their team.  This is an exercise which will build up the individual player’s morale, as well as the morale and chemistry of the team.


Picture 076

Developing Team Chemistry is key to your success. If YOU don’t develop Team Chemistry, someone else will!


What you need:

  1.  Each player needs something to write with.
  2. You need copies of the TEAM BUILDING WORKSHEETS.  The number of copies will depend on how you decide to facilitate this exercise.


  1. Decide how many “rounds” you want to do.  One round means that one player fills out the following worksheet for one teammate.  Two rounds means they fill one worksheet for two players, etc.
  2. Pass out one TEAM BUILDING WORKSHEET to each player for each round you want to do.
  3. Make sure that each player has something to write with.
  4. Decide how the players will choose who to write about.  You can make it totally random by having them pick names out of a hat.  You can pair them up beforehand.  Think critically of some way to facilitate this.

One way I’ve done this in the past is I wrote the name of each player on three TEAM BUILDING WORKSHEETS.   This meant that each player would fill out three worksheets.  I put them all in a one big box.  Each player came forward and picked out three sheets after I mixed them up.

5. Each player is going to answer questions about a teammate, and then that teammate will read what someone else has said about them.  They will stand up in front of the team and read however much of that TEAM BUILDING WORKSHEET you want them to.  For instance, have every kid stand up and read just their answer to question 9.

6. Pass out the TEAM BUILDING WORKSHEETS and begin.

 (Coaches, simply cut and paste the text below in to your own word document to create this document.)


1.     Three things I admire about you are:




2.            One funny thing from this summer or last season I remember about you is:

3.            One quality you have that I wish I had:

4.            Thank you for:

5.            You need to work on __________________________________________________to be a better teammate off the field.

6.            You need to work on __________________________________________________to make us a better team on the field.

7.            You are a great teammate because:

8.             This season, I hope that you:




During my first year as a Head Football Coach (back in 2003), I wanted to come up with some sort of visual type of motivator that our kids would see each and every day.  Something to put up at the field, in their lockers, etc.

In 2002, our football program won the Big Sky League Championship.  I heard talk in the off season from our kids that we would be back to back champs.  I wanted to send  a  message that it wasn’t just that easy.

One night, this idea came to mind: a FOR SALE sign.  The Big Sky League Championship is up for sale again!  If we WANT IT, we are going to have to go out and EARN IT!

So, I started making FOR SALE signs for the very first day of Training Camp.  I put them up all over the place to send home my message.

The local newspaper came out to do their usual season preview interviews and pictures.  They loved the motivational tool I was using, and so our picture in the paper that year was with the FOR SALE sign!!



I wrote this vision for my football program in 2003, upon taking over as the Head Coach at Linfield Christian in Temecula, California.  I’ve been a Head Coach for eight years here in Southern California; this is the Vision that I’ve used to direct my football program.  It is important that you have a vision for your football program; that that vision is written and clearly explained to all of your stakeholders.


The vision for my football program is called “The Four Ps.”  The four Ps are: positive experience, player-centered environment, protection of health, and public perceptionThese four Ps are the focus of our coaching staff on an annual basis, and we constantly are brought back to them as a source of direction for us.  This vision has been created to hold up for all to see, to use as a measuring stick for our program.  The vision for our program is centered on our players first and foremost. 

This is my senior year at Fallbrook High School. Playing Fallbrook Warrior football is one of the most positive experiences I’ve ever had in my life! I’m top row, fourth from left.

The players are the most important part of the program, and why we are coaching the sport and spending so much time investing in the lives of our student-athletes.           

Our vision of positive experience means that I want for each and every person that is a part of this program to enjoy their time as a part of the program because of the fun environment that the coaching staff has created.  This vision means that players enjoy being a part of the program; they look forward to being a part of the program.  Football is a tough sport that is not meant for everybody!  Football demands a lot of time, and a lot of dedication, much more so than many other sports because of the physical demands. 

Because football is inherently tough, it can be a grind to get through the season.  I want our players to have a positive experience.  I want them to be treated fairly so that their experience is positive.  This does not always happen because some kids are just not built to be football players.  They are either mentally or physically too weak to handle the demands.  However, I want for my program to be positive overall.  I want our equipment managers, our team doctor, stat people, etc. to have a positive experience as a part of the football program that I manage.

Creating a positive experience for your players is key! This was a positive experience for our kids, coming on to the field through a tunnel of our fans. I really love this picture from the 2010 season!

Varsity football players only have a few years of the entire life to play varsity football.

Mainly, it is for juniors and seniors.  Therefore, I want the program to be about the kids, not about me as the head coach, or my coaching staff.  The vision of having a player-centered environment means that the student-athlete should feel that they play the most important role of the program. The coaching staff should help to create a democratic type of setting so that players buy into the program because they believe in it because they know that the coaches believe in them. It is one big circle.  One way that I carry out this vision is by having a Player Committee.

This Player Committee is selected in January of each year and is made up of anywhere from four to eight players that meet with me on a regular basis.  The committee is selected by the players themselves, and is made up of kids from every grade in the program, not just seniors.  The goal of this committee is to be a voice from the players to the coaches.  They are simply a mouthpiece from the players to the coaches and from the coaches to the players.  They help to decide on what will be in the spirit pack for the year, the colors of the shirts, what color of cleats we will wear, etc.  They even help to develop the off season calendar and the requirements for participation in the off season in order to play football.  The reason that I have the player committee make these decisions is so that they will take complete ownership of the program, to create a player centered environment.     

Another part of the vision is called protection of health.  This means that the coaching staff needs to create a safe place to play what can be a violent contact sport. This starts with the proper training of coaches.  Our coaches are mandated to have certain certifications like American Red Cross First Aid and CPR training, and the National Federation of High Schools Coaching Certification.  This training helps to give our coaches a bigger picture of liability and professionalism.  Our coaches are also trained on a regular basis by attending clinics in the offseason to learn the best practices in our business.

Having the necessary equipment to keep our players healthy is key to fulfilling this part of the vision.  Our equipment is maintained every off season in an effort to remove any faulty helmets or shoulder pads from the inventory.  Helmets must meet a certain standard set forth on the national level.  We have recently created a Risk Management Plan that has been a great tool in helping us to provide the protection of health for our student-athletes.  Another piece of this vision is a safe playing surface. The coaching staff must always look out for the safety of the player when considering when and where to play.  Fields should be examined by the coaching staff before playing or practicing on them.  Next in line would be appropriate medical personnel available for our student-athletes and coaches.  I always want to have a Certified Athletic Trainer on my staff in an effort to give our players the best possible health care available.

Pregame meeting with my favorite people – the zebras! 2009 season

Finally, we come to the last P of the vision for this football program.  It represents public perception.  This means that we want for people in our community and the communities that we visit to have a positive view of my football program, and the school I’m working at.  When we walk away from our team meal before a game, I hope that the servers at that restaurant think to themselves “Wow, that was the most impressive group of high school football players that have ever been here.”  When we ride on a bus, I want for that bus driver to know that we are a great bunch of citizens.  I want him or her to have a positive view of our school because of how we acted on the bus.  The same goes for the fans of the teams that we play.  I don’t want them to be able to say that we were a cheap bunch of such and suches.  The vision is for our opponents to walk away from our game having had a positive experience playing our team.


This Part 5 of the LEADERSHIP ACADEMY SERIES.  Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here.  Part 3 is here.  Part 4 is here. This leadership series is courtesy of Coach Jesse German of Bear Creek High School, a 5A school in Lakewood, Colorado.  His twitter handle is@FBCoachGerman.






























This Part 4 of the LEADERSHIP ACADEMY SERIES.  Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here.  Part 3 is here.  This leadership series is courtesy of Coach Jesse German of Bear Creek High School, a 5A school in Lakewood, Colorado.  His twitter handle is@FBCoachGerman.
































Have you ever thought of having your boys all sleep on the floor in the gym for a few nights?  (Coaches too!)

We did this at my high school at Fallbrook High School back in the day.  What GREAT memories I have of that.  We would have camp in the gym one year, and then go to a university or college here in So Cal the next year.  So, every player gets two camps at colleges, and two camps in the gym.

Here is a sample 3 day, 2 night schedule I used back in 2010!  Nothing builds team chemistry like spending three days totally together in the middle of Training Camp in August!

Let me know if you have any questions about this at

12:45 PM Check In (Gym)
1:15 PM Distribute Gear (Parking lot)
2:30 PM Orientation Meeting
Team Goals/Indy Goals
3:00-3:30 PM Team Meeting/Film Work
4:00-6:30 PM Practice
7:00 PM Dinner
7:30 PM Chapel/Worship
8:15 PM Free Time
9:30 PM Lights Out


6:30 AM Breakfast
7:00 AM Devotion
7:30-9:15 AM Practice
9:15 AM Distribute Gear
11:00-12:45 PM Practice
1:00 PM Lunch
Free Time
3:15 PM Team Meeting/Film Work
4:00-5:45 PM Practice
6:00 PM Team Activity Off Campus
9:30 PM Lights Out


6:30 AM Father/Son Breakfast
7:00 AM Devotion
8:00-9:45 AM Practice
9:45 AM Free Time
11:00-12:45 PM Practice
1:00 PM Lunch
1:30 PM Free Time
4:30 PM Team Meeting/Film Work
5:00-6:45 Practice
7:00 PM Dinner – Chipotle in Gym
7:30 PM Break Camp/Parents Pick Up



This is a great article, coming from Coach Lee Weber or @coachlaw71. He is the Head Football Coach and Athletic Director at Mission Valley Schools in Eskridge, Kansas.

Thank you Coach Weber for this two part article.  Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.  If any other regular readers are interested in sharing your thoughts about football, leadership, athletics, etc. please send me an article/blog you would like to have posted at


Every week, every football team in America has one goal in mind. That goal is plain and simple: WIN! We go as far as to say that our goal each week is to go 1-0 so that our players stay focused on the task and don’t overlook an opponent.

Seven years ago, my assistants and I were hammering out what goals we had for the season and what goals we should have for each week beyond just winning. We all agreed that we should have goals on each side of the ball that were crucial to us being successful each week.

Like every football coach in America does, we first thought about your typical goals such as having a 100 yard rusher, 150 passer, 100 yards rushing as a team, or holding the other team to 200 yards of total offense. You’ll see these numerical types of goals tacked on bulletin boards in locker rooms of a great number of football teams across the nation.

Our discussion quickly led into how many times you could win and not meet any of those numerical goals. This happened quite frequently under the previous coach. The previous coach won a great number of ball games, but the weekly game goals beyond winning were usually left unchecked. Were these goals really the critical factors in winning ball games? It would happen that most of those goals typically dealt with statistics. The biggest problem with those goals was they violated the basic premise of a good goal. Good goal should be realistic, achievable, and an essential part of the process to achieve desired outcome.

One of my more seasoned assistants relayed to us his experience as an assistant basketball coach under a head coach who created more subjective goals which he felt were much more conducive to what actually wins a game. For example, this basketball coach had goals of not allowing a bucket immediately before the end of each period which would not allow the other team momentum going into the break rather than having specific goals on field goal percentage or free throw percentage.

I was immediately convinced that having those type of subjective goals could be very beneficial.



What it really boiled down to is that all of traditional statistical game goals were purely outcome goals. Outcome goals are ones that our players had no real control of and really did not define in our minds what we absolutely had to do to win. We could put down 200 yards rushing at a team, but that was just a number. It wasn’t part of the essential process of winning. What we needed were process goals. Process goals are those which our team had control of. The process goals that we created would be ones that we knew were tantamount to victory. They would allow us to focus on things that we must do to win without getting caught up in statistical analysis. We were football coaches not analysts!

After much debate, my staff and I came up with 14 goals that were measurable, but had little to do with statistics and everything to do with winning. 


Given what I just said about process goals being important, it is probably hypocritical that I start out with the ultimate outcome goal of winning. That being said, winning is our ultimate objective and the one outcome goal we should have. I will take an ugly win long before a pretty loss. I am intensively competitive. I make no bones about the fact that I want to win every time we step on the field. I try to instill that same attitude in our kids. If we accomplish this goal, then our week was a success.


We felt like this was a great goal that encompassed each side of the ball. It focused us on protecting the football as well as creating turnovers. That focus on ball control coupled with our program philosophy to “Scoop & Score” every loose ball and not just falling on fumbles has won a lot of ball games.


Again, this was another great goal for us on both sides of the ball. We feel like if our offensive and defensive line can control the line of scrimmage then we obviously have a great opportunity to win. We only check this box if we feel like we win on both sides of the ball. Some may say that this is hard to measure. I would submit that you know if you whipped someone’s tail or not. If it is debatable whether you won the line of scrimmage in the least, then you can chalk that up as a loss.


Winning the fourth quarter has always been a focus for every football team I have ever coached. No matter what happens in the game, I have always told our teams that winning the fourth quarter is one of our paramount goals. Coach Fore recently tweeted a pulpit message from his pastor that the most worthless score in sports is the halftime score. I complete agree. I think your play in the second half especially the fourth quarter will often prove how successful of football team you have.

Coach Lee Weber leads his troops to battle!


We desperately want to avoid a three and out situation. We are a very ball-control oriented offense and definitely seek to protect our defense against the plethora of spread offenses popping up in every nook and cranny of football. We felt like getting a first down on every series would lead to successful drives. Recently I read an interesting view of football from a former NFL personnel staffer who equated offensive football to four battles of a 10 yard war with a reset. I thought it was a genius analysis. Getting that first down is crucial to getting that reset of your offense and put your whole playbook in your hands.

 GOAL #6: HAVE MORE EXPLOSIVE PLAYS THAN OUR OPPONENT (Runs over 10 yards / Passes over 15 yards)

Although we run a grind-it-out offense, we felt like our ability to have explosive plays was extremely important. We also felt if we were in a slugfest with an opponent that limiting explosive plays was also crucial.


I set out on a journey last January to learn from the best of the best.  I wrote a book about the 2011 State Champions that is currently in production with Coaches Choice.

I interviewed more than 100 coaches about their State Champion success.   I’m continuing to gather information from State Champion Football Coaches from the 2012 season

Butler High School from Matthews  finished the season with a perfect 15-0 record, and ranked #1 in the entire state of North Carolina!  They were ranked 7th nationally.  

Their Head Coach is Brian Hales; he was kind enough to give me some insight and opinions about his football program at Butler HS, and what has helped to lead to his success!

Maxpreps Xcellent 25 Rank: 9

Head Coach Brian Hales Source:

1. What is one piece of advice that you would give to a coach who wants to win a state championship and or raise their program to the level of yours?
Practice competition at all times, especially in the weight room in the off-season.
2. What kind of offense did you run?
VERY multiple
3. What kind of defense did you run?
4. Which special team of yours was the most valuable to you this year and why?
Kickoff coverage. We averaged more than 45 pts/game and this unit was on the field most often and was key to setting us up with great field position all year.
5. Do you incorporate some type of character development program within your football program? If so, what program do you use?
We don’t do anything specifically.
6. Do you incorporate some type of leadership development program within your football program? If so, what program do you use?
We split the team up into smaller teams for the offseason. The kids on each team vote on captains for those teams. Then those captains become the nominees for team captains the following season.
7. What is the number one obstacle you face in building a Championship caliber football program in your community?
Entitlement. We have had a very successful program over an extended period of times. Lately we are getting families in that just feel like it happens magically and that they don’t have to put in the work.
8. Who do you consider to be your main mentor in this profession and what about that coach do you try to emulate in your program?
Steve Shaughnessy, our defensive coordinator. His attention to details. He spends an incredible amount of time watching film and preparing detailed scouting reports for our kids.
9. What do you believe that your program does differently than the other teams in your league, conference and or state that allows your program to have such tremendous success?
The competition that is bred in the offseason.
10. What do you consider to have been the single most important thing about your successful season this past year?
Trust and confidence


I set out on a journey last January to learn from the best of the best.  I wrote a book about the 2011 State Champions that is currently in production with Coaches Choice.

I interviewed more than 100 coaches about their State Champion success.   I’m continuing to gather information from State Champion Football Coaches.

Bishop Gorman High School from Las Vegas finished the season with a 13-1 record, and ranked #1 in the entire state!  

This was their FOURTH State Championship in a row!

Their Head Coach is Tony Sanchez; he was kind enough to give me some insight and opinions about his football program at Bishop Gorman, and what has helped to lead to his success!

State (NV) Rank: 1 

Maxpreps Xcellent 25 Rank: 15 

National Rank: 44

1. What is one piece of advice that you would give to a coach who wants to win a state championship and or raise their program to the level of yours?

The best advice I can give, is to stay true to who you are as a coach. Know your weakness and get better at them, know your strengths and get better at them. I think that discipline is key within the entirety of the program starting with the coaches to the players and constantly challenging your program to get better. Whether it be with a harder schedule or challenging assistants etc. whatever it may be continue to grow.

2. What kind of offense did you run?

I pro/ spread offense

3. What kind of defense did you run?

We are a 4-3 defense but will run a lot of 3-4 as well. Multiple defensive fronts, helps us to adjust to the type of offense we see.

4. Which special team of yours was the most valuable to you this year and why?

This year we had some special kids who could take it the distance, and did on our kick return and punt return team. It really gave us an advantage, even when they didn’t get the ball, team’s were kicking away from them, so it gave us really good field position.

5. Do you incorporate some type of character development program within your football program? If so, what program do you use?

We don’t have a specific program that we use. We hold our kids and coaches accountable in everything they do. Not only in the classroom but within the community as well.

6. Do you incorporate some type of leadership development program within your football program? If so, what program do you use?

Really we Just ask that our seniors really take on the leadership role as a group. They have to lead in a way that will make their fellow team mates follow them. They have to, and are demanded to lead by example.

7. What is the number one obstacle you face in building a Championship caliber football program in your community?

Getting the players , parents and administration to all buy in and believe in what we are doing. We have been so fortunate here at Gorman to have such a great support staff.

8. Who do you consider to be your main mentor in this profession and what about that coach do you try to emulate in your program?

There have been so many mentors and great people who I have had the privilege to meet along the way and still continue to do so. I try to take something away from every person that I’ve worked with or have been coached by whether that be a good thing or bad thing there has always been something positive that has come out of it.

9. What do you believe that your program does differently than the other teams in your league, conference and or state that allows your program to have such tremendous success?

I’m not sure what the other teams do or how they go about it and we have a lot of great programs that it’s obvious that they are doing a great job. We just concentrate on getting our selves better at everything we do. Coaches are being constantly evaluated along with the players. We spend a lot of time on the little things and how to fix them both on the field and off.

10. What do you consider to have been the single most important thing about your successful season this past year?

Work ethic


Leadership!  It separates good from great, light from dark, right from left, soldiers from generals.  I love to read about it. I love to study it. I love to relay it.

One reason I love studying leadership so much is because I’m in the leadership business: athletics.

Leadership plays an important role in every aspect of life; however, I’m not sure that there is another medium where leadership  is so important.

I also love to study leadership because one day I want to give my kids a leadership manual.  It’s something we talk about nearly every day with our kids – being a good leader.  Just today my oldest son, who is 6,  got a talking to at Sunday School for leading kids in a negative way.  “He’s always such a good leader, everyone follows him. Today he wasn’t a good leader.”  So, we chatted about that shortly. (I tend to give lectures, which I don’t want to do!)


Baltimore Ravens Head Football Coach John Harbaugh (left) and owner Steve Bisciotti.


The owner of the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens Steve Bisciotti said some TERRIFIC things tonight in  a post game interview on the set of CBS about the leadership of Head Coach John Harbaugh, and I wanted to share what he said.

“He treats them as individuals. When I hired him I told him that if you spend five times the amount of time talking to individuals than you do with the team, you will win.  You have to build a team one by one, block by block.  People get tired of hearing you talk too long all the time.  Talk in front of everybody for 10 minutes and spend the next 8 hours talking one on one with the players.  Find out what their dreams are and make sure you design a team and a goal that will achieve theirs too. If you do, they will work hard for you.”



If you don’t understand this concept as a leader, you will not be an effective one in my opinion.  People are important.  And if you don’t treat them well, they will not perform well for you.  If you are a middle manager in an office or a head football coach in the National Football League, you’ve got to treat people well as individuals.

Egos need to be massaged all of the time; especially in this day and age where everybody receives a trophy.  I can’t even imagine negotiating the egos in an NFL locker room.  But Coach Harbaugh has come to understand that it happens in the one on one conversations and the time you spend forging that relationship as their leader. 

In Phillipians chapter 2 of the Bible, Paul says “Consider others better than yourself.”  This is one of the hardest Biblical principles I’ve ever read.  But if you are able to apply it, you will succeed as a leader.  You have got to treat those under your leadership as individuals who have dreams and desires; not just as general teammates.

When you are able to build relationships with those individual players, when you get to know what their dreams are, what makes them tick, they will go through a wall for you.  They will tear that wall down for you IF they know you care about them.

People can’t be just a cog in the wheel, they have to be a known commodity in that wheel.


There aren’t many NFL coaches who would be seen in a picture with their players like this. Can you see Belichick or Reid posing like this?!



Notice how Biscotti broke this down to HOW to build: block by block.  Building a team takes time.  I would love to research and write a book called THIRD YEAR CHAMPS!  It seems that so many coaches have turned programs around in their third season.  Take for instance Jimmy Johnson. He was 8-5 in the first year with the Miami Hurricanes, 11-1 in his third year.  Then he went to the Dallas Cowboys where he was 1-15 in his first year with the Dallas Cowboys, and then 11-5 in his third year.  He was 8-8 in his first year with the Dolphins, 10-6 in his third year.

Bill Belichick took his program from 5-11 in first year with the Patriots to 11-5 in his second year, and then won the Super Bowl with a 14-5 record; and then two more Super Bowl wins with 17-2 records in back to back years.

Building a champion takes time and patience as a leader. Yes there are abnormalities, but you usually can’t just walk in and change a losing culture and win.  Some guys do that, yes.  But the main reason you do not see this happen more, in my opinion, is because a leader has to have time to build trust and confidence in his troops.

Being a successful leader is about a process that takes time; block by block, wall by wall.  The old quote that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is applicable to leadership.  There are NO shortcuts in leadership!


If there is one “most important” thing I learned while earning my Master’s Degree in Athletic Administration from Concordia University in Irvine, it would be this two word statement: SELF EFFICACY.

Wikipedia defines it: “is the measure of one’s own ability to complete tasks and reach goals.  Psychologists have studied self-efficacy from several perspectives, noting various paths in the development of self-efficacy; the dynamics of self-efficacy, and lack thereof, in different settings; interactions between self-efficacy and self-concept; and habits of attribution that contribute to, or detract from, self-efficacy.  Self-efficacy affects every area of human endeavor. By determining the beliefs a person holds regarding his or her power to affect situations, it strongly influences both the power a person actually has to face challenges competently and the choices a person is most likely to make. These effects are particularly apparent, and compelling, with regard to behaviors affecting health.

It goes on to say: “High self-efficacy can affect motivation in both positive and negative ways. In general, people with high self-efficacy are more likely to make efforts to complete a task, and to persist longer in those efforts, than those with low self-efficacy.  The stronger the self-efficacy or mastery expectations, the more active the efforts.”

I spent a lot of my career as a coach not teaching and coaching my kids between their ears!  I just didn’t have the knowledge as a younger coach that I do now, and most of that came from studying my masters degree sports psychology courses.  I learned a lot about coaching the kids between the ears.  I think most coaches fail to really do a great job in this area.

This past weekend, we played for the CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) 8 Man Division 1 Championship.  I’ve spent most of my coaching career in the 11 man world.  This was my third season in 8 man, my first season here at this school where they have played for the Championship in each of the last two years.

I came up with an idea about four years ago while in my sports psychology class, while studying self efficacy one night at Starbucks.  I thought “When my next team plays for a CIF Championship, I’m going to have a Championship ring mock up done.  I will show that to the guys a few practices before the big game.”  The idea here is that this last minute motivation would help to focus the belief of the team (we can win) to affect their situation (the game).  This would increase their self efficacy, helping them to making a stronger effort to complete the task.  In other words, it would be one final piece of that “ah hah moment.”  ALL this work, ALL this time, ALL these months, ALL this conditioning, ALL this hitting, it ALL comes down to this: this ring right here.  Visualize it!  It’s here.

It’s right in front of you!

So, I called three companies that produce Championship rings.  I don’t want to say who those are, but I will say that Balfour got back to me very quickly, within the day.   The salesman here in Southern California I’m working on with this is Chris Mader.  He has been great through this process.  He drove up that day we spoke on the phone, about a 2 hour drive!  That really impressed me.  (Almost two weeks later, still waiting to hear back from the other two companies!!)

The timing of this was kind of weird, because it was the same week as our Semi Final game. We had to do that.  Too busy during a Championship week to deal with this, so you have to plan ahead.  I told Chris about my vision, and he was all in.  He even knew he might be wasting a trip if we lost.  I met with Chris in my office and he showed me a bunch of ring designs, and we came up with something I think looks just great!

Check it out here:  CIFRING.  Chris emailed me this mock up of the ring a few days later, once we prevailed in our Semi Final game.

So, after practice on Wednesday (we played on Saturday), we had the kids spend a minute on their own with this image, blown up on a small poster for them.  Here is what we did it:

1.  We got the team together right outside of the officials locker room and told them that they were going to go in and look at an image all by themselves.  The looks on these kids’ faces, they had NO idea what they were walking in to.  In fact, none of the coaches knew what was going on either, except our Athletic Trainer Mikel Dickinson, who helped me set it up.

Some of the kids thought we were playing a prank on them or something.  They were hesitant to walk in to the room!  But they did!

Mikel and I set it up so that the room was dark, with just about 2 feet of light shining through from the field, and that illuminated the poster we had of the ring on the wall.  We set up just one chair in there, a few feet from the poster.

2.  We told the kids to go in, look at the image on the wall and to really think about what it meant to them.

3.  We told them after they had looked at the image, to walk to the locker room on their own, get changed in to their street clothes, without saying a word, and walk to their cars quietly.

4. Then we lined them up with the seniors up front, all the way back to our one freshman we had dressed out for the playoffs.

5.  We sent them in one at a time.

Here is a video of one of the kids doing this.

You should have seen the faces of these kids as they came out of that locker room.  They were pumped up.  In fact, I got stinking goosebumps watching some of them.  A few actually had tears in their eyes.  You see, they have played in this Championship game in each of the last two seasons, but lost the big game.  They had never seen what THEIR ring, THIS ring would look like.  It became very, very real that night!

I asked about ten of them “What do you think about that image you just saw in there?”

One kid said to me “It’s ours Coach, I’m confident now, we’re ready.”

Another said “Now it’s real Coach, it put all of this in perspective.  I can’t wait for this game now.”

One of our captains didn’t even stop when I asked him.  He just kept walking.  He was shaking his head with this big old smile saying “Unbelievable, unbelievable.  I didn’t know what it was going to look like.  I want that thing!”

Another said “I think that’s going to be ours, plain and simple Coach.  It’s our time for that thing.  I’m glad you did that.  It all makes sense now.

You certainly do not ever want to put the cart before the horse.  However, I think it’s very, very important to build confidence in your players, self efficacy in them, right up until kickoff.  Do what you need to do.  One of my mentors who was a coach of mine in high school told me in my first year as a head coach, “Chris, I would lie to you guys if I needed to in order to pump you up!  Maybe tell a fib about something one of their coaches did or said, or what the media put in the papers, anything.  I mean, nothing totally outrageous that would get anyone in trouble, or anything like that.  But if I had to make something up to fire up a team, I would.”



Check out the game articles and video highlights:

Video Highlights by Terry Kurtz

Excelsior Has Perfect Ending

Eagles Finish Careers On Top

Eagles Are All Business

BONUS: Actor Tom Hanks was there to watch


This past weekend I had a chance to be inspired!  Have you ever had that chance on a football field?  If not, you probably aren’t looking through the right glasses!
I coached in the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section 8 Man Football All Star game.  I coached the East squad; a team made up of the best 8 man players from the Inland Empire and Desert areas of Southern California.  We beat the West team; the team Steven Contreras played on.  He was selected to the All Star team by the CIF SS 8 Man Coaches Association.
I saw something I’ve never seen before on a football field last Saturday: a teenager playing without two healthy legs.

Contreras lost bottom half of his left leg to cancer.

I had heard about the story of Steven Contreras a few years ago.  I first heard about him from another football coach, and was forwarded a newspaper story about him from a friend.  Steven is an amputee.
In November of 2009, he was told that he had cancer in his left leg.  He was told that he would need surgery.  He was told that his playing career might be over.  But Steven didn’t accept that answer.  During a summer when many kids will complain about their workouts, their running, their lifting weights, tell them the story of Steven Contreras in Southern California.  Show them the video at the end of this post.

At halftime of the All Star game this past weekend, the 8 Man Coaches Association President, and Head Coach for the East All Stars, honored the Rolling Hills Prep senior lineman with the “Randall Johnson Award.”  This award was voted on by the Coaches Association.  Coach Johnson was a long time coach at Rio Hondo Prep; he passed away from alzheimer’s disease.

Steven receives an award of distinction from 8 Man Football Coaches Association President and Head Football Coach at Excelsior Charter School, Bill Rivera.

I had a chance to talk briefly with Steven after the game, and did an electronic interview with him.  What a courageous young man in our midst!  Enjoy his story here.
1.  How long have you been playing football?  When and where did you start?
I started playing football when i was 7 years old for Wilmington/ Carson Pilots Pop Warner (football program).
2.  Why do you have a passion for the game of football?
The passion for the game comes from my dad and my older cousins. My dad played all through high school, and my cousins all played from Mighty Mites in Pop Warner through high school as well; you could say football is just bred into my family.
3.  What are your two or three favorite memories from playing football?
My first memory from my early football years comes from my first game of football when i was seven and made a sack.  I felt on top of the world, to just chase the QB down and throw him to the ground.
Another memory was in my sophomore year when we played Price High School.  The game was so intense, not only the players but the crowd as well and in that game I caused four forced fumbles.
But my top favorite memory was my first game back after my surgery and ending chemotherapy; just to be able to watch the snap of the ball and fire off the line in to another big linemen was a feeling I thought I had lost forever.
4.  Can you share with us what happened to your leg?  What was the process of losing part of your leg like?
Well on March 5, 2010 my left leg was amputated 5 inches below my knee to save my life from a cancerous bone tumor. The process was very painful physically but emotionally i was strong thanks to God and football.  The only thing that was on my mind was getting back to the gridiron, no matter what it took.
5.  Did you ever think your football career was over when you lost that part of your leg?
The very, very first thought was yes, that was the last time I would ever play football.  But then no more than 4 mins later I was determined to find a way no matter how hard it would be or what obstacle would stand in my way.
6.  What was your first game back like?  Did you have success?  How hard was it?
My very first game back was one of the best moments of my life.  I felt back to the old, normal, football player Steven I was used to and loved. It was definitely a challenge but a few adjustments on my part with shortening my steps and not thinking about my leg helped a lot. I just went out there and did exactly what i knew how to do and that was play my heart out. I did in fact have success. My first game back i only got about 8 snaps but i made 3 tackles so i was satisfied:)
7.  What are the challenges you face playing with a prosthetic?
Now at this moment in my life I have mastered most of the problems i have faced but the one thing that is tricky still is sprinting then quickly switching directions, like when I play fullback it is hard for me to cut up or down the field . Other than that, my prosthetic is a part of me and I don’t act any different than any other football player due to it.
8.  What was it like for you to play in the All Star game?
It honestly was an amazing feeling. I remember watching the All Star game my freshman year saying to myself ” I will play my heart out every practice and game so I will be there at the end of my senior year.”  And to know that even though I did have to fight a deadly disease and lose the lower part of my left leg, my hard work and athletic abilities were noticed. NOT the fact I was playing with one leg but that I deserved to wear “All Stars” on the front of my jersey.

Steven, left, battles and apparently beats a bigger man than he.

9.  What are your plans for college and your future?
I plan on attending the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) to study business entrepreneurship and Minor in Non-Profit Management. As for Athletics i plan on playing Rugby for CU.
Watch this great video by Fox Sports about Steven’s story.
Thank you for sharing your story Steven, and best of luck to you at CU.


(This is Part 3 of a Series I’m writing about regarding The Importance of Self Confidence in Athletics.  This series stems from a research paper I wrote in 2010 for my Master’s in Athletic Administration and Coaching.)

I strongly believe that Self Confidence is something that should be an instrumental part of a football program yet it is something that most coaches at the high school level tend to overlook (including myself for many years!).  Most coaches work hard in the weight room and practice field yet fail to “go to the couch” with their teams, and or they fail to utilize tools to build Self Confidence during their times of practice in the weight room or on the field.

If there was one area of my coaching that I really felt compelled to change during my Sports Psychology (class while earning my Masters) just one piece of sport psychology that I want to walk away with, it was building Self Confidence in my players.

My son’s karate instructor is the master at building self confidence in his students. How? He is a great cheerleader. Look at the confidence in my son here, during just his third karate class. He loved his teacher because he was such an encourager.

What is interesting is that when I started to implement some of these things I learned in class, we won a League Championship the very next year!

In addition to the empirical research being conducted on the efficacy/performance relationship and sources of self-efficacy, several investigators (Feltz & Doyle, 1981; Feltz & Weiss, 1982) have written articles outlining the importance of self-efficacy and the strategies coaches and teachers can use to enhance it.

Specific techniques recommended by these investigators include:

1.  Ensuring performance accomplishments through good instruction

Make sure that your teaching is up to par with what you are asking your players to do. This is where the technical and tactical aspect of coaching becomes important.

2.  Setting specific and measurable goals

It’s important that team and individual goals specific, measurable, and attainable.  I stole a concept from Concord De La Salle’s football team that I’ve used for the past four seasons.  We have the kids make practice and game goals on an index card.  Then, they read those goals out at our team meal the night before the game.  Then, they choose a teammate or coach to hold them accountable for those goals.  It can’t be “I want to practice harder next week.”  That isn’t specific and measurable.  It needs to be more like “I will practice my long snapping for 10 extra minutes after practice each day.”

Some of my seniors played in the Section All Star game after the 2011 school year. Phillip (far right) made himself a far better football player through focusing on his weekly goals for three years. I’ve never seen a football player work as hard as this kid – during practice, after practice, etc. He earned a weightlifting scholarship and is on track for the 2016 Olympics to represent our country!

3.  Emphasizing improvements in technique or process over outcome

Did you get better as a team during the game?  Help your coaching staff to measure their success not by the lights of the scoreboard on Friday night but by whether or not your team is becoming a better football team each week.  I’ve won some games in my career where we played like donkeys, and had no business winning.  And I’ve lost some where we probably played our best game of the year, or as good as we were capable of, just didn’t have the athletes or the luck of the bounce.  It’s tough not to be consumed by the scoreboard, but if you want to build self confidence in your athletes, you need to look at other ways to evaluate your success.

4.  Liberal use of reward statements

This is something I’ve heard Lou Holtz talk about. He told his coaching staff that they better “say ten positive things for every one negative thing.”  I like that.  I’ve never practiced that, but what a great goal to have!

5.  Verbally persuading athletes

Sometimes we have to just talk athletes up.  We have to tell them how good they are, even if they aren’t!  I had a kid a few years ago who I just knew was going to be able to play college football.  He was that good as a freshman.  But he was slow and small.  He had no faith in himself at being able to go on to the next level.  It took a lot of getting in to this kid’s head before he finally realized maybe he could play college ball.  He was able to walk on at a school, and eventually earn a starting receiver spot.  Then, they asked him to stay on and coach when he graduated!

6.  Encouraging positive self-talk

Some kids these days don’t have a problem with this, but others need to be encouraged to talk positively about themselves.  There is a great clip on one of those NFL Films of Bill Parcells teaching a rookie how to field a punt. And he said that one of the keys is to tell yourself, “I’m the best punt returner on the field right now” as you are waiting back there all by yourself.

My favorite college team, The U, didn’t have a very difficult time talking positively about themselves in the late 80s!

7.  Reducing feelings of anxiety via relaxation training

After I took this class, I’ve done this a few times before games and practices.  I turn off all of the lights, have the kids lay down flat and close their eyes.  The whole goal is to help them relax.  I do a lot of positive team and self talk about the players, and try to paint a picture of the success we will have.

8.  Emphasizing that feelings of anxiety indicate not fear but readiness

This is one of those areas where you might need to “put lipstick on the pig!”  Kids and coaches will have anxiety before a game.  It’s your job to help them focus that anxiety and get rid of it so that they can perform at their highest level.  Let them know that they are ready, more ready than they have ever been.  The nervous feelings they have 20 minutes before kickoff are just feelings of readiness and adrenaline pumping through their veins!

9.  Modeling confidence

I’ve used statements like this before on Monday practice: “I just don’t know . . . . I’m not sure we have what it takes to beat this team  . . . . . I think they have better athletes than we do . . . . . . They are definitely faster than us.”  What I was trying to do was get the kids ticked off, at the other team, at me, I didn’t care.  As long as they were offended, and came together as one to perform.  But was I really doing them a service with this kind of talk?  Did that model confidence to them?  Absolutely not!  Now, for me in high school, that would’ve worked.  That kind of talk by a coach would have gotten me fired up, where I would want to prove him wrong.  It doesn’t work for a lot of kids today!  We need to model confidence as a coach, even when we aren’t confident.

10.  Using imagery to visualize performance success

See #7, same deal.

11.  Employing attributional training (e.g., attributing failure to a lack of effort rather than to low ability).

This really is a key at the high school level.  From my experience, at least in the division my teams have been in, there isn’t an overwhelming advantage in size, speed, strength.  Of course, one team is usually a bit faster than the other, or stronger than the other, but many times, it’s not ability that wins and loses ball games at the high school level, and obviously that becomes a smaller gap the higher up you go.  Many times, I’m convinced of this, it is a lack of effort that loses games.

Therefore, coaches have a variety of techniques or strategies at their disposal to assist in developing self-efficacy in their students and athletes (Beattie, Hardy, Woodman 2004).

Trying to instill some last second confidence in my backup quarterback during a timeout! Sometimes, a little physical touch like this with your players can go a long way.



(This is Part 2 of a Series I’m writing about regarding The Importance of Self Confidence in Athletics.  (You can read the first part here.)  This series stems from a research paper I wrote in 2010 for my Master’s in Athletic Administration and Coaching.)

As it has been shown (Defrancesco & Burke, 1997), self-efficacy is a major mental element found in great players.  Landin and Hebert (1999) report that a self-talk strategy, designed to improve the volleying skill of tennis players, increased their self-confidence. It seems that young athletes between 12–14 years of age have a rather vague impression of what they can accomplish and thus by having attainable goals facilitates their awareness of their capabilities. This increased awareness enabled them to exert greater effort, exhibit higher performance, and build up their self-confidence. (Mamassis, Doganis, 2004)

To this effect, coaches should teach athletes techniques to regulate their anxiety and work by adopting a season-long goal setting process. In addition, they should try to help their athletes believe in their abilities by emphasizing their strengths, before a match, as these self-efficacy beliefs will have a positive impact on during-match self-confidence and performance.

How Self Confidence Can Benefit Athletics

 “My coach is a very big source of confidence. He doesn’t praise very much so when he does you know it means something, but I think he’s on to the fact now that I’m not that confident so he blows a bit of air up my backside every now and again.”                                                                               – An Unknown Swimmer via Research Project (Hays, Maynard, Thomas, Bawden 2007)

As the Head Football Coach, I must continually recognize that my team will rise and fall with my temperament. 

Coaching at Linfield Christian in 2003. This was the best team I’ve coached yet. Two Arena football greats in this pic were on my staff.  To my left is Dave Bush, he was Kurt Warner’s center!  Second coach to my right is John Dutton, current Cleveland Gladiators QB, he was the Arena MVP a few years ago when they won the Championship for John Elway’s team in Denver.  That was a great staff!

Sometimes, it is hard to remember that I have as much power and pull over the kids that I lead.  That is hard to always remember at the front of my head.  As the head coach, there is so much to do, so much to keep up on – paperwork, parents, officials, x’s and o’s, grades, etc.  With so much to do, the mental approach to coaching can often be overlooked.

In a research paper titled “Sources and Types of Confidence Identified by World Class Sport Performers,” researchers found that the coach was identified as a source of confidence by thirteen of fourteen World Class athletes that were a part of this research (Hays, Maynard, Thomas, Bawden 2007).

Five male athletes derived confidence from a belief in their coach to establish an appropriate training program.   One Olympic silver medallist explained:  “I think I had a very good relationship with my coach at the time and he gave me confidence.” (Hays, Maynard, Thomas, Bawden 2007)

Nevertheless, the male athletes recognized that their coach was influential to their athletic success and four of the male athletes cited sources of confidence relating to the way in which they were handled by their coach. For example, one track athlete stated; “Your coach is instrumental in your success, from setting the right training, to motivating you, everything is about how he or she handles that person.” Three of the male athletes also identified support staff as a source of confidence in terms of “providing treatment when necessary,” “handling pressure,” and “working towards a common goal.”(Hays, Maynard, Thomas, Bawden 2007)

Does “motivating” like this give athletes self confidence? We have no clue what he is saying, but looking at the body language of the player, I assume he isn’t going to walk away with confidence. If there is one thing I could change about my past in coaching, it would be “motivating by fear” more than being positive and building up self confidence.

As the head coach, it is my job to bring the team together, so that they trust everyone.  I want for players to trust coaches, coaches to trust players, players to trust players, coaches to trust coaches, etc.  One research project showed that athletes who were more confident in their own ability to row were more likely to espouse confidence in their crew’s ability to row successfully (Magyar, Feltz 2004).  It starts with the Head Coach.

Confidence for the team starts first and foremost at the top.  The team wants to have confidence and they need to have confidence.  That is my job, to develop the confidence for the benefit of the team.  The confidence of the team will enhance performance.  The desire for collective achievement is an integral part of the team sport experience. According to Bandura’s (1997) social cognitive theory, collective efficacy beliefs influence performance and achievement related outcomes in team sport (Magyar, Feltz 2004).

Come back tomorrow for more on this topic!