Playing defense has become more difficult through the years as offensive schemes continue to evolve. A coach must prepare his players for different tempos, formations, personnel groupings, motions, shifts and the dreaded run/pass option (RPO). When building a defense that can successfully combat these offensive schemes, it is imperative to lay the foundation of a positive winning culture. We define culture as the set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterize an institution or organization.
Culture is elusive and can be difficult to maintain, yet it also can set expectations, impact commitment, and shape our actions. A team culture can also take on many forms, including cut-throat, corrosive, competitive, country club, and constructive. Every coach has witnessed examples of each of these at some point in his career. As coaches, we understand the benefits of some, while observing the harm in others.
When building a defensive culture, coaches must focus on discipline, accountability, confidence, and toughness.
Plan And Execute
Building a great defense or cultivating a great defensive culture starts with a plan and setting goals that appropriately align with that plan. Yet, planning and goal-setting are only the initial steps – and arguably the simplest part – of the equation.
A goal or plan without execution is simply a wish, and we all know wishing does not equal winning.
This is where discipline takes center-stage. In my first coaching job, I had the opportunity to intern for a coach that would consistently say, “Becoming great takes structure, discipline and habits.”
With this mantra in mind, planning and goal setting is analogous to providing a defense with structure. While building a playbook or scheming a team for a game is the plan, building a defense truly starts with the coaches in your room and the student-athletes they coach every day.
Players must forget their selfish ambitions every rep and believe in the scheme. Providing a defensive structure begins with understanding stance, alignments, assignments and keys.
Next, we demand discipline from our student-athletes. Our players’ regimen needs to become second-nature. Knowing the requirements and meeting those benchmarks without being corrected takes time and consistency not only from the players but from ourselves.
This connects directly to the habits we direct and allow. Learning to build habits takes discipline, and at times, can lead to significant growing pains. These growing pains are necessary to carry out the execution of a plan. Eventually, these growing pains will turn into habits, and ultimately trust.
Instilling discipline and building good habits will affect players throughout their lives. It impacts their study habits, how they handle themselves away from football, and how they interact socially.
From discipline and building good habits, we progress to building trust in players through coaching their ability to read their keys, maintain eye discipline, communicate on the field, and execute. It’s virtually impossible to execute properly if you lack discipline, because discipline influences every aspect of our lives.
Each player comes to our program with a set of already defined habits. Some of these habits will be great, while others will need to be adjusted every time that player steps onto the field.
When we multiply these one or two habits by the number of players we coach on the field, it can be hard to manage them all. This is where we get down to the bedrock, the true essence of coaching. Managing the proper play calls, while correcting bad habits, in an effort to emerge victorious, is what makes winning so elusive.
There are three character traits we must reinforce in every student-athlete to have a chance at creating a culture of success: accountability, confidence and toughness.
Accountability and discipline go hand-in-hand. Every year, in the first meeting with my student-athletes, I write a to-do list on the board. I make sure my players copy the list down and understand the importance of it. Every year, the No. 1 item on that list is BE ACCOUNTABLE.
Team rules aren’t a suggestion. Going to class, knowing your assignments, being prompt, and working hard aren’t suggestions either. Each takes work and discipline, but through the process of planning and execution, coaches can develop a trustworthy player.
Football is the ultimate team sport. It is impossible to build a winning culture when everyone involved is not on the same page. We must teach that holding oneself accountable to the details away from football enables us to have the skills and discipline necessary to execute and prepare to win on the field.
Culture starts to change when players hold themselves accountable and know they must answer to their peers. My belief when building a defense is to make it simple. That simplicity lends itself to the establishing the expectation that players are not only accountable for themselves but for each other.
Simplicity also allows players to quickly react instead of slowly processing multiple choices in their heads. Reacting faster allows them to make plays, which then builds confidence. Confidence is the byproduct of preparation.
I believe Benjamin Franklin said it best: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” When players are prepared, they are confident and naturally expect to do well. Confidence enables players to play harder and faster.
Once a player experiences success, or he sees another teammate experience success, he starts to believe in the process. This cause-and-effect relationship extends to virtually all life skills.
Playing defense comes with its own challenges. There will be highs and lows, wins and losses. Toughness is the key to success. It is not easy to go out and work hard every day. It’s not always easy to be confident in the scheme, your teammates, or yourself. It all takes time and patience.
Our head coach continues to remind us, “You will never regret doing something the right way and working at it with maximum effort.”
While discipline, accountability, confidence, and toughness aren’t ground-breaking concepts, they are fundamental to building a culture and a defense. Defensive football is about culture, and building a winning culture will shape your team’s commitment. As you continue to build a positive winning culture, you will naturally see your players become more committed. This happens faster when there are instant results.
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As players grow, their level of commitment changes. Jensen Sports Leadership Center said it best with their commitment continuum. A player’s level of commitment will go from resistant to reluctant to existent to compliant. In my opinion, compliant players are the most dangerous, because they do what you ask of them, but there isn’t any belief in the system. They can lack passion.
After compliant, players move along the continuum to committed, then compelled. The players that are compelled will become your leaders and they will set the culture and reinforce it from within your program.
Commitment Continuum from Jensen Sports Leadership Center
Regardless of talent, building a culture through discipline, accountability, confidence and toughness takes time, energy and consistency. Just like anything else, there will be some ups and downs. How you respond and how you attack the next opportunity will have a direct impact on your ability to be successful.
If you help players build good habits through discipline and accountability, you are giving your program the chance to be successful. If you happen to learn from your mistakes and compel others to be disciplined, accountable, confident and tough, you will at the very least change your culture. In time, a wining culture breeds a winning program.
This article was written by Justin Hood, Secondary Coach and Pass Game Coordinator, Kent State University