Coach Russell’s Random Ruminations

Happy November, Coaches. I realize that our readership spans the profession, from youth coaches on up through the college ranks, so a lot of you are currently in different phases of your seasons. If you’re into your post season, good luck! The past couple of weeks have been an extremely busy and hectic time for us, which has led me to spend a lot of time (when I should have been sleeping) thinking and reflecting. In that vein, I’d like to use this month’s blog entry as a space to share some of these thoughts and reflections with you. So, I present , “Coach Russell’s Random Ruminations”. I hope you enjoy, or can at least relate.

The first thought I’d like to share is a philosophy of sorts, which I’ve only recently packaged into a concrete concept. This whole idea has really come from 11 years of staff meetings with dozens of different coaches. Stay with me, because it’s going to sound a bit simple, but I’ll explain why I think it’s important. To put it simply, I think we, as coaches, need to ask our players “why?” sometimes. By nature, I think we’re all competitive, and with that often comes aggravation and frustration. I’ve often heard (and said) “good grief, I told him to throw the post, but he threw the under” or “he’s been told to fit the B gap, but he keeps fitting it up in A”. As the years have passed, I’ve asked colleagues more and more “did you ask him why he did that?”. Sounds obvious, right? Unfortunately, I’ve found we often get so frustrated, we just write it off and move on to the next guy. In a previous post, I touched on my B.A.C. theory, and I want to make my players answer “why?” to see where it fits on that scale. You’ve got to ask them the question in order to move forward.

As a result of the way our season has played out thus far, I’ve also thought a lot about expectations. We’re a Division III program in Vermont, but we’ve had a lot of success, and with that comes expectations. Due to our location, the  local population is invested in our athletics department, which is something I hadn’t experienced at my previous school. This is a blessing; it’s terrific to have so many people care. However, when things don’t go perfectly, it can be tough as well. This is particularly true when you don’t have as strong a team as you’re accustomed to. I have been at Norwich for seven seasons. We are currently in the midst of a six-year stretch where we have won at least seven games. Now, as coaches, we all know that one 7-win team may not be as good as another 7-win team. Leagues fluctuate, etc. You may have a really good team, who beats 7 other really good teams, and finishes with 7 wins. However, you may have a mediocre team who also wins 7 games, due to your league being down, or other factors. To the outside eye, 7 wins is 7 wins – there is no knowledge of the inner workings of that year’s edition. As coaches, we know that not all 7-win teams are alike. You may be really proud of one, and really disappointed in the other. Where this becomes an issue is when you manage to win 7 games early with a mediocre team; suddenly, you’re expected to  win 8 or 9, and you know that getting just to 7 was a stretch! Manage those expectations, coaches. Embrace the overachieving team, and enjoy their successes while keeping a foot in the reality of that particular season.

My last thought for this month’s post is extremely relevant, to me, currently. We need to be aware of how we define ourselves. Winning football games is difficult, period. You can have talent, and depth, and everything else, but it is DIFFICULT to win games. Period. I don’t care what the argument is, you’ll never change my mind. You may be undefeated and then go out and squeak by a winless team – celebrate it! You won, and that’s hard to do. We frequently define ourselves by our wins and losses. This is unhealthy, and I am very, very guilty of it. When we win, we’re thinking about getting our next win – not taking the time to enjoy the win we just got. When we lose, we’re scrambling to fix everything that needs to be fixed – not reflecting on what we did right. Finally, worst of all, when there is a “big” game, we’re placing too much emphasis on that game, and how it affects our worth. I’ve spent many a rivalry week feeling sick, tired, weak, and anxious. I’ve gotten myself so wound up about that game, that I convince myself that a win or a loss is who I am. Be careful about how you define yourself. I’m working on it.

As always, I welcome all feedback, positive or negative. I can be reached at