We have just returned as a defensive staff at Cornell from a professional development trip visiting the United States Naval Academy football program. First things first, every football coach should attempt to experience the Naval Academy in person as well as Annapolis in general; it is truly an amazing institution and college town. Like all staff trips or experiences, there were many goals established for completion by our defensive coordinator, Jared Backus. Paramount on that list was to make sure that the entire staff knew the attributes that we were looking for in potential and attempting to develop in existing players. The message he delivered to us was one of binary simplicity – we could always get by with lesser athleticism as long as the following attributes were present but we would summarily fail should we have physically talented players who lacked the requisite characteristics. He stated that we want to find and create players who are:
COMPETITIVE, MENTALLY ALERT, STRONG, and EXPLOSIVE
We will, of course, moving forward always attempt to only recruit players who have a maximum supply of all of these but we know that is not realistic. So, we must also cultivate them in players and the best way to do that is to make sure that the ENVIRONMENT is right for them to grow.
This point was made obvious by the visit to Navy. Sometimes they recruit the same players that we do and vice versa. We watched their weight room and morning winter workout sessions and I was awestruck at the physical development and overall maturation as young men that some of the players we knew as high school athletes had undergone since becoming Midshipmen. Their coaches do an AMAZING job there.
However, equally as important, the young men as student-athletes believe in selflessness which naturally forces the players to maximize their potential. The same is not true for most other football contexts; we all certainly have our advantages and challenges but the lesson is that with the environment as it is, we have to maximize the positives. Usually the Middies don’t have any problem with the four key attributes mentioned. That is their competitive edge. The question we all have to answer is: what aspects of our schools build those four areas up and what potentially could tear them down? Word it however it works and what makes sense for each team but those four areas are what we all need to be successful on the field and what the players need for their life experiences. Sometimes it is not the deficiencies of the player or the coach but the place that needs to be paid heed.