Building Unity With My Players
Offensive linemen are a very unique and special group. It is a fraternity to coach and/or play offensive line. We as a whole tend to stand up for and defend each other at all costs even if we do not know the other guy. The only thing we have to know is he is a lineman like me. This is what makes coaching the offensive line so special yet so challenging at the same time. There are not many kids in the backyards and parks of America that dream of being a center on 4th and 1 in a state championship game and getting a pancake block that keeps the drive alive. If you find that kid, please call me because I will adopt him right now. Most linemen grow up wanting to be quarterbacks and running backs whose dreams are crushed in the 7th grade when they get sent to the other end of the field. It is seen as a disgrace to be one of “us” by most kids. However, it is a badge of honor and courage to be one of “us.”
As an offensive line coach, you have a unique challenge ahead of you.
You must be able to take a group of kids who may or may not like each other, come from various backgrounds and beliefs, and often did not grow up dreaming of being an offensive lineman and make them play as one unit. I believe to be an effective line coach, you must be a psychologist as well. You have to be able to figure out what makes your group run and how to get them to do it day in and day out in the most thankless role on the field. I am blessed that my head coach, Kent Jackson, was my offensive line coach in high school. He gets it. Our offensive coordinator, James Vint, has coached the line before, and he makes sure his quarterbacks make them feel appreciated. People do not realize how far this can get them in life with the hogs. They expect me to love on them, but it goes a long way when other people recognize them. I tell my guys, “Me and your momma are the only ones who know you exist and love you.” They have to learn to depend on both you as their coach and also themselves. I know you have all heard the universal “BLOCK LINE” from the stands, when ultimately, it is the back that hits the wrong hole.
This is part of being a lineman; no one knows you exist until they “need” you.
I have done several things with my guys to promote unity and build togetherness amongst them. This year we started a Hog Meal every Tuesday night after practice. We would meet at a coach’s house to eat dinner and just get away from the field house together. I did not want to watch film at this meal or do anything related to football. They needed to get away from it and be around each other in a relaxed environment. It also allows your kids a chance to see you outside of coach mode and be yourself. This goes a long way in allowing them to see you care and love them as people and not just as football players. I have always heard, “Kids do not care what you know until they know you care.” I firmly believe this statement to be true, and I think this is one of several ways to show them you care. It is amazing what some cheap hotdogs and cookies can do for a group of linemen. I know that sounds like a fat kid joke, but it isn’t. I think this is something that can be done with any position group.
Another thing I do is always have some sort of saying for the season or theme to bring them together. This varies from year to year to keep it fresh and new for my guys. I usually allow my upper classmen to help in this process. Kids can be very creative if you let them help, and it means more to them when they have ownership of it all. We try to keep it a “secret” for the linemen, and it is our thing. It is funny to watch the skill kids trying to figure out what we are doing or what something means and how bad they want to know. I think this gives my linemen some pride in having “their thing” and helps bring them closer. Last year our rally cry became “LOCK THE GATE.” I was watching a show with Hugh Freeze, and he was giving a speech before the Alabama game and he told them, “They are good men, but we will lock the gate and go looking for a fight.” It just so happens that our field has a gate that locks during the game to keep people off the field and is right by our pre-game warm-up spot. The kids rallied around that and it worked for us. You have to find your thing and what will work for your kids. Each one had this hanging in their lockers and they loved it.
Last season, I used a chain link as their rallying point. Everyone has heard the saying, “A chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link,” so I bought each one of my kids a chain link and they had it with them at all times.
They wore it on a necklace, kept it on their key chain or even laced it on their shoe laces. I still hear from my seniors about how they have theirs with them still in college. Nothing is new in this profession, and most good ideas are stolen. It’s no exception that I stole this idea from my head coach in high school (he is a master of motivation). To this day, I still have a dog tag he gave us my senior year in high school on my key chain. Right beside it is my chain link from last year. I know these may seem like little insignificant things to you, but to your kids, they are huge. They give them a common battle cry and rallying theme, which is what a group of linemen need.
I tell my kids, “You are five bricks but one wall,” all the time. I firmly believe it, and you must too as a line coach. You are their lifeline and their support; you must be bought in as a line coach. They know when you are not fired up to be a part of them. You have a challenge to make them love being linemen and staying out of the spotlight. This is why the Coaches Of Offensive Linemen (C.O.O.L.) association’s logo is a mushroom. Mushrooms grow in the dark and are fed garbage yet continue to flourish. That is the perfect picture of being a lineman. You must find a way to help them understand that and flourish through the garbage.
These are just some of the things I have done to help build unity with my guys. They may or may not work for you, but hopefully there is something here you can use to help you out. I always love hearing what others have done or are doing with their guys as well, so feel free to contact me. I love talking offensive line play and techniques. My email is ty_palmer09@yahoo I can be found on twitter at OLCoach_Palmer, so feel free to contact me on either one.
Offensive Line Coach
Seminole High School