Friday, May 16, 2008

A Matter of Belief

The spread passing game has proliferated around the state of Arkansas. Its popularity and high profile successes (Springdale, Shiloh Christian, and Greenwood for instance) has made some coaches feel pressure to "modernize" their game and chuck the ball around the yard. We think that we can make the case that this is a bad idea if this philosophy doesn't suit the entire coaching staff and the players that a school has historically produced. We feel that if a coaching staff will choose a philosophy (a grind it out power, a finesse type of speed option, or a no holds barred spread passing attack) and demonstrate to the players that they believe in it, then the team will be successful because of the consistent training in the system throughout the program.

First, the implementation of a spread passing offensive philosophy must get the buy-in of the ENTIRE coaching staff. By its very nature, the spread passing attack is very aggressive and takes chances that a traditional offense wouldn't dream about. For instance, these offenses are much more likely to go for it on 4th down on their side of the 50-yard line. These decisions place more pressure on the defense and its coordinator. The risks taken can lead to big rewards, but it can also mean that the Saturday morning paper reports on some lopsided defeats if the offense has a bad night.

Most assistant coaches are early in their careers as coaches and many have aspirations of becoming a head coach at some time in the future. Thus, a defensive coordinator may not fully commit to an offensive system that places "his" defense in positions to give up lots of points. It may be difficult to convince a young coach with head coaching aspirations that he should sacrifice that career goal for the team. This means that a coaching staff implementing a new spread offense attack must be ready to address some of the possible inter-staff conflicts.

Second, a coaching staff that does not have experience with a sophisticated passing attack may find it difficult to find and develop quarterbacks that can perform with some efficiency in the system. This is another aspect of believing in your system leading to success. If a head coach (and his staff) has cut his teeth on power football or the option attack, then it is likely that he understands the fundamentals of developing QBs, RBs, and OLs for those systems. It is also just as likely that he has only a superficial understanding of what it takes to develop QBs, WRs, and OLs in a passing system.

Next, the kids in a football program know whether or not a coaching staff believes in an offensive philosophy. How? Well, for one thing, they know if the playbook and offensive formation changes from year to year. If a team runs the wishbone one year and a slot-I formation the next with no real explanation of the changes, the kids begin to understand that the coaching staff isn't sure how to best move the ball down the field and give the team the best chance of success. However, if a kid starts running the wing-T in the first practice of 7th grade and continues to run it every day until he plays his final game six years later, then he knows that his coaches believe that offensive philosophy is the best for the team. So, if the spread passing game is just another offense that the coaching staff is taking for a whirl, then it is likely to meet with little success because of the limited experience that both the coaches and players have with it.

Finally, we want to make it clear that we understand that football is still football whatever the offense that you choose to run. A well executed running attack that dominates the time of possession and puts points on the board can frustrate the wide open attacks and prevent them from getting into the rhythm need to perform at a high level. What we are essentially saying to coaches is "Know yourself and your team." This is the surest formula for a successful season.

Some of you may be wondering why we are taking the time to argue for coaches to stick with types of offenses that do not lend themselves to 7-on-7 competitions. We feel that all teams could benefit from participation in these competitions for the following reasons:

  • No matter what a team's offensive philosophy, it is almost a certainty that its defense will face a hurry-up, no-huddle spread passing offense at some point (maybe several times) during a given season. So, 7-on-7 competitions provide excellent full speed opportunities for defensive backs and linebackers to work on pass coverage skills.

  • The 7-on-7 competitions provide the ability for coaches and skill players to work on techniques and plays that may be needed in come from behind situations. We feel that it is better for QBs and receivers to have at least seen the ball in the air before trying to use passing plays in game situations.

  • These competitions provide the conditioning opportunities for the players. With regular workouts outdoors in the heat, it is less likely that players will suffer from the heat and humidity at the start of the fall campaign. Since the players will be acclimated to the heat, it will be safer for them during the extreme heat of August.

  • Finally, the coaches get a chance to stay in contact with players. While this may not seem significant for some, it is well known that participation in athletics (or other extracurricular activities) decreases the probability of mischievous activities. This contact between the coaches and players at a time of the year when the athletes have lots of free time may keep some of the kids out of trouble.
While we may not convince you that a spread passing attack is the best offense for your team (and we are pretty sure we don't want to do that), we hope that you will consider some of the possible advantages in becoming involved with this fast growing derivative of that offensive philosophy.

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