Coaching a Surgeon: What makes top performers better?

Very interesting piece from the New Yorker:

What we think of as coaching was, sports historians say, a distinctly American development. During the nineteenth century, Britain had the more avid sporting culture; its leisure classes went in for games like cricket, golf, and soccer. But the aristocratic origins produced an ethos of amateurism: you didn’t want to seem to be trying too hard. For the Brits, coaching, even practicing, was, well, unsporting. In America, a more competitive and entrepreneurial spirit took hold. In 1875, Harvard and Yale played one of the nation’s first American-rules football games. Yale soon employed a head coach for the team, the legendary Walter Camp. He established position coaches for individual player development, maintained detailed performance records for each player, and pre-planned every game. Harvard preferred the British approach to sports. In those first three decades, it beat Yale only four times.

The concept of a coach is slippery. Coaches are not teachers, but they teach. They’re not your boss—in professional tennis, golf, and skating, the athlete hires and fires the coach—but they can be bossy. They don’t even have to be good at the sport. The famous Olympic gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi couldn’t do a split if his life depended on it. Mainly, they observe, they judge, and they guide. . . .

(more…)

All-Access: Hunkering down with the Mountaineers

Bruce Feldman goes behind-the-scenes for West Virginia’s preparation for LSU:

The staff is waist deep in LSU film. Most of the WVU coaches will go home soon after the team meal. Meanwhile, Holgorsen settles into what staffers affectionately call “The Lounge” to resume studying the Tigers. The 10-by-20 room next to the head coach’s office, which used to be where former WVU coach Bill Stewart would smoke his cigars, has been remodeled and now has two theater-style seats, a few bar stools, an antique metal Coke cart, a Red Bull cooler and a 50-inch flat screen with an Xbox. Holgorsen likes the feel of the room for whenever he wants to have a one-on-one with a player. It’s also an ideal spot for the coach and Spavital to get another look at a ferocious defense.

The scouting tape, broken down by situations, isn’t supposed to seem like “a highlight tape,” but in LSU’s case, it does. On one clip, backup defensive end Barkevious Mingo roars down the line of scrimmage to level an Oregon running back. Holgorsen rewinds the clip twice to double check where Mingo began the play from and exactly how he was able to get to the ball carrier so fast. “This is why you run the outside zone,” he says, “because that guy right there [the defensive end] is not supposed to be able to do that. And that’s friggin’ LaMichael James too.”

Read the whole thing.

Smart Links – 9/23/2011

And the Valley Shook has a Q&A with me about WVU/LSU, along with its own preview. It’s of course similar in spirit to what I wrote for Grantland.

Catch-Man technique.

This is great.

Realignment insanity.

The 46 nickel and nickel tracer.

Tijuana sports hall of fame.

Nick Saban, decoded:

(more…)

New Grantland: Breaking down Holgorsen’s West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Les Miles’s LSU Tigers

My LSU/West Virginia preview is up over at Grantland:

The intrigue surrounding Les Miles, Louisiana State’s coach, and Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia’s first-year head coach, has little to do with what their teams have done on the field. When they play each other Saturday in Morgantown the public will know them as football coaches, but also as something closer to memes. There is Miles, The Mad Hatter, with a 10-gallon ball cap on his head and blades of stadium grass dangling from his lips, mismanaging a timeout to call a miraculous fake field goal that wins an SEC road game; and there is Holgorsen, Holgo the Barbarian, stray wisps of quasi mullet fluttering in the wind as he chugs a Red Bull on the sideline, calling a play-action bomb to one of three or four receivers. . . .


(more…)

Training Camp With the Portsmouth Destroyers

Think Hard Knocks of the United Kingdom:

Shot over 3 days in October 2010, this documentary gives an exclusive inside look at the University of Portsmouth Destroyers American Football Team. This insight into their pre-season camp aims to tell the story of what motivates a Championship caliber team and attempts to promote the game of American Football in the UK.

The film documents the physical toll demanded of American Football players and charts the highs and lows of being a student athlete.

For more information on University American football please visit buafl.net.

(Hat tip.)

Highlights from the championship game after the jump.

(more…)

Have any high profile quarterbacks significantly and noticeably improved their arm strength?

I listened to the Solid Verbal podcast this morning, and Ty and Dan discussed the plethora of “popgun armed quarterbacks” currently plaguing college football. Relatedly, a reader asked about why quarterbacks can’t seem to improve their arm strength once they reach a certain age. I can think of really only one example of a guy whose arm now seems significantly stronger than it did earlier in his career as a college player and rookie, and that’s Tom Brady. And, well, Tom Brady is Tom Brady. But it does seem like this is generally true, at least at the higher levels once a quarterback is physically mature: There are almost no examples of guys whose arms went from “popgun” to bazooka through discipline and training, not matter how tall they are or how many weights they lift.

This is not entirely surprising, given the unique nature of a throwing motion, but even golfers manage to add some power to their drives. (Maybe someone with more of a baseball background can tell me if any pitchers have added MPH to their fastballs after hitting college or the majors. Quarterbacks are not pitchers but there are similarities.) But I really can’t think of quarterbacks who have really improved the amount of power behind their throws. Of course, Dub Maddox and Darin Slack might have a thing to say about this, but I’m curious what the general reader thinks. Feel free to chime in.

Breaking down the Buffalo Bills’ game winner

It’s up over at the Grantland blog:

The route concept the Bills used on the play is an old West Coast offense staple: the “drive” concept. On the play, the outside receiver, usually in a short motion (just as Nelson was) comes in motion toward the line of scrimmage and runs a crossing route. An inside receiver will push straight upfield to 10 to 12 yards and break across (on this play, the Bills used a man-to-man technique where the receiver turned outside but pivoted back inside), while a third receiver, in this case the running back, ran to the flat.

Read the whole thing. I should have a longer feature up over there later this week.

Smart Links – 9/16/2011

Alligator Army on Tennessee’s passing game. I hope to break down UT’s offense at some point, but OC Jim Chaney has done a nice job evolving his old Purdue offense and combining it with NFL concepts and sets from his time in that league. Bray threw touchdown passes on the 3-step fade/out combo, double post, smash with a divide post route backside, and then just a busted coverage pass.

The 4-3 “Lightning” Cover Zero.

Runningback Balance Touch Drill.

Klosterman on small-school offensive wrinkles. I enjoyed this, but I have a hard time forgiving him for the use of Gregg Easterbrook’s inapt “Blur Offense” moniker for Oregon.

Why Noel Mazzone?

When will Ray Lewis slow down? Uh, maybe never, it seems like. I’m beginning to think he’s a Highlander.

Chase Stuart likes the Bills (to an extent) but isn’t so keen on the Chiefs. I tend to agree.

World’s worst analogies.

Breaking down Cam Newton’s first NFL touchdown pass

This piece is up over at Grantland as well, this time on The Triangle blog. Check it out:

Entering this season, the biggest questions surrounding Cam Newton were about his ability to stand in the pocket, identify the pass coverage, find the open receiver, and deliver the football under pressure. Newton showed a level of maturity against the Cardinals he had not shown in the preseason, aided in particular by go-to receiver Steve Smith. Newton’s first career NFL touchdown, a 77-yard bomb to Smith, showcased Newton’s poise in the pocket.

Read the whole thing (and check out the earlier in-depth piece on beating the blitz with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers).

New Grantland article: Beating the Blitz with the Best

I will be contributing this fall to Bill Simmons’ Grantland, and the first piece is online now. Check out my first piece, about how the best (Rodgers, Brady, Manning) beat the NFL blitz:

Identifying, and developing a quarterback who can play under pressure is a true challenge. As one NFL personnel director told me, while there are 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL, there aren’t 32 players qualified for their jobs. Throwing motions and mechanics go out the window unless a guy can be accurate under pressure and make great decisions. No one cares how good a quarterback is against air. What matters is: Can he beat the blitz?

Smart Football is still home (and I’ll be sure to link to all the Grantland pieces from here), but I’m very excited to contribute to Grantland this Fall. Look for both NFL and college football centric articles and blog posts throughout the season.