8/22/2011 - FORBES FIELD AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Topeka, Kan. --
A military unit in many ways parallels, or should, a college football or NFL team. The end game is to win. The challenge is the journey. Football goals vary from increasing participation and building self confidence for kids up to winning conference championships or the Super Bowl. As the stakes kick up, tolerance begins to decrease from high school to college to the NFL. Despite our passion for a particular team the stakes are even higher in the military.
I reflected last month preparing 51 young sixth-grade boys for their four-month journey into a tackle football season. As coaches we have solicited, recruited, assembled, organized and equipped our players. We are embarking upon educating, evaluating, training, conditioning, empowering and motivating them.
We will assign positions on offense and defense due to the varied skill sets, personalities and unique traits each player possesses to increase odds of team success. Not everyone will start. All are valued. Changes will occur throughout the year due to injury, interest and player progression. I truly love doing it.
You need not have played or even like football to see the parallels.
Our Armed Forces, Air National Guard and the 190th Air Refueling Wing do a ton of great things. A majority of our "Coyote Log" articles expand upon our success and for good reason. I'm going to take a risk and in the spirit of feedback offer a couple of suggestions for improvement based upon my 19 years of experience in the military as related to football.
When a football coach assigns players to 24 unique positions (punter and kicker), he does so based upon evaluation of varied skill sets, personalities and unique traits. Some will be two-way starters, some backups, a freshman might start and a senior might be on the bench. The goal is to win. Parents, politics, equitability and seniority lose influence. Performance and potential are what count.
One of the most consistent write-ups on climate assessment surveys is stagnation and lack of differentiation. The Four Lenses course tells us we are different. Human Relations education backs this up. Why then does a progression through the cockpit, rank or positions seem to follow the same timeline? There are differences in abilities and skill sets.
This concept is easy to implement as a football coach because they want to keep their job. They rank who is fastest, biggest, strongest, toughest, and smartest and puts their team together. It takes courage for a supervisor in the military. It takes time, effort and an emotional toll to tell someone they are not No. 1 in a particular measurement. For the military: Are we full on a particular Air Force Specialty Code or might we hinder safety? Cross-training is a possibility. Is our roster at the max? Veterans get replaced by rookies every single year in the NFL.
Great football teams have a natural shift of responsibility between coaches and players as the season progresses. At the start of the season the coach educates and motivates. One hundred percent of the decision making resides in the coaches' hand during practice and the first few games. This includes strategy and play calling. The GREAT coaches eventually empower their players with more decision-making capability.
Depending upon a coaches' personality, this can be tough. Freedom to operate is one of the most important things they can relinquish for team success. The players are on the field. The linemen are in the trenches. The quarterback is 3 feet from the defensive scheme. Once coaches have confidence in their players, they should give them the option to "audible" at the line of scrimmage in the heat of the battle. A quarterback can call a different play, a linebacker a different defense, and lineman a different blocking scheme prior to the snap.
Professional Military Education calls this centralized control and de-centralized execution. We can do better as we go down through the ranks. Teach first. Slowly empower the players without fear of retribution of mistakes. Come down too hard and it can lead to a constant looking-over-the-shoulder environment. What does it say about your teaching ability and evaluation of talent?
For me there is no better feeling as a father or coach than to see kids at the end of a season run their own practice while we coaches sit on the sideline with an idle whistle. The kids know the routine. They have the tools and confidence. They get back to the huddle after a mistake and try again. They tap their teammate and say "my bad" or "we'll get em next time." Defense, offense, special teams, equipment managers, parents and coaches all have a sense of unity as the sun sets at the end of the day.
I've been asked numerous times over the last 12 months how I like Maintenance after spending 18 years in Operations. I loved and still do the tempo and people in Operations. I feel the exact same way in MX. I was accepted with open arms. I trotted from the wide receiver group to the linemen. We all have the same shoulder pads, helmet and mascot on our jerseys. We all have the same goal. People are people! If you're Force Support Squadron, Financial Management, Civil Engineering, Logistics Readiness Squadron, Security Forces Squadron ... we all share the same locker room. Of course MX has had to beef me up for the line and spent an excessive amount of time teaching me their play book, but that's what makes life fun.