“Honking” Practice…Teaching that everyone has a role in leadership

Geese-in-V-formation-008

The following information was taken from this website, but you can find it in multiple places on the internet.  http://lenwilson.us/5-thing-geese-can-teach-us-about-teamwork/

This is one of my favorite pieces to share with my players in talking about leadership and how everyone has a role in leading the team.  I turned this into a practice segment in my first year as a head coach, and used it to teach our team sideline expectations, celebrations expectations, and how to stay engaged in the game.  Below is the piece followed by how I turned this into a powerful exercise for the team to understand and apply the lesson directly to their work on the field and in the weight room.

I’d like to mention that a recent post by Jeff Floyd reminded me of this.  Read it here:  Motivation and Coaching Study.  Coach Floyd’s pst further illustrates some of the “science” and effectiveness of how enthusiasm and support help performance.

Why Geese Fly in a V-Formation:

Every fall thousands of geese fly from Canada to the southern part of the United States to escape the bitterly cold Canadian winter.  As soon as a flock of geese take flight from Canadian waters they quickly form a v-shape flying pattern, with one rotating goose in the center lead and all the other geese trailing behind in two close lines.

Wildlife scientists have conducted extensive studies to determine why geese and other migratory birds always fly in a distinctive v-formation.  They found some fascinating results:

1. When geese fly together, each goose provides additional lift and reduces air resistance for the goose flying behind it.  Consequently, by flying together in a v-formation, scientists estimate that the whole flock can fly about 70% farther with the same amount of energy than if each goose flew alone.  Geese have discovered that they can reach their destination more quickly and with less energy expended when they fly together in formation. When people work together harmoniously on teams, sharing common values and a common destination, they all arrive at the destination quicker and easier, because they are lifted up by the energy and enthusiasm of one another.

2. When a goose drops out of the v-formation it quickly discovers that it requires a great deal more effort and energy to fly.  Consequently, that goose will quickly return to the formation to take advantage of the lifting power that comes from flying together. Sometimes people playing on teams will drop out of the group and try to accomplish goals on their own.  However, like the geese, they usually discover that they miss the synergy and energy that comes when they are an active part of a cohesive team moving toward their destination, and want to return to the group.

3. Geese rotate leadership. When the goose flying in the front of the formation has to expend the most energy because it is the first to break up the flow of air that provides the additional lift for all of the geese who follow behind the leader.  Consequently, when the lead goose gets tired, it drops out of the front position and moves to the rear of the formation, where the resistance is lightest, and another goose moves to the leadership position.  This rotation of position happens many times in the course of the long journey to warmer climates.  When a team is functioning well, various members of the team may take the leadership role for a while because of a particular expertise or experience.  Consequently, on good teams, everyone has the opportunity to serve as a leader as well as a follower.

4. Geese honk at each other. They also frequently make loud honking sounds as they fly together.  Scientists speculate that this honking is their way of communicating with each other during their long flight. Similarly, when working on teams, it is exceedingly important for each team member to communicate regularly with all the other team members.  Teams frequently fall apart because of the lack of adequate communication among the various members of the team.  Perhaps human teams can learn from flying flocks of geese that constant communication among members is exceedingly important in moving effectively towards a common destination.  Geese also honk to encourage the leader in the formation to keep up the speed.

5. Geese help each other. Scientists also discovered that when one goose becomes ill, is shot or injured, and drops out of the formation, two other geese will fall out of formation and remain with the weakened goose.  They will stay with and protect the injured goose from predators until it is able to fly again or dies. Likewise, human teams work best when they do more than just work together, but care for the well being of each other.

After bringing the team together and reading this to them, I explained that we need to learn from this lesson and apply it to what we do.  First, we very quickly showed them what was acceptable when they scored a touchdown.  The first matter in order was to find the nearest official and hand him the ball.  Next, every team mate was expected to get to the player who scored (or intercepted, or recovered a fumble or who made a big hit), and quickly without much of a show, congratulate him.  We expected them to be enthusiastic and excited, but we neither wanted a flog nor did we want to show up the opponent.  The idea was “do it with class” and “act like you’ve been there.” To demonstrate this we had either upperclassmen or the coaches demonstrate this procedure.  We explained that that was our procedure for celebration that kept us classy and within the rules.

After that, it was time for “honking” practice.  The entire team was put on the sideline and our expectations were outlined, such as having helmets on at all times, eyes always on the field and not in the stands, and being engaged and enthusiastic about what was has happening on the field.   We also covered other procedural items like where special teams units should get ready with the special teams coach, where the offense and defense would meet when they came off the field, and exactly where they should stand on the field to watch the game.  We didn’t allow much migrating and positions had a certain range on the sideline from where they should watch the game so that we could easily find players by position.  They were allowed to congregate in one spot only to congratulate a unit coming off then the would go back to their areas.

We then reiterated #4 about geese honking encouragement.  If a player was on the sideline, starter or non-starter, his encouragement was expected.  Our sidelines were loud, enthusiastic, and truthfully, fun.

We went through a short type of mock game with each unit getting a chance on the field, and the guys on the field and sideline fulfilling their roles.  The kick off team would get the first chance, and run down on air.  We’d single out a player after the whistle blew to stop the play as having made a big tackle, and everyone on the field would get to him and quickly encourage him.  As the kick off unit would come to the sideline the team would offer their congrats.  We’d put the defense on the field and have them pursue to the ball on a run and all get to the spot where the “tackle” was made and celebrate quickly.  We’d then simulate an interception and return for TD and they would use our “celebration procedure” on the field and on the sideline.  We would do this for every unit even progressing through second unit and JV units so that even starters were responsible for their sideline encouragement when they were out of the game.  We also explained that they were to remain in full gear (no taking the helmet, shoulder pads, or tape off) for the remainder of the game.  We never wanted the starters coming out to signify that it was time to ease up, so their remaining in gear and engaged was meant to solidify that idea.

What we would end up with was a very fun, enthusiastic, and energetic fifteen minutes of practice that installed all of our expectations and procedures for game day.

These lessons were also carried out in conditioning and the weight room.  In longer type of conditioning we’d see the guys who finished first go back and finish with the guys at the end, encouraging them as they made it to the finish line.  Whether lifting or running, the expectation became when you were finished or if it wasn’t your turn, you were encouraging instead of “feeling sorry for yourself” or “feeling the pain and fatigue.”  The idea was to turn your focus to others not yourself.

I’ve always believed that if you expect something from your players you must coach it. That includes all the little things that happen on game day that many coaches take for granted.

Good luck this season!

Pick up a great resource and reference for the 2013 season. 101 Pro Style Pistol Offense Plays for the iPad is loaded with video, diagrams, and ideas that are useful in any offense.  Get it here:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/101+-pro-style-pistol-offense/id611588645?mt=11

 

 

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