Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

Bad Apple Football Players; How to "Train Them"

This is a Post from a coach I admire and respect, coach Khalfie, he graciously allowed me to post it on my web site for the benefit of youth football coaches.

Building a Winning Culture
Recognizing I would be dealing with struggling organizations (read as bad football teams), and having a MBA, I quickly married football to corporate culture, and how to change said culture to a winning culture.

One particular book, “Whale Done”, equated bad businesses to the training of killer whales… which is very synonymous to coaching teenagers. The book detailed how you get a killer whale to jump through a flaming hoop. I thought that was great, considering i had no idea how you get a killer whale to jump through a flaming hoop… and my killer whale (bad football team) won’t jump through any hoops also.

The key to getting a killer whale to jump through a flaming hoop is simple… meet the killer whales most pressing need, and it will do everything you ask… however, make sure you ask of the killer whale, real simple tasks, before asking to jump through the flaming hoop… and when the whale does that simple task, meet his most basic need immediately, and the basic need for a killer whale is food… for a teenager… attention… love… protection.

So, what trainers of killer whales do, is put a line under the water… and everytime the killer whale swims over the line, congratulate, celebrate and feed the whale immediately.

Whale Done
To bring it home with our football team… first and foremost, the coaching staff and myself go on a Whale Done crusade… catching, rewarding, and congratulating our players on the most minute of sincereties… “Eric… I saw you shared your water with your teammate… whale done!” While creating relationships with our players… we are assessing their most primal needs… some may be looking for a male role model… some looking for a disciplinarian… others a friend… some a confident, and many a father figure…. so we prepare to be all of these things for many different players, fully recognizing that certain players will only trust certain coaches. Once we ascertain whose ears we have, we create huddle groups, and communicate from such.

We must catch our players doing Whale… so we can say whale done… we must set up the line under the water… give our bad kids real easy opportunities to be recognized as good kids, and tell them whale done when they do it, so they know we are paying attention.

Some bad behavior, we have to address, but not necessarily punish, killer whales know how to react when attacked… First and foremost we must make sure our kids know their well being is our first priority. In short… if the bad kid told me f-you… and we were in an environment of bad language, in which emotions haven’t been taught how to be addressed properly… I’d send the kid home. The next day, we’d talk about the interaction…

If I haven’t created an environment where I can catch this bad kid doing whale, but only created an environment of flaming hoops without teaching the kids first how to cross the line under the water…. and then punish him for not jumping through the flaming hoop… even if its only flaming in his mind… then shame on me for being a poor trainer and accepting a job with killer whales involved… and forget me…I know there are certain social discourses we should be able to expect from every individual… but again… if I don’t know the background of the kid… shame on me, for messing the with killer whale in the first place.

If winning is all that matters, then you should be running a program that facilitates winning. I’ve only been coaching 10 years… but the one thing I know about winning… is that if I create young men of character… WINNING will take care of itself.
If I can get young men to internalize the rudiments of manhood… being accountable and responsible… WINNING will take care of itself…

You can’t hold someone accountable and responsible for something they don’t know… so first you must teach it… and once the two of you come to an understanding that the required information is known, then and only then, can you hold them accountable and responsible. You want your team to hit the weights at 6:00am before school? That’s a flaming hoop… will your killer whale jump through it? I doubt it… so what do you do? Kick the best kid off your team because he’s not committed? I thought Winning was all that mattered?

I want to win… so I work to get that kid committed. But before I ask him to be committed, I first make sure he understands what commitment means… I make sure, I get him committed to small things… such as addressing the coaches as coach or sir… making sure he and one other teammate are in constant contact… addressing his grade situation… not bettering… just recognizing where it currently stands.My high school coach, which is the main reason I became a coach… didn’t care about the kids… really didn’t care about the x’s and o’s, but all he talked about was winning…

A coaches job is to model, promote, and develop… to do anything else, IMHO, is to be irrelevant. From Dave: Coaching youth football should be so much more than coaching X’s and O’s and executing football plays perfectly. Like Coach Khalfie says, model character, get the kids to buy in, praise them, find plenty of “whale dones”, hold them accountable and the wins will take care of themselves.


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  1. Dale Roberts Jr

    Thanks for posting this Dave. This is my philosophy also and why I coach youth football. There are far too many Young men (and Women) lacking these qualities today. If I can reach just a few then all the headaches are well worth it.

  2. admin

    “Whale Done” coach. Something we probably all need to remind ourselves of before football practice every day.
    Just think, do you remember your youth football coaches name and face and what he was all about?
    My first year of youth football was 39 years ago, I can’t remember my computer password or our garage door combination, but I do remember my first coaches name was Jim Wasgis I can picture his face right now as I type these words.
    If you are coaching youth football you will be remembered for eternity by the boys you coach. You have a huge opportunnity to affect them all in a very positive or very negative manner. It’s a choice we all make.


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