Books are a great way to “steal” ideas that have worked for others. Why not? Instead of coming up with stuff on your own that may or may not work, why not “borrow” from others?The book “Michigan Man: Jim Harbaugh and the Rebirth of Wolverines Football” had a couple of ideas Jim Harbaugh used in his first season at Michigan. I’m going to share with you one of the two ideas I’m going to use this season with my youth football team.
Like him or not, Harbaugh has been a winner at every stop he has taken a losing program and turned them into winners. Look at his track record- University of San Diego, Stanford, San Francisco 49’ers and the University of Michigan. He is quirky, unorthodox and can be a bit loud, but you can’t deny his love and passion for the game.
When Harbaugh took over at Michigan in 2015 he inherited a 5-7 team. This team lost to Maryland, Rutgers and Minnesota, teams Michigan never loses to. When Harbaugh arrived he found that the biggest problem was his players were “soft” mentally and physically. There were lots of missed practices due to very minor bumps and bruises, kids weren’t finishing off reps and they just seemed to give up when the going got tough.
Freddy P Soft
Harbaugh didn’t want to alienate this team, which he thought seemed to be a bit fragile. He came up with a way to call out their softness without being critical of the players themselves. Harbaugh invented a character he called “Freddy P Soft”. Freddy was an invisible little guy about 4 inches tall that was sitting on the left shoulder or his players, whispering into their listening ears, ‘Why are you working so hard? Get over there in the shade. You don’t need to attack with enthusiasm unknown to mankind today. Take a break. Take a knee.’
Freddy had infiltrated the Wolverine team and Harbaugh wanted him out. So every time he saw someone being soft, he wouldn’t call out the player, he would call out Freddy P Soft. His criticism was never directed at the player, but the players imaginary negative brain whisperer. When the team was practicing soft, Harbaugh would yell out, “Freddy, get out of here, out, out, out”
At the end of the day, not finishing reps or plays off is a decision a player makes in his mind, as is playing soft. Harbaughs enemy were those negative thoughts, not the players. He instructed his players as they were in line to get a rep, to NOT listen to what Freddy P Soft was trying to get them to do, to block that out of their minds and attack every rep with everything they had.
Michigan went from 5-7 to 10-3. One loss was to Michigan State on a fluky botched snap with just 10 seconds left in the game. They also were one play away from beating a rated Utah team and blew out Florida in their bowl game. So from 5-7 to 2 plays away from being 12-1. The biggest difference in year one under Jim Harbaugh? The kids played more physical and when games were in the balance of going one way or the other, his players were mentally tough.