More than 10 years ago, I read an article from the AFCA by Mike Abrashoff who was a speaker at the AFCA Kickoff Luncheon. Abrashoff was a commander on the USS Benfold, which held the distinction at the time he took command of the worst-performing ship in the U.S. Navy. Abrashoff flipped it around from worst to best.
He did it by instilling a culture in which learning was valued. After reading Abrashoff’s book It’s Your Ship! I decided I wanted my teams and units to be ones in which everyone was empowered to lead and teach others, and one in which learning was highly valued. It has led me to research and find the best teaching methods along with the best systems of delivering the content that is our playbook.
In my first year as an offensive coordinator at the college level, I had the challenge of taking a very selfish receiver group and turning them into one in which each individual was selfless and helping others. Our meeting room was turned into a dynamic atmosphere in which everyone was contributing to making each other better. We saw first-hand the importance of creating a culture of learning to improve our team.
Jumping ahead to 2016, we have created a culture at Oberlin College where it is exciting to be a member. Our older players are valued for their knowledge, and they have the opportunity to show and strengthen their understanding by teaching the first-year players. After years of doing this, we have instilled this culture systematically.
Here are six methods we’ve used to create a culture of learning:
1. Remove the lecture portion of installation, whether that is in camp or each week from the classroom setting. Use flipped-learning techniques.
2. Hold student-athletes accountable for learning outside of the classroom. We ensure their work is done with our video quiz app. We have this within our playbook software. Free apps are available for quizzes as well.
3. Utilize classroom time differently. This is where I will utilize film to teach. At the beginning, I model the strategy. I begin by giving them the play. We talk about the defense we see, then starting from the frontside and going to the backside, we critique technique. After I have done a couple plays I turn the remote over to a player and it’s his turn. I have each player explain the assignment of the position they play. As they start to understand the assignments of the entire unit, they begin to critique the whole play. My role becomes that of a guide as I ask questions to help them find the answers.
4. Focus on fine detail. For technique, we will go through instructional videos together. They will stand up in the classroom and follow through the video step-by-step, feeling the positions they need to be in. This has been effective way to teach technique. They model what they see on the screen. When we hit the field, they know what they are trying to feel in the body positions they must be in. They are also able to help each other better and provide more eyes for coaching.
5. We create a simulation room with a projector and free software from goarmyedge.com. For example, our offensive line does a great job communicating and solving problems together. Again the session is player driven. I simply guide them through the process.
6. Provide opportunities for additional study, and make it exciting. Utilizing virtual reality is something where we feel we are just scratching the surface. One example of how we are utilizing this is with scouting reports. Instead of paper presentations or film, we utilize demonstrations in which players put on the headset and actually get into the play. We feel this creates a much better understanding than other forms of presentation.
Fortunately, we have found a method to be efficient with all of our use of technology. A culture of empowered learning has been critical in developing our offensive line unit as well as the entire offense.
Keith Grabowski is currently the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Oberlin College. He has 26 years of coaching experience. Grabowski has written five digitally enhanced books on football. In addition, he has developed his own coaching education company, Coaches Edge Technologies, which creates and publishes multimedia books for coaches professional development.