Effective Coaching with Steve Rutledge
This website has afforded me to meet coaches from around the globe. In the business of coaching we learn from our peers, and hearing about other programs is what I really enjoy the most. The relationships we forge are what makes us think deeper and hone our craft. That being said, I received an inquiry from my website, from a coach that worked at Shiloh Christian. That name says a lot if you follow high school football, and I was all ears. This is where Gus Malzahn started his journey.
I have been extremely lucky to meet Coach Steve Rutledge. He called to ask me a question about how I teach the Cognitive Training of the quarterback position. What I failed to realize that this would turn into conversations that would happen multi-days of the week. We have forged a friendship that I truly have taken many nuggets from the conversations we had. I was amazed by how effectively simple he taught rules to his linebackers, and how his greater understanding of how his players learned allowed him to make them reach their fullest potential. Coaching at a legendary program, he is still a servant to his players, and coaches. I can pick up the phone or text anytime, and he always has an ear to listen. I wanted to share this experience with others in this post. This is only a spoonful of what our conversations have covered, and I know it will spark thought. I asked him to share his thoughts on some key areas we all face in the coaching profession.
Coach, tell us about you background and history? I grew up in a little town in Southeast, OK called Poteau. I was raised by a hard working single mom and some awesome grandparents. We didn’t have a lot, but God gifted me in other ways. Not having a dad, my coaches were incredibly influential men in my life. My wife and I met when we were just kids and got married right after she graduated high school. Our honeymoon was spent with me working a football camp in Ada, OK where I went to go to college and we started a coaching life from day one.
I know we have talked in depth on how coaching is all about serving players. The points you have shared with me have really made me take a deeper look at the purpose of the profession. What are some key areas and how do we serve our players to the fullest extent? Football isn’t the only thing in their lives. So, taking an interest in them as a whole person and using what we do in football to lay a foundation for future success in their own path is huge. Just asking ourselves how do we help them get better results for themselves as a player and for their family, then doing it.
- Do we do that for our players? Obviously no profession is 100% on target, but I think coaches do this well. We know too many stories of coaches who have knocked this out of the park to think otherwise. A few of them have mentored me. One of the things that reminds me of this is putting on a tie. I probably wear a tie more often than I have to, but every time I put one on I am reminded of my high school football coach. The first time I ever wore a tie I was going to an interview for a scholarship after my senior season in high school. My coach, Jerry Johnston, a hall of famer in Oklahoma who I love to this day, saw me without a tie and went and got one of his and put it on me. He showed me how to tie a half-windsor and then called the President of the college I was interviewing with (who he played HS football with) and made sure I was one of the ones selected. Every town in america has stories like this and it makes me proud to be in the profession. I think we just try to be that for our players.
- What are some key ways we stay in constant competition with ourselves (coaches and player) This is where I probably start to sound like a nerd. Not only do I coach, but I am an administrator. Having a foot in both worlds helps me see that too few coaches give the other side of the profession credit for the value they bring, and the opposite has been true too. Bill Blankenship is a great example of a guy that gets this right. His dad was a legendary HS coach that eventually became superintendent at the school Bill grew up in, Spiro, OK – the rival of mine growing up as a Poteau Pirate. Bill talks about listening to his dad explain how good coaching is good teaching and the details he used to back that up. The curriculum wonks out there have it right too. Research for best practices, use of data to track progress, high expectations, transferring ownership of the learning over to the students are all ways we can get better daily. To me the ability to quantify everything we do and then compete against that number is huge. Also, the focus on “best practices” term we use in education carries over to success minded behavioral scientist everywhere. “Best Practices” in our world are the “Activity Management” strategies used by the top people in the business world. James Clear has a great book out now called “Atomic Habits” that might be the best coaching book I have ever read and it has nothing to do with sports. So to sum up the answer. We need to measure everything, compete against those numbers daily, and quit focusing on the end result – instead we need to focus on the actions we can commit to that get those end results. Implementing this at Shiloh changed what we got out of practice right away. We went from getting 16 to 18 plays in a 10 minute inside drill period to getting 20 -24 with our varsity and 16 to 20 with our JV in the same drill – we went from 16 or 18 reps to 40 or more in the same ten minutes. This paid off for our varsity but our JV execution went through the roof. We went on a run in JV games scoring 40 or more points just because of execution, and those players filled in this year incredibly helping this team reach number 1 by the end of the year before getting knocked out in the semi’s.
We have both shared how we have adjusted from our early years of coaching. You are a tenured coach, and we all here how athletes are changing, they must be coached different, and approached differently than we were at the same age. How have you changed your coaching over the years to make players really take flight? First, I no longer care about proving anything personally. The only thing that matters is if I can help my players. That is a mindset, not a strategy, but it is sill pivotal in being a better coach than I was when I first started. Second, coaching based on how kids learn had been huge. This is how I came in contact with you. You are getting vastly more efficient results on four verticals than anyone else, this is the kind of positive deviance from the norm behavioral scientist flock to. Once we got to talking I knew you and I were on the exact same track. There are 11 million sensory receptors in each one of us, 10 million are devoted to sight. Therefore, I base everything on what my players see and conditioning them to respond boldly to that. That means as much film as possible is from POV angle and all drills are triggered based on visual cues. Also, I don’t jump on kids for messing up. I jump on them for being timid. If they pull the trigger on a visual cue I give them and they are wrong- we live with it. If they are timid or second guess themselves we have a problem. At the end of the game you have more near misses you regret not pulling the trigger on than mistakes made for being bold. Now you have to watch to make sure they are locked in on their cues but if they are, boldness is all I look for. Another thing I do differently now, I test my kids and use data. We give our players a scouting report on Monday. I generate an electronic quiz over that with Quizizz. They keep taking the quiz until they get a 100. They have until Wednesday night to get it done, but all the while Quizizz is generating data we use to nail down what we missed the first time. We have a spreadsheet in hand and have three more attempts (Thursday morning sprint through,Thursday afternoon Clap Drill/Walk Through, and Friday Clap Drill/Walk Through) to secure all we need to know by the time the game tips off. Lastly, I look to get more kids in the game. This year, we had five linebackers that were ready to play in certain situations of the game on Friday. But, at the start of the year, none of them were ready to be the guy in any situation. One of them got hurt early so we focused on the other four. We graded practice and games and put them in the game in situations that were specific for how they graded out. We competed against each other and adjusted who started and how much playing time each one got accordingly. It really paid off. Every single one of them made player of the game at some time during the year, sometimes when they weren’t the starter, and al four were in the top 7 of total defensive production despite playing half the snaps. One more thing I do differently now, I use older kids to teach the younger kids. I hope to use them doing their own instructional videos to build a team library of how to videos on our concepts. This comes from James Hattie’s research on visual learning. You can move the needle more with peer to peer instruction than if they are listening to you. But you move it for them the most when they are doing the teaching instead of doing the listening.
Coach Rutledge and I have spent a lot of time talking about coaching different personalities, and any fan can see the make up of athletics deals with this. I have a psychology background, and I know it helps me daily in the classroom, by being able to educate each student individually. How do you feel that Identifying personality types helps us teach and coach our players also? Once you recognize someone’s personality type you recognize what they are sensitive to, how they act when they are healthy, and how they act when they are stressed. Knowing their personality means you know their fears and how to put them at ease. Knowing their personality means you know how to connect with them. Who wouldn’t be better at working with people if you knew this info.
In a world of post modern thinkers that is bombarded by moral relativism, we can’t count on people working with us or giving us the benefit of the doubt just because we are a teacher or coach any more. We work in a world with people who no longer care about positional influence. If we don’t know how to reach them and connect to them they move on and we have lost our shot. We can’t afford to lose that shot with too many of these kids.
We probably have examples outside of coaching where we get this, I was fortunate in my ministry background to run across a couple of examples that made me realize I needed to do better with my players. One is to look at how many books on marriage have been written that come down to serving, or loving, your spouse the way that makes them feel loved the most. It may not be what is most natural for me. It may not be the way that shows me I am loved, but that isn’t the point. It is part of my commitment to serving her, and she is worth it, so we do learn how to get better and do it. Another is how we train missionaries to gain influence in a world that doesn’t agree with them (not like that has anything to do with reaching today’s teenager). We teach them to study personalities and cater to the needs of that person. Friends of ours have a missionary son that our church supports. When he was in one time he was excited to share what he had learned about being better with people through the study of personalities. He had been training with the Enneagram personality profile and had me take a test. What it showed me and helped me understand about myself was eye opening. Quickly I moved on from that to how this would help me understand others. I jumped in it and showed it to my boss. I asked him to take it so I could serve him better. Realizing you can’t give adults and peers homework everyday, or players either for that matter, I jumped in to learning the personalities and how to recognize them. This has been so impactful.
This has also helped me as a leader and as someone who needs to be good at serving with leaders. The education world seems to be flooded with leaders who connect naturally with processes and a few who connect with people. Both types have their strengths and weaknesses. Realizing this has helped me in being a better teammate and helped me form better teams.
One area I have really picked your brain about, and I am sure coaches are looking for insight on, is what are administers looking for? I know you have been at both levels and would like for you to shed some light on this. In the profession, what are you looking for in a coach as an administrator?
1) Give me evidence kids were drawn to a program because you were in it. We can’t win games with kids that are walking the halls but not playing football.
2) Give me evidence kids worked harder than people thought they would or achieved excellence at a higher level than people thought they could while under your leadership.
3) If the game, and your career, is on the line what are you running and why? I don’t know If I care what the answer is as much as I care that you have one and have conviction behind it.
4) Show me you understand how kids learn.
5) Tell me about a time when you didn’t get what you wanted from administration but served that school anyway. This last one I have learned the hard way is key to being part of a team long term. It isn’t when things go well that we are tested and revealed, it is when they don’t go the way we want.
Coach Rutledge, always supplies me with ideas to search deeper. He has moved me to read 2 books this off season, that has really answered several questions that I wanted to know. I know that his abilities to lead and teach, are evident because he has enlightened myself on ways to further reach my players and direct them to their goals. If you do not follow him on twitter you are missing a blessing. A coach that is extremely strong in his faith, and will call just to say he is praying for fellow coaches, is something we can all strive to be and do.