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Why 'catch the ball!' falls short as coaching advice

Jan 31, 2017 6:44 PM

On the last night of the annual AFCA convention, new Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck addressed coaches in a session that reflected his famed energy.

The 36-year-old Illinois native is a rising star in the coaching profession. In his first season as head coach at Western Michigan, the team finished 1-11. This season, he guided the Broncos to a 13-1 record and a berth in the Cotton Bowl.

Fleck recently accepted the head coaching position at Minnesota, where he’ll look to achieve that level of success at a program that has to compete with the likes of Big Ten foes Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.

During his session, Fleck dropped several gems of coaching knowledge.

Doug Samuels of FootballScoop was live-tweeting from Fleck’s speech and shared several highlights, including Fleck’s stance on coaches telling players to “catch the ball!”

Fleck doesn't allow coaches to say stuff like "catch the ball!". Don't tell kids what they did or didn't do. Educate them on what you want.

— Doug Samuels (@CoachSamz) January 10, 2017

At face value, “catch the ball!” is harmless enough, but Fleck hits at a fundamental element of coaching.  Rather than telling players to do something they already know they should be doing, offer feedback that will be valuable and instructive.

Football is not unique in having these types of hollow coaching messages. “Make your free-throws” and “just throw strikes” are common mantras in basketball and baseball, respectively. They make sense, but they provide no actionable advice for the player.

As one coach pointed out in response to Fleck’s message, stating the obvious is not helpful. Rather, coaches need to teach players precisely how to execute on the field.

After all, the best coaches are the best teachers.

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