Over 300 people poured into Gillette Stadium on Saturday morning, but for the first time since the Patriots' first round playoff victory over the Colts, they weren't there to watch a football game -- at least in the typical sense. This time, instead of fans flooding the gates, it was approximately 320 youth and high school football coaches, all there to gain some insight from some of the most respected football coaches in the business during the National Football Foundation/New England Patriots Coaching Academy.
The second annual Coaching Academy, held in the East Club of Gillette Stadium, was a six-hour smorgasbord of football related information for football coaches of all levels and experience. According to Katie Douglass, the Patriots community affairs program coordinator, the seminar represented a substantial part of the Patriots' focus on youth football initiatives.
"One of the major focuses of our youth football program is to elevate the quality of coaching at the youth level," Douglass said. "Through partnering with the National Football Foundation, we can provide coaches of all levels with tools and information they can utilize to improve their programs."
Information was one thing that certainly was not lacking at the seminar. Immediately upon arriving at the event, each coach received a 500-page "Coach's Playbook," complete with a CD filled with information on coaching philosophies, offense, defense, special teams, coach-player communication, program management, life skills development, and health and safety. But, what really piqued the interest of the coaches were the experts on hand who shared their knowledge of all aspects of coaching.
Three members of the Patriots coaching staff kicked off the event with 30-minute segments on a variety of topics. Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line Coach Dante Scarnecchia, Linebackers Coach Dean Pees and Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Mike Woicik shared insights on their specialties.
To start the morning, Scarnecchia, the keynote speaker of the event, focused on coaching the play of the offensive line, the unit he has coached at various levels throughout his career and for the Patriots since 1999. He showed the attendees film of both Patriots positional drills and live-action game footage to illustrate the techniques and philosophies of teaching run blocking and pass protection.
Next up on the program was Pees, who strayed from the typical defensive X's and O's talks he had grown accustomed to giving during his days as a collegiate head and assistant coach. This time, Pees discussed the topic of coaching philosophy and how coaches should interact with players to bring out their best. Pees stressed that establishing trust and honesty between coaches and players, no matter what level, is essential to getting your players' maximum effort. He emphasized determining each player's idiosyncrasies, finding out what is important to each player and then teaching responsibility and being a male role model to all of the players as some of the most important non-football aspects of coaching.
Woicik followed, discussing the advantages of strength training at all levels, as well as proper technique and safety precautions specific to youth football players. Despite having surgery just two days before, Woicik engaged the audience in tips and advice for utilizing agility drills, reactive drills and ladder drills before finishing up with a question and answer period.
Throughout the remainder of the seminar, coaches were able to participate in offensive and defensive breakout sessions as well as a youth and high school question and answer panel. On hand for the high school Q&A was Bill Maver, the coach of Acton-Boxboro High School and the 2004 Patriots High School Coach of the Year winner. By the end of the day, the attending coaches had received an extraordinary amount on information to take back and apply to their programs.
"Football isn't just about X's and O's anymore," said Andre Tippett, the Patriots director of football development and promotions. "We want to constantly give youth coaches tools to improve themselves in other ways. Being a coach is being a good role model, a father figure and teaching a player life skills and how to be a good person, and we think that is what the coaches will take away form this program."