Coaches Q & A: In-season advice and insights from our staff

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We asked members of the QB Country staff to respond to some recent questions from high school quarterbacks. Here’s what they had to share on in-season approaches to:

  • Arm care and extra work
  • Vocal leadership
  • Overcoming a rough start
  • Recruiting
  • Being a back-up

Answers below from Reese Phillips/QBC Chattanooga, Ben Neill/QBC Birmingham, Mickey Bruckner/QBC New Jersey, Thomas Morris/QBC Tennessee, Landry Klann/QBC Dallas, and Charley Loeb/QBC Atlanta.

1. What should I be doing in season as far as putting in extra work and perfecting my throwing?

MB: When it comes to maintaining and building arm strength, creating an in-season program really depends on your current limitations. If you’re someone with limited arm strength who is seeking to build and you’re throwing a ton in practice and volume is high, the focus might be med ball work to build sequencing and rotational power without stressing the arm. That’s probably the smartest approach for an athlete who is playing in games and throwing a bunch in practice.

For a back-up or someone whose throw count is lower, we’d have a similar plan from a performance standpoint, but look for opportunities to get live reps – stuff that’s going to emphasize game speed and intensity. You’re always trying to manage volume over time. If you’re not starting, your arm can likely better handle a bit more stress outside of practice and games. The goal is to build additional reps into a program that won’t get in the way of practice and what you’re being asked to do competitively. So in this case because you didn’t get a lot of reps Friday night it’s OK throw throw light Saturday.

Also make sure you’re utilizing arm care work: cuff work and scap work – timed around what you’re doing from a throwing standpoint. The best days to put arm care work into your program are on your higher volume/higher output throwing days after practice. This allows us to compartmentalize stress on the arm to only a few days a week. Think Wednesday after practice and then Saturday AM.

The season is generally not ideal to work on changing your mechanics. You are trying to reinforce timing in-season. Best to save any overhaul or major tweaks for the offseason.

Finally, make sure whatever you’re doing isn’t going to take away from or distract you from what you need to get accomplished with your team and your time with your program – and finding ways to build and maintain strength while minimizing mechanical stress on your arm.

2. My coach wants me to be a more vocal leader, but I feel more comfortable leading by example. What should I do?

RP: Thinking back on my time at Kentucky, there was a guy I played with who was what I’d call a “fake” vocal leader. It always killed me; it was just very fake energy, very manufactured, and everyone knew it – it wasn’t something you wanted to be around every day. And then we had a QB who was probably the quietest leader I’ve ever been around, he never opened his mouth and let his play do all his talking. Even though he never said much, he was the more effective leader just because he was being himself. I think that’s most important – be yourself, don’t try to be someone you’re not. It’s easy to see when someone is not being themselves.

At some point, however, if you’re a starting quarterback you do have to be willing to open up and share your voice at least a little bit. I’m not the most talkative guy, but I learned to be more vocal on the field and I found it helpful to partner with my teammates. I always partnered with my O linemen, and especially my center. If I wasn’t talking enough, he’d step in to help me and be there for me. If there are teammates who might be more comfortable in a vocal role – your O line, your skill positions – they can be very helpful partners in getting your message across. As you become a starter, you’re definitely going to have to lean into vocalization. If it’s not comfortable – and even if it is – lean into teammates, too. You don’t have to be the only one taking on that role and sometimes it’s more effective when you have multiple guys buying in and communicating on the same page.

3. Our season is off to a rough start and I’m feeling pressure that if I don’t have a great game I’m going to get benched. Any advice on how to approach my next start?

TM: I’ve always told my guys the best way to ease anxiety and pressure is being prepared. Are you prepared for this game? Do you know the playbook? Are you able to get your guys in the right positions to succeed on the field? This is all part of being a quarterback and leading a successful team. The worst thing you can do is panic and start to force things. When you start pressing, you’re doing what you think is best versus what the defense is dictating you should be doing. Go back to the basics, think about what you do well and what the team does well. Focus on stacking a couple of plays together, a couple of drives together and you’ll wind up having a good game. If you try to force it or be superman, that usually doesn’t pan out well.

Taking that a step further, your job really is to put your team in a position to win the game, it’s not about you winning the game or individual glory. That can relieve some of the pressure – you don’t have to have all the answers, you just need to focus on smaller questions like where to go with the ball and how to make a drive successful. Once something good happens something else good will happen, confidence will build and the next thing you know one good drive becomes two good drives, one good game becomes two good games.

Finally, self reflection is important. It’s healthy to ask: “why are we having problems?” That takes looking within and looking collectively at what you aren’t doing well as a group.

4. I’m a high school junior and starter but don’t have any offers yet. Anything I should be doing during the season to help my recruiting besides just playing well?

BN: Don’t worry about recruiting right now. Worry about playing good football, doing your job, and enjoying this year you will never forget. The most important thing you can do to help your recruitment is to play well. On that note, definitely be proactive and conscious about keeping an updated and current highlight film. Make sure you’re highlighting plays and putting them into one film that’s updated weekly instead of having a bunch of individual highlights.

Don’t be scared to talk with your coaches about recruiting from time to time. When high school coaches are talking to college coaches, you want them to be thinking about it, to have it at the front of their mind. That can’t happen if you sit back and do nothing.

Be patient. Recruiting often happens late. The high school season might be in week 3, 4, or 5 and colleges are just starting conference play at that time. Coaches may not even reconvene and start making decisions on recruiting until weeks 6, 7 or later of high school seasons. Most recruiting picks back up in January and February. Next spring is important. Next summer is important. Don’t let recruiting be your main priority right now.

Focus on putting together a full body of work. One good game or play won’t get you recruited and one bad game or play won’t prevent you from getting recruited. Do your best to have a great season and improve every week and understand there is a lot that’s out of your control in the recruiting process. One bad game won’t affect your recruiting unless you let it affect the next game and the one after that.

5. I lost a tight quarterback battle and think I deserve to be the starter. How do I stay focused and make the most of being a back-up?

CL: Whether you’re the starter or the backup, your responsibility is to prove you should be that guy every single day – you have to earn it every day. You’re building a body of work that requires continuous improvement and results. It’s like the stock market. You can be the best stock, but have a down day. But over time you’re going to rebound and be back on top. The worst thing you can do in a tight quarterback battle whether you’ve won it or lost it, is stagnate. You’ll be leaving doors open as others progress.

Good or bad, nothing is permanent. I’ve had this talk with guys that have won the job and guys that have lost the job by a nose. If you won the job, great – but it’s not over. Just because you’ve been named QB1, if you rest and have a bad day, your role may change quickly. You need to be lengths ahead and keep the foot on the gas. If you’ve been beat, your motivation should be through the roof. If you stop to feel sorry for yourself, if you quit down a nose length, it’ll be almost impossible to make up ground. To get close and fold is unacceptable if you’re a competitor. Quarterbacks by nature should be world-class competitors or you’re playing the wrong position and sport.

Execute your role. Whether you’re the #1 or the #2, you’re still a quarterback. All the intangibles of playing the position still apply: be a leader, bring people together, know and be able to communicate the playbook, make sure your offense and your team are clicking. These are things you can control and the expectation is that you’ll do them well.

I’m not saying that being the back-up isn’t a real challenge. At most high schools it means you’re rarely getting reps. Maybe you get some scout team reps, maybe you’re getting nothing. So you should be doing everything else under the sun to gain an advantage – you need to create a competition where he doesn’t even know you’re competing with him. If he studies the playbook for 20 minutes, you need to double that and more. If he shows up ten minutes early to practice, you show up 20 minutes early. You might have to get creative and obsessive in the ways you’re competing. Just remember, you both were close when you were both taking reps – he won the race by a nose. The next time you get reps, be ready to outclass him without him seeing it coming and don’t look back.

Finally, don’t ever be the kid on the sideline with the chinstrap unbuckled and arms crossed. Your body language and buy-in matters. One mistake – one bad look – is all the reason a coach needs to keep you on the bench.