Too Many Priorities

(Part-two in a three-part football series)

If you know anything about essentialism, it’s all about going big on what matters most. Football coaches try to go big on everything. It’s in their blood.

Here’s my favorite Chris Korfist quote, ever…

Korfist asked a football coach what he wanted from his off-season program. The coach replied, “I want my kids to get bigger, faster, and stronger.” Korfist replied, “In what order?”

EVERY football coach wants his kids to get bigger, faster, and stronger. You might as well throw in tougher, too. And, I almost forgot, every football coach want’s to outwork their opponents. They want to raise the four fingers at the end of the third quarter, knowing they are the best conditioned team in the country. With these five priorities, football teams are taught to embrace the grind.

The pursuit of bigger, faster, stronger, and tougher (along with a maximum dose of conditioning) is the religion of football.

Are you living in the football echo chamber where all priorities are equivalent? From my experience, the typical football coach is a grinder who works at 100% towards all priorities. They go in all directions with maximum effort. If you prioritize speed, you are a renaissance man, an outlier of the football world.

Before you go patting yourself on the back, tons of football coaches talk the talk about speed. Then they proceed to make all the mistakes.

♦ FB coaches overemphasize BIGGER – Football coaches are in love with size. Here’s the deal, when you prioritize weight gain, you get slower. Prioritize speed instead.

♦ FB coaches overemphasize STRONGER – Football coaches are far more comfortable in the weight room than they are on the track. Seems every weight room features a sign saying, CHAMPIONS ARE BORN IN THE WEIGHT ROOM. The pursuit of infinite strength interferes with speed. Squatting makes a kid slow for two days. Soreness is incompatible with speed training. Prioritize speed instead.

♦ FB coaches overemphasize CONDITIONING – Tired should be the enemy, not the goal. Tired athletes are slow athletes. 24 hours later, tired athletes are still slow. You only get faster (or stay fast) by speed training when fresh. Prioritize speed instead.

♦ FB coaches overemphasize TOUGHNESS – To increase toughness, football coaches put their kids though military training, the harder the better. Coaches glorify broken warriors limping off the practice field. Whatever gains in toughness will come at the expense of speed. “Never let today ruin tomorrow.” Prioritize speed instead.

♦ FB coaches think they prioritize SPEED – Instead they lift like crazy, celebrate weight gain, run kids till they’re dead tired, and then do Navy Seal training to get them tough. Sure they “test” speed a couple times a month, but that’s not speed training. Prioritize speed instead.

By the way, the faster you get, the stronger you get. Speed training does not interfere with hypertrophy. The fastest guys in the first quarter are the fastest guys in the fourth quarter. Toughness? I don’t think you have to be slow to be tough. Making speed a priority will not interfere with other pillars of excellence.

So what does programming look like?

Less is More

For those who follow my propaganda, you know I’m a less is more guy. My views don’t fit into the mainstream. The poster below would never be found in a weight room or football locker room.

My father was a basketball coach for 47 years. He used to tell his players, “I’m going to make practice so hard, the games will be easy.” That was a long time ago, but many coaches are still stuck in that old-school time warp. If a game burns a thousand calories, then practice should burn two thousand. If the race is 400 meters, then let’s practice by running 2000 meters (10 x 200). If an offensive lineman plays five minutes of football in a game (fact), we need to practice three hours a day. If there are 70 plays in a football game, we need to run 100 plays at every practice. I could go on and on.

Old school practice is all about how MUCH we can get done. The idea of kids going home with gas left in their tank? That’s not football. That’s soft.  Not only do old school football coaches want to push kids to their limits, they want to push kids beyond their limits. 110%. This makes perfect sense to football coaches.

The old school coach believes the longer and harder you practice, the tougher your team. And… this is important, old school coaches believe TOUGHNESS is the key to winning games. I disagree.

I believe…

♦ The less you practice, the faster your team.

♦ The less you practice, the healthier your team.

♦ The less you practice, the higher the quality of your practice.

Football is a full-speed game.

Football is a war of attrition.

Football is intense.

Long hard football practices serve no one, but guess who it harms the most? The big cats. Yep, the big cats struggle. (And the big cats are really big these days. In 1970, there was one NFL player weighing over 300 pounds. In 2010, there were 532 players over 300 pounds.)

It’s my strong belief that we never have to equalize the volume of the game in practice. For sure, we don’t have to surpass the volume. My 400 meter runners (sprinters) never run more than a 200-meter in practice. If  they did, they would be training slow. Fast guys win the race.

Let me explain the arrows. If you go big on speed (arrows in same direction), you go further. If you are doing things that work *against* speed, you go nowhere.

When You Prioritize Speed, Everything Falls Into Place

How much should we lift? How long should we practice? Should we come in on Saturday mornings and run?

When you prioritize speed, you will be do a minimum effective dose in the weight room (do less, achieve more). You will never practice too long (do less, achieve more). You will make sure that Monday’s practice doesn’t ruin Tuesday’s practice. If you have a high-speed, high-intensity practice on Tuesday, you will follow it with a low-intensity, no-sprint, no-sweat Wednesday. And, you won’t bring your sleep-deprived teenagers in at 7:00 am on a Saturday morning to run their aches and pains away. (Seriously, what’s wrong with football coaches?)

On a side note… I write this to improve the lives of football coaches too. Sleep in on Saturday. When you wake up, take your kids to breakfast. Watch College GameDay. Be a dad. Reconnect with your wife. 18 Survival Tips for Coaches. Do less, achieve more. 

Prioritizing speed also changes the *way* you practice. Coaches will no longer require running from drill to drill just because hustle “looks good”. Players should rest between drills. The necessary recovery becomes the focal point because speed is prioritized. Football coaches have trouble with this. They are in a daily pissing contest to prove they are NOT SOFT. Every football coach wants to be the hardest working football coach in the country. To me, we need to flip that mindset. John Wooden said, “Never mistake activity for achievement.” Football practices are big on activity, low on achievement. Ouch.

Why Prioritize Speed?

If I can run 23 mph and you can only run 18 mph, I can get tired and still run 19 mph. Your sorry ass is running at top speed and you can’t keep up with me. Then you get tired and you really suck. The faster guy has something called called *SPEED RESERVE*. In other words, the faster your max speed, the faster your sub-max speed. Latif Thomas taught me this eight years ago and I’ve quoted him ever since.

How Do You Prioritize Speed?

I’ve already touched on the prerequisites… less is more, minimum effective dose, rest, recovery, diet, sleep, tired is the enemy not the goal, never let today ruin tomorrow, etc.

Once you’ve accomplished the prerequisites, then you can pick two days a week to do a brief speed workout. Do this in place of your antiquated football warmup. It blows my mind how many teams static stretch, do some sloppy running, and then proceed to mindless agility stations. It’s like the coaching staff got together and agreed, “Let’s waste time for the first 35 minutes of practice doing slow-ass shit that has no value and let’s get the boys really freakin’ tired.”

What does a speed workout look like? Speed workouts feature high intensity speed drills and plyometrics done without pads, on the track, followed by three spiked-up short sprints. Never push or pull anything. Always run with the wind. My recommendation would be 40s or 10-yard flys. Record-Rank-Publish.

Here is an idea.

How about 15 minutes 2-3 times a week? Here’s my suggestion.

(5 speed drills, 4 wickets, 1-2 flys)

A-Skips (fast, intense) 5 sec
Straight-Legged Bounds (fast, intense) 5 sec
Butt-Kick and Reach (fast, intense) 5 sec
Speed Bounds (fast, intense) 5 sec
4x Wickets (fast, intense) 8 spaced at 6′
One or two 10y flys, Freelap (Record, Rank Publish)
Put the pads on and play football

Need a visual? Thank you, Ryan Grubbs (Purdue). By the way, you know how many *conditioning* sessions Purdue has done this summer? ZERO!

The speed session serves as your “warmup”.  Your kids are feeling fast and loose. In matter of fact, speed workouts energize kids. Imagine starting football practice with happy, healthy, and energized kids.

The bigs too? Hell yes. Especially the bigs. These poor guys are sprint deprived. Running to them is torture. They will like sprinting. SPRINTING IS NOT RUNNING. Running is long and slow (conditioning). Sprinting is short and fast.

If you don’t record, rank, and publish sprint times, you aren’t sprinting. Kids will always give a max effort when they are timed. When you quantify sprinting, athletes will remember their times. Daily improvements mean something. When a football player goes from 1.05 in a 10y fly to 0.98, that’s huge! Meaning and significance are often missing from practice situations.

In my last article, Big Cats (Not Hogs), I spoke of the counterintuitive importance of speed as a KPI for offensive linemen. If this is true, let’s prioritize it! Let’s move on from the days when the o-line coach mumbled, “that big boy has ‘good feet'”. Let’s do timed sprints on a regular basis. We are what we do. 

Oh yeah, one more thing. If you prioritize speed, you must stop doing conditioning. 

I saved the really controversial stuff for the next article. At least you football Neanderthals made it this far.


I’m really just playing with you football coaches… I really don’t think all of you are Neanderthals. Seriously… I really like football coaches. If I was ever in a foxhole, God forbid, I would want a football coach next to me. If I was ever in a barroom brawl, God forbid, I would want a football coach next to me. If I ever got really sick, … 

Football coaches are not only tough, dependable, reliable people, they are probably my favorite people to drink beer with. Ha. 

So, thanks for reading, keep an open mind, and don’t punch me in the face the next time we meet!

This is part-two of a three-part football series. The next one is the most controversial of all… “Stop Conditioning”

Links to the 2019 Football Trilogy

Big Cats (Not Hogs)

Football Coaches: Too Many Priorities

Football Coaches: Stop Doing Mindless Conditioning

Tony Holler

Feed the Cats:

♦ The Boulder Tapes
(4.5 hours of content produced by Jay Johnson)

♦ Feed the Cats
(75 minutes with live demos, “Best Seller” for Championship Productions)

♦ Origin and Philosophical Basis of Feed the Cats

The Football Articles:

♦ New Ideas for Old School Football Coaches

♦ Football Dosage and Approach ⇒ FAQ

♦ Football: Differentiating Sprint Practice and Non-Sprint Practice

A Football Coach’s Guide to Feeding the Cats

Record-Breaking Football Podcast

♦ Run the Power: Tony Holler

TFC Sponsors

♦ SimpliFaster

♦ Freelap

♦ Freelap Advice

♦ Tracking Football

Showing 5 comments
  • Thomas

    Strongly agree with this.

    I used to live in a dorm with a bunch of football players in college. They would tell me how they had workouts at 12:00 at night and then classes in the morning. And during the winter they had to workout at 5:00 in the morning. I thought “Why? Does working out at midnight make you a better athlete?”. The idea was so absurd to me that it wasn’t too far fetched in my mind to think that the whole practice schedule was an inside job suggested by an opposing team’s staff in order to sabotage my college’s football team.

    • Anthony Holler

      This is hilarious, only because it’s true. The level of absurdity in college football is crazy. Here’s a story… University of Washington football had a 6:00 am lifting session heavy on leg work. Then, unannounced, they boarded a bus and went to the Space Needle where they had to run up a gazillion steps. At the top, they were rewarded with donuts. Of course, the whole thing was documented, put on video, and released to the press. S&C at its best.

      • Thomas

        The best part is when they have videos on these kinds of practices. Coaches want to show off how hard their team is working while everyone else is sleeping. But in the video their athletes just look tired and slow, not impressive at all. If I was a competing coach or team I would feel less intimidated and way more confident watching my opposition practice this way. Ditto for sprinters who post on twitter how hard their 10 x200m or 450, 300, 200, 200 workout is and how hard they are grinding.

  • George

    Wisdom born of experience, and a great comment by Thomas. LOW reps, heavy weight on widely separated days builds power to the ground = speed. For the rest, feed the cats.

    • Anthony Holler

      So cool to have a distance guy reading football stuff!

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