| By Coach Hugues Longpré |

If you were to survey your coaches on what they believe is the most important body part or skillset required to play football, wouldn’t you expect the answers to be part of the usual suspects? Feet (footwork), hips, hands, aggression, instinct? As good as those answers all are, the fact remains that football is sport that requires vision and intelligence. Honing these skills should be a priority within any young player’s development plan.

Every athlete (for the most part) has eyes and they instinctively use their eyes to see what is transpiring before them. Oddly enough, never has a coach taught me to use my eyes in all my playing days in high school and cegep. Today, I mingle with many coaches at all different levels and clearly, it’s a skillset taken for granted or presumed innate and exclusive to some.

Let’s make the distinction – for the sake of sports talk – between seeing and having vision. The athletes I train all have the ability to see however none of them use their eyes to analyse their surrounding which leads to players reacting. The quarterback position is without question the most vision-ladened position on the field however, do not underestimate its importance for other positions like offensive linemen and receivers. On offensive lineman who doesn’t know where to go, where to look and who to block will be overwhelmed by the speed at which the play before him is unfolding. A receiver who doesn’t know where to go or where he needs to be from not « using his eyes » properly can but his team in bind.

Vision goes hand in hand with skillset #2 on our list: Intelligence. Actually, I prefer calling it « awareness », given that most players are knowledgeable in “Madden NFL” video games and so they grasp the concept more quickly. Some call it Football IQ and/or decision-making. Before teaching any technical aspect of the game, I believe that teaching & honing of this skillset – above any other -  should be prioritized because this is how you develop football players. Schemes, concepts, terminology, opponents, fields – and I could go on – are all means to help you position yourself in space whereas techniques learnt are shortcuts that helps you navigate through space.

Here’s an example I often find myself leveraging to better explain it. What if I drop you in the middle of a town you know nothing about? I give you 2 choices: 1) I give you a roadmap with the street names, stores, restaurants and all possible contacts or 2) I teach you the best running techniques, breathing exercises, how to climb and how to push. Your goal: meet me at a predefined address. 10 out of 10 times, we’ll take the roadmap, right? Granted, given your training, you will eventually reach me at our rendezvous point but imagine the energy you will have spent to make it there.  

Once again, the quarterback position is a prime example: teaching the QB to throw the perfect spiral at the detriment of concepts and understanding the coverage is a huge disservice. Sure, the play may work but only if the player is wide open at the time. Hence, the quarterback is reacting to a situation instead of reading the play. With a little preparation, the QB could have anticipated when the receiver would be open, and often enough, that takes place before he snaps the ball. This helps alleviate stress, helps conserve energy and allows time to leverage better mechanics. The basics apply to all players at all positions on the field.

Coaches, make sure your players understand the game, it’s rules, their opponents & the concepts they can throw their way. In time, they will develop football IQ and they will merge their technical abilities to it in order to find themselves in a better position within the team’s schemes. But for this take place, you need to feed their football IQ: where to look, what to look for and why. Football is one of the very few sports where intelligence can defeat athletism and talent.

Coach Hugues

Coach Hugues Longpré is the offensive linemen coach for the Nordiques du Collège Lionel-Groulx in the RSEQ cegep division I league. He is also a high school coach and he is president of the Front Five, an organization dedicated to the excellence and development of offensive linemen in Quebec. Follow Coach Hugues and the Front Five team on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/FrontVFive/?fref=ts