FNF Coaches Talk — High School Rebuilds Program After Fire, VR and Robotic Tackling, Practice Doesn’t Always Make Perfect

Welcome back, Coaches. Hope you enjoyed the weekend. Here are some stories for you.

1. Paradise High football program finds healing among the ashes of the Camp fire (Los Angeles Times)

Bill Platschke wrote a moving column about the Paradise High (Calif.) football team’s recovery after the most destructive wildfires in California history.

The wildfire turned the coaches’ and players’ town into scorched metal and dust, and they are embarking on training camp for an autumn that is as much about healing as winning. They are charged with the rebirth not only of football, but community. Their childhood sport has become a sacred mission and one of the biggest challenges of their young lives.

Coach Andy Hopper won’t let the players make excuses less than a year after the fires swept through Paradise.

He pulls a small black object out of his pocket and the boys gasp. It is a Paradise football championship ring from 2011. It is badly burned and barely recognizable, but its message is clear.
The ring survived. The victory survives. Paradise football will survive. It must.
“We don’t feel sorry for ourselves. There ain’t one damn victim in here!” Hopper roars. “I feel like God chose us. I’m not saying God created that fire; I’m saying God chose us to say, ‘You know what, I’m going to make these guys the smartest dudes on earth, that they can go through something so horrible and come out the other end and represent to the rest of the world what a man can do.’”

When they first gathered in the spring to begin the team rebuilding process, half the players were missing, as was a key piece of equipment. They didn’t have a football.

Now, with the season opener approaching, they are in the final stages of bracing for a difficult fight. Only three players actually reside in Paradise, whose population has dipped from 26,800 to around 2,000. Virtually the entire team commutes, some as long as an hour each way. They lost their league affiliation because of the enrollment dip, and they are playing a makeshift schedule against some schools twice their size.

“Guys, we’re here, and we’re questioning ourselves maybe a little bit. Can we do it? I don’t know. … Am I good enough? Can we get it done?” assistant coach Nino Pinocchio shouts. “Guys, all we got to do here is … commit yourself like that where there is no option, there’s no going back, and we will do great things this year!”

We encourage you to read the entire story — one of the best we’ve read all year.

Can you think of an example when football rallied your community after a tragedy?

2. Virtual reality and robotic tackling dummies (ESPN)

We’ve chronicled the way Dartmouth College has integrated tackling dummies into their practices before, but this also adds the layer of virtual reality to those stories.

Just about eight years ago, in the spring of 2011, Buddy Teevens walked into his team meeting room and announced, without so much as poll-testing it with his staff, that Dartmouth players would no longer tackle one another in practice. Teevens knew he couldn’t make football risk-free. But he also knew the most pernicious damage wasn’t always suffered via one devastating in-game blow but from repeated knocks, the onslaught of subconcussive hits suffered again and again in practice.

That’s when Teevens started thinking about involving the Dartmouth engineering school.

Currier convened a team of engineering students, including one of Teevens’ football players, to fashion the prototype that eventually became the Mobile Virtual Player. (Today, Teevens is chairman of the MVP company board.) It was janky at first, parts falling off here, loosening up over there, but was refined into what is now one of the beloved centerpieces of Dartmouth practices.

In the Dartmouth lounge area, there’s a headset attached to a laptop, a mini virtual reality station where Jared Gerbino, one of the team’s top quarterbacks, can settle into a black leather easy chair, slip on a pair of goggles and step back onto the practice field with STRIVR. He can turn 360 degrees and there’s his offensive line, his quarterbacks coach, the water station he visits during breaks. He can virtually take the reps he missed in practice, the ones divvied up among the other quarterbacks.

On a Dartmouth locker room wall hangs a printout of 28 players’ practice readings — total distance traveled, top speed reached — data gleaned from Catapult, GPS technology that tracks their every move on the field. And on the sideline, on Fridays and Saturdays in the fall, about 35 Dartmouth players will slip on Vicis helmets designed to absorb and disperse energy.

What new technology is your team using this season?

3. Blow to 10,000-hour rule as study finds practice doesn’t always make perfect (The Guardian)

This may be a story you’ll want to hide from your players …

Researchers have concluded that practice does not, necessarily, make perfect.

A study of violinists found that merely good players practiced as much as, if not more than, better players, leaving other factors such as quality of tuition, learning skills and perhaps natural talent to account for the difference.

The work is the latest blow to the 10,000-hour rule, the idea promoted in Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book, Outliers, which has been taken to mean that enough practice will make an expert of anyone. In the book, Gladwell states that “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness”.

Would you take talent over work ethic or vice versa?

What’s driving the conversation in your locker room? Email Managing Editor Dan Guttenplan or Tweet us @fnfcoaches. Don’t forget to use that hashtag #FNFCoachesTalk!