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Founder and Owner of the Flexbone Association. Since 2007 we have provided the tools necessary for teams to succeed running the Flexbone Association System. Over the last ten years over 200 teams have been instructed by the Flexbone Association. I've consulted with teams and or run camps everywhere from Belfair, WA to Key West, FL. The Flexbone Association strives daily to help coaches succeed with this time tested offense, I have been a football coach for 16 seasons, currently at Harrison High School in Kennesaw, GA I played at St. Mary's Springs High School in Fond du Lac, WI under legendary head coach Bob Hyland. I've been fortunate to be part of five state championship teams (1997,1998,2002,2011,2012). In 2011-2012 St. Mary's Springs led the state of Wisconsin in scoring and set consecutive school records for points scored, Psalm 27

The Art of War: Initial Estimations


The Art of War is the definiatve work of military strategy and tactics of the ancient East. The text was first translated into Western languages in 1772 (French), and into English in 1910. In more modern times, the book has influenced U.S. General Douglas MacArthur. The Art of War is listed on the Marine Corps Professional Reading Program (formerly known as the Commandant’s Reading List). It is recommended reading for all United States Military Intelligence personnel and is required reading for all CIA officers. The Department of the Army in the United States, through its Command and General Staff College, lists The Art of War as one example of a book that may be kept at a military unit’s library.

The work has also been used outside of the military world; everywhere from Japanese and American businesses, to law, education, as well as competitive sports. An article appeared before the Patriots-Eagles Superbowl that enumerated the lessons that Patriots Coach Bill Belichick drew from the book. The text is composed of 13 chapters, each of which is devoted to one aspect of warfare. Each chapter will be reviewed, and what lessons we can draw from it that can either apply to your coaching position, or to the use of the Flexbone Offense. 

Chapter One – Initial Estimations

Warfare is the greatest affair of state, the basis of life and death, the Way, to survival or extinction. It must be thoroughly pondered and analyzed. 

b99148511z.1_20131123004542_000_gsn3jj61.1-0Whether or not you are the athletic director at your school, the football program is very important to the student body, the school and at many times the community in general. If you are the athletic director and head football coach, you have the dual responsibility for not only your football program as head coach, but the entire athletic program in general. If you are not the athletic director, hopefully you work for one that understands the impact football has. If not examine your situation acutely and work to improve it where possible.

The football program requires the most resources, the most players, and the most coaches. The school year starts with football already in session; the first game often coincides with the first week of school and Homecoming is planned around the football game. Make no mistake about it, and do not allow anyone downplay it’s effect. Your football program is tremendously important to the school. Therefore your job is important and influential. Be humbled and empowered by your position. 

The Tao causes the people to be fully in accord with the ruler. Thus they will die with him, they will live with him and not fear danger. 

The translation does not want you to confuse the Tao, with the metaphysical Tao of the Taoists but rather with the legal and administrative functions of the administration. With the development of football at all levels over the last several decades, head coaches now take on many of the same roles as CEO’s of corporations. You are the leader of your program, the person who can control the direction of your team this year, and for the future. The policies, team rules and direction you provide will ultimately bear fruit or doom your program.

Far too often I’ve heard football coaches complain that they don’t have the resources, players, support either from the administrator or the community. Given enough time the framework you set can transcend those barriers. There are jobs out there with vary long odds for various reasons, but barring any glaring deficiencies your program can succeed in the long run with proper leadership. Set proper policies, involve the shareholders of the program (parents, players, administrators, alumni etc.) and provide the structure for success. I’ve had the opportunity in my life to be involved with the program at St. Mary’s Springs High School (WI), four as a player, five as a coach and for lifetime as an alum. Our players often do not look any more physically imposing than our opponents, often times less so, but we win because of the structure of the entire program and the mental attributes our teams have possessed and displayed over the last 40 years. Lead from the front. Success doesn’t happen by accident. 

The general encompasses wisdom, credibility, benevolence, courage and strictness. 

c5b3d45a-6a75-11df-ae52-001cc4c002e0.preview-300Here are are given directives that each leader should encompass. You are the general of your team. Wisdom and credibility go hand in hand. You must have the wisdom to interact properly with all stakeholders in your team, as well as to provide your team with what they need to win. You must understand football, understand where your strengths lie, and staff out your weaknesses. 

In our win now, instant gratification society, you must display credibility very quickly. Even high school coaches get very short leashes. Parents, players and administrators many times make their minds up on your ability in your very first year, sometimes before the first year is even over. Regardless of the situation you inherit they will want instant results, and see you as inferior if you don’t produce. Maintain your credibility, like confidence, through what you’ve already accomplished, by having a vision for the program, and leading others to that vision.

Your courage will be tested every year you are the head coach. No year may be more trying than your first. You will have doubters, people will want to see results. Will you stay the course, will you live your vision, or will you fold up shop when things get hard? Let’s face it, the majority of the jobs open each year are average to poor jobs. Immediate success in year one is very 4f6749974061b.imagedifficult to achieve. Everyone thinks they are Vince Lombardi until they are humbled as a head coach. Many of my clients are coaches going into their second year. Don’t waver. Stay the course. 

Benevolence is defined as: desire to do good to others; goodwill; charitableness. I will dig deeper into what motivates coaches over the next few weeks. The main drives we seek as humans are autonomy, mastery and purpose. Benevolence serves our purpose. While I can’t speak for everyone, it’s a safe assumption the majority of us get into coaching for this sense of purpose. We want to do good for others. Football is our avenue. 

Like courage, your strictness will be tested as well. You are under pressure to win. Will you allow your best players to get away with the behavior that a lesser player would not be able to get away with? Will your rules be suffocating, or will they provide the framework for future success for your program? What about the conduct of your assistant coaches? What you tolerate you encourage. Be strict in the correct areas. The old football axiom holds true; teams eventually take on the characteristics of their head coach. Your example will set the tone.

After estimating the advantages in accord with what you have heard, put it into effect with strategic power, supplemented by field tactics that respond to external factors. As for strategic power, controlling the tactical imbalance on power in accordance with the gains to be realized. 

The text is translated to place an emphasis on realizing the advantages that you have created. You will have advantages with the Flexbone Offense, but you will not realize that advantages if you only have a rudimentary understanding of how the offense will give you an advantage over your opponent. Here are five ways the offense will give you an advantage right here, (1,2,3,4,5). Realize the gains of the offense with the Flexbone Association.

The rest of the passage could be applied to football and the Flexbone Offense, by making certain that you’ve prepared your team to take advantage of what they face on gameday. Every defensive front can be conquered with proper execution of the entire Flexbone system. If a defense has been invented to stop the offense, don’t you think everyone in the nation would run it; and the offense would be extinct? It is essential that you find these weaknesses and exploit them with your knowledge. 

Warfare is the Way of deception.

kepapThere are two applications here. The first is concealing your appearance or your intentions. This is easy with the use of counter plays as well as play-action passes. I’ve written previously that your play-action passing game must mimic how you block the perimeter on your run plays. If it doesn’t your play-action passes will not have as great of an effect. Similar to your play-action game, you offense, especially your quarterback must sell the false play.

Another way to think about this is creating false impressions. Keep the defense guessing. An example I shared earlier is the use of rocket motion on both Rocket Toss and Midline Lead. If your motion is the same on each play, how can they know if you are running Midline Lead (the most restrictive play in the offense) or Rocket Toss (the most horizontally expansive play in the offense)?

If they are substantial, prepare for them; if they are strong, avoid them. 

The easiest application of this principal is in game-planning. The strong and substantial have many interpretations. When avoiding the strong, the lesson we can take from it is to not allow your team to attack where the defense is strong. Don’t try to run Midline against shades or 2I’s. Teach your quarterback numbers, leverage, and the perimeter. If your quarterback understands the strengths of the defense, the better decisions he will make. The better you understand defensive strengths, the better positions you will put your team in. The football field can also be seen as a chess board. Deploy your pieces wisely. 

If they are angry, perturb them. 

1253491Documented several times previously, the Flexbone Offense can be incredibly frustrating to prepare for. There aren’t many defensive coaches out there who will disagree. This statement is of course pertinent to both the defensive coordinator and or head coach you are preparing against, as well as the players on the defense themselves.

If either the opposing coaches or players tend to lose their cool, do what you can on the field to frustrate them. How many times have you seen players on the opposing defense argue with each other of who missed their responsibility? In the case of Navy’s victory in the Armed Forces bowl, Middle Tennessee State had four personal foul penalties. They were playing undisciplined. 

If the opposing coach tries to overwhelm you with force, or with blitzing, use quick counts, freeze motion or Rocket Toss to your advantage. Opposing coaches or players who lose their cool will eventually find themselves behind your offense. Once the snowball effect is in place, it’s very hard to reverse.

If they are united, cause them to be separated.

Exactly like the sentiments above; defeat the defense with the system. Defending the Flexbone will cause defensive players to second guess themselves. They will be wrong, they will tackle the guy without the ball. They will let the guy with the ball run by them. They will begin to second guess their own reads; what they’ve been coached all week. They will let their eyes deceive them. 

If you are having success it will also cause the defensive coordinator to second guess himself. In my experience defenses often don’t have more than one way to defend you in a game, almost never more than two ways to defend you. There is simply not enough time in the week to prepare fully to face the offense. If you are moving the ball against their one or two prepared fronts, where does the defensive coordinator turn?

Attack where they are unprepared. Go forth where they will not expect it.

Here is reinforcement of the deception concept. Every defense has weaknesses either in personnel, in alignment, assignment or a mixture of all three. You are obligated to find those weaknesses. If you adjust formations, and they can’t stop you from a different formation. Don’t cut them a brake and run something else. More so in other offenses than the Flexbone, coaches are too quick to abandon something that is working. If all you are doing is running triple and midline, and they can’t stop you, why run something else? Did the defensive stimuli require you to run something else? Stick with what’s working.  Not having a firm grasp of the offense you are running can no longer be an excuse

This is just the first chapter of the book and the initial estimation of how studying a classic can help you as a coach. The remaining chapters will be covered similarly. Many of the following chapters delve deeper into an aspect briefly considered in this initial chapter. Over the coming weeks and months, I will provide you with insight into how this book can benefit your program.

Ken Niumatalolo Photo: Paul W. Gillespie – The Capital

Kennan Reynolds Photo: Nick Wass / AP

Arrowhead Photo: Mark Hoffman / JS Online

Keenan Reynolds Photo: Allison Althouse / GoMids.com 

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  1. How Google Can Help You | Flexbone Association - July 11, 2014

    […] a football coach and proponent of the Flexbone Offense. I’ve done it in the past with “The Art of War” which I will continue throughout the next few years until it’s done; I’ve looked […]

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