Coaches: Relationships, not cage rattling, key to motivation in high school football
During a long lunch with former Driscoll Catholic football coaches Tim Racki and Mike Burzawa, conversation turned to motivational tactics.
It could be a theme printed on a T-shirt. It could be perceived disrespect.
A playoff opponent once disturbed the site of a tree planted in honor of late Highlanders offensive guru Mike Loconsole.
That drove Driscoll toward one of 35 straight playoff victories in its run to seven consecutive state titles.
"We always found something to motivate the kids," Burzawa said.
Win or lose, the search continues.
Like the "We, Not Me" message seen on plenty of shirts, Batavia has a theme this season: "One Town, One Team."
Bulldogs coach Dennis Piron's positive reinforcement on top of being an alum and hometown boy has helped build a football program from the youth level on up.
Motivation, he said, doesn't start during the season. It comes in the off-season, over the summer, in the weight room, where players feed off each other.
Piron admitted there will be some "fire and brimstone" entering Friday's rivalry game against Geneva, but what he learned from predecessor Mike Gaspari was like the old saying, you can catch more bees with honey than vinegar.
Buy-in comes from building individual relationships.
"Most of what we do pregame, at halftime and in game week is really more celebrating accomplishments, instructing, and teaching what comes next, setting the table mentally," he said.
"It seems what the kids really wanted was more calmness and instruction -- screaming and yelling and getting after it, not so much."
Piron arrives at a practice around 3 p.m. and finds his players warming up on their own. Not coincidentally, Batavia hasn't won less than 8 games in a full season since 2010.
"When you're at this point where you are winning, the great motivation is you don't want to go backward because it's so much fun," Piron said.
Glenbard East coach John Walters has been on both ends of the win-loss column. He's coached Rams teams that have gone 1-8 and 10-1.
"The big common denominator was the culture," Walters said.
As at Batavia, Walters starts his motivational approach in the off-season. He visits with each senior player and their family to assess individual goals, what a player can improve and how they can do it.
"I think it's a personal growth thing," Walters said, and it involves parents in the process.
In strong seasons, motivation comes in keeping players sharp for "bigger things ahead," Walters said.
In lean times it might mean focusing more on fundamentals and executing plays.
In either case, "it's still about doing things the right way," Walters said.
Walters' career spans eras. He played when a coach's motivational techniques might still include a shake of the face mask. Walters uses a modern approach of sending players drone footage of that day's practice.
Paul Parpet comes from an even older school. Assisting his nephew, John, at Metea Valley in Aurora, Paul Parpet is in his 50th season coaching football.
While certainly not bashful in his delivery, Parpet is into positive reinforcement. He calls a mistake on the field a "positive finding" that just needs to be improved.
"Kids want to be held responsible. To me what's important is you have to earn players' trust," he said.
That comes from learning their interests off the field, he said. Twice after Parpet joined the Metea staff he went to the movies with Mustangs players.
Parpet treats reserves the same as he does starters. He said he makes daily efforts to connect with them.
"A good leader, it's about other people, it's not about you," he said. "If your emphasis is on other people you're going to be a good leader. If the emphasis is on you, you're going to be a crappy leader."