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Miami receivers are suffering from the drops

It’s a curable ailment, but it takes time and mental focus

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The Miami wide receivers are suffering from the drops. Really, they have been for years. Mark Pope, Dee Wiggins and Mike Harley all seem to have issues hauling in the football, especially in some crucial situations where games could be blown open for Miami and instead have remained close. D’Eriq King has completed almost 67% of his throws for 7.9 yards per attempt, but the bulk of his yardage has come from Brevin Jordan (14.1 yards per catch) and explosive plays to Jaylan Knighton (27.5 yards per catch).

The actual WR group has too many drops, and really low yards per catch averages. Mark Pope leads the WR room in yards per catch with a below average 13.9 ypc. After Pope, Jeremiah Payton has one catch for 13 yards, Dee Wiggins is averaging 11.8 yards per catch and Mike Harley is ran more like a Vespa averaging a measly 9.2 ypc on 12 receptions. Wiggins and Michael Redding III have the only touchdown catches by Hurricanes wide receiver.

When we discussed what college coaches are looking for in a WR, my recruiting guys said toughness and hands were the top two priorities. Let’s take a look at the components of catching a football, and see if there’s any alignment from acquisition to deployment via development.

The Brain Always Wins

Our brains are the most important factors in becoming elite athletes. There are plenty of guys on the block who can run fast, jump high, and dominate the court but could they display the Mental Toughness (MT) in order to stay eligible, and make it as a professional? Not many.

In the book Advancements in Mental Skills Training (buy here), they dig into the ambiguous but oft-desired Mental Toughness in chapter three (chapter written by Cowden, Crust, Tibbert, and Jackman; book written by tons of authors from five different continents). Of all of the definitions, I really enjoyed Gucciardi, et al’s (2015) which said, “...a personal capacity to produce consistently high levels of subjective or objective performance goals despite everyday challenges and stressors as well as significant adversities.”

If MT is one of your Core Values, you may define the Belief, Behavior and Outcome (Focus 3 podcast) as:

Belief: Metal Toughness

Behavior: Keep focus under duress

Outcome: Mission accomplished

I believe that MT is staying focused on the mission while under duress. Duress could be crowd noise, score, fatigue, pain, or stressors in life and performance. MT is the ability to resist the desire to quit (Passion + Perseverance = Grit).

ACC Football Championship - Clemson v Miami Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Building your MT

So… how do we get Mentally Tougher?

First- we need self-worth, which is built in us through four ways: mastery, modeling, affirmation, and emotions (Bandura). Once we do something well, we see our other WR’s catch the ball, we hear how well we’re doing it (feedback), and we have our emotions about us- we can then achieve self-efficacy.

Then the coach can turn to: Surviving (Coping), Striving (Persevering) and Thriving (Growth). We can learn to survive, strive and thrive through six methods:

1- Focus on your well-being (Growth, Gratitude, and self-worth)

2- Focus both long-term (challenging training and expectations) training

3- Focus on short-term (learn psychological skills) training, too.

*Focus on coping, relaxation, goal setting, and visualization.

4- Improve our overall mental health and well-being.

5- Establish Mindfulness and self-awareness.

6- Find what you’re passionate about, Purpose will give you MT (less likely to quit what you love doing and have desire to perform well doing aka GRIT).

You can’t catch what you can’t see

Before an athlete can catch a football, they have to see the football. I know that sounds like common sense but hand-eye coordination is wrong, it’s eye-hand coordination.

Catching a football starts with the eyes. Visual (there’s the football), then Cognitive (hey man, catch the ball), then Motor Skill (actually catching it).

How do you build the eyes? Through visual performance methods (read more here). Which can come from actually improving the ability of your eyes to see (and I don’t mean corrective lenses or surgery) via different drills.

For instance- I wouldn’t recommend the old school hamburger hill drill where two guys are on their backs, jump up and “hit some bodee!” but I would recommend a player lay on their back, jump up, and catch a football from one of two QB’s, one left and close and one right and further back (then switch sides).

Below- watch Hunter Renfrow’s highlights from Clemson. The guy obviously didn’t hit the DNA jackpot but look at how many catches, including slants, Renfrow completely turns his shoulders on so his head-eyes-chest are back to the QB.

My WR guru explained the “visual” portion or “eyes” this way:

  1. We want to catch the ball with our hands out in front of our eyes as much as possible.
  2. The further the ball gets past our eye the greater the chance we drop the ball.
  3. I cue this with “attack the ball.”
  4. As we catch the ball, we want to make sure that we are seeing the ball all the way into our hands. Again, seeing the ball all the way into your hands increases the likelihood of completing the catch. I cue this with “take a picture.”
  5. This goes back to rule number #1, so when we catch a deep ball (vert, fade, post) we want to get our hands in front of our eyes.
  6. This means we will turn our chest back to the ball. This eliminates over the shoulder (basket) catching. We do this because during the process of basket catch, we lose sight of the ball- which oftentimes results in a drop.

“The U”

My WR guru said this about hand placement:

As Coach Fleck says in the video above, in order to catch a football we need the greatest amount of shock absorbers as possible. I call this “the breaks.”

  1. We use the “W” when catching the ball.
  2. Spread your hands wide with the tips of your thumbs touching.
  3. This allows for the greatest range of motion with your wrist, which helps slow the ball down as it enters your hands.
  4. This hand position also gives us the greatest range of motion with our elbows and shoulders, which all add to the cushioning (breaking) of the ball into our bodies.
  5. I cue this with “use your breaks”
  6. We want to eliminate catching the ball with our pinkies together.
  7. This pinkie and ring finger are the weakest fingers on the hand and lack the ability to withstand the force of catching the ball.
  8. To eliminate catching the ball this way we:

ABOVE Deep ball: get your chest (and thus your eyes) back to the ball.

Thrown Low: bend and the knees and waist to get in a position to make the catch.

Thrown Behind: Turn your body to the ball (you might have to completely do a 180 to get to the ball).

“Catch the ball!”- Random drunk fan from Fansville, USA.

Motor Skill learning is done the most effectively when there is self-esteem (love), self-concept (talents, values, beliefs), self-efficacy (goals/plans), self-awareness (where do I fit?) and self-actualization (purpose on earth) for the athlete. I call these The Five Selves of personal exploration.

If Bandura is correct, the athlete must master the catch (so let’s throw them some easy balls first so they feel great about it), watch teammates succeed (freshmen seeing seniors succeed doing it the right way never hurts), hear from their coach how well they’re doing using short phrases of what it should sound and look like (soundbites for feedback), and then to have our emotions secure (control anxiety) so we can focus on mission accomplishment.

From my WR guru:

So if I were to take you from the start of the catch to the finish, using our cues, it would sound and look (behavior) like this:

“Attack the ball”

“Use your breaks”

“Take a picture”

“Tuck the ball”

Using short cues that are like soundbites for the athlete is the key. When teaching sprinting, I use a short series of cues, such as: “Eyes, Knives, Rub Ribs, Toe Strike.” Our athletes know what those phrases mean and can execute them because I use 1-2 word phrases to cue the desired outcome.