The best coaches and programs in the game are known for a variety of admirable traits, including consistently winning the right way, and developing players on and off the field, but there are a number of other ways to identify a well coached team on game day.
Whether you're on the sidelines coaching, or watching from the stands or on film, there are a number of indicators that you're watching a well coached team and program.
Well coached programs start at the top with the head coach and administration, and it trickles down to every assistant, player, and person that touches the program. Take a look at the top teams in college football and elite high school teams in your area and chances are good you can go down the list checking these things off.
Here are ten ways you can identify a well coached program:
1 - They're just as consistent with the little things as they are with big things
Consistency is a major indicator of a well coached team, and that spreads over a variety of areas including if they get aligned properly, limiting the number of big plays, and doing all the little fundamental things right like blocking and tackling.
2 - They keep penalties to a minimum
This one may be the most obvious, but it's pretty tough to argue that a team is well coached if they walk off the field on game day and were penalised 12 times for 160 yards. No one expects a penalty free game, but well coached teams typically play mistake free football before and after the whistle and don't commit (more than 1) "silly penalties" like unsportsmanlike conduct, or misalignment penalties.
3 - They're confident and fundamentally sound
Really well coached teams are tough to beat because they play the technique they've been taught very well and they do what is expected of them with maximum effort, and those are things that can be observed from film study, as well as from the stands or the sideline. You can tell that they know what they're supposed to do, have been coached well on how they're expected to do it, and have bought into that vision and message.
4 - They make very few mistakes
On game days, well coached teams give up very few big plays on defense and on special teams, and the mistakes that they make on offense are typically minimal.
5 - They're physical and tough as nails
I would be willing to bet that no team in the history of the game has been both well coached, and soft on game day. It's just not possible for those two things to go together. Well coached teams have a certain edge of physicality and toughness about them, and the way they fly around and make plays makes it really difficult to be the other team on game day.
6 - How they respond to adversity, especially with their body language
Well coached teams never consider themselves down and out during a game, regardless of the deficit, and are always capable of responding to adversity because of the values and beliefs that the coaching staff helps instill in them in the weeks leading up to the moment they face adversity during a game.
In a lot of cases, you can also tell how well a team is coached by seeing how players react to adversity with their body language. After a quarterback overthrows a wide open receiver does he jump up and down and throw a fit and hang his head and pout until three snaps later, never fully recovering. Or does he pick himself up by the boot straps and focus on the next play? The same can be said for a defensive back after giving up at touchdown or a defensive lineman who just missed a sack opportunity. Well coached teams understand the E+R=O equation, whether they use that specific example or not, they understand the importance of body language.
7 - They take care of the football
Well coached things do the little things well, and there is perhaps no more important "little thing" in football like taking care of the rock. Without your offense on the field, it's exponentially more difficult to score, and therefore really tough to win football games.
8 - The emotions of their players and coaches never get too high, or too low
Football game is full of peaks and valleys, and the key to success is managing them both and staying even keel. The best programs never let themselves get out of control the sideline when things are going really well, and never let things get too down when the ball isn't bouncing their way.
9 - They find ways to maximize the talent they have on the roster
Elite programs that win consistently aren't necessarily married to a system, they adjust to the talents that they have on the roster brilliantly. That doesn't necessarily mean that a Wing-T coach that find themselves with an elite mobile quarterback with a rocket arm scraps the Wing-T for the spread no-huddle, but it does mean that they find ways to highlight his talents within an offensive or defensive structure.
10 - The way they shake hands at the end of a game
This one may seem silly to some, and obvious to others, but the way that a team lines up and shakes the hand of every player and coach at the end of a game says a lot about the program. It seems like every year there are one or two teams that I shake hands with and every single kid knows the value behind a good handshake, eye contact, and a few well selected words following a game. You can tell that the post game handshake is something that has been emphasized at practice, or in a meeting, and that will certainly go a long way for each and every player after they graduate.