How to Build a Program - for High School Football Coaches - A Framework
Being the Head Football Coach for a High School, if done properly can be one of the most rewarding and impactful responsibilities a person can undertake in their community. There are few opportunities to sculpt the futures of so many students and instill them with values that will last a lifetime. The potential also exists to rally a community around a common bond.
So how do you got about creating a successful program? Know what your goal is. It is impossible to be successful if you don't not have something to measure success against. Before you do anything else, before you learn the names of your players or decide what type of offensive and defensive schemes you are going to use, you need to determine what your goal (and therefore vicariously the goal of your program) is.
Your goal should be one sentence, no more, of exactly what success means your to you for your program. I am not here to judge or determine what your goals should be. Some examples would be - Win as many games as possible. Have a positive impact on the community. Develop you players to be successful adults.
These goals do not need to be mutually exclusive. Just because you want to win games, doesn't mean you want to neglect the community or don't care about your players future, but you do need to focus on one specific goal, as that should be the main focus of everything that you do.
Key Performance Indicators
Once you have developed your goal, the next step is to determine how you are going to assess whether you are moving towards your goal. These goals should have specific individuals (likely assistants, but also school employees, parents, players, etc) assigned to them. Who is going to be assigned to a Key Performance Indicator is going to be dependent on who most closely aligns to the work that needs to be done.
For example if your goal is Wins based - maybe one of Key Performance Indicators of reaching that goal is reduce the number of interceptions on the year from 15 last year to 5 this year. That Key Performance Indicator might be given to the Offensive Coordinator to oversee, who might then work with the quarterbacks coach and quarterback to ensure its success.
Another example for Wins might be that you took over a team that has been 0-10 the last 2 seasons and you ended the team ended the season with only 30 players last year. So maybe an early indicator of success is that you have higher participation on the team next year. You could ask the team captains or seniors to recruit additional players and also ensure that team morale is kept high.
An example of being a positive impact on the community could be increasing the attendance at games. You could ask the quarterback club to come up with pre-game events to entice more people to come to games or work with the athletic director to schedule more compelling games.
Ideally for a season a team should have roughly 5 Key Performance Indicators that are season long metrics of success.
Once your program goal has been developed and your season long key performance indicators it is time to develop the seasons stepping stones. These are goals for every coach and player on the team. These stepping stones should be broken up into portions of the year, i.e. have a different set of stepping stones for each phase of the year - Pre-Season, In-Season, Post-Season, Summer.
At the stepping stone level you are really looking for alignment between the coaches and players in terms of creating these metrics. An example would be in the Pre-Season to be successful for the year you want 100% unexcused participation in Captain's Practices - so the Head Coach would have a goal of 100% participation. He would then hold each of his Assistant Coaches responsible to ensure that their position groups have 100% participation. Then each Assistant Coach would hold each player responsible for 100% attendance. Therefore one goal is shared by everyone on the team and there is also multiple layers of responsibility to ensure that the goal is reached.
An example of a stepping stone for developing the character of players for the future would be ensuring that players maintained a certain GPA and/or did not get detention. This could follow a very similar alignment scheme as the 100% participation example listed above.
Each coach and athlete should have between 3-5 stepping stones per portion of the season. These should flow downward. The head coach should develop 3-5 stepping stones which they discuss with the assistant coaches. Each assistant then developed 3-5 stepping stones that are in alignment with the coaches stepping stones. Again this will then flow from the assistant coaches to the players themselves.
Another important aspect of developing a program is communication. This can be accomplished through daily check-ins and monthly or seasonal longer meetings. Daily meetings or huddles can be accomplished at the beginning of a practice or when the team breaks out into unit drills. This is a simple 5 minute tune up that an assistant has with their unit go over what is going well, any current deficiencies that are noticed in the group, and anything special that is being focused on such as a new installation or unique aspect of an upcoming opponent. This time should also be used to let the players ask questions about drills, technique, etc and also to take note of any injuries, scheduling conflicts, etc.
The most important aspect of a program, is the seasonal check-ins. You or your assistants should be checking in with each player at least at the beginning and end of each phase of the year. These check-ins should be at the minimum 15 minutes in length up to around 1 hour depending on the number of athletes the coach is overseeing. These check-ins should include both football and non-football related discussion about what the athlete's expectations are regarding football, school, life. What their progression looks like and what they need to do to achieve their goals. Understanding a players athletic and personal life gives the coach more tools to help the player succeed on and off the field.
Develop a Downstream Plan
Your program doesn't start and stop with your Varsity team. You need to align your JV team, 9th Grade Team, Middle School Team & Youth Teams with your Varsity culture. This doesn't mean that the Head Coach needs to attend every game or every practice at every level of the program. However, the Head Coach should make an effort to get to a game or even or 2 if possible at each level and/or ensure that the lower level coaches understand the concepts and strategies that are being taught at the varsity level whether it is through sharing of playbooks or inviting the coaches at the lower levels to a few varsity coach meetings.
Strong communication is the cornerstone of any well run organization including football teams. While discussing player and team goals on a regular basis and making adjustments to the program based on this feedback may not sound like a typical football environment, it will certainly push your program in the right direction.
Establishing a straightforward, easy to understand goal for your program and developing metrics to gauge your success against that goal will keep you and your team's sights set on what is most important to your overall success. Communicating this and other information to your assistants and players further develops that strong program foundation. This foundation will assist you determining the progression of athletes, periodization of training programs, resource allocation for funds, personnel decisions and many other important decisions that every coach faces.
I hope this introduction to the Framework of a Football Program was helpful to you and provided you with some insights and ideas for your own program.