During my high school football head coaching career, I have had the privilege of starting two high school football programs. During this time, five of my teams have qualified for the playoffs. In 2002, the three high schools in Port Arthur, Texas, consolidated and formed Memorial High School, where I was the head coach and athletic director for four seasons. In 2006, Atascocita High School opened in Humble, Texas.
The experience of starting a program at both schools has been very rewarding, yet extremely challenging. At Memorial High School, we posted a 5-4 record and just missed the playoffs in 2002. In 2003, we went 9-4 and advanced to the third round of the playoffs. During our first season at Atascocita High School, we played a 5A varsity schedule without seniors. We had a tough season, but managed to win one game. In 2007, we improved to 3-7. In 2008, we qualified for the playoffs with a 5-4 record. In 2009, we were district champs with a 10-2 record, advancing to the second round of the playoffs.
I do not profess to know all of the answers. The sole purpose of this article is to somehow help those who may choose to start a football program. Here are the 10 steps I recommend.
1. The Written Five-Year Plan
I began by developing a five-year plan and I put it in writing. I realized starting a football program would be a process and I felt it was important to have a written plan as a reference to monitor the process.
Within this plan, I think it is important to have the following items:
- Program Philosophy
- Expectations for the Program
- Mission Statement
- Vision Statement
The plan should include a brief summary of “How We Will Win” and an offensive, defensive and special teams philosophy. It is important this plan can be communicated clearly to assistant coaches as well as to each member of the team. There will invariably be peaks and valleys during this process.
During the adverse times, it is good to have a common reference (written plan) everyone understands and values. This should help in re-establishing the positive progress within the program.
Accountability within the program is very important. Accountability is obtained by having a sound disciplinary policy and by enforcing it consistently.
Fair treatment of all players is vital; from the Division I prospects to the players who may never see the field.
Any favoritism or unfair treatment will be noticed by other team members. This can prove to be devastating in starting a program and the credibility of the coach will likely be damaged.
3. Quality Coaching Staff
Assembling a quality coaching and support staff is extremely important. It is critical each staff member at the youth, middle and high school level understand the overall philosophy of the program. Hiring coaches and support personnel with a similar background or “pedigree” (as the head coach) should help, especially during adverse times.
Establishing a family atmosphere among the coaching staff at all levels is important. It is beneficial if everyone within this family feels a sense of ownership. The mutual feeling that “we are all in this together” should help in the process.
4. Coaches’ Wives And Family
It is very important to have a positive relationship with the wives and family of each coach and staff member. Keeping the wives informed as active participants is critical to helping maintain a positive morale within the coaching staff.
At the beginning of each August, I provide each family with a calendar for the entire season. This calendar enables the coach and his family to plan their schedule throughout the season. The calendar will list the details regarding practice, meetings and scouting responsibilities. I have found if the wives are happy, the staff is also likely to be happy. On the first Friday in August, I host a luncheon at a local restaurant and invite each staff member and their family to attend.
We call it the “Kickoff Luncheon.” At this luncheon, the wives get together and set the schedule for the “post-game celebrations.” Post game celebrations and socials where the families can eat and have fellowship with one another is a great way to establish a true “family atmosphere.”
5. Positive Parental Involvement
Positive parental involvement is important. Keeping parents informed about important dates and events by email or the postal system will be appreciated. A relationship built on trust can be established by effective communication with the parents. When problems with their child occur, the parent may be more understanding since a prior network of communication had been established.
Home visitations are the best way to develop a relationship of trust with parents. A home visitation packet complete with game schedules, NCAA academic requirements and the program philosophy seems to always be appreciated.
6. Community Service
Community service and involvement can be another beneficial aspect of starting a successful football program. This can be performed by the coaching staff as well as by members of the football team.
Visits to local churches, retirement homes and elementary schools are great ways to demonstrate you truly care about the community. Other methods are hosting youth football camps, hosting clinics for youth football coaches and being visible at sporting events other than football games.
7. Quality Off-Season Program
A quality off-season program is extremely important. In starting a football program, the first season will likely be tough. Whether successful or not, the first off-season is critical.
I have found that Championship Training School followed by a “boot camp” is effective to establish a positive start to the off-season. Championship Training School, or CTS, takes place in a nice auditorium. Each coach will provide a 10-minute presentation to the team on what it takes to be a champion. Some of the topics discussed are: mental and physical development, leadership and character.
After CTS, we start our boot camp or “Camp Paradise.” This is an intense, regimented mental and physical daily workout that typically lasts 3-4 weeks. We sell to the team that “Camp Paradise” is comparable to a Marine Boot Camp. We end with a perfect day and provide the team with T-shirts as a reward. It definitely sets the tone for the rest of the off-season.
Other important phases include strength and speed development, voluntary after school work outs, competing in a second sport (preferably track and field), spring football practices, spring football game and the summer strength/speed camp. It is critical each member of the team voluntarily participate in the summer program.
8. Practice Organization
Practice organization is extremely important. A normal practice can be completed in 90 to 105 minutes if they are organized well and the team moves with a sense of urgency. As game day approaches, the time can be cut even more. It is important not to go beyond the times that have been communicated to the team and parents. By adhering to the posted times, the coach will likely create trust with the parents and team members.
Posting a practice plan and constantly going beyond the times that are posted may create morale problems for the team. Some parents may also not appreciate their sons arriving home later then they expected.
Practices should also be demanding yet interesting and enjoyable. Competition in drills is an effective way to make practices enjoyable. A change of routine is also an effective way to make practices interesting. It is important the players go home daily with a good feeling, eager to share with their parents the positive experience they had in practice.
9. Promote The Program
Promoting the program in a positive light is very important. This should be done often, however and whenever the opportunity presents itself. Public celebrations that include the feeder program, parents and the community can be extremely effective.
Events such as scholarship signings, banquets, cook outs and socials are great ways to promote the program. The recognition of improvement of the program, progress of the program or achievement can also be beneficial.
In 2008, The Atascocita Eagle Football Program was awarded the “Sportsmanship Trophy” by the Houston Chapter of Football Officials. This award was significant because it represents how the team and coaches conducted themselves on the field in a winning or losing effort. I promoted this award to our administration, faculty and feeder program as a huge positive step in the development of our program. We were able to house this trophy for a year. This trophy is about five feet tall and is very noticeable. I made sure it was situated near the front of the school. I was amazed at the positive impact this award provided for our program.
10. Formal Evaluation Of Program
The final step is the formal evaluation of the program. A formal evaluation is conducted at the conclusion of the football season as well as at the end of spring football.
During this time, I will have a one-on-one meeting with each staff member and we will discuss strengths, weaknesses, goals, personnel and suggestions for improvement. I also have each staff member provide me with what they feel we can do to strengthen our program. I also want to know their personal short and long term goals. I want each staff member to realize I am concerned with their advancement in the coaching profession. I want each staff member to know I will assist them in as much as possible to achieve their personal goals.
Each (returning) team member will submit a self-evaluation and goal sheet for the spring, summer and upcoming season. This provides the coaching staff with feedback from their players so they can monitor their progress. Film evaluation is also critical. It is important as a staff we know what has been effective and not effective in terms of our offensive, defensive and special team scheme. This will assist us as we plan for the future.
If you choose to accept the challenge of starting a football program, there will definitely be times of pure frustration, discouragement and defeat. However, I truly believe the permanent benefits and self satisfaction that come from starting a program will far outweigh any temporary negative emotion.