As player development has continuously evolved and become such a major aspect of college athletics, the impact that coaches are able to have on the development of young people has also become greater and greater.
At the 2020 AFCA Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, three coaches spoke on a panel about the current opportunities and experiences available to make an impact and develop young men, not only on the field but beyond the field. These three coaches are Roosevelt Boone, the Director of Player Engagement at Rutgers University; Mikado Hinson, the Director of Player Development at Texas A&M University; and Kevin Washington, the Director of Player Development at the University of Texas. Also, Coach Ed Jones, the Director of Player Development at Kansas University, served as the moderator for this panel.
As the session began, each coach highlighted what player development looked like at their respective institutions:
Kevin Washington – Player development looks different in each season, whether it’s in-season or off-season. The three primary things we emphasize at the University of Texas are the three C’s: Character, Community, and Career. The first “C” is character. This aspect communicates that who the player is as a person is greater than what they do. The next “C” is community. The athletes should understand that the gifts they have been given should also be given to others. The final “C” is career. This aspect is really about developing an understanding of personal identity and passions that create this identity. These passions and identity are then used to find a fitting career path that excites the athletes. Once these have been discussed, guest speakers can come in and elaborate on the importance of their character, community, and career. This position also allows for players to really be vulnerable. Players can know that they have someone to talk to without fearing that the head coach will find out exactly what they said or what issues they are dealing with. By building relationships with creative measures, players learn to trust you and begin to develop in so many ways.
Roosevelt Boone – I like to focus on different categories of development – leadership, social, and professional development. As far as leadership development, this is how to fall in love with the process of becoming great. Social development looks a little different. This aspect really focuses on how the athletes should present themselves when the coach is not around. This ranges from public outings with friends to talking and dating girl. Professional development is certainly unique for Rutgers University because of the proximity to New York City. This allows the athletes to experience an unlimited pool of professional resources, from speakers who come into the facility with a presentation to corporation visits in the city. It is necessary to find different ways to excite the young people about development.
Mikado Hinson – Our calling is to develop men of character outside of football. This means in the community and in the classrooms. The title Director of Player Development that has been placed on me is an umbrella that covers areas like chaplaincy and ministry, mentoring, counseling, character building, psychology, and more. There is such a huge opportunity to make a difference or an impact in so many aspects of a young person’s life.
“It’s my job to help develop you, shape you, and mold you when your helmets are hanging in your locker,” said Hinson.
As the panelists discussed different topics relating to player development, personal wellness was at the top of the list. As Mikado Hinson mentioned, there are two things that every person on the earth wants: love and discipline. Sometimes this isn’t reflected on social media accounts. Sometimes the tweets, likes, and posts are creating a personal brand that the athletes don’t even realize. This is a whole new area that player development staff are looking into and helping navigate.
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The entire nature of player development is about building personal relationships, which comes down to listening to and loving people without judging them.
“Sometimes you have to lay a foundation, sometimes you have to tear up an old foundation, and sometimes you come in and the parents have done a great job, so you’re building on a solid foundation that has already been laid in their lives,” said Hinson. “But we have to be available to listen, we have to be available to help build, we have to be available to help correct.”
Investing time into the athletes creates a trustworthy relationship. Sharing experiences and advice, sometimes warranted or otherwise, will help the athletes know that you care for their best interests.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” said Washington.
Noticing the little things or sending meaningful texts or phone calls help them understand that you truly care. This is how the personal wellness will begin to be impacted and, in return, flourish.
Another aspect of development is community impact. It is extremely important for the athletes and coaches for that matter, to never forget where they came from no matter the gained status. Don’t forget about the high school or middle school you came from because it only takes one opportunity or one conversation to change a life.
Roosevelt Boone shared about a time when the football team supported a local children’s cancer charity. They allowed the kids from the cancer center to shave the coaches’ heads as part of an event. This interaction will be meaningful and impactful for the rest of those kids’ lives.
Career and professional Development
It is important for the athletes to understand that there are other opportunities outside of the game of football. One way for them to practically experience this is by taking a day trip to visit numerous businesses and career paths. This helps establish a notable event relating to careers outside of football.
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Moreover, every day is an interview. Whether at career fairs, mock interviews, an office setting, or in public each day is an interview because you never know who could provide an opportunity. With that being said, it is necessary to encourage athletes to network and collect business cards. Then take the time to write a handwritten note after an interaction. This fading gesture is sure to make a difference and leave a mental memory in the professional’s mind, which could help secure a job after the playing days come to an end.
As a part of leadership, it is vital to do what you say you will do. It is also vital to open up to others about the little things and big things. One exercise Roosevelt Boone conducted with his team was share a hero, hardship, and highlight in your life. This was powerful because the players got to see and experience vulnerability with each other which naturally builds leadership and cohesiveness.
One should also incorporate team themes by using some of the same language that other coaches on staff are using. Consistency among important concepts that the coaches are trying to get across helps the growth and development process.
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Now more than ever, players need consistent growth and development, and these Directors of Player Development have been tasked with a huge responsibility. We are grateful for their contributions not only to the game of football but to the lives of those they interact with on a daily basis. Thank you for continuing to build life-changing relationships with the student-athletes.
To watch the “Beyond the Field-Enhancing the Experience of College Football” breakout session, along with numerous other videos, please log in to your AFCA membership account and search through the AFCA Educational Library.