As athletics have grown in general the level of competition in high school football has risen dramatically. Better athletes, stricter rules, higher scores, larger crowds, increased college scholarships and increased complexity in schemes are all bi-products of the growth. However, this increased competitiveness has also lead to higher stakes and in some cases a lack of perspective from coaches.
Most coaches enjoy coaching and working with kids, helping them wherever they might go, doing everything they can to help their team reach lofty goals. They understand that football is a medium through which we can learn other lessons like perseverance, teamwork, and character. It's a way to teach young men the value of hard work and to possibly open doors to future opportunities. A lot of coaches aren't even just looking out for their own kids but for all the kids. Coaches are here to help kids reach goals, and one coach has a connection that can help a kid from an opponent often the coach will agree to help. I encountered that this past year season on one particular example; one coach offered to call a few college coaches on behalf of a receiver from the opposing team. He was genuinely wanting to help an opponent and help all kids reach their goals.
This type of behavior accounts for a large percentage of high school coaches - coaching for the right reasons, helping kids become good football players and even better people, giving help wherever they can. Unfortunately, there is a leftover percentage of coaches who don't always see things that way. They coach for ego, so they can feel like Vince Lombardi amongst their town. They consistently yell at the kids for making mistakes instead of coaching them how to do it better. Their own bravado and pride becomes more important than the kids and any shot to those traits becomes personal.
I've seen it too much over the last 5 years or so; a coach has an opportunity to help a kid, but because the coach felt slighted in some way he turned it down. He only looks out for his favorite players, doesn't uphold his word, and carries himself with less class than we would hope for. It's unfortunate that two kids at different high schools could have drastically different experiences based on who their coaches are. One kid could have wildly positive experience and learn life values, the other could feel consistently down-trodden and beaten. One could be well coached, prepared for every game, and develop confidence. The other could end up working on fundamentals on his own, struggle through college camps, practices and games as he falls through the cracks, and develop insecurity.
With that in mind, my hope is that the percentage high school coaches that have forgotten their role can begin to remember what it is they are there for. Help the kids, all the kids, not just the ones you like or who suck up to you. Carry yourself with class at all times, teach positive values and develop good young men, not just football players. Keep football in perspective with grades and personal character, and be unwilling to sacrifice a child's future values to earn a quick win right now. Push the kids to get better and give them the best opportunity to succeed on and off the field. Do your best for every kid, both on your team, on a rivals team, and elsewhere. These are, after all, kids, who need guidance and leadership, role models and life lessons. Everything you do becomes a learned behavior for those you lead.
Here's to hoping every kid will benefit from their coach, and every coach learns to work only for good.
Entitlement is a term thrown around often today, generally to describe modern youth. In my experience, there are a large number of kids who have a sense of entitlement, thinking they deserve credit simply for being around. In sport, many kids think they deserve a starting spot, regardless of the work they put in. And indeed, many kids who do put in work end up without starting jobs and feel slighted despite the fact that someone outperformed them. Sport is a competitive medium, and not every athlete handles it well. Even worse, though, are the parents.
One of the toughest things any coach has to do is a tell a kid he or she isn't going to play, to say that they lost their job to someone else. When a coach is forced to do that, a lot of parents' reaction is to blame the coach, say that somehow the player was slighted, that the coach is biased, to blame politics (despite the fact that the coach probably labored over the decision and hated having to tell the kid they weren't going to play). This mindset trickles down to the players themselves, and we create a standard in which kids blame someone else for their shortcomings and challenges. Instead of working hard to fix the situation, to try to earn that job, or pushing hard to get better, the kids get bitter, and the parents get nasty. This is the first manifestation of entitlement in sports, blaming someone else for the fact that a child didn't get a starting spot. This diffusion of responsibility also stems from a lack of perspective; not starting for your team doesn't change the fact that you can help your team, whether that's at practice, in supporting your team during the game, in being ready to play if someone else gets injured or needs to rest, or in teaching your teammates the plays. Not starting isn't a failure, but not being a good teammate is. Not starting isn't a failure, but not giving your best is. Not everyone can be a star, but everyone can be a good teammate and give their best. Parents need to be reminded that humility and backbone are important traits to instill in today's youth. The belief that we aren't owed a starting job, and the perseverance to continue working hard when we don't get one needs to replace the misguided traits of entitlement and "swagger" (maybe my least favorite word).
The second manifestation of entitlement is laziness. Many athletes, talented or not, think they get a job for showing up so they don't put in the work. This works for the extremely talented player to an extent - he or she doesn't have to put in hours in the weight room, in the film room, or in the classroom to be the best player on the field. This might hold true through middle school for some, through high school for a few, through college for even fewer. And, it's difficult to convince the best player that they need to work harder. In this case, entitlement again leads to a lack of perspective - they are comparing themselves to their peers instead of their own potential.
In the case of the athlete who is entitled, therefore lazy, and lacks talent, there is generally a rude awakening when they don't start. They haven't put in the work, they don't have the ability to get by without working, and end up riding the bench and giving up on trying all together, sometimes even quitting. Sometimes they were brought up in such a way that they didn't feel they needed to work, that they were constantly told they were the best even though they weren't. In other cases they just don't care enough to put in extra time. In both cases, they don't yet have the values of humility and backbone, and are only losing whatever potential they do have to entitlement.
So what is it that we as coaches and parents can do? We have to reinforce consistent work ethic and focus towards a goal. We have to remind players that they aren't owed anything besides a fair shot, and that to make the most of that shot they need to work hard. We need to push every player to get better and to reach their potential, regardless of their ability relative to the competition. We must tell them that effort doesn't take talent, anyone and everyone needs to give their best effort. We need to crush entitlement out of every kids' persona, and replace it with humility, backbone, and a team-first attitude. It will serve them well in sports and more importantly in life.
We've written before on the importance of a full off-season program, utilizing the time away from the field to improve physically. But, when you reach the waning months of the off-season, what is it that you need to be doing? Let's start by examining what should already have been done:
1) You should have gotten healthy. A bit of time off right after the season is a good start; doing proper developmental exercises or rehab for any in-season injuries continues that direction. If you had surgery, you are probably starting to round back into health right about now.
2) You should have done your major strength and hypertrophy workout phases. If you're just trying now to get big and strong for football season, it's too late. Not that you shouldn't try (better late than never) but that needed to take place back in January and February. If you're just starting to pick up a weight, you won't see much significant progress, if any, in terms of gaining bulk before the season starts.
3) Particularly in quarterbacks, you should have improved your mechanics and fundamentals. It takes thousands of reps to truly learn and re-learn skills. If there were fundamentals you needed to improve from last season, whether for reasons of health or performance, it should have already been done. Again, better late than never, but at this point it will be difficult to get the reps you need to truly change a motor program.
With that in mind, here's what you should be doing now to get ready for the start of football season:
1) You should be in a speed, power endurance and conditioning heavy workout program. This doesn't mean that there should be no strength work, it just means the volume of strength exercises should be a bit lower than usual to allow for extra speed, power endurance, and conditioning. Speed work should include drills done at full speed with enough rest to allow full speed and effort on the next rep as well. Power endurance should include exercises with continuous rest, like doing three straight broad jumps or most medicine ball work. Conditioning should include 3 days or so of quick bursts and relevant intervals, like a 30 yard sprint, followed by about 20 seconds rest before the next sprint. Do NOT do long distance running thinking it will get you in shape for football - long distance trains your body to run slowly for a long time; in football, we run quickly for short times.
2) You should be perfecting your skills, not changing them (assuming you did improve them earlier in the off-season). Like we mentioned before, it takes a lot of quality reps to truly learn to do something right. If you've now learned to do something right, then it's time to get reps. However, if you're still doing something wrong, for instance a quarterback whose elbow drops to low on the throw, you still have to work on getting it right; getting tons of reps doing things wrong leads to poor motor programs and potential injuries.
3) You should be burying your head in your playbook and film. Knowledge is power; the more natural and instinctual your understanding of the game becomes, the quicker you can make decisions and the more conviction you can play with. You can't always control how big or fast you are relative to your opponents, but you can always control your football IQ. Get to studying.
4) You should be with your teammates. Football is the ultimate team sport. Hopefully during the off-season you've been able to spend time in the weight room or elsewhere with most of them, but as the season gets closer it's more likely that more of them are going to be around and in football mediums. Developing both personal and football chemistry with teammates is important. Study film and the plays together, go throw the football around, have fun, and be excited that the season is right around the corner.
Hard work, directed to the right actions, is a surefire formula for improvement and eventually success. Keep putting in the work and make 2015 a great year.
SPU's Alex Drayson writes the SPU Football Performance Blog.