For the last few weeks I’ve been exploring the idea of how to make your program “The Big Time,” for your team, school or community even if you’re part of one of the thousands of relatively small programs in cities and towns across the Country. We talked about helmets, traditions, and how in programs large or small, the passion to make a positive impact in the lives of our student athletes makes “Coaching, coaching regardless of the programs budget (or lack thereof!)
My favorite part of these last few posts have been the responses from colleagues, players, faculty, and communities near and far. This week I’d like to share the perspectives of a colleague who was in position to see firsthand some of the things we’ve done to help make our program “The Big Time,” for our school here in the hills of Vermont. I hope you find his perspectives enlightening and can apply some of the same tenets to make your program “The Big Time,” for you!
Having read your piece on changing the helmet to change the culture of the program, I wanted to share the biggest change I have seen in our program over the last 4 years. In the first year you set expectations high, players and coaches understood what was expected of them and you let people fail (and understand the consequence of their failure). The thing you did not do was change expectation or standard.
People lost privileges and responsibility, and unaccustomed to such accountability, some left the program. Others worked very hard to meet or exceed the expectation. That work either built those who remained into people who could sustain the program or broke people who eventually decided to leave so that the program could be what it would become (pruning).
This was the hardest, but best thing for me to watch. I knew then and there that I was not ready to be a head coach but wanted to be the best assistant I could be. I knew I would have to find my own way to push and prune if I were ever to have a program to be proud of. The “Big Time” allows coaches to cut, recruit, or draft, all while drawing from deep pools of talented athletes. Our school is open to everyone as is our football program… but we must remember football (and its inherent personal challenge) isn’t for everyone (lesson learned).
It is our job as educators and influencers in the lives of young men; to both get the most out of those for whom football can be a formative positive experience, and help guide those for whom football will have a negative impact (either on themselves or others) away from the sport.
Football in the “Big Time” is about building the collective. Being a judge of character is very important, and it is most important to think of character as a collective; effectively a culture. I (as you know) think of those for whom football can be a good experience. I think of football as a tool to form individuals, to build character, and to inoculate young athletes against the fear and failure they will unavoidably encounter in life.
What I have learned about “The Big Time” is that football as a game sometimes exists in a vacuum apart from character formation. It has its necessities and mandates set by a program, with the central goal of winning well and secondary goals of being tough, smart and working hard (or commitment, competitiveness, and classiness).
Within that vacuum there is the necessity of building the individuals committed to these goals as full rich human beings, but the goals of the program cannot be sacrificed for humanitarian efforts in fixing attitudes or building morals or ethics that do not already exist (if not in practice than at least in will). These humanitarian goals are noble but come at an expense to the team. In a sport where placing service to team and teammates above self is a core tenet, such an expense can never be a worthwhile bargain. For me this has always been family and religion, and now I include football (more specifically Team) in this area as well. To use football as humanitarian aid steals that experience from the many to serve the needs of the one. This is counter to good football culture.
I would love to see sometime in this vein in your evaluation of making every program “The Big Time.” A piece on program standards and their role in the education of young people might be eye opening to other coaches. I have learned how sometimes exclusion from participation or challenging young people can be formative in their development; even if it is uncomfortable or difficult in the moment.
Playing in your program should matter, and if it does, you are the Big Time, no matter where you are. If kids are ready to fight (in thought, word, and deed) for your program, then you are The Big Time.
Football would be easy if it was for everyone. The truth is football is not for everyone. Football is “Big Time” when people become special (not better, but special) through their commitment, courage, and belief that together we are so much more than any one of us could be alone. I know this email is a bit of a rant, but outside of X’s and O’s this has been the best thing I have learned from you.
Hope this is useful.
Please keep the feedback coming! If you’d like to learn more about making your program “The Big Time” for you, please stay with us on olineskills.com. We’ll be discussing more of the changes we implemented to cultivate success in the coming weeks. Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at firstname.lastname@example.org and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends.
PS: The Football Toolbox recently featured my presentation Special Teams:
Click here to learn more:”Going for 2 With the Swinging Gate“