Football is one of the most high stakes, competitive sports in the country with communities placing their faith in the head coach and star players to lead their team to success. As a coach, achieving this success takes experience, strategy, determination, and a willingness to plan and prepare for all possible scenarios.
Today’s coaches often deal with a more complex athlete on their teams, making the importance of effective coaching paramount, but sharply increasing the variety of skills necessary to accomplish it. Effective coaching takes more than on-field instruction, as the value of effective mentorship off the field can be the difference in helping to develop a young player into a team leader. Managing team dynamics is also crucial to success and developing this understanding of how to best connect with players and get the most out of them is the first step in any successful coaching endeavor. Without proper planning and the right mindset, a coaching debut can quickly become a retirement.
Whether you’re a new coach, or a veteran of leading athletes, there's always room to grow and improve your approach to leading your football team. To help you along the way, we’ve put together our top 5 tips to help you capture a successful season build a successful football program.
1. Create a culture of open communication and constructive feedback
Whether it be from coach to player, or vice versa; open, constructive feedback is one of the most important pieces to put in place to have a successful team.
In film sessions, practice, and conditioning, being intentional and assertive about correcting players and giving actionable feedback to help them improve will increase their respect of you as a coach. If players receive feedback in such a way, it can help to strengthen your relationship with them and lead to more trust from your players in your ability to lead the team to success.
On the other hand, feedback must go both ways. Players may come to you with feedback to improve team processes or culture; this is your chance to let their voice be heard. Even if you come to a mutual agreement, having an open conversation about any issues will let players know that their opinion is valued on the team. Keeping your door open for feedback and communication with your football players creates a culture of collaboration and community that only serves to benefit the team on and off the football field, allowing them to be better suited when adversity strikes.
2. Establish a belief system and buy-in
In any football program, there are a number of factors that can be a catalyst for success: a proper offseason conditioning program, an effective offense or defense, or a belief system that gives football players a reason to keep working. But these factors mean nothing if your team isn’t motivated to buy-in and trust your vision for the program. Creating a culture that demands buy-In and accountability is crucial to having a successful season. Look to the leaders and impact players of your football team to hold their peers accountable and set a consistent example of what it takes to achieve their common goal.
Establishing buy-in is a clear indicator of trust from your players. When players are fully entrenched in the team’s belief system, they will be able to work with no distractions and trust that the program you’ve put in place is the key to their success.
At first, this may seem counterintuitive to our first tip, but it’s key to establish both community and accountability in order to thrive as a football team. After all, if things don’t sit right with your players, an effective culture of open communication will result in healthy tension and feedback which is in the best interest of the team.
3. Empower your players
- Choosing their own captains by way of vote
While this goes hand in hand with some of the above tips, as a coach you should make sure to give your players responsibilities to help them grow and empower them to make their own decisions that help shape the team and program. Things like:
4. Build Team Chemistry
On and off the field, team chemistry is an intangible asset that all great teams have in common. Teams with greater chemistry have stronger trust, discipline, and fulfillment in their pursuit of football success.
This chemistry can be established by doing team activities outside of football to further strengthen relationships between teammates. Something as simple as a community service day, trip to the beach, or visiting a local amusement park can do wonders in terms of getting players out of their regular routine and allowing them to have a fun, fulfilling experience.
On the field, chemistry is built in practice every day through repetition, but it can also be developed through strength and conditioning programs with competitive challenges such as relay races or team oriented lifting and running. These types of activities create a high level of competition in a fun, engaging way that won’t bore your football players. In addition, this can help break down any barriers that prevent relationships between different friend groups and classes on the team.
5. Create Excitement and Motivation
Football games are exciting. The rush of the game, the roar of the crowd, the sound of the marching band; these can be a high school athlete’s greatest memories. If you play football though, there’s a catch. Football is 96% process, meaning you spend the majority of your time practicing, lifting, running, watching film, and studying your playbook.
Although necessary, this quickly becomes exhausting and repetitive. As a coach, you have the responsibility to keep your players engaged and excited week by week, whether it be in the thick of the regular season, or on a cold, early morning in the middle of your winter conditioning program.
Implementing short-term, weekly goals as well as goals for the season as a whole can help keep players on track and focused on the bigger picture, so as to not lose sight of the reason for their constant grind each and every day. When these goals are accomplished, look for small ways to reward your players and show your appreciation of their dedication to improvement. If your budget allows, surprise the team with new uniforms or equipment, or do something special for rivalry or homecoming week. Little gestures will go a long way and help to keep your players engaged for a long season in a game that requires countless hours of hard, repetitive work.
Navigating a winning football season and building a successful football program as a head coach can be difficult, but implementing the tips above can provide a framework to ensure you are setting up your team and players for success.