Pieces of the Puzzle

I often hear things like “how are they so good year after year?”, and “we have great athletes – why didn’t we have a better season?”.  In most cases the people asking these questions aren’t seeing the entire picture.  The teams that are always strong have several things in common, and I will try to cover some of the most important pieces of the puzzle.  I focus on football, but these things apply to all sports.

Far too many schools do their athletes, and athletic programs, a disservice by changing coaches every 1-2 years.  Hiring a “big name” coach won’t guarantee immediate success.  Most teams that are successful year after year have given their coach time to build, and maintain, their programs.  Teams like Richland Springs, Borden County, Abbott, Strawn, and May have had their head coach for 10+ years  and they are always tough.  On average, it takes three years for a coach to establish a program.  Expecting a coach to turn a program around during the first season is absurd – remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
There are some situations where a coach “isn’t a good fit”, but they can be minimized.  Hiring committees, and school administration, should be solid in their requirements and expectations before posting an opening.  These should be clearly expressed to candidates before and/or during interviews.

Negative input from parents will always be detrimental to a team.  Speaking badly about a coach in front of players undermines the coach’s authority and reduces the player’s respect for the coach.  If you have an issue, schedule a meeting with the coach and don’t take your child.
Don’t complain to the coach if your child doesn’t get much playing time – encourage your child to work harder.  Most coaches are under constant pressure to win, so the best athletes and hardest workers will spend more time on the field.  Teach your kid that playing time is earned, not given.
Never go to school administrators about a coach unless there is a valid reason for concern.  “He hurt my baby’s feelings” and “my son should get more playing time” aren’t valid reasons.  Expect the administration to stand behind their coaches unless there is evidence of something unsafe, improper, or immoral.

Administrators have a vital role in an athletic program.  They can bridge the gap, or create a greater rift, between upset parents and coaching staff.  It’s extremely important for admin to stand behind coaches. They should never reprimand a coach in front of parents or students.  Doing so undermines the coach’s authority.
Administrators should never micro-manage the program.  If the athletic director and/or coach needs constant supervision, they aren’t the right person for the job.

No player should get a “super star” mentality.  It doesn’t matter if you are the greatest to ever play the game and have set records, you can’t do it alone.  A bad snap, bobbled toss, or a missed block – any one of these can be the difference between a 40 yard gain and a 10 yard loss.  Show appreciation for the efforts of your teammates – it will benefit everyone.
Be a team on and off the field.  Teamwork during practices and games is important, but not enough.  Disputes and animosity between teammates off the field will cause problems on the field.  Get issues worked out quickly, and move on.  If a teammate is struggling with a class you do well in, help them study.  This will reduce the chances of losing a teammate because of grades.
The single most important thing a player can be is DEPENDABLE.  Can your coach, and team, depend on you to be at every practice?  Can they depend on you to work hard at practice and during games?  What about keeping your grades up, staying out of trouble, and being a team player?  If you answer no to any of these questions, you need to make some changes.  Coaches ask themselves these questions about you when deciding your role on the team.  More talented athletes will always get the first chance at a starting position, but if they aren’t dependable, they may not keep it. Don’t ask for a starting spot, earn it.

When things start coming together, it will create a team culture. Younger kids, and players, will see how things are done and know what is expected of them. This culture will help teams win games during lower talent years, and help them extend their seasons in higher talent years. Program, culture, and tradition walk hand-in-hand. Do your part to establish and keep them alive.

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