I’m coming off of watching the Stagg Bowl and the DI Football Championships. Watching those games gave me an itch to write something more geared towards football programs in general, not just strength training for football. I was watching four obviously great programs last night. Seeing them made me think about the cultural differences between winning and losing programs. I started to think about all of the little pieces that collectively make each program great or terrible. It immediately looked overwhelming.
Are there aspects of a winning football program that are common with others? We should assume so.
I’ve been fortunate to be a part of several winning football programs and several losing programs. Being a part of bad football programs didn’t seem very useful at the time, but later on I had a huge list of things that didn’t work. The winning programs left with me a huge list of things that did work.
Let’s get this out of the way first, I’m not a Football Coach or Sports Psychologist right now. I’m not claiming that what I’m going to talk about in this series of articles is the bottom line. These points are things my colleagues and I have witnessed over the years while being a part of football at different levels.
I hope you either find these points reassuring (because you’re already implementing them) or helpful. Each of these ideas was absent in the losing programs I was a part of and obvious in the winning ones.
1. Communicate a list of standards and expectations
What standards and expectations are get mixed up.
Standards should be the same for every player. They’re constant and shouldn’t change. Program standards are baseline levels of quality. They can be simple things like always be on time, look at Coaches when they are teaching/coaching, don’t talk back or be sure to wear the team colors in the weightroom. It doesn’t matter if the player is a starter on varsity or a freshman playing football for the first time.
Making a list of standards can be simple. Some programs have them listed in a football manual, written on boards in the locker room or they’re communicated at the first team meeting. Having them written somewhere will surely take care of any possible confusion in the future. Keeping the list fair, purposeful and realistic is necessary. Remember, standards apply the same for every player.
Expectations should not be the same for every player. Expectations are not the same as standards. This is where we get into trouble sometimes. It takes extra energy as a Coach to consistently communicate this notion to players, but it helps a lot in the end. The great thing about expectations is that they are constantly getting higher or evolving. We don’t believe a high school freshman is going to perform the same way a senior is. He hasn’t been taught yet, he’s not as mature, etc.
Sometimes I like ending a good workout by telling the team they did a good job. I’ll then ask them, what should I expect next time from their performance? They know their expectations have been raised.
These ideas mean nothing unless they’re communicated and players are held accountable for them. It’s completely unfair to rip some freshman football player for not holding the program standards or meeting his expectations, if he doesn’t know what they are.
Winning Football Coaches are amazing communicators of these points. They make time to teach their football players what the program standards are in the beginning and they take time each practice session to explain what is expected. We can’t expect anything to work unless we teach and Coach it consistently.
Next time I’ll discuss how to include accountability into the picture.