Manny Matsakis

Virtually Operating Your Football Program through a Pandemic

How to adapt & thrive during this difficult time

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Social Distancing has changed the way we operate in running our football program. Most coaches are home working online, helping to run the household, homeschooling children, and also doing their best to make progress toward an impending football season.

When I heard about “flattening the curve” as the best way to get society back to normal, I struggled with the idea. I understood the concept set forth by our medical professionals, but not being around my coaching staff and players?

Once reality set in, we had to decide to move ahead or get left behind. Time was not going to stand still for anyone, and we realized that progress was critical regardless of our circumstances. 

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"You are only as good as your ability to create an effective contingency plan."

Pandemic Gridiron Contingency

Creating a contingency plan that takes advantage of the opportunity to operate virtually is the first step. The reality of this situation is that with Social Distancing, we had to keep in mind the following four points.

  1. Staff members had to work at home, and it might be for an extended period.

  2. Communication would be critical among ourselves and to our players.

  3. An “uncertainty” of when the season may or may not start.

  4. Readiness for what the NCAA would dictate to us and flexibility is critical.

With those issues in mind, we needed to address our ability to operate remotely with a proper toolkit, an organizational system and a flexible set of ideas/projects moving forward to be ready when the season began.

Let's take a deep dive into each of these areas...

The Toolkit

Our staff all has access to a computer and the internet while at home. From that point, we needed to take advantage of some free tools to use in the areas of visual communication, generating ideas, and project management.

Visual Communication

The ability to see each other, share our screen to show presentations, and video with members of our coaching staff and players is the minimum requirement. Google Hangouts and Zoom are the premier software solutions that we can use to aid us in conducting meetings. Each of these has its pluses and minuses, and here’s some to consider.  

Google meetings are free with a Gmail account. Google meetings can handle a large group and give you the ability to hear from others, but when people have their microphones on, there’s a tremendous amount of feedback. Showing video of plays from Hudl can be quite choppy, and the quality is less than optimum for extraordinary meetings.

Zoom has a free version, but there are limitations in the amount of time and people that can be on a particular meeting. You also have to download the application to run a Zoom meeting. I will say that the audio and video quality is significantly better in Zoom when I am watching video from my shared screen with someone else.

Each of these video solutions can save the video of the meeting so you can forward it to those, not in attendance or review, for your purpose. I suggest doing this; but, keep in mind that Zoom has the best audio-visual quality.

Generating Ideas

It is one thing to text a group of people with our phone or email message a group. It’s another thing altogether to be able to create ideas via channels that have been set up by the group so you can make purposeful progress in solving problems while communicating. Slack is just that, a free software solution that gives our staff the ability to communicate along specific channels. Slack is best used as a communication tool, not as a project management tool. There are many other tools out there that help to manage the numerous projects that are within a football program.

Slack should be set up with appropriate channels for the program. It’s relatively user-friendly, and I first learned of it from our professors on campus. Once the relevant channels are set up, you are free to start texting each other your ideas, and some members of your staff might have an excellent insight to navigate your program. Here’s an article by Doug Samuels that references the use of Slack.

Project Management

This area is critical in moving a program forward, and I have found that Nozbe is an outstanding solution that you can start using for free. We currently subscribe to Nozbe because of the ability to use unlimited projects as opposed to 5 projects with the free version. Either way, it’s easy to get started for free and see what you notice.

Nozbe is an incredible tool to adapt to how you or your team works best. Here are a few reasons I like this particular solution.

  1. Priority lists allow you to set specific tasks for the day.
  2. Projects can be designated to your staff with tasks assigned to a person.
  3. You can attach files or notes within each project and task.
  4. It’s easy to share projects with staff members or anyone with an email address.
  5. You can integrate it with Google Calendar.
  6. The Nozbe application works on your phone.

There’s so much more you can do with Nozbe, just check it out, and you’ll see how you can adapt it to your football program.

Our Organizational System

An organizational system is where the rubber meets the road.

Be organized as a head coach; it’s imperative that you are, or you will pay for it in the end. You must keep three items in focus while setting up the organizational system. Head coach organization, staff organization, and project delegation.

Head Coach Organization

I believe that the head coach organization starts with setting up an ideal week. The “ideal week” concept helps to establish what each day of the week will look like and the focus for each block of time. A head coach should initially set up his ideal week and then set up the staff schedule around his time so that everything flows properly.

Here’s a peek into my focus for each day during the off-season…

  • Monday & Friday: Internal and External Meetings.
  • Tuesday & Thursday: Projects and content creation.
  • Wednesday: No Meetings, just “Deep Work.”

Staff Organization

Once I block my time to get things done, then I set an appropriate time for what is happening in the program each day. I arrange meetings on our staff calendar each week.

 In doing so, I give our staff the following meetings to schedule around while creating their ideal week:

  1. Full Staff
  2. Offensive Staff
  3. Defensive Staff
  4. Head Coach Administration
  5. Academic
  6. Recruiting
  7. Player Development

Project Delegation

If you want to make fantastic progress in your program, you need to delegate projects with a purpose to your best people. I’ve always believed a staff member’s value is in proportion to the number and quality of the projects they can handle as assigned by the head coach. Projects are football-specific as well as administrative, depending on what’s most important in your program at that time. I would define a project as something that requires at least 3-5 tasks to complete, and it must have a deadline attached to it.

A well set up project should have the following parameters:

  1. The expectation of the final product with someone in charge.
  2. Deadline set.
  3. After Action Review.

Ideas Moving Forward

Capturing ideas is vital to driving a program forward, but making sure they are the right ideas for the stage your team is in and pushing that idea forward is what separates the good from the great.

"I believe that the best coaches make ideas happen; they manifest them into existence."

Virtual meetings with players

Remember, we coach student-athletes, so make sure you conduct regular academic-oriented sessions to make sure they are making progress in their studies. We also want to establish football-related sessions based on what rules we are following. High school and various levels of collegiate football have different rules – check yours before proceeding.

Leadership Training

It can be as simple as a good read or as complex as an interactive seminar. I know lots of programs enjoy having their players read, Pound The Stone, and that book has some outstanding lessons for young men. It’s great to revisit the teachings of a summer read in a training camp. You can also give your players some excellent podcasts that can help them to develop their leadership skills. One of my assistant coaches likes to pass on a video on motivation to his position group and then discuss it via Google meeting.

Exercises without weights

If our players don’t have access to weight rooms or equipment, I suggest functional training exercises. Functional training can take you to a different level physically by developing a balance and symmetry in a player’s body that will aid in better performance as well as injury prevention. Take a look at some Special Forces training regimen and see if that could apply to your players.


We utilize e-courses to help our players learn how to play their position. This teaching method can also show them schemes on each side of the ball while improving their football intelligence. Here’s how we use e-courses with our team.

  • We develop player manuals with videos of drills to improve the technique of each position.
  • We create virtual playbooks with lectures of installation and tests to check the understanding of our players. I prefer to develop the e-course as an adjunct to our training camp installation.

VAR coaching

If you are fortunate enough to have a VAR system, and you shot a 360-degree camera angle of your practices last fall, then you are in business. We like to record the session of a player or coach going through a practice session virtually and then voiceover and add some visual teaching cues so our players can watch the video of that session.

Comment Below

What are you doing to move your football program forward during this pandemic? Are there some tools you have discovered? What are you learning that will help you to coach better in the future?

Leave a reply and let me know!

1 thought on “Virtually Operating Your Football Program through a Pandemic”

  1. Coach Matsakis, This article really gets my mind thinking how we can apply your ideas in New Jersey. I can’t wait for your upcoming podcast! Good luck this season.


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