Virtually Operating Your Football Program through a Pandemic

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.

E-Courses

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.

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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!

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The Parthenon Approach

The Parthenon Approach

Your Guide to Building a Football Program

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A traveler said to Socrates, “Which way to the Parthenon?” Socrates answered, “Just make sure every step you take is in the direction of the Acropolis.”

The Manhattan Project

As a head coach, it’s vital to have a plan and to work toward your ultimate destination. When I was a young assistant coach at Kansas State University, I was fortunate to sit in staff meetings with Bill Snyder as he created the greatest turnaround in the history of college football. Coach Snyder had a vision for his program, and undeniably he was able to get that vision across to each member of his team.

It worked like this…

He would carry a variety of steno pads into each meeting. These notebooks were filled with actions that needed to be taken by members of the staff. Next to each task, he would place a coach’s initials. As he would cover an item, he would pass it off and delegate that action to that particular person. I recall guys on the staff looking at those notes to see if their initials were next on the list.

It seemed that everything was task-oriented and handed down from Coach Snyder.

At the next meeting, he would review each item from the previous meeting and get a status report on each task as he moved the program forward. This became a never-ending massive “to-do” list. As the years went by,  I started to notice a method to Coach Snyder’s madness. Each of those steno pads was broken up into an area of focus. And that gave me an idea of how I’d build my first college football program at Emporia State University a few years later.

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The Parthenon Approach

The Parthenon approach is the underlying philosophy I came up with to help me operate a massive operation like a college football program. This paradigm was the guidepost that I referred to on a regular basis to systematically regenerate our program to national prominence. I hear so often that running a football program is all about culture, goals, and discipline. However, I felt that a systematic approach that I could refer to would be valuable when embarking on a monumental task. I used this approach when I created American Football Monthly and in every football program & business venture that I have had the privilege to lead.

The Parthenon approach is divided into key structural areas of the foundation, the pillars, and the apex. Just like the famous building in Athens, Greece and a replica of one which exists in Nashville, Tennessee, this visual picture can guide you toward building your own Parthenon. Let’s take a look at each of these three vital structural areas and how they relate to your football program.

The Foundation

Just as in the actual Parthenon, you want your program’s foundation to be built on solid ground. It all starts with the head coach and the culture he establishes each day on the job. The more robust football programs are developed with high-integrity leaders that take extreme ownership in the program.

As Woody Hayes once said, “You Win with People.”

It’s imperative that you surround yourself with positive, optimistic  people who contribute to your “esprit de corps.” The more you associate and build relationships based on this; the sooner you will be able to establish a juggernaut of a football program. One thing I learned early in my coaching career is that you are better off having fewer people in your program that are all on the same page than hundreds who are scattered in their ideology. As a head coach, it’s your responsibility to set the culture and make sure to take that extreme ownership as you lead by example. If you aren’t doing it, don’t expect others to come through for you. The football program will show up the way the leader shows up.

Coach Snyder has always been notorious for working diligently on his program as well as in his program while doing his best to provide a family atmosphere among the players and staff.

The Pillars

As this solid foundation is being built, you are creating each pillar of your program as areas of focus. Each component must be well defined and interact synergistically with each department of the program – no pillar should stand alone. In my particular football program, I create 21 pillars to focus on in the entirety of the program. As the head coach, it’s imperative to leave nothing to chance; each area of focus should have a short-term as well as a long-term plan. Over time, a laser-like focus on each of these areas of emphasis gives you the flexibility to brand your program.

Here’s an example of some pillars I’ve created in my program:

  1. Marketing
  2. Public Relations
  3. Player Acquisition
  4. Player Development
  5. Athletic Performance
  6. Fundraising
  7. Staff Development
  8. Offense
  9. Defense
  10. Special Teams

The Apex

In establishing each of your pillars, know that they will strengthen over time and work well together if and only if your Apex is appropriately designed to bring them together toward your ultimate mission. The creation of the Apex is based on the time-honored philosophy of Kaizen. Kaizen is the systematic approach utilized by W. Edwards Deming to create a system of constant and never-ending improvement. The key to your success is that you seek quantifiable and measurable performance results to ensure the attainment of long-term goals in making this positive transformation. A statistical approach is paramount to the success of your program on and off the field.

Putting it all together

An outstanding football coach is consciously preoccupied with the questions – what is the Parthenon of my life or what is the ultimate goal of my life as it relates to our football program? How will the decisions I make and the actions I take help or hinder me from getting my Parthenon built? And how can I achieve more alignment in my life?

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I am curious as to how you can use the Parthenon Approach in your football program and in your life? I welcome your comments below.

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Stop Hoping for Completion

Stop Hoping for Completion

Tomorrow May Never Come

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Some football coaches make the error of thinking that one day it will be done. They think, “If I can work enough, then one day I can take a break.” Or, “One day my program will be entirely organized and life will be on auto-pilot.” The common error is to think that eventually things will be different in some way. They won’t. It never ends – that’s just part of the grind. As long as you are a football coach, there will be a creative tussle with the present moment as you give your unique gift to the world.

"Mike Leach once told me that coaching was a constant state of correction."

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Completion: Hoping

The process is never going to be over, so stop waiting for the good stuff. Decide now to spend a minimum of 90-minutes per day working on whatever you are putting off. Think about it, what are you putting on hold that you really want to do? Are you doing this because of your financial situation? Or, the children are still in the house? Don’t wait any longer. Don’t believe in the myth of “one day when everything will be different.” Do what you love to do, what are you waiting to do, what have you been born to do, now.

In spite of your daily duties that you feel are holding you back – do what you love to do. If it’s getting your life in order so you can propel your career as a football coach, then get it done! If it’s spending more quality time with your loved ones, then get it done! However, I am warning you that you may discover that you can’t do it; that, in fact, your dream of your future life is a fantasy.

Completion: Procrastination

“Procrastinator” was the first big word my father used to say to me. It was a label that he placed upon me and it stuck for so many years until I figured out what it really meant.

Procrastination is just an excuse for lack of creative discipline.

Limited money, lacking resources, or education have never stopped a football coach that really wanted to achieve something special. However, these things do provide excuses for a coach that is not really up to the creative challenge.

Find out today whether you are ready to get it done. To move forward on your big dream. Create time for that on a regular basis, I mean uninterrupted time. Turn off all the distractions and just go there and focus on where you want to go. The goal is to go to sleep at night knowing you lived your day creating the life you desire.

I am going to share with you something that happens once you make a decision to play life on your terms.

Completion: Put in Order

I’ve noticed that once I have made a decision to go into uncharted territory the world shows me a disorder. What I mean by this is that people around me become uncomfortable with the change. People like certainty, so they try to put me back in my place. Remember, order always results in a disorder. The way to overcome all this is to move simply forward and ignore the chaos that just showed up in your life. Just keep putting in order.

The world will always present you with unforeseen challenges. You are either living life fully on your terms, giving of yourself amidst those challenges… Or, you are waiting for that imaginary future that will never come.

Completion: Get it Done

Football coaches that have lived meaningful lives are men who never waited… for money, job security, ease of networking. They were active in their decisions and knew where they wanted to go. Here’s an inspirational book about a movie I recently watched on Netflix called, Undefeated.

Feel what you want to get done in this world and do what you can to move in that direction today. Every moment waited is a moment wasted, and this ultimately degrades your clarity of purpose.

There is nothing like an honest look at yourself to propel you to take your career to the next level.

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What things do you do to make sure you’re getting things done? Any distractions that come up regularly?

Leave a reply and let me know!

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