The legendary football coach George Allen was the first to say, “What you do during the offseason determines what you do during the regular season.”
Success during the regular season doesn’t just happen because we want it to. Wishing is not a strategy.
Whatever we want for our athletes, coaching staff, or team during the regular season must be built in the offseason. Games and matches might be contested during the regular season, but athletes and teams are made in the offseason.
When putting together an effective offseason program, there are eight factors we need to consider:
- Goals to Chase
- Safety for Athletes
- Governing Rules
- Team Workouts
- Individual Workouts
- Culture to Sustain
As Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” The habits (good or bad) developed in the offseason will carry over into the regular season.
GOALS TO CHASE
We need to have a clear and defined reason for what we do in our offseason program. What are our goals? What are we trying to accomplish?
Here are the three main areas that we need to intentionally develop a strategy for growth and develop:
- Strength & Conditioning: Getting bigger, faster, and stronger happens during the offseason. There isn’t a next game to get ready for or worry about. This is easy to measure from the start of the offseason until the end.
- Skills & Tactics: The offseason is a perfect time for an athlete to work on their weaknesses. The best way to improve the team is to improve oneself. Most skills have measurable components to them that coaches can assess with the athlete during the offseason.
- Intangibles: Though physical gains are most often on our minds in the offseason, we shouldn’t forget about trying to build up certain “soft skills” that are present in a strong program such as building teamwork, communication, leadership, problem-solving, overcoming adversity, and having emotional intelligence. Just because these are a little more difficult to quantify sometimes doesn’t mean they’re any less important.
When it comes to our goals, we might want to put together a simple checklist each day (or each week) to make sure we’re addressing the things that are most important to us. We should be intentional about what we want to accomplish.
If we have good ideas about drills or strategies for physical improvement but aren’t organized, we run the risk of underutilizing our time, resources, facilities, or efforts. The more our athletes stand around, the greater chance they get into trouble, get hurt, or get bored because they lose focus.
Here are a few things to consider:
- Does each coach know what they’re supposed to do?
- Do your athletes understand the workouts?
- When and where do parents pick up their athletes?
- Have you given adequate thought to the rotations, breaks, facilities, and resources?
- When and how do your athletes warmup/stretch?
- Can each athlete make it to workouts (i.e. single parent household, weird times, Saturday mornings, etc.)?
- Is there special equipment or gear needed?
Essentially, we want to measure twice and cut once. Our workouts should be a well-oiled machine providing our athletes with every opportunity for success.
SAFETY FOR ATHLETES
We must provide a safe environment for our athletes to improve. If they’re worried about their safety or are in danger of injury (mental or physical), then it will be difficult for them to maximize their potential.
Here are just a few things to think about when it comes to safety …
- Have you taught your athletes the proper technique?
- Do you have adequate supervision (both at the activity and in the locker room)?
- Are you accounting for the weather?
- Is our equipment safe and operating properly?
- Are you aware of potential hazards?
- Has everyone completed the proper paperwork or been cleared medically?
This should go without saying, but unfortunately, we either overlook or ignore some rules. It doesn’t matter if the rules come from the state, conference, federation, city, or school — you need to be aware of the rules. You don’t want to lose an athlete during the season because you neglected a rule in the offseason. Finally, following the rules not only minimizes headaches, but also sets a good example for your athletes (or even other coaches).
The offseason is a great time to build relationships with your athletes (and their parents). Rome wasn’t built in a day, right? You need a long-term view on this topic. When you need to improve a relationship, do it gradually, understanding that you have time before next season.
Working on these relationships during the offseason is advantageous because you aren’t constantly determining playing time, treating them “unfairly”, or losing games. The offseason is less threatening and less urgent than the regular season, so make changes and test heavily when you have an offseason.
Here are some ways that you can build better relationships with your athletes and parents:
- Watch their games in other sports
- Attend other extra curriculars (e.g. band concerts, plays, quiz bowl, etc.)
- Send a quick note each week/month
- Thank them
- Ask their advice and seek their input
- Congratulate them
- Seek them out and be personable
- Be the adult in the situation — take the first step
- Learn about one of their interests (e.g. music, another sport, video game, etc.)
You don’t have to be best friends with them, but you do need to gain their trust. This doesn’t happen if your relationship with them is non-existent or damaged.
Even for those athletes that want to get better in the offseason, they still need motivation that stems from you. Here are some ideas to make your team training sessions beneficial:
- Take advantage of the team aspect while they’re together
- Promote encouragement
- Encourage teamwork
- Have a plan and be organized
- Make it fun, competitive, and productive
- Surprise them with ice cream, a snack, a pool day, movie, guest speaker, or field trip
- Be adaptive — find ways to build strength and conditioning without running line drills or lifting weights (i.e. relays, strong man competitions, cross-training, tag, etc.)
- Keep track of progress
- Train with them
You won’t always be able to organize team activities. When this happens, your athletes are left on their own to get better. Here are a few things to keep in mind when developing an individual program for our athletes:
- They will naturally do less without supervision — this doesn’t make them lazy, just human. Be realistic in your expectations.
- They don’t understand things like you do — if you give them a program they find complicated, they likely won’t jump in with both feet.
- The more personalized the program is to them and their situation, the more motivated they’ll be
- Make it fun — competition or rewards can transform a normal workout
- Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback and input — when they come up with the workouts or you use their ideas, they’re more likely to buy into it
CULTURE TO SUSTAIN
Don’t lose sight of the fact that your offseason program is more than athletes improving their shooting skills, 40-yard dash time, or bench press. Physical skills are just one component of your overall program.
Use these ideas during offseason training sessions to strengthen your culture:
- Have a life skills session each week after training or instead of training. Sessions can include finances, manners, learning a new skill, conflict resolution, communication and can be taught by local leaders in your community or school.
- Teach leadership concepts to all of your athletes, not just captains. This is a great opportunity to equip them to be more positive leaders in the future. This also encourages them to take more ownership with the team.
- Establish your standards and develop positive daily habits
- Allow athletes to teach each other and lead certain activities
- Cut a training session in half and perform community service activities
- Have a mobile blood drive
- Family day
- Conduct a fun tournament (wiffle ball, dodgeball, laser tag, flag football, 3-on-3)
- Split the team into sub groups and have an Olympiad encompassing many different activities (physical, mental, leadership, teamwork, sportsmanship)
The offseason is a great time to strengthen your culture, develop your team leadership, and build camaraderie.
REAP WHAT WE SOW
The American statesman and attorney, Henry Clay, used to say “The time will come when Winter will ask you what you were doing all Summer.”
Though the offseason might look different for different teams, we all reap what we sow. If you want a harvest, then you need to plant seeds. If you want a strong team during our season, you need to build it up during the offseason.
You need to know your destination in order to take the right path on this journey. Find where you want to end up and then work backwards. The things you want to accomplish during the season should dictate your strategy and preparation during the offseason.
Jamy Bechler is the author of four books including The Captain and The Bus Trip, host of the Success is a Choice Podcast, professional speaker, and trains organizations on creating championship cultures. He previously spent 20 years as a college basketball coach and administrator. The Leadership Playbook is Bechler’s online program that helps athletes become better teammates and more positive leaders while strengthening culture. As a certified John Maxwell leadership coach, Bechler has worked with businesses and teams, including the NBA. Follow him on Twitter at @CoachBechler. To connect via email or find out about his services, contact speaking@CoachBechler.com. Subscribe to his insights on success and leadership by clicking here.