Summer is coming. What do those words mean to you? The season most often associated with vacation, time off, and relaxation has a very different significance to those who run football programs. As the temperature rises, so does the urgency to get better for the season ahead.
There is no one single recipe for driving improvement within your program; there are a million different ways to attack it, and it happens one day at a time. If you’re looking for new ideas here are eight of them broken down into three categories:
- Strength and Conditioning
- Program Building
If you put just one or two of these to work in the coming months you will set your program up for even more success in the season to come.
Strength and Conditioning
1. Think Creatively About Strength
There are countless strength building tools and resources available to coaches. Outside-the-box options such as CrossFit, Kettlebells, and even yoga can provide outstanding options for customizing your summer workout program. Bringing fresh ideas and new challenges to your strength program will not only boost the excitement of your athletes, but also keep them engaged and working hard.
John Allen Snyder, Head Football Coach at Indiana Area High School described his diverse and creative approach this way:
“Our program is spearheaded by our OL coach… our district Strength and Conditioning Coordinator…and myself the head coach. We feel the three of us together bring a varied approach to Strength and Conditioning…[One] Powerlifting, [another] HIIT/CrossFit and Flexibility, and myself the football aspect. This allows us to throw everything on a wall and see what sticks. It allows us to create varied programming based on three fundamentally different strength approaches, but we always make sure that there is on-field application for everything we do.”
It doesn’t have to be a new fad workout, either. Something as simple as unique warm-ups that are introduced in a different space, or a finisher exercise that generates energy and competition in the weight room can help to increase engagement in your program.
2. Make it Feel Individual
Customization yields results. Creating a plan for individuals helps them to invest in their own strength and skill improvement. In other words, they are more likely to buy into their own development.
Just as important, custom training allows for the unique situation of each athlete to be taken into account in his training. Here are the top areas coaches take into consideration when creating individual workouts:
- Current state of conditioning
- Years in the program
- Previous injuries
- Max lifts
The result of this individualization is a safer, and in many cases a faster, way to maximize strength and skill development.
If this level of customization sounds like a great deal of work, know that there are tools out there that can do the heavy lifting for you.
3. Give Them Options
Providing flexibility within the strength and agility programs you prescribe to your program can pay big dividends in the summer months. Not all athletes’ schedules are the same, and a rigid schedule may not be possible for some. Several top coaches who we spoke with discussed the way they empower individuals or groups to get their work in at a time that best suited them. Turns out these programs discovered they got more effort and better results over time.
Most coaches open the weight room four days per week during the summer and many are using software platforms such as MaxOne to create pre-set regimens allowing athletes to be more efficient in the weight room.
Joe Price, the head coach for Plainview High School in Oklahoma provides detailed instruction of the workouts, and the athletes got down to business at the most opportune time for their schedule.
Coach Price: “The workout program allows me to add an eight-week cycle which the kids can access anytime they have their phone. So, if a kid is in baseball and can’t make it to workout… he can do our lifting program wherever and whenever he has time.”
The key is in laying the groundwork and empowering your athletes to be accountable in their work. The results may surprise you.
4. Connect with Athletes Every Day
It can be easy to fall out of touch with your team during portions of the summer months; out of sight, out of mind. Unfortunately, when engagement drops between you and your athletes, so do accountability, hard work, and results.
If you want the most from your athletes this summer and beyond, regular communication is key. Keep everyone in your program (including parents) in the loop and in constant communication. What should you communicate? Whatever you have for them; including schedules, details on workouts, motivational videos, new achievements, and inspirational notes to individual athletes. When should you send it? Every day! Engage your athletes, and they will engage in you and your program.
Take it from JohnAllen Snyder: “We communicate with our kids all the time. We use the messenger through MaxOne and Twitter. Parent meetings are done at the beginning of the off-season and then again before camp to outline the change in schedule and procedures.”
Dave Brozeski, Head Coach at Norwin High School had a similar report: “The only system I use is MaxOne. It allows me to text and email the kids and parents. It also has the calendar feature so parents can see the schedule at all times, and can sync that calendar to their phone, which is really helpful.”
Find the channels that work for you and establish them today. If you have the channels already in place, work on using them more effectively. Never stop communicating or improving the way you do it. It will pay off in ways you never imagined.
5. Respect Parent Schedules
It’s a well-known fact that parents can be your greatest ally or your biggest enemy. Be sure all the hard work you are putting in this summer helps to move them to your corner.
One of the easiest ways you can do this, according to our coach respondents, is to respect their time and their schedules. Certainly, the flexibility mentioned in the first point can be a part of this. So can proactive communication. Hold semi-annual meetings, include parents in messages, and avoid scheduling shake-ups if at all possible. Also encourage family time with the way you schedule. Balance is important for both your athletes and their parents.
Mark Smith, Head Coach at Liberty High School, said the following: “I post my whole summer schedule on MaxOne so parents can be up to date. The great thing about it is that when I make a change to the schedule, it automatically changes on parents’ schedules.”
Know that you can’t please everyone, but taking a few of these tips to heart is certain to help build the working relationship with parents that coaching so often requires. And what program doesn’t need a few more advocates on its sidelines?
Program Building / Youth Development
6. Start Early
Want to build a powerhouse football program? Make sure you’re putting in work on the ground floor. In other words, devote attention to the up-and-coming youth. The summer months are the perfect time for doing this, as more time is generally available for you, your coaching staff, and the kids.
Here is how a few of the coaches we spoke with described their efforts to start early:
“We start in 4th grade with speed and conditioning three days a week in the summer and also start them on mat drills. We also work body weight foundational movements. In 7th grade we begin the strength and conditioning program with the basics of what we do with the high school, but a scaled down version that focuses on teaching in the weight room, not trying to compete. We do a ton of reps on a bunch of different lifts.”
“We start lifting in 7th grade. Lifting is a loose term. It’s total acclimation; body weight, body control, and core focus. Our kids don’t touch a weight until they can lift themselves. Form is stressed here exclusively.”
The result of this work is more coachable, physically intelligent athletes who grow through your system, know what is expected, and understand how to train. What coach doesn’t want that in their program?
7. Empower Varsity Players to be Heroes
“We want our youth around our varsity team all the time! Our goal is to build the tradition of our football program at the lowest level to where kids want to wear [the star player’s] jersey when they come up. When they play pickup they pretend to be their favorite varsity football players.”
Remember looking up to older athletes as a kid? Use that natural admiration to the advantage of your program. If you can create a hero/mentor relationship between the youth and the varsity team, the younger athletes will look up to them and want to be them. Give them the visibility to instill that love and drive, and someday they will be the hero. And on and on it goes.
One coach did it this way: “We do a football buddies program with our grade school kids on home game Fridays. Make sure the interactions are short and positive. Get older players in your program involved with the younger ones.”
Another brought the teaching of skills into the equation: “I watched one of my senior offensive linemen teach a 4th grader how to get into a stance, and he came back and got into a really good stance in all the drills the rest of the day. It was nice to see that older kid had learned a good stance and could teach someone else how to get into one.”
It’s the same in any discipline: if someone can teach the principles, it means they know the principles. Interactions like these are to the benefit of both sides.
However you choose to encourage hero or mentor relationships, it starts with getting the young athletes involved with the older athletes. Try it this summer. The benefit could very well be a program that is generationally stronger.
8. Teach the Fundamentals (and Make It Fun)
“How you do something is as important as what you do.”
We couldn’t have said it better than the coach who provided that modern proverb. At MaxOne, we know the importance of fundamentals and doing things right. Putting the foundation in place through practice and repetition helps to ensure things are done right when the pressure mounts—whether you’re working with 6th graders or varsity athletes. We also know there is no better time to work on fundamentals than during summer.
That coach’s statement could just as easily be talking about style of leadership, and it wouldn’t be wrong. Top coaches not only find ways to drive their players to improve, but also to make them want it for themselves. Pulling the very best out of your athletes could mean fostering their love for the game. Providing fresh approaches to training that keep it fun, competitive, and entertaining can do just that.