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bendavisBy X&O Labs Staff

Why do a small group of high school football programs win multiple championships year after year? Our research staff at X&O Labs found the answer. They’ve discovered programs that win more local and state championships do things differently than those programs that have not found success. See this personal example...


 By X&O Labs Staff

Twitter: @XandOLabs


Why do a small group of high school football programs win multiple championships year after year? 

Our research staff at X&O Labs found the answer. They’ve discovered programs that win more local and state championships do things differently than those programs that have not found success.

To clarify... you're probably doing the same things as those championship programs, but they're just doing them differently.

Over the next few weeks, we will be releasing some very important discoveries found in our High School Football Program Development Study. What we found suggests that just making a few changes to what you’re already doing could be the one thing you need to spark your program.

This week, we’re going to start at square one: Student-Athletes. The following report was written by Mike Kirschner, the Head Coach at Ben Davis High School (IN), and is featured in the High School Football Program Development Study.

There are few programs better to lead off this series on developing a high school football program than Ben Davis High School. They’ve won 1 national championship, 8 state championships, 10 semi-state titles, 15 regional titles, 20 sectional titles and 9 MIC titles.

In the following report, Coach Kirschner tells a very personal story detailing how he changed the structure – and the effectiveness – of his off-season meetings with his players. As you’re about to learn, what Coach Kirschner did built a deep bond between himself and his players, leading him to become a more effective coach and mentor.


“I began right there… to ask myself

some serious questions.”


By Mike Kirschner, Head Coach, Ben Davis High School (IN)

bendavisEvery January I have the pleasure of attending the American Football Coaches Association national convention. I attend these conventions not so much for the X’s and O’s, but for ideas on motivation, leadership, organization, etc. Towards the end of one of the days, I decided to stay for a topic titled ‘Social Issues’ hosted by legendary coaches Bobby Bowden of Florida State and Dick Tomey of Arizona.

During their lecture they discussed issues like drugs, alcohol, suicide and single parent homes. At one point during the lecture, Coach Tomey spoke about how he used to invite his seniors over to his house and they would take turns talking about their personal lives.

As I sat listening, my mind kept going back to Coach Tomey’s idea of the players sharing their life stories. I began right there, to ask myself some serious questions. I started with the most important; do I really know my players? Do my players really know each other? Do my players really know me?

I conduct off-season one-on-one meetings with my players. These meetings begin in December and end sometime in February. My goal is to meet with every Junior and sophomore who completed the season. I usually have about 100 players in these two classes. Each meeting runs about 20 to 30 minutes. During these meetings we talk about academics, college potential, weight room goals, personal goal setting, prior season accomplishments, upcoming season, and personal life. I, like most coaches, used this time to help guide and direct our athletes. I would always follow up with them on academics, weights, etc., but when it came to personal issues, I did not get involved unless it affected the team. I made the assumption, from these meetings that I knew my players, that I understood their lives, that I could relate, and that knowledge from the meeting somehow gave me permission to tell them how to live their lives.

My assumptions turned out, as with many assumptions, to be completely wrong.

Upon returning from the AFCA convention, I decided to try the idea Coach Tomey shared during his lecture. Once each month, for the past 5 years, a group of players are invited to my house for dinner, social, and a leadership meeting. The meeting was held on January 26th at my house. This meeting began like all the rest. About 20 players arrived at 6:30 pm. My wife, like always, feeds them large amounts of food; they laugh, tell stories, and generally have a good time. At 7:00 pm I started the meeting. They assumed we would do some team building activities and discuss current team issues. At this point in the evening I realized that my mission as a football coach would always be about the well being of my players.

I started the discussion by explaining that tonight each and every one of us, including myself, are going to share our life stories. As with most teenagers the topic was not well received. I took the lead and talked about my life. I spoke of my parents and siblings. I talked about my childhood, school and sports.

I then remembered something Coach Tomey said about the coach being willing to open up. I then talked about some of the mistakes I made, some the people I followed, and my personal trials and tribulations. At this point I opened the floor to anyone who would like to share his or her life story. As I suspected no one volunteered and most refused to make eye contact with me. At this point, I forced the issue and called on a linebacker to begin the process.

This is one of those moments in my life I will never forget and will always cherish. The first young man spoke of his family and how much they meant to him, but followed that with tails of racism within the family.

That was followed by a young man who lost relatives in hurricane Katrina, and another player who spoke about all the different places he has had to call home. As the evening continued the tragedies in my players’ lives were shared. They spoke of their own insecurities and fear of failure. They talked openly about having to attend therapy when they were younger, due to the amount of violence and killings they had witnessed, not having a significant male influence in their lives, having to watch loved ones go to prison. With the temptation of drugs, gangs, crime, and the absence of a significant male influence in their lives the reality is that these boys have had to become men before their time.

As the stories were told, the tears of heartache began to flow. Per Coach Tomey, I said nothing during this time. I did not facilitate other than to listen. I did not have to ask anyone to speak because each and everyone opened up their hearts and shared their life story.

In my house, were a group of players who were physically strong, athletic, and tough, but on this night I was witness to a group of players who were young men searching for their way in life. Reaching out for someone to guide them in their journey as a student, athlete, and at some point a husband and father.

I finished with sharing my thoughts. I began to tremble and cry as I stumbled to find the words to convey what I was feeling. I looked at my wife, who could no longer control her emotions, searching for a way to comfort these players who were used to their coach being strong and determined. As I gathered my composure, I told my players how sorry I was. I told them that I was sorry for not knowing, for not asking, for not reaching out to help them. I told them that no matter what happens in their life, from this point forward, you will always be loved. I wanted them to know that I will always love them and that I will do whatever I can, within my power to assist them. I finished the night by hugging each and every one of the players and let them know I love them.

After the players had left, my wife and I reflected on one of the most emotionally draining events of our lives. Again, we discovered why God put us in this place.

The next day at school, my assistants wanted to know what had happened the night before. They commented that our players seemed different and had a new bond that they had not seen before. One coach made the comment that they had become a ‘Band of Brothers.’ This meeting opened the door for other players to come to my office and share their story. The very next afternoon a young man came in searching for a place to stay as he had been removed from his house. As the tears rolled off his cheeks, I immediately began working to make his day better. We talked about how to make things right and the steps he could do to work out the problems. I will continue to work each and every day to make all my players’ lives better.

I contemplated long and hard about sharing this story. This is a personal moment for the players, my wife, and I. After great reflection, I decided to share this moment in hope that other coaches might realize the power of our position and remember that we have a duty and responsibility to assist and mentor the young men in our programs. That we can’t just be a football coach, but rather a person of influence so that they may get the needed guidance to live a productive and successful life.

Although the press and fans judge us on wins and losses, we must only judge ourselves on the success of our young men as they grow into adults. I believe that God put me in the room, on that cold night in January, to open my eyes further than they have ever been opened. God wanted me to have a better understanding of my mission as a football coach.

Like all coaches, I will continue to push my players to be better students, become stronger athletes, and be more disciplined in their daily lives. I continue to do these things while I ask how I can help you become a better you.


The game of football is just that, a game, but our players are people whom love, hurt, cry and long for human acceptance.

I implore each and every one of you to step out of the norm and share your life.

It’s Time to Re-Think How You’re Building Your Program [and Your Career]…

With X&O Labs’ High School Football Program Development Study, you’ll know what changes need to be made in your program and how to make them… and then get the success you and your program deserve.

The High School Football Program Development Study is available right now in our exclusive Insiders membership website. To get instant access to his study, join X&O Labs’ Insiders membership website here.


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