Coach Vigdal’s plan to reinvent the program’s culture had to incorporate more than just X’s and O’s. He had to improve all parts of the program and the athletes. This is how he did it...
By Ken Vigdal
Brookings High School (SD)
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Walking off the field in 2014, defeated in overtime of the championship game, I thought to myself “Our football program has arrived.” Nothing can stop us. We have built a successful program, and next year a state championship. Walking off the field after the final game in 2016, I thought to myself, “what just happened?” It was the first time in school history a team went 0-9. Just that fast, we went from the top of the league to the very bottom. As coaches, we had to come up with a plan. This plan had to incorporate more than just X’s&O’s; it had to improve all parts of the program and the athletes. This is the plan we spent the next six months developing and implementing. Over the past two years we have consistently tweaked it, but our mission has been the same: love, serve, and care.
The Turning Point:
After going 0-9, not many people from the student body, players, parents, and community members believed in our program. We had to give our athletes something positive for them to become part of and gain confidence, so we created a Peak Performance Program.
On Thursdays in the fall we have our juniors and seniors go to the elementary schools at 7:45 to meet and interact with the elementary students while the younger students wait for the bell to ring. This gets our athletes out into the public. The elementary teachers love this and the parents see our football players interacting positively with their children. The students go home and tell the parents that they got to spend time with the varsity football players. Both the child and the parents love it. On Friday mornings our athletes show up at the high school at 7:50 and open doors for the rest of the student body and say “hi” to everyone. This is our way for our football team to reach out and make a small but positive impact on the rest of our school.
Finally, we had to overcome the mentality that we could not compete or overcome adversity. We incorporated competitions in everything we did. Since we live in a farming community, we have a unit farm challenge. We go to a community member’s farm and we do a variety of competitions: carrying bales, jumping over round bales, carrying buckets of corn or water, and carrying fence posts. We also take a period during practice to have a unit competitions. This could be a bag toss, touch down dance, tire tug a war, or an offensive lineman catching passes. We give points for each place. At the end of fall camp we have a team supper where we announce the unit champions. The winners receive a trophy and are served by the last place unit.
This past summer we incorporated the final piece of creating a competitive mindset. We had Ethan Miller a Performance Mastery Certified coach, come and talk to both our athletes and our coaches. With his guidance, we incorporated three new components. We developed an evening and morning routine, starting very simple. At night our players put their phones on their dresser away from their bed and put a water bottle by their phone. First thing in the morning they get up, drink the water, get their phone, and make their bed. After the dynamic warmup in practice, we static stretch in our units. We give players a growth mindset question to discuss. This is a three minute discussion in their units. Then one person from each group stands up and gives their unit’s response. Another part of being competitive is knowing when one is focused or out of focus, so we incorporated red light/green light. This gets our athletes back in the game, refocused after something bad has happen.
We are very conscious of our culture. Culture is never static. It is consistently evolving for better or worse. I believe there are a few things that one must consistently have for a great culture.
Only talking about it to the team does not get it done. The coaches and the team must have active participation. We like to say, “You have to do.” If you are only talking, nothing is going to change and you are going to find yourself in the same place. That was a lesson our coaches and players had to learn. That’s why I have a spreadsheet with time and date of every given task that builds our culture from April to November.
The athletes must hear the same message from all the coaches. We have precise vocabulary when it comes to communicating our culture. The athletes hear TPW from one or more of our coaches every day. We also have a core value for each day of the week. We take about two minutes at the beginning of practice to discuss it. Different coaches are assigned different days.
We are constantly looking for resources to help with our culture. We have a small library of books that I believe are the most important. We return to them for references. I believe that Coach Jackson’s book Culture Defeats Strategy is at the top of the list. We refer to it to find ideas for competitions or serving the people in the community. Twitter and social media is another great place to find ideas to incorporate into a program.
Everything we as coaches do falls under our mission in Brookings: Love, Serve, and Care.
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- Details of the Peak Performance Plan that Coach Vigdal designed to use in creating off-season action plans for each student-athlete in the program.
- The application process Coach Vigdal used for players wishing to become unit leaders in his off-season program.
- Methods in how Brookings High School overcame the negativity from the student body, parents and community.
- The two greatest activities Brookings High School used to help get parents on board with the football program.
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Schemes and fundamentals are extremely important to the success of a football team. We have added a third component that we truly believe in and that is the importance of your culture. A coach needs to spend as much time on their team’s culture as they do their offense and defense. We implemented this program three years ago. Since then we have been in the semifinals, and this year we were in the state finals, with a record of 10-2. One of the best seasons in school history. Our coaches, athletes, and parents believe in our program of becoming great.
Meet Coach Ken Vigdal: Ken Vigdal was a head football coach and offensive coordinator for Sioux Center Community Schools and Ogden Community Schools in Iowa for 15 years. For the last 8 years, he has been the offensive coordinator in Brookings, South Dakota, with an appearance in the semifinal in 2018 and state championship game in 2014 and 2019.