This four-quarter approach allows several schools across the country to build rich history and traditions, align cultures, and refine skills and schemes for their players as they grow-up in the same football program over the course of many years.
By Jake Novotny
Head Football Coach
Fountain-Fort Carson High School (CO)
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Football teams are built in the off-season. As coaches, we know the importance of the seven months before the season in laying the foundation for our program's culture. During this time, all programs are embarking on a similar process including strength and performance training, spring practices/skill development, summer programming, and leadership building. For most high schools, there is a premium placed on your players being together during this process throughout the year, for all four years, and at several schools, as they grow-up in local feeder programs. This philosophy allows several schools across the country to build rich history and traditions, align cultures, and refine skills and schemes for their players as they grow-up in the same football program over the course of many years.
At Fountain-Fort Carson High School (FFCHS), we believe in approaching our off-season no differently than anyone else. However, our school district is partnered with an active U.S. Army Base (Fort Carson is less than 10 miles from campus), resulting in the added challenge of a transient student population. With 60-70% of our student population identified as a "military child," we must have a plan to "on-board" players that move into our school as well as develop players knowing that they may leave at any time because of their parents' military orders for relocation. Though many coaches may see this as a difficult situation, we believe this to be a great opportunity for us to build lasting relationships with players from several different backgrounds. Most importantly, serving as a coach at FFCHS allows our coaching staff to give back to those who willingly fight for our freedoms daily by actively investing in their children. In the following paragraphs, I will outline our philosophies and plan to build a competitive team environment yearly while supporting a transient student population.
Culture Life Cycle:
The life cycle of our program starts over every year at FFCHS. This means that we believe that each team will have new leaders, cultures, and identities. Even though many coaches may believe this at the high school level, it is exacerbated when you have a significant portion of your program's players coming from military households. As mentioned before, students will move in or out of school at any point in the calendar year. Therefore, as a coaching staff, we must have a clear plan for the development of our players and program yearly. The following guidelines outline our staff's general philosophy when it comes to growing our program on a year-to-year basis taking into account our military student-athletes:
- They are all OUR players while at FFC no matter where they came from, or if there is potential, they may leave – coach them the same way, they deserve that.
- Instill our program culture (expectations, values, schemes, skills) into the players that are non-transient (usually those that are non-military or those that are military who have arranged to stay until graduation). These will be the “Carriers of the Culture” and will ensure that newcomers to the program are both “schooled-up” and welcomed.
- Build and grow a healthy feeder system through community engagement for both our military and non-military families.
- Create multiple access/entry points into the program throughout the year for student-athletes to seamlessly transition into our program (also important for our multiple sport athletes).
- Be “okay” with the fact that students will leave! If we have done everything in our power to build a young man athletically, academically, and socially in our program, we have created a lasting impact on his life that will make him a better person. That is WHY we coach.
This is the general philosophy that we focus our off-season programming around each year. With that, I will take you through the different phases of our off-season and highlight the focuses for each phase, as well as explain how each phase allows for seamless student-athlete entry and exit.
Post-Season Phase: (Last Game – January)
As soon as our season is over, we begin the post-season phase of our program. Just like many programs across the country, this phase centers on putting the season to rest and preparing for the upcoming year. This phase is a lot of administrative work for me as the head coach. During this time, I will compile final stats; do equipment inventory and set-up several meetings with our athletic director, coaches, and academic counselors. One of the most important things done during this phase is our senior exit interviews. I will meet with every senior that finished the football season within two weeks after the last game. This is a priority for me. In my opinion, there are several things gained from hearing the opinions of the players who will be leaving your program as they reflect on their time here. Again, as I have stated before, we have several players, including seniors, who move in at any time during the year. I do not care if they have been in our program for all four years or moved in the day school started, all of their opinions and perspectives are valuable and can help us grow our program to be a great experience for next year's players. I believe that your out-going seniors will give you a valuable perspective on what is working and not working in your program because they can give honest reflection without the pressure of still being in the program. During these meetings, each player fills out a questionnaire and has a 10-15-minute meeting with me. I explain to them that I want their honest opinion on our program and their experience. These meetings are humbling, but I value them very much because it has helped us shape our program to be more player-focused every year.
In addition to meeting with our seniors, I use this time to have staff exit meetings as well. Again, I try to accomplish these as close to the season's end as possible while everything is still fresh in our minds. Before their meetings with me, each coach is responsible for filling out a Self-Performance Review a post-season report and a player evaluation form for each underclassman returning the following year. This is again, a great time to discuss each coach's performance while indicating where they need to grow while setting goals for both the off-season and next season. As with our senior exit meetings, I explain to my coaches that I want honest feedback about their performance, my performance as a head coach, and or program. I believe that as a leader of your program you must be open to receiving feedback if you want to grow your culture and program. I want our coaches and players comfortable with discussing the ways we can do that, as it is their program just as much as it is mine. With these exit meetings, I am looking for trends in the answers of both our seniors and our coaches. I am not as focused on one or two outlying answers unless there is a bigger challenge surrounding that answer. Moreover, I am looking at anything that comes up several times from several different players and or coaches. This tells me what needs to be fixed if it is negatively influencing our program or continued if it is positively affecting our program.
Outside of these meetings, the post-season phase is about ending the previous season and smoothly transitioning into our off-season program. We will make sure and host our banquet during this time to honor accomplishments from the season and thank our seniors for their efforts. To move into the off-season, I will spend time meeting with our Head Strength Coach to develop our plan and focus in our weight room and performance training for the next year. We will develop our annual plan and extensively discuss our start of the year cycles and emphasis. Besides, I will track our GPA both as a program and individually. This will help me get a clear indication of which players we need to focus on during the off-season when it comes to academics. Finally, I will meet with our academic counselors to solidify our Athletics Weights Class Roster and discuss in military move-ins that are interested in playing football that may be moving in at the start of the semester. With the first semester ending around this time, we must be notified of any students moving in and out of our school that are on or potentially will be on our team for the following year. Our counseling department has done a nice job of notifying our coaches when these things may happen. Because of the timing of this phase, it is very easy for us to absorb and adjust to any changes to our roster as a result of our military population. The primary focus regarding that in this phase is active communication between coaches, counselors, and administration.
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- The downloadable templates Coach Novotny uses for the following: competition team scoring denomination template, players evaluation worksheet (both spring and fall), player goal worksheets, senior exit interview worksheets, assistant coach performance report and player post-season evaluation form.
- What culture initiatives Coach organizes in Quarter 1- including his system for holding players accountable for academics, the roles he places on his staff in doing so.
- What culture initiatives Coach organizes in Quarter 2- including his leadership council curriculum and the responsibilities he places on player leaders.
- What culture initiatives Coach organizes in Quarter 3- including the schedule of his OTA’s, or spring workouts.
- What culture initiatives Coach organizes in Quarter 4- including the community service outreach and retreats he involves his program in.
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In conclusion, we have a unique set-up at Fountain-Fort Carson because of our transient military student population. This can make for a challenge when it comes to building a team in the off-season. However, we have taken the approach to have high standards and expectations of our coaches and players that transcend our program yearly while incorporating deliberate access points for new students moving into our school. We coach every player the same no matter their situation (moving-in, moving-out, or long-time resident). As a staff, we take the approach that at the start of every year; we are building a new team full of new personalities. When new players arrive, we set expectations with them early. These expectations include: 1) Do not wear rival colors, 2) do not wear other school's clothing, 3) you are Trojan – be proud of where you came from but be present in where you are. Among everything, this helps set the standard immediately.
Also, we quickly connect them with the right kids in our program. We do this in many ways, but primarily we strategically add them to the groups/teams or have them spend time with a player that is a great representative of our program. This will give them an idea of what we expect through the example of whom their assigned Trojan teammate. Moreover, putting them on teams/groups early throughout the year allows them to get to know the player in our program so that they can build relationships through common goals quickly. Further, our staff will spend time with this kid individually to explain our core values, goals, and program standards. We want them to understand what is important to us as soon as they step foot into our program. From this point forward, we can move forward in coaching and developing our players as outlined in this article. Though not everyone may deal with a transient student-athlete population, I think many of the things I have outlined can help in off-season program building. We all deal with sharing athletes or occasionally players transferring in or out of our school for various reasons. The point is to have a plan on how to handle this without sacrificing what you need to do to develop your players and align your culture year-to-year. I have outlined a general philosophy and timeline that we use in off-season programming. If anyone wants to know more or has specific questions regarding any part of our off-season plan, feel free to contact me at any time. I hope that you were able to pull one or two things from this article that can help your team improve going into next season!
Meet Coach Jake Novotny: Named Head Coach of the Trojans in 2016, Coach Novotny enters his 5th season at Fountain-Fort Carson High School in 2020. Before arriving in FFCHS, he spent 4 seasons (2012-2016) at Colorado State University-Pueblo as Tight Ends Coach (1 Year), Safeties Coach/GA (3 years), and Special Teams Assistant (4 years) where he was a part of 4 RMAC Conference Championships and the 2014 NCAA Division 2 National Championship. Before arriving at CSUP, Coach Novotny spent a spring coaching outside linebackers at Augustana College (D3-Ill) in 2012. He received his coaching start at Heritage High school in Littleton, CO where he coached on the 2009 4A State Championship team.