21 Hour Football Program – Case 4: The First Step to Building a Program

Jan 10, 2018 | Leadership / Character Development, Program Development

By Brian Hill
Head Football Coach
Garden City High School (KS)
Twitter: @coachbhill



Eight years ago I had the privilege to receive my first opportunity to be a Head Football Coach at Garden City High School (KS). Garden City, KS sits in the Southwest corner of Kansas, 70 miles from the Colorado border and 75 miles from the Oklahoma border. We participate in the largest classification in Kansas (6A). We are one of 32 teams in our classification and 30 of them are at least 200 miles away from us. The majority of the teams in our classification are in or around the Wichita and Kansas City areas. I had spent the previous 15 years coaching in the Kansas Junior College system as an assistant. This coaching experience provided opportunities to visit and watch from afar how successful Kansas high school coaches ran and developed their programs.

During the decade of the 1990's were the best years that Garden City High School had ever had, winning 70% of their games and the State Championship in 1999. Then with the departure of the coach and an ever-changing world, Garden City went through many changes within our community. The next decade would see a shift in the economy and change of demographics. During the 2016 school year at Garden City High School, there were 22 languages spoken by students from 25 different nations. Over 30% of our students are English Language Learners and 65% of our population is considered economically disadvantaged. Our enrollment during the 2016 school year was 68% Hispanic, 23% white and 9% other. Eight years ago, when I got the job I was told that it was going to be difficult to compete in such a large classification with a small pool of athletes to choose from compared to many other schools our size. Our isolation in far western Kansas was also going to be a challenge as school funding in our state has become a major factor and fewer and fewer schools have the funds to travel to fill our schedule. I heard a lot of reasons why I shouldn't be successful but no one was looking for solutions to lessen the impact of these factors. 

The first action step was to sit down with my assistant coaches and have them tell me all the reasons in their opinion why we weren't being successful and what the other schools had that we didn't. I took notes and typed up every single reason and began looking for ways to compensate for them. As many of the great athletes and coaches have said, it was time to turn negatives into positives. Since that spring in 2010 we have won 65% of our games, won three conference championships and made it to the 6A state semi-finals where we lost to the eventual champions. This past season we completed the first undefeated regular season in 25 years. Below are four areas that are not uncommon practices to turn a program around, but maybe unorthodox methods to achieve them.

Family Culture:

First and foremost, all good coaches know that they can't do it alone and hiring a quality staff is critical. I wanted to find guys who wanted to be here because not everyone wants to live and raise a family in Garden City, Kansas. Secondly, I wanted guys I can trust and share the same passion and vision as I did. I was very fortunate that when I took the job here there were two assistants that I had coached in junior college already on staff, which made for an easier transition because they knew me and my personality. Going into this fall, I now will have 7 of my 11 assistants at the high school level that are guys that I have coached at some point in my career. I think it is critical with today's athletes to present a coach to them that they can relate to. Fortunately for me, many of the former players that I have hired are former college athletes as well. Young coaches with energy and the experience of being in their shoes provide a great platform for high school athletes.

The second most important part of creating a family culture with so many kids with different backgrounds is team building activities. With so many of my kids that don't get many family vacations or opportunities to see the bright lights of big cities, we try to take advantage of every opportunity we can to provide that experience. For example, one summer while we attended a team camp in Oklahoma, we took a tour of the athletic facilities at Oklahoma State University on the way home, even though it was slightly out of the way. Most of my kids have never been on a Division I school campus, nor will ever get much of an opportunity to play at that level. Getting to walk thru the locker room, onto the field and thru meeting rooms allow them to dream a little bit which creates possibilities in their minds. We have also attended Major League baseball games, gone to water parks and even played paintball on our camp trips. These create great opportunities for players and coaches to get to know one another on a more personable level, rather than just the traditional coach-player relationship on the football field. We take the time to discuss issues about how and why it is important to becoming leaders on our team, in our school, and in our community. The relationships our coaches have with our players feed into all areas of their lives on and off the field. They provide the leadership and discipline in a young athlete's life to help set them up for success in the future.