21-Hour Football Program: Creating an Off-Season Character Development Program

Jan 20, 2018 | Leadership / Character Development, Program Development

Jeff Tomlin
Head Football Coach
Grand Island High School (NE)




More and more, coaches are realizing that having a character development component present within their football program is important to developing players both on and off the field. The game of football is a tremendous platform for teaching the “game of life.” In my 30 years of coaching, I have always understood the importance for developing character, but I wasn’t always the best at implementation. The challenge was always when I would be able to squeeze in character development around the other demands of preparing a team and running a program. For that reason, character development for us was a “grab bag” approach with a quote here and a story there. 

Although I worked hard to teach the core values of honor, courage, commitment and loyalty, I wasn’t as impactful as I could have been because I lacked a systematic approach to making character development an established part of our program. As Coach Urban Meyer is quoted as saying, “average leaders have a quote, good leaders have a plan and great leaders have a system.” I wholeheartedly agree.  

The goal of this article is to outline the process we use in establishing and implementing our character development system and share with you how this has impacted our program. I am sure many of you have similar and perhaps superior systems in place, but it is my hope that I can share at least one idea with you worth including in your program. 

Element 1:  Establish Your Culture

The first step toward implementing character development into your program begins with establishing the culture of your program. Culture is nothing more than a program’s core beliefs, values, traditions, identity and ways of behaving. I am not here to tell anyone what type of culture to establish but instead to encourage coaches to figure out the “purpose” of your program and what you believe in. In short, your culture is “who you are” and “what you do”.  Without an established culture, it will be difficult to communicate and teach character. In many ways, culture and character are one and the same. 

We base our culture on a Code of Excellence. We believe in the relentless pursuit of excellence in the areas of attitude, effort, discipline, fundamentals and team unity. We believe that we have complete control over these five pillars and feel like, if we are excellent in these five areas, winning will take care of itself. We have also built our program upon the four core values of honor, courage, commitment and loyalty. We pride ourselves on being “blue collar” and in being a close-knit brotherhood. 

Element 2: Establish Clear Expectations

It is hard to have an effective character development program if you don’t clearly communicate policies and expectations. This is an obvious point, but an important one nonetheless. Everyone, including players, parents, football staff, boosters, administrators and support staff must have a clear idea of the vision, mission, policies and expectations of the program.