Developing the Servant Leader In Your Football Family

Nov 17, 2019 | Leadership / Character Development, Program Development

By Clay Iverson
Head Coach
Mukwonago High School (Mukwonago, WI)


iversonAs always it is a pleasure to contribute a report for X and O Labs, it is a great place to go to learn, add to, and gain research on a number of items related to a game that has meant so much to me and to many others. 

I have not only thought it to be an honor to contribute a piece to X and O but also it is fun, I like sharing what we do from an on the field perspective.  I have never had an issue with sharing any of the schemes, plays or series we run at Mukwonago or where I have been.  I do not get paranoid about who has our film, and in general if one of our opponents had our play book I would be just fine with that.  There is no magic in there, and as many of you know there is no magic in any playbook.  The X’s and O’s of football are easy to learn and if you have the internet and the ability to read, well, you can get whatever you are looking for and then some.  So sharing in these areas has been a great experience.

This report’s topic however, is something we rarely share outside our program.  One reason is people don’t ask, which I think is too bad.  The second reason is we don’t bring in up because it has let us have success at multiple places in multiple leagues.  I suppose selfishly we like to keep it in house.  I do feel though more and more coaches are starting to understand the importance of leadership training and teaching family (not just preaching family) within a program.

We Want to Win

I think sometimes when coaches hear leadership or developing the complete person or family they feel that means putting winning on the back burner.  I know that is what I thought, until I started to listen to what the great programs were doing.  When it came to scheme they were simple, when it came to program and player development they were very intricate.  Make no mistake I have never coached a game I didn’t want to, think, or prepared as hard as I could to win.

When I was younger I didn’t go to many of the leadership or team building clinic talks (I thought that was a waste of my time, especially when the guy down the hall was going to teach me a can’t fail way to protect my 5 step game vs. man pressure schemes).  Yikes, that seems absurd to me now. It is amazing the great players I got to coach when I first started who won enough games so I could stay in this great profession.

What sets programs apart is not the X’s and O’s and I would argue it is not so much the Jimmies and Joes either, but the development of the servant leader and the investment of a true football family.

Who is the Servant Leader

As a coach think about the things that you get upset about, I mean the things that really keep you up at night, that get under your skin.  If those things are how to run the smash route perfectly or what depth your safety should be at in cover 1 I would argue, humbly, you are a football enthusiast, not a football coach. 

While technique and scheme are important they are meaningless without a group of young men that are dedicated to improving daily, love one another, and have the courage to serve others before themselves.

My main concern as a coach now, the things that keep me up at night, are reaching the level of complete servant leadership within our program.  This includes the following:

Having players who:

  1. Sacrifice anything that would take away from the team’s success (parties, soda, junk fund, too many video games, drugs and alcohol, etc.)
  2. Put (family) team success over their own individual stats or honors
  3. Play and practice hard all the time
  4. Never miss a 6:00 AM lift
  5. Are great young men in school and in the community

A football coach likes to win, if you had a team full of guys that are all in on the 5 above points, I think winning takes care of itself and not to mention you will get rid of those restless nights (well at least most of them).

Developing the Servant Leader and the Family

As with most things in football the devil is in the details.  We have all given our leadership talks, preached the importance of being a family, and maybe even threw in a leadership counsel or retreat.  I think all of that is great and they are all great items to use when developing a team of leaders and servers.  However, you need a game plan or else just like on Friday night everything kind of runs together into “what should we do next” situations.

Here is our servant leadership/family development game plan; we use it for all 10-12th graders, and pick parts of it to use with freshmen and even throughout our youth programs.