By Jake Novotny
Head Football Coach
Fountain-Fort Carson High School (CO)
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 (see diagram 1) 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.