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Managing Your Programby: Keith Grabowski
Offensive Coordinator Baldwin-Wallace College
© June 2012
Promoting and Building Your Program in Today’s Multiple Choice Society
Looking back on how I grew up, I recall not having many choices. We had a 13” color TV that received three network channels. There were no video game consoles or DVD players hooked up to it. In the fall I played football, in the winter, basketball, and in the spring, baseball. There weren’t many things to think about or do besides those three sports, and growing up in Northeast Ohio, football dominated the others.
As I raise my son today, I realize that every day he has a multitude of choices about what he can do to entertain himself. Unfortunately, there are always the bad influences, but we strive and hope that through proper parenting and organized sports we will enable our youth to steer clear of activities that negatively impact them. In fact, kids have so many choices today that if coaches aren’t actively promoting football and constantly showing the lower levels of their programs the benefits of coming through and graduating from them, they inevitably will lose them to other influences and activities.
Clearly, if your philosophy is to just open the door and take what you get, you will never be able to maximize the potential of your program. Even if you’re a public high school coach who only has a limited pool of players from which to choose, you must promote the program in a way that kids and their parents desire to be a part of it.
In 2004, after my first season at a big school program, I was faced with harsh adversity that threatened the future of my program at all levels. We had just come off the second best season in school history and re-written the record books. Unfortunately, our future was in the hands of voters, who nixed a school levy and forced a $450 pay-to-play-fee. Administrators forewarned us we would need to fight to maintain a varsity roster and probably would lose our numbers at our lower levels as well as our fundraising. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It changed the way I thought about developing a program and certainly still influences the way I think about recruiting and building a rapport with recruits and players at the college level.
The first task we needed to accomplish was to get the attention and support of parents. Having meetings would not work. Parents in the district already had plenty of levy meetings to attend. But we still needed to get in front of them, and also our players. We found all the resources we needed within our district. We used the high school TV studio and students (some were football players) to help us produce a video that showed and explained the value of our program. It was slickly produced with exciting highlights throughout and heartfelt words from our players, parents and me explaining why our program was something beneficial in which everyone should be involved. Our seniors earnestly discussed what it meant for them to go through our program.
We arranged times during lunch periods at our schools for interested students from the sixth grade and higher to meet with some of our more popular players who helped us sell the program. We provided pizza as a draw for the students. At the end of the lunch period, every prospective student-athlete left with a letter and a video to take home and watch with their parents. The message in the video was directed to both parents and players.
We followed up with letters to each prospective player reinforcing our message. The letters were tailored to each grade level, as was our follow-up plan. As part of our follow-up, we had activities planned which allowed us to connect with all the potential players in our program. We hosted video game tournaments for the junior high and freshmen levels. On the varsity level, we arranged monthly activities to keep our active players involved in the program throughout the off-season. We were sure to hold those activities when all of our athletes could attend, even those who were involved in other sports. We also encouraged our players to recruit and bring along to the activities students who they felt would be a good addition to our program.
This recruiting program for our high school players was a combination of activities that were fun, challenging and helpful to the community. Our fun and challenging events included a video game tournament, a father-son-basketball tournament, a strongman competition, and a challenge-type conditioning activity on “Crown Hill.” We strategically scheduled events on what we had identified as some of the worst attended days of off-season training and turned them into some of the best attended activities.
We also developed an attitude of giving back to the community. We didn’t want our players developing an attitude of blame for their new cost of participation. Therefore, our team gave thousands of hours of their time to help refurbish playgrounds and read to kids at elementary schools (another way to get the young kids thinking about football), clean up city parks and volunteer as instructors in our youth camps.
The results of our work as a staff were unbelievable. We not only maintained our roster numbers, we increased them and fielded the biggest roster in school history. We increased our numbers at all levels two years in a row, and we increased our fundraising. We did this through a sound plan that showed the benefits of what we were doing in our program and added value to the parents and players who were deciding if the $450 for 10 Friday nights was worth it.
As noted, we also were told that our fundraising would take a hit. Our greatest surprise was that our goodwill to the community, paired with what we did to show the value of our program, increased our fundraising that season and each year thereafter.
The adversity we faced put us into survival mode. Our backs were to the wall and we had to do more than just fight, but rather do something in both the short and long term to keep our program thriving. When we finished the process, we understood that we were onto something. We had become stronger as a program. By our third year in the program, a team that had come through the system at the lower levels without a winning season pulled together and posted a winning record as seniors.
We were outwardly and actively selling our program and making a difference in the lives of the kids who became a part of it. Our activities helped us build a strong player-to-player and coach-to-player connection. We were in touch with and impacting young players we might not have even known until they were in the high school. And, most importantly, we were actively showing them the benefits of our program and engaging a committed group of youngsters and their parents.
Overall, we were developing a culture in which football was valued in spite of its potential cost to families. Remember, something that was free would now cost $2,700 to participate in from junior high through high school.
Having a plan for involvement at all levels is very important in today’s multiple choice society. As coaches, if we aren’t out promoting our program and the value of being a part of it, something else will grab the attention of those prospective student-athletes and their families. We will then miss out on an opportunity where we could have made a difference.
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