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A Strategy for Team Buildingby: Chris Dawson
Strength and Conditioning Coach Kansas State University
© More from this issue
Players today are not any different than when I began coaching nearly 20 years ago. However, the number of outside distractions that players are exposed to almost daily has increased tenfold. It is because of these increased distractions that the player-coach relationship has become so significant. So many of these distractions that student-athletes are exposed to daily do nothing but tear down the values that we spend countless hours trying to instill in our players, primarily the value of the TEAM.
Football is a team sport, in which one player is reliant on the other one hundred plus players in order to achieve not only their individual goals, but also collective goals. Therefore, it is imperative that our players understand that the needs of the team will always take precedence over the day-to-day comforts and wants of the individual players. In order to emphasize this, we must create an environment which does exactly that in addition to one in which players want to continually work to improve.
Everything that we do from a training standpoint for our athletes is geared to making our players better teammates. A better teammate has done everything he can to prepare himself mentally and physically, is selfless, is coachable, understands and embraces his role on the team, and always puts the team before himself. If they are the best teammate they can be, then we will be the best team that we can be.
A few years ago I wrote an article in which I correctly stated that football is a game that is played below the waist, and above the neck, emphasizing first and foremost the training of the legs and hips, and their relevance to putting a player in position to make plays. However, I incorrectly stated that my primary focus as a strength coach was to train “below the waist.” I could not have been more incorrect. I have had the privilege of being a strength coach for the last 18 years, and there is nothing that supersedes the training “above the neck.” If what is going on between the ears of your players is not in line with the team’s goals, it does not matter what else is occurring on a day-to-day basis from a physical training standpoint. We will never meet our expectations as a player or as a team.
Let your players know that you care about them. You cannot fake this, and this is not easy, as it takes time. Find out about their family, where they are from, and what they like or do not like. Players need to know that you spend two hours a day concerned about the number on their jersey, and 22 hours a day caring about the name on the back.
Make sure that you speak the same language that your athletes speak. Displaying your knowledge of strength and conditioning by explaining triple extension, and concentric versus eccentric to your players may prove to be more confusing than helpful to your athletes. In order to illustrate a point, use coaching cues that they can relate to and understand.
Second, I ask them where there focus is when it comes to training. It is important that we encourage our players to stay focused on the task at hand relative to training, and achieving their expectations. It is the difference in attacking the work, and doing the work. It is the difference in knowing you will win versus hoping you will win.
Finally, we want to establish accountability amongst the players through training. It is important that as teammates, they understand that they are a part of something larger than themselves, and that their attitude and effort have an impact on more than just themselves. We want to create a situation in which the players feel a responsibility to their teammates to perform at a high level with a winning attitude. Ultimately, it is the player’s choice. Their attitude and effort are the two things which we have the least control over but have the greatest impact on their development. There are no excuses. We either get better or we get worse. All we ask is that our players take ownership of their daily performance and the team’s results.
When properly implemented in training, these adverse and uncomfortable situations will promote communication, leadership, competitiveness, and accountability to one another. In addition, it will also encourage discipline, and sacrifice amongst teammates for the betterment of the team. It identifies in a team setting who can be counted on, and helps to instill confidence among teammates. Equally as important, adversity in training will identify and expose those who are selfish and soft, and not ready to put the team before themselves. We need to understand that this is commonplace with first year players and very indicative as to why so few true freshmen play. It takes time. That is why we call it player development. It is our job to help them develop.
We run our team in three different groups - linemen (OL/DL), big skill (QB/FB/TE/LB/DE/K/P), and skill (WR/DB/RB). We begin by having the first group start the first sprint (i.e., 40 yards) on the coach’s whistle. Another coach will be standing at the finish line and will blow a whistle when the last person in the first group crosses the finish line. This whistle starts the sprint for the second group. When the last person in the second group crosses the finish line, another whistle is blown which starts the sprint for the third and last group. Again, a whistle is blown when the last person in the third group crosses the finish line, which starts the second sprint for the first group coming back to the original starting line.
This process is repeated until everyone has completed the designated number of sprints. The time that the team is expected to make is a cumulative time and not dependant on any one person, but rather on the entire team. The idea is that if someone is struggling, or not giving good effort, then others have to pick up the slack. The concept is exactly what teams live out during the course of a game or a season. Your teammates are counting on you, and your effort or lack thereof has a direct effect on the rest of the team.
They perform the drill for five minutes straight, alternating reps with the other teammates in their group. Each group works one station on any given day. Each week we rotate, and that particular group performs a different drill. Some ideas for the five stations include board pushes, battle ropes, tire flips, sled drives, and DB farmer’s walk.
This is a good way to let the players know what their teammates think of them as those choosing the losing team will have additional up-downs or something similar. We can tell players again and again, but the message received seems to carry much more weight when it comes from their teammates. Some ideas for competitions include tug-of-war, relay races, or whatever else the mind can conjure up to encourage players to compete at a high level. Without question, competition brings out the best, as well as exposes the worst. It creates adversity, and instills confidence.
I believe it is a great way for our staff to keep up on the progress of all of our players, as well as a great source of feedback for our team. The players take a great interest in the assessment because they know that their teammates are also reading it. I want our offensive line to know how the running backs are working, and vice versa. Over time, as we build better teammates, and ultimately a better team, I want our players to gain confidence in their teammates’ preparation and commitment which will result in them gaining confidence as a team and the product that they take to the field.
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