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Your Take: Long Hours, Hard Work – Do You Spend Your Time Doing What Matters Most?

by: David Buchanan
Head Coach at Mason County H.S., Maysville, KY
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If you are a head football coach, chances are that you are also a husband, father and classroom teacher. Usually guys that are wired to be a head football coach are wired to give their best in everything they do. How in the world do you balance all of the demands that go with those roles? Are you active in your church? I have spent 23 years as a head football coach. The last 19 years were at Mason County High School (KY). I underestimated how much work I would have to do when I became the new head football coach at Mercer County High School. This experience has forced me to prioritize what I do so that I maximize my time and spend it in a way that it will have the biggest, most positive impact on our program.

Over 20 years ago at a clinic, Sam Harp, former Danville High School (KY) coach with seven state titles, shared a master list of what a coach needs to do, broken down by the months of the year. That list has been a big help, but when I took the job at Mercer County in April, I became overwhelmed with everything I was NOT getting done. On a day that we had spring practice, I woke up at 4 am and just started working to try to get a handle on what needs to get done. The four-hour round trip, teaching school in Maysville, and doing spring practice in Harrodsburg, is making it tough to complete every task. It is very important that the 2015 seniors in my new job get an opportunity to win at a high level and that they get a great experience playing their last year of high school football.

In prioritizing what needs to get done, I have broken the year down into the following: Winter, Spring, Pre-season, Season, and Post-season. I guess I just can’t seem to bring myself to use the expression “off-season” because there is very little “off” time.

Each page/period has five columns: 1) Big Picture: 10 year plan (development of young men); 2) Player Development: Strength, Speed, Change of Direction, Reaction, Football Technique; 3) Finances  4) Feeder Programs  5) Nuts and Bolts (less important items but still needs to get done).

I am already sleeping better! I am accepting that I may not get everything done I want to do, but I will make sure that I get done the things that matter the most:  1- What helps people? 2- What helps us win?

One of the things I have noticed, and the document shows it to be the case, that in many ways the season is easier than the rest of the year. In-season, all you do is coach your team and keep everything on track. After the season is when you lay the groundwork for long-term success in addition to a successful upcoming season. Here are some of the highlights:

From March through the end of July you get hit hard with the nuts and bolts of preparing for the season. Trying to work ahead or share some of this with assistants will allow you to spend July and August on more football and less “running a program”.

Nuts and Bolts - Spring

•  Conclude evaluation of opponent’s video.
•  Set summer workout/practice dates.
•  Order decals.
•  Put away equipment from spring practice. Clean.
•  Reorder award board material.
•  Make sure Bermuda mower is ready.
•  Initial prep for defensive game plans with defensive coordinator.
•  Prepare summer and fall weekly practice schedules.
•  Plan, prepare, and conduct parent meeting.
•  Take care of staffing issues - teaching positions and best candidates.
•  Plan July workouts.
•  Plan July/August practices. Prepare preliminary script for first game, and possibly second.
•  Make plans to reseed game field.
•  Webpage complete.
•  Summer/fall dates to bosses.
•  Parent book to printer.
•  Prepare wristbands, get to printer.

Nuts and Bolts - Pre-Season

•  Get meals organized for pre-season practice; confirm with school.
•  Check irrigation system for practice field.
•  Mark practice field.
•  Follow up, assist with physicals.
•  Check readiness of facility for summer workouts and practices - CLEAN/PAINT.
•  Check headphones.
•  Prepare practice equipment.
•  Make sure necessary supplies are on hand - i.e., dvd, markers(permanent/white/dry erase), detergent, picture frames,  sledge hammers, etc.
•  Prepare bus schedule for school transportation department.
•  Finalize scrimmages and officials.
•  Fund and order coaches apparel as well as possible.
•  Setup pictures.
•  Finalize all preliminary game plans and scripts.
•  Check off new equipment as received.
•  Prepare roster.
•  Locker numbers, assignments and organization.
•  Laminate script.

The three biggest priorities, in this order, are the development of young men, player development, and the feeder program. When I had it all in one list, some times those priorities got lost in the long list with the nuts and bolts. By dividing it out and giving each area one column, it made the MUST do items stand out.

Here are some examples from January and February. These lists illustrate how the job has grown and what the general public doesn’t realize - some of the most important work a high school football coach will do is in the dead of winter. If we are going to do all we can to help our kids be successful, there is work to be done, and I would argue some of our most important work. I call the Big Picture the 10 Year Plan, because the big picture of our program is where will our guys be 10 years from now?  Will they be successful husbands and fathers? Will they be contributing to their communities and serving others?

Big Picture: 10 Year Plan

•  Monitor student-athlete behavior, grades. Take appropriate action.
•  Prep video to be distributed in February.
•  Video for upcoming fall seniors, potential FBS players, distributed immediately after signing day.
•  Current senior video should be completed, but finish up what is not.

On player development, I try to be specific in the areas that we want to see improvement. This is much more complicated than it use to be. I am a football guy. Strength and Conditioning guys have a very strong set of beliefs about what is the best way to address these areas. What one coach will say is the best thing you can do while another coach will say is harmful and/or a waste of time. I don’t have a great answer on how to navigate it. But, I try to take into consideration what I have seen that works and what is simple enough that I can teach, implement, and the kids can understand.

Strength, Speed, Change of Direction/Reaction; Football Technique

•  Optimize weight class for all of the above.
•  Tweak/organize Perfection Workouts with incoming freshmen. Perfection Workouts take placed during two cycles, one before spring practice and one after. Each cycle lasts five weeks with two workouts per week. Each workout is 30 minutes of offense and 30 minutes of defense. It is a combination of fundamentals and installation without pads.
•  Continue after school weight program.
•  Professional development as coaches (personally and staff) - film study, cutups, books, clinics, visits to college programs planned for spring.
•  Organize and plan spring practice: schedules, personnel, issue equipment, ready practice field, prepare and conduct staff meetings.

Feeder programs have always been critical for a football program. In the 21st century, they are even more important because of heat/concussion concerns and the fact that kids have so many more choices today in how they spend their time.

Feeder Programs-January and February

•  Organize and plan a recruit night for incoming freshmen.
•  Encourage Perfection Workouts for incoming freshmen.
•  Attend basketball games, youth to high school.
•  Plan/visit each elementary school and the area middle schools.
•  Parent/player meetings set up at elementary and middle schools.

Recruit night is an evening that we try to treat the players like they are on a college recruiting visit. We feed them and two family members and provide them with three tickets to a high profile varsity basketball game. They get a chance to see our facilities, meet our coaches and ask questions.

I started doing this because I have great assistant coaches and I believed if I could get those kids and families in front of my coaches, they would want to be around those guys. In the winter of 2015, I sent by email and Facebook that I would meet with anyone in grades 6-11 that was interested in football at their house or at our football office. Recruiting kids to play football has never been more important or been a bigger part of being a head football coach.

I am willing to share the document if you will email me at: I am an old school guy in that I believe that high school football and the football coach is one of the last places in the 21st century that kids get that balance of “I will look you in the eye, tell you the truth, even when you don’t want to hear it”, but at the same time make sure a kid knows we love him and will run through a wall to help him. A football program should be a place where kids get accountability because their coach cares about them and they are striving to be champions on and off the field.  The bottom line is that what we do is worth doing and it is worth figuring out how we can do the things that matter the most! If this article was beneficial to you, you will like this book:


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