My next job was at Christopher Columbus High School, a large, inner-city school in the Bronx, New York. I was hired by one of the greatest developers of character in coaching today, David Diaz. When Coach Diaz was hired, the program was in the midst of a 27 game losing streak. Participation was way down, and the players didn't believe they could win. As a coaching staff we were all very fiery, demanding, and enthusiastic, and that translated into some success. We had the first winning season in school history our first year, and in the second year went to the playoffs. We thought we had begun building a strong foundation for significant success.
We are at a point where we felt like we were ready to get over the hump and win a playoff game. We had taken a program that had never had a winning season to the playoffs. We had a talented group coming back. Everything seemed to be lined up for us to have a big year. Then we ran into a buzz saw. Our kids were making some very poor decisions off the field. We had to suspend several players and lost others to grades. It was one of the most disappointing seasons of my coaching career. We were mentally weak on and off the field.
After the season we were complaining about how we had a lack of leadership. It was about this time we met Dennis Parker at a clinic and he talked about implementing character education into a football program. We talked with him for an hour after his talk and decided this is what was missing. This turned out to be the most important clinic talk of my coaching career.
We made a decision that we were going to teach character and leadership with intent. We were going to be as intentional in teaching character as we were in teaching our guys how to squat. Too often we think the sport itself teaches character. If this were true, every kid that played football would demonstrate high character. Sports don't teach character, coaches do.
That was an important epiphany we went through. What are we teaching? Are we teaching them to act a certain way? We are, but it may not be what we intend to teach. If we wanted to develop a culture of high character, high energy, mental toughness, everything we had to do had to build this culture.
Too often we think that character and leadership just happen. We say things like, "this group just weren't very good leaders." Or, "this senior class didn't know how to lead." This is when a good self-evaluation is needed. These are the questions we need to ask:
1. What did we do to develop positive leaders in our program?
2. How much time did we spend focused on teaching character with intent?
3. What might we have done that was detrimental to the leadership and character of this group?
4. Where can we find time to improve the leadership and teach character lessons with this group?
The biggest hindrance for us was the worry about what we would have to give up to take time to teach character and leadership? How much time in the weight room would we give up? How much film time would we give up? Where would we make up the practice time?
After talking with Dennis Parker and D.W. Rutledge, we made a decision that we wouldn't have to give anything up. With stronger leaders and a better foundation of character, our workouts would be better and more efficient. We would have higher intensity and better focus. While we would use some of our time to teach leadership and character, this use of time was actually an investment. We would get a return far greater than what we put in.
It was early February when Coach Diaz made the decision that we were going to go "all in" on teaching character. We took one week where we went into the classroom, focusing on character. On Fridays we had our seniors to be go through leadership development program. After the first week we spent 20 minutes a day, three days a week before workouts in the classroom. One of the reasons this was successful is that each of our coaches bought in to what we were doing and sold it passionately to our kids.
One of the first things we did in the classroom was had our athletes fill out a sheet that gave us some information on them that was deeper than simply who they are. We wanted to know who they lived with, what their home life was like, what their dreams were, and what their goals were. We wanted to learn about their hopes and dreams and fears. We wanted them to understand that we loved them unconditionally because of who they were, not because of what they did.
Up until this point we had coached in a very transactional way. We told them what do do and expected them to do it. If they didn't we expressed disappointment. Often we had conflict and there was a genuine mistrust. They began to fear screwing up because they would face our wrath. Because they feared screwing up, they began to taking any risks at all. They wouldn't try to break personal records in the weight room. They wouldn't try to make a difficult play on the field. They sometimes would freeze under pressure. How did we respond? We yelled at them more. And then we wondered by they weren't improving their performance.
Character education and leadership development changed all this. Instead of a transactional form of coaching, we began a transformational form of coaching. Not only did our players begin to change, we began to change as coaches. Instead of yelling at our players and berating them, we began to coach them through mistakes and remind them of how they can do it better. This doesn't mean we didn't yell. The difference was the purpose of our yelling. Our purpose was to uplift and build them up!
Part of our leadership component involved empowering our players to take ownership of the successes an challenges we faced. We wanted them to know it was their deal and all about them. Instead of us setting the goals, we had the players set team goals. We had them set our goals for the winter and spring, goals for the summer, and goals for the season. We had them come up with a framework of expectations. It was amazing to watch them blossom through this process.
The results were outstanding! They began to think about the man next to them and the good of the team when they made a decision. Their decisions began to improve both on and off the field. Our players began to walk a little bit taller. Their grades improved and they began to show excitement for their future. When we first arrived most of our players were taking summer school to get eligible. After implementing a character education program we rarely lost a kid to eligibility.
Perhaps the biggest thing that happened was the trust that was built. They began to trust that we really cared about them as more than athletes. We cared about them in life. We cared about what happened to them when we weren't around them. Our relationships with our players improved and we built bonds that will never be broken. And the relationships they built with each other were strengthened. They began to care about each other and truly became a family.
Did we win more games? Yes we did. We enjoyed a very good six year run of sustained success. We won playoff games for the first time in school history. Our kids were much better at handling adversity. They learned to push themselves to new limits. They developed a solid mental toughness that powered them through challenges they faced. Most importantly, they learned it isn't about them. It is bigger than them. Everything they do and every choice they make will impact others.
Teaching character and leadership will help you leave a lasting legacy. Everything we do as coaches will have an impact on our kids. That impact can be positive, or it can be negative. By teaching character and leadership we can greatly increase the chances that our student-athletes will have a very positive, life-changing experience in our program.
My experience at Christopher Columbus High School gave me tremendous appreciation for the value of teaching character and leadership. While I was a coordinator at the college level we emphasized character and leadership with our student-athletes.
I was blessed to get hired by Kent Jackson when I moved to Texas, one of the best men in the coaching business. We teach character with intent at Seminole High School. We invested a lot of time during two a days introducing our players to the concept of our character and leadership component. We use each day teach character and life lessons with our players.
At some point the good lord will present a head coaching opportunity, and you can be sure that character education and leadership development will be paramount to our program. It is our duty and responsibility as coaches to develop our players into great leaders with a strong moral compass.
The R.E.A.L Man Program
There are several character programs that are out there. One program I really like is called The R.E.A.L Man Program by Coach Frank DiCocco. It is simple to implement and all the materials are ready for use. I have used this with my athletes and in my classes. This program is being used by several high schools and colleges throughout the US. You can find more information clicking here: The Real Man Program
The Texas High School Coaches Association also has several resources available with their Game Changer Program. I highly recommend these resources as well! Game Changer Coaches
A few months back I published a couple of iBooks that can help your program with X's and O's. The first is on Installing RPO's into any offense. Here is a link to the iBooks version: http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1078061959. The ibooks version includes explanations, diagrams, and video clips on multiple RPO Concepts. It will give you a simple process for implementing them into your offense.
If you don't have an iPhone, iPad, or Mac, you can order the Amazon version for the Kindle. It has everything except the embedded video. You can order it here: http://www.amazon.com/Installing-Explosive-Concepts-Into-Offense-ebook/dp/B01B12YSCG/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
I also wrote a book on Tempo. It will greatly help you build a multiple tempo system with simple communication that will allow your kids to play with confidence. It also had over an hour of video clips! You can order the ibooks version here: http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1075902270.
Order the Amazon Kindle version here: