Anthony Stone lays out why it’s critical to empower your veteran players to ensure your team maintains one voice.

Football is more than a simple game where a ball is just thrown back and forth. It instills discipline and loyalty at all levels. Coaches are responsible for grooming and directing an athlete’s ability on the field through various skills.

But a coach’s responsibility extends beyond the physical level. That is why it is so important to lead by example. Stop and think what your coaching style is. Are you a drill sergeant, yelling at athletes as a way to motivate them to perform better, or a teacher, stopping and encouraging an athlete by teaching them the proper techniques and at the same time improving their self-confidence?  Either case there is ONE voice in football – the coach!  So how do athletes survive when there is a change in the coaching staff and style? The secret is consistency through senior leadership.

Senior leadership is comprised of the older student-athletes, the veterans of the team. These players have been groomed by the coaching staff and the players that came before them. They encompass the qualities of a team captain: disciplined, respected, organized, and trusted, etc.  The players have completely bought into the program and are looked to by their peers for guidance. That is why it is important for a coach to build a culture around the team not an individual. Individuals come and go but a football family is forever.

As a coach it is important to identify and test the senior leadership to see if they are there for the team or for themselves. Will they help hold the team together both on and off the field?  It’s also beneficial to meet with the team as a whole and recognize the role the veterans play and their importance to the team, including the hard work, dedication, and sacrifice they give. The team will buy into a culture if they feel they have a voice.

It can be hard for an athlete to commit to a program for all four years, especially if there is a staff change. You may not be able to control the outcome of the coaching staff, but if you can set the mindset of the team to one voice, you can provide consistency within the team. As I stated in my previous blog, “Team Slogans Can Lead to Greatness,” football is a state of mind and something as simple as a few words can unite a team and inspire them to greatness!

As you reflect on your own team, and more specifically, meetings with the seniors, what do you discuss?  The following is how I would conduct a senior meeting:

  • Meet in a place that has no interruptions, like a conference room or home, and stay until all points have been covered and everyone is happy with the final outline.
  • Reflect on the past season and discuss any changes that need to be made.
  • Create a list of any relative issues or challenges the team might face in the upcoming season.
  • Have the seniors come up with “What If” scenarios and a solution to each scenario. For example:
    • Problem - What happens if players don’t show up for summer workouts?
    • Result - The team doesn’t perform to its maximum potential during the season.
    • Solution - Form a support system among players to challenge and motivate one another so they don’t miss.
  • Once the senior meeting is concluded I type up the notes and give the coaching staff a few days to review what was discussed. We then discuss it further and compile additional notes.
  • I combine both sets of notes to make a final version and give a copy to every player and coach so they understand what changes need to be made in order for the team to grow.

In order to have one voice, the team first needs to think as one unit. It builds consistency. By involving the senior athletes on your team, you are empowering them to be the leaders of their football team.

A great example is something Frank Beamer of Virginia Tech did with his team at every practice. He would take the notes from the senior meetings, type them up and place them in an old, blue lunch box.  He would then place the lunch box on the 50-yard line to show the players they are apart of something bigger and that they helped form the team by establishing the rules.  

Glenn Edward “Bo” Schembechler, Jr. of the University of Michigan said it best:  “There is no one player or coach bigger than our team. It is about the team, team and team!”

Just like senior leadership, the coaching staff needs to adhere to the same mindset; it is not about one person, it is about the team!  Remember to make all players feel important by giving them a voice and to set the bar high for future leaders! Please share how you involve and mold your senior leadership by using #HudlSrLeadership.

Anthony Stone is a Physical Education teacher at Gregory Elementary School and Quarterbacks Coach at Boylan High School in Rockford, Ill.  He is also the Defensive Coordinator and Assistant Head Coach for the Women’s Australian National Outback 2017 Team & writes blogs for Firstdown Playbook. 

In July 2016, he was named to the Hudl 100 list. He has presented at IAPHERD, the top physical education convention in Illinois, on how to get students moving with his Games Galore presentations. He has also presented at the Chicago Glazier Clinics on quarterbacks & special teams. He was the Defensive Coordinator for the 2010 U.S. Women’s National Tackle Football Team, winners of the IFAF Women’s World Championship in which Team USA did not allow a point in three games with an overall score of 201-0. Stone has coached in the CIFL and the IWFL Leagues as well as Beloit College (Linebackers/Special Teams Coordinator) and Rockford University (Quarterbacks/Wide Receivers). 

Stone has also coached football at the youth, middle school and high school level. He will be putting on fundamental youth football camps around the world in 2017.  Please contact him to bring his "Back to the Basics Youth Football Camp" to a city near you.

Follow him on Twitter @Coach_Stone_MT.