In order to get the most out of your squad, you need your players to be more than teammates.

Summer is in full swing and families are trying to reconnect and deepen their bond before school starts back in session. The 4th of July is a popular time to travel, but it also marks a time when various players return to football. Whether it’s summer youth flag teams, youth football camps, acclimatization practices or summer contact days, football is back!

Sports have a way of bringing people together - whether on the field or in from the stands, there is a sense of unity. It can be as simple as a family playing ball on a Saturday afternoon to an entire community pulling together under the Friday night lights.

Football is more than just a game - it's a bond, and it goes beyond the football field. I started using the #footballfamily hashtag a few years ago because football, like all sports, provides a connection, a sense of belonging to a group. Players start playing for different reasons: to be active, follow in their parents’ footsteps, a chance at a better life, to make friends, etc. Something happens every time they step on the field. Players learn to rely on each other because football is not a sport of individuals or playmakers. It is a sport that unifies individuals into a working machine. The quarterback needs the offensive line just as much as the tight ends and the receivers. The offense relies on the success of the defense and vice versa. It is crucial that every player is fine tuned in their skill set so they can work as one team, one unit.  

Football takes that unspoken bond to the next level when players become accountable for each other, challenging each other on and off the field. They ultimately become family. I can personally attest to the magnitude of this from my time as an athlete as well as a coach. Seasons come and go, trophies lead to stories and pictures capture a moment of history, but the bonds that are created during those moments last forever. My most recent coaching experience has left me with an amazing addition to my #footballfamily. I had the honor to be the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for the 2017 Australian Outback Women’s National Team. Even though I am in the U.S. and they are spread across Australia, we were brought together during two selection camps and the Women’s World Championship Game in Langley, BC. Our time together was short, but the bonds that were created over the last two years will continue to grow.

Here are a few ideas to help create a #footballfamily environment within your team:

·   Establish team accountability

·   Hold study groups and team dinners

·   Support all school sports

·   Set up team building exercises

·   Set team goals

·   Volunteer as a team

·   Host team movie or video game night

·   Camp out on the football field

·   Have an overnight Rec Night in the school gym

My personal experiences with football have led me to where I am today. The continued support of my coaches and teammates pushed me to be a better athlete, which pushed me to be a better student. It is because of football that I pursued going to college to become a teacher. My coaching career has broadened my #footballfamily more than I could have ever imagined. From my travels across the world, I have had the opportunity to work with exceptional people along the way. The common thread that they all share is their love of football and wanting each player to achieve their fullest potential both on the field and in life.

Remember, by creating a #footballfamily environment within your team you are instilling confidence that allows players to push through the hard times. You are providing them with hope to survive the times when they want to give up. You are creating moments that last a lifetime!

Please share how you encourage a #footballfamily environment with your team by using #Hudlfootballfamily.

The picture at the top of this post is from an event I had the honor to help run. I want to thank President John Nixon for letting me use his picture from his Trans Valley Youth Football League camp in California. This picture speaks a thousand words. It shows how the vision of one man can have an impact on many people. He leads by example and it is an honor to call him a part of my #footballfamily.

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 football camp to your organization, city, or country.

Follow him on Twitter @Coach_Stone_MT.