As the football season draws to a close for most programs throughout the country, I find an essential part of your development lies in self- and peer-reflection. While this is easier said than done, thanks to the schedules of high school coaches who shuffle from sport to sport, it’s imperative to get to these tasks before the offseason preparation begins for the next season.
I usually take the weekend of Thanksgiving to work through the following assessments on how the year shaped out. At the end of each season, it’s important for coaches to take a good look in the mirror and provide an honest assessment of their craft while considering the feedback of their players and other coaches.
The first rule I use when evaluating my success as a coach is simple — don’t place too much importance on the win/loss record.
As contradictory as that sounds, it’s important to be objective and take all factors into consideration before making a self-judgment. After all, there are many elements that attribute to success (or failure) during the season.
Circumstances such as injuries, turnovers and other outside obstacles can easily shift the balance between a winning and losing season. I remember former FBShead coach Rich Rodriguez telling me that some of the best coaching he ever conducted resulted in two- or three-win seasons.
So I try to have some perspective and answer the following questions after each season:
- Did I devote enough time to develop the skill sets of my players?
- Did I get my players to play hard each and every week?
- Was I a good football teacher for my players and my staff?
- Were my players playing in the right position to maximize their success on the field?
- Was I involved enough with parents, support staff and administration?
- Was I a good public ambassador for the football program?
While there are other factors specific to each individual program, these questions are a solid framework to gauge my coaching ability that season.
The week before the season ends, I schedule a 20-minute block of time to sit down one-on-one with each player post-practice.
It’s hard to meet with all players on the team, so I’ll select the ones that I’ve had the most interaction with. (For example, a position coach could meet with his varsity position players or a coordinator with the 14–15 consistent performers on that side of the ball).
I find that if I don’t get this done before the season officially ends, it’s hard to connect with players when they’re playing other sports. It’s a process I started with a dual purpose — to provide returning players with a plan to improve for the next season, but also to get their feedback on how I coached them.
While it does take some vulnerability to engage in the latter discussion, the outcomes of these conversations are immeasurable in improving as a coach.
I begin with asking my players the following questions:
- What did you like most about this season?
- What did you like least about this season?
- Was I completely honest when working with you?
- How, specifically, can I help your development on the field?
- How, specifically, can I help your off-field development as a person?
- What are your personal goals for next season?
My goal is to elicit honesty among my players. The easy part is getting these responses — kids are incredibly honest when they are away from their peers. The challenge is turning their feedback into a development plan heading into the offseason.
Each player will get a development plan (which could be as brief as one or two pages). Then I’ll follow up after the next season with them to see if we accomplished the goals.
This is the most difficult task of the three because it demands honesty among your peer group, which is why a one-on-one, private setting works best. These types of meetings are primarily for head coaches and coordinators and may not be necessary for position coaches.
While I recommend meeting directly after the season when things are still fresh, it can be difficult coordinating schedules with coaches who have other jobs and families to occupy their time.
When we do sit down, I make sure I ask the following questions:
- Did I sufficiently prepare you each week to coach your position?
- Did I answer every question you had about running this system?
- Did I hold you accountable in coaching your position?
- Did I give you the autonomy to coach in a style you were comfortable with
- Did I hold you in a high regard in front of the players?
- Was I a good example of living the program’s mission statement?
- Did I ever put you in a compromising position where you couldn’t carry out your duties to the best of your ability?
- Did I help you enjoy the game of football and working with our players?
Whatever comes from this particular conversation, both parties must be willing to take criticism and move on. No holding grudges or harboring ill will, regardless of whether or not that coach stays on staff. Decisions could be made based on these conversations, but they shouldn’t directly impact any of these decisions.
As the years add up, we can forget every year of coaching is different. I’ve often assumed I know the pulse of my team and coaching staff. This simple postseason progression not only challenges that assumption, it solidifies the mission of any coach — to evaluate himself before he can evaluate his staff and players.