How to be a Student of the Game Part 2

This is Part 2 — read Part 1 here.

Read, read and read (or listen, listen and listen)

Coaching materials are plentiful and useful. I have attempted to continue to read not only from very well-known coaches, but from the high school coach that I can relate to much more often. Learning the game and continuing to gain knowledge is key. If you are a non-reader then there are multiple podcasts and video courses available to help in your quest for knowledge. There is plenty of material out there for those who wish to find it.

Coaching books have been great for me in my time as a coach. While some books are more impactful, typically each book has at least 2-3 items I can reflect on as a coach and use to grow. I am hopeful this book is another for you. One thing I have always attempted to do as a coach is to “preserve the core”, but continue to look for ways to help grow. To me this means to keep a core set of beliefs, but be open to how you achieve these beliefs. There are multiple ways to be successful as a coach, and each coach must decide the best path for them to take. Learning from multiple perspectives will help to see that the goal can be achieved through many paths.

With E-books and more and more coaches willing to put out information, there are more books to improve than ever before. Choose wisely, but continue to read and study not only the game, but also how to improve yourself as a coach and a person. Be constant learner and continue to grow as a person and as a coach.

Make a goal sheet of what you hope to learn

As a coach at any level, I believe we must be constant students of the game. Learning the rules inside and out to give our teams the best advantage. If we have decided to be the leader of a program it is our duty to be the most studious coach in the building. Constantly trying to learn more each season. Ultimately a team’s failures reflect the head football coach, there is no other way to look at it. So as a coach we must look at areas the team struggled and immediately address them.

Being intentional is the key as a head coach. Most of the time coaches understand what they’d like to see happen, but they are overwhelmed with all that must be done. If you work on a priority list or goal sheet, coaches can keep what is more important to them as the priority. Other items may not get attended to as quickly, but these items will be addressed and handled. There were many times in my career I felt I did not accomplish the main item I had on the agenda due to constant interruptions that come with the job. If you do not make a list of what must be done it often is easy to forget the main item that you wanted to accomplish. 

It is important that as a coach we recognize not only are deficiencies, but how to correct them. If we struggled in the 2-minute offense or we had issues in the red zone or even if we were not moving efficiently enough in a practice schedule or workout, we must come up with a plan of how we plan to fix this as quickly as possible. 

One area where coaches can separate themselves is a great awareness of the situations of Football. Understanding simple things from clock management to point charts to know when to kick the extra point or go for two. Down to understanding the defenses “keys” of your opponent. Knowledge is power in this game. If you feel you have arrived, then you are just getting started in learning about the game. I have found that it is easy to take a team from non-competitive to competitive, but very difficult to go from “good to great” as a program, and often games are won and lost in the situational portion at the highest levels. Situational football is something that must constantly be studied and monitored. Very often this is the area inexperienced head coaches will struggle. 

While relationships and culture are the most important part of coaching, the system you run does matter. Scheme is important. While there are multiple schemes that can be successful, you must have one that is fundamentally sound. This book is not meant to advocate for one specific scheme, but whichever one you run it needs to have been thoroughly planned out and have built in answers. To simply ask players to play hard and work 100% of your time on motivation may sound great, it will not be effective if there is not a solid scheme to work towards. To be successful in this arena requires a coach to be a constant student of the game and to give his athletes the best opportunity to win by having a vast knowledge of his scheme.

Calling a game is an art and a science. It must be practiced often in lower pressure situations. This part of coaching is very hard to explain to a coach who has never been in this position before. I’d recommend all coaches start doing this at the lower levels to gain experience. Also, those who are great at this part of the game exhibit a great blend of preparation and adjusting on the fly. That is why it is an art and science – you must be prepared with enough answers that you can make quick decisive adjustments to what you see.

Study people from different backgrounds (even if you disagree)

When working to become great at your sport, it is important to know that there are many different ideas and even processes that are at odds with each other. I have always taken the time to look into “outside the box” ideas, even if I felt I disagreed with these ideas/ concepts. Be careful not to travel too far down these “rabbit holes”, but it is great to be sure to hear what the “other side” may think on topics. Learning your sport from multiple points of view will give a much more well-rounded picture of the different ways to run a program.

Challenging our core beliefs and our system should be done each year in the off-season. Be sure you hear me correctly – I did NOT say changing systems or core beliefs each season should happen, but we should always evaluate our belief system. While this may cause some changes, I’d be very careful to make wholesale changes each year. Listening respectfully does not require agreement, but it may give you insights that can help.

Recently I have been working on improving our practices and weight room to become more efficient at what is truly important – winning football games. This has caused me to work with people from different backgrounds that were very much on opposite ends of the spectrum as far as to how things should go. By studying both sides, I was able to at least see the reasoning behind each and make my own decision as to what was most important for our program as we move forward. I ended up taking a little from both sides and coming to my own conclusion, but I wanted to examine the “why” from each side.

One point I do want to make to those younger coaches that are learning. Be careful not to try to take on too much. Know what you value and stick with it for a season. A huge mistake I made early on was trying to do too much scheme-wise. Find some concepts you feel fit your players and learn from some coaches that are experts at those concepts. Don’t try to run the Air-Raid, Pistol, Option, Buck Sweep Offense. It will not work. Learn a system that you can build on, but become great at teaching the foundational pieces to it. Be great at simple concepts to start, then begin to build.


Personally, I believe that creating a great culture for your program must be priority #1 for any aspiring head coach. It needs to be an intentional culture that is shaped starting from the top. With that said, coaches cannot simply ask for players to play with great effort with no intentional direction. That falls directly on the coach as well. It is possible to be great at culture and at scheme. 

This article was originally published in Headsets: Volume 2, Issue 6.


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