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Four Phases for Developing Winning Football Programs

Four Phases for Developing Winning Football Programs
February 23, 2022 | Andre Harakas | 8 min read

Coach Urban Meyer sought counsel from his old mentor and head coach at Notre Dame, Lou Holtz, after an early-season defeat to Marshall during his first head coaching position at a then-down-and-out Bowling Green school in 2001. To the rookie head coach, Holtz set out four steps to constructing a championship program.

It’s a good idea to review these phases as you evaluate where your program is.

The four phases are as follows:

  1. Developing the ability to compete
  2. Mastering the art of winning
  3. Learning how to deal with success
  4. How to develop a championship-caliber program

Let’s take a closer look at each of them.

Developing the ability to compete

This means taking a deliberate or planned attitude. It entails playing for a higher purpose than oneself. As the program leader, you should always have a vision for your business, but it’s also critical to convey that vision with your team—and to do so often.

Every day, remind your employees of your purpose. What are you trying to achieve with your game? Why are you putting so much effort into this? Your cause should be greater than the sum of your victories and defeats.

I’ve never been a fan of establishing win-loss targets. After all, what’s the point of playing if you’re going to lose a few games? Instead, if you set your objectives based on something more important than winning, you will always have goals in front of you. No matter how many games you lose early on, you’ll always be motivated to improve.

“Reach our maximum potential in football and eventually in life,” for example, or “Create an atmosphere of excellence in everything we do – on and off the field” are both excellent goals.

According to Nick Saban, the senior leaders of the 2003 national champion LSU Tigers put out the following team goals:

  • Be a team player — everyone achieves more when they work together.
  • Work to outsmart your opponent and have a positive impact on your comrades
  • Self-determination is a personal responsibility.
  • On and off the field, be champions.

Being able to compete also entails being strong. You must play and practice with zeal to achieve this. Football is a physically demanding sport. Consider passion to be the rocket fuel that enables you to not only play with power, but also to persevere through the ups and downs of a practice, game, or season.

Mastering the art of winning

Winning requires a variety of factors. At its most basic level, success is found at the crossroads of readiness and opportunity. Let’s start there.

First and foremost, winning entails cultivating the habit of preparing for victory. This starts with players preparing themselves in the offseason.

A motto is painted on the wall of one local high school’s weight room to remind players of this easy lesson:

“We are all created equal… Some people just put in more effort during the off-season.”

That is correct. You can’t expect to be a good football player or team simply by showing up in August. In addition, developing in-season winning habits necessitates understanding how to prepare as a person and as an athlete throughout the week.

This involves getting enough rest for your body and mind, managing your academics, and mentally preparing for sports. Knowing how to win also requires an understanding of how to avoid turmoil and distractions.

You’ll be able to behave yourself with discipline on Friday night if you live a disciplined life by performing the items listed above.

On the football field, discipline presents itself in the following ways: taking care of the ball, winning the turnover war, controlling the clock, eliminating or reducing expensive penalties, playing fundamentally sound football for four quarters, and finishing opponents when you have a big lead.

Developing discipline is a crucial part of learning how to win. Football, above all things, is a disciplined sport.

When the ball is booted off, discipline does not begin. It begins in our private lives, as well as in the classroom, the dining room, and meetings. It all starts with how we handle ourselves on a day-to-day basis.

Always search for methods to promote and establish disciplined habits in your athletes if you want to be successful. With so many off-the-field obstacles in today’s culture, this may be a challenging task. As a result, programs that foster individual and team-wide discipline will have a significant competitive advantage.

These programs are well on their way to figuring out how to win.

Learning how to deal with success

It’s normal for athletes to expect to win once they start winning regularly. That’s a wonderful thing, but if it’s not guarded, it may become hazardous.

The ego may be a very destructive human feeling. A coach should attempt to instill in his players a healthy dosage of confidence that does not become arrogant. You’re in danger when hubris kicks in.

Knowing what you’re capable of, knowing that you’re prepared and have the skills to do what’s required of you, is what confidence is all about. Arrogance is typically based on a fictitious reality, and it may lead to complacency and lack of foresight.

It is critical for a coach to provide players with the right perspective and to keep the squad focused on the organization’s mission. A bigger purpose than one’s own.

Tell your team tales from a different point of view. Give them examples of outstanding athletes, such as Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, who keep their humility in the face of adversity. Share how outstanding schools like Alabama or the New England Patriots continue to win year after year.

Successful programs have mastered the art of winning. They can maintain a positive attitude and show respect for the game and their opponents. They are primarily concerned with the process of winning rather than the end result.

In his book, How Good Do You Want To Be?, Nick Saban states,

“It’s about persevering in the face of hardship and being persistent in the pursuit of your objective.”

Don’t judge your accomplishments based on the result of a game. For instance, if you’re up 40 points at halftime against a weak opponent, don’t judge yourself just on the scoreboard. Assess your accomplishment in terms of your own team’s expectations.

Finally, offer perspective and thanks to your athletes to keep them humble. This will also assist them in behaving with class in society and in becoming better leaders.

How to develop a championship-level program

This is where the secret ingredient may be found. This is where sports have their beauty since it is here that success transcends and aids young players in making the crucial links between football and life.

Championship-level schools have established a winning culture by effectively completing the first three phases. This culture has developed as a result of the hard work and sacrifice of those who have come before them. I’ve always maintained that no one succeeds on their own. We all get our water from wells that we didn’t dig ourselves.

This is something championship programs are aware of. To get here, you must create a culture in which winning is expected and to win with style is desired. However, you must remain committed to your cause. A purpose that is bigger than any one of the team members. Love is one of the necessary elements.

In his Hall of Fame Induction speech, Jerome Bettis expressed it best when he spoke about the four keys to greatness:

  • You must be prepared to make sacrifices.
  • You must be willing to go through bodily and emotional anguish.
  • You must be able to bounce back from setbacks.
  • You must be passionate about what you do and about your colleagues. You won’t be able to complete the first three stages otherwise.

Any championship squad is defined by its love. I dare you to look up a championship team and watch the post-game interviews or the players’ and coaches’ testimonials. You can’t help but hear them remark about how close they are to one another and how much they adore their teammates and instructors.

Without it, championships would not be able to exist continuously. If you want to attain this degree of accomplishment, you must create a culture of love in your program.

It begins with appreciating and honoring everyone in the program, from top performers to scout team members to team equipment managers. Everyone is important. Everyone on the team has an important function to perform, and everyone accepts and takes pleasure in that job. Everybody is made to feel important. They’ve bought into the team’s quest for something bigger than themselves.

You have something exceptional if you can create a program that is anchored in a cause bigger than any person or team, and then explain to each individual that being a part of the cause will enable them to live a better, more prosperous, and more meaningful life. Something to be thankful for – a championship-level program based on football and life champions.

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