As the strength coach for Ponderosa High School in Parker, CO, I was challenged in the spring by our head football coach to help him achieve his summer goals for the team. They were:
- Build Leadership. Not just among seniors and elected captains, but also among leaders in every class and every position group.
- Compete. Like all teams, Ponderosa faced adversity during the heat of games and the coach wasn’t confident they responded to the best of their ability. His goal was for the team to demonstrate what they had learned throughout the off season and persevere through the tough battles.
Lofty goals indeed. I had to develop an approach to help this team build leaders, find passion, and embrace competition.
I began to brainstorm how I could achieve these goals into my summer program and yet still accomplish my own team training goals in terms of improving movement skill and building an intense weight room routine.
A few weeks later, I attended the National High School Strength Coaches Association (NHSSCA) national conference in Atlanta. This was a great opportunity to talk shop with as many high school strength coaches from around the country and learn about other schools’ programs. Having collected ideas from other coaches, I started writing down a plan I thought would achieve the coach’s and my goals for Ponderosa.
Following multiple scraps of papers spiraled into the garbage can, I developed my program: The Point System.
The Point System is based on accountability, or as the dictionary states: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.
The Point System drives all athletes to be held accountable. Not accepting accountability becomes a detriment to team success. If the entire team wants to see results, they need to learn they must be fully committed to the same goal and hold each other accountable.
Understandably, we are talking about high school student-athletes and every school is different. Nevertheless, the Ponderosa kids completely bought into the program and loved The Point System - attendance stayed above 95% throughout the whole summer. I witnessed younger athletes develop into leaders, and I saw all kids embrace competition and accountability!
With that said, here is my program, The Point System:
With Coach’s approval obtained, we selected six senior leaders slated to be captain during the upcoming season. I met with the six captains and explained the whole summer program and The Point System. We established a draft order among the six and conducted a “snake draft” - the first pick in the first round gets the last pick in the second, and so on.
With the summer registered roster in hand, they thoughtfully compiled their teams.
For obvious reasons, I cautioned the captains not to share where each athlete was drafted. Being in the draft room with the captains, I gained some early insight on their thought processes about the program, but also their draft decisions revealed perspectives on different individuals I may not have already known. I gained a better understanding of all the athletes, and it allowed me to build better relationships going into the program.
In addition to drafting, the six senior captain duties included organizing team functions, creating communication among their team, managing a team social media account, appointing a team leader each week, and informing me on any excused absences.
Each captain appoints a junior or sophomore to be the team leader for the week, thereby addressing Coach’s first goal, to build future leaders from within. The weekly team leader duties include taking team attendance and filling in for the captain (if absent).
Each team had 10-12 total members (a few drops/adds). All team members were responsible for letting the team know about attendance, along with staying connected with the team captain on all team outings and plans.
As noted, all team members had to inform the team captain about excused absences which were then reported to me. If reported prior to our “1-hour rule” (before the workout), teams would not incur a point penalty. Reporting through the captain saved me a lot of headaches as my daily “attendance” texts were cut to six. Focusing this communication through the captain also positively built a habit of communicating among the team.
Each team’s weekly leader maintained an attendance sheet as we transitioned from the field to the weight room. The attendance sheets allowed me to efficiently record points and hold each team accountable - excused absences were correctly noted and unexcused absences were flagged.
Creating a competitive spirit was Coach’s second goal. Building the teams and creating opportunities to earn points fostered a new competitive spirit. The following was my initial “Point System,” driven to build a competitive spirit on and off the field.
Just as important as earning points, teams could lose points as well.
Individual Challenges Rules
Challenges were listed in workout packets or could be approved by me. An athlete was able to call out another athlete and challenge them to an individual contest. All “call outs” had to be approved by me. I tried to ensure fairness on both sides as I didn’t want our starting running back calling out a sophomore lineman in a pull-up contest.
Each athlete was allowed only one “call out,” requiring them to use it wisely. However, athletes could be “called out” an unlimited number of times, but I did try to spread out the challenges so that everyone was being called out. Eventually, I noticed underclassmen calling out upperclassmen in the same positional group as well as upperclassmen calling out teammates of comparable skill level or those playing on the opposite side of the ball.
This result was exactly what I hoped for in terms of these individual challenges - getting the kids to challenge someone that would be fair competition, but not being afraid of losing to them. The individual challenges included:
Team Challenges Rules
Fridays were for our team challenges, simulating “Friday Night Lights.” My goal was to develop our athletes’ mindset early that on Fridays they were there to compete just like it would be in the fall.
I started Fridays by taking our team through our typical gameday warm-up...the goal being it would become second nature to them come actual gameday. I then provided them some time to prepare mentally for the challenge at hand.
Some of those challenges included:
- Sprint relays
- Medicine ball relays
- Capture the flag
- Word search relays
- Team tonnage benches
Some of these sound basic, but I would add a twist so each team was required to strategize how to appropriately execute the challenge in order to set themselves up to have a greater chance of winning. The winning team would win the “Championship Bell,” our unique chain-link, Flavor Flav necklace to share for the week.
The purpose of deducting points was to drive teams to finish the challenges and learn to compete until the very end – even if getting from sixth place to fifth. If teams realized mid-challenge they maybe were not going to win, they had to adjust, face the adversity, but stay positive and find little victories. It got them talking among each other and saying, “let’s beat that team, so we do not come in last.” It created competition in every challenge even when one team dominated.
You may look at all the points and ask yourself “how am I going to keep track of all these points?” I was a one-man show keeping track of the points, so I created a master excel file to stay on top of it. Attendance and challenge points I logged daily, all others were weekly.
Each team creates their own Instagram account, where they posted pictures of team events and tagged me using our team hashtag. It allowed me on a weekly basis to review my tagged Instagram posts and record each teams’ outside gatherings, community service, and flex Friday points.
We used social media in a positive way, with some established rules to ensure it stayed positive. Each team could only follow students from our school, not rival schools, as we didn’t need any social media wars. We could not control who followed our teams, but it was great recognition of their hard work for the athletes when community members started following each team account resulting from some of their community service.
Another benefit of social media was the message platform. All the athletes followed me, so I was able to post messages on my stories or posts to inform the whole team of future plans along with the team point scoreboard. I could post on a Sunday that this week was going to be double point week for attendance, thus requiring the teams to come together and work hard on ensuring a positive team outcome.
Ring the Bell
Our last week became an “Olympics” of events to allow the teams to earn more points and show off their progress. My goal was to make it fun, but also to make it competitive. Each day would include an event or two and each team selected four members to participate in each event. Individual standouts could also earn their team points. Every athlete would participate in at least one event, but no more than three. Unexcused absences could crush a team during this week.
Our team sold discount cards for local stores and restaurants. We added team point incentives to boost the fundraising effort. It became our best fundraising year for the program to date. Halfway sales totals and total campaign sales were rewarded points, and it instilled a spirit of friendly competition and cooperation with some very creative selling programs that, in the end, benefited the entire team.
Following “Ring the Bell,” we had the winning team rewarded with custom t-shirts that they could wear around school to show off their accomplishment. The winning team also inscribed their team name on the back of the “Championship Bell,” thereby starting a new tradition.
But, of course, the biggest prize was bragging rights for the whole season. The kids talked about the summer’s Point System all year round - and the winning team usually had the final words!
You might think this program could create animosity between the individual teams which would hurt the team as a whole, but the opposite held true. The draft ensured each team was composed of sophomores, juniors, and seniors of multiple positional groups. This prevented cliques from forming that might inhibit a true team atmosphere come fall.
Additionally, unity built up through the age groups as sophomores needed rides from juniors and seniors to participate in team events, which built new friendships and trust. The friendly rivalries established throughout the summer battling and competing day in and day out made for a smooth transition when the season approached.
The Point System succeeded in fostering comradery, building leaders, and instilling a competitive spirit in the team. All of this helped to bring one team together with one goal.