A United Program

By January 31, 2014 4 Comments

No matter the sport, all programs will have some type of assignments, chores, and responsibilities for athletes. I’ve been involved in athletics for as long as I can remember. It’s safe to say that I’ve seen a little bit of everything when it comes to program organization. This week we’re going to discuss how chores and responsibilities should and should not be within high school athletic programs.

Within the coaching community there are a variety of views that exist on how a program should handle athlete chores and responsibilities. Some coaches have freshmen in charge of all equipment and gear for practice. Others will have lower level teams responsible for the equipment while the varsity team is exempt. One alternative is to have each grade level responsible for one or two specific things each practice. Another alternative is to have rotating days for each grade level. With so many different approaches, how do you know which is best?

It is my belief that a program should be a program of inclusion and one that should foster leadership and growth. I am absolutely against the idea of having the freshmen or the lower levels of a program solely responsible for chores or gear. In my experiences I have found that freshmen and sophomores begin to resent coaches, older players, and the sport when they are made to do the grunt work alone. They feel isolated and as if they are not of value. When I played high school football we rotated days. Each class would take turns bringing out equipment and water, then putting it away after practice. We did not put things off for the freshmen to do alone, and so we were not a lower level versus a varsity program. We were one, united program. We were a program of inclusion and one that all felt proud to be a part of. It’s no coincidence that this program, headed by my uncle, has had a tremendous amount of sustained success over the past fifteen years.

My experiences as a player have shaped who I am as a coach. I just don’t see the point of segregating responsibilities to one or two particular classes. The main argument for why this takes place is that coaches believe it’s a rite of passage for the newcomers to the program, and that all players have done this before them. They look at it as “paying your dues” so that you won’t have to do the unpleasant tasks when you are older. I just don’t agree with this. Just because something has been done a certain way in the past doesn’t mean we should continue to do it. History tells us this. I mean Jim Crow Laws were used in the South, smoking while pregnant was acceptable, men wore perms, parachute and zubaz pants were cool. Sometimes tradition is a bad thing.

The number one rule of leadership is this: don’t ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. As a head coach, do you only assign responsibilities to your youngest staff members? Of course not. One of the main goals we should have in coaching is to develop leadership traits. The best programs know this and develop leadership traits in their athletes, at all levels. Your seniors should help the younger players become leaders. How is this going to happen if they are not leading by example? It’s not. Great coaching is about mentorship. We are not acting as mentors if we don’t put all of our athletes in a position to lead and serve.

I also believe that by isolating chores and responsibilities to solely the lower levels of a program, a coach pushes players away. Everything a program does or stands for should promote attachment and a sense of belonging. If only a few have to do the most of the work, this does not happen. Playing a sport should be fun. It’s hard enough for the younger athletes who are adjusting to a new school and program to also have to compete with older athletes. Younger players need to feel welcome and appreciated. If they don’t, they leave, numbers fall, and there is no real progress.

No matter what, coaches need to make sure there is a valid point behind what they do. Simply saying, “its tradition” isn’t good enough. There must be a player benefit that can be explained clearly. So coaches, ask yourself this: “What’s the purpose of what I’m doing or having my athletes do?”

I realize there are many opinions out there on this topic and I respect them. I’d love to hear your thoughts, reactions, and methods used in your programs.

Thanks for reading, have a great week, and be an RGP today!


Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Joe Wright says:

    This is an excellent idea. Inclusion at all levels is how you get buy in. Our local High School- Lake Zurich HS in Illinois Football Team takes this approach and the program has flourished.


  • kelmendorf says:

    That’s great to hear Joe. Getting ‘buy in’ is huge. Thanks for reading and commenting, I appreciate it!
    Have a great weekend!

  • Great post as usual, Kyle. I have long believed it is a team thing, not a specific class thing. We believe that the leadership of the team (captains, leadership council, older players, etc.) must take on those chores/responsibilities first, so that the rest of the players see their example. The more responsibility the leaders and then the older players take on, the more the younger players see this and learn to model this. Then, as they mature and become the leaders, the younger players will assume those same responsibilities. In that vein, a positive tradition of servant leadership can be established, as opposed to one of initiation and, potentially, hazing.

    Younger players look up to older players and want to be like them. In programs where the older players make the younger players do all the chores and grunt work, a sense of entitlement emerges for the older players. The thought process for the younger players becomes, “I can’t wait to be a senior in this program. They don’t have to do anything, can boss everyone around, etc.” However, in programs where the leadership and senior players take on the majority of the responsibilities, there is a different mindset and culture. In these programs, as young players watch the older players handling all the responsibilities, they think to themselves, “I can’t wait to be looked up to by everyone. I can’t wait to have the responsibilities that our seniors/captains have.”

    Every program has a culture, whether it is intentionally established or not. Coaches can intentionally develop the culture of their programs in a variety of ways. This one change can have such a huge, positive impact on the culture of a program, and it will pay positive dividends for future teams.

  • kelmendorf says:

    Thanks Scott, I appreciate it! Thank you for sharing the great points as well, terrific stuff. You couldn’t be more right. I love what you said on younger players having a mindset of, “I can’t wait to be looked up to by everyone.” You are absolutely right about every program having a culture. The ones who are intentional are the most successful.

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