This article is written by Trevor Arnold, Head Football Coach in Oelwein, Iowa. Coach Arnold can be followed on Twitter at @trevor__arnold
It was the middle of June when it became official that I would be the next Head Coach at Oelwein High School. Six weeks isn’t a lot of prep time for taking on any Head Coaching job, let alone one that had been struggling with winning since 2012. I told myself crawling, then walking, and lastly running was the key to success and turning the program around. A timeline of only six weeks before camp was quickly running out. Every hour, every day mattered.
Anyone who is successful in coaching knows that you need to build relationships in order to have any level of success. By building positive relationships, you build trust and that is what leads you down a successful path. The hard part is keeping that trust even when you aren’t successful in terms of wins and losses. In order to do that for a team that had won two games in five seasons, we first needed to unify the group.
The first order of business was getting everyone involved in the same room. The same week it became official, we held a meeting with all Oelwein football players (youth through high school), parents, family, administration and anyone that wanted to hear about the vision and future of the Oelwein Football Program. That is a key piece I think a lot of programs don’t take serious enough. Everyone needs to unify and do their part to have a successful program that sustains success. Coaches, school personnel, administration, parents, community members, student body and most importantly the student-athletes need to be on the same page working for a common goal. In hindsight, the meeting went extremely well but it could have went even better if I had food available. The attendance was good but it would have been great if I had food. That’s funny but it is so true.
The second order of business and the most vital was being present. It wasn’t until the middle of July that I was able to move to town but for four weeks I traveled almost daily to workouts, meeting with assistants and meetings with players. Those were some very early mornings and some very late nights. I was either talking football or on my computer making/creating/designing something for the program and team. Imagine crunching all those off-season details into about five weeks? Not enough time in the day but you find a way to get it done. Looking back on those first couple weeks, they were even more important than I thought and our post-season player meetings and surveys proved how important my presence was to the players those first few weeks to build the relationships and trust. That is one of the great things about teenagers, when they aren’t in trouble, you can get their honest opinions when asked in a non-confrontational way after you have built trust. Always something I pride myself on and expect of my staff and players is to be honest and up-front. It will pay dividends in the end.
The first change I saw that needed to happen as soon as possible was an improvement in attendance. For the players, being present was not a priority except for a small handful of dedicated players. Lifting sessions were attended by about 30% of the players on good days. OTA’s where we worked on installing our offense and defense would bring even less, 10-15 players usually. It’s easy to see why they struggled in the past and why we were going to struggle as well. Teaching and reteaching the same thing over and over didn’t allow us to move on to the next step because we had to get everyone on the same page about the basics or none of it would have mattered. Gladly, I can say we are doing much better in terms of attendance. We currently have 75% of our players attending weight room sessions and some of this is because of our Off-Season Challenge. Feel free to contact me if you want more information on this.
Celebrating the successes no matter how small they are. It can be hard to find things to be happy about when you are 0-9. Not if you are committed to the idea of celebrating the small successes though. Dedicate time to talking about the successes as a team. Use your team Twitter and Facebook pages to let your community know about the great things your kids do not only athletically but academically and in the community. For instance, we helped with the flood in Sumner a nearby town outside our district, moved the new Pastor and a couple other families to town, set up for the Christmas celebration downtown. All of which made a positive impression on the community and you don’t know when, how or if that will come back to you in a positive way but the old saying really is true, good things do happen to those who do good things. It won’t take you long to figure out how to help someone in your community. Feel free to ask if you need ideas. They will be forever grateful and you just feel good about the positive things you do and this is where you start to teach your players about servant leadership by being right by their side helping them. Nothing says I’m willing to lay it on the line for you like hauling old mattresses out of a basement that are water logged and smell like who knows what. That’s a pretty good initiation unless you have a weak stomach. When you really start to look, those things do happen everyday. In order to do this though, you need to have a great relationship with the staff at school and people in the community. They are invaluable to you as a coach to hear the good and bad about your kids. Having extra eyes in the hallway and letting your kids know that is great for helping keep them accountable. Let them know you check on their grades and behavior with their teachers. Attitudes and effort can change very quickly when they know you are going to follow through. We saw a tremendous improvement in grades just by sending weekly emails to staff members about players. With a larger team, I recommend breaking up the team and give position coaches the responsibility of checking on their group but as the HC, take the individuals that struggle the most or assign them to the coaches they connect with the best in order to get the best results and get them on the right path.
I will be the first to tell you trying to manage the balance between family and your responsibilities as a coach is extremely difficult. Probably the toughest aspect of the job that you always will think you are doing better than you really are most likely. Just ask your wife, just like mine, I’m sure she will tell you how you are doing. In all seriousness though, I have a 7 year old daughter, 4 year old and 2 year old boys. They are awesome and also a lot to handle for one person. That duty falls on my wife during every practice, every late night night, every early morning. I can’t thank her enough and honestly will never be able to pay her back equally for what she has done but in order to manage it the best I can I will try to live by one rule. I ask myself do I want to do it or need to do it? Do I need to re-watch the practice tape a 2nd time, do I need to watch scout tape once more before I go home, the answer usually is no I don’t need to I want to. There are always those instances where you can talk yourself into something being a need but it really isn’t. Be honest with yourself, drop what you are doing, go home. That is more important than any scout tape. You won’t lose a game because you didn’t watch it a 3rd or fourth time. Take advantage of all those times you get with your kids and try to spend as much of every Saturday during the season with your family as humanly possible.
Organization is key to any well-oiled machine. For a football coach, there are more details than any other sport in terms of game day and practices. The crazy part is, we also have the sport where we get to play less games than any other major sport. With that being said, organization is key. Don’t wait until the last minute to order, make or fix something. Most importantly, don’t hoard old stuff. If it isn’t going to get used, find a way to get rid of it. We raised $2,500 selling old jerseys and that took a big chunk out of our new uniform order. Sell them at a game, people will volunteer to help. Make lists, delegate responsibilities to managers, trainers, assistant coaches and especially the volunteers. There are people out there that want to volunteer to make food for after games, let them. There are parents who want to make sack lunches for road trips, let them. There are students who don’t play football that want to be part of the team, let them but make sure you also explain to them all how things will be done and what the standard is for all the players, coaches and anyone who helps with the program. Most importantly, everyone involved creates a perception of themselves, the team, the program and most importantly for you reading this, the head coach. At the end of the day, you are the one bearing all the good and bad of what everyone around you does.
Possibly the easiest way to guarantee you don’t have sustained success is to exclude certain groups. What I am probably the most proud of during my first seven months as the HC here in Oelwein is that I have tried to include as many different groups as possible in making this the Oelwein Football Program, not my program or the schools program but bringing ownership to everyone. This doesn’t mean the community gets to decide how we scheme our defense but allows them to be a part of the program that makes them feel like a part of the team which is what we are at the end of the day. A team that needs to unify in order to achieve a higher level of success than we are currently. The support we have been shown to this point leads me to believe we truly are headed in the right direction. Next year we will have home games dedicated to recognizing Teachers and Military Personnel. There are many positive that come from these games but they also get people to your games that usually don’t attend. Give them free admission, recognize them at halftime, keep the players on the field at halftime to show appreciation. All these things lead to a better unification of those outside the lines that make it a program the community can be proud of and want to support.
This isn’t possible without a great administration that supports us, a great coaching staff that works hard to get better year-round and families at home that also support the many hours spent trying make a memorable experience for the players, school and community. Also, having great mentors who I have been able to work with and learn from in the past have created the coach I am today. Specific thanks go to Bob Arnold, Rory Arnold, Bob McCoy, Jeremy Nally, Matt Ambrose, Randy Tjaden, Tom Wilwert, Scott Denner and my current coaching staff here in Oelwein.
Feel free to contact Coach Arnold if you have any questions about his program; firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter: @FootballOHS and @trevor_arnold