The following is an excerpt from More Than Just Ball: Character Education in High School Football by Stephen Wisch (South Callaway), Tim Rulo (Chillicothe), Chris Gray (South Callaway), and Zack Hess (South Callaway).
The book is available for purchase on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback formats
Chapter 8: Foundation
The most important part of any structure, whether that is something physical like a building or something more conceptual like a team, is the foundation. How well you build the foundation of something tells you how high and how big it can grow. Any quality program must consider what foundation they are building in order to properly go about pursuing big dreams and goals.
Foundations are not visible to the outside eye, but they hold the weight when the structure is tested by storms. When working with this character theme, we have found it is a great opportunity to include our kids in the process to understand why we do what we do and make sure that our athletes understand the why for the process that we have in place here. We try to break down foundations on our team into a few different categories: physical, sport, and mental.
Our team’s physical foundation is built in the weight room through what we call Athletic Enhancement. We want to emphasize to our kids that these sessions are more than just lifting weights, though we do spend a fair amount of time in the weight room. The Athletic Enhancement program–whether we are talking about Olympic lifts, dumbbells, body weight exercises, or our sprint development program–is all about teaching and emphasizing correct form and full body strength in order to drive the growth of our athletes. Spending quality time doing things the right way, not just trying to get kids to puke or load on an unhealthy amount of weight, helps to build your body up to withstand the demands of the season for any sport. Sports are hard on the body, so it is our job as a program to do what we can with proper exercises to prevent injuries, develop strength, and improve athletic ability.
Our sport-specific foundation is developed as a program through our emphasis on fundamentals at practice. When we discuss this with kids in our character meetings for the foundation week, it is an awesome opportunity to explain why we don’t just go 11-on-11 for the entire practice. Explaining and showing how developing these fundamental skills help us become better players illustrates why we dedicate time for these drills. It is also a great barometer for us as coaches. We want to make sure that the things we are asking kids to do during practice have a direct application to what we are asking them to do during the game. Practice is our opportunity to develop the sport skills necessary to succeed; therefore, if we see those skills not being carried out during the throes of the game, we need to go back to building our foundation during practice. A saying we have in our program is that whatever is happening on the field is something that we are either coaching or allowing to happen. That means we need to see any output on Fridays as the result of the foundation-building during the week. This is an important thing to explain to kids as well; in order to be fully present and bought into what we are doing on a day to day basis, they need to be aware of why we care about practice and what we are trying to get done.
For mental foundation-building we look at our character education program. The foundation fundamental week gives us an opportunity to explain to our kids, to “pull back the curtain,” to show why we spend time on this stuff. While kids may not always think character education is “fun,” this week’s lessons give our coaching staff the opportunity to explain why we are essential to growing into the men they will become. We want kids to get their heads right and organized so that in the moments of stress that will occur during life, our kids are able to react to the best of their abilities. That is really what character is, doing what is right and doing things to the best of your ability regardless of the circumstances. This is only possible when you have put in time to build a strong enough foundation to withstand life’s storms.
After we spend the first few days talking about how the foundation of this team has been developed and why we do what we do, Thursday’s lesson primarily focuses on asking our kids to reflect upon the foundation of their families and the foundation that they want their life to be built upon as they grow up. The structure can be as simple as the previous images. Players would write their foundations in the bases of the buildings. The more concrete the practice can be, the easier it can be. We are not artists, and are sure there are more attractive looking foundation sheets out there! We have done this in a few ways. One way is to have kids go through a few different categories of home life (i.e.. work, marriage, parenthood, and community). For each category, how would they describe their family’s attitude about that category in one word? Then you can have some larger conversations about why they chose those words and whether they think that is the word they want their kids to say about that category when they are in high school. Next, ask the kids what words and actions by their family made them pick those words. The hope is that kids can see that their views on any topic are going to be influenced by what is said and done to them, so they need to be intentional in what they say and do in their own lives in order to make sure that they are building their lives the way that they want them to look. Depending on where you are with a group of kids, it might be just a self-reflection exercise they do on a piece of paper rather than sharing out. Whether you are consciously building the foundation or not, it is happening, so it is on us as leaders to make sure that the foundation we are building is the foundation that we want to have with our group in our homes, work, and communities.
This book is not so much something we wrote, but rather something that the South Callaway coaching community is continuing to write over the course of ten plus years. None of these ideas are wholly our own, and we have been extremely fortunate to get ideas from a variety of people, places, and programs. We would not be where we are today without learning from others, and we will learn from many more people as we continue to grow and develop our program.
If you have any questions, ideas about how we can do something better, or just want to talk about building character, please do not hesitate to contact any of us through