As early as I can remember I had the dream of being a head coach one day. I was fortunate enough to play at the small college level and had to tell myself every year during the grind that training camp becomes that it was all worth going through because it was going to eventually put me in prime position to be a head coach at a young age.
I had a dream to be a young head coach and mentally set a goal to be a head coach by the time I turned 30, and before then I was going to do everything in my power to learn under some of the best coaches around to put myself in a position to reach that goal and then be successful in it.
Shortly after turning 32, I accepted the head coaching job at Ravenna HS (MI). So even though I’ve only been in the head coaches chair for a few months, I can say with certainty that when coaches say, “Nothing can prepare you for being a head coach until you’re actually there,” they are absolutely right. There are so many decisions, some very small you’d never thought of as an assistant like what size and numbers you want on new jerseys being ordered, to the major decisions you look forward to making like who will is going to fill out your staff.
A few days ago, I started to think about all the different roles, titles, and duties that you have to fulfill as a head high school football coach, and every day that list seems to grow more and more.
Here’s a list of the roles and titles I’ve experienced so far as a young head coach, along with a brief description of each.
1 – Father figure
Most all of us get into coaching because we were influenced greatly by a past coach of ours and we hope to be that type of influence in the lives of the kids we work with as well. Some of the kids we worth with don’t have a father figure at home and we become that for them. That relationship grows into one where they look to you for advice, tough love, discipline, a friendly ear, and the occasional hug. Chances are you’re eventually going to have a kid open up and share an experience with you that is going to break your heart, and at that moment it’s important to remember what a father figure you are to them.
2 – Mother
As a head coach, you’re also going to have to show a softer side and some materal instincts on occasion as well. There will be times you want to protect your guys and keep them out of harm’s way in a way that only a mother protecting her young in the wild can.
3 – Strength expert
Even if you have never stepped foot inside a weight room before, as the leader of your program you’re going to have to have a very detailed plan in the weight room…as well as out of it. You’re bound to have parents and kids ask about what they can be doing with limited resources when they can’t get in the weight room as well, so you’d better be educated and stay on top of trends in this area.
4 – Counselor
Sooner or later you’re going to have a kid come to you with an issue that is typically only heard within the walls of your school’s counselor office. Sometimes it’s just lending an ear that will do, while other times things can get much deeper and more complicated.
5 – Nutrition expert
As soon as you take that first head coaching job (and every one thereafter I’d imagine), you’re going to have parents and kids coming out of the woodword for nutritional advice on “How does my kid gain weight? He’s tried everything…” and the “What types of foods should my kind be eating if he wants to [fill in the blank]?” If you want to be taken seriously you’ve got to have some base knowledge of this, and that can stretch to what kind of stuff you eat before a game, when you want to set your team meal up for, etc.
6 – Teacher
There are so many parallels between coaching and teaching, and at the end of the day our job is to teach the kids we have about life using the game of football as our vehicle. Teaching the schemes on offense, defense and special teams is just a small slice of the big picture of our role as teachers.
7 – Master motivator
Not everyone is wired to give that rousing pregame speech before players storm the field, and if that stuff actually mattered there would be a lot more motivational speakers trying their hand at coaching. However, you do need to find your own way to get kids in the weight room and working speed and agility stuff or specific skill development stuff while most would rather be home playing Fortnite.
8 – Event planner
Once you’re in the head coaches chair, nailing down your schedule while planning around baseball and basketball events, family vacations, time dedicated to your own family, and a host of other distractions is a huge undertaking. Taking that information and making sure it makes it into the right hands so kids have no excuses to miss stuff becomes the next big issue.
9 – General
The world’s top generals have their troops prepared for battle, including backup plans if things don’t go the way they’d hoped. You’ll have to be prepared to do the same.
10 – Secretary / Clerk
Keeping track of paperwork, college camps, order forms, facility use agreements, and all the other stuff that comes across your desk is going to be a job in itself, but keeping tabs on that kind of stuff, and organizing is going to be mean a whole lot less headaches in the long run. Also, being an accountant and being responsible for your team’s funds falls into this category as well.
11 – Fireman
No, not a red suit and hat kind of fireman, just in the sense of you’re going to have to put out fires daily, and often more than one daily.
12 – Psychic
Right along the lines of the Fireman role, I once heard a head coach at a clinic say that one of the most important things he does is to look a bit into the future and try to proactively deal with issues, instead of dealing with them as they arise and getting overwhelmed on days you have to put out multiple major fires. Doing that is going to require either A) experience, or B) some psychic ability.
13 – Lawyer
I don’t mean lawyer in the traditional sense of the word in trying cases, but rather as someone looking for creative loopholes like Jim Harbaugh was known to do his first few years at Michigan. Legal loopholes, but loopholes nonetheless.
14 – Researcher
As the leader of your team, it’s on you to make sure your guys are ahead of the curve and you’re being efficient with everything from your scheme to how players are executing that scheme. You can accomplish this a variety of ways like calling other coaches, and reading up on the latest trends in training, development, and schemes is extremely important as well. It should go without saying that crunching numbers from game day and finding trends on your opponent also falls into this category.
14 – CEO
Much like a CEO of a company, as a head coach you’re not only in charge of the product you put on the field, but you’re also ultimately responsible for your players off the field, as well as the development of your coaching staff as well. When things go great, you’ll get the majority of the praise, and when they go off the rails, expect the blame as well.
15 – Public relations expert
This will come in handy not only when talking to the local media but also in your interactions with those in the community. Knowing what to say and do, and HOW and WHEN to say and do those things can alleviate a lot of issues. Also, knowing how to lay some groundwork with influential community members can be a huge asset as well.
16 – Skeptic
I heard a coach who had just accepted a head coaching job talk at a clinic this past offseason and he said he’s always skeptical of people who offer a helping hand to his program because they probably either want something in return or want to be close to program to take information back to someone else. While this may seem a bit extreme, there is some truth and value in being a bit of a skeptic about stuff too.
17 – Negotiator
Unless you’re at a school where all your football guys are ONLY football guys, you’re going to be subject to some give and take with other coaches, parents, and the kids you all share. The quicker you can get everyone on the same page and working together the easier and more enjoyable life will be for all involved.
18 – Athletic trainer
For most schools, having an athletic trainer on site all the time when you need them is growing increasingly rare. Be prepared to do some tape jobs, carry and fill the water bottles, and things of that nature. Budgets aren’t getting any bigger most places.
19 – Disciplinarian
If you’re not prepared to dish out some discipline when needed, being a head coach isn’t for you. Understanding the right course of action to change the undesired behavior is key.
20 – Psychologist
We covered this a bit when talking about the need to be counselor sometimes, but I have also learned that there is a tremendous amount of value in at least a general understanding how the human brain and behavior work and it’s helped me come up with everything from play calls kids can relate to, to how we structure practice and workouts, and so much more. Lots of great podcasts out there to get into on this particular topic, DM me if you need some ideas.
21 – Data entry specialist
Much like being a clerk / secretary, having your information organized is important, but I’ve also quickly learned how to use Google Sheets to create play and formation templates, practice plans, order forms for coaches and players gear, diagrams for practice, and I’m finding new ways to utilize that kind of stuff daily.
22 – Talent recruiter
Sometimes the kids with the most potential at your school aren’t playing football for whatever reason. Sometimes recruiting them using a direct approach with a 1-on-1 conversation in your office or taking a home visit to talk to them and their parents is best, while other times simply making sure the players you have are happy and engaged and they organically talk about their experience as a player for you around them is the best strategy.
23 – Video director
My advice – find a young, unmarried guy who loves football on your staff to fit this role, or get WiFi at your stadium to cut down on the upload time drastically.
24 – Communications expert
Kids crave communication to keep everyone on the same page, but parents do 100x more. The way cracks form in the foundation of programs is due to poor communication because it causes parents to talk and complain among themselves and it spreads quickly like a plague. It’s in your best interest to find a way to borderline over-communicate.
25 – Social media guru
In today’s age, you have to find a way to have a social media presence. Kids have gravitated to Instagram and Snapchat, while probably close to 100% of parents in your community have Facebook, and many kids and parents will have Twitter. Use social media as a communication tool and as a way to control the message in a positive light. It’s free!
26 – DJ
Whether it’s practice music, music for the weight room, or just pregame music, be prepared to act as DJ and quadruple check to make sure the music is appropriate for the setting…because if it isn’t the chances of it reflecting on you – whether you chose the music or not – is very high.
27 – Graphic designer
A step further than social media is finding a way to create graphics for your guys. Taking pictures and overlaying some text is something well worth your time to learn (or delegate to an assistant) and there are a lot of free / cheap programs out there. These types of things are simple, can take 5 minutes, and really get kids excited and engaged.
28 – A walking-talking pair of earplugs
When the community is singing your praises, put in those earplugs and keep grinding away, and when they’re calling for your job, do the same.
29 – Fundraiser
Athletic budgets across the country are being cut so being able to fundraise is an integral part of being a head coach in today’s high school football landscape. You’ve got to be able to go out and find ways to raise money to be successful.
30 – Diplomat
You’re going to have to play nicely with people you may not like or see eye to eye with. Call it politics or whatever you want, being diplomatic is essential to how far you’ll ultimately go as a head coach. Practice it as often as you can.
With all these laid out, it’s worth noting that the elite coaches find a way to delegate them to staff members they know they can trust to do a great job on them, while a lot of inexperienced coaches try to take them all on their own.