The most important step to building a program is getting players to buy into the (often new) coaching staff's message. It's a step every team has to take, but it's a step players have to take for themselves. Coaches can't do it for them, and they can't succeed unless players do.
But when that step is taken, it's the moment coaches and players alike realize what is possible.
Lebanon (Tenn.) High School head coach Sam Harp has been through that stage many times. Harp has won state titles, and he's survived a winless season. Harp and his staff are working to rebuild Lebanon's program, and the Blue Devils may have just reached their critical buy in point. Three of his seniors penned a letter to the rest of the team, pleading with them to pull together as one.
Harp shared the letter with us, and can be read in its lengthy entirety below.
To the 2016-2017 season Lebanon Blue Devils Football Team:
As spring practice ends, we just wanted to give you guys one last push, preparing you all for this season. We wanted to write each of you a letter that we wish we had received when we were in your shoes. We hope that each of you take this message to heart.
When we were underclassmen, no one offered us instruction on leadership, teamwork, or team building and it was definitely something we could have used. We expected and waited for seniors to take charge of the team. It never happened on a consistent front, and quite honestly, we really didn’t recognize the lack of direction or unity, until it was too late. After a very disappointing 3 years, we realized that changes had to occur, so we got together prior to our senior spring practice and drafted our own plan for success. We recognized the need for team unity and a collective direction. We also recognized we had to be in collective agreement on team goals. Each of us dedicated ourselves to reach those goals. Many of you might have noticed the intensity that we strived for at practice, but perhaps you didn't realize that the majority of what we did was discussed and orchestrated. It didn’t just happen. Much of it was our formula for success and we highly recommend that you devise a similar plan for next season. Please know that you don’t have to be a Star, or a Senior, to set the pace for your team. You only have to care enough to step up and take action. There has to be a group willing to be the “Spark Plugs”. This group must be willing to find that extra bit of energy, every day, to bring out the excitement, desire, and the drive. To push everyone to excel. Be that person! Then grow that spark until it ignites everyone, all the way down to the incoming freshman! No matter what, don’t lay back and wait for someone else or a Coach, to set the team’s intensity. If you wait for someone to take charge, you could easily find yourselves still waiting at the end of your season. We have experienced this for the last three years and we wouldn't wish it on anybody. And above all, don’t let anyone become isolated, encourage everyone, develop everyone’s confidence and abilities. Remember: Iron sharpens Iron, Men sharpen Men.
As a team, get together, set goals, encourage each other daily, push each other, challenge each other, call, text, hang out, do thing together, and build bonds that will go farther than just football. This bond will create within each of you, the desire to give all you have, to play for the guy beside you and to push yourself beyond imagination, for the team’s benefit. The results of unity and team building can be amazing. Also, be mindful of resentments, disagreements, and destructive situations. Handle them as a group, get them resolved, be in agreement and keep the team’s welfare as a priority. We set our goals and worked when no one else was working. We got together and ran when we didn't have to. We set lifted when it would have been easier to rest. We didn’t wait for structured time with the coaches to workout and practice. We decided that we wanted to excel not only on the football field, but also in the classroom and all around campus. We decided that people would know that there was something different about our group, not only from wins and loses, but how we conduct ourselves. You all can do the same and you can be better. Remember, if you don’t set goals, you will most likely achieve just what you set out for - nothing! Remind yourselves daily, how many other average high school athletes just finished practice like you did and came home to relax and watch TV or play video games. Then ask yourself if you are content with being average? If not, use this time to push yourself to do something, to be better. Keep positive attitudes no matter the situation. Attitude is everything. A bad attitude is a cancer, at first sight of a bad attitude it is the team’s job to eliminate it.
We also want to stress to you all how fast this time will fly by. You hear adults say all the time “I’d give anything if i could just strap up one last time.” As upcoming seniors we will soon be able to agree with how true this is! And, now as we are becoming a bunch of “Has Been’s” we can honestly say your high school football career is an experience that should never be taken for granted. You will never get a single day back. Each day you should value your effort as an accomplishment or a failure. As this season evolves, please don’t have an attitude that all you have to do is survive, “I’m not equipped to lead”, or “all I have to do is excel at my position”. The team is too important to let any of these attitudes cripple it. Don’t rely on the Coaches to develop your team’s personality, or your team’s intensity. Don’t let yourself begin to think from a singular viewpoint, teams win, individuals don’t.
Make up your minds TODAY, that you will build upon what we accomplish this season. We expect bigger and better things from you than what we achieve! It is on your shoulders to take this program above and beyond where we leave it. To the Seniors coming after us: it’s time to step up and set an example for the younger guys in everything you do, on and off the field. Push yourselves to the limits every day. Play the sport everyday as if it is a blessing and an honor, because trust us it is. Never complain about being pushed to work hard. The Coaches will push you to your limits that’s there job, but they will never get the performance you’re capable of, your 100%, unless you are willing to sell-out for your team’s goals.
Now is the time to decide where our team will go. Pick up the intensity even more. Decide how you want to be remembered. This is a new season, this is our year, time to make up our minds. We have to decide to be the best, if someone doesn't buy in then they can get out of the way becuase someone who has the desire will step up. Know in your heart that you have pushed yourself to your limits so that when this season is over you will be able to say you had no regrets. I promise you the times you spend with your teammates working sweating, sharing in the pain and sharing in the success - are more memorable than any other times that you will experience in your high school careers.
We feel like this season we will set the bar pretty high, but we want the rest of you to finish far beyond what we achieve. If any of the Seniors get the opportunity to come back to be at your games, we want to stand with you on the sidelines and be proud of your accomplishments. We want to be able to look you in the eyes, after a game and know what all you have sacrificed to be there. Believe me, we’ll know by watching if you were satisfied with average or if you have chosen to take the team and program to new heights.
This year will be a great one, each of you will play a vital role in our success, and for that we sincerely thank you. However, we challenge each of you to step up now and continue the New Lebanon Dynasty. And the only way you can do this is by unity, working harder, pushing each other, fighting for the guy next to you.
Set high goals and achieve them by not accepting mediocrity within yourself or your teammates. The time flies by, enjoy every second of it, and make it count. Let's make this team one that will not be forgotten. You will always be a Blue Devil, we love yall now, BDP!!!
Your 2016-2017 Senior Lineman
Nick Anderson Hayden Hittle J.W. Baird