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Ideas on preparing now for the fall: Intentionally planning out theme weeks

This piece will mark the beginning of a special FootballScoop series on how head coaches like myself are preparing now for the fall.

The 2021 season will mark my fourth season as a head coach, so while I won't pretend like I have this all figured out, I do feel like our platform at FootballScoop is perfect to share some ideas - whether that's from me, or something I've picked up from coaches like you reading this piece.

With the Take Back Your Weekends System that I touched on last year being such a big hit, including an opportunity to present it as part of the AFCA National Convention, I wanted to build off that by providing a further look into some of the more unique things we do as a program.

My first few off seasons as a head coach were focused on some things related to culture and scheme in the off season, and while there is tremendous value in each of those things, there's also some other areas that I don't feel like get the attention they deserve.

One of those areas is how to get ahead in the off season for your summer and fall.

I always try to get the summer schedule to our kids in February. That way families that are planning vacations know well ahead of time the activities and expectations that we have for the summer and it also provides kids with something tangible to take to their summer employer months ahead of time so they know when they have sports stuff going on. We make an intentional effort to try to plan everything during our summer Monday through Thursday so we can allow them to be kids on the weekends during the summer. With the exception of a 7-on-7 tournament here and there, we've been successful holding onto that approach.

But the reason I bring up the summer calendar is because of a new idea I had this off season.

I've always heard of coaches handing out a Team Manual type booklet that outlines their culture and expectations. While I love that idea, the unfortunate reality is I see a lot of those ending up in the bottom of a locker or smashed in the bottom of a book bag. There has to be a better way to communicate those same things more effectively.

I heard North Forney HS (TX) Randy Jackson say a few years ago that he's intentional about finding ways to fascinate his kids every single day. PJ Fleck carries much of that same approach. During a recent visit to the program while Minneapolis was hosting the Final Four a few years ago, I remember hearing that Fleck and his finds ways to hammer their points home with the use of scenes from popular movies and songs because of the way it resonates in their guys that are filling the seats of their team meeting rooms.

It's an idea that I started to adopt with my first team meeting at Comstock Park a few years ago, but once the season started, we got into the routine of watching film right after school for a bit before heading out to the practice field. Why? Like so many other coaches, that's what I was familiar and comfortable with. But was I fascinating our kids everyday? Absolutely not.

So right alongside our summer and in-season calendar I have started to map out THEMES and how can intentionally map out ways to touch on important pieces of our culture through those themes?

You'll notice the tabs at the bottom of my calendar are divided into the calendar of the month, with a copy of that month right after it focused on "IS" standing for "In Season {insert month here}".

When I click on the yellow "IS [Month]" tab I get taken to that month, but there is my visual way of mapping out each theme of the week.

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That IS calendar is a resource for me, where I will collect ideas on how to intentionally hit on the theme of that week (which you see in yellow). My thought process is that taking this type of approach in that time slot we normally allocated for film before practice forces me to be intentional with how I am communicating our core values and beliefs to our team.

Each day, or every few days, we will be sure to - as a staff - identify a few guys that have been great examples of the week's particular theme so our guys are seeing it modeled in a positive way by one of their peers / teammates.

The themes can be things based on the culture you are attempting to create, or maybe it's just something that needs to be emphasized for that week. That's up to you.

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The plan is to do that for each day for the entirety of the season. Sometimes the clip may be 15 minutes, and sometimes it may be 30 seconds followed by a message before getting to some football specific stuff. The important part is this: the goal isn't to simple fill "X" amount of time, the goal is to find a message that will fascinate the players in the room and help effectively deliver a message of our culture that we feel is important.

Regardless of how long it is, the approach is meant to ensure that our culture is more than words on a wall or on each of the practice scripts for the day. They become living, breathing, modeled actions, behaviors, thought processes, and eventually, ways of life.

By putting in the legwork now, with ideas that pop into my head over of the off season, all I need to do is record the idea in my Notes app on my iPhone, find a theme and home for it in the calendar, and plug the link in to revisit on that day.

So many of us love to spend time on scheme, and even culture stuff sometimes, but easily lose sight of being intentional with the time and messaging behind that kind of stuff. This approach solves that issue and frees up your in-season time to focus on the more important things.

This approach of mapping it out visually with links to each thing is my way of beginning to change that in myself, and I hope by reading this piece it sparks something in you as well.

I look forward to the opportunity to bring some more of these off season ideas to you over the coming weeks, and if you have an outside the box worth sharing with the coaching community like this one, please reach out to via Twitter @CoachSamz.