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The single most important modern piece of advice for new head coaches and the decision makers that hire them

Could building a bigger, happier roster of kids really boil down to one simple question for new head coaches and the people charged with hiring them? I think it it does. Hear me out...

I think that it's safe to say that the primary responsibility that high school coaches have to prepare their student athletes for life after athletics is never going to change.

But as I heard someone say recently, the easiest players to directly impact are the ones that are showing up consistently. On rosters where participation is declining there are two groups of players - the ones that absolutely should be playing, and the ones who aren't going to play because they're unwilling to put in the work and perform to the standard set by the coaching staff (or community in some cases).

As I sit here through the first few days of fall practices here in Michigan and read about some programs around the country with a rich history and proud football tradition now on the verge of not having enough players to field a Varsity (or sub-Varsity) team, my mind couldn't help but circle back to something I am very passionate about.

For many people, the blame for the recent nationwide decline of participation in football around the country is placed solely on kids, with some of the more popular excuses being that "they're too soft nowadays" or "they'd rather sit at home and play video games."

I'm going to be very frank with this next sentence, and I am fully aware that it may offend some people - I think that train of thought is a load of garbage by people that have trouble taking responsibility.

While every community is unique and different, to me, the lack of participation boils down to one thing. 

Are coaches intentionally building a program that today's kids in your community want to be a part of?

Could it really be that simple? To a large degree, I honestly think it is. 

All off season I'd hear from frustrated coaches about off season attendance and not being able to get kids to attend workouts. I would immediately asked them that question - Is your program built in a way where kids want to be a part of it? Phrasing it like that would almost force many of them to take a step back and re-evaluate things. 

For many of us, the kids that we really want to see in the weight room are kids that are battling all kinds of different adversity away from school and sports, so to connect with those kids, you've really got to intentionally create the type of environment that they want to be a part of.

Obviously, this isn't a clean-cut and one-size-fits-all answer. There are some coaches that rack their brain night after night going above and beyond with creativity to try and connect with kids and are struggling with numbers. There are also guys out there that have been super successful who have been able to do things pretty much the same way for the past 20 years because they've been successful and set the standard of what to expect in the community.

What reaching our kids looks like today will likely be different than it is ten years down the road. Social media platforms pop up, 13-22 year old will flock to them in masses and spend a bunch of time on them, and just like that, the landscape changes. Just over the past ten years we've seen that done (with a much wider age range) on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Tik-Tok and if you think social media is done evolving to capture the attention of more people for a longer duration, you'd be dead wrong.

The two key elements for coaches comes down to being humble and being flexible. Are you humble enough to consider a different approach may work better? And then are you willing to be flexible to meet the wants and needs of the players (and potential players) in your community?

The flip side of that coin is that you've probably painted yourself into a corner of doing things the same way your coach did 20 or 30 years ago. Those unwilling to change are going to have a really difficult time adapting to what kids are searching for, and craving today.

To me, the question that I think aspiring head coaches need to ask themselves before they take a job, is: "Can I build a program in this specific community that kids want to be a part of without sacrificing who I am?"

If the answer is no, it's not the right job for you. The longer you're in coaching, the more you start to realize it's more important to take the right job, than it is to jump at the most enticing job opportunity. 

On the flip side, athletic directors, principals, superintendents and hiring committees need to ask the same question about every candidate they consider - "Can this candidate build a program here that kids want to be a part of?" Again, that's going to look and feel different in each community. While a social media presence may be important in one community, it may be a capacity to understand how the hurdles of a  farming community, or inner city environment, are going to affect your in and out of season programs.

From my experience, both as a head coach and someone who talks to coaches around the country daily, there is a common thread for guys who are experiencing success in growing their participation numbers, leading to an optimistic outlook on their success on the field this fall.

I'll have some more on that in the coming days with a new article outlining 7 traits, so stay tuned.