Most football seasons throughout the world, with the exception of the NFL, have ended. For many coaches, it’s on to offseason conditioning or the beginning of winter sports practice.
Before you close the door on your football season, take time to conduct some self-evaluation. This will allow you to accurately reflect on how you did as a coach and what you can do to improve for next year.
Keep in mind that this is not a quick project to knock out in an afternoon. Give yourself time for some honest assessment and collect multiple feedback sources to properly evaluate your job as a football coach.
- Evaluate yourself. The players aren’t the only ones who need to improve as the schedule moves on. How did you react to adversity, to the challenges presented by the season? Did you get better as a coach every week? Did you have a plan each week to take what you saw on game day and address it in practice?
- Evaluate the play-calling. Most teams have six to 10 basic plays that they tend to rely on most often. If you charted your plays, go back and look to see how effective those plays actually were. How many gained 4-plus yards? How many resulted in first downs? Did one of your basic first-down runs result in second-and-long more often than not? Maybe it’s time to change things up. Most people think they are diverse play-callers, but charting plays will tell right away whether you really are.
- Dig deeper into what didn’t work. It’s easy to say, “We struggled on third down,” but what was the underlying factor behind the issue? Were you asking your quarterback to do too much? Did your offensive line lack the ability to protect the pocket? On defense, did your players get caught out of position on counters and reverses? These are flaws that can be addressed early next season before they become problems again.
- Assess the playbook. Bigger is not always better. Are there plays or even series of plays that you did not use this fall? Can those be taken out and replaced with something else? Are there plays that other teams run that always give you trouble? Take those plays and add them to your playbook.
- Talk to opposing coaches. Nobody knows your tendencies better than the coaches you play against. Find people who you trust and ask them about your team. Did we play hard? Were the players disciplined? Was our play-calling predictable? We all have a tendency to play down our strengths and over-evaluate our weaknesses. Nothing gives a fresh perspective like a set of unbiased eyes.
- Meet with assistants. Every adult involved in the program should have a voice at the table. Listen to assistant coaches and trust what they say. They may have seen things that got by you. Invite team moms and any other volunteers as well. It will make them feel more involved in the process, and they will know that their input is valued.
- Be open and honest. There’s no need to do any of this only to have you and your assistants sit around and pat yourselves on the back. Congratulate your fellow coaches on the months of hard work they put in, then have a frank dialogue into what went well and what are the areas to improve. Don’t let it develop into a free-for-all complaint session, but listen to what everyone says and accept constructive criticism.
- Did players get better? Coaches who prepare and follow practice plans give their athletes the best chance at improving as the season goes on. If you did not see development, why not? Did you focus too much time on installing plays instead of building fundamental skills? Were position coaches adequately prepared for practices? Did you focus on all the players or just the stars? Children want to learn, get better and please their coaches. Make sure to give every young athlete that opportunity.
- Did players have fun? This should be the ultimate goal for every youth coach and an important piece on the high school level. Players may not be smiling and laughing in the moment, but did your young athletes enjoy their experience and want to come back next year? If you tend to have high turnover each year (for reasons other than the league mixes up rosters), it’s not because “kids today are soft.” The issue lies within you and your staff.
- What do you want to be next year? Whether you are a veteran coach who has been at this for decades or a newcomer looking to help your child’s team, there are always ways to get better. After identifying the areas you want to improve, the next step is engaging people who can help. Check for area clinics run by high school and college coaches. Talk to peers. Read books by coaches you admire.
- What can you realistically do next year? If you know what your roster will basically look like next season, you can begin planning changes as far as schemes. Look for clinics in your area where college and high school coaches discuss how they teach the sport. Don’t just latch onto the shiny new offense or defense. Script your 2015 plans to what your players can mentally understand and physically perform, giving them the best chance to succeed.